All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

Vocation Story: An only son, but never lonely

When a college student, Jemboy told his parents he wanted to be a missionary priest, they felt that such a vocation would deprive them of their only treasure. He waited. He even tried to put the call aside. Until he was no longer able to hold it back. Finally, the parents agreed: “Go with our blessing”. Today, he is working with the Pokots, an ethnic group of Kenya, certain that dad and mum understand that God desires their son’s happiness more than they do.

I was born in 1984, in Sulop, in the province of Davao del Sur, in the island of Mindanao, southern Philippines, but I grew up in General Santos City, formerly known as Dadiangas.  After my elementary education, I entered the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University, in General Santos City, a Catholic institution run by the Marist Brothers. I followed the course of Bachelor of Education as a ‘working student’. I worked for five hours in the morning, and then ran to the university to attend classes. Things got a bit better when I got the job as student assistant of a professor at my university.

During the second year at college, my friends invited me to camp, in a ‘Come and See’ programme run by the Franciscan Capuchins. The leaflet they put into my hands spoke of “a journey to discover one’s specific vocation in life”. For a year, we spent every weekend in praying and thinking about priesthood vocation. The idea of being a priest attracted me.

The problem was how to tell my parents. Somehow, they had already smelled a rat, and agreed on the strategy to follow in case I would come up with an ‘unorthodox’ option of life. So, when I dropped a hint that I could become a priest, they reacted negatively: “What will happen to us? You are our only child. How could you leave us alone?” The pain I saw in their eyes almost paralysed me, and I decided to put aside the idea of priesthood and concentrate on my studies.

But I had drawn the bill without the innkeeper. I had left out God, who never leaves things unfinished. In fact, when I was about to finish my college, we had the visit a young Filipino priest, of the Comboni Missionaries Institute, working as vocation promoter of his institute. As soon as I saw him, the old desire, which was lying frozen in my mind, began to thaw and revive. When he offered me the possibility to attend a retreat, without hesitation I said I would.

The retreat gladdened me. I had other encounters. After getting the diploma, I decided once again to wait. I signed a year-long contract to teach in a primary school. I liked teaching, but the call to be a Comboni missionary became stronger and stronger.

One day, back from school, I showed them the letter with which I had terminated the contract with the school. “I must answer the call. I want to join the Comboni postulancy”, I told them. Surprisingly, Dad said: “We will be crying when you go. Know, however, that you can go with our blessing. Only remember to be firm and strong. The life you have chosen is special. We will always support you”.

From then on, my life went as smooth as oil. At first, two years of Postulancy in Manila. Then, two years in Mexico for the Novitiate. Both periods turned out to be brilliant experiences that strengthened my decision to be a missionary.

In 2012, I was back in The Philippines for my first religious profession. A week later, I received the official letter that appointed me to Nairobi (Kenya), for my Scholasticate. In August, I set foot on African soil. I was full of enthusiasm and eager to begin my theological studies.

The first three months were a challenge. I had to adjust to the new culture. I even felt homesick: I missed the comfort and the way of life in my home. However, I soon learnt to love the new community and enjoy its internationality. The theological courses at Tangaza College in Nairobi were very interesting.

The real magic moment came during the first school holidays. I went to Kacheliba, a Comboni mission among the Pokot in the north of Kenya. I did not speak a word of Kiswahili or Pokot, but it was still possible to share my life with the people. What really counts in human relationships is to show interest in others. For four years, I spent any period free from school there. Gradually, the Pokots became ‘my people’, and I became their friend. The feeling of being expected was of indescribable beauty.

After completing my theological studies, I went to Kacheliba for a 1-year-long missionary service. Now I was able to get by with Kiswahili. Communication was possible. I discovered the amazing simplicity of this ethnic group and their good hearts.  On 7th April, 2017, in Kacheliba Church, packed to capacity, I was ordained deacon.

I went back home for my priestly ordination. On 27th October 2017, my parish church was crammed. Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez was surrounded by over thirty priests: confreres, friends from other congregations and of the diocese. My parents were beside themselves with joy. I felt in the ante-chamber of Paradise. I had realised my dream. I was overwhelmed by the immense love God had shown me.

At the beginning of 2018, I went back to Kenya among the Pokot. I do not want to be anything special. I only want to be true to God’s call which I have been hearing since I was a boy. (Caspis Salarde Jemboy)

Oral Literature: Nigeria: Thunder and Lightning

A long time ago, both thunder and lightning lived on this earth, among all the people. Thunder was an old mother sheep and Lightning was her son, a handsome ram, but neither animal was very popular.

When anybody offended the ram, Lightning, he would fly into a furious rage and begin burning down huts and corn bins, and even knock down large trees. Sometimes he damaged crops on the farms with his fire and occasionally he killed people who got in his way.

As soon as his mother, Thunder, knew he was behaving in this evil way, she would raise her voice and shout as loudly as she could, and that was very loud indeed.

Naturally the neighbours were very upset, first at the damage caused by Lightning and then by the unbearable noise that always followed his outbursts. The villagers complained to the king on many occasions, until at last he sent the two of them to live at the very edge of the village, and said that they must not come and mix with people any more.

However, this did no good, since Lightning could still see people as they walked about the village streets and so found it only too easy to continue picking quarrels with them. At last the king sent for them again.

