All posts by Comboni Missionaries Ireland

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South Sudan: The Nuer – The Traditional Marriage

The Nuer are a tribe of South Sudan numbering about two million people. It comprises four sections – Nuer-Bentiu, Nuer-Fangak, Nuer-Ikany and Nuer-Lou. We look at the traditional marriage among the Nuer-Gawar that belongs to the Nuer-Fangak.

When the boy expresses his desire to get married and it’s agreed upon in the family, he makes the proposal to the girl. If she says no resolutely, the boy forgets about her. If she agrees, she will not say ‘yes’ openly. She will rather tell him that she will think about it, that she is too young, and that she is not thinking of marrying yet. Actually, she knows that marriage is not a private business but it concerns the two families. She wants to share the boy’s proposal with her family and friends first. She wants to know how serious the proposal is and even to know the boy better. In the end, she tells him to return another day. At this point, the boy knows that the girl accepts and the two will speak to their families.

Meanwhile, the two families activate themselves to get all the information they need. If they find out elements against the marriage, the boy will not return or will tell the girl that he has to make a long journey. The girl will then resolutely say ‘no’ to the boy’s proposal. And the case is closed.

The family of the boy wants to know if the girl is serious, discrete, responsible, a hard worker, house loving. If she is a student, they want to know if she enjoys a good name. In the case that her family is a family given to witchcrafts, this is considered a negative factor.

On the other hand, the family of the girl wants to know if the boy has a good character, is a hard worker, is not a thief or son of thieves, and is responsible, even if he does not have a large number of cows. Both families will consider if there are good relations between the two families, no enmity, no killing. At this point a prominent relative for each family accepts to be guarantor, so that the agreement be worked out.

The boy, accompanied by his brothers and friends, but not by his father, goes to the house of the girl, and waits outside at a certain distance. When the girl – who has been previously informed – sees them, she tells her father who, in turn, tells her to let them in. But the girl remains outside.

Once the visitors are inside, nothing is offered to them, not even water. The father of the girl deals at once with the issue. Meanwhile, other relatives join in. They go back to the pieces of information they already know for confirmation, especially the issue of blood relation among the two, and then if there has been killing or enmity (cuak) among the two families. Then they touch the issue of the dowry, which will be fully dealt with at a later date. The boy will behave as well as he can and show respect to the father of the girl. He knows that the girl will do according to her father’s will. At the end, the father of the girl will tell the boy that he is happy that he marries her daughter and tells him to prepare for marriage. Normally, he is given one week for the preparation. On the way back home, the boy and his friends will sing and dance both to express their happiness and at the same time to announce that the celebration of marriage has started.

Soon after, the women of the girl’s family will go around with her, singing and dancing, to invite the relatives to be ready to participate in the celebration. The women of the boy’s family, accompanied by the boy and his brothers and friend, will do the same.

After seven days, the boy, his family – excluding the father – and his friends, will go to the house of the girl and will offer some cows to her family, as part of the dowry. The family of the girl will kill a bull for the occasion. The visitors will remain there for a week, eating, drinking, singing and dancing. At the end the father of the girl tells the boy the date of the final rite of marriage. For that occasion the boy must also bring his father. At that point, the two families will go around again to invite the relatives.

On the fixed day, all the boy’s family and his friends go to the house of the girl in a festive mood, leading the required cows. They will find the relatives of the girl waiting for them. After greeting each other, the people will celebrate by eating and dancing till late at night. The following day the issue of the dowry is finalised. In the past the cows requested used to be 25, at present they are 50 or even a 100.

Early morning, all enter the stable – the luak. The family of the girl sits on one side, the relatives of the boy on the opposite side. The father of the girl sits slightly separated, to mark his particular position at that moment. Two witnesses are invited to help, one for each family.

When the cows are brought in, the father of the girl will suggest to the boy not to pay all of them, but to keep two or three to be brought later. Once the cows are given, the father asks the girl if she is ready to pass to the family of the boy. After her consent, she will leave her group and join the group of the family of the boy which welcomes her with joy.

