The Dark Side of the Aftermath of the Hurricane


While many wonderful individuals and charitable organizations are rushing into Haiti to help the survivors of Hurricane Matthew, there are others who are using the storm for their own personal gain by scooping up displaced children and selling them.

During the last 18 months, I have frequently mentioned in my Haitian Journal how kids in Haiti are frequently sold by their parents into domestic servitude because the parents can’t afford to care for the child. A child who has been sold into servitude is called a “restavec,” a word which comes from the French reste avec meaning “one who stays with.” Restavecs are typically young girls who have been born into severe poverty. These children receive food and shelter in exchange for doing housework. Restavecs are usually treated badly; they will not receive any education and are often physically abused and sexually molested.

Tragically, the life of a restavec is often considered better than the alternative life of chronic, hopeless poverty, which is why some parents allow their children to become restavecs. We have one young girl living at Santa Chiara who was a restavec; she ran away from the family she was sold to and sought refuge with us. Haiti is a nation of ten million people, and thousands of children are restavecs. Theirs is a hidden, harsh life. As poverty and political turmoil increases, so do the numbers of restavecs. A few years ago, in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, it was estimated that at least 150,000 kids, and perhaps as many as 500,000 kids, were sold into domestic servitude, where they were susceptible to beatings and sexual assaults.

Human traffickers prey on the ranks of restavecs. Hurricane Matthew has exacerbated the risks for kids displaced by the storm to be further victimized by human traffickers. The deadly storm killed over a thousand people in Haiti; it wiped way entire towns and villages. Children of families who lost everything, and those who were separated from their parents, may get sold into forced labor and be subjected to other atrocities because they’re so vulnerable. It has been estimated that at least 2,000 vulnerable children have been separated from their parents by the storm. Some of those kids probably have been evacuated to orphanages. While Port-au-Prince was spared the blunt of the hurricane, the torrential rains and winds did damage many schools in the city leaving many kids with nowhere to go each day. The schools where we are sending 13 of our kids are opened and our kids are attending school. Of course, our classes at Santa Chiara were not interrupted by the storm.

What troubles me now in the aftermath of the storm is the reality that traffickers will use the storm to their advantage by approaching families who have lost everything and promising them a better future for their kids. This is exactly what happened after the earthquake…and in all probability it is happening right now.

Hurricane Matthew just accentuates the importance of the Santa Chiara Children’s Center. I truly need your help in keeping the Santa Chiara Children’s Center a viable and safe option for families and children in dire need. I fully realize we can’t respond to the overwhelming devastation in the western part of Haiti, but we can be a light in the darkness to the kids in our neighborhood in Haiti. I think many people from the rural, coastal areas, including countless children, who were displaced by the hurricane will migrate to Port-au-Prince. We need to be ready to serve them.

Hurricane Michael

I am just back from a very tough two weeks in Haiti. The worst damage from Hurricane Michael was far to the west of us. Nonetheless, we had 30 hours of intense rain and moderate winds. The lower level of the Santa Chiara Children’s Center was flooded, but the kids stayed safe and dry. We lost electrical power for a day. In the slums surrounding, many people either lost roofs for the shacks or the dirt floors of the homes became mud floors. People are knocking on our gate for food.
During the hurricane and it’s immediate aftermath, the number of children we serve increased by 10%. We are currently feeding, educating, and providing safe refuge for over 70 children a day, 28 of whom live with us; moreover, seven of the children living with us are infants who are still in diapers. While our focus in on children, at least a half dozen mothers of the children spend much of the day at Santa Chiara, where they are busy making clothing for the children; we are teaching them a craft that hopefully will allow them to earn some money.
Our greatest need is for funds. It takes about $5,000 a month to maintain the Center. Nearly $3,000 of that goes directly to food and essential supplies. It also pays a very meager salary for our 15 employees. Donations of clothing and other material items are just too difficult and expensive to ship to Haiti.
If you are able to send a check, it must be made out to Pax et Bonum Communications; just note in the memo line “Haiti” and 100% of the money will go to Haiti. Our mailing address is: 827 N. Hollywood Way #555, Burbank, CA 91505
Obviously, my work is Haiti is why I rarely post things on this blog. I do send daily journals from Haiti directly to 112 people who support our humble outreach to impoverished street kids in Port-au-Prince.

