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Episode 1207

DEBORAH POTTER, guest anchor:  Coming up — Catholic and Jewish voters both critical voting blocs — the issues that matter to them and how they feel about the presidential candidates.

And a camp for people grieving the loss of a loved one.

DALE MARIE CLARK (Executive Director):  You can give them hope.  You can say, “I felt the same way.”  You know, “I felt the same way and it does get better.”

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DEBORAH POTTER:  Welcome.  I’m Deborah Potter sitting in for Bob Abernethy.  Thank you for joining us.

In Iraq, more violence against Christians.  At least 8,000 Christians have left the northern city of Mosul amid a campaign of targeted bombings and assassinations.  Many refugees said they received anonymous e-mails and leaflets threatening bloodshed if they did not leave.  At least a dozen Christians have been killed in and around Mosul since the beginning of October.  The U.S. State Department has joined religious leaders in demanding that Iraq provide more security to prevent religious persecution.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  In India, church leaders are calling for a stronger federal response to violence against Christians there.  Extremist Hindus in the eastern state of Orissa have attacked Christians and tried to force conversions since August, when a Hindu leader was assassinated.  Officials say dozens have been killed and tens of thousands forced from their homes.  In recent days, more violence was reported in southern India, where a Catholic church was torched and a statue of Jesus was vandalized.  At the Vatican, Pope Benedict prayed for peace and reconciliation in India at a canonization ceremony for four new saints, including an Indian nun.  She’s the first female Indian saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  Across the globe, the financial crisis is sparking fears that the poorest and most vulnerable will be hardest hit.  In Ireland, at a conference on poverty, experts predicted that wealthy nations will cut back on desperately needed aid.  They warned the number of hungry worldwide will grow next year from 920 million to almost a billion.  And at an AIDS conference in South Africa, researchers cautioned that the search for a vaccine will stall as philanthropic organizations scale back their donations.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  A new survey finds a dramatic shift in support for Barack Obama among a group whose support he has struggled for:  white non-Hispanic Catholics.  According to a recent Pew Research poll, Obama now holds a significant lead over John McCain, 54-to-39 percent.  Two weeks ago, those numbers were reversed.  But Catholic voters are not a monolithic bloc.  A survey by the Knights of Columbus found 65 percent of Catholics who rarely attend church identified themselves as pro-choice, compared to just 36 percent of regular church-goers.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  Winning the Catholic vote could be the key to victory in the swing state of Pennsylvania where Jewish voters are also being courted.  The contest in working-class areas of the state like Scranton is particularly intense, as Lucky Severson reports.

LUCKY SEVERSON:  Mary Kate Culkin is a single, working mother in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a devout member of one of the largest religious voting blocks in the U.S.

MARY KATE CULKIN:  I’m a Catholic.  I went to Catholic school.  I went to a Jesuit college.  I’m pro-life but I also believe that I should not instill my views on the masses of other people.

SEVERSON:  She is a Democrat, first for Hilary Clinton, now for Barack Obama even though Obama is pro-choice and the Catholic bishop in Scranton wrote a letter saying that voting for a pro-choice candidate amounts to endorsing murder.  But Mary Kate says the Democratic Party best reflects the ideology of Catholic social teaching, such as caring for the poor and working for the common good.  Abortion is not the only important issue for her, although it seems to be the most important issue for many Catholic Church officials.

George W. Bush won the Catholic vote in 2004 even though his opponent John Kerry is a Catholic.  Almost one out of three voters in the Keystone state are Catholics.

Mary Kate thinks the selection of Senator Joe Biden, a native of Scranton, as Obama’s running mate will help the campaign even though a Scranton bishop recently said Biden shouldn’t even ask for Communion because he is pro-choice.

Ms. CULKIN:  I also think that what happens in church on Sunday and while you try and live that message for the rest of the week, the issues that come up on Monday morning are not abortion.  They are feeding your kids or stretching that paycheck, or getting gas in your car, or shipping a kid off to Iraq.  We temper what we hear on Sunday with what we have to do for the other six days of the week.

