All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

Uganda/Buganda: The Twins are special children

In Buganda, an ethnic group lives in the Central Region of Uganda; twins are imagined to be special of children; many baganda believe that twins are semi gods while others say that they are spirits in the form of human beings; that is the reason many twins and their parents receive special treatment and respect from the time of their birth.

A woman who gives birth to twins in Buganda is looked at as one full of blessings and she is accorded a lot of respect which comes with a title of Nalongo, while the father of twins is referred to as Salongo. When a woman gives birth to twins in Buganda, her husband will be required to inform his in-laws that their daughter has given birth to twins.


He does it in two ways; he will go to his wife’s family home in the wee hours of the morning, knock at the door and scream out, “Your daughter has given birth to twins”, then run away without being noticed. So it will be up to the parents and relatives of the woman to find out who has given birth to twins.

The father of the newly born twins (Salongo) may also throw the enkata which is a ring made from banana leaves at his in-laws’ compound while screaming and saying that, “your daughter has given birth to twins”. The announcement of the arrival of twins made by the salongo is refered to as Okubiika abalongo.

After that announcement, Nalongo is not supposed to go to her parents’ house for anything; in case an emergency requires her to go to her parents’ home, she will not be allowed to eat anything or drink water unless a ritual is performed. After the birth of the twins two baskets are brought, one of which will be kept in the bed room in a safe place, either under the bed or somewhere in the wardrobe. These two baskets will contain a local herb called ebombo and olweza.

 One basket will be used to receive gifts from people who come to visit the twins because people are not allowed to place gifts in the children’s hands. The other basket will also contain the local herbs and the fallen umbilical cord stumps of the twins. This basket will be kept very secretly and only brought out for very close family members to place gifts. In this same basket, the parents of the twins keep putting money from time to time.

Since twins are believed to be small gods in Buganda, this specific basket will be brought out only for close family members who sometimes pray to the umbilical cord stumps in it for blessings, and they say that whatever the pray for to that basket they will get it.
Some people will use the same basket with the umbilical cord stumps to invoke curses on others; that is the reason it is only brought out for close family members.

The Baganda say that the umbilical cord stumps are the ones considered as children and that that is where all the respect goes. After the cords have fallen off, the ritual to identify the twins as belonging to the man’s DNA will be arranged. This same ritual is also performed to unite the Salongo and Nalongo’s family so that they can do things freely together.
Before the ceremony is performed, Salongo is required to go to Nalongo’s home and get one of her sisters to come and perform the ritual since tradition does not allow Nalongo to perform any ritual. Her sister will then be known as Nalongo omukulu (meaning the elder Nalango) who will perform all rituals on behalf of her sister.

The family then hire a traditional healer who is an expert in finding out the right DNA of twins; armed with some herbs, local medicine and a bark cloth, he will join the family.
This ritual is usually performed after midnight to make sure that all children are asleep because tradition and culture do not allow them to attend or witness what is taking place.

At midnight, the traditional healer will lay down his bark cloth and he will display his cowrie shells, other fetishes, and herbs on it. He will require Salongo to bring the umbilical cord stumps of the twins for him, after which he will invoke spirits then apply some herbs and other fetishes to the two umbilical stumps; he will then begin tying them together. If he succeeds in tying them, then he will pronounce the twins to have salongo’s DNA but should the cords fail to be united with his herbs, the announcement of twins not having the same DNA as Salongo will be made.

In the event that the stump cords are lost, the traditional healer will invoke his spirits and the first two insects that will fall on the bark cloth will be used to perform the ritual that night. Sometimes, the traditional practice will put the two cords in a basket, and then they will pour water in the basket. If the two cords float on the water then the DNA will be approved by the family of Salongo but if the cords remain seated at the bottom of the basket, then the DNA will not be approved and Nalongo will be asked to take the children to their father’s family.

While all this is taking place, there is a lot of singing, drumming and dancing going on at that time of the night. This is a place where the mother in-law will be dancing with the son-in-law and the daughter-in-law will be dancing with her father-in-law. All the in-laws  unite and dance together while singing songs. It should be noted that in Buganda the mother-in-law cannot get close to her son-in-law, and the daughter-in-law cannot get close to her father-in-law because it’s a taboo. This ceremony usually overcomes the taboo and every one unites, shakes hands and dances while holding hands.

Food is cooked that same night and it is usually tiny mushrooms traditionally known as Obutiiko obubaala that are prepared without salt and served with matooke or green bananas for people to eat that same night. Some of the food will be put on the ground and the people dancing will be required step in it as part of the ritual. This specific food is cooked only at night for the night ritual.

This ceremony goes on until the next morning when neighbours are invited for an after-party where plenty of food is cooked and served; local brew is also served. During the day they slaughter chickens, cows or goats depending on the families’ financial position.

Today many families in Buganda consider this same ritual as satanic and very few still perform it. Some people prefer to take the twins to church and have them baptised instead of the traditional ritual performed on them.
They also say that these children are as normal as the rest of the children and there is nothing special about them. They say that it is God who blesses a family with twins and not that the twins are small gods and spirits as they were referred to in the olden days. (Irene Lumunu)

Burkina Faso: The Church under attack

For some time, the Catholic and Protestant communities have been a target for Islamic groups attempting to destabilise the country. They are also trying to weaken its inter-ethnic and interreligious ties.

It was an ordinary Sunday morning in Tanghin, in the northern outskirts of Ouagadougou. The sun, already high in the sky, shone down on a large crowd of people gathered round the gates of the church of Saint William, the largest in all of Burkina Faso. Many had brought their own chairs or small stools with them as there is never enough to seat everybody in the church.

