All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

Mexico: Father Solalinde – On The Side Of Migrants

They threaten and intimidate him, but Father Alejandro Solalinde continues his mission, at the risk of his life. Father Solalinde is not afraid to speak out against abuses and injustice. He says "I have received numerous death threats”. The immigrant shelter, which he founded in Ixtepec, has been attacked more than once. He adds that once the municipal authorities threatened to set the Centre on fire, if he would not close it within two days. But he was not scared and kept on running the shelter for migrants, even when he heard that a killer had been recruited to assassinate him. Father Solalinde, 73, is a defender of human rights in Mexico, which holds records for the largest number of homicides: 75,000 over the last six years alone. When asked why he decided to devote his life to migrants, he answered, "After 30 years of priesthood, I felt I was involved in this reality. So I asked my bishop not to make me work behind a desk, but at the foot of the Cross. I wanted to be close to the nearly 400,000 migrants who, every year, try to cross the Mexico-United States border without documents. I soon realised it would not be an easy task. Four hundred people asked for shelter, the first night we opened the Centre, since then, the number has remained constant.” Some people have protested against the establishment of the shelter, since they are annoyed by the presence of migrants and poor people in their area, but it has been even worse to find out that there is connivance between authorities, the police, local officials, and gangs involved in migrant, drug and organ trafficking. It is impossible to remain silent and to turn a blind eye. "They have accused me of having become a public figure, but I am just like any other, Jesus Christ is public. I have renounced a quiet life, I have overcome the fear of threats thanks to the words in John’s Gospel: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone". When a woman who has been raped, or a boy robbed of his clothes, or a tired man who cannot even stand, exhausted from a long day of travel, knock at the door a Christian knows what he is supposed to do. Father Solalinde quotes Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me”. Migrants can stop at the “Hermanos en el Camino” (Brothers On The Way) shelter a few days on their way to the United States. The number of children trying to cross the border is increasing, since mothers want to take them away from endemic violence in Central America. More than 50,000 children reached the border with the United States, in the last three years. The former American president Barak Obama himself has defined the migrant issue “a human tragedy”. Children and the other migrants pile on board the roof of the freight train, called “La Bestia” (the Beast). It drives immigrants from Mexico’s southern Chiapas state to Mexico City, passing by Ixpetec, where they will attempt to travel north to the U.S. border. The freight train is also called “the train of death”, since it sometimes happens that someone falls and gets injured or dies. One can see several mass graves along the route from Guatemala to the US border, where the victims of kidnap gangs are buried. Father Alejandro said "Twenty thousand people are kidnapped every year. Kidnapping constitutes a criminal industry estimated to be worth $50 million per year. Kidnappers torture and rob their victims. They then demand the phone numbers of family members in the U.S. or back in Central America and ask for ransoms". Father Solalinde loves a Church that is poor, missionary and evangelizing as dreamed by Pope Francis, the Pope who urges priests to be shepherds who “smell like their sheep”. Like Jesus, who loved all people, but particularly the marginalised. The priest adds, "Standing near the Cross means drying the tears of those Central Americans who run after the American dream". There are weeping women at the foot of the Cross, such as Martha from Salvador, when she phones her six year old daughter at home to remind her she must be obedient, must prepare herself for her First Holy Communion, and while she is speaking she realises that her child has burst into tears. Another weeping woman is Jazmin from Nicaragua, mother of a young girl. She has been sold to a Mexican brothel, and tried to commit suicide by swallowing drugs. Irma cannot stop her tears when she remembers her kidnapping on the route to the U.S. She had left home with the hope of working in the U.S. to pay a surgical operation for her father, but on her way towards the American dream she was kidnapped by criminals, who she defines "butchers" because they quartered migrants if families did not pay the ransom. "They smelled of gasoline, because they put their victims’ bodies in barrels and burn them". The old mothers who do not have any news of their children, and come to Mexico to look for them, also weep quietly. They paste posters with the face of their sons to the crumbling walls of the city, they visit mass graves, and they set candles afloat in baskets on the river waters which might hold the bodies of their children disappeared along the route. Father Solalinde said "As Christian ministers we are called to proclaim the Lord of Life also in death situations. People must feel that we stand by them announcing the Word of God and denouncing injustice. This is our mission. We must not betray them.”

Zambia: Fighting deforestation by Agness Chileya

Forests are rapidly vanishing in Zambia. The country's rate of depletion of this natural resource is extremely high. The government is looking for new lines of approach and action to stop the human roots of this ecological crisis. Approximately 65% of Zambia's total land area is covered by forests. The country boasts of a great variety of trees, among which the famous Mukula tree. The mandate of the Forestry Department, under the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, is to enforce national regulations related to the use and harvesting of forest resources on state and customary lands. Yet, forests are rapidly vanishing. Zambia's deforestation rate is the highest in Africa and fifth globally, with an average loss of between 250,000.and 300,000 hectares of forest every year. In January 2017, President Edgar Lungu revealed that the country lost an average 276, 021 hectares of forests per year between 2000 and 2014 due to deforestation. This is partly due to exceptionally high poverty rate in Zambia: 85% of the population live on less than US$ 2 per day. This means expansion of inefficient subsistence agriculture into forestland to feed rapidly growing population. A second main cause of deforestation is the high demand for charcoal as a cheap source of energy for household cooking needs in cities, leading to steep rates of illegal and destructive tree cutting. Since the intensive energy crisis of 2015, which resulted in the worst kind of load shedding (regularly reducing the amount of electricity sent out by power stations), the economic and industrial activity has fallen, agriculture is in bad shape and the life of common people has become problematic. Due to these power cuts, the country has witnessed massive cutting of trees to produce charcoal as a source of energy. Due to the extent of the scourge, the country has experienced considerable deforestation and devastation of trees beneficial to the ecosystem. Trees have maintained the country for many years and livelihoods have been nurtured by them. Trees have played a pivotal role in protecting the soils for agriculture purposes. Over the last decades, however, Zambia has been promoting the diversification of the economy, and agriculture has been cited as key in diversifying the economy. Unfortunately, when this happens, forests `tremble: To stop deforestation, Zambia must intensify efforts to protect its forests. After experiencing climatic hazards over several decades (drought, seasonal floods and flush floods, extreme temperatures and dry spells), which had adversely impacted on food and water security, water quality, energy and the sustainable livelihoods of rural communities, Zambia developed the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) on Climate Change in 2007. This programme evaluates the impacts of climate change on the relevant sectors and includes promoting natural restoration of indigenous forests and managing critical habitats. The government has taken on an ecological approach to holistically address the challenges of deforestation and forest degradation at the crisis level. The method aims at addressing the `drivers of deforestation', while supporting actions that may improve the livelihoods of local communities. Zambia is one of the developing countries piloting the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) programme. It will be implementing an Investment Plan on improved agricultural practices whose hallmarks include: forest safeguarding and management, sustainable management and utilisation of forest resources, and capacity development. With the development of Zambia's first Climate Change Gender Action Plan (ccGAP), launched in January 2016, the government will endeavour to take action on women's leadership in the context of climate change. Without similar plans in place, a country's climate change policy and planning is often gender blind. Instead, the Zambian plan will ensure that both women and men are involved in climate change initiatives. After all, charcoal burning involves both men and women as agents of the vice. Hence, the involvement of both in developing alternative sources of energy is cardinal. People are already using some of the suggested alternative methods of energy: animal waste as fuel; wood chip stoves which use only twigs; briquettes made of animal waste and other material. Solar energy is also now being used increasingly as an alternative to firewood or charcoal. The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) - an independent environmental regulatory agency with the mandate to protect the environment and control pollution, so as to provide for the health and welfare of persons, animals, plants and the environment - has waged war on indiscriminate cutting of trees by punishing offenders. It is hoped that this war will yield the desired fruits in ending deforestation in Zambia. Several other methods are being popularised in various communities where charcoal burning is common, including cities where people have been affected by the effects of load shedding. Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) has also reduced the number of load shedding hours from 8 to about 2, or even less. This has reduced the demand for charcoal in people's households. A national tree planting day was launched in 2013 in Zambia. The aim is to plant 2,000 hectares of exotic tree plantations, as well as community woodlots, in each of the 10 provinces. Every year, schools, churches, and government agencies are involved in this activity. Children in schools are being taught the importance of trees and the need to preserve them. Stopping deforestation entails that people whose lives were sustained by burning charcoal be empowered with other sources of income. Zambia has embarked on a robust campaign to encourage people to venture into agriculture and the Ministry of Finance has seen an increased budgetary allocation to Social Cash Transfers, targeting vulnerable people in rural areas whose income is mainly charcoal burning. Alternative means of agriculture are being encouraged, in particular the practice of Sustainable Organic Agriculture. Education is key to the success of any programme. Civil society organisations, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and even some international bodies, have embarked on educating people, especially in the rural communities, on the need to preserve trees.

