All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

Asia: Stay Youthful & Be Inspired

A Synod on youth is in Rome in these days. Cao Huu Minh Tri, from Vietnam, talks about Asia. She said: “It is necessary for the Church to find the new way, which comes from the dialogue and truly understanding, to proclaim the Gospel to the young people, especially in such a multicultural and dynamics continent". Nowadays, after a long period of changing and fluctuating in the history, Asia is moving forward, with many significant achievements in all aspects. Together with the fast growing social networks, there are more challenges for us, as the future generations, in a dynamic economy changing day by day. Therefore, it is necessary for the Church to find the new way, which comes from the dialogue and truly understanding, to proclaim the Gospel to the young people, especially in such a multicultural and dynamics continent. Generally, the young people in Asian region have been benefited from the advancement of social, economic and political developments. Compared to previous generations, there is a higher proportion of young people in the region have completed primary school level. They are achieving better education, with the gross enrolment rate at the tertiary level reaching 18 per cent and 15 per cent respectively for male and female youth. The gender inequalities have been reduced at all education levels, except some countries, such as Afghanistan, where roughly one woman for every four men is enrolled in tertiary education. Overall, in South and South-West Asian countries, 8 girls for every 10 boys are enrolled in secondary education, while 3 women for every 4 men are enrolled in tertiary education, representing lower female to male enrolment ratios than any other sub-region. The difference of education qualities from among the regions within a country to the a country with the others is not only the big problem of the governments, but also a challenge for us to prepare ourselves, especially for our Decision – Making Process. For the reason that we are living within the time in which the fast growing economy is hardly influenced by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or the ‘Industry 4.0’. By that way, the computers and automation will come together in an entirely new way, with robotics connected remotely to computer systems equipped with machine learning algorithms that can learn and control the robotics with very little input from human operators. It means that, from now on, the marketplace will become more fierce competition for those who want to find a job and go further in the future, or at least not being left behind. Because of that reason, in many countries, especially the developing countries, there are many young people who often remain in a vulnerable situation and lack the requisite knowledge and skills to adapt to the changing economy and social environment. Meanwhile, the education and training systems often do not match the modern labour market demands. The situation is getting worse for those who live in the conflict areas, and the migrants. As the result, the stressful feeling combined with the hopelessness easily make them lack of orientation for the future and being out of control behaviour. In fact, some young people try to escape from the negative realities by spending their precious time on joining many other ‘interesting things’ or illegal activities, instead of taking responsibilities to the society and finding the new way for themselves. Also, the insensitivity among the youth has become the emergency in most of societies. The development of the digital technology, specifically the social media, have been making the situation get worse and worse. Today, it is not so difficult to find the amount of young people who always get ready to waste their time in using the PCs, smartphone or tablet uselessly. There are huge gaps in the relationships among the friends in a group, or the family members, due to the ‘scared silence’ on every meetings or gatherings, in which everyone all busy using social media, playing games or something like that. Many others even do not want to leave their rooms, or interesting parties and games, as Holy Father said ‘The comfort zone’, to go out and live as a human. The spirit of team working as well as the motivation of dedicating for the better future, therefore, is getting lower or even disappeared in their minds. Moreover, being out of control behaviour, maybe because of stressful feeling, many young people tend to use violence, as the unique way, to solve their problems. The scope of this issue is not only among the Asian countries, but also on the worldwide level. According to the WHO’s updates, there are 200,000 homicides occur among youth 10–29 years of age each year, making it the fourth leading cause of death for people in this age group. Most of the victims are male, with up to 83 percent, higher than the amount of females in almost nations. There is a variety of reasons, for instance: Violence-related behaviours in daily lives, School Violence, Family Violence and so on. For the development of the Catholic faith, because of the diversity in culture, especially the philosophical thoughts and religions, somehow, there are obvious obstacles for those who want to discover the beauties and back to the Church as well as live according to the teaching of the Church. On this issue, the atheism is one of the most thoughtful topics not only in some popular socialist countries like: China, North Korea or Vietnam, but also in many other developed countries, where most of population are living within the good qualities and conditions. Because, there are many educated young people, even the Catholics, do not believe in God or just consider Him as a normal philosopher, and spending time in attending the Mass is such a strange thing. Additionally, in some countries where Catholics account for a small proportion of the total population, the values of the Church’s teaching are usually considered against to the national traditions by the society, especially where the Buddhism, Muslim, and Hinduism are majority. Additionally, there are also many other top concerns of the local Church in Asia, including abortion, teenage pregnancy, the increasing proportion of divorces, mixed marriage, and especially Same-sex marriage. All of them are damaging the teaching of the Church as well as becoming the dangerous values for the mind set of young generations. So that, in the light of the Holy Spirit, we are looking forward to seeing an open-minded Church, which is more dynamic and youthful in considering the thoughts and demands of the young people in each specific regions and cultures.