The Catholic community of this vast urban conglomeration at the doors of the capital city counts more than fifteen thousand faithful. Construction and extension work has been going on for years: “The parish only started in 2001, so we are still young”, forty year-old Father Nestor Nikiema comments, smiling, as he watches the choir, altar servers and musicians enter the church. While waiting for Mass to start, they test the microphones and tune their instruments: a keyboard, two guitars, a base guitar, drums and a traditional djembe drum. Strident, whistling sounds from the loudspeakers can be heard all over the compound.

From a distance, the building towers above the single-storied houses scattered around the area. A tall campanile stands in the centre of the facade of the cruciform church. There are broad cloisters to protect those who cannot find room in the church from the scorching sun. Women in their coloured veils pray with their Rosary beads as barefoot children scamper around and men dressed in their Sunday best exchange greetings.

The inside of the church, rather than a place of worship, looks like a large industrial shed. Some images of Our Lady scarcely relieve the monotonous grey of the walls and cement pillars; small fans blow hot air down on the people as they go to their places. The rows of seats and stools are soon filled as is the rest of the available space in the church. The church overflows to the outside where people take their places in the shadow of the walls or under the small trees of the compound. When Father Nestor reaches the steps of the altar, a broad pedestal in cement with some as yet unconnected electrical sockets close to the floor, the noise suddenly ceases, all is quiet and all stand to begin the Mass.

The Sunday Mass lasts a couple of hours and is celebrated in French so that all the national ethnic groups can understand (there are 65 languages spoken in the country).

In recent months, due to increasing violence by various neo-jihadi groups, many people have taken refuge in the cities.

According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, since 2015, the conflict has caused more than 400 deaths, 170,000 homeless and 1.2 million displaced people in urgent need of humanitarian help. “Every Saturday, we pray in this church with our Muslim and animist brothers for the restoration of peace to our country, Father Nestor tells us, we never saw anything like this before.

These terrorists come from outside and they are doing all they can to destroy the social cohesion and peaceful coexistence that has always flourished here”. In their Jihadi project of national and regional destabilisation, the groups active in the north and the east of Burkina recently altered their objective, moving from mosques and Imamas whom they consider to be deviant, from soldiers and state administrators to community and religious, especially those who are Christian and Catholics in particular.

At a deeper level, besides threatening local leaders, the ‘bearded ones’ (as the Moslem fanatics are called) are now aiming to undo inter-ethnic and interreligious ties which have always been the basis of coexistence between the different peoples of the country. “Here, marriages between people of different denominations are very frequent, showing the high level of brotherhood that binds us to followers of other faiths”, Father Nestor concludes.

In a recent statement the catholic bishops of Burkina Faso ask people “to remain united despite the resurgence of terrorist attacks; to cultivate the cohesion among the different components of our peoples to avoid falling into the traps of terrorists”.

The Bishops in particular ask Christians to intensify measures of prudence and vigilance at individual and community level in a climate of faith and hope and to remain disciples and witnesses of the One who obtained his victory not with violence, but with love; in other words, to conquer evil with good”. (Andrea De Georgio)

Oral Literature: The tortoise and the drum

One day, the tortoise was walking along a forest path when he came across a palm tree that had plenty of palm kernel fruits.

The tortoise was hungry and the fruits looked juicy and ripe to eat, if only he could reach one of them. He got hold of a long stick and successfully shook some of the fruits off the tree. Unfortunately, before he was able to pick up these fruits from the ground, they rolled into a hole. He shook more fruits off the tree but the same thing happened.

The tortoise then decided to follow the fallen fruits and find them wherever they fell. So he went into the hole, but no could not find any of the fruits. The fruits must have rolled further down the hole, he thought, so he continued down the hole, walking for hours until he dropped right out of the hole into what appeared to be a village square. The tortoise had walked all the way down to the spirit world.

As he looked around, he found a spirit happily chewing on one of his palm kernels, the very last palm kernel. The tortoise exclaimed? Those are my palm kernels, you have to give them back?. The spirit apologized, he did not know that the fruits belonged to the tortoise, but promised to give the tortoise a special drum in exchange.

The spirit led the tortoise into a building where there were several rows of drums along the wall and asked the tortoise to pick any one. There were drums of all sizes but the tortoise picked a small drum which would be easy to carry since he had a long walk ahead of him.

When the tortoise returned to the forest, he stopped to rest under a tree. While resting, he picked up his new drumstick and beat the drum with it. To his astonishment, a feast appeared before him? There was a sample of every food that he liked. He ate until he was completely stuffed, then he slept under the tree for he was too full to continue his trip.

The following morning, he woke up, picked up his drum and went to his house. Once there, he sent a message out to all the other animals to come to his house. When all the animals were gathered, the tortoise beat his drum and a huge feast appeared. Everyone was delighted and they all ate and partied until they were all exhausted.

The following day, every animal was at the tortoise’s house again. The tortoise beat his drum, a feast appeared and they all ate. They did this every day. Very soon, the tortoise got tired of beating the drum and appointed the elephant as his official drumbeater. However, when the elephant beat the small drum, the drum broke. And there was no feast.

The tortoise would have to return to the spirit world to get a new drum and he immediately set off on this journey. Fortunately, he could remember the exact spot where the palm tree stood. When he got there, he picked up a stick and shook some palm kernels off the tree. The palm kernels fell to the ground and just lay there. The tortoise picked up every one of them and threw them down the hole that led to the spirit world. Then he went after them.

When he arrived in the spirit world, he found the same spirit at the same spot. “You again”, he exclaimed. ? You have eaten my palm kernels, you have to give them back”. “Here are your palm kernels”, the spirit said. He had not eaten them as he had just arrived and was only picking them up. The tortoise counted the palm kernels and insisted that some were missing and accused the spirit of lying. He demanded compensation for the missing palm kernels. The spirit again offered to give him a special drum.

