All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

Brazil: Horizons of hope

A place where children find understanding and dignity. Comboni Missionary Father Padre Saverio Paolillo explains.

In the Marcos  Moura quarter, in the outskirts of Santa Rita, a town in the state of Paraíba in north-east Brazil, an initiative called Project Legal is in action. A group of men and women take in children and maladjusted adolescents. It is not a work of social benefits but a workshop for new experiences inspired by the values of the Gospel whose only aim is to help the boys and girls to live in freedom and take charge of their lives.

The project started only four years ago but the results are surprising. At present, as many as 189 children and adolescents are involved in its activities. Together with their men and women teachers and in close collaboration with their families, they are following a different path to that imposed by the leaders of organised crime who control this territory abandoned by the state.

With Project Legal, they have found new and transforming energy. From being people asking for help, they are now learning to look after themselves; from being compelled to seeing only their own defects, they have discovered their qualities and potential; from always begging, they are beginning to share their own precious riches; now loved gratuitously, fiercely protected, with their needs being considered, respected in their differences and recognised as people with inalienable rights, they are taking their first steps towards the full exercise of their citizenship. The environment is fairly quiet. Fights have been reduced through “restorative circles” and non-violent conflict resolution mediation. Even domestic violence is less frequent.

 Throughout the year, apart from receiving good, healthy food, the children and adolescents may also attend after-school lessons in Portuguese and mathematics provided by excellent teachers.  “Now I feel more ready to speak in public and I am able to express my ideas clearly”, said Sandro, one of the boys in the project, during a discussion on their activities. Larissa agrees.

Despite being only fifteen, she has an important role in the Small Christian community,  helping to animate the celebration of the Word of God: “I am no longer afraid to make mistakes. I read correctly and understand what I read”. By means of plays, music, painting, hip hop, sport and the workshop for the production of objects made from recyclable material, the boys and girls have put their creativity to work, producing some really beautiful pieces.

From the purely economic point of view, all these activities may seem useless but money is not everything: we also need beauty and, above all, ethics. Man does not live on bread alone but also on beauty, solidarity, tenderness, consideration for all and respectful integration with others and with nature. 

In this frenetic world dominated by the anxiety to win at all costs, taking time out to contemplate beauty, to be enchanted by its appearance and to cultivate it, has extraordinary curative powers: it heals the eyes contaminated by the obsession to see only what is bad in us and around us and invites us to discover and cultivate interior beauty.  Eyes exercised by beauty perceive horizons of hope: “Beauty is the great need of humankind; it is the root from which the trunk of our peace springs and the fruits of our hope” (Benedict XVI).

Thanks to a group of friends, we have been able to enlarge our structures and purchase a minibus which we have used for outings so as to know and understand better the natural beauty and cultural riches of the region.  “I had never before seen the sea and I just gazed at it with my mouth open.  Just think – Rikelmy, a, eleven year-old boy tells us – I live just a few kilometres from this immense swimming pool. My parents never took me.  I never knew my region was so beautiful”.

Through a project organised by the government of the state of  Paraíba, an orchestra was formed. Both children and adolescents are frequenting violin, cello, guitar, flute and percussion classes.  In recent months, Orchestra Legal has played several times at the main theatre of  João Pessoa, the capital of Paraíba. Families went to the theatre for the first time. 

In a quarter where it was easy to meet adolescents and young people with a pistol in their hands, one is now just as likely to meet boys and girls carrying musical instruments. Where once the terrible sound of death-dealing gunfire was heard, now there is the sound of music, bringing harmony, joy and life. “Thank you for disarming our children  –  a mother says  –  and for filling their hands with pens, books, footballs, musical instruments, tools, toys and much more. I feared losing them. Now I see that at present we have more life and not just survival and I am already beginning to think that these children have a good future ahead of them!”

African Witnesses: St. Josephine Bakhita

Nine-year-old Bakhita (c. 1869-1947), playing in the fields near her home in Sudan, was captured by slave traders. She had been warned by her parents to be careful, since her older sister earlier had been captured and enslaved.