Africa Youth: To Be Protagonists In The Church & In Society

The Synod on youth is taking place in Rome in these days. Tendai Karombo, chairperson of the National Catholic Youth Council in Zimbabwe, explains what are the challenges that face young people in the society and in the church in Africa. Zimbabwe just like any other African country, young people are facing many situations in their day to day lives and also hope for the best from both the Church and Society. The change in times has never made it easy for us young people to have a steady life and also the rise of many challenges. In most of African countries economic crisis has brought about many challenges and problems. Poor economies, largely due to mismanagement of resources (especially natural resources) has led to poor performance of economies resulting in: High levels of unemployment (e.g. in Zimbabwe it is estimated to be between 80%-95%) therefore it means there is no stable source of income. Young people have developed dependency syndrome on parents, politicians and donor aid stalling youths’ active and meaning participation in societal transformation. Young people are now failing to live a dream of their own, their dreams and aspirations are controlled by the one who has an upper hand in their knives or based on how much the family can earn to make their dreams come true. Another challenge is the child labour. The concept of child labour is becoming a common practice in Africa. Young people are being used to provide cheap labour. Many of them, especially girls, still have challenges to access basic education, many fail to get specialised trainings. Instead of one help young ones earn and further their education, young boys and girls are ‘employed’ as house helpers and in some production companies and are then deprived their chance to develop their future. Family disintegration and society chaos The effects of destabilised families are detrimental to the growth and success of young people and leads to society chaos. Family members especially parents leave families for greener pasture or for safety and better living conditions which affect the psychological and even physical wellness of youths. Technology coming in between families not as a strength but being a threat to the communion of a family, taking the place where attention is now shifted more to technical gadgets and less to the behavioural changes of young people in families. Challenges facing the young people in the Church The Church as a body of Christ plays a very important role in the formation, growth and development of young people. In my time being involved in the process of coming up with the Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese I come from, I realized that there are certain areas that young people would wish to be addressed. Formation. From the time one gets baptised (most of young people gets to be baptised just a few months after being born) to the time one receives the sacrament of confirmation, there seems to be lack of proper and continuous formation in spiritual and other human development matters after receiving the sacrament of confirmation. There is little or no sustainable and comprehensive faith formation programmes for the youth. I appreciate the various youth guild we have but in some areas youth groups are not so common especially when they do not receive support from the parish councils and the Parish Priest hence no substantive platforms for youth formation. This often leads to youths being lured to new mushrooming churches (and the question is there Faith or Fiction in these new churches). Lack of space and engagement. Due to generational differences the older generation of believers have failed to create sustainable dialogues with young people hence no space for youths to grow. Youths are often side lined to minor responsibilities and duties in Catholic institutions. Lack of proper platforms for youths to exercise and utilise their talents and gifts to minister to other youths and the universal Church. In many cases the Church in Africa is led and run by the ‘seasoned Catholics’ who have all sacraments, all the experience and know it all. Not much trust is given to young people in terms of involving then in decision making process and roles of leading in the Church. Lack of human development formation. Socio economic conditions in Africa have led to youths lacking creativity, not fully utilising their potential and less is being done on a long term bases to help the youths. There is little effects to get support from the Church in dealing with social challenges like addiction, homosexuality, pornography, alcohol and child abuse. Most young people who are affected by the social challenges I have just mentioned above have seized to attend and join other youths in parishes, leaving no option but for the Church to go and reach to the society. Many things are happening in the world and time spent at the church grants the young people an opportunity to realise what Gods wants for them to do. Also helping the young people to discern on their vocations as a process not an event means the religious, clergy and members of the Church needs to intervene a lot. Hopes and expectations of young people from the Society Young people in this generation lives with hope for a better future. As much as there are challenges faced but platforms like this Synod that we gather here today to plan and discuss gives more hope and shades more light. There are a number of expectations I have highlighted that the young expect from the Society and the Church. Expectations from the Society and Church The society to support young people and give them platform to show their strength, and learn from their mistakes. To acknowledge and appreciate responsibilities that some young people are carrying. To assist young people discern carefully about their vocations, their career and their aspirations. To constantly revise and improve the education system to prepare the young in dealing with potential challenges of the Church, society and the respective countries /regions. To give full moral and social support. To advance evidence based policy making in order to address the needs of the young people. The society should embrace the generation and find ways to address to the generational gap so as to develop an understanding of our needs. To understand that being young is a transitional period and it will not remain permanent so there is great need for the society to help in preparing the young be responsible adults especially during this transitional period. Every being to feel partly responsible in the lives of young people. An African proverb says "It takes an entire village to educate a child”. Young people hope for An inclusive society; A Church that is ready and willing to transform itself and its youths; Peaceful and conflict free societies; To have access to basic and advanced education and to live in developed communities. The Church to be always be vocal in raising these critical issues and advice the society on better alternatives A chance to be able to contribute and engage meaningfully in the growth and development of the local Church in Africa.