This time, the tortoise picked the biggest drum he could find. He needed a drum big enough for the elephant, and the bigger the drum would also produce more food. It took the tortoise several days to drag the big drum back to the surface, so that he was very tired and hungry.

He picked up his new drum stick and beat the drum. Instead of food, a thousand whips appeared. The tortoise alarmed, started to run to his house but the whips followed him and whipped him all the way home. (Folktale from Zambia)

African Witnesses: Uganda – Lukwiya Matthew

“I am ready for anything but, God willing, I should like to be the last one to die of Ebola”.

At the beginning of October 2000 at Lacor hospital (Gulu, North Uganda), a great alarm was raised. Ajok Christine, aged 20, a student nurse, was the first one to fall sick and die. The death of a second nurse and a doctor threw panic among the personnel. The analyses made in Kampala and abroad confirmed the terrifying suspicion: Ebola!

After explaining the seriousness of the situation to everybody, doctor Matthew Lukwiya, the hospital director, left nurses and doctors free to stay or leave. To those who decided to remain he asked if they were ready to take care of the people infected by the virus. “I don’t want to expose more people than necessary to the risk of infection. I shall call you, if necessary; I shall be grateful if you can help me”, he said.

Grace Akullo volunteered. She was 27, coming from a deeply Christian family, mother of two. She had qualified as a nurse in 1999. Grace spent most of her time with the patients. One evening she confided to a Sister nurse: “I don’t feel well”. It was the beginning of her Calvary. “Grace, the battle has just begun, you know it, but we must win”, the doctor told her. In spite of the treatment, her condition worsened. To a friend who went to visit her and who was suggesting words of prayer, Grace answered: “Blessed be God, my rock”. She asked for the anointing of the sick. The doctor insisted: “You must not die!”.

In the night of 17 October, at around 11.30, the doctor did a final round: “Grace, you have done your best to fight the disease, and so have we. Now you can only put your life in the hands of God and accept his will, however incomprehensible it can be… We shall take care of your children”. The patient listened with her eyes closed. “Did you understand me, Grace?” the doctor asked. A slight movement of the head indicated that she had understood. She made it even more manifest by uttering in a whisper: “Abba, Father…”

A few weeks later, it was the doctor who fell ill. He was born at Kitgum on 24 November 1957. After his medical school at Makerere University, Lukwiya had taken a specialisation course in Tropical Paediatrics at Liverpool, where, seeing his brilliant results, he was offered to stay on as a professor. Lokwiya refused. In fact he always refused to expatriate, whether to South Africa or Europe or the Middle East, or even to work in Kampala, the capital.

After raising the alarm on the epidemic, he co-ordinated the personnel’s assistance to the sick for two months: “I ask you to follow all the instructions you have received. We have a gigantic battle to fight.. You have no idea of what you mean to me. Your faces are imprinted in my memory and my heart. You are what is most precious to me in this moment. As for myself, if I should abandon my place now, I shall never be able to come back as a doctor again”.

The deaths multiplied. Adata Margaret, 42 years old, mother of 10 children, nurse; Ajok Simon, nurse; Aol Monique, 22 years, student nurse; Ayello Daniel, 24 years, student nurse.

At the burial of Sr. Pierina Asienzo, 45, of the diocesan Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, anaesthetist and student medical assistant in the government hospital, the doctor said: “We have known very hard times: wars, guerrilla fights, pillaging, destruction, epidemics, and every time we have been able to answer with all our forces and win. We believed that we had already overcome the worst; but we hadn’t reckoned with Ebola. It’s a terrible disease… This epidemic has taught me that the medical profession is a calling from God, and the more I see people die, the more I deeply feel my vocation to consecrate my life to the sick. When we make the option for this profession, we do it perhaps for a personal prestige, because we are intelligent, or because we want to save human lives. As for myself, I made my choice, I shall never turn back. I made my option to be ready to die for the others, if necessary.”

He deeply felt his powerlessness in the face of the monster that had installed itself in the region. How to fight it? What could ever help? He was a protestant, a member of the Church of Uganda, and doubtless his faith helped him not to give up.

The day after the death of Santina and Helene, the personnel refused to go back to work. The situation was tense, he spoke of it to an elderly nurse: “I never realized with such great clarity the importance of the work of our personnel. They can do extraordinary things if they are motivated, encouraged, sustained. I often ask myself if I have the right to ask them all this. You and I are of a certain age and have achieved a degree of maturity that helps us understand why we are here, but they, they are so young! You can’t imagine how much I feel the weight of this responsibility”.

Towards the end of November, he felt strange symptoms: the analyses confirmed malaria. But the persistence of fever imposed further examinations. The response from the laboratory was undoubted: “Ebola”! Now it was for him to take to his bed and go under treatment. He spoke with difficulty, his voice was feeble, his face showed extreme pain. “I am ready for anything — he told Dr.Yotti — but, God willing, I should like to be the last one to die of Ebola”. In spite of the care of his collaborators and even of the experts of the World Health Organisation, his conditions worsened. He asked for a lawyer to dictate his last will. He called for his wife and his mother: they prayed together. It was the end. He breathed his last in the night of Tuesday 5 December 2000. (Frederck Quinn)

Five ways to reduce our reliance on plastic

Our daily choices matter: Turn the tide on plastic

Plastic is so prevalent in our lives that we don’t even notice it anymore. It is convenient. It is cheap. It is ubiquitous. The unfortunate truth is that more than 70 percent of the plastic we use does not get recycled, and much of this plastic trash gets swept into our oceans from beaches or gets washed into rivers from our streets. An estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently float in our oceans.

Most plastic is easy enough to see, but there is another kind of plastic infiltrating our ecosystems that can easily go unnoticed. These are microplastics, or small particles and fibres of plastic generally measuring less than 5 millimetres.

