All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

Nature & People: Mushroom – For A Better Health

Mushrooms are truly magical. They are well-known traditional delicacies in many parts of the world and a lot of different varieties are either obtained from their natural habitats in the wild or the farm. They belong to a group of living things called Fungi, division called Eumycota, which means "True Fungi". In fact, mushrooms are regarded as a macro-fungus with a distinctive fruiting body, which can be seen with the naked eyes. Only the fruiting body of the mushroom can be seen and the rest of the mushroom remains underground as mycelium. Mushrooms are classified as vegetables in the food world, but they are technically not plants. All types of edible mushrooms contain varying degrees of protein and fibre. They also contain a variety of vitamin B as well as mineral selenium - a highly powerful antioxidant which boosts the immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues. Indeed, mushrooms are consumed both for nutrition and medicinal values. Although mushrooms are still harvested from the wild in many communities across the world, the ability to cultivate many different species has greatly improved over the years hence leading to its increased quantity and continuous supply. For centuries, edible mushrooms have been used medicinally to manage cancer, diabetes, reduce inflammation, and in treatment of a number other diseases. It is hard to sum up the health benefits of mushroom nutrition and the perks one gets from regularly eating them. Indeed, many communities believe that regular consumption of mushrooms can decrease obesity and diabetes. The main reason for its use in management of obesity is due to the fact that mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibres in their cell walls, beta-glucans and chitin. These increase satiety and reduce appetite hence making one feel full for a longer time and reducing overall individual calorie intake. Mushrooms are high in antioxidants - which can remove chemicals that can harm the body - just like carrots and green vegetables hence reducing risks of cancer and related conditions. The major mineral here is selenium - a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. Mushroom also has vitamin D, which plays a key role in inhibiting cancer cell growth. In addition, studies have showed that mushrooms contain a chemical compound psychedelic, which is very important in reducing anxiety and depression in patients. Vitamin D is also important in that it enables the body to absorb calcium, which is essential for bone growth and development. Mushrooms are known to be excellent food that can lower cholesterol levels in the body. This is due to the fact that it is a good source of chitin and betaglucan fibres, which are fundamental in lowering the body cholesterol hence reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Regular consumption of mushrooms can lower blood pressure, hence decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. This is due to the fact that mushrooms contain high level of potassium and vitamin C in it. The selenium, ergothioneine, and Betaglucan found in mushroom plays a key role in improving the body's immune response to infections by stimulating the production of killer T-cells in the body. Indeed, mushrooms have tremendous medicinal, food, and mineral values hence a valuable asset for human welfare. However, one should avoid eating toxic wild mushrooms, because it can cause severe illness or even death. - Richard Komakech

Burkina Faso: ‘The Ants Can Carry An Elephant’