Morocco/The Ancient City Of Tétouan: The Embrace Of Medina

A beauty now, the patrimony of humanity. Most of all a place of relations and social solidarity that goes against the individualism of modernity. Tétouan is a city in the north-east of Morocco, between the Mediterranean and the slopes of the Western Rif mountain range. Medina (an ancient city), a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, is perched on the side of a mountain, surrounded by high walls and accessible through seven gates. The layout of the city, founded in 1300, is a network of narrow winding streets, marvellous squares with the minarets of ancient mosques and fountains decorated with mosaics. Medina embraces a harmonious variety of architectural features and styles borrowed from different cultures and traditions. The social fabric of the city is variegated, the fruit of centuries of coexistence between different human groups. From outside, looking up at the walls, one’s first impression is that Medina is a world of its own, isolated and closed, despite its proximity to the Ensanche (literally 'enlargement', indicating the quarter built by the Spanish, 1910-40) and the popular quarters. With such a new city, a modern residential agglomerate that stretches along the road that leads from Tétouan to Ceuta (a Spanish-ruled enclave on Moroccan territory), the sense of proximity is lost. The whitewashed houses of the old city, the TV dishes that soar above the flat roofs as in southern Italy, the minarets that dominate the blue sky, and the English garden in the Qasba (military quarter) all form the background of this mediaeval framework. It all gives the impression of a separate world where time passes more slowly than elsewhere. As soon as one enters one of the seven gates, one is aware that Medina is a living and lively centre, a world that embraces and seeks to survive by its own efforts against the attacks of individualism deriving from globalisation. Recent changes have also influenced the general opinion that new generations have about the old city, a priceless historical and cultural heritage. Even the young Moroccans living in the new city look upon the chaotic world within the walls with a mixture of disapproval and disgust. Poverty, filth and insecurity are the main problems; representatives of law and order stand at every corner. The imitation of foreign urban development and tourism incentives are the proposed solutions. In effect, the cultural changes imposed by colonialism and modernisation caused an overall impoverishment of the rural classes and the weaker urban social strata. Nevertheless, a new middle class began to form, identifying itself with the ancient local nobility and so with the nationalist leadership. The more influential families of Tétouan took over the structure of the colonial apparatus and, once independence had been gained (1956), together with the key local and national political roles, they emerged from Medina and transferred to the Ensanche, the new city. The new middle class adopted those 'values' that distinguished the middle class with its individualistic character and class distinctions. Medina then became the preferred goal of the waves of migrants that revolutionised the population of independent Morocco: first there were the internal migrations and then the migrations from sub-Saharan Africa. While at first rich and noble families could live side by side with the ordinary classes, the European colonial network made this rather inconvenient. The new middle class went outside the ancient walls while the older residents belonging to the lower middle levels of the population, enlarged by the newly arrived migratory waves, stayed in the old city. Medina is being transformed. New space and a new social structure that the new generations, born and raised outside the walls, are unable to understand. The quarters of the new city have been designed and structured like those of any other European city: wide streets for cars, residential blocks with dozens of apartments or private walled residences; open spaces that are nothing but consumer spaces. Private space is jealously guarded and kept separate from public space. The new social structure, with its required differences, resembles that of the contemporary West: people in a hurry and indifferent to the environment that surrounds them, minimal human relations, marginalisation or even the exclusion of some social categories. Space in ancient Medina is, instead, planned and lived in a completely different way. In the old city, human and social relations develop and endure independently from what happens outside. This is possible due to the presence, in each quarter of Medina, of five places that are fundamental to the life of all: the mosque, the madrasa (school), the fountain, the bakery and the hammam (baths). These are inclusive spaces that impose personal interaction, being consolidated by routine and the topography of the city. The common greeting is salam aleikum, peace be with you. Everyone greets everyone. Space is shared as is water, prayer, knowledge, soap and bread. Solidarity is a continual and reciprocal process, not something now and again; solidarity cannot be bought or sold, seeks nothing in return and has no ulterior motives. What happens when one lives in Medina is that those mechanisms of protection and social solidarity that are disappearing in our society are set in motion. Mechanisms that are being lost in the new spaces and the new social system of Tétouan. Human relations are the key to entering this world, apparently chaotic and untidy, to regain the deep sense of relationships. Medina welcomes you and protects you like a mother her son, regardless of blood ties. The welcome and protection are certainly not without their conditions. They depend on how much you are prepared to discover them, know them, listen to them and understand them. Medina is not to be seen simply as poverty, dirt and insecurity: a judiciary and administrative problem to be solved, in the final analysis. This viewpoint, so negative and so far from a realistic representation is, however, in function of the process of the social climbing (from the ordinary people’s quarter to a more desirable residential quarter) that is taking hold even in Tétouan. There have been but a few experiments designed to value the more characteristic aspects of Medina and to reconnect it with the outside world, in an effort to reverse the development of prejudice that leads to rejection. The only solution seems to be tourism: tourism that is abstract, consumerist, cold and artificial. To abandon Tétouan to the carelessness of hundreds of tourists armed with Lonely Planet and Reflex might relaunch the city, but the spatial changes would lead to further changes and the impoverishment of the spirit of Medina. Medina lives and coexists with all its problems; but it lives most of all because of a series of relationships, sentiments, emotions and interactions that have not yet been lost and that globalisation and individualism have not yet succeeded in stealing from it. We need to be adopted by Medina and, in turn, to adopt it. Only in this way can we cease to be just tourists and all begin to be children and legitimate owners of this heritage of humanity. - Federica Ferrero

