All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

UK: Statue Of Our Lady of Walsingham – A Pilgrimage In All The Catholic Cathedrals

“A hopeful moment and an important opportunity for evangelisation”- this is how cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Primate of England and Wales, defined the decision to re-dedicate the country to the Virgin, as “the dowry of Mary”, just as it happened in the Middle Ages. The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, the most important shrine in the UK, will go on a tour of all Catholic cathedrals and will reach the London one, in Westminster, the mother church of English Catholicism, in 2020. The initiative is coordinated by monsignor John Armitage, rector of the Marian shrine of Walsingham, in Norfolk, a two hours’ drive from London. “While in the Middle Ages it was King Richard II who gave our country to the Virgin, now it will be the devotees who will rediscover what England being the dowry of Mary means”, he explains. “We beg the Virgin to guide and protect our country, so that our people can join forces in building the common good”. The tour of the statue, a copy of the original, which was burnt and thrown into the Thames at the time of Henry VIII’s Reformation, will start from Liverpool cathedral on the 21st June. Richeldis de Faverches, a noblewoman from Walsingham, circa 1000 AD, had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who asked her to build a house like Nazareth’s. The shrine was destroyed at the time of Henry VIII’s Reformation and was not rebuilt until the late 19th century, when Catholics regained their civil rights.

DR Congo: Young People Are Aware Of Taking Their Destiny In Their Hands”

Despite, the socio-political, economic and humanitarian situation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the young Congolese have not lost hope and continue in the struggle for democracy and for the good of the country. Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops contest the electronic voting machines. According to Father Simon-Pierre Kakiau, Congolese missionary and theologian of the Society for African Missions (SMA), the fate of the Congolese youth, like that of the entire nation, is uncertain. And there are negative indicators of strong concern, the persistence of the war fuelled by the various militias, in the East and in the centre of the country; the revision of the growth rate and the rate of inflation; the general worsening of transport infrastructure and quality of life (famine, lack of clean water, electricity and access to basic health care); insecurity and repeated kidnappings in Kinshasa and in militia-controlled areas. Faced with this tragic situation, "what will tomorrow's DRC be? Has the DRC not already suffered enough? And what is the role of the local Church in this historical phase?", asks the missionary. "By virtue of its prophetic mission, the Church remains the only hope for the young. It is not limited to denouncing social injustices in all directions, but it also supports the young Congolese with its teaching of the Gospel and with social service, giving hope for a better future. The Church is a moral force for the nation in this dark period in the history of the DRC". "Already after the serious electoral fraud of 2011", highlights Fr. Kakiau, "only the Church had openly declared that these elections were neither in conformity with the law nor in accordance with the law. From that moment on, the only word heard by the Congolese is that of the Church. Thanks to the accompaniment of the Pastors, young people are aware of taking their destiny and that of the nation in their hands". Now a moral rebirth of the young Congolese is underway. The Congolese youth, through the accompaniment of the Church, feels responsible for the destiny of the Country and is even ready for sacrifice. Many died during the peaceful marches of December 31, 2017, January 21 and February 25, 2018. Many are still in prison or hospital. Despite the bloody repression of the police, our young people are always ready to move on, to really make the Democratic Republic of Congo a democratic state, where the common good is the essence of any political action". In recent years, young Congolese have developed a keen sense of patriotism, the missionary concludes, which "makes them willing to sacrifice themselves and sees them become the protagonists of their destiny. The Gospel of hope is their guide. They continue to struggle to ensure a future of justice and peace, for the good of the nation". Meanwhile the Catholic Bishops have questioned the electronic voting machines. The machines in question are in fact manufactured by a South Korean company. According to the South Korean Electoral Commission, the company managed to impose its product on the DR Congo by bribing some local officials. The electoral body of Seoul sent a note to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in DR Congo stating that it "can not officially support or offer any guarantee to the project to adopt a voting system through a touch screen for the presidential election in the DRC scheduled for December 2018", expressing "serious concerns about the mandatory introduction of these instruments in the DRC despite the unstable political situation, precarious electrical infrastructures, impassable roads, high rate of illiteracy and the tropical climate that can lead to the malfunctioning of these machines". The statement from Seoul has caused strong controversy in the DRC. "The electors’ lack of trust in the organising institution (INEC) remains a worrying topic", says the Committee of Catholic Laity, which asks INEC to "immediately withdraw the electoral machine project". The Congolese Episcopal Conference (CENCO) has requested a certification of the electoral machines on behalf of independent experts. "There are many conflicting voices about the manufacture and origin of these machines", said Fr. Donatien Nshole, Secretary General of CENCO. "We renew the request for the certification of the electoral machines by national and international experts in order to find a consensus capable of reassuring all parties both on a technical and legal level", concluded Fr. Nshole. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has set the date of the elections on December 23, 2018, and established the use of electronic voting machines.