During the next ten years, the captive Bakhita passed through the hands of five different slave owners. When the first slavers captured her, she kept silent when they asked her name. In response, they named her Bakhita, which means “the lucky one.” And she was lucky. She and another young girl escaped from these slavers. They ran into the woods and found freedom until a lion cornered them. The pair climbed a tree and proved more patient than the beast below. The girls’ newfound freedom, however, was short-lived. Another slave trader discovered the wandering girls and took his booty to the slave market at El Obeid. The slaver decided, however, to keep Bakhita to serve as his daughter’s maid.

The situation was not altogether unpleasant until one day Bakhita accidentally broke a prized vase belonging to the slaver’s son. Enraged, the son demanded that the father rid the family of Bakhita. Her third owner was a Turkish military officer and his family. The women of the house mistreated Bakhita terribly, regularly beating her for no reason and tattooing her with a needle to satisfy their whim of fashion. Fortunately, this situation ended when the owner and family sold his slaves at Khartoum, from where he returned to Turkey on temporary leave.

The next person to purchase the teenager was the diplomatic vice-consul for Italy at Khartoum. The man treated her kindly and tried to relocate her with her parents. Bakhita, however, could not recall where her parents lived. When the search for her origins turned up empty, the diplomat brought Bakhita to his home at Genoa. A family friend, Signora Michieli, and her young daughter, Mimmina, grew fond of Bakhita. It was agreed that this family would become the new owner of the slave girl, who by now was fourteen.

Signora Michieli loved Bakhita and treated her well. Since the signora’s wealthy family owned a hotel located near the Red Sea, it was envisioned that Bakhita eventually would travel with the family and work at the hotel as a waitress. In the meantime, the Sudanese girl was kept busy as a servant for the family’s daughter.

At twenty, Bakhita prepared to leave the home at Genoa for the Red Sea hotel. Just before leaving, the family steward suggested that Bakhita ought to be instructed in the Catholic faith, and, if she wished, to be baptized. Bakhita and Mimmina took up residence at Venice in the convent of the Daughters of Charity of Canossa. From the first moment she entered the convent, Bakhita felt at home. She loved the peace and prayerfulness of the convent.

Ten months later, Signora Michieli reappeared at the door of the convent. Gently but firmly, Bakhita refused to leave. Signora insisted that Bakhita must leave, since the woman had purchased the young girl as a slave and slaves were the property of their owners. The mother superior perceived the impasse. Because Church law was involved, she called in the cardinal-patriarch, who, because civil law applied as well, called in the king’s procurator.

These two officials of Church and State deliberated Bakhita’s future. When they asked Bakhita to state her position, she replied, “I love the Signora dearly, and to part from Mimmina cuts me to the heart. But I shall not leave this place because I cannot risk losing God.” The cardinal and procurator arrived at the same decision: since slavery had been declared illegal in Italy almost a hundred years before, as soon as any foreign slave touched Italian soil, he or she immediately and automatically became freed.

Within weeks, the cardinal baptized twenty-year-old Bakhita into the Catholic Church. She rejoiced in God’s love for her. Feeling loved and called by God, Bakhita expressed her desire to become a nun in the religious community of the sisters. The mother superior replied that Bakhita would be most welcomed.

On December 8, 1896, she took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She spent the next fifty years serving God and others in the local community houses of the Daughters of Charity of Canossa: at Venice, as portress at the Catechumenate Institute; at Schio, as cook and later as portress in the school and orphanage for girls; up and down the Italian peninsula as fund-raiser for the foreign missions. She was given the affectionate title Madre Moretta, which means “the Black Mother.”

The sanctity of Bakhita was nothing extraordinary: it was not showy, but it shone through her whole life. It consisted of very down-to-earth wisdom. She had the proper word for all: for the soldiers whom she invited very clearly to go “to confess [their sins]” and for the seminarians to whom she recommended holiness.

For the women who lingered around gossiping, she advised: “Go home quickly to prepare the meal, otherwise your husband will get impatient.” Everyone, both great and small, was touched by her. When she went around to promote missionary vocations, she was accompanied by a Sister who did the talks.

However, everyone was drawn toward Bakhita, who, going up on the platform, with few words, would manage to touch the hearts of all: “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him still!” Then she would make the sign of the cross and quickly go away.