Originally, microplastics resulted from the physical breakdown of larger plastics, such as plastic bags, food packaging or ropes. However, more recently, there has been an increase in the manufacturing of microplastics, such as pellets, powders and domestic or industrial abrasives. This phenomenon has expanded the occurrence of plastics in our environments and in our seas.

Microplastics have already been found in various types of human food (e.g. beer, honey and table salt). However, most scientific studies have examined microplastics in seafood. Although fish fillets and big fish are two of the main consumed fishery products, these are not a significant source of microplastics because the gut, where most microplastics are found, is not usually consumed. Small fish species, crustaceans and molluscs, on the other hand, are often eaten whole. These are potential areas of concern when talking about our dietary exposure to microplastics and associated chemical substances. So far the health implications of microplastics on humans seem negligible. However, more research needs to be done.

Regardless of the findings, we already know that our plastic use is increasing and that it is damaging our sea life. Dolphins and whales are getting caught in discarded plastic netting; turtles are eating plastic bags and dying from blockages within their digestive systems. Marine animals are perishing in our trash. But we can turn the tide on the use of plastic.

Microplastics are small particles or fibres of plastic generally measuring less than 5 millimetres. Originally, microplastics were the result of the breakdown of larger plastics, such as plastic bags or food packaging. More recently, manufacturing of microplastics, such as pellets, powders and domestic or industrial abrasives, has increased.

Here are 5 ways to cut our dependence on macro- and micro-plastics:

  1. Avoid single-use plastics

Ninety percent of the plastic we use in our daily lives is disposable or single-use plastic: grocery bags, plastic wrap, zipper bags, coffee-cup lids. Single-use plastics are particularly damaging considering that a single plastic bag can take 1 000 years to degrade. These plastics can also degrade into microplastics, smaller pieces that are often mistaken as food by mammals, birds or fish. Simply noticing the prevalence of plastic in our lives is the first step to replacing single-use plastics with reusable options: cloth bags, glass storage containers, silverware, and ceramic mugs.

  1. Recognise microplastics in disguise

Many cosmetics and beauty products contain “exfoliants” that are in fact little plastic beads. These microplastics might seem harmless, but it is precisely because of their size that they can slip through water-treatment plants and end up in the ocean where fish often mistake them for food. Try natural exfoliants, like oatmeal or salt, instead.

  1. Carry a reusable water bottle

Disposable water and soda bottles are some of the biggest culprits of plastic waste. More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold globally in 2016. If placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun! Drink from reusable bottles instead. In places where the water is safe to drink, you can easily refill your bottle.

  1. Say no to plastic cutlery, straws, take out containers

Sometimes we are given plastic without even asking for it. Turn down the offer for a straw. Ask restaurants to pack your food in fewer containers for take-out. Tell them that you don’t need any plastic cutlery, and use your own reusable cutlery instead.

  1. Recycle

This might seem obvious, but the majority of the plastic we use is not recycled. Where the option exists, ensure that the plastic you do use gets recycled, but remember, it is easier to prevent waste than to manage it. (Fao)

Costa Rica: A Paradise of Renewables

The first country to produce 90% of its energy from green sources.

The development of the electricity sector of Costa Rica began in the nineteenth century when, in 1884, the first public service generator, producing 50 KW, was installed to supply the needs of San José. During a process of amalgamation of several private companies, in 1941 the National Company for Power and Light Ltd. (CNFL), was founded. It had a monopoly over the supply of electricity. During the forties, with increasing demand beyond the capacity of the CNFL, a group of civil electrical engineers, led by Jorge Manuel Dengo Obregón, presented the Administrative Council of the National Bank with a document entitled: “A General Plan for the Electrification of Costa Rica.”

 The importance of this initiative was such that the Bank referred it to the Government of the Republic for analysis. The result was the creation of the Costa Rica Institute for Electricity (ICE), on 8 April 1949, as an autonomous state institution. An added factor that ensured the availability of greater funds for the project was the abolition of the army which was inserted in article 12 of the Constitution. Internal security was partly guaranteed through the Civil Guard and partly through the support of allied countries. This decision enabled the government of Costa Rica to reinvest the funds in education, making Costa Rica one of the countries with the highest rate of literacy in Latin America, and also with high standards in public health and the use of renewable energy. A further step forward in environmental sustainability was a moratorium on oil extraction signed in the early years of the XXI century by the then President Pacheco, and renewed by the Government of Laura Chinchilla in 2011 and by Luis Guillermo Solís until September 2021. Recently, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada has extended the prohibition on the exploitation of oil deposits in the country up to December 2050.

Costa Rica has many geographical advantages such as the small size of the country and its low population of around five million. Its manufacturing industries, centred mostly on coffee production, do not require large amounts of electricity. Geographically, the country consists of four volcanic mountain ranges and it has other topographical characteristics suitable for the exploitation of renewable energy. Furthermore, it is a complete example of biodiversity, with four different micro-climates, from humid-tropical to dry-tropical, in an area of 51,000 square kilometres. Most renewable energy is produced hydraulically (73.48%); 15,84% is wind-generated and  8,52% is produced geo-thermically. Smaller amounts are produced with organic biomass material (0,67%) and with solar installations (0,09%).

The importance of hydroelectric energy for the country is evidenced by the different installations built since 1958, such as the Garita and Rio Macho, and, more recently, that on the River Reventazón which flows into the Caribbean. It is the largest of its kind in the region and provides 305.5 megawatts to the national grid, supplying the needs of around 525,000 people. It also sells power to other countries in the area. The second source of electricity, in which production has increased exponentially is that of wind power. There are 16 wind farms in the country with a total capacity of 386.62 megawatts: two are located in the province of San José (in the centre) and 14 in the province of Guanacaste (North Pacific). In less than ten years, the country has increased wind-produced electricity five-fold, from a production of 326.18 gigawatt per hour in 2009, to the record total of 1,512.65 in 2018.