SEVERSON:  In the Pennsylvania primary here in Scranton, Hilary Clinton trounced Barack Obama three to one.  A lot of those were Catholic working class voters who identified closely with Hilary.  The Obama campaign has been trying to swing those voters over to his column, but it hasn’t come easy.

Obama is not going to give up the Catholic vote this year without a fight.  The Obama campaign office downtown is humming with volunteers, many of them young, handing out pamphlets, manning the phone banks.  It’s a busy place.

The McCain campaign office is not so busy.  We had to wait for workers and voters to show up.  That’s not to say that the McCain campaign is not active and determined to hold Scranton.  Listen to Paul DeFabo, another Catholic, strongly in favor of John McCain.

PAUL DEFABO (Vice Chairman, Luzerne County Republican Party):  He is going to win.  You know, I’m not afraid to make that statement.

SEVERSON:  Paul DeFabo is a real estate agent, and the vice chairman of the Luzerne County Republican Party.  He was recently extolling the virtues of Sarah Palin on public television station WVIA in Scranton.

Mr. DEFABO (in an interview on WVIA-TV):  She’s a real talent, this woman.  She’s a real talent.  She’s a quick learner.  She will handle this job.  She knows what she’s talking about. And for them to compare Senator Obama with her lack of experience, I don’t even know where their argument comes from.

SEVERSON:  DeFabo says, as a Catholic, his biggest concern is abortion.  He’s also upset at illegal immigration.  Choosing a president who will appoint the next Supreme Court justice to overturn Roe v. Wade is important to him.  He has attended eight Republican conventions and says this last one was extraordinary because of — you guessed it — Sarah Palin.

Mr. DEFABO:  When she came on and I listened to her that first night, I mean it was like, you couldn’t believe the enthusiasm.  I mean, there were women crying.  I mean there were literally tears running down their eyes.

SEVERSON:  DeFabo’s enthusiasm for McCain and Palin is matched by his disdain for Obama. And he can’t understand why Catholics could support him, especially nuns.

Mr. DEFABO:  There are a group of nuns that are pushing for Obama.  I don’t understand that at all.

SEVERSON:  It drives you crazy?

DEFABO:  Drives me nuts!

SEVERSON:  DeFabo says he’s not happy about it, but he thinks race will play a role in the outcome of the election in Pennsylvania and in other states.

Mr. DEFABO:  Yes I do.  I’m being honest.  I think it does.  I’m not saying it’s going to happen.  I’m just saying it’s a good possibility it can happen.  Is it fair?  Absolutely not.  Should it be an issue?  Absolutely not.  But are people human beings?  You know, our frailties and mistakes and whatever reason they think, yeah, it’s true.

SEVERSON:  Mary Kate Culkin says she is certain that after Scranonites get to know Obama, race won’t be an issue.

Ms. CULKIN:  I think he’s got more in common with the working people here in Scranton than initially they believed.  And I think they are starting to come around and see that it doesn’t matter what color you are.  We’re all pretty much the same.

SEVERSON:  Although Jews make up only two percent of the U.S. population, they do get out and vote, especially when it comes to issues like the security of Israel.  That’s why so many of them, including Lori Lowenthal Marcus, were here at the United Nations protesting the visit of the president of Iran.

This is Elie Wiesel.

Professor ELIE WIESEL (during UN Speech in New York):  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is a threat to world peace.  He should not be here in New York.  His place is not here, but in Europe, in Holland in a UN prison cell.

SEVERSON:  Lori is a mom, a lawyer, a writer and always was a pro-choice Democrat until September 11 when terrorism became her defining issue.

LORI LOWENTHAL MARCUS:  I am a registered Democrat and the reason why is that I believe in a lot of ideals of the Democratic Party.  But since 2001, I have begun to focus on foreign policy. McCain and Palin are much better on national security and foreign policy, more in line with mine.  And I don’t trust Obama in those areas.