“I have given you many chances to live a better life – he said -, but I can see that it is useless. From now on, you must go right away from our village and live in the wild bush. We do not want to see your faces here again.”

Thunder and Lightning had to obey the king and left the village, angrily cursing its inhabitants.

Alas, there was still plenty of trouble in store for the villagers, since Lightning was so angry at being banished that he now set fire to the whole bush, and during the dry season this was extremely unfortunate. The flames spread to the little farms which the people had planted, and sometimes to their houses as well, so that they were in despair again. They often heard the mother ram’s mighty voice calling her son to order, but it made very little difference to his evil actions.

The king called all his councillors together and asked them to advise him, and at last they hit on a plan. One white-headed elder said: “Why don’t we banish Thunder and Lightning right away from the earth? Wherever they live there will be trouble, but if we sent them up into the sky, we should be rid of them.”

So Thunder and Lightning were sent away into the sky, where the people hoped they would not be able to do any more damage.

Things did not work out quite as well as they had hoped, however, for Lightning still loses his temper from time to time and cannot resist sending fire down to the earth when he is angry. Then you can hear his mother rebuking him in her loud rumbling voice.

Occasionally even his mother cannot bear to stay with him and goes away for a little while. You will know when this happens, for Lightning still flashes his fire on the earth, but his mother is so far away that she does not see, and her voice is silent. (A tale from Igbo People, Nigeria)

South Sudan: Blessings in Disguise

Mission hardships are transformed with the right vision.

Father Gregor Schmidt knows the rigors of mission as well as anyone. In Fangak County, South Sudan, it’s not unusual for him to wade through waist-deep waters for nine hours a day to get from one mission to the next. “It really is tiring,” he says, by way of excuse for the short hours, “because your foot sinks down in the mud with each step. And, of course, you must carry all your belongings up over your head so they do not get wet.” And the missions can be days, even weeks, apart.

“Currently, we are three Comboni Missionaries, Father Christian from Italy, Father Alfred from Uganda and me, who serve a parish of around 25,000 Catholics spread over about eighty villages. Any place that has a regular number of Catholics praying on Sundays can become a chapel. We missionaries divide and visit these places as best as we can, usually two or three times per year. All journeys are on foot because there are no roads for vehicles in the county.”

Within every hardship, though, Father Gregor sees the hand of providence. The lack of infrastructure is not a problem, he says. “It has been a wonderful blessing.

Without bridges and good roads, the tanks cannot come to our territory. The ground is too soft and can be flooded for months at a time. So we have been safe.”

Being shielded from armed conflict is a tangible blessing in South Sudan. During the short history of this country, war has been one of its most stable features. Carved from the country of Sudan in 2011, there is still little in South Sudan to unite the residents.

More than sixty ethnic groups live here, speaking eighty languages. Most of these disparate groups follow a traditional lifestyle, without Western-style political structures and with little preparation for city dwelling.

Nation-building is an uphill battle in the region, since most people identify more strongly with their clan or ethnic group than with the country. Gregor understands this view.

“People here are very proud of being Nuer,” he says. “The first identity is always the clan and the tribe. I think that for most South Sudanese the ethnic identity is more important than the national identity. Nation states are a new phenomenon in Africa. In the case of South Sudan, it is a miserable service-provider. Therefore, people rely on their traditional social networks. They have never known anything else that provides for their security and well-being.”

As the country works to develop its political identity, this traditional view can prove a challenge, he says. “One’s family and ethnic group traditionally ensure security and just distribution. It is a relational network which is difficult to leave, even if one wishes to. The pressure of the relatives is extremely intense. When someone earns money, there are many relatives asking for a share. How could a politician who manages state funds react in this context? When it comes down to it, the politician would rather betray the State than betray his clan. “That which is generally characterised as corruption and nepotism, is the way through which the various ethnic groups ensure that their members are taken care of. The preference for one’s own group and the resulting conflicts—that has always been around. This pattern of behaviour continues to be exhibited when one becomes a politician.”

The rapid, post-war urbanisation was a further stressor for the people living here. Gregor notes, “Most youth grow up the traditional way, without school. They herd cattle and help in the fields or in the homesteads. Although some have been to a town, most have never seen a car.”

While war may have stopped at the doorstep, its effects have ravaged the house. When conflict restricted goods from travelling down the Nile, the small market town of Old Fangak ran out of food, just as it was being overrun by people fleeing the violence. Suddenly the Red Cross, UN, and other NGOs swooped in to aid the displaced people. What was once a village became a small town, with 30,000 new residents. And what was once a people used to a yearly cycle of food scarcity has become a population increasingly dependent on outside food aid. Internally displaced people (IDPs) invite their extended families to Old Fangak, to avoid the lean season, and food supplies cannot keep pace with the influx.

Of course, Father Gregor sees the blessing in this scarcity, too. “These people survive with the bare minimum and show us what is really essential in life,” he says.

The war has left a lasting scar on the people of the region in another way, too. Gregor says that “in some places, there are almost no boys in their teens and early twenties.” Sending boys to war was seen as a patriotic duty, even when families were struggling to simply survive.

The recent history of Africa is rife with stories of children being conscripted for military service, but the lines between childhood and adulthood are not as well-defined in this region of Africa as they are in other parts of the world.