The Self-emptying Love of Christ

The Self-emptying Love of Christ

For the last 20 years I’ve been writing about the self-emptying love that Christ calls us to embody. I’ve written about it in two books on St. Francis of Assisi and in three other books. I’ve written about it in the scripts of most of the 24 films I’ve made. I’ve spoken about it in the 250 “poverty and prayer” presentations I’ve given at churches and schools across the United States and in Europe. When it comes to self-emptying love, I’ve promoted it, encouraged it, and explained it…but I’ve never really lived it. I merely poked around the edges of it when I endured some discomfort and hardships as I traveled to some very distressing parts of the world, and lived among the poorest of the poor in Africa and South America. But while I would spend up to three weeks in some dreadful location making a film…I then returned to my comfortable life and spent months editing the film in an environment where I had everything I needed. I didn’t make much money over the last 20 years. In fact, my salary was so low for years (well under $500 a week), I ran up a mountain of credit card debt. But I never lacked for anything I needed, never endured any of the hardships the people I filmed experienced on a daily basis. The self-emptying love that Christ advocated and lived to the fullest was for me a beautiful and noble spiritual ideal…but not something most of us could attain to any serious degree or even anything close to some of the people in my films did, such as Dr. Tony in Peru.

But all that has changed in the last 15 months as I struggled to established the Santa Chiara Children’s Center. I confess that during the first few months in the small apartment in the slum, I was always eager to get back to California. Those early trips were endurance contests. I often counted the hours until I could get on a plane headed for “the good life.” After a few weeks in the Peguyville slum, actually living there and not just filming by day and retreating to hotel at night, I would have been happy to live in the Miami airport. During the last 15 months, I slowly learned how to give more and more of myself away. In the process I began to see clearly how far I was from the ideals espoused by Christ…even to this day. People who read my books or watched my films held me in high esteem. But I knew better. I knew the real me…the sinner. I knew the guy who was fearful and resentful. I knew the guy who was awash in weaknesses. I hide from all the long periods of spiritual dryness that I endured, the countless dark nights where the existence of God seemed like an absolute impossibility. Many a Sunday I wondered what the heck I was doing in church. The ritual seemed so disconnected to the reality I had witnessed. Haiti had turned my life upside down…and little of what I once had accepted as a normal part of life no longer made any sense. The things that once interested me – like watching a Yankee game on TV – no longer attracted me. I was beginning to understand that there was no cheap grace, no easy discipleship. The journey that Jesus willingly took involved lots of hardships and intense suffering…and it ended at Calvary.

When I look back on the years of filming in some of the worst slums on earth, I see how those weeks of discomfort and the stress of seeing so much suffering and death actually were the most inspirational, most meaningful times of my life. I had left my comfort zone, traveled far beyond my understanding of life, and encountered the real heart of humanity. I had connected to something real and raw, where people didn’t wear masks to hide their own doubts and insecurities. But I would return home to a world of commerce, affluence, and abundance, a world of comfort and security, and I quickly slipped back into a life of relative ease, a life of spiritual lethargy…even though the suffering I had seen rocked me and caused me great distress. No one wanted to see the photographs I took or hear about the suffering I had witnessed. It was just too upsetting. Besides, there was nothing they could do about it. I spent endless, lonely hours looking at miles of video footage and thousands of still photographs. I entered a darkness I did not understand or could illuminate. It was hard for me to engage in conversations about the things my family, friends, and neighbors wanted to talk about…it was all so trivial in light of depravation and suffering I had witnessed. Yet, I still enjoyed and wanted to hold onto my comfortable life in a society I increasingly did not feel at home within. I preferred Starbucks to the slums.