Interculturality: A New Paradigm Of Mission

“Intercultural praxis as a missionary challenge. Mission and interculturality” was the theme of the 12th Limone Symposium of the Comboni Family that included Comboni religious, lay Comboni Missionaries and Secular Comboni Missionaries, and took place in Limone sul Garda on April 3rd and 6th, 2018. The Symposium’s objective was a reflection over the intercultural praxis as a new paradigm of mission, also in Europe, a continent the Comboni Missionaries, men and women, see as a “mission territory”, and not only simply a place from which to send missionaries. Confreres and sisters from other continents serving in Europe also attended the symposium. The participants numbered 36 and 12 were the nationalities represented. In the first presentation, Comboni Father Palmiro Mileto, with a long academic experience in Africa, offered a reflection on “the interpretative perspectives of interculturality and otherness” Fr. Mileto outlined a grammar of interculture, defining terms and concepts – such as pluro-cultural, multicultural, intercultural, transcultural, identity and otherness – and applying them to the missionary praxis. Interculturality defines a process of deconstruction and decolonisation in our cultural (and missionary) mentality, a true cultural conversion, both at the personal and at the communitarian, spiritual, structural levels. The future of Christianity in the third millennium will probably be played out in the building places of interculturality. On the second day of the symposium, Gaetano Sabetta, a layman involved in missionary projects of inter-religious dialogue in India and a professor at the Urbaniana University in Rome, spoke on “The Gospel in dialogue with cultures and religions. The contribution to interculturality of the meeting of religions in the perspective of ecclesial orthogenesis”. Sabetta presented a new model of intercultural mission – but also of theology – proper to the Churches in Asia, namely the one of a “three way dialogue with the cultures, the religions and with poverty that goes beyond the model of inculturation". This way of doing theology- comparative, dialogical, inter-religious – does not take anything away from the uniqueness of Christ, which in fact is rediscovered in a more intelligible way by other religious traditions. The theme was further studied in the course of some workshops coordinated by Carmelo Dotolo, dean of the Faculty of Missiology of the Urbaniana University. In the concluding day, Comboni Father Joseph Crea, professor at the Psychology Institute of the Salesian University in Rome, spoke on the theme of the “Mediation of the multicultural identities in multi-ethnic communities. Formation to cultural mediation”. Mediation, states Fr. Crea, "starts with the loss of our certitudes, a condition sine qua non in order to dismantle prejudgments and stereotypes and to activate in a creative way new intercultural paths of formation and of mission". The witness of intercultural experiences by two African Comboni Missionaries, the Togolese Nordjoe Yao Djodjo Eugene and the Kenyan Sireu Ang’Irotum Abraham, who work in Europe, contributed to integrate the psychological reflection. During the symposium, what emerged was the importance of favoring and accompanying intercultural places and spaces in the situations where we are involved - in our missionary institutes, in popular movements and associations, in parishes and dioceses, in politics and in society, among, migrants, the youth, religions. This in order to dream of a new Pentecost, a Church and a society capable of accepting the resourses of diversity, the richness of the encounter and of dialogue, in view of a common living that will be both just and fraternal. Thus interculturality becomes a style of life and a paradigm of how to do and be mission. - Mario Menin and Giorgio Padovan