Ethiopia: The Sidama People – Magano, The First Ancestor

The Sidama people are a deeply religious ethnic group that lives in southern Ethiopia. They say that 'Magano (God), created their ancestors and took them away'. The Sidama people, who inhabit the southern part of Ethiopia, have always been farmers and shepherds. However, today, because of the high density of population and education, pastoral life is disappearing. The Sidama land is located between 1.372 and 3.048 metres above sea level, and is marked by three climatic zones: lowlands, midlands, and highlands, all supporting different activities and life styles. The majority of the Sidamas are adherents of the Sidama religion, but there are also followers of Christianity and Islam. God, spirits, and ancestors are the foundational elements of faith for the Sidamas and are the constitutive part of their life. God is named as Magano. The word magano is a compound word of ma and gano. Ma means 'what' and gano has three meanings: as a noun it means conspiracy; when used as a verb it means 'I beat' and 'I say, or call, or name'. The approximate meaning of the compound word Magano can be 'What can I call?' or 'What can I say?' It indicates a deep experience of an incomprehensible and incomparable God. It could be that the original person, unable to express the experience, resolved it by calling Magano, 'What can I say or call?' Magano is addressed by the Sidamas as a loving father, who really cares about his children. He alone created everything: humankind, nature, animals, heaven and so on. The Sidamas make a clear distinction between God and their common ancestors, saying that the ancestors were created by Magano. They say that 'Magano created and took them away'. Even during their sacrificial offering to their common ancestors, Magano comes first before the ancestors' names. The Sidamas generally agree that in the beginning God used to live with people. As the result of sin they committed, Magano departed far away into the sky. Magano is perceived as being actively involved in human life, for which reason people continue reconciling themselves with God through sacrificial offerings until today. Magano’s name is feared or highly respected and is not called for wrong intentions (e.g. cheating, telling lies, stealing). One can observe some mischievous people or thieves swearing in Magano's name to hide themselves from being discovered when they are suspected of such acts. The Sidamas see Magano as a true loving father, who really cares for his children. They also experience Him as merciful and believe that He forgives their trespasses when they ask for forgiveness. The sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial lamb is a sign of reconciliation with Magano and with each other. The Sidamas believe that there are good and bad spirits. The good spirit, dancha Ayyaana, is identified as God's spirit. The bad spirit, Busha Ayyaana, is also seen as real and is hated by the religious leaders and community elders. The Sidama people also believe that evil spirits can cause diseases but cannot cure them. Consequently, evil spirits are feared by Sidamas, who also believe in the existence of a female spirit, belonging to mothers-in-law, prayed to and honoured by women alone. They make food offerings to it, sing and dance (always at night and under a tree). They call it woxa. It is a cult of fertility. At child birth, mothers-in-law say: ane woxa tirtohe - 'let my spirit help you for safe delivery'. Sometimes when a dream occurs telling of eventual dangers such as war or plague or drought, women also make an offering (always food) and pray to this invisible mother-in-law spirit. Two types of sacrifices are performed in the Sidama religion: one is offered to Magano and the other is to the ancestors. The Sidama people pray to Magano individually or communally. Individual prayers can be offered with or without sacrificial offerings. But communal prayers are always accompanied by sacrifices This Ethiopian group also believes that their ancestors live with Magano, who granted them a special power to act. They show their gratitude to their ancestors through sacrificial offerings. At the communal, clan level, the offering is made to the common ancestors. At the family level, the husband fattens a bull and offers it for his father. The Sidama people make two types of offerings: burnt offerings (to show gratitude and to ask for blessing to Magano) that are offered individually (for example, by the head of the family) or communally (by the clan): a male animal, a lamb or a bull, is killed and burnt. And there are also the blood offerings: these are offered communally for the purpose of purification, reconciliation and protection from bad things, such as enemies, drought, and plague. If something that is considered as a grave offense against human beings, and indirectly against Magano, committed by an individual or individuals within a sub-clan or a clan, the community offers this type of sacrifice. Regarding the sacrifices offered to Magano on a communal level, no fixed place is designated. There exists neither a house nor a tent, not even an altar. All depends on the dreams specifying the place or on the indication of those who possess the gift of prophesying or by consensus. On the individual level, it is done at home, not inside but outside the house, of the one offering the sacrifice. The Sidama religion is an example of God's universal salvific act and in no circumstance does an adherent of this religion forget to mention Magano. - Mellese Tumato

Uganda/Sudanese Refugees: Just A Drop In The Ocean

It consists in a microcredit project for women and grants for school fees for about fifty young people. This is the concrete contribution of the Comboni Sisters to those wishing to build a life for themselves. A Costa Rican Comboni Sister Lorena Ortiz puts us in the picture. There are signs of improvement in the refugee camp at Palorinya in the north of Uganda even though the refugees came here early in 2017 having suddenly had to abandon their homes in Kajo Keji (South Sudan) due to increasing violence and widespread insecurity. Now, at Palorinya, some families have succeeded in making bricks and building more dignified and secure dwellings. Others have opened small shops and in some areas potable water is more available since wells were dug with the help of some NGO’s. Unfortunately, the weakest people and those with no families are now living in worse conditions than at the start: the walls are nearly gone and the plastic sheet that serves as a roof is full of holes and lets in the rain. With no protection from the weather, quite a few people became ill and some died. In general, families find it hard to improve their lives due to rising prices. They often have to sell some of their rations of food provided by the UN agencies. We Comboni Sisters are carrying out our mission of witness, evangelisation and human promotion just as we were doing in Lomin, in South Sudan, from where we were forced to flee in February 2017 due to the war. Maria, from Portugal, works with groups of women in the microcredit project. The women have a very hard life and many of them are alone, abandoned by their partners or widowed. It is the women who usually bear the burden of the family and assume the roles of both father and mother. The microcredit project is giving cause for hope: the women are given a small loan with which they buy what they want to sell and so make some profit. They then refund the money which is, in turn, given to other women as loans to begin their activities. This method has turned out well in promoting the women since it makes them independent and it gives them creative and dignified work. It motivates them and makes them feel no longer alone and helpless but able to do much for themselves and their families. For my part, I run the Malala Project to finance secondary school for about fifty young people. We also provide them with breakfast and lunch. We also provide them with solar-powered lamps so they can study at home where they have no electricity. Many students have to walk two or three hours every day to and from school. They leave home around five in the morning, walk for several hours and then attend classes until five in the evening. They do this without having any breakfast as they cannot afford it. They reach home around seven or eight in the evening. It is obvious that such a routine will not produce the best results and so we started the Malala Project. The problem is that there are many students and we cannot help them all. I find the words of Mother Teresa who used to say: “What we are doing is but a drop in the ocean but if we didn’t do it, the ocean would have one drop less".