Before leaving, the boy and his father ask the father of the girl when they may send to take the girl. The father of the girl will specify the time. Once they have agreed, all go. The girl will remain in her own family. When the day comes, the women – friends and neighbours – will accompany her to the house of the husband with songs and dances along the way. Meanwhile in the courtyard of the husband’s house people gather to welcome the wife and her group with songs and dances.

At around midday the sisters of the husband bring the girl in front of the women. They undress her and dress her with a special skirt – a yiet. There are four of them. One is to express the reaching of womanhood. At the end, the same women who have accompanied the girl to the house of the husband will accompany her back to the house of her father. The father will assign a special hut to her, a bit isolated. There she will receive the visits of the husband starting a couple of days later and consummate the marriage.

After some time, the father of the girl will allow the husband to take the wife to his home. Before going she will prepare food and milk to take with her and one day, accompanied by her younger sister and a couple of friends, she goes to the house of the husband, carrying her property and the food prepared. The father-in-law or the eldest brother of the husband will distribute the milk and the food brought by the woman. Meanwhile the husband will inform relatives and friends that the wife is now in his house and that she, on such a day, will cook for all and there will be a feast.

The husband kills a bull for the occasion, in order to celebrate as well as to give a chance to the wife to cook and show her ability. After the girl has spent some days in the house of the husband, the relatives of the husband will visit the family of the wife, also taking with them milk and food and will remain there in friendly relations.

The way marriage is celebrated shows how much the ‘pastoralist’ culture is still present among the Nuer. They are convinced that these traditions will help the tribe to keep its identity and, as a consequence, its unity. The union of two families will strengthen the people’s ties more and more.

– Antonio La Braca

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Harpagophytum Procumbens: An Anti-Inflammatory Desert Plant

It belongs to the Pedaliaceae plant family and is commonly referred to as devil’s claw, grapple plant, or wood spider.

It is a rare, highly valuable plant which is only found widely spread in the Kalahari desert of Southern Africa especially in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Harpagophytum procumbens is a perennial ground herb which grows up to about 18 inches long with a stout central tap root which, on average, grows up to two meters deep. Secondary storage tubers, which resemble an elongated sweet potato, branch off horizontally from the central tap root. Leaves are large, consisting of 3-5 lobes, and are covered in white mucilaginous cells, which makes them appear greyish-green in colour. Flowers are trumpet shaped and pink, red, or purple with a yellowish centre.

The fruit grows from the flower and is woody, radiating numerous long barbed spines. In fact, the name Devil’s Claw refers to the barbs on the fruits and the plant owes its scientific name, Harpagophytum, to this unique characteristic; fruit with a grappling hook, harpagos in Greek. The plant grows mainly in sandy soils particularly in open, trampled and over-grazed lands where grass and herb cover is low, but can also be found in dry savanna or open woodland.

Harpagophytum procumbens has been used in traditional medicine since time immemorial to treat a myriad of maladies including allergies, analgesia, anorexia, arteriosclerosis, boils, choleretic, dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, edema, fever, fibromyalgia, fibrositis, gastrointestinal disorders, headache, heartburn, indigestion, liver and gall bladder tonic, malaria, migraines, myalgia, neuralgia, nicotine poisoning, sedative, skin ulcers, skin sores, tendonitis, urinary tract infections and wounds, among others. It is the large, tuberous, succulent tap roots of Harpagophytum procumbens which are the major target in traditional medicine. This is due to the fact that they contains greater medicinal properties. The highly medicinal roots are cut into small pieces and dried immediately after harvesting to prevent them from deteriorating which unfortunately occurs within a short period of time after harvest. The dried root tubers are then ground to form powder, and to make tinctures, decoctions or infusions which are then administered in accordance to a given disease condition.

The traditional healers especially those from Southern Africa have used Harpagophytum procumbens for medicinal purpose for a very long time. They orally administer a strong decoction of Harpagophytum procumbens to enhance slow but steady relief of joint pain caused by both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, including low-back pain and body inflammation. Additionally, the plant root also plays valuable roles in traditional medicine, where it is used as a digestive tonic and to treat blood disorders.