Oral Literature: Where Stories Come From, A Traditional Zulu Story – South Africa

Once, a very long time ago, so long ago that it must have been close to the time when the First Man and the First Woman walked upon the earth, there lived a woman named Manzandaba and her husband Zenzele. They lived in a traditional home in a small traditional village. They had many children, and for the most part, they were very happy. They would spend the day working, weaving baskets, tanning hides, hunting and cultivating the earth near their home. On occasion they would go down to the great ocean and play under the sun in the sand, laughing at the funny crabs they would see scuttling along there and rejoicing at the way in which the birds would dip and dive in the sea breezes. Zenzele had the heart of an artist and loved to carve. He would fashion beautiful birds out of old tree stumps. With his axe he could make the most wonderful impala and kudu bucks from stone. But in the evenings when the family would sit around the fire before going to sleep they would not be so happy. It was too dark for weaving or carving, and yet too early to go to sleep. “Mama, - the children would cry, - We want stories! Tell us some stories, Mama!” Manzandaba would think and think, trying to find a story she could tell her children, but it was of no use. She and Zenzele had no stories to tell. They sought the counsel of their neighbours, but none of them knew any stories. They listened to the wind. Could the wind be trying to tell them a story? No, they heard nothing. There were no stories, no dreams and no magical tales. One day Zenzele told his wife that she must go in search of stories. He promised to look after the home, to care for the children, to mend and wash and sweep and clean, if only she would bring back stories for the people. Manzandaba agreed. She kissed her husband and children good-bye and set off in search of stories. The woman decided to ask every creature she passed if they had stories to share. The first animal she met was Nogwaja the hare. He was a trickster! But she thought she'd better ask him all the same. “Nogwaja, do you have any stories? My people are hungry for tales!” “Stories?” - shrieked Nogwaja “Why, I have hundreds, thousands, no--millions of them!” “Oh, please, Nogwaja - begged Manzandaba – please give me some stories to make my children happy.” Nogwaja said. “Well, I have no time for stories now. Can't you see that I am terribly busy? Stories in the daytime, indeed!" And Nogwaja hopped quickly away. Silly Nogwaja! He was lying! He didn't have any stories! With a sigh Manzandaba continued on her way. The next one she came upon was mother baboon with her babies. "Oh, Fene! - she called - I see you are a mother also! My children are crying for stories. Do you have any stories that I could bring back to them?" "Stories? -  laughed the baboon -. Do I look like I have time to tell stories? With so much work to do to keep my children fed and safe and warm, do you think I have time for stories? I am glad that I do not have human children who cry for such silly things!" Manzandaba continued on her way. She then saw an owl in a wild fig tree. "Oh, Khova - she called, - please will you help me? I am looking for stories. Do you have any stories you could give me to take back to my home?" The owl was most perturbed at having been woken from her sleep. "Who is making noise in my ears? - she hooted-. What is this disruption? What do you want? Stories! You dare wake me for stories? How rude!" And with that the owl flew off to another tree and perched much higher, where she believed she would be left in peace. Soon she was sound asleep again.  And Manzandaba went sadly on her way. Next she came upon an elephant. "Oh, kind Ndlovu - she asked - do you know where I might find some stories? My people are hungry for some tales, and we do not have any!" Now the elephant was a kind animal. He saw the look in the woman's eye and felt immediately sorry for her. "Dear woman - he said -, I do not know of any stories. But I do know the eagle. He is the king of the birds and flies much higher than all the rest. Don't you think that he might know where you could find stories?" "Ngiyabonga, Ndlovu!" she said. "Thank you very much!" So Manzandaba began to search for Nkwazi the great fish eagle. She found him near the mouth of the Tugela River. Excitedly she ran toward him. She called out to him as he was swooping down from the sky, talons outstretched to grab a fish from the river. "Nkwazi! Nkwazi - she called. She so startled the eagle that he dropped the fish that had been his. He circled around and landed on the shore near the woman. He barked at her. "What is so important that you cause me to lose my supper?" "Oh, great and wise Nkwazi, - began Manzandaba -. My people are hungry for stories. I have been searching a long time now for tales to bring back to them. Do you know where I might find such tales?" She gave him a great look of desperation. "Well - he said - even though I am quite wise, I do not know everything. I only know of the things that are here on the face of the earth. But there is one who knows even the secrets of the deep, dark ocean. Perhaps he could help you. I will try and call him for you. Stay here and wait for me!" Manzandaba waited several days for her friend the fish eagle to return. Finally he came back to her. "Sawubona, nkosikazi - he called -. I have returned, and I am successful! My friend, ufudu lwasolwandle, the big sea turtle, has agreed to take you to a place where you can find stories!" And with that the great sea turtle lifted himself out of the ocean. "Woza, nkosikazi - said the sea turtle in his deep voice -. Climb onto my back and hold onto my shell. I will carry you to the Land of the Spirit People." The woman took hold of his shell and down they went into the depths of the sea. The woman was quite amazed. She had never seen such beautiful things before in her life. Finally they came to the bottom of the ocean where the Spirit People dwell. The sea turtle took her straight to the thrones of the King and Queen. They were so regal! Manzandaba was afraid at first to look at them. She bowed down before them. "What do you wish of us, woman from the dry lands?" they asked. So Manzandaba told them of her desire to bring stories to her people. "Do you have stories that I could take to them?" she asked rather shyly. "Yes - they said -, we have many stories. But what will you give us in exchange for those stories, Manzandaba?" "What do you desire?" Manzandaba asked. "What we would really like - they said -, is a picture of your home and your people. We can never go to the dry lands, but it would be so nice to see that place. Can you bring us a picture, Manzandaba?" "Oh, yes!" she answered -. I can do that! Thank you, thank you!" Manzandaba climbed back onto the turtle's shell, and he took her back to the shore. She thanked him profusely and asked him to return with the next round moon to collect her and the picture. The woman told her family all of the things she had seen and experienced on her journey. When she finally got to the end of the tale her husband cried out with delight. "I can do that! I can carve a beautiful picture in wood for the Spirit People in exchange for their stories!" And he set to work straight away. Manzandaba was so proud of her husband and the deftness of his fingers. She watched him as the picture he carved came to life. There were the members of their family, their home and their village. Soon others in the community heard about Manzandaba's journey and the promised stories and came also to watch Zenzele's creation take shape. When the next round moon showed her face Zenzele was ready. He carefully tied the picture to Manzandaba's back. She climbed on to the turtle and away they went to the Spirit Kingdom. When they saw the picture the King and Queen of the Spirit people were so happy! They praised Zenzele's talent and gave Manzandaba a special necklace made of the finest shells for her husband in thanks. And then they turned to Manzandaba herself. "For you and your people -  they said - we give the gift of stories." And they handed her the largest and most beautiful shell she had ever seen. "Whenever you want a story - they said -, just hold this shell to your ear and you will have your tale!" Manzandaba thanked them for their extreme kindness and headed back to her own world. When she arrived at the shore, there to meet her was her own family and all the people of her village. They sat around a huge fire and called out, "Tell us a story, Manzandaba! Tell us a story!" she sat down, put the shell to her ear, and began, "Kwesuka sukela...." And that is how stories came to be!  