“Child soldiers are, by definition, youth below the age of eighteen,” Gregor explains. “Among the Nuer, the distinction of underage has no cultural meaning. As in other traditional cultures, youth are considered adults much earlier. As they enter puberty, they learn to hunt and also to kill. When youth are recruited, people don’t ask them for their age, but instead look at their body development or if they have received marks on their forehead. Quite a number of youth in the countryside might not even know with certainty their birth year.”

A tender age is no barrier to soldiering, and recruiters have been arbitrary in their selection process. Gregor recalls, “During 2014, the opposition forces in our area were satisfied with the number of volunteers. As the conflict dragged on, they forced every man who owned an AK-47 (the Kalashnikov) to fight. The other alternative was to give up one’s weapon, which was a tough choice to make. When this measure could not provide enough fighters to replace the fallen ones, we had a massive forced recruitment in the whole county. Many homes in the villages were raided by night and youth taken indiscriminately. In Old Fangak, they called the population to the public square and then detained all men. Although most of them (in particular the older ones) were released, the authorities in the town didn’t want to be recruited. But in the villages, there were many volunteers who saw it as an act of self-defense.”

There was another cultural perspective at play, too, he says. “The Nuer also believe in fate, that God has already decided the day a person dies. If they go to fight, they feel protected by providence.”

The loss of a generation of men means that it is even more difficult to plant and harvest a field or to hunt or herd cattle. Even during times of peace, this hard way of life has become harder.

While aware of the dangers of serving in a poor and war-torn country, Father Gregor insists it is simply part of the Comboni charism. For the Comboni Missionaries, he says, “it is clear to us that our presence in South Sudan is more important than ever before. In South Sudan, only one in five people can read. Women have even less access to education. It is three times more likely that a teenage girl will get pregnant and die due to complications during childbirth than that she finishes school.

“The Gospel bears witness to the light of Jesus that shines in the darkness. Where people accept this light, hate is transformed into love, and desperation into assurance. Our Rule of Life states: ‘Following Christ, the missionary becomes one with the people in their life, work and journey, sharing their lot.’ If this fate is a civil war, it is also my fate. I accept this consciously and live it, trusting in God.”

“Regarding our work of building the faith community, I hope that it bears fruit eventually. But this is not something one can implement in a set timeframe—like project goals. The Church breathes in the rhythm of generations. That’s why 1 believe that it will take quite a bit of time until the values of the Gospel become rooted in the society, and the community of faith creates a stronger identity than one’s ethnic group.” (Kathleen M. Carroll)

The ‘Year of the God Who Speaks’

The year 2020 is dedicated to the rediscovery of the Holy Scriptures, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the “Verbum Domini”, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict, and 1600 years since the death of Saint Jerome. The initiative has been jointly promoted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the “Bible society”, a charity that brings the Bible to over 200 Countries.

The ‘ Year of the God Who Speaks’ will begin next September 30th at the National Gallery with a recorded message by Catholic Primate Vincent Nichols. This is an initiative planned by Catholic bishops in cooperation with the “Bible Society” that will support and fund the new activities of the Year. The project includes a Gospel for people with autism and the Gospel of Matthew in sign language for hearing-impaired persons. Initiatives include a work of art brought across all twenty-two Catholic dioceses of England and Wales to “initiate a conversation with God” and several concerts of migrant choirs.

Fleur Connell, coordinator of the activities, and the bishop of Wrexham Peter Brignall had the idea of dedicating twelve months to a full immersion into the Scriptures. “We are members of a study group on the Scriptures within the Evangelisation and Catechesis department of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales”, said Fleur Dorrell.

“We thought it would be a wonderful idea for the English Catholic Church to dedicate a full year to the Scriptures in an unprecedented manner. We were inspired by the tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation “Verbum Domini” and by the year marking 1600 years since the death of Saint Jerome, the Father and Doctor of the Church who translated the Greek text of most of the Old Testament into Latin and all the Hebrew Bible.”

The “Year of the God Who Speaks” will begin at the National Gallery on September 30th, Feast Day of Saint Jerome. In a video message screened with a portrait of the Saint in Trafalgar square, in the heart of London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Catholic Primate of England and Wales, will illustrate the figure of Saint Jerome and his import as pre-eminent Catholic Biblical scholar. “We wish to find new, unprecedented ways to promote the Bible,” said Fleur Dorrell. “Using creativity to communicate the message that the Bible is a thriving, dynamic way to speak of God.”

During the “Year of the God Who Speaks” the Catholic Church of England and Wales will have the opportunity to listen to the voices of a wide range of groups, giving special relevance to migrants and political refugees. “The choirs that will tour the Country will provide this group of people with the opportunity to express themselves in their native language thereby involving many different people through their music”, Dorrell pointed out.

“People with disabilities constitute another important group. We are reflecting on how to bring the Holy Scriptures to the visually-impaired or to people who are simply lacking the educational background to understand the Bible.”

The coordinator of the “Year of the God Who Speaks” explained that organisations representing people with disabilities asked her to prepare a Gospel for visual learners addressed to individuals with autism, along with a Gospel of Matthew in sign language for people with hearing impairment.