Uganda: Volunteers Share Experiences

Two German volunteers, Francesca and Greta, came to Uganda to share and also learn from the people and culture in Uganda. Their adventure took them to the Alenga Parish in Northern Uganda, where they are working with the Little Sisters of Immaculate of Mary and a Comboni Priest. They shared their experience with us. Francesca’s Experience During my voluntary service in Uganda, I have been working in the Health Centre III of Alenga, most of the time helping the midwives in the maternity. My work includes examining expectant women, assisting during deliveries, dispensing medicine and vaccinating mothers and their newborns among other things. Though it was shocking in the beginning to see 15 year old mothers and the many children most of the women deliver, every time it is an amazingly beautiful and exciting moment for me when a baby comes into the world. While I was working in a hospital in Germany, I experienced a completely different environment. The quality of technology in Alenga is so different from the ones in German. This, for example, is exhibited by the lack of medical equipment - we only have one functioning blood pressure machine and many drugs are often out of stock. This reminded me and made me realise how lucky the people in Germany are because of the indiscriminative good health care system which upholds equality to all, whether poor or rich. I really enjoy spending time with my workmates. They always aid in clarifying difficult questions and explain to me about the culture of the Lango. Unfortunately, it is not easy to communicate with the clients because of language barrier, especially since many do not know English. But, I am doing all it takes to learn more about the Lango culture. Nevertheless, I like conversing with them and making them smile, even if they laugh at my pronunciation. After work, Greta and I are often visiting the midwives; Sharon and Gloria at their home. We usually have a great time together, eating and sharing about our different lives and habits. It is so interesting to get to know how they live and spend their free time. I really appreciate how hard they are working for a better future. Their salaries are meagre, but, they try to save money, before they get married and have their own family, go to the university and have the chance to offer their children a better education and a bright future. Greta’s workplace. In my voluntary year, I have had the chance to be a teacher of Computer and English in the Father Egidio Vocational Training Centre, Alenga. This is a boarding school for girls between 15 and 20 who are trained to become tailoress. Besides the lessons of Computer and English in the morning, I am their teacher for the weekly debate and available for the extra lesson in English for the few girls who have challenges speaking English since they left Primary schools four or five years ago. Together with Francesca, we are with the students for sports twice a week and for a drama club. Also, I like to spend time with my students in my free time. My work helps me learn a lot about young girls from Lango and understand their way of living, their culture and the role of women. Especially, the role of women, which is distinct from my experience at home. During one of my interactions, I asked my students what they would like to do in the future. Their answers ranged from: mother, wife, farmer, tailoress and teacher for tailoring department. Through my close relationship with the students, I have learned to appreciate the choices I make for my future. Although some of the students have difficulties with raising school fees or humble family backgrounds, they are struggling to perform well in school and I hope that the school’s posy “Earning for the future” will provide for their better financial situation.In our free time, we spend time with the youth of Alenga. Together, we practice for mass on Sunday or go to the field. The mass is always the highlight of the week. We enjoy the local songs and dances coupled with the joy of the Christians. Faith in this community has a deeper meaning in the lives of the Christians than most Christians in Germany. Besides, we visit friends in the village over the weekends. They show us how to cook local dishes and how to brew spirit out of Cassava. This is helpful for us to understand the Ugandan way of living. In Alenga, many people live on subsistence agriculture; they work in their own garden daily to take care of the family’s nutrition. On Christmas Eve, we visited some family friends from where, we learnt how they slaughter animals and prepare the meals. From observation, wastage is denounced since offals are prepared as a delicacy. It was awesome to see all family members from far away come to celebrate Christ’s birth with joy and love. We have had the opportunity to learn sewing from Greta’s workmates and are now able to design our own dresses. We spend time with the students when we are free and they share with us about their homes or cultural conventions. We would like to stress how thankful we are to get the chance of living in Uganda for a year. We appreciate the rich experiences we got when we came in contact with the people of Alenga and everyone else. We are eagerly waiting for the next six months here. We await this years’ experience, which we believe will have undeniable influence on us.