The Mossi are the most numerous ethnic group in Burkina Faso with 6.2 million members making up 40% of the population. Mossi wisdom notes.. For the Mossi, wisdom consists in respecting traditional practices and customs. 'If you go to a village and find everyone walking heads down, do the same yourself, and do not ask why'. Customs must be respected without question. For example, before digging a well, ask yourself if you should begin it on a Saturday or rather wait until Monday - you will avoid something bad happening to those working on it. No matter what happens, never begin on a Friday, as that would end in failure. Children born on that day are always very ‘hard-headed’, perhaps because they are thought to be so and treated as such right from infancy, they become so, even if they are not born that way. On the other hand, it is easy to find a girl to marry among those born on a Friday, as the father will give her to the first suitor just to get rid of her. Consequently, even the poorest man is able to pay a dowry and set up house. Wisdom consists in creating equilibrium and preserving harmony between the various powers that make up society. Besides, 'if everyone had the same intelligence, it would be impossible to establish a village'. We might have many chiefs and philosophers but no one able to build a hut. Instead, God gives each one particular gifts and intelligence, proportional to the task he must perform. In this way, the activities of society become diversified. 'If everyone were to weave baskets, there would be no one to buy them'. This is for the good of all, as the proverb says, 'when they are all in agreement, the ants can carry an elephant'. Wisdom also consists in recognising that, in this plurality of functions, the chiefs have a privileged place because 'when the water reaches the hill, it has reached its limit'. Therefore, you should never oppose them or it will cost you dearly. 'Betrayed by the darkness, the hyena grasped a lion: he can neither release it and flee or kill it. It ends up like the python that swallowed a porcupine'. For the chiefs, wisdom requires that they be careful and not demand too much from their subjects. 'You can teach a dog to sit but not to close its eyes'. The powerful must therefore consider the weak, never forgetting that they too have some power. One day, the beasts of the forests gathered around the lion to see if the strong were really able to overcome the weak. The sparrow hawk jumped up and, having caught a chameleon, it carried it high up in the sky. They all exclaimed, “It is true. The strong always win”. However, the female chameleon asked everyone to wait before jumping to conclusions. Meanwhile, up in the sky, a struggle to the death was taking place. The hawk was trying to eat the chameleon and the chameleon was trying to insert its tail into the hawk’s nose. It succeeded. The hawk suffocated and fell to the ground dead, while the chameleon went home cheerfully. Popular wisdom also tells why the great and powerful cannot always do what they want. 'If God does not kill, the chief does not kill. There are many chiefs but only one God, and we all depend on Him'. A vulture was concentrating on his stomach. He had spent three whole days without even the smallest morsel of carrion to eat and now he was wondering what to do. And so he began to pray. A hawk was flying by and asked him what he was doing. “I am praying to God to let me have some food”, said the vulture. The hawk answered “You really are a fool! In this world we have to trust in our own resources, not in God! Do you see that partridge there on the rock? Watch me”. And he swooped on the partridge but the partridge spotted the shadow of the hawk and moved away at the last instant. The hawk was broken to pieces against the rock. The vulture thanked God for the food and happily began to eat. Finally, wisdom means reconciling honesty. 'To tell the truth and go to bed hungry is better than telling tales and eating' – with the ability to compromise, 'the little peacocks hide their intelligence and follow the hen, so as to get some food' Real wisdom, in brief, is the ability to read the events of life, discover the forces at work in them and draw useful conclusions for one’s behaviour. A certain man had spent the whole night meditating after which he left his house and started walking. Soon, at the edge of the road he saw a glittering stone. He kicked it away but it came back to its place. “God Almighty”, exclaimed the traveller. Then the stone retorted, “That’s nothing! Keep walking and you will see!”. The man continued his journey and, on the savannah, he met a walga, a small gazelle, with twelve arrows stuck in its body, seemingly without doing it any harm. “God Almighty”, the man exclaimed. “That’s nothing”, replied the walga, "continue your journey and you will see”. There, a little further on, was a yaka, a large gazelle, killed by a single arrow. “How come?” the traveller asked himself. “A large gazelle killed by a single arrow and a small gazelle still able to prance around with twelve arrows in it!”. “That’s nothing!” said the yaka, “continue your journey and you will see!”. As he reached a plain well irrigated with flowing water, he saw an ox that was lean and skinny and hardly able to stand. “God almighty!”, he exclaimed. “Even with all that grass and water, why is the ox in such a state?!” The ox replied: “Continue your journey and you will see something even more surprising!”. There in front of our traveller was a desert and in it was a fine fat ox. “First there was the lean ox and now a fat one with not a blade of grass in sight!” he thought. “Don’t be so surprised”, said the ox, “continue your journey and you will see”. “Then our friend entered a strange village where a group of children were playing with an old man. God almighty!”, he exclaimed, seeing such a strange thing. But the old man told him to sit in the shade, to be quiet and wait until the games were finished. At midday, the children stopped their playing and prepared to have a meal. The old man then invited them to share their food with the traveller. They were so many and so generous that soon he had a large plate of polenta before him. The water was also shared with him and our friend ate and drank to his heart’s content. When the meal was over, the old man approached him and explained the meaning of the wonders he had seen. “The stone is nothing more than some strange fact all chatterboxes are interested in. It goes here and there but then comes back to its place. The small gazelle is a stubborn child. He misbehaves in all sorts of ways but waits for the twelfth heavy blow to punish it". "The large gazelle is the stranger, one small error and he is lost. The lean ox in the green grass represents the munatika, the braggart who spends his time telling tall stories. Nobody trusts him and so he ends his life in misery. The fat ox represents a young man: everywhere he attracts people’s gaze and he is always thriving. As to myself, as you see, I live in a village where all the elders and adults are dead. What can I do but share my life with the children and play with them? I use the situation to instruct them and guide them towards the good. Have you seen how they welcomed you? They have learned to deprive themselves of some of their share to give it to you”. “Yes”, our friend thought, “continue your journey and you will understand!”