Oral Literature.  Where Stories Come From, A Traditional Zulu Story – South Africa Once, a very long time ago, so long ago that it must have been close to the time when the First Man and the First Woman walked upon the earth, there lived a woman named Manzandaba and her husband Zenzele. They lived in a traditional home in a small traditional village. They had many children, and for the most part, they were very happy. They would spend the day working, weaving baskets, tanning hides, hunting and cultivating the earth near their home. On occasion they would go down to the great ocean and play under the sun in the sand, laughing at the funny crabs they would see scuttling along there and rejoicing at the way in which the birds would dip and dive in the sea breezes. Zenzele had the heart of an artist and loved to carve. He would fashion beautiful birds out of old tree stumps. With his axe he could make the most wonderful impala and kudu bucks from stone. But in the evenings when the family would sit around the fire before going to sleep they would not be so happy. It was too dark for weaving or carving, and yet too early to go to sleep. “Mama, - the children would cry, - We want stories! Tell us some stories, Mama!” Manzandaba would think and think, trying to find a story she could tell her children, but it was of no use. She and Zenzele had no stories to tell. They sought the counsel of their neighbours, but none of them knew any stories. They listened to the wind. Could the wind be trying to tell them a story? No, they heard nothing. There were no stories, no dreams and no magical tales. One day Zenzele told his wife that she must go in search of stories. He promised to look after the home, to care for the children, to mend and wash and sweep and clean, if only she would bring back stories for the people. Manzandaba agreed. She kissed her husband and children good-bye and set off in search of stories. The woman decided to ask every creature she passed if they had stories to share. The first animal she met was Nogwaja the hare. He was a trickster! But she thought she'd better ask him all the same. “Nogwaja, do you have any stories? My people are hungry for tales!” “Stories?” - shrieked Nogwaja “Why, I have hundreds, thousands, no--millions of them!” “Oh, please, Nogwaja - begged Manzandaba – please give me some stories to make my children happy.” Nogwaja said. “Well, I have no time for stories now. Can't you see that I am terribly busy? Stories in the daytime, indeed!" And Nogwaja hopped quickly away. Silly Nogwaja! He was lying! He didn't have any stories! With a sigh Manzandaba continued on her way. The next one she came upon was mother baboon with her babies. "Oh, Fene! - she called - I see you are a mother also! My children are crying for stories. Do you have any stories that I could bring back to them?" "Stories? -  laughed the baboon -. Do I look like I have time to tell stories? With so much work to do to keep my children fed and safe and warm, do you think I have time for stories? I am glad that I do not have human children who cry for such silly things!" Manzandaba continued on her way. She then saw an owl in a wild fig tree. "Oh, Khova - she called, - please will you help me? I am looking for stories. Do you have any stories you could give me to take back to my home?" The owl was most perturbed at having been woken from her sleep. "Who is making noise in my ears? - she hooted-. What is this disruption? What do you want? Stories! You dare wake me for stories? How rude!" And with that the owl flew off to another tree and perched much higher, where she believed she would be left in peace. Soon she was sound asleep again.  And Manzandaba went sadly on her way. Next she came upon an elephant. "Oh, kind Ndlovu - she asked - do you know where I might find some stories? My people are hungry for some tales, and we do not have any!" Now the elephant was a kind animal. He saw the look in the woman's eye and felt immediately sorry for her. "Dear woman - he said -, I do not know of any stories. But I do know the eagle. He is the king of the birds and flies much higher than all the rest. Don't you think that he might know where you could find stories?" "Ngiyabonga, Ndlovu!" she said. "Thank you very much!" So Manzandaba began to search for Nkwazi the great fish eagle. She found him near the mouth of the Tugela River. Excitedly she ran toward him. She called out to him as he was swooping down from the sky, talons outstretched to grab a fish from the river. "Nkwazi! Nkwazi - she called. She so startled the eagle that he dropped the fish that had been his. He circled around and landed on the shore near the woman. He barked at her. "What is so important that you cause me to lose my supper?" "Oh, great and wise Nkwazi, - began Manzandaba -. My people are hungry for stories. I have been searching a long time now for tales to bring back to them. Do you know where I might find such tales?" She gave him a great look of desperation. "Well - he said - even though I am quite wise, I do not know everything. I only know of the things that are here on the face of the earth. But there is one who knows even the secrets of the deep, dark ocean. Perhaps he could help you. I will try and call him for you. Stay here and wait for me!" Manzandaba waited several days for her friend the fish eagle to return. Finally he came back to her. "Sawubona, nkosikazi - he called -. I have returned, and I am successful! My friend, ufudu lwasolwandle, the big sea turtle, has agreed to take you to a place where you can find stories!" And with that the great sea turtle lifted himself out of the ocean. "Woza, nkosikazi - said the sea turtle in his deep voice -. Climb onto my back and hold onto my shell. I will carry you to the Land of the Spirit People." The woman took hold of his shell and down they went into the depths of the sea. The woman was quite amazed. She had never seen such beautiful things before in her life. Finally they came to the bottom of the ocean where the Spirit People dwell. The sea turtle took her straight to the thrones of the King and Queen. They were so regal! Manzandaba was afraid at first to look at them. She bowed down before them. "What do you wish of us, woman from the dry lands?" they asked. So Manzandaba told them of her desire to bring stories to her people. "Do you have stories that I could take to them?" she asked rather shyly. "Yes - they said -, we have many stories. But what will you give us in exchange for those stories, Manzandaba?" "What do you desire?" Manzandaba asked. "What we would really like - they said -, is a picture of your home and your people. We can never go to the dry lands, but it would be so nice to see that place. Can you bring us a picture, Manzandaba?" "Oh, yes!" she answered -. I can do that! Thank you, thank you!" Manzandaba climbed back onto the turtle's shell, and he took her back to the shore. She thanked him profusely and asked him to return with the next round moon to collect her and the picture. The woman told her family all of the things she had seen and experienced on her journey. When she finally got to the end of the tale her husband cried out with delight. "I can do that! I can carve a beautiful picture in wood for the Spirit People in exchange for their stories!" And he set to work straight away. Manzandaba was so proud of her husband and the deftness of his fingers. She watched him as the picture he carved came to life. There were the members of their family, their home and their village. Soon others in the community heard about Manzandaba's journey and the promised stories and came also to watch Zenzele's creation take shape. When the next round moon showed her face Zenzele was ready. He carefully tied the picture to Manzandaba's back. She climbed on to the turtle and away they went to the Spirit Kingdom. When they saw the picture the King and Queen of the Spirit people were so happy! They praised Zenzele's talent and gave Manzandaba a special necklace made of the finest shells for her husband in thanks. And then they turned to Manzandaba herself. "For you and your people -  they said - we give the gift of stories." And they handed her the largest and most beautiful shell she had ever seen. "Whenever you want a story - they said -, just hold this shell to your ear and you will have your tale!" Manzandaba thanked them for their extreme kindness and headed back to her own world. When she arrived at the shore, there to meet her was her own family and all the people of her village. They sat around a huge fire and called out, "Tell us a story, Manzandaba! Tell us a story!" she sat down, put the shell to her ear, and began, "Kwesuka sukela...." And that is how stories came to be! 