 In the geothermal sector, this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of the installation in the country, at Miravalles, producing 55 megawatts. It is situated in the district of Bagaces. After an important boost in 2014 with a project worth around 958 million dollars, provided by the Japanese agency JAICO (540-560 million), the European Investment Bank (70 million) and the ICE, for the construction of various geothermal installations in the province of Guanacaste, things have slowed down as is demonstrated by the postponement of the opening of the new Borinquen installation until 2026. The reason for the delay is the low demand for electricity which doesn’t justify the development of further large-scale, medium-term projects.

In Costa Rica, energy is now produced almost entirely from renewable resources. Nevertheless, the country has not greatly diversified its sources. In fact, almost all electricity is produced by hydro-electric installations, while the remainder is produced by the use of geothermal, wind, biomass and solar installations. This high dependence on water resources is a serious risk, due to climatic changes that influence hydraulic models. Moreover, as reported by Carlos Roldán, a researcher at the Costa Rica Technology Institute, the country does not exploit geothermal resources because of current regulations.

As a result, while Costa Rica is praised for its environmental policies, we must also point out that they are not applied to the transport sector in which fossil fuel is used. In the public sector, poor performance, together with the use of obsolete vehicles, has caused a reduction in the use of this service. Private cars have increased from 700,000 in the year 2000 to 1, 5 million in 2014, with a double effect: from the point of view of the environment, air pollution has increased and, from the economic point of view, there has been an increase in imports of fossil fuels.

The high dependence on hydroelectric energy and, to a lesser extent, the use of fossil fuel in the transport sector, with respect to the amount of energy produced from alternative sources such as wind, solar panels and biomass, represent a great challenge to the energy policy of Costa Rica.

However, Costa Rica’s new president Carlos Alvarado, a 38-year-old former journalist, has recently announced a plan to ban fossil fuels and become the first fully decarbonised country in the world. “Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” Mr Alvarado said.

“We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.” Last June, Mr Alvarado said the Central American country would begin to implement a plan to end fossil fuel use in transport by 2021 – the 200th year of Costa Rican independence.  “When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate … that we’ve removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” he said. (Marco D’Amato)

Vocation Story: My work is my message

A ‘spiritual vacuum’ filled by granny’s tears. A parish youth group that offers peace and opens to others. And the decision to plunge into the sea of mission that offers unbelievable joy. A Comboni Missionary, Brother  Gaspar Abarca Andrés tells us his story.

I was born in 1975 at Chilpancingo, the capital and second-largest city of the Mexican State of Guerrero, located in the south-western part of the country. My family was Catholic, but in name only. Not that my parents had problems with the Church they had been baptised in, but they did not have any sense of affiliation with it and cared little about living or practising even the basic teachings of their professed religion. Neither did they bother to pass on their faith to me and my brothers. They must have thought it was not worth the effort. I do not remember going to church for mass or any other celebration on Sunday as a child. In fact, I grew up in a spiritual vacuum that mum and dad had allowed to exist in our home.

Yet, nature abhors a vacuum. Unfilled spaces are unnatural, as they go against the laws of nature and physics. Soon, I would learn that this ‘law’ holds true also in the realm of religion and faith. When a person is in the throes of the emotional vacuum of dis-connectedness, they must feel that almost anything is better than the unnerving void of being spiritually alone.

At a certain point, one of my brothers must have experienced that sort of feeling, and, quite unexpectedly, began to attend meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One day – I had just turned fifteen – he invited me to accompany him to religious service in a near-by Kingdom Hall. I went, but what I saw and heard did not impress me much. He insisted that I should go with him regularly. I did, but I never yielded my heart to any invitation I received to get more involved in the life and work of that Christian denomination. Something just did not click with them.

One day, coming back from the Kingdom Hall, I found my paternal grandmother in tears. I asked her: “What happened to you?” Looking straight into my eyes and trying to restrain her sobs, she said: “That is exactly the question I want to ask you: ‘What happened to you?’. I am very sad, son, and I cry because you and your brother are looking for something ‘outside’, when that very thing is near to you, ‘inside’ your life and the inner part of yourself. You already belong to a Church and you do not need to go anywhere else to find what you are looking for”.

For a long while, she kept silent, though she never turned her eyes away from mine. The sight of her tears hurt me. The pain stamped on her soft face and the tumultuous rising and falling of her breast in those agonised sobs, reproached me, and the hurt and the reproach were sharp. Yet, I could see love, immense love, in her eyes. Love for me and for my brother. Wiping away the tears with the back of her hand, she went on: “I do not blame you, son. Neither do I blame your brother. I blame your parents. They have wronged you seriously. They have never tried to pass onto you the treasure they had received, by introducing you to the Catholic faith”. I felt an uncontainable urge to lessen her pain and I told her: “Next time you go to church, tell me, and I will come with you”.

She did it the following Sunday and the next after that, and for another few weeks. Until, one Sunday, after the mass, she told me: “Why don’t you just stick around here for a while longer, all right? Look at all those youngsters. They have the same age as yours. Probably they have something else in common with you. Just go to them. I assure you, everything will go off without a hitch”. She was deadly right. I remained behind that Sunday and all the Sundays of the next six years.

The youth group was called ‘Shalom’. I was told it meant ‘peace’. We had meetings every Saturday. On Sundays, we attended Mass and carried out other activities. The period of the year I enjoyed most was the Holy Week, during which members of the youth group could have a ‘mission experience’ in one of the small Christian communities of the diocese. A lot of work went into its preparation. Every Sunday of Lent, we spent the entire morning in arranging things and studying in detail and with great interest the dense programme of the week-long experience. Young people from other parishes would join us in the preparation. At times, there were more than 90 boys and girls, all eager to “go on mission”. It is no exaggeration to say that those Lenten periods, crowned by as many Holy Weeks, transformed me into another person.