At the cathedral in El Obeid, Sudan, a painting of Bakhita hangs next to that of the Blessed Mother, the Queen of Africa. (Vincent J.O’Malley)

Oral Literature: The Well

A long time ago, there were four families who lived in a small village in Somalia. The first family would argue all of the time, the second family were very greedy, the third family were always away from the village exploring because they were never happy with what they had or where they lived. But the fourth family were calm and patient, and they enjoyed living in their small community.

One night, the daughter of the third family was out exploring when she discovered a well hidden among some trees in the wilderness. The daughter ran back to her family and told them about the well and so they started to use the well to get their water.

It was not long before the other families heard news of the well, and very soon all four families were using the well to get their water until it was in danger of running dry.

This went on for some time, and it was obvious that the water in the well was getting lower and lower, yet none of the families wanted to stop using the well as it was close to the village and meant that they did not have to walk so far to get the water which they used to drink and cook and clean with.

One day, the wise chief, who had always known about the secret well, spoke to each family in turn. The chief said to them, ‘Tonight you must stay in your homes. You must not use the well for one whole night, that way the water will have time to rise once more.’

Each of the families agreed to stay away from the well, especially as the wise chief warned that there would be a severe punishment for any family who disobeyed this simple rule. But when night fell, the son of the first family could not resist visiting the well as he wanted to make sure he had plenty of water for the following day so that his family would not argue over who would walk the long distance to the usual well used by the rest of the villagers. He crept out to the well carrying two large buckets and filled them both to the top before returning to his home and hiding the buckets where they would not be seen.

Not long after, the son of the second family also crept out to the well and filled two large buckets all the way to the top as he was very greedy and wanted the water for his family alone.

Then the daughter of the third family also crept out to the well as she could not resist exploring at night and reasoned that it was she who had discovered the well in the first place so it was her family who deserved the extra water despite the warning from the wise chief.

The next day, the chief visited the well and was distressed to find that it was completely dry. He waited until he knew that all of the families were away from their homes, then he visited each home in turn.

In the first home he discovered the two buckets, one of which was already empty, but the other still contained the water which was stolen from the well. When he visited the second and third homes, he also discovered the buckets of water hidden where nobody would see them. But when he visited the fourth home, he discovered that the buckets were dry and realised that the patient family had remained in their beds all night. They had listened to his warning and had stayed away from the well so that the water might rise once more.

The wise chief called all four families to the meeting place in the village where he confronted them about the well. ‘You three families all stole water from the well even though I told you not to,’ said the chief in a stern voice. ‘I know this because I visited your homes this morning and discovered the buckets of water. Because you defied my instructions you will be forced to remain in your homes for thirty days and nights without food or water as punishment. I hope that you will spend this time thinking about the wrong you have done.’

To the fourth family he said, ‘You listened to my simple instructions and stayed in your home last night and did not visit the well. Take this letter and open it when you return to your home.’ The fourth family took the letter and returned home. When they opened the letter there was a map inside. The family followed the directions on the map and after travelling for many miles they discovered a well surrounded by an abundance of fruit trees and vegetable plants. There was enough food and water to last the family a whole lifetime!

The families who were forced to stay in their homes without food or water learned a valuable lesson that day. They learned that it was always best to listen to the advice of one’s elders and not to take things when you were told not to. They also realised that the fourth family were rewarded for their patience and their willingness to follow the simple rules which benefit a community.  (A Somali Story by Milgo Dahir-Hersi)

Bolivia Textiles: Symbolism of the Andean Wisdom

The original handcrafted clothes made with sheep, llama, alpaca, vicuña and other animals’ wool are not just garments made of valuable fabrics showing great combinations of meaningful colours, but they also symbolise the prestige of the original Andean dignity and identity.

The weaving process begins with the extraction of wool from sheep, alpacas, llamas, vicuñas and other animals. The wool extraction process is carried out in two ways: the animal’s legs are tied by crisscrossing a rope around them and then the animal is sheared. The other way of shearing, instead, involves the slaughtering of the animal, and then the wool is cut by passing a lid edge flush with its skin.

The sheared wool is washed in the nearest rivers to the communities. The process of removing dirt is done by using sticks or by stepping on the raw wool until all the dirt comes out, and then the wool is left to dry. When it is dry it is spun on a spinning wheel. The spun yarn is then wrapped in junis: balls of crossed and intertwined large loops.