South Sudan: Quality Education To Break The Vicious Circle Of Poverty & War

The Loyola Secondary School (Lss) in Wau, South Sudan, is a school, but also a shelter. It is a place where boys and girls can find serenity and build the future, beyond violence and war. "The quality of education is an important factor in breaking the cycle of poverty, and our hope is that the institute will provide South Sudan with leaders, men and women of tomorrow, committed to serving their people with integrity and justice", said the headmaster of the institute, the Jesuit Beatus Mauki. Founded in 1982 by the Society of Jesus, the Loyola Secondary School has long been closed due to the war fought between North and South Sudan. With the independence of the South, activities resumed and soon the number of students started to grow. Then, in 2013, the new civil war broke out between the armed forces and the Nuer militias that soon turned into a gang struggle that hit the whole country. In four years, at least 50 thousand people have died, thousands more have been forced to leave their home. 40% of the 12 million inhabitants have problems eating properly. "The civil war", explains the headmaster, "has devastated the country". Fighting has spread to all the provinces, the school activity has slowed down, but has not stopped. The Loyola Secondary School, which has 580 students, 35 teachers and six Jesuits, has managed to create a unique space where young people coexist peacefully beyond ethnic differences. The school also offers a space to aspire to reach their full potential and guarantees the opportunity to enjoy their youth. This is rare in South Sudan, where the militias have recruited over 19 thousand children and at least one school out of three is damaged, destroyed, occupied or closed. Many children have lost their parents and are forced to take care of their younger brothers. Aware of this situation, the school's supervisors, thanks to the commitment of the Jesuit missionary structures, have begun to offer scholarships to the neediest children and a nutritious breakfast, which, for some, is their only meal of the day. Almost 60% of students live in refugee camps and some of them are orphans. Fr. Mauki attributes "the improvement of the physical and mental abilities of the students to the food programme".

Reflection: Lent – “We Meet Along The Way”

In the light of the Pope’s Message for Lent, Brother Michal Davide Semeraro, Benedictine monk, “rereads” the three Lenten practices – prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Prayer as openness to transcendence, fasting as “discipline” and almsgiving as an opportunity to understand that “in every woman and in every man is hidden a poor person who is waiting to be discovered”. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three Lenten practices. How can their topical relevance be highlighted in contemporary societies where silence and care for others are increasingly less frequent? Prayer, almsgiving and fasting are three timeless practices. They preserve their topical relevance as they do not exclusively belong to the Church, but they are linked to the history of human civilisation. In the men and women of all times an aspect that is related with the deepest meaning of life and reality. Fasting, for example, is not a form of control and mortification but a critical experience of the needs of our body in order to discern our desires and needs. Through Lenten practices, this form of discernment is expressed in many forms - in food and in our relations with things and with others, in the relationship between body and time. Prayer is needed by the human person to extend beyond his self-experience and welcome all living experiences encompassing a larger realm that is the horizon of transcendence. Our ability to care for ourselves, to be sensitive to the maze of drives and desires that characterize us, makes us sensitive also to a larger world. The term ‘almsgiving’ comes from élemos, the Greek word for piety and for balm: it is thus related to compassion and benevolence. These three practices are a form of increased humaneness that the whole of humanity can identify with. For us Christians, those are the classical forms of Lenten commitment which, rather than repeating, we should renew every year, at the beginning of Lent, with the aim of maturing the care for ourselves and for others. For Francis, praying means learning to address God with the term “Father”, nourished by the Scriptures and by the language of faith, assimilated with maternal milk, starting from the sign of the Cross. Can the family still be a school of prayer? It can be inasmuch as in addition to teaching to pray the family becomes the place where children are taught to conceive, thus to recognise, that there is another presence in addition to what is visible to the eye. “What is essential is invisible to the eye”, said the Little Prince. Today’s children are bombarded with too many stimuli and families should be able to teach children to see what is invisible to the eye. They must be taught to close their eyes and ears and perceive their inner world as well as the external world. In his Message for Lent, the Pope invites people to make almsgiving “a way of life”, starting from the concreteness of the other person’s flesh. Whose cry should we be able to listen to? At Lent, we are called to acknowledge our poverty, our fragility, our vulnerability, as well as the cry we harbour within ourselves as human creatures. If we experience truly, we will be sensitive to all the cries of humanity. In every man and in every woman there is a poor person that is waiting to be discovered. There are also emergencies, our duty of showing solidarity with the poor, but we would not be able to take care for their needs without being constantly sensitive to the poverty that lies inside us and inside every man and woman we meet along the way. When we speak of almsgiving it isn’t only a gesture to appease our conscience, it is a “hope conspiracy” with everyone. We all need a balm for our wounds. It is no coincidence that Lent begins with the rite of imposition of the Ashes, when we are reminded that we are dust, that we are nothing. It is not to depress ourselves but to use all our energies and transform them into stardust. In the era of social media, fasting is not limited to sharing our bread with those who have none, it also means fasting from the media. Can Lent be a stimulus for a “different period” that is less focused on digital noise and more on authentic relations with others? In the past fasting involved the aspect of food because it was a fundamental aspect in everyone’s life. The Western world no longer has this concern. Fasting means always being sensitive to what enters inside it. It’s true, as Jesus says, that it cannot contaminate us, but it’s also true that it can make us less free, more dependent. We should be aware of everything that enters inside us through our mouth, our eyes, our ears. From this perspective, the term fasting could be translated with the word “discipline”, of which young people in particular no longer know the meaning. Discipline is related to ascesis: our quality of humanity encompasses true self-discipline, if not we would regress to a savage or inhuman stage. Thus Lent can become an opportunity to be pay closer attention to what enters our mouth, our eyes, our ears, in order to gain greater freedom and discernment.