People & Flower: Honey – A Natural Energy Source

Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance produced by bees from nectar which is obtained from flowers. It contains a treasure of hidden nutritional and medicinal values and has been used for centuries. The sweet golden liquid from the beehive is a popular kitchen staple, loaded with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Honey has been used by countless cultures all around the world for over 2,500 years. One of the most important component in the bee-hive is the honeycomb, a mass of hexagonal prismatic wax cells built by honey bees in their nests to contain their larvae and also stores honey and pollen. Honey is referred to variously in the local dialects in Uganda. For example, the Baganda in central call it omubisi, the Acholi in northern Uganda refer to it as moo kic while in Ateso, it is referred to as Esike/esin’orot and the Lugbara from west Nile call it annue. The health benefits of honey are numerous to be named and people ought to take full advantage of it. If you can, look out for unprocessed honey to have the full package that honey can offer! Studies indicate that honey is useful in improving eyesight, weight loss, curing impotence, urinary tract disorders, bronchial asthma, diarrhea, and nausea. Honey is a great natural aphrodisiac and regular consumption can give your libido the boost it deserves. Honey contains bee pollen, which is known to ward off infections and provide natural allergy relief and boost overall immunity. In fact, the honey’s ability to prevent allergies is based on a concept called immunotherapy. Honey is a natural energy source consisting of over 80% of natural sugars. It’s therefore not surprising that honey has been called “the perfect running fuel”. This is because it provides an easily absorbed supply of energy in the form of liver glycogen, making it ideal for energetic work-outs. Honey is an anti-oxidant powerhouse and therefore plays a vital role in blocking free radicals in the body that cause diseases and it also boosts the body immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells, acting as a preventative substance against a number of diseases. The use of honey to promote quick healing of burns and wounds has been in place since ancient Egyptian times. In fact, honey is credited with the ability to heal even wounds that have become infected after surgery and as well as diabetic foot ulcers. Honey is actually one of the best treatment for cough, common cold, and throat irritation especially in children. It is a natural and safe cough suppressant. A mixture of honey and lemon cough syrup can be a perfect weapon against any kind of cough. Lemons are great at killing bacteria and the honey soothes your throat. Honey is a great memory booster. The antioxidants in honey are fabulous for feeding the cells of your brain; the food it needs to thrive hence making your brain keep in top shape. Honey is also important in that it improves the ability of the brain to absorb calcium, which further helps with memory. Honey helps with herpes due to its ability to draw fluid away from them when applied on the sores hence giving you a great relief. Furthermore, because honey has a high sugar value, it keeps microorganism growth to a minimum. A great way to fight acne is to regularly apply raw, unprocessed honey to the areas on your body that are prone to it; leave the honey on for about 30 minutes and rinse off with warm water. Honey has been known to help prevent Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and soothe acid reflux and heartburn. The honey lines the oesophagus and hence helps heal the inflammation or damage leading to the reduction of GERD symptoms. - Richard Komakech

Philippines: The Healing Priest

Fr. Efren Borromeo has this gift of “seeing”. He can see through a person’s body, and knows what is wrong. Many people come to him requesting for help and prayers. The usual Metro Manila Monday morning traffic remains a force to be reckoned with, especially for office-goers and students. However, there are those who battle this unending line of cars to go to Our Lady of Pentecost Parish at Loyola Heights, Quezon City, to feel the touch of Fr. Efren Borromeo, or Fr. “Momoy” as he is fondly called, the healing priest. After mass, they wait Fr. Momoy, goes to a corner to see them – sometimes one by one, sometimes as a group. To help the community, he with the assistance of another priest, Fr. Thom Gier of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), launched a community-based health program called Barefoot Doctors. They learned primary health care from a doctor who gave them stethoscopes, needles, syringes, and other things for a simple health kit. Fr. Borromeo brings with him a sick call kit that not only contains syringes and medicine but also holy oil, sacramentals and prayer books. “Sick calls used to be far apart, since the presence of a priest by the bedside of the sick was associated with sure doom. Now, more a “barefoot doctor” than a priest, I found myself being called upon to heal”, he says. “My first test as a health care “healer” came when I was awakened at 2 am because a man who had been stabbed was brought to the convent. In a drunken state he had challenged anyone to a knife fight and was knifed as a result". Fr. “Momoy” recalls, “I gave him a piece of wood to bite on. I applied kulong-kugon, a milky white paste off the bark of a tree to stop the bleeding. His intestines were coming out of his stomach so I had to stitch him up with surgical needles from my health kit. Soon, I was able to stabilise his condition. I then instructed the men to bring him to the hospital in Tabaco – which was 3 hours away by boat. As they were about to leave, I called them again to say I had to hear the man’s confession and anoint him. I had forgotten that I was also a priest". He accepted his gift of healing after an accident that almost took his life. It was in 1994, when Fr. Borromeo was travelling with his family from Manila to Bicol to officiate at a nephew’s wedding. They were on the main road travelling at the speed of about 80 kilometres per hour when someone suddenly threw a stone at their vehicle, hitting the windshield. Unfortunately for Fr. "Momoy", he was the one seated next to the driver. “Glass shards smashed into my right eye”, he relates. “The avalanche of pain, like a severe toothache multiplied a thousand times, made me swoon. I felt numb all over, and at the next moment, instantly and to my surprise, I felt a beautiful soothing presence engulfing me, loving me utterly, and fully accepting me, yes, embracing me! My whole being yielded to the lure of the afterlife". “In that enfolding moment, I uttered in response to that Being, Bahala na kayo - it’s up to you. At the time, my idea of heaven was an expanse awaiting me. I thought I was about to be transported to that place of bliss”, recalls Fr. Borromeo. “Time stood still. Then in the next instant I knew I was back. I was looking at my body when I heard my niece shout, “His pulse is getting fainter and fainter. It’s gone!”. There was a surge of life back to Fr. “Momoy.” Even as weak as he was, he told his companions to stop the jeepney. A jeepney that no one, except him, saw coming. He also sensed that there was a nearby clinic, where he told the driver to bring him. The doctor attended to him, but he still had to be rushed back to Manila to receive the best health care possible. He underwent surgery at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. He was also hospitalised for at least a week. “Those years of denial of the gift of healing were now confronted by the mysterious character and miraculous results of my death experience”, he reveals. “As shadows go, this personal shadow kept hounding me, and I must confess that I was afraid of owning the gift because I might make a fool of myself. I definitely would not expose myself to that degree of humiliation". “I would like to resonate with many people that I am with them that I am with those who have many questions. I am an ordinary person like the rest of you. I am grateful for ordinary processes that have become the way of my own growth. I see more clearly that the ordinary is the way of all nature”, he says. I would like readers to say “I can be a healer myself” instead of “Fr. Efren is holy and gifted, but I am not". The disposition to be a healer emerges in place of the usual “I will just go to Father,” as if I had a magic touch". Fr. Borromeo concludes, “Being a priest-healer, I start from there - that whether there is cure or not, this absolute Presence of the Healer within always heals, makes whole, and transforms". - Ana Valenzuela