Once it is coloured, the yarn is left to dry and then it is twisted and spun again on a spinning wheel until the final fabric ball is obtained. There are different fabrics for several kinds of clothes such as: aguayo, phullu, ch’uspa, chumpi, costal, inkuña and other garments.

The colouring process of the wool threads has historical origins, but it has evolved over time and nowadays it has been replaced by the use of aniline and other chemical elements. According to what the old ones narrate, people once used natural elements to colour the wool threads. The colour brown was extracted from maize corn, lilac or purple from purple maize, while cochineal, which can be found in the prickles of tuna, was used to produce red tints; the colour green was obtained from Kimsa k’uchu, the Ch’akatea and the yellow colour from ajrawayu.

These natural ingredients were boiled in a container with plenty of water until the desired colour was obtained. At this point the juñis were immersed in the colour and some salt and lemon were added in order to prevent colours from fading. One of the most common type of loom used to weave is the four-stake loom which has four corner sticks driven securely into the ground and two horizontal cross pieces around which the warp is wrapped.

Weavers pass the ball of warp yarn back and forth to each other. All weaving is an interlacing of horizontal and vertical threads. Horizontal threads are called the weft. Vertical threads are called the warp. Different types of textiles are created depending on how the horizontal and vertical threads interweave.

Weavers use the illawa, a tool used in weaving to keep the threads straight. The yarn is passed through the weave horizontally (this phase is called miniy), then they cover the vertical threads, using the wich’una instrument to tighten the weave, usually a llama bone. Individual warp threads are isolated one at a time to wrap in front of or behind the weft that is passed horizontally through them in order to create different patterns. The individual warp threads are ‘picked up’ (arriba) and brought to the front of the loom or ‘dropped’ (abajo) and pushed to the back. Weavers also use other smaller instruments to weave indigenous and figurative representations (saltas). The Aguayo (big-squared weaves used to carry babies and small children on one’s back, or to seat, or to put food in), the poncho or the phullu, (blanket), are all typical Bolivian handmade weaves.

Andean artisan fabrics show different patterns and figures, and each figure has a particular meaning depending on the ayllu (political, social, economic, and administrative unit of the Andes). The typical figures and motifs are: the chuwa pattern that symbolises a plate of common use, the Andean condor, which is a national symbol in Bolivia and is seen as the protector of the indigenous people and the messenger between the divine world and the indigenous community; flowers which symbolise love, while ants are the symbol of perseverance and bravery, and the leaves of the molle tree represent resistance.

Colours are also extremely meaningful in the Andean fabrics: the red aguayo symbolises the blood spilled from the sacrifice of animals to Pachamama (the Andean earth-mother figure). Pachamama is the highest divinity of the Andean people since she is concerned with fertility, plenty, the feminine, generosity and ripening crops, besides providing protection. The name Pachamama is translated into English as Mother Earth since pacha is a word in both Quechua and Aymara that means earth, cosmos, universe, time, space, etc. in English and mama means ‘mother’. But red is also the festive colour, red aguayos, in fact, are used for special places and events. The green aguayo symbolises the hope and blessing of nature, while black aguayos can symbolises mystery or death.

Andean fabrics are remarkable not only for their complex patterns or for the beauty of their colours and figures, but also for their artistic symbolism, since through their patterns, colours and figures, Andean textiles express the socio-political, cultural, economic and spiritual cosmovision of the Andean peoples. According to the old and wise members of the Andean communities, weaving fabrics is a way to dialogue with the pacha (mother earth) and with nature. Mother-earth provides people all that they need: food and medicinal herbs to heal wounds and diseases. Nature is the large garden that provides all elements to make and colour textiles. Over time though, things have changed, even symbols in the Andean fabrics: the figure of the llama is often replaced by the figure of a car, that of a condor by the figure of an aeroplane and so on. (Jhonny Mancilla Pérez)

Herbs & Plants: Xylopia aethiopica – A Spicy Herbal Medicinal Plant

It possesses great nutritional and medicinal values. The plant is used in the treatment of a number of diseases. And also as a body cream. 

Xylopia aethiopica which is commonly referred to as the grains of Selim, Ethiopian pepper or African grains of Selim, is an evergreen, aromatic tree that can grow up to about 20m in height with a smooth grey bark; it has a 25-70 cm diameter, a straight bole with a many-branched crown. The tree has a short prop or buttress roots, its leaves are simple, alternate, oblong, elliptic to ovate, leathery, the margin entire.