Carnival In Mexico: The Great ‘Colourful Fiesta’

Celebrations vary depending on the local indigenous cultures. We share a journey through the several carnivals of the country.. The Veracruz Carnival. This festival, which takes place in February, is undoubtedly the most famous carnival in Mexico, as well as one of the most ancient, with its celebration dateing back to the early eighteenth century. It is also one that attracts the greatest number of people, with nearly one million visitors per edition. Carnival traditions in Veracruz date back to 1700, when the inhabitants of the port asked authorities for permission to celebrate the 'party of masks'. Celebration rituals have not changed much over the centuries, however this festival became important only in the twentieth century, and precisely in 1925, the year that marks the carnival’s first modern edition. The celebrations start with the burning of 'Bad Mood', which is the bonfire ritual of setting fire to figures that represent any character, personage or an abstract concept that causes a bad mood - celebrities, politicians, criminals, war, viruses, and so on. Another highlight of these celebrations is the crowning of the King of Happiness and that of a Carnival Queen. During the week of the festival, the streets of the town hold six masked carnival parades of allegoric floats, while dancers and musicians also from other countries make their contribution to the merry fiesta with their performances. Music plays an essential role in the celebration, so visitors enjoy concerts of classical music, salsa, mariachi, batucada, popular rhythms and the danzón. The Jarocho celebrations culminate with the traditional burial of 'Juan Carnaval' and the public reading of his satirical and funny testament. The Carnival of Tlaxcala. This is one of the most colourful celebrations in the country, which is held in the first fortnight of February. A parade of allegoric floats, dancers and troupes and the election of a Carnival Queen open the festival. But one of the elements that makes the Tlazcala Carnival unique is the presence of the so-called camadas, which means gangs in English, groups of dancers whose members are known as huehues, 'elders', a word that derives from the name of the Nahuatl god of fire, Huehuetéotl. The huehues represent the former landowners, so their customs are very elaborate, showing elegant trousers, waistcoats, shirts, neckties and capes in bright colours, adorned with sequins and glass beads. They wear hats with feathers that simulate indigenous plumes — an element of syncretism — and their faces are covered with masks with Spanish features. Besides the huehues, there are also other groups of dancers called churros, 'cowboys', paragüeros, 'umbrella carriers' and catrines, 'dandies'. During the closing ceremony, the leader of each group carries a cross on his shoulders and then places it on the altar of a church. After praying before the cross, the groups dance through the streets until they reach the main square. Mazatlan's Carnival. This carnival dates back to 1823, on the occasion of the arrival of the first ship to the port, an event that marked the beginning of trade between Mexico and Spain. However, there is another version regarding the origins of this festival. According to ancient chronicles, in fact, on the 12th February 1827 in Mazatlán, there was a 'treat, masquerade and group of people' in which the soldiers guarding the port participated in the festival that was held. This celebration is the oldest on record and celebrated the ancient roots of the carnival in this port. This event is documented in a report by the Commander of Squadron Mazatlan, Captain Juan Antonio Muñoz. It was, paradoxically, a protest of 'the troops to demand payment of their salaries', which degenerated into a rowdy celebration, as described by the commander Muñoz who sent the report of the goings on to the head of the tax office. The first parade of allegorical floats was organised only in 1898. The Mazatlan festival, which is held during the five days before Ash Wednesday, is characterised by the intense rhythm of the bass drum, by band music, by the beautiful beaches where the carnival takes place and, unlike other carnivals, it hosts many cultural events. Each edition is characterised by a different theme. The Carnival of Campeche. According to historical sources, the festival was introduced in 1582. For the 'Bad Mood burning', the event that in Campeche also kicks off the carnival celebrations, people use a rag doll dressed as a pirate, since the Campeche port was a target of buccaneers during the colonial period. During the festival the Campeche streets hold parades of floats adorned with paper flowers. But the most awaited event by the people of this town is the performance of popular dances that last all day and all night, dances like the 'Hat' or 'Guaranducha', among others. The most famous of all, however, is the 'dance of the Pig's Head', where women wear outfits called 'trajes de mestiza' and carry trays with a pig’s head decorated with ribbons and dance to a style of music called Jarana. On 'wet Monday', prior to Ash Wednesday, the children of Campeche throw balloons filled with water. On 'painters Tuesday', neighbours gather to paint each other. The Carnival of Huejotzingo. This carnival shows more traces of syncretism than others. The activities of the carnival focus on a number of re-enactments. This tradition, which dates back to 1893, covers much of the national history because it represents in a theatrical way three episodes that occurred during the pre-Hispanic, the colonial and the independent Mexico times. The stories that are re-enacted are the traditional indigenous marriage, the kidnapping of the chief magistrate’s daughter, and the Battle of Puebla, when Mexican troops overwhelmed the French soldiers. Mock battles related to this event are re-enacted. About 12,000 people of the municipality participate in costume and are divided into several battalions. The 'Zapadores' represent those of the elite classes in Mexican society, the Apaches, the Zacapoaxtlas, the Indios Serranos, the Zuavos, the 'Franceses', which represent a group of elite French troops at the Battle of Puebla, and the Turks. Participants may prepare for up to six months in advance. The richly decorated garments are still locally made, if not by the participants, then by local craftspeople. Masks, hats, tufts, uniforms, tunics, coats of arms and props are part of the costumes. The participants parade through the streets carrying hand carved muskets, with which gunpowder is set off making clouds of smoke that fill the air. - Ramiro Flores Ortiz