Plants & People: Cinnamon- (Richard Komakech)

Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several tree species from the genus Cinnamonum in plant family Lauraceae.  There are a number of species which are often sold as cinnamon including. C. tamale (Indian Cinnamon), C. verum (Sri Lanka Cinnamon), C. loureiroi (Vietnamese cinnamon), C. cassia (Chinese Cinnamon), C. burmannii (Indonesian cinnamon), and C. citriodorum (Malabar Cinnamon). Cinnamon is used in both sweet and savoury foods as a special spice. The use of the plant in foods was so highly prized in the ancient times that it was only reserved as a special offer to the royals. This is probably because of its enormous health benefits including blood sugar control, weight loss, alertness, and cancer prevention among others. Fortunately, today the use of cinnamon is spread throughout the world. In Uganda, just like in most countries, cinnamon products are found all over most supermarkets thus making it highly accessible. Cinnamon has been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Here below we take a look at some of the compelling health benefits of this wonder plant species. Cinnamon has properties that help those with insulin resistance. In people with type 2 diabetes, regular taking of regulated quantity of cinnamon has great beneficial effects and also ability to reduce blood pressure. Cinnamon is a perfect weight reducer as It has the effect of thinning your blood thereby increasing blood circulation. Increased blood flow generally boosts your metabolism hence resulting in your weight loss. This blood thinning property of cinnamon also acts as an anti-clotting agent, beneficial especially for those suffering from heart diseases. Cinnamon can be used to prevent cancer in our body. For example, in its various forms, it has two chemical constituents called Cinnamaldehyde and Eugenol. These phytochemicals are effective in fighting human colon cancer cells. Cinnamon contains large quantities of highly potent polyphenol antioxidants. This further explains why this plant is very good in cancer prevention due to the fact that it reduces the formation of " free radicals” that cause cancer. In fact, the antioxidant level is so powerful that cinnamon can be used as a natural food preservative. Not only can Cinnamon contribute to the prevention of cancer, but also contains anti-inflammatory properties, which can ease swelling, help fight infections and repair tissue damage. Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by progressive loss of the structure or function of brain cells. Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease are two of the most common types. Regular taking of cinnamon is crucial in preventing these diseases. Cinnamaldehyde, the main active component of cinnamon, is important in fighting various kinds of microbial infections and this explains why it is effective in treating respiratory tract infections caused by fungi and in inhibiting growth of certain bacteria, including Listeria and Salmonella. The anti-bacterial properties of Cinnamon play a crucial role in getting rid of harmful bacteria without damaging your teeth or gums. It's one of the reasons why Cinnamon oil is often used in chewing gums, mouthwashes, toothpaste and breath mints. Cinnamon oil is one of the major oils used in massage therapy due to its well-known body warming effects. It is highly effective in relaxing and relieving muscle pain. A few oil drops of Cinnamon can also be put in water bath to relax and to sooth tired and aching muscles. Considering all the benefits mentioned above, cinnamon is actually one of those "feel-good foods" that you ought to be looking out for!