The flowers are creamy-green, bisexual and the fruits look rather like twisted bean-pods, dark brown, cylindrical. Each pod contains 5 to 8 kidney-shaped black seeds, and the hull is aromatic, but not the grain itself. It is a native to the lowland rainforest and moist fringe forests throughout tropical Africa. The genus name Xylopia is a greek word (xylon pikron) for ‘bitter wood’, while the species name aethiopica refers to its Ethiopian origin.

Xylopia aethiopica (Family Annonaceae) is a multipurpose tree that is very important in the local economy, supplying foods, a wide range of medicines, and wood. It remains an important traded plant species throughout parts of Africa, sold in local markets as a spice and medicine. The dried fruits of Xvlopia aethiopica; commonly referred to as ‘the grains of Seli’m are used as a herbal medicine. The tree is often cultivated near villages and often protected when growing in the forest.

Xylopia aethiopica possesses great nutritional and medicinal values and all the parts are very useful medicinally, although the fruits are most commonly used for therapeutic purposes. It can be taken as a decoction, concoction or even chewed and swallowed for the management of various aches and pains. Xylopia aethiopica is used in the treatment of a number of diseases including cough, malaria, constipation, uterine fibroid, and amenorrhea. It is also used locally as carminative, stimulant and adjunct to other remedies for the treatment of skin infection.

The bark decoction is administered for the treatment of bronchitis, asthma, stomach-aches and dysenteric conditions and the infusion of the plant’s bark is used in the treatment of biliousness and fever. The mixture of Xylopia aethiopica bark with palm wine is useful in the management of rheumatism, asthma, and stomach-ache. The bark is also used as a postpartum tonic and also taken to promote fertility and to ease   childbirth.

The dried root powder is of Xylopia aethiopica dissolved in alcohol and administered orally as an anthelminthic and as mouth-wash to relive toothache. The powdered root is used as a dressing for skin sores and also rubbed on gums for gum diseases and in local treatment of cancer. The aqueous root concoction is administered after child birth as an anti-infective drug. The decoction is also administered as an antihemorrhagic agent.

The leaves are used in traditional medicine to manage boils, sores, wounds and cuts and the decoction of the leaves and roots used as a tonic and also to treat fever and debility. Additionally, the decoction of the leaves is also used as an anti-emetic. The leaf-sap can be administered to treat epileptic seizure. Powdered leaves are inhaled for the treatment of headaches and its decoction used to treat rheumatism.

A decoction of the fruit is useful in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, stomach-aches and the dried fruit used to treat dysenteric conditions. The fruits are also used as a purgative, emmenagogue, and antitussive, anthelmintic and for relieving flatulence. The dried fruit decoction is administered for the treatment and management of asthma. The fruit of Xylopia aethiopica is also used as a reliever of pain caused by rheumatic conditions. It is also used as a tonic to improve fertility in women and is an essential ingredient in preparation of local soups to aid new mothers in breastfeeding. The dry fruits are smoked like tobacco and the smoke inhaled to relieve respiratory ailments. Traditional medical practitioners and birth attendants use a decoction of the seeds to induce placental discharge postpartum due to its abortifacient effect. The crushed seeds are applied topically on the forehead to treat headache and neuralgia. The decoction of the seeds is also used as a vermifuge for roundworms.

Apart from the medicinal uses, the powdered fruits of Xylopia aethiopica can be mixed with shear butter and used as body creams.  The powdered dry fruits and seeds can also be used as spice to flavour food. The bark of Xylopia aethiopica is resistant to attack by termites and as such used to make doors and partitions during construction of buildings. The wood is also traditionally used to make bows and crossbows for hunters.

Xylopia aethiopica contains a number of bioactive compounds including β-pinene, 1, 8-cineol, α-terpineol, terpinene-4-ol, paradol, bisabolene, linalool (E)-β-ocimene, α-farnesene, β-pinene, α-pinene, myrtenol and β-phellandrene. Therefore, its medicinal activities may be due to the presence of these bioactive compounds in it. (Richard Komakech)

Ethiopia: Solidarity in the shadow of Debre Libanos

About 700 Ethiopian refugees survive thanks to the work of an Orthodox priest of the Debre Libanos monastery. The initiative of Abba Kefyalew stands out considering the limited commitment of his Church to the less fortunate.