Plants & Herbs: Passion Fruit – Relevance To Human Life

Passion fruit is an intriguing and mysterious fruit that has a surprising number of health and medicinal benefits for fruit lovers. It can be consumed raw, as well as utilised like a seasoning for a number of drinks and sauces. The fruit is a very rich source of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fibre. The fruit belongs to the plant family - Passifloraceae, genus: Passiflora and species: Pedulis There are very many reasons to smile once you are a regular consumer of passion fruits. This is due to the numerous health benefits associated with it. Some of these health benefits are that passion fruit is abundant with vitamin C, an anti-oxidant that safeguards you from the harm of free-radicals, avoiding premature aging as well as keeping the immune system powerful. The fruit is a very good source of dietary fibre which when added to your diet helps to remove cholesterol from the body. Being a good bulk laxative, it also helps protect the colon mucous membrane by decreasing exposure time to toxic substances in the colon and wiping off cancer-causing toxic substances from the colon. High potassium content with almost no sodium makes passion fruit highly effective in protecting our body from high blood pressure. Potassium regulates electrolyte balance and controls the muscle function of our entire body including heart muscles that create heartbeat. It is also responsible for the release of calcium in the blood stream, which can cause blockages in the arteries if released in excess. These three functions of Potassium make it an indirect factor, which regulates optimum blood pressure in the body. Passion fruit contains soluble fibre that cleanses toxins stored in the colon by facilitating healthy and regular bowel movement. Apart from the fibre content, the antioxidants in Passion fruit also aid in cleaning the colon. Your vision and eye health tends to deteriorate with age. Passion fruit is among those healthy foods that prove beneficial for your eye. It contains a high amount of antioxidant like Vitamin A, Vitamin C and flavonoids. These nutrients protect your eyes from the free radical damage and take care of the mucous membranes that shield cornea of the eye. Regular consumption of passion fruits improves greatly one's body immunity. The fruit also provides phytonutrients like Xanthin and Beta Carotene, which are highly effective in optimizing the immune function of our body. It results in a higher resistance against common disease like cold, flu and other infections. Passion fruit is such a rich source of minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus making it a very important fruit for increasing mineral bone density and bone strength. Some of these minerals are integral parts in creating additional bone matter, strengthening existing bone matter, and speeding up repair. This can be a means of eliminating, preventing, or alleviating the symptoms of osteoporosis and the associated pain and inflammation that occurs when bones deteriorate with age and activity. Passion fruit seeds provide magnesium, an essential mineral that plays a prominent role in your health from the day you are born. For starters, magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism. It is also essential for proper heartbeat and nerve transmission. Furthermore, it helps genes function properly. In conclusion, passion fruits prides itself in its ability to prevent cancerous growth, stimulate digestion, boost immune function, improve eyesight, increase skin health, regulate fluid balance in the body, lower blood pressure, boost circulation, and improve bone mineral density. Additionally, it reduces signs of premature aging, lessens inflammation, improves sleeping habits, and eliminates asthma. - Richard Komakech