Somehow, I would guess by God’s grace, Haiti changed all that. The time I spent in Haiti during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake changed everything. I witnessed and filmed unimaginable suffering. I saw doctors cleaning the wounds of an amputated leg. I saw decaying bodies buried in the rubble. I saw blood and death, and endured days of nonstop crying and screams of pain. I can vividly recall almost every minute of the eight days I spent in Port-au-Prince just after the earthquake when Haiti was a living hell. I never really recovered from that trip; the horror of it was never far from my consciousness. During the year following the earthquake, I made four or five trips to Haiti. One day I toured the destroyed city of Port-au-Prince on the back of motorcycle, filming as I went. Armed only with my cameras, I tried to capture the daily life of the poor. I was impressed by the spirit of the people, their ability to laugh in the face of such hardships, their ability to survive on so little. I also admired their faith, which was the source of their inner strength.

But I think Haiti would have in time faded from my daily consciousness except that Ecarlatte was drawn back to Haiti because her niece was sick. In helping her niece navigate the dysfunctional Haitian medical system, I saw how incredibly hard life was for poor children. Ecarlatte’s big heart was bursting with love and concern for kids living on the periphery of Haitian life, kids trapped in severe poverty, living with hunger, and, often, sadly, abusive parents. When I learned how kids were often sold into domestic servitude, it made me sick, made me angry. But what could we possible do in the face of so much suffering? We didn’t know what to do…but we knew doing nothing was not an option. I think that not knowing what to do becomes an excuse not to do anything. We had to do something…even if it was only helping just a few kids. We simply did what we could and hoped God’s grace would amplify our humble, often stumbling, efforts.

And so, trip by trip, month by month, day by day, the Santa Chiara Children’s Center slowly evolved and expanded. And in the process, I saw more clearly my own selfishness, my own self-centeredness, as the growing number of kids, challenges, and problems demanded more and more of me. There were times I just wanted to shut door to our tiny apartment in the new compound and lock myself inside. I often wished I could be sitting alone in Starbucks in Burbank and reading the paper. I often wished I could be sitting on the couch in our living room watching TV at night. Every day in Haiti seemed like an endless stream of problems to be solved and sick kids to be transported to the hospital. There was no time…for me. I often felt like an ATM machine dispensing cash for food and water. I lamented there was no comfortable chairs. The frequent black outs made me crazy. There was a time when I saw Santa Chiara as this herculean effort that yielded very little fruit.

But slowly, out of the chaos, something beautiful began to immerge as we began to see the lives of some of our kids being transformed before our eyes. Abused and abandoned kids began to smile, began to play and laugh. A sense of community, a sense of family was emerging among the staff and the kids. I remember one night in February. It was late and everyone was asleep. I sat outside under the stars sipping a little Italian wine. I vividly recall looking at the main building and being amazed that we had somehow pulled this off. Of course, by “we” I included all the generous donors who trusted that Ecarlatte and I would treat the kids with love and dignity. That silent night, I felt as if I was living in a miracle that was so much bigger and better than I was. Over time at Santa Chiara, I began to feel connected to a place outside of the United States…even though I could not imagine living on that tormented island of despair.

Today, I realize that by being in Haiti, I really am not giving up anything important. I am, in fact, merely letting go of more and more trivial things and mindless diversions. I am becoming free. I discovered that feeding a hungry kid is more rewarding than writing a book or making a film. Gospel parables are speaking to me in a new, more dynamic way. I’ve commented on a number of these parables in the pages of this journal. These earthly stories Jesus told revealed a heavenly reality. For instance, in Sunday’s Gospel (8/14/16), Jesus uttered some harsh words, saying that he had come to establish division not peace, even among families. Yikes. What Jesus was saying was that unless you lay down your life, you will not have peace. He is telling us to keep our eyes fixed on God, who calls us to a life of mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. When we do so, it will put us at odds with our society and even at odds within our families…and problems will arise, divisions will form.