Uganda: Lango Culture – Old Is Gold (Fr. Lawrence Ogwang)

In African traditional society, elders are treasured for whom and what they are. They are respected and honoured by their communities for their spirituality, wisdom, high intelligence, knowledge, life experiences and teachings. They have a deep understanding of people and communities. They are recognized for their gifts, for their love and knowledge of the land and the language and for their knowledge of traditions. Elders are the carriers and emblems of communally generated and mediated knowledge. In the western paradigm, such relations and processes of knowledge transmission are considered “informal”. Yet, these same processes are at the heart and soul of what is ‘formal” to Indigenous knowledge. Elders are first and foremost teachers and role models. They are vital in the teaching process, from infanthood to adulthood. Without the Elders therefore, life is meaningless and has no purpose. Because of this, people revere and honour elders across the globe. However, the respect given to elders vary from one society to another, community to community and tribe to tribe. There are those who see in them (elders) treasures that are hard to find while, there are those who see no value in them because, they are old fashioned: They say the elderly are not important at all to society. The elderly don’t work to support society. The elderly don’t have fun or entertain people like children do. The elderly are a cantankerous burdensome group to society that have nothing to live for and are better off dead. Others even say the elderly are old, boring, stupid, evil and stubborn. They contribute nothing to civilized society and they have nothing to teach young people that they couldn’t learn themselves or from someone younger. In the Lango ethic group, most of the communities accord great respect to the elders because of whom and what they are. In the tradition of Lango, education centres around games, folk stories, myths, proverbs, and riddles. The elders are responsible for educating young people, especially in forms of songs, riddles and stories. Children are taught (by their mother or siblings) morality and how to address their relatives and respect other people. When they get older, boys are taught by their father or male relatives and girls by their mother or female relatives. Elders also play a great role in conflict resolution. According to Ogwari Maureen Achieng, former chief of Mission of IOM in Ethiopia, before Africa was colonised it was the task of traditional leaders or elders to solve and manage conflicts when they arose. Most of the African societies still prefer the use of traditional and informal justice and reconciliation forums to help in conflict resolution. This is because most of the populations still live in the rural areas, limited infrastructures in the state justice systems and the unfair justice systems provided at the formal courts which tend to favour the rich in society hence it cannot be trusted. The traditional elders and chiefs mediate in violent conflicts where they give penalties which focus on compensation and restitution in order to restore status quo. These leaders also act as facilitators in conflict resolution whereby they reconcile parties by helping them negotiate in a peaceful manner so as to live harmoniously in the community. African societies also have a preference for traditional institutions because it deals with reconciliation well embedded in the African culture, allows flexibility in its proceedings and re-establishes social harmony. Traditional Lango elders have been involved in solving conflicts in the society for many decades. These elders are still highly respected and useful in conflict management in Lango. Therefore, their input in conflict management and resolution should not be overlooked, instead it should be encouraged, facilitated and included, especially in mediation processes. Maintaining peace is among the main roles played by traditional elders in many African societies especially in Lango. Their influence goes a long way in resolving disputes between family members, within and among communities and occasionally across state lines. Elders give counsel to those in need; listen to the problems of the group; help shed light on difficult situations; advise and guide the young and in return, they are revered, nurtured, respected and cared for until they pass on to the spirit world. These and many other roles played by elders warrants them respect for what they have done and for keeping our world and culture moving.  We must accept that even in this world of technology, we still don’t know more than our elders. Hence the old saying; “what an elder sees while seated, the young man cannot see even if he climbs a tree. Let us treasure elders for Old is Gold.”

Kenya: A Horizon-less Frying Pan

Comboni Missionary Father Mitiku Habbthe from Ethiopia is working with the Turkana in the remote north-western part of Kenya, a semi-desert area, shares his experience. The Turkana people lead a nomadic or semi nomadic life style, living with herds of cattle, goats and donkeys. An estimated 80 percent of the people rely on purely pastoralism as a source of livelihood, and about 20 percent are engaged in agro pastoralism, a form of social organization based on the growing of crops and the raising of livestock as the primary means of economic activity. The Turkana land is prone to drought and is often referred to as "a horizon-less frying pan of desolation." The Catholic Diocese of Lodwar is the capital of Turkana, located in the north-western part of Kenya bordering Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The diocese has approximately 59 religious priests, 60 religious sisters, l6 religious brothers, 11 local diocesan priests and more than 400 catechists and other pastoral agents. The diocese has been involved in evangelisation and social development work, such as providing water boreholes, securing food and education for boys and girls. They have also established health centres, helped empower women development, justice and peace and accommodate physically impaired children, such as deaf and blind. The diocese encounters every aspect of people's lives, especially in those areas where the government has neglected to act for many years. The people of Turkana recognise and respect the diocese as an entity with the capacity and the good will to implement the various emergency and development projects. The Comboni Missionaries came to Turkana and the Diocese of Lodwar in 1975. In line with the diocesan pastoral plan, the Comboni missionaries carry out their missionary activities and live their life among the Turkana people which is according to the charism of our founder Saint Comboni who said "Save Africans by Africans and make a common cause for the evangelization of Africans." Therefore by following the example and the life witness of our founder, we try to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Turkana people by living with them and sharing their challenges so that they may live a more fulfilled and happy life. Lokichar, our Comboni mission, is located in the south of Turkana and it has an area of about 4,536 kms and a total population of about 133, 913. Lokichar mission was opened in the year 2000 by the Comboni Missionaries and has 22 out stations, along with a small centre where we can stay once a month to reach out to all the stations for the celebration of the Holy Mass and for ongoing formation of our catechists. Comboni missionaries from ltaly, Malawi, DR Congo and Ethiopia make up the religious community in Lokichar. As the Comboni missionaries, we are inserted in the local reality of the diocese and so we are at the service of the local church. Our pastoral plan and priority is for the evangelization of the Turkana people as they are living in the "first evangelization” of the area.  We get involved in the following activities to bring human and spiritual development: drilling boreholes, education and formation of catechists and leaders, formation of small Christian communities, justice and peace, adult education, nursery education and feeding programs, a centre for the physically disabled children run by one of evangelizing sisters, but sponsored by the Comboni Missionaries, and support for aspiring and needy students who have lost their parents.  We are also sponsoring girls who are finishing secondary school, especially the girls with the academic ability to go to college or university. These services, mentioned above, are necessary to bring full human and spiritual development. The work of evangelisation goes hand in hand with human promotion. For this reason, we Comboni missionaries try as a community to promote the spiritual, intellectual, mental, moral and social aspects of humanity. As we are continuing in our activities of human and spiritual promotion, we try to create awareness among the people of the importance of a self- supporting and a self-administrating church. Now people are much more aware of the necessity of self- reliance and to overcome dependency from outside, but we acknowledge there is still a long way to go in achieving this plan of action.

Central America: The Garinagu, The art of drum-making.