The Great Rift Valley is a canyon of almost 5,000 kilometres that splits the Horn of Africa into two from north to south. The 13th century Debre Libanos Orthodox monastery stands in this canyon at about 100 kilometres north of the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. According to some Orthodox narrations, Abbot Libans lived and prayed in a cave near the monastery for seven years. Thousands of Ethiopians come to this place every year because they believe that if they bathe in the waterfall next to the temple, the abbot will remove the demon from their body.

The devotion to the abbot is so deeply felt in Ethiopia that hundreds of elderly people, among the thousands of pilgrims who visit the monastery and the cave every month, decided to stay and to live in the surroundings of the monastery for the rest of their life. They set up makeshift camps around the bars that protect the sanctuary. It is as if they have become the guardians of the great secret of the place.

About 20 years ago, a young businessman arrived in Debre Libanos, from the city of Harar and he was affected by diabetes problems. The water from the waterfall made the miracle and healed the businessman who decided to become an abba, which is the name given to Orthodox priests in Ethiopia.

His first destination as a priest was  Addis Ababa, but as soon as he could, after a year, he returned to the place that changed his life, not only because his body was healed, but most of all because he understood the real sense of life in that place. Therefore he decided to do something for the hundreds of people, mostly elderly, who camped around the monastery with no other sustenance than the alms of the pilgrims who arrived there. The Orthodox Church does not stand out for its social work programs, but Abba Kefyalew decided to do something.

He built some rudimentary shacks furnished with some bunk beds. Over time, little by little, the makeshift camp around Debre Libanos was expanded and its dimensions are currently equal to about two football fields. People from the most marginalised social categories are hosted in the camp near the monastery, such as abandoned children and women, the sick, dying and elderly, people affected by serious mental problems and all those human beings in Ethiopia that are left to their tragic fate.

The first thing that strikes when arriving at the refugee shelter is the frenetic activity of the abba’s followers. The place looks like an urban project: ground floor constructions on each side of the area, piles of bricks all around for the numerous works that are underway. There is also a large multipurpose open patio. All the people do something, some peel dry red peppers, while some women wash clothes in a corner and smiling children play on a rusty slide.

People working in the kitchen prepare hundreds of food rations every day. By mid-morning, the stoves are at full capacity. Women often prepare the Ethiopian main staple food: the injera, a bread cake made with fermented tef flour. Everyday at noon, about 50 people, mostly elderly and women, arrive. “They are pilgrims who have just purified themselves in the water of the spring and have prayed in the temple”, one of the guardians of the entrance tells us.

The people hosted at the refugee house are offered a lunch generally consisting of injera and chicken pieces. Pilgrims arriving at the place often bring the food for the refugees. There is a friendly atmosphere all around. Then the 53 year old abba arrives surrounded by a halo of mysticism which is characteristic of his religious role. He greets everyone who has come close to kiss his hand and the wooden cross he holds.

According to tradition, Abbot Lebanon was the first monk of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The legend says that when he touched rocks with his cane water would gush out from them. Abba Kefyalew is a pragmatic Orthodox priest because every day he sees the face of hunger and that of human tragedy. He does not use a cane, but anyone who looks at his eyes immediately understands that in this country of the descendants of the Queen of Sheba, it takes much more than miracles to redeem human beings from misery. (Xaquin Lopez)

Oral Literature: Lion and the Spider

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 shell 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, –  and – 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: “Certainly not – expostulated the lion – . 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. Allah be praised! 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 Nigeria)

Bishops from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia call for disarmament of herders

Catholic bishops in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia are calling for coordinated and peaceful disarmament in a common border region, where an estimated 8 million illegal small and light weapons can be found among the herder communities.

The border triangle is the homeland of the Turkana and the Pokot of Kenya, the Karamoja of Uganda, Daasanach of Ethiopia and Toposa of South Sudan, who have for many centuries raided each other’s cattle as part of an age-old tradition.