The Gospel reading for tomorrow (8/17), tells the story of the landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. But there was so much work to be done, the landowner repeatedly went out during the day (at 9:00am, at noon, at 3:00pm, and at 5:00pm), to hire more workers. (Today, Jesus would have had someone going to a Home Depot parking lot to hire undocumented workers for the day.) At the end of the day, the landowner paid all the workers he had hired during the day. Much to the chagrin of the workers who were hired at 9:00am, the landlord paid everyone the same wage, which meant the guy who only worked an hour at the cooler part of the end of the day was paid the same amount as the guy who worked a full day. This clearly was not just or fair, and we too would have been unhappy if we had been one of the workers who put in a full day under the blazing sun. But the story is not about fairness from the perspective of the workers. It is about the astonishing, over-the-top generosity of God, which far exceeds our human expectations. God’s extraordinary generosity is rooted in God’s endless mercy.

The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard on Sunday, tells us to keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the leader and perfecter of faith.” The letter, which reflects the influence of Paul, exhorts us to struggle against sin. If we do keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will eventually be confronted with the Cross and be called to empty ourselves of all that is not God. For me, Haiti helped me see more clearly my need to more fully embrace the self-emptying love of Jesus, who divested himself of everything for us. I have a very long way to go on this journey. I think each of us is called to find the level of self-emptying love that God wants us to achieve in our daily lives. While there will be sacrifices to made along the way, there will also be moments of true, deep joy. I can’t wait to get back to Haiti, back to the kids, back to a place where God is very real…and mercy is in great demand.


New Film from Pax et Bonum

SCCF Film DVD jacket.2

No More Filming

As some of you know, I am splitting my time between Los Angeles and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where I founded and operate a free children’s day care center that serves impoverished, unschooled street kids. When I am in Haiti I send daily journal entries to my supporters. What follows in the journal entry that I sent today from California. It contains some breaking news about my ministry…and also about this blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Feast of St. Clare of Assisi

No More Filming

As everyone knows, the Santa Chiara Children’s Center is named in honor of St. Clare of Assisi. Her feast day is celebrated today. As a Franciscan ministry, this is a very special day for Pax et Bonum Communications. I’ve penned a booklet on the life and spirituality of St. Clare. I would be happy to send a PDF file of it to anyone interested in learning more about the saint who followed St. Francis more closely than anyone else has ever done. Of course, I devoted a substantial chunk of my book The Sun &Moon Over Assisi to St. Clare. A revised and updated edition of that award-winning book is available in both hardcover and paperback from Tau Publishing in Phoenix, Arizona. St. Clare’s feast day is a perfect day to announce something that has been percolating within me for more than a year, namely a new focus for my ministry.

For much of the past sixteen years, I’ve traveled the world with two cameras…a 35mm still camera and a small video camera. I filmed the homeless, undocumented migrants, and refugees. I filmed starving kids with bloated bellies. I’ve filmed people scavenging in garbage dumps. I filmed people on the verge of death from an array of dreadful illnesses. I filmed people with leprosy and people with AIDS. I filmed severely injured people, some missing arms or legs, after an earthquake. I’ve captured unimaginable suffering – and death – through the lenses of my cameras. I also captured stunning acts of compassion. I’ve filmed in India, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Philippines, and Hungary. I’ve also filmed in three major cities in the United States (Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles).

My films and photography present excruciating suffering. The suffering I’ve filmed around the world was caused by severe, unjust, chronic poverty. I’ve been to the worst slums on earth, where I witnessed the deepest and most profound levels of poverty imaginable. In these horrific slums I discovered what radical dependency on God truly means. But entering into the depths of unjust poverty has been a long, lonely journey, during which I’ve struggled with periods of doubt and intense spiritual dryness. Too often, sadly, my longing for God has waned and I’ve thirsted for things other than God. But no matter what we do or don’t do, God always sticks with us.