The Youthful Vitality of the Chinese Church

The 2018 Synod of Bishops is dealing with "Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment". For the first time two Chinese bishops are present. In the delicate situation of the Church in China, understanding the young generation is especially important for its future. Many foreigners going to China are impressed by the youthful vitality of the Chinese Church. The reasons for the high participation of youth in the Chinese Catholic Church are mainly connected to family life, especially in rural areas where the Church has mostly developed. Rural communities are still close-knit and less affected by social changes. For many generations the Catholic faith has been transmitted by parents to children (who, in the countryside, were quite numerous) in the home. Most important were morning and evening prayers, Sunday Eucharist and other Sacraments when available and some catechism after the Eucharist. The advent of Communism in China has not interrupted this family-based transmission of faith. Remarkably, the active atheist propaganda in the educational system has not uprooted the basic belief in God of the youth coming from Catholic families where there is a strong sense of belonging to the Church. The impact of urbanisation: This situation, however, began to change drastically a few years ago, when the economic growth and urbanization began to affect every aspect of life, even in the countryside. Young people who want to pursue higher education have to attend boarding schools or universities in cities, oftentimes far away from their hometowns, and therefore disconnected from their faith-communities. In the same way young workers, either educated or blue collars, migrate to the big cities where there are better opportunities for employment. The feeling of being alone in the new work places, coupled with the job demands, make the young Catholic migrant workers less apt to be involved in the Church then when they were in their hometown They find the city environment and life-style are not as conducive to daily prayer and Christian practices which were very natural to them at home. Young students are also challenged in their faith. The educational system in China is openly against religion and imbued in scientism and socialism. As a result, one's Christian faith has to be kept in the private sphere. The Education Department recently banned any form of celebration of Christmas in all schools, one of the few activities with a religious overtone that was quite popular among the younger generation. To make the matter worse, the religious education of young Catholics has been mostly devotional and has not provided them with cognitive tools useful when facing the challenges posed by a materialistic culture dominated by science. They have faith, but they do not have the ability to give the reasons behind their beliefs, so that they appear to be "irrational". Many youth ministers are openly worried about the future consequences of these trends, some of which are already felt as many young Christians have become more materialistic; the number of vocations to consecrated life is decreasing, moral standards are lowering, and the quality of family life is deteriorating. External challenges: In spite of so many problems, the future is not bleak. There were nearly 50,000 newly baptized Catholics in 2017, many of them young people. Those numbers are increasing year after year in spite of the lowering birth rate caused by the one-child policy which was in place until three years ago. In the past few years the local Churches have made a great effort to minister to the youth, establishing different programs of faith formation e.g. Sunday school programs for children, youth camps during summer and winter school holidays, youth groups for both students and young workers, marriage encounter activities, spiritual formation courses, and social service activities for youth. Many priests regularly go to visit the young people in the cities where they work or study, trying to keep them connected to the Church. In spite of the opposition of the Government, more and more Chinese young people are joining international youth gatherings. The Government does not support any of these efforts of the Church to provide religious and moral education to young people. Instead, they have increased their control on the organization of the activities. In the past months, some local government have even put a ban on minors attending any religious activities, thereby excluding all under 18 from attending liturgical celebrations or formation activities. We still do not know to what extent this policy will be implemented; however, the mere existence of those regulations is worrisome. A better educational model: In the complex situation of Chinese society, external challenges will always be present, and they should not surprise anyone. According to many pastoral agents involved in youth ministry, the focus should be on the quality of the Church's educational proposals. Oftentimes, the Church is too concerned with whether the youth understand a set of doctrines rather than how to live the Gospel message in their daily lives. Unfortunately, many young people in the church are not willing to openly express their true thoughts and doubts, because of the atmosphere in the church that demands absolute obedience. If educators are unwilling to face those doubts in a more open way, many young people, while externally adhering to the Church (mostly to please their families), will instead adopt a different set of values when making concrete life-choices. That is why a more personalized and interactive formation has to balance a knowledge-based catechesis. New models for youth groups are needed, whereby leaders develop the ability to get closer to young people and to dialogue with them with empathic care (and not only through a moralistic and judgmental attitude). There are no easy answers to these complex issues. We pray and hope that the fruits of the Synod 2018 may also help the Chinese Church to better understand how to take care of one of its most valuable assets: its youth.

World Mission Sunday: “Life Is A Mission”