The real turning point in my life was coming down the pike. One day, a Comboni missionary came to visit our youth group. He spoke about a mission of the Church much wider than the one we were carrying out once a year to a small Christian community of our diocese. “The mission of the Church is open to the whole world”, he said. The story of his life was a tangible example of it.

What he told us remained fixed in my mind for months. I was even tempted to contact the Comboni Missionaries, but my shyness prevented me from doing so. One day, however, I let few words leak to a friend about it. “I have their address”, he told me. I immediately wrote a letter. I consider that day the beginning of my ‘Comboni adventure’.

From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to be a Brother. The inspiration had come shortly before, when reading the story of Teresa of Calcutta. The book reported an anecdote concerning the charism of her institute. Someone had asked her why her sisters would not spend many words talking about God. The answer she gave met my concern of what I was looking for. “Our mission”, she said, “is to show the presence and the love of God through our actions and work”. Yes, now I could verbalise what I wanted: to show God’s presence in the world through my work and actions, not through preaching.

I joined the Comboni Missionaries in September 1998, by beginning the Postulancy, the first phase of the Institute’s basic formation. For three years, I attended the School of Nursing in a near-by university. During the two years of Noviciate, I had to interrupt the university courses. After taking my first religious vows in May 2003, I went back to the University of Monterrey to complete the Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

In 2005, I was sent to Comboni Brothers’ Centre in Nairobi for three years, to complete my basic formation. It was not easy for me to enter a new cultural environment, to live in a multicultural community and to learn new languages. It was indeed a big challenge. Yet, thanks to God, in May 2008 my basic formation ended. And there was a great gift for me: I was posted to my first mission in South Sudan.

After a three-month home holiday in Mexico, in September I was in Juba, where I remained for few months of acclimatisation, before being posted to mission of Mapuordit, situated 75 km south-west of Rumbek. The sight of Mary Immaculate Mapuordit Hospital made my heart soar like an eagle. Finally, I had come to the place where I could “show the presence and the love of God through my work” and in a ‘language’ that everybody would understand unfailingly.

I worked first in the medical ward, and it was fantastic. Few months later, the doctor in charge asked me to move to the surgical ward to help in the operating theatre as a scrub nurse, and it was amazing. Often, I was required to be ‘on call’ during the evenings, weekends, holidays, and nights for emergency surgery, which can occur 24 hours a day and seven days a week. How wonderful it is to be able to ‘deliver the message’ at any moment and in the most various circumstances! I wrote back to my grandma: “Your tears have changed into the most precious pearls”.

In January 2012, I went back home for home-leave. On 28th, I made my final profession in my home parish. My parents were proud of me. My grandmother cried all through the ceremony, but this time hers were tears of joy.

The needs of Mapuordit Hospital are endless and one has to turn into many things: from baby-sitter to anaesthetist. In 2010, urged by the anaesthetist who was helping me to learn the rudiments of his medical art, I went for a few months to Lacor Hospital, Uganda, for more specific training. Even presently, I am doing a full course in anaesthesia in Mulago Hospital, in Kampala. But my heart is always in Mapuordit Hospital, where I will soon return.

Oral Literature: How The Stars Were Born

One day, two friends named Ebopp and Mbaw went off in search of a good site to establish a farm with fine fields of grain and peanuts. They looked here and they looked there until they finally found the right place.

They immediately began to fell trees and break up the soil. They worded for two days and two nights without stopping; on the third day they rested. Then at daybreak on the fourth day, they went back to work, and each of them built his own little house.  And once again they worked for two days and two nights without a break, and on the third day they rested.  But at daybreak on the fourth day, they took up their tools again and built a little temple in the middle of the farm. In two days, the little temple was finished, and on the third day they rested.

So, following the same pattern, barns, kitchens, granaries, and a well arose. When the farm was almost ready, they went to summon their wives who had remained behind in the old village, and they made merry all day to celebrate the fruits of their labour.

With their wives ‘help, they planted the banana seedlings, and sowed the grain and peanuts. It was long, hard work, but finally Ebopp said: “I’m finished and so is my wife.” “I’m finished, too, and so is my wife,” Mbaw echoed. “Now all we have to do is wait for the harvest. May it be a success and may we live in comfort!” concluded Ebopp.

Nevertheless, things did not all go smoothly. One evening, when Ebopp was sitting at the table with his wife, Anwan, with the soup steaming in their bowls, someone knocked at the door. It was a messenger sent by Obassi Osaw, the leader of Anwant village. Panting, the messenger said:
“Ebopp, I have to speak to you alone!” So his wife left the room, and the messenger spoke:
“Be strong, Ebopp. I bring you word that your sister-in-law is dead.”
 Ebopp wept tears of sorrow not only for his sister-in-law; whom he loved very much, but especially for his wife, the dead woman’ sister. Then he sent for his friend Mbaw to get some comfort and advice. “I am sorry for you and for your wife, Ebopp . . . but have you thought about how we are going to bear the costs of the funeral? The farm has just been set up and the harvest is still far off.”
“But, dear Mbaw, we must do everything we can, because it is my duty as a relative. How will I be able to look Chief Obassi Osaw in the face again if I don’t at least have a funeral banquet?”
“You’re right – said Mbaw – we must do what is required.”

Ebopp thanked his friend and told the messenger, “Go back to Obassi Osaw and tell him that I will come to his village in six days.” Then he said good-bye to his friend, arranging to meet him the next day, and went to break the news to his wife.
It would take too long to describe the woman’s despair at the news of her sister’s death. For the next six days Anwan did not stop crying and grieving for an instant. Nonetheless, the next day the two friends, having scraped together the few pennies in their mutual coffers, went to the city and spent all that they had to arrange the funeral banquet. Then they went back to the farm and figured out where they stood.