At the same time, the region hosts the highest number of refugees in Africa and contributes to the international forced migration, according to Catholic Church officials. But the cattle raiding in the recent past has turned deadly partly due to its commercialisation and politicisation.This has spurred a demand for AK-47s and other small and light weapons, with the communities racing to arm themselves with a disastrous effect, said Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Lodwar, Kenya.

“Everyone in this region has a gun, but we are telling them that they don’t need all these weapons,” said Kimengich. He pointed out the cycle of revenge — cattle raids and counter-raids — have created a cycle of insecurity in the area, where a rifle costs about $200-$300 or one or two cows. The guns have been easy to get, according to the bishop, since the area is surrounded by countries in conflict. “One of the sources of the guns is South Sudan, where the local communities sell their guns to buy food,” said Kimengich.

In mid-May, the leaders converged at the St. Teresa Pastoral Centre in Lodwar for the interdiocesan conference on cross-border peace and Anglicisation.

“We will no longer remain silent. We will no longer remain indecisive, and we will no longer be fearful. We are committed to highlighting the suffering which small arms have caused in the daily lives of our people,” said Kenya’s Bishop of Maralal Diocese, Virgilio Pante, who is also the Chairperson for the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB)-Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Seafarers.

“Disarmament has to begin now – he said – . Peaceful disarmament begins with the transformation of the individual and disarming the mind and the heart. It can be done in an environment of trust, collaboration and commitment.”

According to the bishops of the region  the proliferation of the arms has caused thousands of deaths and injuries, displacement and forced migration of people; it has hampered development, heightened insecurity and caused the loss of livestock.

The spiritual leaders proposed that the regional governments launch a simultaneous disarmament process using an “integrated peaceful disarmament approach.” The approach focuses on prevention and control of the small arms and light weapons proliferation, seeks to address reasons creating the demand and seeks to transform all sectors of the community. It also suggests a synchronised disarmament action in the three countries.

“Simultaneous disarmament is critical. When the communities learn it is occurring one area, they hide their weapons in the area where it’s not occurring. Uganda, for example, has disarmed its Karamoja, and they are now seeing the Pokot of Kenya as a threat to their security,” said Kimengich.

As reported by Regional Centre for Small Arms (RECSA) the region hosts eight million out of an estimated 36 million small arms and light weapons are in the hands of civilians in the African continent.

“Simultaneous disarmament is critical. When the communities learn it is occurring one area, they hide their weapons in the area where it’s not occurring. Uganda, for example, has disarmed its Karamoja, and they are now seeing the Pokot of Kenya as a threat to their security,” said Kimengich.

As reported by Regional Centre for Small Arms (RECSA) the region hosts eight million out of an estimated 36 million small arms and light weapons are in the hands of civilians in the African continent.

Vocation Story: From cigarette’s seller to priest

“I really believe that a missionary priest is a person called by God to meet the overwhelming gratuitous love of God for humanity.” A Comboni Father Placide Majambo Lutumba Petir from Congo tell us his story. 

I grew up in a fairly quiet and peaceful atmosphere, but also very Christian. My mother sang in the church choir and every time she went to church for mass or singing practice, she did everything for me to be with her. That is how I became an altar server in my home parish. I admired Fr Egide Bulamilungu, the priest who baptised me.

I was twelve when my dad and Fr Egide decided to send me to the minor seminary of the diocese of Idiofa. There I learned and was accustomed to certain activities such as reading of the Bible, manual work, football, etc. Above all, I liked being responsible for electricity in the seminary. After completing the six years in 2001, I asked to join the Comboni missionaries where another of my friends had already joined. However, my father did not support my idea because I am the first born in the family. Children ahead of me are my stepbrother and sister. It took him some time to be fully convinced of my vocation.

That is how in 2002, he sent me to register as a student candidate for first year medicine at the University of Kinshasa where two of my classmates in the seminary were already studying. However, I disobeyed him as I was convinced to become a missionary. To save time until I formally declared my disagreement with him, I chose to use the university fees to start a small business in Ngaba roundabout in Kinshasa. My business was selling cigarettes: one of the most attractive products of the market. As soon as I started, I was nicknamed Mopao by the street boys of the area due to the rapid improvement of the business. In addition, unlike other sellers, Mopao was a bit generous with everyone.