 “The Year of the God Who Speaks’ is a deeply ecumenical initiative. In fact for the past three years, Dorrell has been working both for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and for the “Bible society”. This inter-confessional initiative that reaches out to Protestant and Evangelical faithful proposed Catholic Bishops to work together on the promotion of the Bible. “It is a recognition that in our epoch of secularisation the Bible is one of the most important tools of humanity”, said Fleur Dorrell. “We managed to involved many different groups, Catholic agencies working with migrants, academia, the Charismatic movement, priests and pastors, along with lay faithful, in a veritable work of democracy.” (SIR)

South Korea: A Miracle of Solidarity

A series of miracles happened in the last two years; now we are in front of the new Anna’s House, an unequivocal monument to the love and generosity of the people. It will welcome the poor and remind everyone of the goodness and generosity of people’s hearts. The founder of Anna’s house, Father Vincenzo Boldo explains what’s happened.

After a 20-year lease, we would need to leave the rented building where our centre which welcomes the homeless, the elderly, the jobless and street children—Anna’s House—is located. A subtle sense of pleasure invaded my mind: “Finally, after 26 incredible years on the road serving the poor, I am retiring. I can rest, enjoy long bike trips, pray longer and more regularly, write poetry and letters, read novels—in short, do what I was not able to do in the past half a century: care about myself.”

Other times, however, as I watched the faces of my marginalised friends as they entered the soup kitchen, I was caught by pain and despair. “Yes, I will rest but how about these brothers and sisters of mine? Where will they go for a warm meal? Who will take care of them?” I silenced my conscience by telling myself: “I can’t replace God. I did what I could do. Now it is up to Him, all the more, because there’s nowhere to go. No-one in town will allow me to build a new shelter for 550 homeless people next to their homes. They already have enough problems with their neighbours. All I have to do is to put my soul at peace and close down.” In this way, having soothed my conscience, I continued my service to the poor with enthusiasm, awaiting to leave the rented building – Anna’s House.

This went on until one day an official of the municipality who knew of our precarious situation, came to Anna’s House and informed me with visible satisfaction: “The municipality has dissolved the constraint of the 500 m2 green area across the street—right in front of your centre—and has allotted the plot for social works. If you want, you can buy it.” “How much does it cost?” “A million euros.” “And how much will it cost to build?”I asked. “About 3 million euros.” “Well, I will retire into private life! I won’t be able to start such a work. It’s beyond my human abilities.”

I was satisfied with myself. I had really done everything possible to avoid closing the centre, but it was inevitable, though I was reluctant after more than 20 years of activity and having served two million meals. So, I consoled myself at the thought of my not so far-off retirement: “I can finally relax.” While these merry thoughts rode my mind, sleepless nights troubled my spirit: “Yes, I will rest but these men and women, where will they go for help?”

A chain reaction of solidarity was unleashed across the nation (after the TV broadcast about Anna’s House). In one month, we got donations of more than one million euros. It was a real miracle of solidarity.

I spent the whole summer sunk in this grave dilemma: “What to do? How can I go on? My heart will cry if I stop.” One night, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, I confided to Jesus: “Lord, I am aware that this fragile and precarious life of mine belongs to you. I have felt, in these long years, your tender hand taking mine and guiding me through paths unknown to me. I perceived, in the Eucharist, Your strong and reassuring embrace that protected me from those who wanted to hurt me. I realised, beyond all imagination, that you granted me all the necessary means to serve the poor. I saw that you gave me health and courage to face the rugged life on the streets. I have experienced in my inmost being the truest and greatest happiness in giving myself to others. I am a happy person. I recognise that you unconditionally love the poor and protect those who devote their lives to them; I believe that what is beyond my poor human capacities is possible by your divine and glorious power. With this sure confidence, Lord, I will continue to commit myself to the last and build the new centre. Lord, I trust in you. Amen.”

A few days after this dramatic and liberating decision, I found myself broken in a hospital bed, by a trivial and stupid accident, experiencing severe pains throughout my body. There, I heard a voice that whispered to me, “Do not start this work. See you are not well. It’s too great a work for you and your health will hold you back. You’re too conceited. Where do you think you’re going to get all that money? You’ll inevitably fail. Don’t you think you’re being too arrogant? Stop while you can so that you don’t make a bad impression.” “Yes, it’s true,” I answered that wise, clever voice, “I have neither the health nor the experience or the money to face this great project, but I have faith in the One who loves me and has accompanied me with strength over all these years. In Him, I put my hope. For this trust in Him and the love of my poor sisters and brothers, I will do what I can to build the new Anna’s House.”

While I was troubled by these feelings, I got a call from the local bishop with a proposal: “I know you want to continue serving the poor at Anna’s House, but you haven’t the finances. I’m offering you a million euros. I only ask that one day, you let the diocese run the centre when you are no longer able to continue this apostolate.” I accepted enthusiastically. With amazement and joy, at the end of 2016, we managed to buy the building site. Meanwhile, an architect drew up the plans for us.

To start off, we had some small savings and the sum of about €500 000 which I had received from a large association called Ho Am Sang. In August 2017, with much faith in the Lord and hope in Divine Providence, we began construction. In November, a reporter from a local TV station contacted me and asked me for an interview. I accepted with joy and thoughtlessness: “It will be a simple thing because it is a small station and it doesn’t have many viewers. Therefore, I do not need to prepare much myself.” A few days later, I received a phone call from the television editors explaining the programme and the timetable for filming. I agreed with everything. The following week, when the journalists and camera crew showed up, I realised that they were from KBS, the most important national television station, and they worked for the programme called Human Theatre, one of the most famous and well followed broadcasts in South Korea. I almost collapsed. I tried to say, “There’s a mistake. I committed with a local television, not with you.”