“So, – said Ebopp – we’ve spent it all and we still lack the two most important things: The palm wine and the rum for the ceremony. What are we going to do without any money?”
 “Why don’t you try going back to the city and making the rounds of your relatives and acquaintances? Maybe you can get a loan,” Mbaw advised him.

“I will try,” replied Ebopp, and he began to travel around the city, from this one’s house to that one’ house, asking all his relatives and friends for loans. But with a variety of excuses, they all refused to help him. It was already night time when Ebopp, frustrated, began to retrace his steps. He had just left the city and was slowly walking along the river when, in a fit of depression, he sat down on a rock, rested his chin on his hand, and began to complain. A firefly casually alighted on his knee and Ebopp, seeking some relief began to talk to it as if the pretty little light could actually hear him.

“My dear firefly – he said – if you only knew how cruel the world of man is! When you’re successful, everybody’ your friend; but beware if things change. You lucky animals! You don’t even know what falseness is!” And he carried on in this fashion for quite some time until, to his great astonishment, he heard the firefly answer him: “Ah, in truth, I am very sorry for you!”
“Oh river gods! –  exclaimed Ebopp. – That’s it. Sorrow has gone to my brain and, as if I didn’t have enough problems, now I’ve also gone crazy. I’m hearing voices!”

“What do you mean crazy?” the firefly went on. “It really is me who’s talking! Listen Ebopp, I am the spirit of one of your ancestors, and it has been your great good fortune to meet me.”

Ebopp rejoiced greatly at this news, and asked the firefly how he could properly honour her.
“You have an upright and generous heart, Ebopp, – said the firefly -. Even in your distress, you have not forgotten the respect you owe to your ancestors. For this reason, I will give you the help that your fellow men have denied you.”

The firefly’s light dimmed a bit, and she handed Ebopp a sparkling little stone, saying:
“Take this. You will be able to buy all that you need and much, much more with it”. And this is why, from that day forward, only half of the firefly’s body shines (excluding the head, which did not glitter even then).
Touched and happy, Ebopp clutched the little stone in his fist and ran to the farm, though not without first trying to thank the luminous little insect. But she had already taken flight. When he got back home, he summoned his wife and friend and showed them the stone. Now their worries were over.

The following day they set off for the village of Obassi Osaw, with each of them carrying a share of the supplies that they had purchased in the city for the banquet. When they reached the entrance to the village, they separated. Anwan ran off to weep at her sister’s grave, while Ebopp and Mbaw went to appear before Obassi and the elders of the tribe.
“Have you brought everything necessary for the banquet in honour of your sister-in-law?” they immediately asked.

“I only have the food with me. I will buy everything else I need here in your village,” replied Ebopp. The elders didn’t say anything, but they looked at one another doubtfully. The village, and all the surrounding area, had been stricken by a grievous famine. It was almost impossible to find anything to ear or drink.

“Don’t lose heart, –  said Mbaw to his friend – I believe that at the sight of this beautiful little stone, the supplies will spring forth. Better still, try this: Put the stone in a mortar and crush it up really well. You will have more of it and you will be in a position to buy more stuff.”
So Ebopp followed his friend’s advice. He put the stone in a mortar and crushed it until it was reduced to a powder, and he saw that the result was truly extraordinary. Their eyes could scarcely tolerate the brilliant twinkling! Mbaw got his friend a little black sack, and they put the powder inside of it. Together they went off in search of everything else they needed to worthily mark the occasion.

They walked and walked until they found themselves at the edge of town in front of Effion’s fine hut. Effion was one of the richest warriors in the tribe and, therefore, as always happens in times of famine, he also had one of the largest supplies of food. Ebopp said to him: “Sell me the goatskins of wine and the barrels of rum that you have hidden away, and in exchange I will give you something that will make you so rich and powerful that all of your peers will have to bow down before you”.

Effion thought about it for a minute and then replied: “All right. But you will only get half of what you’re asking, since I have to live myself, you know!”
“Agreed, – said Ebopp with a hint of a smile -. Half will be enough for the funeral banquet. But listen: Don’t open up the sack I’m going to give you until I have returned to my farm. And rest assured: When you open it, your fellow citizens will have to bow down before you.”
And so the funeral service and the banquet took place according to custom, and everyone was pleased because absolutely nothing was lacking. When the ceremony was over, the tribal chieftain, Obassi Osaw, went up to Ebopp and thanked him in the name of his people and begged him to stay the night. But Ebopp politely declined the invitation, and with his friend Mbaw and his wife, Anwan, he headed back home.

When they got back to their farm, Ebopp sent a messenger to Effion, the rich big shot, with the following message:” I am back home again, and you can open the sack now”. As soon as he received the message, Effion, despite the fact that it was starting to get dark, summoned all of his fellow citizens by shouting at the top of his lungs: “Come quick! I have something extraordinary to show you.” “Here we are, Effion –  an old warrior replied for all of them-. Now show us what you are talking about.” “I have in my possession,” Effion went on, – make you fall on your knees before me, whether you want to or not”.

Everybody looked at him with suspicion. But he swiftly took the sack out of his pocket and emptied it at their feet.
They saw a stream of brilliant light and a general ‘ahhh’ of astonishment escaped their throats; but at that instant, a gust of wind blew. The powder flew everywhere – down the streets, onto the roofs, into the trees-covering everything with its sparkle.
Effion was very disappointed even though his fellow citizens did bow down before him. They had all thrown themselves to the ground in an attempt to catch some of the miraculous powder. Only Effion remained standing straight as an arrow, struck dumb with amazement.