Guatemala: Bishop Ramazzini – “We Are Not The Owners Of Nature, But Its Custodians”

“Assuming responsibility for an 'Integral Ecology' in our lives poses challenges for us, both as individuals and as an institutional Church, and it also implies the adoption of coherent behaviours”, said Álvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of the diocese of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He shares some of his considerations... The first challenge is making Christians aware of what this view of creation implies, according to which we are not the owners, but rather we are the custodians of nature. This means interrelating faith and life. We have often underlined, on the occasion of the several conferences of the bishops of Latin America, that there are many baptized people, but few disciples and missionaries of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a huge gap between the faith we profess and the lifestyle we lead, as is shown even in the simplest behaviours we have in our everyday life, such as those concerning our waste disposal for instance. People often do not care about this issue, and garbage is found littered in various areas of our cities and villages. People do not relate the matter to being Christian. But, as Christians, we have been taught to love and respect the other. The other is also my neighbour, and as a Christian, one must respect the life and health of his neighbours and be willing to create those conditions for a healthy environment where human beings live. A second challenge is related to the authorities and representatives of the Church. Bishops, priests and consecrated men and women live among the people. They share their joys and sufferings. But, above all, they know their hopes, and their task as representatives of the Church consists in helping people to make their expectations, hopes and dreams come true. But the people of Central America are losing hope after all they have been through - armed conflicts, youth gang violence, chronic problems of poverty, misery, and emigration, along with the absence of the State in many communities. All this has collectively contributed to a creation of a sense of hopelessness that is very dangerous, because it leads to indifference, or to fear, and it is very unlikely that it may lead to a determined commitment. God wants a decent life for all, and we as pastors must serve and help the poor - the most marginalised and most excluded people. Because this is the essence of the Gospel. The third great challenge consists in trying to be good news carriers, even if the news is not that good, since hope must prevail, and since we know that God is the one who makes human history. He has his plan for humanity and we are his collaborators. Finally, it is important to underline that the Church is Catholic (universal). So, there is no place for borders, distinction of races or religions and the problems of some are the problems of all. If we talk about economic globalisation, with its positive and negative aspects, let us not forget that the first teacher of globalisation is the Church, because it is Catholic. So, we, the Christians, must not remain inside our small worlds, within our limited borders, because this does not match the Christian identity. Christians are citizens of the world, of the universe. Christians, while protecting their identity, must open themselves to other cultures, to other ways of thinking, other ways of seeing things, because diversity is the richness of life.