The decoction of the root is administered to relieve one from fever and allergies and is highly prescribed as an analgesic, including for the pain which is brought about by the process of childbirth. In addition, the pulverised root is used as an ointment for ulcers, boils and for difficult births. The dried root infusion is commonly used as a cure for digestive disorders including being used as a laxative and as an appetite stimulant. In some communities, the infusion of the root is orally administered to treat and manage diabetes. However, caution is taken in this situation as the medication may at the same time raise the risk of one developing low blood sugar. The Harpagophytum procumbens root decoction has also been orally administered for liver and kidney disorders and as a purgative. The powdered root has been topically applied to treat wounds, as well as skin rashes.

Harpagophytum procumbens has an ancient history of multiple indigenous uses and is one of the most highly commercialized indigenous traditional medicines from Africa, with bulk exports mainly to Europe where it is made into a large number of health products such as teas, tablets, capsules, topical gels and patches. In fact, Harpagophytum procumbens is now widely used as herbal medicine in the West for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

The Harpagophytum procumbens tubers are an important source of income for many people living in and around the Kalahari desert region. However, one of the main threats to Harpagophytum procumbens is over-harvesting for medicinal use. Despite the fact that wild-harvesting of Harpagophytum procumbens tubers can be sustainable, the poor harvesting methods which in most cases involves digging out the whole root, coupled with intensive commercial use, can ultimately lead to the extinction of this valuable plant in the future. Fortunately, Harpagophytum procumbens is currently classified as a protected species in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Permits are required for harvesting and exporting it.

The Harpagophytum procumbens species has been listed under CITES in Annex D. Consequently, no part of the tubers or roots of the plant can be traded within the European Union without proper licenses.

However, more measures still need to be put in place so as to conserve this valuable medicinal plant for generations to come especially through the initiation and use of good harvest practices that can enhance the plant to regenerate after the first harvest.

– Richard Komakech

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Colombia: An Explosive Situation

An imploding economy, marked by product shortages and hyperinflation, has driven almost half-a-million Venezuelans to live in Colombia.

The influx is putting a massive strain on health and social services in Colombia, a middle-income country trying to recover from five decades of civil war with communist FARC rebels. It may be far from over. The deepening political crisis and economic malaise in Venezuela means the Colombian government has to prepare in case the situation escalates and it is reportedly drawing up emergency plans to house up to a million Venezuelans in camps along the border.

According to Colombia’s Foreign Ministry, there are already 470,000 Venezuelans living in the country and that number sees a net increase of 2,000 to 3,000 migrants every day with more returning to Venezuela or using Colombia as a bridge to head to other South American countries. Every day thousands of Venezuelans walk into Cucuta Colombia, crossing a bridge that marks the border between both countries. Many decide not to return to their country

Yeiny Acevedo crossed into Cucuta, Colombia at five in the morning, hoping to get her two-month-old daughter vaccinated for tetanus and influenza. A few minutes later she arrived at the health post a few blocks from the border. But even at that early hour, two dozen or so Venezuelan women were already there, waiting to do the same. “I never expected it would come to this”, said Acevedo.

Her hometown of Maracay is a major Venezuelan city and only 70 miles (110 kilometres) southwest of the capital, Caracas, but basic vaccines have become almost impossible to find anywhere in the country. So Acevedo made a 12-hour bus trip to the distant Colombian border to see if she could get some help. “It’s a tough situation”, Acevedo said. “Any virus can be really dangerous for my child, because she has no vaccines”.

At La Parada neighbourhood clinic, where Acevedo went to get vaccines for her baby, three days of the week have now been set aside just for providing care to Venezuelans, part of a strategy to stop preventable diseases that are spreading in Venezuela – like diphtheria – from entering Colombia.

Nurses at the four-room clinic said that they vaccinate up to 300 Venezuelan babies each week for tetanus, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis B, and influenza – as long as supplies last that is. “We get vaccines sent to us each month by the state government”, explained Candida Caceres, the head nurse. “But we usually run out by the third week of the month”.

The clinic isn’t the only overburdened service. Cucuta’s Erasmo Meoz University Hospital says it has accrued a debt of more than $3 million over the past two years from treating Venezuelan patients. The law says they must help anyone who arrives needing emergency treatment, but they only get reimbursed if patients have insurance, which most Venezuelans don’t.

Colombia’s health ministry approved additional funds of $1 million in April for border hospitals dealing with the Venezuelan influx, but the numbers have almost doubled since then and medical administrators in Cucuta say the money is insufficient and not being effectively administered.