After ditching a long career as a television producer and executive at all three networks in both Hollywood and New York, I’ve made more than twenty documentary films on domestic and global poverty. But in reality all those films made me…made me who I am today. Each film I made taught me something about myself, humanity, and God. Each film took me deeper into the heart of humanity, deeper into the heart of God. Making those films transformed me and gave me new life. The films taught me about the importance of letting go, of self-emptying. They taught me about compassion and mercy, which are the wings of human life which allow us to soar, allow us the reach the heights of human existence, allow us to enter the realm of angels and saints. While each film I made helped me become a better person, I’m still far from the being the person I was created to be, the person I want to be. If I can make another twenty films, I might become a decent human being…perhaps even a saint. But I don’t have the time, resources, or energy to make another twenty films. At the dawn of 2016, I woke up to the reality that I needed to make yet another radical change in my life: I needed to stop making new films. But I didn’t know if I had the courage and stamina to make another radical change in my life…and to commit myself fully to our new mission in Haiti.

I was recently invited to make a film in a notoriously bad prison in Bolivia where a group of young, lay Franciscans ministered. I was impressed by their ministry and intrigued by the possibility of filming in such an intensely visual place as an overcrowded prison. I wanted to do it…but I had to say no. I just could not afford to spend the time and energy on this worthwhile project because it would be a diversion from our new mission. I was also invited by a missionary priest in Papua New Guinea to film his work in the remote hamlets high in the mountains. He also travels by boat up rivers in a rain forest. In some of the places where he ministers, he sleeps under the altar. It was hard to say no to him…but I did.

This past weekend I told a friend I would not be making any more films. She said that filmmaking was in my blood and it would be impossible for me to stop. I offered a little clarification. I would no longer make new films focused on the work people are doing on behalf of the poor around the world, which had been the thrust of my ministry (as illustrated in our motto Putting the Power of Film at the Service of the Poor) since 2001. But everything changed after starting our outreach to the impoverished kids in Haiti by creating the Santa Chiara Children’s Center in May of 2015. During the last year, I realized I’d rather feed a child than film someone else feeding a child. Moreover, feeding a child was personally more rewarding than making a film. This summer it has become crystal clear to me that my sole focus needs to be Haiti…not filmmaking. So, I am putting down my video cameras.

However, Pax et Bonum Communications is still a film-based ministry. We have two dozen films to promote and to present at schools and churches across the United States. We will still be a prophetic voice speaking out on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Moreover, we will release new films…but these films will be culled from hundreds upon hundreds of hours of footage in our library, footage that was shot all over the world but never incorporated in any of our two dozen films. These new films will be created by our film editors, with just a minimum amount of input from me. We have already created a film set in Kenya; once the composer in Ireland has completed the music score, we will release the film. The editors are currently working on films set in Uganda and Haiti. These new films will not be condensed versions of previous films, nor will they contain any references to the ministries featured in the original films. They will be distinctly new films that essentially will be visual meditations on the plight of the poor along with new reflections on the need to be one with the poor. I have been dreaming of doing something like this for years, but never had the time, as I was always rushing off to some new hellhole to make a new film.

With the very recent release of our new film – A Place for Kids to Be Kids – that documents the creation and life of the Santa Chiara Children’s Center in Haiti, Pax et Bonum Communications will cease making new films for other ministries. I am very proud of the fact that my films have helped so many wonderful people and amazing ministries over the years, helping them raise funds and attract volunteers. But now, the thrust of my ministry must be on Haiti and also giving my “poverty and prayer” presentations. I will be spending more and more time in Haiti.

Of course, as with everything in life, there is a financial element to this decision. On average, it used to cost me between $30,000 and $50,000 to make a film. When I was a TV producer, we spent more than that on providing fresh bagels on the set each day. That cost did not include administrative expenses, such as my salary, office space rental, and a host of other costs. For each film I had to find between 15 and 25 sponsors, individuals, organizations, schools, or churches willing to donate $2,000 to help me produce a film. This was a truly exhaustive and wearisome part of the ministry. We never charged the people and ministries featured in the films for our work. We, in essence, donated a professionally produced film to them.