India: Prophetic Peacemakers

In recent history, a few committed citizens contributed a great deal to the cause of peace. They are inspiring examples to the world. The memories of their prophetic personalities should remain alive, as a reminder for all of the need to work for peace. A reflection by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil - Jowai, India. It is good to turn our attention to the inspiring examples of certain prophetic personalities who contributed a great deal to the cause of peace. Everyone remembers Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence, and the skill he manifested in struggling for justice for his people in the most peaceful manner. Following Gandhi's example, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa adopted a peaceful style of dealing with complex social and political problems. The Dalai Lama’s unfailing smile and stubborn refusal to hate his ‘enemy’ continue to inspire us. Albert Schweitzer used to say that all human beings “should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others”. In that consists the key secret for peace. Every community has its own heroes and heroines of peace. It is good for each of them to keep alive the memories of such glorious persons for the rest of humanity and hold them up for imitation. This is done not with the intention of presenting them as superior to the heroes of any community, but with an eagerness to share what is best in one’s tradition. Peace is not just one of the themes among many others, but the central message and the chief concern of the entire Gospel. On nothing else does the Gospel speak more explicitly and more frequently than on peace. Many have lost confidence in peace initiatives. So many peace talks have taken place. So many peace rallies have been held. But things have not gotten any better. We can be tempted to give up. There were times when Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, used to feel discouraged during his peaceful crusade against apartheid. He would say, “…sometimes there are moments when you are in the depths, or you have to say to God, ‘God I am tired’. At those times I throw myself into the strain of faith, and I am carried in the prayers, and not just of those on earth". How inspiring! “We are tired of weapons and bullets”, a peasant wrote to the Catholic Archbishop Romero of San Salvador. “Our hunger is for justice, for food, medicine, education, and effective programs of fair development”. Archbishop Romero, himself an ardent champion of justice for the poor, was never tired of repeating, “Violence resolves nothing, violence is not Christian, not human.” However, once violence takes roots in a society, peacemaking becomes an uphill task. The path seems to lengthen the more you walk on it. You are more likely to see failure at every step than success. We have little choice. “The choice is between non-violence and non-existence”, as Martin Luther King once said. If we do not listen to the voice of wisdom and the whisper of our conscience, our worst fears will come true. As things are today, fighters are many and peacemakers are few. But we continue to hold on to hope. As the Catholic Archbishop Dom Helder Camara of Recife and Olinda in Brazil used to say, “Today, as always, humanity is led by minorities who hope against all hope, as Abraham did". We need to trust in the strength of ideas, the persuasive power of that inner voice that speaks to us, and in the help that comes from God. Public leaders are the custodians of a trust. Their mission is precisely this - give public utterance to the inner voice that speaks to everyone, saying, “God’s plan for humanity is peace".