SEVERSON:  Jewish votes have almost always heavily favored Democratic presidential candidates.  In 2000, Al Gore got nearly 80 percent of the Jewish vote.  Four years later, John Kerry received 75 percent.  But Obama has been struggling and Lori thinks it’s because, among other things, he said that after lower level negotiations, he would be willing, as president, to sit down with leaders of countries like Iran without pre-conditions.

Ms. LOWENTHAL MARCUS:  We’re all in great danger from Islamic fundamentalist extremism and terrorism.  So it’s not just Israel.  Israel happens to be, I hate this expression, the canary in the mine.  They’re first.  Ahmadinejad has said repeatedly, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the map.”

SEVERSON:  It didn’t change her mind when Obama spoke to the influential Jewish Public Affairs Committee AIPAC two days after John McCain.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (D-IL, speaking to American Israel Public Affairs Committee):  As president, I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.

SEVERSON:  She says she’s not worried about Sarah Palin assuming the presidency because she would inherit John McCain’s advisors.

Ms. LOWENTHAL MARCUS:  So many of my friends and almost everyone in my family is terrified of Sarah Palin.  I find Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, far more frightening, far more frightening than anything Sarah Palin has said and done.

SEVERSON:  Unlike Sarah Palin, Lori is pro-choice and in favor of gun control.  She’s very worried about the economy, but again, the threat of terrorism trumps all.

Ms. LOWENTHAL MARCUS:  I know people who have lost their jobs.  It’s terrifying. But the idea of an entire nation being wiped off the face of the earth — if we are not alive, doesn’t matter how much money we make or what kind of job we have.

SEVERSON:  Not far from Lori’s house, David Broida, a writer who also runs a tennis center for kids, is a devoted Jew for Obama.  He was there at the convention.  Broida supports Obama for the same reason that Lori opposes him.

DAVID BROIDA:  I am just as concerned about Israel, Israel’s security, but in my judgment, Barack Obama is the better candidate on Israel for American voters.

SEVERSON:  Why is that?

Mr. BROIDA:  We’re interested in negotiations.  Israel is in a very precarious position with Iran being armed with nuclear weapons probably or going to be.  So we need to be thinking in terms of diplomacy and we need the best diplomatic team out there.

SEVERSON:  He worries that Sarah Palin would inject religion into government, violating one of the more important Jewish concerns — the separation of church and state. Broida is worried about the sorry condition of the economy but says it should not be the only issue that drives Jews to the polls.

Mr. BROIDA:  From a Jewish point of view, it’s more about the environment than it is about the economy.  We shouldn’t go into the voting booth and vote our own economic interest.  We should listen to the Torah and we should listen to Jewish values. We will all get along with the economy, more or less.  I know the Great Depression was devastating and I know the current economic crisis is serious.  But I know that global warming and the environmental damage that it can cause is more serious.

SEVERSON:  We were surprised to hear voters themselves raise the race issue.  Broida worries that it will also be an issue among Jewish voters.

Mr. BROIDA:  In most incidences, Jews are not bigoted in a way that would get them to vote one way or another.   In this case, Jews are just like other Americans, white Americans in general.  There’s going to be a certain percentage of those Americans who will not vote for a candidate on the basis of race.

SEVERSON:  If history repeats itself, whoever wins Pennsylvania will have a very good chance of winning the election.  And winning the Catholic and Jewish vote will be crucial to winning Pennsylvania.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Lucky Severson in Scranton.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a death row inmate in Georgia, clearing the way for his execution.  Troy Davis was convicted for killing an off-duty police officer but claims he’s innocent, and key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony.  Pope Benedict, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and others have called his conviction unfair.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  A new documentary says the late Pope John Paul II was wounded in a second assassination attempt, but the Vatican kept his injury a secret.  According to a top aide, the pope was stabbed by the Spanish priest who lunged at him with a dagger a year after he was shot in Rome.  The attack had been reported, but the pope’s injury was not disclosed until now.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  The Dalai Lama left a hospital in New Delhi this week after undergoing surgery to remove gallstones.  The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet says he’s doing fine.

DALAI LAMA:  The treatment very successful.