We sat down. I explained to them that in the phone calls made and received in the preceding days, I hadn’t understood: I presumed I was talking to a young and inexperienced journalist; but now, I was face-to-face with the cameras of the most important broadcaster of the country. It was all a misunderstanding, but I could not pull out. It was too late. So, we started shooting. The programme was aired during the Christmas week, for five consecutive days, Monday to Friday, from 8:00 to 8:30 in the morning. It was a huge success! Everyone was talking about the new Anna’s House which was to be built. A chain reaction of solidarity was unleashed across the nation. In one month, we got donations of more than one million euros. It was a real miracle of solidarity.

In the following months, while the new house was being built, the outpouring of love and solidarity was incredible, indeed mind-boggling, so much so that day, 1 September 2018, without any debt to the banks, in the presence of 650 volunteers and benefactors, we inaugurated the new centre. It is a simple but beautiful house, both functional and welcoming. Our poor will have their home without fear of eviction or rejection.

 

Zambezi River: Threats and Opportunities for the “Great River”

The Zambezi River is one of Africa’s main energy assets and could become as well one of the continent’s main water highway, but many threats ranging from climate change to  the risk of collapse of the Kariba dam, must be addressed.

With a total length of 2,574 km, the Zambezi River, called the “Great River” in the Tonga dialect of Zambia is the fourth longest river of the Africa after the Nile, Congo, and Niger rivers. Its average flow ranks second on the continent with a figure of 4,134 cubic meters/second, after the Congo River and its largest tributaries. The Zambezi River which flows through six countries between its source in north-western Zambia and the Indian Ocean. Including also Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, is also one of the most important energy assets of the continent, with a hydroelectric potential of 20,000 MW.

This sizeable resource is however vulnerable to climate events such as El Niño and La Niña. When sea surface temperatures rise by 0,50C above normal, El Niño bring less rainfall to Southern Africa. As a result, the Basin experienced a extremely severe drought in 1994, which caused the loss of large livestock populations due to lack of adequate water resources and grazing pasture. In 2016 again, one of the strongest El Niño events in 50 years was recorded, causing massive livestock losses in thousands of farms in the Zambezi river basin. In February 2016, water level declined to only 12 percent of the capacity of Lake Kariba at the border between Zambian and Zimbabwe, one of the world’s largest artificial reservoirs and an important resource for agriculture and fisheries.

Conversely, when sea surface temperatures fall by at least 0,50C below normal, La Niña brings much more rainfall. This phenomenon has caused terrible disasters. The floods provoked by the Cyclone Eline in February 2002 in the Zambezi Basin left 700 people dead and over 500,000 people homeless.

Such changes have dramatic consequences on the hydroelectric production of the river whose huge potential has been only developed up to30 percent, more than half of it in Mozambique, with the 2,075 MW Cahora Bassa dam, the third of the continent after the Aswan dam in Egypt on the Nile River and the Lauca dam in Angola on the Kwanza River.

The Cahora Bassa dam and the 1470 MW Kariba Dam at the Zambia-Zimbabwe border have reduced the floodings of the Zambezi but they also disrupted fish and other wildlife feeding and breeding patterns. One inconvenience is that as regular flooding have decreased after the construction of the dams, people have inhabited floodplain areas, but these areas are still inundated during extreme flood events. Huge rainfall and drought fluctuations have of course an impact on the hydropower availabilty but claim the Independent Consulting Hydrologist Arthur Chapman, and Doctor Francis Davison Yamba from -the Centre for Energy of the University of Zambia the vulnerability of the hydropower production in the Basin is also owed to the accelerating economic growth. It increases indeed the competition for water between hydropower and irrigated agriculture

But the most immediate risk is the vulnerability of the Kariba dam which poses a huge threat for the entire Zambezi valley. The dam which was inaugurated in 1959 could collapse owing lack of maintenance, warned the South Africa-based Institute of Risk Management in 2014. In october of that year, the BBC reported indeed in October 2014 that since the contruction the dam built on a seemingly solid bed of basalt, the torrents from the spillway have eroded that bedrock, carving a vast crater that has undercut the dam’s foundations.

Engineers also warned that in the event of a collapse, a tsunami-like wall of water would wipe out everything downstream in the Zambezi valley, reaching the Mozambique border within eight hours and overwhelming Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa Dam and knock out 40% of southern Africa’s hydroelectric capacity. According to the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) the lives of 3.5 million people are at stake

The dam rehabilitation works co-financed by the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Swedish Government started in September 2018  and are expected to be completed by 2025. Yet, the rehabilitation has become even more urgent. Indeed, owing to higher rainfall, the Kariba dam water level has raised markedly up to 83 percent by June 2018.

The last important threat of the Zambezi River is the water pollution, caused by sewage effluent, due to inadequate water treatment facilities in all the major cities of the region. This has resulted in eutrophication of the river water which has facilitated the spread of cholera, typhus and dysentery. This eutrophication process, was largely provoked by the use of fertilisers such as phosphates which facilitate the proliferation of water hyacinths which affects power generation and transport, while impairing reproduction and fish growth.

