The longer view

I am not the person to come to for spiritual or theological advice. Many hundreds of thousands of words have already been written, by much more qualified people than I, about Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.

But I spent some time recently in northern Michigan, exploring around Traverse City and the Upper Penninsula, both places I have visited many times throughout my life and always been struck by the beauty there.

Out on the Leelanau Peninsula, they’ve found that the poor soils, steep hills and ever-present effects of Lake Michigan are extremely poor for farming – unless you’re growing cherries or wine grapes. Now, agriculture fits in with the land instead of trying to change it.

Nearby, at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, some of the land donated to form the park was planted in timber meant to be harvested. But rather than simply logging it off, biologists are selectively harvesting the uniformly planted trees to replace them with a variety of species, not only preventing the trauma of a clear-cut, but making the forest stronger and healthier in the process.

On our morning runs, we routinely saw deer and once saw a wolf. While kayaking on Grand Traverse Bay, we watched huge fish slip silently under our boats. At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the water was so clear we could see fish swimming more than 100 feet below us. We hiked to waterfalls and swam in Lake Superior.

For decades, locals have called it “God’s Country.” Laudato Si’ makes me think perhaps we should apply that term, in whatever we do, to all of Planet Earth.

Ebola is down, but not out

The Ebola crisis in West Africa may not be making much news these days – Liberia, once Ground Zero for the crisis, was declared Ebola free this spring – but that does not mean it’s over.

In fact, it’s only a sign of how large and devastating the crisis was that today’s news barely registers as a blip on the radar:

Reuters reports that about 30 people are still getting infected each week. Under normal circumstances, such an infection rate would be considered “a major, major outbreak,” said United Nations' special envoy for the deadly disease David Nabarro.

But in an outbreak that has killed more than 11,200 people, this is a dramatic improvement. Still, people continue to become infected, and more worrisome, they’re people officials did not have on lists of people known to have been in contact with victims, meaning they don’t know how and by whom the disease was spread.

And Ebola-free Liberia? A 17-year-old boy tested positive for the virus there June 30.

Still, the winding down of the crisis has allowed other desperately needed programs to resume, programs that had to be suspended during the massive outbreak.

In Sierra Leone, for example, Catholic Relief Services has resumed its school feeding program, which provides nutritious meals to nearly 29,000 children.

“The Ebola outbreak has had a dire impact on education in Sierra Leone and we need to start gaining back lost ground,” says Michael Ghebrab, Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Sierra Leone. “Providing a hot, nutritious meal is an opportunity to encourage young students to return to the classroom.”

Coming in with a wrecking ball

During a natural disaster, there is an immediate need for humanitarian relief, and I have deep admiration for the agencies that immediately swoop in with food, water, shelter and sanitation for those in need.

But I also love those agencies that take the longer view, that continue the difficult work after the television cameras have left the scene in helping people rebuild their lives.

The April 25 earthquake in Nepal, for example, was absolutely devastating, and destroyed more than 600,000 houses.

But Public Radio International reports that, ironically, not enough homes were wrecked.

Instead, hundreds of thousands of homes remain standing, though they are too damaged to safely enter. Before they can be built, they need to be torn down.

It’s easy to give toward feeding or sheltering someone after a disaster like the earthquake. But who wants to donate toward a massive demolition program?

The problem is compounded by the weather – first monsoons, which make getting any shelter at all a priority, and then planting season, which means people don’t have time to spend on construction because they’re in the fields.

So here’s to those who provide for the immediate needs. And here’s to those who stay long after, trying desperately to work with what’s left.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]