The Garifuna people, located in Central America, are famous for their use of drums and music, that is especially of great importance in religious ceremonies. Stop at any Garifuna festival, sporting event, festival, church ceremony, nine-night (Beluria) or just a regular social gathering and you will be sure to hear the vibrating sound of the Garifuna drums. The drumming resonates through the air, leading the movement of the dancers and guiding the voices of the singers. Garifuna drums are the “heartbeat” of the Garifuna culture. Garifuna music relies heavily on drums and in some cases their music is dictated by it. Depending on the nature of the gathering, only two drummers might be needed, but religious ceremonies require three bass drummers. There are two main types of drums, the Primero and the Segundo. The only difference between the two is their size. The Primero drum has a smaller diameter which produces a high pitch sound, while the Segundo drum has a wider diameter which produces that heavy bass sound. The Segundo drummer maintains a consistent rhythm and so provides the beat of the song, while the Primero drummer is responsible for the faster rhythms. Each Garifuna rhythm has its own style of dancing and singing that goes with the beat. Garifuna drums are made by hollowing out solid trunks of hardwoods such as mahogany, mayflower or cedar. Traditionally, this was done by burning out the centre of the trunk. Today, a chainsaw does the trick. Traditionally, one log would only produce one drum, but with the chainsaw, cutting accuracy allows drum makers to garner several drums (each smaller than the other) from one log. After hollowing, the log is then chiselled into a cylindrical shape and sanded smooth. Sixteen holes are drilled around the bottom of the cylinder and one single hole below. Rope will be weaved through these holes when it is time to secure the skin to the top. Deer, sheep or goat skin may be used to cover the top of the drum. Cow hide is used for the larger, Segundo drums. The skin is cured in the sun and once dried, it is cut a few inches wider than the surface of the drum. Using a knife, the hair is removed, and the piece is prepared by soaking it in water. It is then stretched out over the top of the drum. The skin is fastened to the drum using two pieces of tie-tie vines. The vines are shaped in rings that fit snugly over the top of the drum. The skin is wrapped with one vine on the inside and the other on the outside. These rings hold the skin in place with the aid of the rope. Finally, the rope is weaved through the holes at the bottom of the drum and through the upper ring that will pull down on the skin to make it come tight over the top of the drum. Eight wooden pins are used to tighten the rope. The pins are also adjusted to tune the drums. The finished drum is then placed in the sun to dry, after which, the top of the skin is sanded smooth. If desired, the pins are tightened once again to get the desired sound. A Primero drum normally measures twelve inches or less in diameter, while a Segundo can measure anywhere from fourteen to eighteen inches or more. At any Garifuna social gathering you will hear the men beating the drums, while the women cook, sing and dance. On any given day, the drums are used alongside gourd shakers, turtle shell and knee rattles; and there will also be vocalists telling of the Garifuna history, folk tales and personal stories. The Garifuna drums generate a rhythmic and dramatic sound that pulsates through the body and makes it almost impossible to not find yourself moving to the beat. The Garifuna believe in the drum’s ability to summon the powers of the ancestors.  The Garifuna drummer can beat the drums to summon the ahari (ancestral spirits). Through a unique process, the dancer and drummer communicate with each other. This is manifested by the dancers’ natural flow to the rhythm of the drums. The vibration of the rhythms of the drums, shakers (sisera), singing voices and lyrics heightens the spiritual senses.  It is a phenomenon where the human and the divine spirit meet in the music.  In the process, the participants acquire strength from communication with, and being touched by the ancestors.  During rituals, the synchronisation between singing and dancing movements generate much energy.  The pulse and the rhythm of the drumming allow a person to lose self-consciousness and become more open to the spirits.  Some participants are more open than others.  When played at certain levels, the music has the capacity to create a certain emotional climate for the devotee, especially those who are skilled and open to the possibilities. The Garifuna music enables its people to acquire spiritual energy and, at the same time, make the connection with the life force. There are three drums used in Garifuna rituals. There are two Segundo and one Anigi (heart) drum. The anigi, the lead drum, is placed in between the smaller drums.  This drum represents the present life. The right drum represents the past and the left represents the future. The other two drums are smaller but bigger than the regular Segundo. Much of the songs are learnt orally, especially during ceremonies. The lyrics of the Garifuna songs show the concept known as duality. In the Garifuna and other African traditions, songs express faith, joy, good, betrayal, abandonment, suffering, beauty and ugliness, all at the same time.  The message in the Garifuna songs promotes acceptance of life for what it is and the belief that there is no reason to give up.