But with the Santa Chiara Children’s Center I had to face a new reality. Feeding and caring for up to 70 kids a day, including paying for medical expenses, as well has housing 23 kids a night, was far more costly than making two films a year. To do both was not only a physical impossibility but also financially impossible. Doing both was not an option. For me it was an easy call: Santa Chiara was more important than making another film.

But there is more to this decision than just money. To make a film takes prolonged, dedicated attention. For instance, the film I made in Honduras in 2014 for the Medical Missionaries of Mary (nuns who are doctors and nurses) took about six full months of concentrated effort. I was only in Honduras for ten days…the rest of the time was spent writing and editing. We did not charge the good sisters one penny for all the production costs, including my plane fare. When the film (Rooted in Love) was completed and released, we sold 200 DVD’s of the film to the sisters at practically what it cost us to manufacture the DVD’s. Beyond those 200 units of the film, we sold only 22 films to individuals. For what it is worth, I think Rooted in Love is one of the best films I ever made. It is really beautiful.

I used to joke that “I made films no one wants to watch with money I don’t have.” Over the last 15 years I’ve endured withering criticisms over the length of the films. In our society, which is becoming more and more fast-paced, people simply do not have the time to watch feature-length documentaries. Everything needs to be reduced to a soundbite or bumper sticker. As a society we are showing signs of widespread attention deficit disorder. Writing has become tweeting. My films tried to not only tell the heroic stories of people living the self-emptying love of Christ by giving themselves away, the films also presented the theological underpinnings of the social dimensions of the gospel that stressed the being one with the poor and exemplifying the common good. I was not making simple, ten-minute promotional films. I was making serious films about a very serious subject: people literally dying from hunger and extreme poverty. The films contained spiritual reflections which hoped to connect the plight of the poor with the centrality of the message of Jesus. I often heard the films were either too hard to watch or too preachy.

103 people receive my daily Haitian Journals. Many readers have commented (and these are committed donors) that when they open a pdf file and see an entry is 10 or 12 pages long they do not open it…rather, they hope to read it later when they had time. The truth is that most of the longer journal entries featured photographs that comprised about 50% of the pages. The point I am making is that we are all squeezed for time.

For me, at my age, I need to spend my time wisely…which means I need to spend more time in Haiti and not waste my precious time trying to make a new film. Again, Pax et Bonum Communications will hopefully produce and release a series of films culled from a mountain of unused footage that I shot all over the world. These will not be fundraising films for a worthy organization. They will be visual meditations on the plight of the poor and clarion calls for each us in our own individual way to try to relieve the suffering we encounter in our communities and in our daily life.

I might also add, that I will only be putting down my video camera. I still intend to use my still camera to document life in Haiti and inside the Santa Chiara Children’s Center. These photographs will be sprinkled throughout the journals and used elsewhere, including our two webs sites.

One more thing. For about ten years I have been posting blogs on Word Press. Perhaps about 200 people subscribe. This has been a herculean effort. In recent months, I have posted very few blogs, as the daily journals from Haiti consumed all my time and energy. I have decided to suspend writing and posting new blogs. Essentially, the blog will be on hiatus. I will leave it up for readers who want to explore years’ worth of postings, most of which are very short.

A final word about money. I will still need to raise funds to make the films based on material that has already been produced. The cost of these “regenerated” films is far less than making a film from scratch in some far off location. I have a semi-retired editor working just three days a week on these One Human Family films. A second editor, who is college professor, works one day a week. Their meager salaries essentially comprise the cost of making the films. The thrust of my fundraising efforts will be geared to maintaining the Santa Chiara Children’s Center which is my top priority. Donors have the option of supporting our work in Haiti or supporting our efforts at making new films out of old material.

I apologize for the length of this epistle. If I had more time it would have been shorter. I want to end by urging everyone to visit the Pax et Bonum web site ( and check out the page listing all our films. It would be helpful if you ordered two or three of the older films, such as Endless Exodus and Room at the Inn, or one of our new films, such as Rooted in Love or The Smile of a Sick Child. Give some away to friends or family. All these films dramatically illustrate Catholic social justice teaching…and truly reflect Pope Francis’ impassioned call for universal mercy. It is a shame that these films are sitting in boxes in a storage unit…as we, as a ministry, had absolutely no marketing tools or expertise. You can be our sales rep.