This led the ZRA to implement a special control programme for the Lake Kariba where it. Gold panning is also prevalent resulting in soil erosion and water resources pollution. Land degradation triggered by poor agricultural practises contribute to accelerate the process of soil erosion, leading to siltation and pollution of water sources.

Environmentalists are also expressing concern about the Zambezi Seaway Scheme, a U.S. $ 10 billion project to set up a 1,500 km long navigation corridor between the Victoria Falls and the Indian Ocean for the transportation of goods and particularly the coal of Mozambique’s Tete Province. According to its promoters, the Zambezi Seaway will offer a cheaper, faster and more efficient route to the Ocean, thus boosting local economies. But the impact of the project on the wildlife along the banks of the river has not been considered sufficiently, complain environmentalists. (François Misser)

Africa: From Charcoal to Sugar Cane

Over 80% of Kenyans use charcoal for cooking. They use enormous quantities of this polluting fuel whose production and distribution gives work to over half a million people in an industry worth 427 million dollars annually.

This practice, so widespread in many African countries, accelerates the process of desertification. Trees are cut into pieces, piled up in cone-shaped heaps and covered with clay, leaving a small opening at the bottom to allow low-oxygen combustion. This process has a very low yield somewhere between 10% and 30%.

The production and distribution of charcoal is very harmful to health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that half a million deaths each year in Africa are due to indoor atmospheric pollution related to the use of certain fuels for cooking. A further impact is that of the deforestation required to harvest the wood to make charcoal.

For some time now, seeing these harmful results, many efforts have been made to manufacture and distribute more efficient stoves. In 2010 the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves launched a campaign which, in 2016, distributed 31 million models that, in a period of eight years, placed on the world market 116 million “clean stoves”. These results are encouraging but not they are not enough. Compared with the campaign to bring electricity to those not on a network, we see that, with the reduction in the cost of solar panels, the latter are developing more rapidly.

Turning again to Kenya where moves are afoot to reduce deforestation and the use of charcoal, Tom Osborn, a young student concerned with the effects of charcoal, has founded an organisation called Greenchar that aims to produce fuel from the remains of sugar cane production. This solution can not only avoid deforestation but also notably reduce pollution. The small business has a score of workers and has so far sold 1340 tons of “briquettes”. This may seem insignificant but it has been multiplied by the establishment of similar initiatives. (Gianni Silvestrini)

Reflection: Mission is Life, Our Life

Two Comboni Lay Missionaries share with us their experience in Peru. “There is nothing that cannot be given, shared with all those who walk side by side with us.”

The scenery reflects the grandiosity of our interior, the grandiosity of the little miracles of which we are only spectators, as being the grain planted in fertile soil, we are channels of meaningful life. It is not just us, but we are more than the sum of the parts. We are from God. We are his instruments, his hands, his feet, and his embrace. We are imperfect and wounded, in a world full of sorrow and suffering where in love we dare to sow the paradise of God’s love.

Each morning we go out to meet the others, out of the comforts we have, of what is ours, we go to meet love. We go, hoping that on every street and at every corner we will always have two arms to help people grow with us. We are nothing, but in our humble state we are what is truly existing within ourselves. We cannot even count the lives that have already crossed ours, nor the number of smiles, tears and hugs we have shared in the simplicity of a home’s front steps. This is how it is, love deprived of superficiality, integral without colour or race, simply being. And we are called daily to let it be and grow.

Each day we give our life without plans nor schedule. We offer ourselves. Many are the times when we feel that it is God himself who calls us at the door through many faces, many personal histories and people. We are available to the love aimed at us, which calls us at each moment. We are open to the call of Jesus who calls us daily.

We are soil open to care for others and to the possibility of growing hand in hand in Jesus’ journey. We are the cross carried on the shoulder and arms of others who are lost and cannot walk. It is not easy. We know by our own lives that it is not easy. But this is the only way it has a meaning for us.

Mission is life, our life, their life and the life we accept and give by proclaiming a Gospel living in each one of us. With each step we are witnesses of a Jesus who wants to live in the simplicity of our hearts. It is in recognising ourselves as family that, in each day, in each visit we offer ourselves and grow.

The soil is barren and the mountains around us are often the way home for many. Protected by the imposing presence of the Misti and the Chachani, holding to our walking sticks, we cross the limits of what we can see and off we go looking for the face of God among those farthest away. We climb and descend mountains, following contorted paths. We go beyond the physical limitations of our bodies that often demand rest.

We have gone beyond our limits, in the certainty that He is our strength and our life. With the certainty that ours is the mission of carrying him and of announcing him where He already is, where His seed is already there, where God already exists, where the only thing missing is that he be remembered, named and proclaimed. We go beyond our peripheries to the peripheries of the world to be the symbol of life, of love, of Him.

We do not have much. We live simply and humbly among the people of God. In the simplicity and poverty of the life we lead is the treasure in vessels of clay of our hearts: the love of God.

It is good, very good, to allow ourselves to be moved by all who have become part of our history. It is good to be a shoulder of support, to be a place of refuge, to be Neuza and Paula just as we are, and share in simplicity this gift of our life. And to help others to discover the gift of their own. We belong to what is brought to us, to those who go off, and to those who come and to all those we leave along the way. Step by step we discover mission, we are mission. We belong to a mission which is not ours, but belongs to the One who daily sends us to love more.