Philippines: Shepherding Drug Users

Sr. Nenet Daño, a Good Shepherd sister and licensed social worker, has passionately undertaken the task of helping drug users and pushers, in an attempt to protect them from imminent death, following the government’s war on drugs. Here is Sr. Nenet’s story of her mission to help the victims of the anti-drug campaign. After emerging from a face-to-face meeting with six drug users, Sr. Maria Juanita Nenet Daño heaves a small sigh of relief that perhaps these men will not meet a bloody end like dozens of others in the San Andres Bukid slum area in Manila, where she works. They have come forward to undergo counseling, hoping to change their ways and avoid becoming victims in the government’s ongoing anti-drug war. Still, the sister of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd sees danger ahead for the self-confessed drug users because their names are on the police list. This means they are marked men, targets in massive police operations called Oplan Tokhang (Tokhang is a contraction of the Filipino words that mean “knock” and “invite”), which have been in force since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in July 2016. Depending on who is counting, the anti-drug war has claimed from 2,000 to 7,000 plus lives, both in police operations and vigilante-style or extrajudicial killings, carried out without any due process. Daily news reports carry incidents of summary executions whose perpetrators are unidentified. The killers often leave a note that the death is drug-related. Daño, a licensed social worker, has been doing outreach work since 2011 in San Andres Bukid, said to be the second most populous area in the Manila Archdiocese. She had spent eight years as missionary in Senegal, returning to the Philippines in 2011. She worked in the sisters’ infirmary for two months before joining the Welcome House/Tahanan, which is one Good Shepherd community with two locations. Daño works as a counsellor at Welcome House/Tahanan but spends half of the week in San Andres Bukid some three kilometres away. Tahanan, which means “home”, is an outreach centre that serves as an office, meeting place and Daño’s sleeping quarters when she is in San Andres Bukid, located in a low-income tenement building built by the archdiocese. She is the only Good Shepherd sister working in that area. San Andres Bukid is congested and overpopulated. There are 26 barangays, the smallest government unit which can vary in size and population, in San Andres Bukid; 11 of them are headed by elected women. Helping Daño in her ministry is a group of women called Good Shepherd lay partners. These lay partners help gather members of families affected by killings for media interviews. One of the interviewees, Amina Merced, lost her two adult sons and a brother to a police operation in January. “I was told that two of them, my son Leo and my brother Bimbo were asleep, while Joshua, my other son, was taking a bath and was naked when shot”, she said. “Bimbo was mistaken as his brother, Crisanto, who was being hunted. I rushed back and found blood all over the wall in our house”. "The police had taken their bodies to a funeral parlour that charges 66,000 pesos per body for funeral and burial services", she said, adding that she had to borrow money for the burials, even when the price was lowered. The oft-repeated police reason for the killings is that the suspects “fought back,” but in most raids, usually at night, the target suspects are unarmed or even asleep. As to unknown assailants in vigilante-style killings, people can only speculate whether the hired killers are from the police or drug lords, who both want to silence their operators. The women lay their partners and volunteers assist with funerals and join protests. They undergo paralegal training so they can document cases, and help grieving families. They spoke about their first-hand experiences of the drug war, but for security purposes asked not to be identified by their real names. “Ely” says she has had to comfort mothers of those killed, and that she grieves with them. “I am a mother, too,” she says. “Some nights it is hard to sleep when you hear little noises that might signal a police raid nearby". Sr. Regina Kuizon, provincial leader for the Philippines and Japan, and co-chair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, is supportive of Sr. Nenet’s ministry. “Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, Sr. Nenet reaches out to the most in need and the victims of extrajudicial killings”, she said. “Undaunted, she speaks on their behalf and takes the risk to protect them. I pray for her and all those who are fearless to be on the side of the poor in our country”.