Mexico: Cactus, the richness of the people

Mexico has the greatest floristic diversity of cacti of any country in the world. Cacti are particularly plentiful in Mexico's arid, warm, dry regions. Over the last several decades, important floristic, systematic and ecological studies that investigate the sustainable management of natural resources, have made cacti one of their research priorities. In addition, cacti can be used for decoration due to their strange shapes and colourful flowers. This has made them increasingly important on the growing ornamental plant market. Cacti are distinguished from other groups of plants or botanic families by the morphology of their stems and flowers. Without going into great technical detail, they are practically without leaves, although there are some notable exceptions like the Pereskia lychnidiflora (matiare) and the Pereskiopsis aquosa (water prickly pear).  They usually have spines (there are exceptions to this, such as the Lophophora williamsii (peyotel), and their fleshy stocks take many different shapes. For example, some are flat and shaped like tennis rackets, such as the Opmtia (nopal), a common Mexican cactus which is eaten grilled or boiled and chopped up in a salad. Others have cylindrical stocks of different widths and heights, like the Cephalocereus semilis (the viejito, or "old man"), which can grow to as high as 8 meters and is typically shaped like a column. Another cylindrical cacti is the Ecinocereus schmollii (known as the "sheep’s tail"), which grows no larger than 10 centimetres and is just a tiny reed no thicker than a pencil. Several kinds of cacti, like the Echinocactus (the ‘burro biznaga) end the Mammillaria (the "little biznaga"), are spherical. However, the most distinctive feature of cacti is that they have little pads covered with tiny, light-coloured hairs called areolas. The spines and flowers sprout from the areolas: they are structures similar to lateral buds in other flowering plants. "Cactus" comes from the Latin word for ‘thistle’ it is a broad term applied to any spiny plant. Today, however, the Latin word "cactus" (plural ‘cacti,') applies only to the genu, we have described above. The cactus family (Cactaceae) includes more than 1,500 species. Taxonomically, it is divided into three sub-Families: the Pereskioideae, with only two geniuses, one of which have leaves in the shape of sheets; Opuntioideae, with five geniuses and over 200 species, including nopales, chollas and Cactoideae, the largest group, which is found throughout the Americas and includes tree- and bush-like plants, vines and epiphytes with cylindrical, spherical or flat stocks. Arid and semi-arid zones are characterised by minimum and irregular annual availability of humidity, low atmospheric humidity (with a few exceptions, like the arid region of Baja California) high daytime air temperatures and abundant sunlight, which can raise the ground temperature as high as 60® C. These physical characteristics make it easy to support that, to adapt plants and animals native to these areas must make efficient and economical use of water. Cacti’s thickened stems, roots or leaves do just that: they store water to survive during dry periods. Thickened plants are known as succulents, of which there are wide variety by practically all species of cacti are included. The evolution into cacti of some particularly succulent South America plants was basically the result of a process of adaptation to seasonal periods of drought. Today, cacti grow in all the main natural regions of the Americas, from damp tropical forests to the bush area of the arid zones. In tropical forests, the only cacti species are creepers or epiphytes on the trunks of large trees, in arid zone, they are trees, bushes or vines. However, most of the species grow in intermediary areas, in what are called dry tropical forests, with both a dry and rainy season. They flourish in these areas because they specialise in absorbing, storing and conserving humidity with maximum efficiency developed during gradual, profound changes in their anatomy, morphology and physiology. The change and reduction of the leaves are part of this evolution. At first, primitive cacti tended to increase storage of water in their leaves and reduce the vascular system to minimum functional structures. However, a new evolutionary phase was needed to reduce transpiration to a minimum: the surface of the leaves gradually diminished to microscope size. Today, many cacti have only this kind of “leaves” and only during the earliest stages of growth. Simultaneously, the stocks also had to change to take on the functions of storing water, breathing and photosynthesis. Besides becoming a succulent, the stock has taken on whimsical forms that give cacti minimal volume and surface area: they are flat, cylindrical, column-shaped and spherical. For the cactus to change its volume without affecting its internal form and structure, the stock had to change: the base of its leaf pads became tubers which expand when water is available or contract in the dry season. Geniuses like Mammillaria and Coryphantha have this kind of tuber. In other cacti, these tubers are fused in the form of lengthwise ribs, forming a sort of accordion which expands or contracts depending on the amount of water stored. The Pachycereus, the Ferocactus and the Acanthocereus, among others, have this kind of structure. Another important part of the survival of cacti in arid and semi-arid regions is their relationship with animals and other plants. One important form of biotic interaction in these areas is the interdependency during the first stages of seedling development, particularly in the phase of initial formation (germination and early survival). Some ecological analyses point to the importance of trees and bushes which beneath their canopies provide a micro-habitat favourable to the growth of cactus seedlings and other vegetation. The longevity of some tree- or column-like cacti is significant for these biological systems. In Mexico there are almost 60 species of this sort. Among those already researched are the Neobuxbaumia tetetzo (teteche) in the Tehuacán Valley in the state of Puebla, reported to live up to 400 years, and the Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro) from the desert of Sonora, estimated to be up to 500 years of age. Mexico has the greatest floristic diversity of cacti of any country in the world as it boasts approximately 850 species of the slightly more than 1,500 reported in recent literature about the Americas cacti. It is estimated that almost 700 species (nearly 80 percent of all the cacti in the country) are endemic and originate in Mexico. Whereas, in Brazil and the United States, for example, floristic inventories on cacti show less than half the number of species to be found in Mexico. In addition, Mexico has been the seat of the evolution of some taxonomic groups of cacti. For example, the column - and tree - like cacti (Pachycereeae group) and the spherical ones, better known colloquially in Mexico as biznagas (Cactae group) originated and diversified in Mexico. A reason for this wealth of vegetation is due to the geographical location of Mexico as it has led to the diversification and development of a group of creepers and epiphytes (Hylocereeae group). Today, sustainable use of natural resources is a priority above all in countries with high biodiversity like Mexico which also has a considerable gamut of economically exploitable flora. These plants were used by men as far as back as the first inhabitant of the Americas. Anthropological evidence of their use as food by primitive man has been found at archaeological digs in Tehuacán, Puebla and in the state of Tamaulipas. Cactus stocks, fruit and seed were part of the diet of the people who inhabited these areas as far back as 6,500 as. C. During the rise of the great Mesoamerican cultures some cacti were already an important part of the diet and culture. Today, ethnobotany has proved to be valuable to different human groups in Mexico. For example, the Seris, an indigenous group which lives in Mexico’s northern state of Sonora, use 12 species of cacti for food, herbal medicine, construction, hunting and religious rites. Another important use of cacti has been the selection and cultivation of their edible fruit, harvested both from wild and semi-cultivated plants. This is the case of the pitayo (Stenocereus pruinous, S.queretaroensis), garambullo (Mytillocactus geometrizans) pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus) jiotilla (Escontria chiotilla) and above all the prickly pear cacti (Opuntia amyclaea, O. hyptiancantha Opuntia megantha and a great many hybrids). Among the cultivated edible stocks, the most important is the nopal (opuntia ficus-indica, Opuntia megacantha and many hybrids). Other ways of utilising these plants include: Medical uses: as a diuretic, a laxative, antispasmodic and to treat fevers, ulcers and hypoglycaemia, ads roughage; as a second food source (for cool or fermented drinks, a condiment or snack and can be grounded into flour); and a colour additive (nopal cochineal seeds etc.) One of the best-known uses of cacti is ornamental, particularly the rarer species with limited distribution like the majority of those endemic to Mexico. The largest markets are the United States, Europe and Japan where cacti are intensively cultivated and marketed. Integral research on cacti is clearly central to their conservation and the management of their natural and cultural diversity. It is a way to define strategies for their preservation at the time when “the crisis of biodiversity” – the disappearance of animal and plant species – is of great concern and interest in countries like Mexico.

Peru: It is impossible to remain silent.