We are part of the Comboni’s thousand lives for the mission. Together, we rediscover new Africas, new peripheries. Ours is not a little bit, the flatlands of comfort. We go. Together we go beyond the mountains, beyond even ourselves. Together we go to meet new peripheries, where we have not yet been and have not yet reached. If you only knew, if we knew how many Africas are left to discover, how many peripheries are there thirsting for God, for his love and for the miracle of love, which is the Eucharist. This is why we are here. For this we go to this meeting of love turning our lives into mission.

In our daily prayer we discover the path to be followed, the beauty of an unending mission, without borders, without limits. He is the limit. Actually, he does not have any. We move forward in the certitude that we are not alone because we find his arms at every dawn and at the end of day. We walk knowing that we always arrive where he is waiting for us. No matter how long the day will be and the life histories we meet and involve us, often including the tears we share. Yes, Lord, here we are, takes us where you want us to be. And even if life takes us far from here, we are Peru in the same love that brought us here and binds us as sisters and brothers to the end. (Neuza Francisco and Paula Ascenção)

Kenya: The Challenge of Reinsertion in Society

Kamiti penitentiary in the outskirts of Nairobi hosts more than 4,200 detainees. The Consolata Missionary Sisters are committed to a programme of training for the young prisoners.

Standing in front of the main entrance to Kamiti penitentiary, the visitor has no idea of what lies behind the barrier of poles, wire nets, walls topped with barbed wire and watchtowers. Security is very tight and permission to enter is granted only by the competent authorities. The grounds cover an area of five square kilometres and there are almost one thousand prison guards. Kamiti hosts over 4,200 detainees: 3,000 in the high security section and 1,200 in that for lesser offences.

In recent years, thanks to pressure from civil society and human rights organisations, there has been some progress and the penitentiary administration has undertaken to promote good practice in terms of respect for fundamental human rights, meaning by that the cleaning of the cells, food and drink, health care and the prohibition of torture.

 Furthermore, in the case of some categories of detainees, programmes are under way that provide psycho-social support and professional training with a view to reinsertion in the world of work and that of the community, especially for those who have given proof of good conduct or are about to leave. It has to be taken into consideration that the return to freedom is the time when a person is most likely to re-offend, especially those who are not supported by a social network or have no marketable skills.

Unlike what happens in the great majority of African prisons, Kamiti has two reformatories: one for males, called the Youth Correctional and Training Centre (YCTC), and one for females, Kamae Girls Borstal. It is hard to say whether in Kamiti minors are kept separate from adults because, however important this rule is, it is usually ignored in the African prison system. However, at least in Kenya, this principle is formally recognised and the distinction between adults and minors, male and female, is covered by law. (Kenyan Prisons Act 2014).

The implementation of these norms is not yet complete due to certain difficulties such as the lack of resources and of sufficient coordination between centres and the different levels of governance in the penitentiary system, the judicial system for minors and overcrowding in correction and  detention structures. According to data resulting from recent research, the detainees who are minors at Kamiti come mostly from families in the rural areas and grew up in conditions of extreme poverty and social exclusion. Most of them have never been to school or were expelled for reasons of discipline.

The high probability of re-offending among young former detainees is due to such factors as the lack of educational programmes and assistance in finding work as well as the ex-prisoner stigma, all of which negatively affect their ability to re-enter society and lead to re-offending.

In response to this humanitarian challenge, the Consolata Missionary Sisters have established the Saint Joseph Cafasso Consolation House (SJCCH), a welcoming house for young ex-detainees. The Centre, located within the area occupied by Kamiti, intends to help young people become an active and responsible part of society. The mission is that of transforming the young ex-offenders by means of a course of rehabilitation and self-esteem. 

Mozambican Sister Gertrude Vitorino, who heads the Centre, says: “At Saint Joseph Cafasso Consolation House, each young person has the opportunity to follow a spiritual iter, to attend school and learn how to work in agriculture”. We have two aims: to give them professional training and to promote the sustainability of the project by means of agricultural work such as raising rabbits and chickens for the market, keeping cows for milk, cultivating fields and greenhouse vegetables.

 A further activity was recently added by way of baking and selling bread. The project promotes various activities of psycho-social and socio-economic activities for the young detainees of the Centre for Minors (YCTC) and those of the welcome Centre (SJCCH), with sessions of psychological accompaniment as well as the acquisition of basic cognitive, emotional and relational skills and economic support for studies and apprenticeships.

Sr Geltrude continues: “A further activity of ours involves visiting the boys and girls still detained in prison. We try to help them in their human formation: with them we tackle such themes as life values, self-acceptance and self-esteem. I also organise music workshops for them. One of the greater challenges I feel we have to face is the reconciliation of the children with their parents since there is often reciprocal rejection and it is hard to resolve it. These young people carry within themselves many wounds from their past lives and we do our best to help them heal those negative experiences. Despite the difficulties we encounter, we believe it is important to stay close to these young people who, despite the mistakes they made in the past, preserve their own dignity as persons and, while they are here, have the possibility to change their future and make their dreams come true”.

Brazil: After Mine Dam Collapse, We Cry With Mother Earth

On January 25, 2019, a massive mining dam collapsed in north central Brazil, devastating the nearby community of Brumandinho. Dozens are confirmed dead and hundreds are missing—and the numbers continue to grow. The dam was 280 feet high and nearly a half-mile wide.