The theme of this year: “Together with young people, let us bring the Gospel to all,” echoes the upcoming synod of bishops on Youth. “The Synod to be held in Rome this coming October, the month of the missions, offers us an opportunity to understand more fully, in the light of faith, what the Lord Jesus wants to say to you young people, and, through you, to all Christian communities”. World Mission Sunday is celebrated this year on the 21st October. A synthesis of his message. Pope Francis said: “Every man and woman is a mission that is the reason for our life on this earth. To be attracted and to be sent are two movements that our hearts, especially when we are young, feel as interior forces of love; they hold out promise for our future and they give direction to our lives. More than anyone else, young people feel the power of life breaking in upon us and attracting us. To live out joyfully our responsibility for the world is a great challenge. I am well aware of lights and shadows of youth; when I think back to my youth and my family, I remember the strength of my hope for a better future. The fact that we are not in this world by our own choice makes us sense that there is an initiative that precedes us and makes us exist”. Pope Francis continued: “The Church, by proclaiming what she freely received (cf. Mt 10:8; Acts 3:6), can share with you young people the way and truth which give meaning to our life on this earth… Dear young people, do not be afraid of Christ and his Church! For there we find the treasure that fills life with joy. I can tell you this from my own experience: thanks to faith, I found the sure foundation of my dreams and the strength to realize them. I have seen great suffering and poverty mar the faces of so many of our brothers and sisters. And yet, for those who stand by Jesus, evil is an incentive to ever greater love. Many men and women, and many young people, have generously sacrificed themselves, even at times to martyrdom, out of love for the Gospel and service to their brothers and sisters". Taking directly to young people, Pope Francis said: “You too, young friends, by your baptism have become living members of the Church; together we have received the mission to bring the Gospel to everyone. You are at the threshold of life. To grow in the grace of the faith bestowed on us by the Church’s sacraments plunges us into that great stream of witnesses who, generation after generation, enable the wisdom and experience of older persons to become testimony and encouragement for those looking to the future. And the freshness and enthusiasm of the young makes them a source of support and hope for those nearing the end of their journey. In this blend of different stages in life, the mission of the Church bridges the generations; our faith in God and our love of neighbour are a source of profound unity". “This transmission of the faith, the heart of the Church’s mission, comes about by the infectiousness of love, where joy and enthusiasm become the expression of a newfound meaning and fulfilment in life. The spread of the faith “by attraction” calls for hearts that are open and expanded by love. It is not possible to place limits on love, for love is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6). And that expansion generates encounter, witness, proclamation; it generates sharing in charity with all those far from the faith, indifferent to it and perhaps even hostile and opposed to it. Human, cultural and religious settings still foreign to the Gospel of Jesus and to the sacramental presence of the Church represent the extreme peripheries, the “ends of the earth”, to which, ever since the first Easter, Jesus’ missionary disciples have been sent, with the certainty that their Lord is always with them (cf. Mt 28:20; Acts 1:8). This is what we call the missio ad gentes. The most desolate periphery of all is where mankind, in need of Christ, remains indifferent to the faith or shows hatred for the fullness of life in God. All material and spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, is always a consequence of the rejection of God and his love”. Pope Francis concluded: “The ends of the earth, dear young people, nowadays are quite relative and always easily “navigable”. The digital world – the social networks that are so pervasive and readily available – dissolves borders, eliminates distances and reduces differences. Everything appears within reach, so close and immediate. And yet lacking the sincere gift of our lives, we could well have countless contacts but never share in a true communion of life. To share in the mission to the ends of the earth demands the gift of oneself in the vocation that God, who has placed us on this earth, chooses to give us (cf. Lk 9:23-25). I dare say that, for a young man or woman who wants to follow Christ, what is most essential is to seek, to discover and to persevere in his or her vocation".