I am very happy to announce on this special day that within a week we will launch a web site dedicated to the Santa Chiara Children’s Center: I hope you can take a few minutes to visit the website and perhaps forward it on to your friends and neighbors. The new website will make it easy to make donations directly to Santa Chiara.

A Place for Kids to Be Kids

As many of you know, since May of 2015, Pax et Bonum Communications has dramatically expanded our ministry to the poor by opening a free day care center for impoverished children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Santa Chiara Children’s Center serves between 50 and 70 kids a day. Moreover, 20 of the children actually live at the Center. The children are given three meals a day.

The children entering our gate come bearing all kinds of physical, emotional, and psychological wounds that need to be lovingly embraced and healed. Many have been physically, verbally, and sexually abused. Some have been abandoned or sold into domestic servitude, working long hours for meager scraps of food. Besides feeding and educating our kids, Santa Chiara strives to transform their lives by giving them a sense of hope and purpose, by treating them with dignity and respect. In just over a year, we are seeing the early fruit of our work, as a number of children living at Santa Chiara are being transformed before our very eyes. They are feeling a sense of family and are lovingly caring for each other.

During our first year of operation, I have been filming all the activities at Santa Chiara. I am very happy to announce that we have just released a new film about our work in Haiti.

SCCF film cover front only

A Place for Kids to Be Kids tells the improbable story of how a filmmaker (me) and an artist (my wife, Ecarlatte) left our comfortable lives in California to open a free day care center for children in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The film traces the evolution of the Santa Chiara Children’s Center from operating out of a small apartment in a slum caring and for ten kids a day to our move to a larger, safer walled compound serving up to 70 children a day.

Pope Francis said: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” In its humble, very limited way, the Santa Chiara Children’s Center is a kind of field hospital for kids. They knock on our gate weary from their battle with extreme poverty, constant hunger, emotional neglect, and often physical abuse. They come wounded in many ways. We begin by welcoming them, then feeding them, then embracing and encouraging them, then playing with them, then teaching them…and sometimes even healing them. When needed we offer them temporary shelter and even access to medical care. We pay school fees for some kids. But mostly, we offer them love.

Because most of our kids are unschooled, an important part of the mission of Santa Chiara is to offer the children classes in reading, writing, and math. Many of the children cannot read. Each child is given one-on-one personal attention depending upon their needs. Without educational opportunities the children will not have any chance to escape the prison of poverty that ensnares so many Haitian. We also provide art and craft classes which is the only time the kids get to explore their own creativity. Outside the walls of Santa Chiara there is no time for anything but the struggle for survival.

The film is divided into two parts, each presented on a separate DVD. Part One, “Sowing the Seed,” documents the early days of living in the slum. Part Two, “The Harvest,” features life in our new, larger home. Part One runs 49 minutes. Part Two runs 93 minutes.

You can help support our outreach in Haiti by purchasing the film today, for a donation of $30. We will soon be revising the PetB website so you can order and pay for the film on-line. However, if you simply send me an e-mail, I will put a DVD in the mail before I return to Haiti on July 19th. You can then send a check at your convenience. Because of the rapid and dramatic growth we are in urgent need of funding to keep Santa Chiara afloat…so please, order a film today if possible. I am sure the film will touch your heart and inspire you to be more fully united with the poor.

Peace and blessings,


PS: Just over 100 of Santa Chiara’s supporters receive near daily updates from Haiti in which I share compelling stories about our kids. If you wish to be added to the list of recipients of these journals just let me know.

Who Is Not My Neighbor?

The Gospel reading for Sunday, July 10, 2016 featured the Parable of the Good Samaritan. For me, that parable and the Parable of the Prodigal Son are the two primary parables in the Gospels. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the Parable of the Prodigal Son in my books, but have been virtually mute on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After hearing the Gospel proclaimed, the story of the Good Samaritan weighed heavily on my mind for the rest of the day…and I knew it had more to say to me.