This tragedy could have been avoided. The company responsible for this disaster, Vale, is the world’s largest producer of nickel and iron ore; it has been destroying the land in the Carajás corridor for decades. The land is stripped, destroyed. The people are marginalised and mistreated. The company is known for its aggressive business practices and the destruction it leaves in its wake.

The Comboni Missionaries have long fought alongside the marginalised people of the world, sharing in their suffering, offering them hope in Jesus, and working to stop injustice. In 2007, the Comboni Missionaries along with many other groups, created Justiça nos Trilhos—Justice on the Rails—to fight for the people of the Carajás corridor in Brazil.

A comboni missionary, Fr. Dario Bossi, has been fighting with Justice on the Rails since the beginning. After the mining dam collapse , he wrote this letter:

“The Churches and Mining Network cries with the victims of the socio-environmental crime of Brumadinho, Minas Gerais (Brazil). We write today from this violated community, which we know well, after having shared with it several times its life and resistance to the expansion of mining. We also write from the many Latin American communities affected by the arrogant violence of extractivism, today silently embracing the little town of Brumadinho, in tears.

We are in solidarity with the families of the victims and the communities of faith, who will face the hard challenge of rebuilding hope. We also join the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte, which with the words of the Gospel defined the tragedy as an “abomination of desolation,” referring to the “absurdities born of the [quest for] gains and contempt for the other, the truth, and the good of all.”

We continue accompanying and advising the churches involved in the territories damaged by mining and in all open conflicts between extractive companies and communities (In Brazil alone there are more than 70 dioceses where these conflicts have been mapped).

The company VALE SA, together with BHP Billiton, was responsible for 19 deaths and the pollution of the entire Doce River basin, in an incident on November 5, 2015. Now the same crime is repeated four years later, with even more deaths, confirming the inability of management to prevent further tragedies and signalling its disinterest and criminal behaviour. This responsibility also rests with the State, which grants licenses to extractive projects and should monitor them to guarantee the safety and dignified life of the communities and the environment.

When combined with political power, the capital of mining companies facilitates the installation or expansion of large extractive projects, while minimising restrictions and licensing rules. The “Córrego do Feijão” itself, whose dam was broken, releasing a massive mudslide of toxic waste, just obtained last month an environmental license for the expansion of 88 percent of its activities from the Council of  Environmental Policies of the State of Minas. Only the National Civil Society Forum on the Management of Hydrographic Basins (FONASC) voted against the expansion, denouncing “insane” mechanisms to reduce the safety requirements in the licensing of large mining projects. Disasters caused by the irresponsible behaviour of companies allied with political power cannot be called “environmental accidents.”

Since 2011, the people of Brumadinho and the surrounding region have been demonstrating in an organised way against the mine, its impacts, and its threats. The FONASC, in December 2018, wrote an official communication to the State Secretary of the Environment, requesting the suspension of the licensing of the Córrego do Feijão mine. The International Network of those Affected by Vale denounced at Vale’s Shareholders’ General Assembly in April 2018, “the dangers of the repeated process of reducing expenses and costs in its operations,” making explicit mention of tailings dams.

Those responsible for these crimes cannot claim ignorance. On the contrary, in the name of “progress” and the profit of the few, there is a systematic silencing of dissenting voices. We enthusiastically echo the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “The local population should have a special place at the table; they are concerned about their own future and that of their children, and can consider goals transcending immediate economic interest.” (LS 183).

The newly elected president of Brazil, bowing to pressure from those who financed his campaign, expressed the plan to make environmental control and licensing as flexible as possible. He criticised the “environmental fine industry”; his government stripped powers from the environment portfolio, suspended contracts with NGOs committed to defending the environment, and eliminated offices that worked to combat global warming.

Previous governments also facilitated the uncontrolled expansion of mining in the country, promoting the National Mining Plan and reformulating, by decree, the Legal Framework of Mining. Recent events demonstrate, violently, that these policies are a collective suicide and a threat to the lives of future generations.

This growth model is unsustainable and lethal; you cannot blackmail people who need jobs to survive in regions controlled by mining without guaranteeing safety, health, and social welfare. The problems are not solved “solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits” (LS, 190, citing Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church).

“It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress” (LS,194).

Frequently, companies and governments make mention of conflict mediation with communities through “dialogue.” They even seek the mediation of the churches, to give these talks greater credibility. They have also established extrajudicial mediation—an arbitration of sorts that invariably reduces their burden to repair environmental damage or pay fines for legal violations.

However, the lack of mitigation and reparations, the recurrence of new disasters, and the repetition of irresponsible and criminal practices confirm that this is not a true dialogue. It is a corporate strategy to seduce public opinion, guaranteeing a kind of social license to pollute, reduce popular resistance, and avoid large financial penalties under the guise of sustainability and the common good.

Rather than this one-sided and disrespectful “dialogue,” we trust in environmental protection laws and the rights of the people, as well as in authorities that effectively monitor their compliance and punish those who violate them. We support a Binding Treaty for Business and Human Rights at the international level, and a responsible, effective, and prompt judicial response for those who rely on impunity or, at the most, a slight financial inconvenience when the rare fine is levied”.