The Planet Is Our Home

It surrounds us, it is in every place we go, on the street, on the beach or the woods. We see it when we climb a mountain or go for a swim. It is there, evidence of our wilful neglect or ingenious inventiveness. It is our own man-made friend and already a destructive enemy. It is causing permanent and irreversible harm to us and also to the creatures of the planet. Yes, you guessed it, it is plastic. Every time I open a plastic-wrapped package of food or a product, I feel a twinge of guilt, sadness and frustration. I know it is a strong, reliable, protective man-made material that is very valuable in it’s many uses for mankind. It is used in every conceivable way from wrapping our sandwiches to the plastic chairs in which we sit. But how can I recycle and dispose of it in a safe harmless way? A recent report in the London based 'The Independent' newspaper said that there are as many as eight million tons of plastic waste dumped into the oceans every year. There are, the report says, 51 trillion plastic micro particles – 500 times more than the stars in our galaxy spread all over the planet. In the Arctic alone, that beautiful once pristine remote Ocean, researchers have detected 300 billion bits of floating plastic micro-particles, which the fish are eating as a consequence. Out of all the plastic produced in the past 80 years, 79 percent is dumped in landfills, burnt or finds its way into the environment and the oceans and only 9 percent of it is recycled, the report says. Earth Day is approaching, on the 22nd April 22, and we have to focus on what this low-cost, useful yet pernicious material is doing to our environment. It is so beneficial and yet so destructive. We have to change our ways and invent a plant-based biodegradable form of plastic. We are so dependent on fossil oil-based plastic that some estimates say we humans have manufactured as much a 8.3 billion metric tons of it since 1950 or thereabouts. According to a report by Ocean Conservatory, Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines are among the worst polluters. The Pasig River in Manila is one of the worst. Up to 60 percent of the plastic junk in the world comes from these Asian countries. The durability of plastic is what gives it such appeal to manufacturers but that it’s weakness too. Fossil fuel-based plastic is not biodegradable, it will not rot away like wood or breakdown for hundreds of years and even then, it will remain a toxic substance poisoning the planet. It does slowly disintegrate into micro-plastic particles and these become dust and cling to plants, float in the air and are carried into the rivers and oceans. They attract other chemicals, pesticides, and residues that cling to the plastic particles and create an unseen dangerous toxic brew of poison. The three witches around their cauldron in Shakespeare’s Macbeth could ever imagine such a toxic brew. Yes we are brewing trouble, “Double, double toil and trouble.” This might be a cause of different cancers. We are breathing these unseen and undetectable particles that can stick in our lungs and nostrils causing conditions that can’t be properly diagnosed. The planet or its inhabitants have not yet evolved to survive the onslaught of our own plastic poisoning. Plastic is derived from oil. The animals and our children’s children will be ingesting it for centuries to come if we don’t do something serious now to stop the pollution that is destroying creatures of our natural habitat and environment. We are stuck with it forever, it seems. So if we live in a city environment which most of us do, or in an industrial area, we have the smog or fumes from burning coal and oil and diesel to contend with. The plastic micro-particles tend to cling to them according to new research by professor Frank Kelly, from London’s Kings College, who is a renowned researcher on the environmental hazards dangerous to our health. There is, too, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and “The Eastern Garbage Patch". These are huge swats of the oceans in the North Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean where plastic debris has accumulated into islands some as big as France due to the action of the ocean currents. Fish absorb the micro particles. Turtles swallow plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish and most fish eat plankton, but mistake the plastic micro particles for food. We eat a lot of fish, which is considered healthier than eating meat. We should all be vegetarians to save the planet. That’s not possible nowadays because we consumed as much as 92.6 millions tonnes of fish in 2015 alone, according to a UN report. Many tonnes of fish are discarded and thrown back dead into the sea as not being commercially valuable in the western world. What a shocking waste. It also means that those of us that do eat fish will be ingesting more plastic than ever before. Soon, we will be carrying the plastic particles that will disrupt our hormones and inner organs. We have not yet evolved as plastic-resistant creatures. Some towns and cities are banning the use of plastic bags. There is a new CleanSeas campaign announced by the United Nations to clean the oceans of plastic debris. Let us give a good example by recycling our plastic at home, clean the environment of plastic and encourage our nations to join the campaign. - Fr. Shay Cullen