The story begins with a religious leader, either a lawyer or a scholar, testing Jesus with this question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what the law says. The man gave a pretty straight-forward answer about loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving “your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him he had answered correctly. But the man pressed Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten, stripped, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. Two religious people, a priest and a Levite, happen to come across the victim struggling for life. To avoid the wounded man, both the priest and the Levite, cross the street and continue on their way. Then along comes a Samaritan. The people hearing Jesus tell this parable understood that Samaritans were despised people, outcasts shunned by society. The Jews hated Samaritans. Instead of crossing the street, the Samaritan approaches the wounded man, bends down, and anoints and bandages his wounds. He then lifts the man up and hoists him onto his donkey and transports him to the nearest inn, where he continued to treat the man. The next day, he gave the innkeeper some money and told him to give the man whatever he needed, and if he spends more than he was given, the Samaritan said he would pay him back on his return trip. Jesus then asks the guy testing him with the questions, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of a robber?” The guy gave the only answer he could, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

This parable emerges from the contemplative heart of Jesus. It calls us to “put on the mind of Christ” and to give ourselves away in compassionate love. Easier said than done. The radical message of Jesus essentially says that true freedom and real joy comes from self-emptying love and loving the other. Of course, this is a difficult task. Jesus was crucified for extending mercy and compassion far beyond the accepted limits of his society. It is an enormous risk to love people living on the peripheries of society…the homeless, the migrant, the refugee, the chronically poor living in massive slums surrounded by garbage, rotting waste, and perpetual violence. Jesus, of course, did not avoid the risk…and he paid the price for following his heart with his life. The Parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us to live the gospel with radical compassion. The parable makes the primacy of the other abundantly clear. It is all about putting others first.

Our neighbor is not simply the person living next door to us. Nor is our neighbor the people we work with or happen to bump into as we go about our day. Our neighbor is not simply the people living in our town, city, state, or country. In the parable, Jesus is saying that our neighbor is the person we not only don’t avoid but also seek out in order to help them. The priest and the Levite are not diverted from their journey. When the see the wounded man, they simple circumnavigate around him and continue on their way without pausing. Jesus is saying that the Samaritan, by changing his own plans and stopping to help the wounded man, actually became a neighbor even though the wounded man was far outside the Samaritan’s orbit of friends. The Good Samaritan, out of a spirit of pity and compassion, changed the course of his day. He took an unexpected action…he drew near the wounded man and helped him recover. He shared in the suffering of “the other.”

In my life, I have often crossed to the other side of the street to avoid someone in pain. Jesus is telling us that we need to be open to changing our plans when we are presented with the possibility of tending to the needs of a wounded neighbor. Jesus wants us to move toward a person whom others ignore. By tending to the wounds of another, we are tending to the wounds of Christ. The Parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to leave our comfort zone and move toward our wounded neighbors. On March 27, 2013, Pope Francis said: “Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves…to go to the outskirts of existence, ourselves taking the first step towards our brothers and sisters, especially those farthest away, those who are forgotten, those most in need of understanding, consolation, help….” The Pope went on to say:

“God thinks like the Samaritan who does not pass near the victim, feeling sorry for him, or looking the other way, but coming to his aid without asking anything in return; without asking whether he is a Jew, or a pagan, or a Samaritan, if he is rich, if he is poor: he doesn’t ask anything. He comes to his aid: this is God…who moves toward us, without calculating, without measure. God is like this; God always takes the first step….”

Jesus is always ready to bend down and help us. He wants to enter our lives, wash our feet, and give us hope. He rushes into wounded hearts. He is not afraid to be wounded by love. God is the Good Samaritan wanting to pour oil and wine on our wounds, wanting to bandage us and make us whole again.

Maybe the real question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but, “Who is not my neighbor?” Jesus would answer that more poignant question with two words: no one.

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