Oral Literature: Spider & The Lion

0ne day Spider went to the river to fish. It must have been Spider's lucky day, for the fish swarmed around him until at last he had a large pile lying on the muddy bank beside him. “Now for a fire to cook my supper”, exclaimed Spider in delight, and quickly collecting a few sticks, he made a fire and began roasting his fish. As everybody knows, the smell of roasting fish is not only delicious but it travels quickly through the air, and so it happened that a passing lion stopped in his tracks, sniffed appreciatively once or twice and then followed his nose. He found Spider just about to eat the first of the fish he had cooked, and roared, “Give that to me,” so fiercely, that Spider handed it over without a word. “Delicious!” exclaimed the lion, smacking his lips and half-closing his eyes, while he sat down beside the fire and said, “Now cook me some more!”. Spider was too frightened of the large, fierce lion even to think of disobeying him and he certainly could not run away without abandoning all his fish. So he set to work to cook some more, hoping that the lion would soon have had enough and that there would be a few left for him. After all, he had done all the hard work and was aching with hunger. One by one the savoury, sweet-smelling fish disappeared down the lion's throat while poor Spider was run off his feet collecting firewood. He got hotter and hotter as he stood over the fire, and sadder and sadder as he watched his pile of succulent fish getting smaller and smaller. In his despair the tears began to stream down his face and the lion laughed scornfully to see him weep. “Ah no! I am not crying", lied Spider proudly, "It's the smoke from the fire making my eyes smart”. As he said this he handed over the last of his precious fish to the lion, who swallowed it in one gulp without a word of thanks. At that moment a beautiful brown bush-fowl ran past them and called out in surprise: “Kuker! Kuker! Kuker!” Then she disappeared into the long grass and all was silent. “Well, what do you think of that?" asked Spider. "She didn't even pass the time of day with me. Never have I known such a rude and ungrateful bird. I expect she'll soon be telling her friends that it was not I who gave her delicate spotted plumage”. The lion looked up and asked “Did you say you gave her those spotted feathers?” “Yes, of course I did", replied Spider. "Didn't you know that?” The lion looked wistfully at his plain brown body and said, “I should like a spotted skin too. Could you change mine for me?” Spider half closed his eyes and looked critically at the lion's fur. Well, he said slowly and doubtfully, it would be a very difficult business.” “Oh please do it for me", begged the lion, rising to his feet. I could help you with the difficult part of it. Tell me what to do”. Spider almost laughed with delight at how easily he had tricked the lion, but he managed to keep a serious face and replied: "We need two things. First of all a big bush-cow, and then a well-grown kazaura tree”. “I can soon get you the first", said the lion. "Wait here”. Although the lion was so big, he slipped off into the bush without a sound, scarcely disturbing the grasses as he passed through them. For a long time all was quiet and Spider had nearly dropped asleep, when suddenly the lion re-appeared, dragging the body of a bush-cow with him. “Now we must skin it", explained Spider, "for I need many strips of hide cut from the bush-cow's skin before I can make you as beautiful as the bush-fowl”. The unsuspecting lion ripped the skin from the dead animal with his sharp claws, and then tore it into strips like pieces of rope. “Splendid!" exclaimed Spider when he had finished. "You've made a neat job of that. I should think that your spots will be far handsomer than the bush-fowl's. Well, tell me what to do next”, said the lion impatiently. “You must find me the toughest kazaura tree in the bush" - explained Spider. "When you see a kazaura tree that you think will do, rush at it and knock into it with your chest. If it gives the slightest shake or seems to have weak roots, then that is no good. You must find a tree so strong that it stands as firm as a rock when you knock into it”. The lion tried several times and gave himself a number of bruises during the process, but at last he came upon a kazaura tree with such a thick trunk that it did not shake at all when he dashed into it. Spider looked at the tree and pronounced it suitable and told the lion to go and fetch the strips of hide, and the bush-cow's carcass. Meanwhile Spider collected a large pile of firewood and built another fire while the lion made a rack above it for roasting the meat. “Now we come to the most difficult part of all", declared Spider. "You must lie down at the foot of this kazaura tree, and let me bind you tightly to it. The tighter you are bound, the better will be the final result”. The foolish lion lay down and Spider began to truss him up with the leather thongs, until he could scarcely move, but the lion kept pointing out where the bonds were not tight enough, saying: “It's loose here too. I can still move my back legs. Surely you ought to tie them tighter than that!” Spider could scarcely conceal his amusement as the stupid lion allowed himself to be tied up to the tree until he could not move at all. At last the lion cried: “Well done! Nobody could tie me tighter than this. Now, let's get on with the spotting and then you can release me, for I don't want to stay like this longer than necessary”. “Right!", exclaimed Spider triumphantly. "You asked for it and now you shall have it”. He put a number of metal skewers into the fire, and as soon as one became red-hot he would seize it and plunge it into the poor lion's skin, saying: “That's in return for the first fish you ate. That's in return for the second. That's for the lovely fat perch which you swallowed, and that's for the eel that you stole”. So he went on, branding the lion with the red-hot skewers and making brown marks all over his body. “Now you are spotted like the bush-fowl" - jeered Spider - "but you're mistaken if you think I am going to unbind you. There you can stay, until you die". The poor lion was frantic, but no amount of twisting and turning could undo his bonds; and to add insult to injury, Spider, seeing that the bush-cow was now nicely roasted, called all his family together and sat them down to feast before the very eyes of the helpless lion. Night fell. Spider and his family went back to their home and the lion was left alone and helpless in the bush, where he lay for several days and nights. At last, just when he thought he must soon die for lack of food and water, a tiny white ant passed by, making but the faintest rustle as he walked over leaves and roots searching for food. “Help me! Oh help me please, good little ant”, begged the lion. The ant stopped in surprise and looked at him. “What can a small creature like me do for a great animal like you?” it asked. “You have such strong jaws, replied the lion, "that you could eat through these bonds in the twinkling of an eye. I have been here for days and am famished with hunger". The ant considered for a moment. “If I set you free, then you would probably eat me up straightaway if you are as hungry as you say”, it replied. “Certainly not. Would I repay good with evil?" “I think you would if you had the chance", replied the ant. "But I will help set you free all the same”. And it began to gnaw its way through the leather that tied the lion, until at last he was free. Carefully he stretched his cramped limbs and lay still until he had the strength to stand up and stagger away from the kazaura tree. He was ravenously hungry and would certainly have gobbled up the white ant had not that little creature already made good his escape. Several days later when the lion had begun to recover and had managed to find a few small animals for food, he decided that Spider must be taught a lesson. “Now where is that cunning Spider?", he roared. If I catch the villain I'll soon make short work of him, and striding through the forest he loudly demanded of everyone he met, whether they had seen Spider. Presently he saw a scrawny-looking gazelle in the distance and shouted to him: “Have you seen Spider? I've a score to settle with him”. The gazelle seemed to tremble as it answered, "No. I have not seen Spider, and should I see the evil creature I would hide immediately". “Surely you're not afraid of a mere spider?” asked the lion. “Do you see how thin and wasted I have become?" - said the gazelle. "It is all the fault of that evil Spider. I quarrelled with him and in return he pointed his finger at me, cast a spell, and I wasted away”. “How can that be?” asked the lion. “I do not know", replied the gazelle. "But of one thing I am certain. If anybody displeases Spider, he does not strike him. He just points his hand at him and he wastes away even as I am wasting away”. The lion was terrified. He had no idea that Spider was so powerful. “Then please do not tell him I was looking for him”, he begged, as he hurried away. Now it was not a real gazelle. It was Spider inside an empty skin and it was he who had carried on the conversation with the lion. So he threw off the skin, and laughing heartily to himself, he followed the lion and caught him up. “Somebody told me that you were looking for me", he said arrogantly. "Might I ask what you want?" The lion threw himself down on the ground and prostrated himself before the spider. “Oh no Oh no indeed", he stammered. "You have been misinformed. I was not looking for you”. “I should hope not", said Spider. "If I hear again that you are following me, you'll regret it as many another animal has done. And what's more, I am in charge of the bush now and all animals have to obey me, so don't you forget it!”. The frightened lion ran away as fast as he could, and from that day Spider was king of the animals and none dared to disobey him. - Folktale from Hausa people. Northern Nigeria