POTTER:  The Dalai Lama is 73, and doctors have advised him to get more rest and avoid long trips.
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DEBORAH POTTER:  The old saying “time heals all wounds” doesn’t always apply, especially when it comes to grief.  Grieving is a normal human reaction to loss.  It’s painful.  And it’s hard work.  For some people, the best way to do the hard work of grieving is in the company of others.  Bob Faw found a place in Maine where that work has been going on for more than a dozen years.

BOB FAW:  This is a camp like no other, filled with laughter and beauty — and pain.   A camp named “Ray of Hope” for people grieving the death of a spouse, a child or a friend where they learn how to accept that death and go on.

Michelle Ouellette, for example. Several months ago cancer claimed her favorite aunt Theresa Frost who virtually raised Michelle.

MICHELLE OUELLETTE:  She was my mentor and my best buddy.  She was a one-in-a- million lady and I’ll never have another one like her ever.  I miss her dearly.  I always will.

FAW:  Tammi Hooper knows what that’s like.  Four months ago her singer, songwriting husband James died suddenly at the age of 31.

TAMMI HOOPER:  It is always there — every waking moment.  And for me this is just getting to know other people who feel like I feel.

FAW:  Tammi and Michelle and 35 families, many whose loved ones died unexpectedly, were hurting when they came here, where they were embraced by others who had been hurting.  Dale Marie Clark lost both her husband and her son in the space of just 10 weeks.

DALE MARIE CLARK (Founder, Camp Ray of Hope):  I was shaken to the very core and not sure if I could survive that.

FAW:  What Dale Clark learned, what helped her survive, is what she has been imparting to others since she founded the camp in 1995 as part of the Hospice Volunteers of Waterville, Maine.

Ms. CLARK:  You can give them hope.  You can say I felt the same way, you know I felt the same way.  And it does get better. You know, you do get better. You do get through it.

FAW:  To help them get through it the camp holds support groups and workshops.  In this one, Tammi Hooper fit photographs inside a so-called “memory pillow.”

Ms. HOOPER:  At least I’ll have this to hold on to remember, you know.  But it just gives me something physical to touch.

FAW:  Ten-year-old Julie McConnell thought her mother, who died this year in a motorcycle accident, would have liked the fabric which Julie chose for her memory pillow

JULIE MCCONNELL:  I think it will help a little bit.  Just having her picture inside here, I think that will help.

FAW:  Sometimes the exercises are painful.  In this one, those who are grieving break a clay pot — a pot, shattered, just as their lives have been.

Ms. OUELLETTE:  It tends to signify that, that feeling of just how it feels like somebody is just smashing your whole life apart.  All of a sudden your life is just smashed and you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to put it back together again.

FAW:  Carefully, lovingly, from the broken shards they re-assemble the pot just as they are trying to do with their own lives.

Ms. OUELLETTE:  You’re trying to put your life back together again in as best a fashion as you can.  And you know it will never be the same.

Ms. CLARK:  It’s work.  It’s hard work.  Grief is hard work.  It really is.  It is exhausting and you know, it takes really to be able to be willing and able to share whatever those feelings are or whatever those words are that you need to share.  If you work through those intense, intense feelings in the beginning, then you’re letting go of a little piece of that intense pain.

FAW:  At this Methodist church camp, they are taught to mend what death has broken.  And what they learn is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve — that young or old, male or female, there is no time-table for dealing with death — that everyone handles death differently.

TERRI WARREN:  The books tell you time, time, the whole thing. That everything takes time. They just don’t say how much.

FAW:  This camp has also helped Terri Warren who lost her 17-year-old daughter Savannah six years ago in a car accident, by putting her thoughts into words — what Camp Ray of Hope calls “journaling.”  It has helped her daughter Becca.

BECCA WARREN:  It’s like me speaking to someone.  It’s all the stuff that I can’t say.  I can actually say to the notebooks.

FAW:  And it’s part of healing?

BECCA:  Exactly, that’s what I find it to be.  So, just kind of like a safe harbor.

FAW:  It is different for young children, who often do not understand what “forever” means and think their parent or sibling is going to come back.  Children process death differently, than adults.