South East Asian Countries: To Celebrate The Traditional New Year

Whilst the rest of the world may partake in a common New Year on 1st January, different cultures and religions have their own calendars and hence, different New Years. We look at four South East Asian that celebrate their Traditional New Year in April. Cambodia - Enter New Year, Chaul Chnam Thmey. (14th-16th April) Chaul Chnam Thmey, which means ‘Enter New Year’ in Khmer, recognises the start of the Cambodian (Khmer) New Year and the end of the harvest season. Major cities like Phnom Penh would be rather quiet as most head back to their villages to celebrate with family and friends alike. Games, dance and social interaction would occur, although they are relatively subdued when compared to the exuberance of festivals like Songkran. The first day, Maha Songkran, welcomes ‘New Angels’. Homes are cleaned, and offerings are prepared and blessed by monks. The second day, Vanabot - or Virak Wanabat - sees Cambodians performing charity for the less fortunate. It is also a day to remember elders, as families visit temples to build sand stupas, which are sand sculptures resembling Pagodas, in a dedication ceremony to their ancestors. On the last day, Thngai Lieng Sak - or Virak Loeurng Sak - Buddhists visit temples to wash their elders as well as statues of Buddha with fragrant water. As water is the symbol of the essence of life, it is thought that washing Buddha statues is a kind deed that can bring longevity, good luck, happiness, and prosperity in life. Thailand – Songkran. (13th-15th April) Songkran is arguably the most significant event for Thais. Officially, celebrations go on for three days, but unofficially, certain parts of Thailand can celebrate for up to a week, or more. Songkran is from the Sanskrit word, Samkranti - ‘Astrological Passage’ - and is a celebration and the reunification of families, where houses are cleaned and temples are visited. The traditional practice of ‘Rod NamDumHua’ on the first day sees young people pouring fragrant water into the palms of their elders to honour them, signifying humility and deference as well as to ask for their blessings. Additionally, there’s your kingdom-mandated mega water parties, too. This profuse use of water is not baseless, though, at its core, water symbolically cleanses and renews, the latter being especially important given the birth of a new year. Thais are a very measured, polite people, and originally took to using bowls to pour water on their families, friends and neighbours to ritually and symbolically cleanse them. Despite its deep religious roots, the modern-day Songkran is now an almost secular affair. Whilst tradition continues with Thais, tourists travel all the way to Thailand to grab a piece of the fun despite the fact that most businesses are closed for the period. Pii Mai Lao - Laos (15th-18th April) In terms of cultural practices, Pi Mai Lao (Laotian New Year) is not very different from Songkran and the Cambodian New Year. One of the most important dates in the Lao calendar. Pi Mai Lao is a time of celebration, fun, and merry making and is synonymous with commemorating the Lao identity. Familial bonds are reinforced and relationships strengthened; it is a time for tranquil and soulful reflection for the year ahead. Similar to Thailand, it is officially celebrated for three days, but the celebrations always extend to a week. Similarly to Cambodia, they also partake in the washing of Buddha statues, and people greet one another with ‘Sok Dil Pimai’ (Happy New Year) before pouring water over their heads to wash away the previous year’s sins. To them, water, too, is symbolic of cleansing and purification. Some interesting things to look out for in the main city, Luang Prabang, are the thousands of sand stupas on the Mekong River bank, erected to keep ‘evil’ spirits out, the Prabang procession from the former Royal Palace to Vat Mai, and the beauty contest, on top of assorted games, music and dance. Thingyan - Myanmar (13th-16th April) Thingyan is most notably a New Year Water Festival, with preparations preceding the actual New Year. Arguably the most celebrated festival in Myanmar. It is full of fantastical mythologies and folklore, yet still Buddhist in spirit. Similarly to the other New Years, alms giving, good deeds and fasting is undertaken. It is a time for all to celebrate goodwill, love, and kindness. On the eve of Thingyan, religious activities such as observing the Eight Precepts of Buddhism are undertaken, and the fun starts nearer to the evening, when merry making in the form of song and dance take place. Like Songkran, this festival also originally started with bowls of water poured onto heads, but have evolved to be a fun and active water festival to have clean fun with friends, families and strangers. - Jamilah Lim