On both sides of the border between Ecuador and Peru, there are oil and gas operations. The consequences are disastrous for the environment and for the indigenous peoples who live there. Two Augustinian missionaries living in Iquitos (Peru) talked about the challenges for the church and for the indigenous people. Governments traditionally have partnered with oil companies, to the detriment of their own people. The practices of ChevronTexaco in Ecuador are well known. In Peru, Pluspetrol, an oil company with Argentinian capital, concocts shady financial strategies in offshore tax havens. The conglomerate it has created owes 1.5 billion soles (approximately US $46.8 million) to SUNAT, the Peruvian internal revenue agency. The company’s environmental practices leave much to be desired. And its relationship with the indigenous population has caused more than considerable impacts. This has not kept Pluspetrol from entering into agreements with the church for 'assistance programs' or other programs for indigenous peoples - a terrible practice. During our early years in the Amazon basin, we saw only the oil barges that traversed the river and the indigenous people’s fear of being overtaken by the tugboat called the Ciudad de Iquitos. The boat’s strong wake swamped and sank any number of canoes. What 'woke us from the dream of cruel inhumanity' was an oil spill in October 2000. We were alerted by radio, and two hours before we saw the entire Marañon River turn black from bank to bank, our noses were assaulted by the strong, penetrating smell of oil. We had never seen or smelled anything like it. We had few resources and limited contacts, and we knew nothing at all about oil. It was impossible to remain silent. There were no telephones, and the city was a 24 to 30-hour trip away by river boat, a journey that has been shortened since then by passenger boats with outboard motors. But our cry reached even the government’s ears. The minister of women’s affairs, who had ties to the human rights movement, came to visit, arriving in the oil company’s helicopter. The media barely reported the story. Local residents did not understand why we were so upset. One merchant pushed the oil slick aside as we watched and filled a bucket with river water to take home. “This is the way it has always been”, people told us. “You’re getting upset for nothing; no one will pay any attention to you”. In the indigenous cosmology, the disappearance of animals or deterioration of the environment is the result of human evil. If the evil persists, either a conversion occurs, or the only thing to do is wait until the world is upended and a new era begins. Noise, bad behaviour and a lack of ethics can cause this 'end of the world', which is followed by a new earth. We contacted a member of Greenpeace in Lima, but their headquarters was in Santiago, Chile, and they could not travel to the area. The church was worse: they looked askance at us. Peru had other urgent needs, and the environment seemed like a hobby for the rich. We had to put up with people laughing at us and patting us on the back log. We were too naive and inexpert. We were stunned when someone dared counsel us that those were not real problems and offered us a list of true concerns. Nearly two decades later, during his visit to Puerto Maldonado, Pope Francis, whose sensitivity to environmental issues is far greater than average in the church, said: “We know of the suffering caused for some of you by emissions of hydrocarbons, which gravely threaten the lives of your families and contaminate your natural environment”. A few furtive tears slid down our cheeks. The time we spent in the oil-producing area and the pain in accompanying the Kukama people gave us new insight into the 845 kilometre (525 mile) Northern Peruvian Oil Pipeline, built in 1977, which crosses the Andes Mountains to connect the oil wells in Block 192 (formerly 1AB) and Block 8, in the Amazon, to Bayóvar, on Peru’s Pacific coast. We gradually began to comprehend the scenario. Two new events are important for understanding the impact on indigenous peoples in the area. One is a 2012 agreement between the governments of Peru and Ecuador to 'promote and facilitate the transportation of oil from South-eastern Ecuador by way of the Northern Peruvian Oil Pipeline'. The other is the Peruvian government’s investment of more than US $5 billion in upgrading the refinery in Talara, on Peru’s northern coast. These two issues connect the oil-producing area on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border with the petrochemical industry proposed for the Peruvian coast. But the Northern Peruvian Oil Pipeline, which is 40 years old and seriously deteriorated, does not receive the attention it deserves and has suffered periodic spills. A Peruvian parliamentary commission found irregularities and excessive payments in the contracting of the companies that have cleaned up oil spills. After a spill in 2010, Kukama families along the Marañón River began to collect rainwater to drink. The cultural change is huge. The Kukama believe that rainwater causes goiter, rheumatism and itching. Because of protests by indigenous communities, several years ago the government began to install temporary, small-scale water treatment plants in some communities. We have serious doubts about whether they effectively eliminate heavy metals and about disposal of metals trapped by the filters. But we also believe the plants conceal the real problem: the fish. The water treatment plants give the impression that everything is fine. But contamination of the river poisons fish, which are an essential part of the Kukama people’s diet. The water treatment plants cover up the real problem and the fish travel throughout the watershed. What began as a localised oil spill opened our eyes to a local facet of geopolitics. This region along the Peru-Ecuador border, which is covered by oil concessions and crossed by the Northern Peruvian Oil Pipeline, is the ancestral territory of many indigenous people: Waorani, Záparo, Taushiro, Omurano, Urarina, Kukama-Kukamiria, Awajún, Wampis, Achuar, Shapra, Kichwa. Some of these peoples are on the verge of extinction. The spatial interconnection created by the pipeline should force us to look at wider scenarios. Some NGOs, with vision limited by the scope of their projects, act only in narrow areas that do not allow them to see the problem in its true dimensions. The atomisation of the church is another great challenge, especially for the vicariates located in this border area. It is not just a matter of oil spills, or even of the pipeline or the oil concessions on both sides of the border, or of the petrochemical industry. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, because of the accumulated impacts. This overall situation will not improve until there is a change in the country’s energy matrix. Pope Francis has told us of the need to convert economies based on fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, to cleaner sources of energy. The idea of changing the energy model makes governments nervous. However, recently mayors of some of the world’s major cities have begun to question oil companies’ role in climate change. We hope that this movement grows in the coming years and results in positive change.

India: Celebrating Hues Of Divinity

During the Hemis Festival, the Monastery comes alive with dances and colourful celebrations. The religious mask dance remains the centre of attraction. This year Hemis festival is going to be celebrated from 23rd June to 24th June. Synonymous with peace, tranquillity and meditation, Ladakh is known as the “land of high passes”. A region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that currently extends from the Kunlun mountain range to the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. After a long dreary winter, summer is the time to rejuvenate with pomp and fervour. Here, rejuvenation is a celebration, a way of attaining supreme truth. The festivals are a perfect concoction of ancient customs, rich culture and celebration of life. One of the most famous festivals here is Hemis Festival celebrated in Hemis Monastery. Situated 45 km away from Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Hemis Monastery is the largest in the region. It is famous for its magnificent architecture and the Buddha statue positioned atop a mound overlooking the monastery. This two-day event commemorates the birth anniversary of Buddhist guru Padmasamabhava who brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Central Asia, China and the Himalayan region. Revered as the second Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava was invited to India in the 8th century to conquer dark forces and transform them into guardians and protectors of dharma. The festival is celebrated every year on the 10th lunar day of the Tibetan calendar. This year will be celebrated from 23rd June to 24th June. The central courtyard of Hemis Monastery sets the stage: Drums, trumpets and wind instruments commence the celebrations with an early morning ceremony in which thousands of Buddhist followers take blessings from a portrait of Lord Padmasambhava. Uncooked rice, incense sticks, tomas (butter-and dough dish) and holy water are the main ceremonial items. The chief monk of the monastery carries the holy water throughout the courtyard for purification. However, the key attraction is the religious masked dance performed by the lamas (monks) around the central flagpole in the courtyard. Known as Chhams, these dance dramas are performed wearing vibrant clothes and intimidating masks. The dance consists of two parts: the first pays homage to the eight aspects of Guru Padmasambhava. The second part shows Maha Dongcren, a horned masked figure, slaying demonic forces. The eight manifestations of Padmasambhava belong to the tradition of the revealed treasures. It includes the depiction of union with consort, a fully ordained Buddhist monk, a young crowned prince, the Saviour who teaches dharma to people, the intelligent youth, a naked yogi pointing towards sun, fierce manifestation of Vajrakilaya and the Lion of Debate. These religious dances are used to educate people about the impermanent nature of all phenomena and the victory of mind over ignorance and evil. Blaring horns and hypnotic drums serve as perfect soundtracks for the dance with most movements consisting of measured steps and twirls. The stunning colours of whirling robes, antique masks and swaying movements create a visual treat. Witnessing the mask dances is believed to remove ignorance and take one closer towards to attaining nirvana. “By watching these mask dances, ‘choreographed’ by celestial beings for enlightened masters, we should receive the blessings of being able to cut through afflictive emotions and realise the nature of our own mind and wisdom,” says one of the monk from Hemis Monastery.