Author Archives: Peter Finney Jr.

Fishers of children: Where an avocation supports a vocation

By Peter Finney Jr.

Clarion Herald

            Jesus called his disciples – fishermen by trade – fishers of men.

            On the banks of a City Park lagoon in March, several permanent deacons and deacon aspirants and candidates of the Archdiocese of New Orleans found out what it was like to be fishers of children.

            Deacon Ray Duplechain, the executive director of the archdiocesan Office of the Permanent Diaconate and an avid saltwater fisherman, hooked up with several of his fellow permanent deacons to host a morning of fishing for 45 third-graders at Resurrection of Our Lord School.

            The kids used bamboo poles that were strung Tom Sawyer-like with plastic fishing line. They rolled up white bread and stuck it on their hooks as bait.

            And then they waited.

            A good time was had by all – except the kid-sized perch. The rookie anglers caught two buckets worth, and even though most of the fish were given absolution and returned to the water, one child had a different idea.

            “From what I gather, he brought his fish home in a plastic bag,” Deacon Duplechain said.

            The morning’s emphasis was definitely on the “low” in low-tech. Deacon Duplechain has property in Mississippi, and he went out into the woods one day and cut down 45 bamboo poles.

            “We strung them up and put corks on them and brought out a few loaves of bread,” he said.

            Last year, the deacons hosted 15 kids at City Park. This year, Resurrection teacher Donna Bialas, whose husband James is a permanent deacon, was able to get 45 third-graders involved.

            Each deacon, deacon aspirant or deacon candidate was responsible for three kids. They had a group prayer and delivered safety instructions. There was even a registered nurse on hand in case one of the children “got a leaf in his eye,” Deacon Duplechain said. They finished off with sandwiches, orange drink and cookies.

            What could be better than that?

            “Most of them had never been fishing,” Deacon Duplechain said. “Most of them have not even experienced the sense of where fish come from. They’re at a point in their lives where they’re so innocent and inquisitive. They want to learn and they want to talk about it.”

            Deacon Duplechain said the neatest neat thing for the deacons was connecting their vocation with their avocation.

            “We can take that day from our busy schedules and it really grounds us in what we’re called to do,” he said. “We have to be available to whomever God calls us to be available.”

            Fishing can be a spiritual experience.

            “There’s one thing about fishing that really draws you to the Gospel message,” Deacon Duplechain said. “You don’t really know that there’s a fish there. You have an idea, but you can’t really see them. It’s the same thing with faith. I think Jesus was on to something when he called his disciples fishers of men.”ImageImageImageImage

Figuring out why he didn’t win this one is now Sean Payton’s ‘Job One’

I’ll never forget my conversation with Sean Payton in 2006, after the New Orleans Saints had shocked the NFL just a year after Hurricane Katrina by racing to a 5-1 start in advance of their bye week.

Inside the Saints’ indoor practice facility, Payton recalled the conversation he had with his mentor, Giants coach Bill Parcells, who had cautioned him before he accepted the job as the Saints’ new head coach that “Job One” would be figuring out “why that franchise had never won anything before.”

One of the conclusions to which Payton came was that the live-and-let-live culture of New Orleans – Bourbon Street as a teeming, exotic Garden of Temptation – fueled a type of gluttonous excess that easily could derail celebrated, 20-something athletes with time, money and promising careers to burn.

That’s why Payton said choosing the right players – players who had talent but who also were highly intelligent and had exhibited good character and decision-making in college – was the key to fulfilling Job One.

Payton made the comments knowing his players would have a week’s furlough without his direct supervision. The Saints wound up losing their first game after the bye week, but they rebounded from three losses in four weeks to finish 10-6 and make it all the way to the NFC Championship Game.

Fast forward six years. If there is a cautionary tale to Bountygate, it is that, in the crunch, when character really mattered, the head coach himself fell victim to temptation, the one that asserts that professional success, at any cost, trumps everything else.

Need a nasty defense? Just get it for me, and don’t ask questions.

The NFL has evidence that Payton lied about the existence of a bounty system run by defensive players and coaches to pay cash for injuring opposing players. The NFL also says Payton urged fellow coaches to be complicit in the lie that the program did not exist. He persuaded his coaches to make sure when they talked to NFL investigators, their “ducks were in a row.”

The reality is that while practically every NFL team has engaged in pay-for-performance at some level as a fraternity bonding experience, the Saints brought the art form to the corporate level. And then they lied about it, repeatedly, when they were caught.

The penalties imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell are harsh and unprecedented, but they are justified. The innocent – the fans – must suffer with the guilty, because the social nature of an offense means there are social consequences.

Perhaps Payton will use his one-year suspension and the loss of $7.5 million to re-evaluate where he and the organization that brought so much joy to so many people got so totally off track. If the sledgehammer punishment is taken in the spirit of fraternal correction, this coming year of professional uncertainty can be a time of personal growth and the rebirth of a passion to win the right way.

Everyone makes mistakes – some more visible than others. In this Twitter world, where a camera is on every hip or inside every purse, there is nowhere to hide. Celebrities and NFL head coaches are such easy targets.

But Payton needs to figure out why he didn’t win this one. That now has become his Job One.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

How to explain: $15 million grant to Catholic Charities for BP oil spill relief but the phasing out of Operation Helping Hands

Archbishop Gregory Aymond thanks John Davies, president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, for a $15 million grant to Catholic Charities to provide counseling, education, job training and direct assistance to needy families affected by the BP oil spill.

By Peter Finney Jr.

Admittedly, it’s a difficult situation to explain.

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans received the largest single grant in its history last week – $15 million from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation – to help lead a consortium of area nonprofits that will aid South Louisiana families impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill.

Almost concurrently, Catholic Charities announced it would wind down Operation Helping Hands, the incredibly successful house-rebuilding ministry it established after Hurricane Katrina, by June 2012.

Some logically might ask: How can the “church” receive all that money and yet still close a home-rebuilding program that in the six years since Katrina has attracted 29,076 volunteers from around the country who have rebuilt 195 homes and gutted 1,983 others?

A look beyond the headlines is instructive. Continue reading

House painter Abdulrahman Zeitoun turns horrific post-Katrina experience into positives with loving acceptance

By Peter Finney Jr.

Not that citizens of the Greater New Orleans area need any encouragement to reflect again on a life-changing event, but the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will arrive later this month – Aug. 29.

House painter Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who rescued stranded neighbors in his canoe after Hurricane Katrina, says he holds no malice toward authorities who arrested him after the storm.

The hope is it will arrive uneventfully and leave with little more than a whimper.

At the recent Social Action Summer Institute at Loyola University New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born New Orleans house painter, transfixed his audience by relating his incredible odyssey in the days and months after Katrina.

As chronicled in “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers – which now has been translated into 20 languages – Zeitoun had spent the days after Katrina rowing his canoe through flooded Uptown streets and rescuing stranded neighbors.

In a classic case of “no good deed going unpunished,” military personnel arrested Zeitoun a few days after Katrina while protecting his own home near Claiborne and Napoleon Avenues. Continue reading