The children in particular distinguished themselves in picking up the shiny powder because they were faster and more nimble. Every evening, since during the day it was impossible to see the powder’s twinkling, the children ran about, gradually gathering up those tiny little stars. When they caught them, they put them in a box.

Over the course of a month, the box grew to full that they had trouble closing it. But the wind brought an end to that frenzied chase. One day it blew harder than usual, knocking the box wide open, and scattering the sparkling particles into the air. They flew upward and came to a stop in the vault of the heavens, where until that time there had been nothing but darkness. (A.Ceni – Folktales from Ekoi people. Cameroon)

African Witness: South Africa – Archbishop Denis Hurley

As Chairperson of the Southern African Bishops Conference, he denounced the Apartheid system as “intrinsically evil”.

Denis Hurley was born in Cape Town in 1915 of Irish parents. Educated at St Charles College in Pietermaritzburg, he joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and was ordained a priest in 1939. In 1947, he was named Vicar Apostolic of Natal and Bishop of Durban at the age of 31, making him the youngest Roman Catholic bishop in the world at that time, and in 1952 he became the Archbishop of Durban. He chose Ubi Spiritus, ibi libertas as his motto, which means “Where the Spirit is, there is liberty”.

Hurley was an instrumental contributor to the ecclesiastical and liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council which he had attended in the 1960s and regarded this as the highlight of his life. He was Chairperson of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy from 1975-1991. He retired as archbishop in 1992, becoming chancellor of the University of Natal from 1993 to 1998 while continuing to work as parish priest of Emmanuel Cathedral well into his eighties. In 2002, he retired to write his memoirs. He also spent his time writing letters to The Times debating the finer points of cricket, and composing the words for new hymns.

For almost 50 years, Denis Hurley was a courageous opponent of South Africa’s apartheid regime. The writer Alan Paton (referring to Hurley’s father’s profession as a lighthouse keeper) called him the “Guardian of the Light”.

As Chairperson of the Southern African Bishops Conference, he denounced the Apartheid system as “intrinsically evil”. In the 1970s, Archbishop Hurley was frequently seen protesting on the streets of Durban with a placard expressing his opposition to Apartheid and forced removals. In 1984, he was charged with contravention of the Police Act and placed under house arrest. He received death threats and his home was petrol bombed. The charges were dropped when it became clear that the State would be severely embarrassed by the evidence Hurley’s legal team had assembled. The State settled a claim for damages out of court, paying Hurley R25,000.

As he fought on many fronts for Justice, Hurley always claimed that his greatest struggle was to convince South African Catholics that Social Justice was an integral part of their faith and not an optional extra. He spent almost all of his adult years fighting a deeply entrenched system and even some Catholics, regarded him as a traitor. Nevertheless he persevered in living out his Missionary Discipleship calling often standing alone against the State, but he lived to see his dream and that of an entire nation realised.

Malawi: Rock art and biodiversity

Lake Malawi, a unique habitat. One of the deepest water deposits in the world.  Distinctive rock art representing the cultural traditions and the history of the people who inhabit the Malawi plateau.

Twenty per cent of Malawi is covered by water and it has the fifth largest lake in the world, Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. In 1984, the National Park, an area in the south of Lake Malawi, was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Ecologically, it is indeed extraordinary being inhabited by around 700 species of fish, 95% of which are native. The spot is one of a kind and continues to attract many students of the theories of Darwin.

Lake Malawi is a unique habitat and is important for the conservation of biodiversity. The lake is one of the deepest in the world where there exists a native species of fish which the locals call “mbuna”, and which is not found elsewhere. It belongs to the family of Cichlids (Cichlidae). Lake Malawi contains 30% of all the known species of cichlids in the world a fact that makes it so important from the point of view of ecology and the conservation of animal species. The area is also interesting for its various ecosystems, different from one another: sandy beaches and rocky coasts, lagoons, swamps and granite hills.

Various communities live around the lake, such as the Ngoni, the Nyassa and the Manda. To encourage the local communities to be involved in the management of the Park and in order to use better the resources of the area without harming the habitat, small business projects have been started. Thanks to the intervention of the SEDOM (Small Enterprises Development Organisation of Malawi), a variety of individual initiatives have emerged, as well as Village Natural Resources Management Committees. As a result, many gainful activities have been initiated which, at the same time, respect the surrounding environment.

Chongoni reserve is located on the central plateau of Malawi and extends for over 120 km². It is an important natural and archaeological area. It is here that the largest concentration of rock art of the region is to be found. The art is distinctive, a pictorial and symbolic expression of cultivators and hunter-gatherers called the BaTwa, a people who began to inhabit the area from the end of the Stone Age. The Chewa people, who were farmers, practised rock art up to the twentieth century. The symbolism of their rock art reflects ritual practices connected especially with initiation ceremonies.

Chongoni rock art represents the cultural traditions and the history of the peoples who inhabit the Malawi plateau. The images illustrate the various modus vivendi of the autochthonous people, such as the passage from a style of life based on subsistence to one centred on the production of food. The art narrates the story of the Ngoni invasion into the Chewa community and later the arrival of the white man. They also convey the importance of the initiation of young women and their role in society. The paintings also outline the ceremonies of prayers for rain and those of the funeral rites. It is even possible to see the presence of the Nyau secret society and its initiation rites.

Due to temperature changes and other climatic events that may cause water infiltrations, the Chongoni rock art is threatened by the lack of access control to the sites and the lack of qualified personnel capable of supervising and carrying out the area management plan. Lake Malawi also needs a good protection policy due to the rapid growth in population and illegal fishing. The protection of the lake goes hand in hand with the local inhabitants who must take responsibility for managing the natural resources as a source of income. Proper management of the Park means continuing to live in harmony with nature, without harming the ecological equilibrium.(T.S.)