Plants & People: Beta Vulgaris

Beta vulgaris (Family Amaranthaceae); commonly known as beetroot or beet, has been gaining popularity as a new super food over the years due to its multiple health benefits. Typically a rich purple colour, beetroot can also be white or golden. Beetroot’s earthy charm is in its ubiquitous influence on fashionable menus and recipes. It’s delicious, distinctive flavour and nutritional statuses have escalated it to the root none can beat! It is low in fat, full of vitamins and minerals and packed with powerful antioxidants making it a health-food titan! It can be eaten in salads and soups, roasted or steamed, pickled, taken as juice, or as dessert. The beet leaves are packed with important nutrients such as potassium, copper, magnesium, vitamin A, K, and C and can be cooked or blended to make juice too just like the roots. Beets are a valuable source of sucrose and as such, they are frequently used to make refined sugar in some countries. Beets have myriad of health and nutritional benefits. It is a good remedy to regulate menstrual periods. It supplies the body with the necessary nutrients such as iron, vitamins, folic and calcium, which are very important for hormonal balance. Therefore, regular intake of beetroot can regulate periods effectively. Beetroots have abundant dietary nitrates, which get converted into nitric oxide in the body – which is very important in relaxing and dilating the blood vessels thereby lowering the blood pressure and preventing hypertension. Red beetroots have a significant amount of iron, which is very important in preventing anemia and boosting the regeneration of red blood cells. Also, the immense quantity of vitamin C in beets greatly helps in boosting the body’s ability to absorb iron. The presence of betaines and pectin substances in beetroots is very essential in that these substances play a vital role in detoxification (Cleansing) of the liver from toxins. Additionally, these substances also stimulate and constantly keep the liver healthy. Regular intake of beetroot boost sendurance and stamina; improves athletic performance in runners, swimmers and cyclists. This is probably due to the fact that beetroot contains a significant amount of carbohydrates that provide energy for prolonged stamina draining activities. It also improves brain neuroplasticity (ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life) because of the abundant nitrates present in it. Beetroot has been considered an aphrodisiac or sexual booster since time immemorial. In fact, the presence of the mineral boron in it is known to boost the production of sexual hormones hence boosting one’s libido with increased fertility and sperm mobility. Expectant mothers can reduce birth defects by regularly consuming beetroot. This is because it contains vitamin B folate which is important in the development of infants’ spinal column. Beetroot regular intake is important for weight-loss. The magnesium and potassium in it help to detoxify the body and flush out excess water, preventing bloating which helps optimize metabolism and hence enable one to lose excess body weight. Being high in folate, beetroot help in the optimal functioning and repair of cells. This helps prevent premature aging and the abundant antioxidants and vitamin C in it enhances the natural glow on your skin! Beetroot juice with its pulp is full of fiber, which helps to regulate the digestive processes and also relieves constipation. In fact, a glass of beetroot juice is also a great home remedy for stomach upset. Despite its immense health and nutritional benefits, few people have exploited the variant use of beetroot. However, due to the short time for it’s maturity (2-3 months), one can only hope that with time, more farmers take advantage of this priceless plant. - R.K.

A Vocation Story: “A God Who Makes Sense Of My Life”

Fr Phillip Andruga Kenyi from South Sudan, said that “the funny thing in all this development of my vocation to religious life was that God did not tell me in clear terms that this was my vocation.But something happens...” The big step towards my vocation was when I was invited to a Christian Youth leadership training camp organised by our Parish. During the meeting, I learned many important skills on how to be a Christian leader especially among the youth. I was asked by one of the priests if I would like to join the seminary so that I may become a priest like him. Interestingly, in my small group of sharing, was a diocesan seminarian and the way he conducted himself caught my attention and I admired it. In the camp, there were some Comboni missionaries priests and Comboni sisters who also shared with us their experience as missionaries. What I admired in them was the joy in their faces when they were sharing their experience with us. They also invited anyone who was interested in joining them and at the end of the encounter, I found myself confused because I did not know what to do. I thought of joining the seminary or continuing with my studies and realise my dreams of becoming a lawyer. It was not until the retreat of the youth groups that I told our parish priest of my intention of becoming a priest but, a religious priest. He was pleased with the idea and told me to follow my heart’s desire. After the encounter with the Parish Priest, I went to inform the members of my family about my decision and they were supportive though some of them were against it. The funny thing in all this development of my vocation to religious life was that God did not tell me in clear terms that this was my vocation. There was no evident sign pointing to it. God’s voice comes through the events of life through which I slowly discover love’s demands. God remains invisible and withdrawn. The first call I felt is the intuition, and it came as a surprise to me. I slowly discovered those hidden nooks and crannies where God loves me in a more special way than usual, disclosing His presence and love to me. I also felt it is a call based on faith in God who loves me and can do everything out of love for me. It is not something forthcoming in an interview or a conversation, but only through a slow and profound communication process between the spiritual guide and me. I think often, the call of God takes shape within us when persons, stirred out of their fatigue, see themselves confronted by events that tear them away from their indifference. Experiences lived out day by day and stored in memory, gradually accumulate into a collection of information from which to draw upon to make a career choice. Emotions lived through mark an individual. A number of experiences are required in order to make a reasonable choice, whether one wants to be a lawyer, teacher, a religious or a priest. The process is one of imitation, a parental model. Religious life is the same. That religious persons become a familiar sight to children is important. Otherwise, how will the person take something unknown? Without the possibility of seeing a religious or a priest, how can one desire to be like them? Sometimes it is said that what counts is our “being” in the world. Some add that there ought to be no difference between religious and secular priests. That is true in certain situations, but that is not enough for fostering vocation to religious life. This “being” has to be made visible in the here and now, something brought about by significant gestures and words conveying a personal and communitarian identity. Thus, discretion alone is not enough. One has to see the religious and their community in action.