Fast worker: a young Harvard grad believes fasting for a day can change the world.
HOMETOWN: Boise, Idaho
COLLEGE: Harvard University
FAVORITE AUTHOR: Thomas Merton
AMBITION: Eliminate poverty. I wrote my college thesis on how to end poverty.
"Poverty exists in ever society, just in different forms. we are all equally human--equally wealthy and blessed in certain ways, and equally poor in others."
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE A MEDIA-savvy young Catholic, put him in two of he poorest and most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere and then op him down in the center of the world entertainment industry?
You get something like GlobalFast--Rich Halvorson's attempt to use new media to transform the traditional Catholic Ash Wednesday fast into a movement of social transformation worldwide. Like the Catholic Church, it asks that people fast and pray on Ash Wednesday to feed the hungry, fight injustice, and foster peace. It also asks that people donate what they would have spent on food that day to "excellent charity efforts" through the GlobalFast website.
Halvorson didn't set out to bridge a traditional practice with progressive ideals and modern methods. "That's really just more my personality than anything," says the 25-year-old Harvard graduate, who also says he served as a bridge between various Christian friends during college.
Halvorson, who was raised in a nominally Catholic home but never once had ashes on his forehead growing up, says he became a practicing Catholic as a result of studying other religions and then reading the New Testament during his years at Harvard, where he majored in philosophy. "I just really started looking at Jesus and what he said and represents and decided it's true," he says.
He came to appreciate evangelical friends' zeal about widespread social and spiritual change, and Pentecostal friends' appreciation for the presence of the Holy Spirit in everything. But he also appreciates the Catholic Church's history and theology, and what he calls the "sacredness of the Mass." Halvorson's spiritual heroes include two Trappists--Thomas Merton and Basil Pennington--and he's spent a significant amount of time at Merton's Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. "Going into a peaceful church off a busy street--it's like a refuge of God and the holy amidst our loud and hyper culture," Halvorson says. "I love that in our fast-paced, consumer-driven society the Mass is so much the same as it was a hundred or a thousand years ago."
He attends Mass regularly but also goes to evangelical services with friends, calling himself "sort of an evangelical Catholic Pentecostal."
His transformation during college led him in a different direction than most of his classmates after graduation. "While most of my Harvard peers went to Wall Street or Capitol Hill, somehow I needed to head into the urban ghettos and tropical jungles of South America," Halvorson says. As a political writer for the Miami Herald, Halvorson reported from Haiti. He also worked as a teacher in an inner-city school in Miami and traveled to Colombia to work with churches.
"What surprised me more than anything was the pity I felt not so much for the materially poor, but for the spiritual poverty that plagues us in such a wealthy nation," he says. "In some ways, I saw that poverty exists in every society, just in different forms. We are all equally human--equally wealthy and blessed in certain ways, and equally poor in others."
NOW LIVING IN HOLLYWOOD, HALVORSON HOPES TO HELP both the spiritually and materially poor through GlobalFast. Its first concrete project is a joint effort with Food for the Poor, costing $400,000, to help 100 families move out of a garbage dump Halvorson visited in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.
The project, he says, is one that people of all religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and political persuasions can support. His original goal was to unite 10 million people worldwide in the one-day fast for peace and justice, but he admits that in 2007 he probably only reached 1 percent of his target.
But he's not giving up. To reach his admittedly ambitious goal, Halvorson is putting into place everything he has learned about new media: state-of-the-art Web design; links with such hip outlets as MySpace.com, a social network site, and YouTube.com, a site for sharing videos; and a grassroots campaign that would make any U.S. presidential candidate green with envy. "This is just how people communicate now," he says. "When I taught high school in Miami, every single one of my students had his or her own MySpace page."
Like many other people in Hollywood, Halvorson has some movie projects in development, but his primary concern at the moment is keeping GlobalFast alive. "GlobalFast is really an experience of or an act of Jesus' message," he says. "Jesus gave his life so that others may live. All we're doing is asking people to give up food for a day so that others may live. It's a concrete expression of what Jesus was all about."
By ROBERT J. HUTCHINSON, a freelance writer and author based in Orange County, California.
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|Title Annotation:||in person|
|Author:||Hutchinson, Robert J.|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2007|
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