It was during this experience that I met Mamie Nyembo, who used to take care of those street boys and was the responsible for vocations in my home parish in Pighini. She helped me to reconnect with the Comboni Missionaries and became as my saviour in search of my vocation. Through her, I met Fr Jerome Anakese, director of the vocations in Kinshasa. After several meetings with Fr Anakese, in 2003 I joined the eight people chosen to start the pre-postulancy in Kimbanseke (Kinshasa).

I first thought of becoming a Comboni brother because of my ability to do practical things. After discussing with Fr Jerome to clarify my vocational motivations, I decided to apply for priesthood. From 2004 to 2007 I did my philosophical studies in Kisangani. Then I went to the Noviciate in Cotonou (Benin). I had four companions, but I was the only one among the eight who joined pre-postulancy in Kinshasa.

In the second year of noviciate, I was sent to our parish of Tabligbo (Togo) for my experience of six months. I felt over the moon when my family friend travelled all the way from Togo to attend the celebration of our first profession in Cotonou on May 16, 2009. In July 2009, I reached the scholasticate of Nairobi where I was to begin a new experience with the English language before studying theology. After successfully completing my studies of English, I joint Hekima College, the Jesuits school of Theology.

As a student in Nairobi, I had the chance to visit South Sudan twice and the lives of people there affected me. On July 12, 2014, I took my final vows in St Josephine Bakhita parish (Mapuordit in South Sudan) and was ordained a deacon the next day. It was such a great celebration for the people, because it was the first time people attended an ordination. The entire diocese of Rumbek counts only five local priests.

Education at all levels is our priority because youth in the Church represent nearly 70% of the faithful. Therefore, our first task is to have them baptised and committed to serve the church and the new nation. That sums up my experience as a parish priest every day. The spiritual desire of the people is to meet a God-providence who is the light for them in the darkness of their daily lives. I am happy that I can intercede for them through my personal prayer and I also help them to solve some of their everyday challenges.

Actually, these years I have been very bad for them. People really suffered and endured atrocities and violence. Not only has there been loss of lives and properties in the conflict, but also the social structures, the traditional and cultural relations that existed among our communities have been shattered.

I was personally a victim of these tribal clashes when some men attacked our car and I have been shot and wounded. It was not an easy experience, but as St Paul says we keep walking in/with the Spirit (Gal 5:13-18). This is our life in South Sudan: a place where Jesus the Good Shepherd must reach. I really believe that a missionary priest is a person called by God to meet the overwhelming gratuitous love of God for humanity.

Brazil: “Goes forth” means to respect the indigenous culture

Pope Francis always insists on a Church that “goes forth”. In the Amazon, according to Bishop João Muniz Alves, Bishop of the Prelature of Xingu, in Brazil, this must be translated into “a Church that respects the cultures that are present here”.

The Prelature of Xingu, which has an area of 368,876.67 square kilometers, brings together the different cultures of Brazil, people from all regions of the country, “without forgetting that there are 64 indigenous villages, who are the primitive inhabitants of the region” emphasises Archbishop João Muniz.

Bearing this reality in mind, the Bishop pointed out: “our effort to work with cultures must take into account respect for diversity, respect for these cultures and the need to give them dignity”, a reflection that is present in the next Synod of the Bishops for the Amazon. On the other hand, Mgr. João Muniz Alves, denounces that “in the Amazon region there is no attention that should be given by the government, which has implications also in our way of evangelising, because we evangelise to people who suffer”.

In this mission, religious life plays a fundamental role, said Mgr. Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva, Bishop of the Prelature of Borba, “religious life plays a fundamental role in the Amazon”. Religious life “with the presence of different charisms, in fact assumes the role of being light and witness of the Gospel of joy. It is a great witness in this region and must continue to be so”.

The Bishop of the Prelature of Borba, pointed out some examples of how the work of religious life in the Amazon can be carried out: “for example, being interested in the formation of our people, of the heads of the communities, coordinating the presence of consecrated persons in the communities, which involves investments, visits and spirituality”.

According to this perspective, Mgr. Zenildo insists that “the great contribution will be in the presence and in the spirituality of every charism in the different dioceses, sending people who are well prepared to work for the formation of the people, leaders, pastoral workers, according to the new directions that are being sought”. The Amazon Synod will take place from October 6 through October 27 in Rome.