DEB CROCKER (Youth Services Coordinator):  They’re not like adults who can just sit in a circle and talk about their loss. So you need to give them things to do and in that midst of talking, of doing an activity, they’ll talk.  They’ll talk about their grief.  They’ll talk about their loss, the person that they lost.

FAW:  So, as they play, they grieve?

Ms. CROCKER:   They do.

FAW:  So here, whether it’s Paige Lilly working on an ornament to celebrate her mother Tara who died from cancer, or during the chaos of an egg-toss, children don’t just release pent-up frustrations, they also acknowledge the loss they are feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL:  If the person who died was here right now, I would like to get on his lap and have him read me a book.

FAW:  And in this “clown workshop” where Tammi Hooper brings her daughter Emily, children learn that in laughter too there is healing.

MARLENE MYERS (Merry Giggles):   I just believe there is an inside part of you that needs to laugh. And it overcomes sorrow many times.

FAW:  So when you’re sad, it’s OK to laugh? You want them to laugh?

Ms. MYERS:  Yes.  Exactly, yes

FAW:  What all these activities have in common, whether in the quiet moments or in being pampered, is the belief in empathy.

Ms. CLARK:  Most of the time the best thing, the most powerful thing and therapeutic thing that you can do for someone who is in emotional pain is just to listen and witness and validate and not judge.  And through that they’re empowered.

FAW:  A role for empathy and for faith, tested for Dale when tragedy struck and ultimately, affirmed.

Ms. CLARK:  I always believed that there was a god.  But I never really felt the depth of what that faith was until I experienced the death of my husband and son.  And there were times when you didn’t want to live.  You didn’t want to go on, you know.  I would sometimes pray to go to bed at night and not wake up in the morning because those deaths were so painful for me.  But what I did learn through that time, and thank God for it, is that God is always there no matter.

(speaking at worship service):  Divine spirit, on this day I ask for new life.

FAW: A belief which helps explain why this weekend includes a service in the chapel in the pines where prayers are offered as the name of each dead loved one is spoken.

CONGREGATION (praying):  For this, dear God, we pray.

FAW:  Later in a private ceremony, each family releases one monarch butterfly — a symbol that dealing with death is a journey and that they too can be set free.

FAW:  Does the journey ever really end?

SCOTT WARREN:  I don’t believe it does.  This was a tragic event in our life that has changed us all as people.  We’ve had to relearn who we are and where we fit in the world today.

FAW:  But at least at Camp Ray of Hope they too, just like those clay pots, can be put back together again.

TERRI WARREN:  You know, there is part of me that will always be missing.  But the lows that I have are shorter now than they used to be.  The highs are longer.  I find enjoyment in things.

FAW:  So the pain is still there?  You learn to live with it?

TERRI WARREN:  You do. You find, I think, a place for it.

FAW:  You go on?

TERRI WARREN:  You go on.  You do what you have to do.

FAW:  Learning to do so at a camp where the shattered pieces of their lives can be restored and where they emerge stronger in places that were broken.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Bob Faw in Winthrop, Maine.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  On our calendar, Monday Baha’is celebrate the birth of the Bab, the first spiritual leader of the faith.  The Bab was born in 1819 in what is now Iran.

And the end of the week-long Jewish observance of Sukkot is followed Tuesday evening by Simchat Torah, which marks the end of the annual Torah-reading cycle, as well as the beginning of a new reading cycle.  Jews often observe the occasion by processing through the streets with the Torah.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  Finally, a judge in Nebraska has thrown out a lawsuit against God.  A state legislator asked for a permanent injunction against God for inspiring fear and causing death and destruction.  But the judge said the case could not go forward, because the defendant could not be served with papers since God has no fixed address.

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DEBORAH POTTER:  That’s our program for now.  I’m Deborah Potter.  There’s much more on our Web site, including additional political coverage on our “One Nation” page.  Audio and video podcasts are also available.  Join us at

And now as we leave you, music from a benefit concert this summer for Covenant House, a New York organization that helps and houses homeless children.  The concert gave some of the young residents a chance to sing with Broadway stars.


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