Martyrs Of Love

The decree of beatification of 19 “martyrs” killed in Algeria in the 1990s, including the seven monks of Tibhirine and the former Bishop of Oran Pierre Claverie, was signed on Friday 26th January. “Each of them was an authentic witness of Christ's love, of dialogue, of openness to others, of friendship and fidelity to the Algerian people”. “Honouring the 19 Christian martyrs means paying homage to the memory of all those who gave their lives in Algeria in the 90s”, said the French Trappist monk Thomas Georgeon, “postulator” (lawyer) of the cause. Who were these 19 martyrs? “They are very different people" - continued Father Georgeon, "from bishop Claverie, to the monks of Tibhirine, to numerous religious men and women of various congregations. Each of them are an authentic witness of Christ's love, of dialogue, of openness to others, of friendship and fidelity to the Algerian people. They had an immense faith in Christ and his Gospel. They did not give their lives for an idea, for a cause, but for Him. They had a deep love for Algeria, the land where the Lord had sent them. Inspired by the Gospel, they had great affection for the Algerian people, especially the poor and the young”. “They respected the faith of the other and desired to understand Islam. They realised that they belonged to a Church that saw its presence completely transformed after the country achieved independence. It had become a “guest” Church —small, humble, caring, and loving. Each of the 19 martyrs, like so many other members of the Church who are still alive, gave profound witness to this way of being. Their life and their death are like an icon of the identity of the Church of Algeria. To the very end, they understood that their vocation was to be a sacrament of Christ's love for all his people”, pointed out Fr. Georgeon. Such was the extraordinary example of the seven Trappist monks of Tibhlrine, murdered in Algeria in 1996. The facts - during the night of the 26th March 1996, seven of the nine monks present at the monastery of Tibhirine, were kidnapped in circumstances that have never been clarified. The seven monks were murdered, probably on the 21st May 1996. The precise happenings of the fifty-six days of their detention and the details of their death are still shrouded in mystery. Their choice to remain in Algeria, despite an increasing atmosphere of terror, had matured in them together after the intimidating visit of an armed group, on Christmas Eve, 1993. This was a free decision to express their will to remain together, as they shared with their neighbours the dangers of the violence, which was aimed especially at the most destitute. It also expressed their solidarity with the small ecclesial community and the gift of themselves to God and to Algeria. A few months before, Dom Christian de Cherge, prior of the community, wrote his own spiritual testament. He said “If it should happen one day, and it could be today, that I become a victim of the terrorism that now seems to encompass the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to Algeria. I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would ask them to pray for me, for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones, which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even ln the evil which might blindly strike me down". "I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down. I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called, the 'grace of martyrdom', to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately” “I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam, which a certain Islamism fosters. It is too easy to soothe one's conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different, it is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of that I have received from it. I so often find here that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers”. "Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic, 'Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals’. But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, God willing. Immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness playing with the differences. For this life lost, totally mine and totality theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that ‘joy’ in everything and in spite of everything”.

Colombia: The Art Of Weaving – The Wayuu People

An indigenous group proud of its craft tradition. They have survived through preserving their language and their strong weaving traditions. The Wayuu people live in the desert peninsula of La Guajira at the northern tip of Colombia and the territory shared with Venezuela. According to legend, and to the stories told by the women of the Wayuu community, the tradition of weaving comes from Waleker, a spider that taught the Wayuu women how to weave. Their ancient art is closely linked to the initiation rites of adolescent girls to womanhood. At the onset of the menstrual cycle, girls are required to enter a period of seclusion. The Wayuu girls can remain secluded for months, in some cases even years. During this rite of passage called the ‘confinement’ rite, they are taught the Wayuu traditions, customs, culture and household tasks by their elders - mothers, grandmothers and aunts. One of the most important tasks for a Wayuu woman is the art of weaving. The intricate, hand-stitched, geometric motifs characterise the ancient Wayúu weaving and represent the elements found in the matriarchal structure of their society. The technique and the designs have been passed down from generation to generation. At the end of their seclusion, the girls are formally introduced into society as majayut (young ladies), ready to face adult life in their communities, which are distributed around the most important urban centres of the district of La Guajira, such as Riohacha, Uribia, Canyons, Nazareth, Maicao, Manaure and Bahia Portete. The Wayuu fabrics with their hand-stitched, colorful kanás (weaving designs), represent the elements of the society and daily life of these indigenous people, as well as elements of their natural environment, such as the universe, flowers, animals and, of course, their worldview. The more complex and elaborate the motifs are, the more valuable is the handcrafted piece. The Wayuu women weave chinchorros - traditional Wayuu hammocks - backpacks, mats, and sandals. Chinchorros and hammocks are the most representative works of this indigenous group, and although these two pieces serve the same function, they show marked differences. The Chinchorro hammock is elastic, with sparse weave, very soft when touched, but with very strong yarn quality, whereas modern hammocks are heavy and compact. However, the most common woven creations are the mochilas, or susu, small bags, made of colourful yarn with intricate patterns and motifs. They are the most sold product on the national and international market. Wayuu women use the fibre from maguey cactus to crochet their traditional mochilas. Each bag is crocheted by just one Wayuu woman. A single Wayuu bag can take twenty-thirty days to complete depending on the crochet pattern. The Wayuushe’ or Wayuu Blanket is another Wayuu handcraft that is becoming popular. This is the traditional dress of the Wayuu women that can be made with cotton, silk or terlenka. The typical Wayuushe’ is square or rectangular. Its neck may be a square 'V' or an oval waist. Inside the dress, in the front, there is a string that anchors the blanket or 'manta' at the waist, the string is knotted at the back of the dress which is loose. - Marcela Echavarria