Guatemala: Community-led Forest Management

Indigenous communities comply with strict rules to ensure the regeneration of the forest and protect water sources. On 20th June 2017, heavy rains caused a mudslide that came down the Wachuná hillside in the municipality of San Pedro Soloma, in Guatemala’s north-western department of Huehuetenango, killing 11 people who were traveling to work in a minibus. During that month, the Guatemalan authorities reported that 1,060 people had been evacuated, 644 houses had been damaged and 57,460 had been affected by landslides caused by heavy rain, mostly in the northern departments of Petén and Huehuetenango. As a result of climate change, Guatemala and other Central American countries have borne the impact of extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes and severe drought. The risk of deadly mudslides is particularly severe in areas where excessive timber logging has stripped hills and mountains of vegetation, leaving no barrier to hold back mud, rocks and debris, in the event of torrential rain. It is hardly surprising that Guatemala, which has the fourth highest deforestation rate in the world after Malaysia, Paraguay and Indonesia, according to the UN Environment Program (UNEP), should also have the fourth highest rate of risk of death from landslides according to the UN’s Mortality Risk Index. According to the Guatemala’s National Forestry Bureau (INAB), 34 percent of Guatemalan territory is covered by forestland (31.7 million hectares) but is losing 1 percent of its forestland every year. Aware of the deadly implications of failing to halt deforestation, caused by agriculture, illegal timber logging, and the widespread use of firewood, in early 2014, Guatemala’s National Forestry Bureau (INAB) launched a timber tracking system to register, monitor and control the flow of forest products through legally established and registered companies, the Electronic Forest Enterprise Information System (SEINEF). Antonio Guorón, head of INAB’s financial mechanisms department, says that to date there are around 1,600 registered timber companies in Guatemala that have to register timber inventories and the transportation of all timber products, as well as invoices on this new online platform. Inspections are carried out, says Guorón, when “suspicious activities” are identified, such as companies that annul invoices for no apparent reason. Since SEINEF was launched, INAB has filed 450 legal complaints against companies that break the law. However, given that Guatemala’s criminal justice system has been plagued by institutional weakness, high impunity rates and corruption, prosecuting offenders is not an easy task. For this reason, INAB has taken a pragmatic approach and has opted for a fast-track legal procedure, known as procedimiento abreviado under Guatemalan law, in which companies that break the law plead guilty and pay reparations for the damage caused rather than embarking on a lengthy lawsuit. Guorón cites lack of Internet access in some rural areas as a limitation and said INAB is working to solve this by making the SEINEF website more smartphone compatible as the use of prepaid smartphones in Guatemala has become widespread, even in remote rural areas. “INAB has made great progress in terms of controlling the timber products that undergo an industrial transformation process. However, there are weaknesses in terms of controlling the transportation and sale of firewood. This remains a pending task”, says César Augusto Sandoval, a researcher with the Guatemalan Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment (IARNA) of the Rafael Landívar University. Around 70 percent of the Guatemalan population uses firewood for cooking and IARNA estimates that the average person uses one ton of firewood per year. “Timber logging to obtain firewood is an issue of survival for many communities. While it doesn’t cause deforestation, it can degrade the forest”, explains Sandoval, who adds that the authorities need to acknowledge that and work with rural communities in order to involve them in forestry management programs and provide them with more sustainable livelihoods. “One of the limitations of Guatemala’s forestry tracking system is ignorance of customary law to determine what is or isn’t legal. Illegality is understood as any process that contravenes local and national laws, both indigenous practices under customary law and national laws contemplated in the Penal Code. As long as there is no consensus on the issue, indigenous communities’ use of natural resources will be in permanent conflict with the law”, says Sandoval. The importance of respecting community and indigenous rights to collective land tenure and forest management is also highlighted in a 2015 report from the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI), which analyses the impact of community managed forestry programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America, including community forest concessions in Guatemala’s Mayan Biosphere Reserve, in terms of protecting rainforests and mitigating climate change. One of the most successful and well-known examples of community-led forestry management is the “48 cantons”, forestland in the western department of Totonicapán communally owned by Mayan Kiché communities since colonial times. In the 48 cantons, logging within a three-mile radius of water resources is strictly forbidden and if a family needs to fell a tree for firewood, it must seek prior consent from indigenous community leaders and only the oldest trees can be felled. The penalties for breaking these rules depends on the size of the tree that was felled and range from planting five trees to paying fines equivalent to $64-$102. In order to ensure forest regeneration, every year in May leaders distribute tree seedlings from a community greenhouse so that every member of the community can plant five trees in an area of their choice. The communities also observe strict rules regarding the use of water from six sources in the forest. If a family wishes to build a house it must seek permission from the local water committee. Using water for activities considered superfluous, such as washing cars and motorbikes, is forbidden. It is no coincidence that Totonicapán should have the lowest deforestation rate in the country, according to Guatemala’s Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN). Today, the 48 cantons are widely regarded in Guatemala as an example of successful community-led forest management. But the relationship between INAB and the Maya Kiché leaders of the 48 cantons was not always smooth and plain sailing. “The government established many policies without generating a dialog with indigenous leaders and the communities that manage forest resources”, says Andrea Ixchiú, former president of the board of natural resources for Totonicapán’s 48 cantons. “Initially, the relationship between INAB and the 48 cantons was very negative but after new officials were employed who were more sensitive to the needs of indigenous communities, it was possible for the two models to work side by side. Nowadays, the government never implements policies without previously consulting Totonicapán’s ancestral authorities”. - Louisa Reynolds/LP