“We still haven’t received a peso from the ministry of health”, Juan Agustin Ramirez, general manager at Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, said. Ramirez said he hoped that by lobbying the government and airing the problem on national and international media outlets, he could “shame” officials into providing more support. “We’ve had to cut back on expenses”, he explained. “That means we are not investing in new medical equipment or hiring more personnel”.

Many of the Venezuelan migrants entering Cucuta are desperately short on cash so they try to make some money by peddling cigarettes, coffee, water, and other merchandise on the city’s streets.

Yennis Jurado, a 33-year-old former construction worker from the Venezuelan city of Coro, said he made up to $5 a day selling fruits and vegetables smuggled across the border. It sounds a modest take, but Jurado said it would take him a month to earn a similar amount in Venezuela. Immigrants who get regular jobs in Colombia can aspire to a minimum wage of around $250 a month, 50 times more than Venezuela’s minimum wage, which, depleted by the bolivar’s fast devaluation, currently amounts to only $5 a month.

“Many of us here are sleeping on the streets”, said Jose Barroso, a former supermarket supply manager from Caracas who now sells cigarettes on the streets of Cucuta. “But at least in Colombia we have the possibility to rise”.

The Colombian government has so far refrained from providing economic support to new arrivals, but the Catholic Church is helping with food and shelter.

In La Parada, the diocese of Cucuta is delivering 1,000 free meals a day to Venezuelan migrants, with food donated by parish members and local businesses. “It hurts us to see these people struggling for a plate of food,” said Father Hugo Suarez, who runs the dining hall. Many Venezuelans are short on cash, and they sleep on the streets while they make more money to go further into Colombia

Raul Gallegos, Venezuela analyst at global security consultancy Control Risks, predicts that Venezuelans will most likely continue to head into Colombia and other South American countries at a similar rate in 2018, especially as the economic prognosis remains dire.

Inflation in Venezuela is expected to climb from 700 percent this year to 2,000 percent next, according to International Monetary Fund estimates, while the economy is expected to shrink another six percent. Oil production – Venezuela’s main economic engine – has stagnated and Gallegos sees little cause for optimism as the national oil company PDVSA is being stacked with ruling party loyalists who have little experience in the industry.

The ruling party’s tight grip of the electoral system also means there’s next to no chance of a new government with different policies taking over. If President Nicolas Maduro is re-elected in the first half of 2018 in an election with no international oversight, as expected, it might encourage even more people to leave the country.

The Colombian government is preparing an emergency contingency plan, which, according to a recent report citing unnamed senior officials, includes provisions to host up to one million people in different camps along the border.

There are already signs that Colombia’s patience is wearing thin. “Their arrival complicates post-conflict recovery”, Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín told a recent press conference. “We already have to expand health services, roads, and rural development schemes to many parts of the country, affected by the war, and receiving lots of Venezuelans generates an important additional cost.”

The Colombian government allows Venezuelans to stay in the country for 90 days without a visa – the standard policy for years. It has also permitted Venezuelans who have no criminal records to apply for a special two-year residence permit that lets them work and sign up for national health insurance. But the offer is only valid for Venezuelans who arrived in Colombia before July 28. Those who continue to stream in no longer get those benefits.

“I think we are far from a Turkey-style situation where massive numbers of [Syrians] are crossing the border at once with nothing”, Gallegos said. “But it is a steady flow of people that merits more attention”.

– M.R.

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Mozambique: Formation In The Shadow Of The Port

The Nacala Women’s Polytechnic School, which is run by the Comboni Missionary Sisters, was established about twenty years ago and it has become a reference point in the country. Its goal is to provide Mozambican women with education, a challenge in a country where girls have difficulties in accessing quality education.

The city of Nacala is located in northeastern Mozambique, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, in the province of Nampula. With 165,000 inhabitants, this city is the fourth most populated in the country. Nacala has developed along a 15 kilometre coastline. The construction, in recent years, of a coal terminal and an almost 1,000 kilometre long railway linking the Moatize mines, in western Mozambique, to Nacala, boosted the industrial activities of the city and its port, whose deep waters make the access to large industrial ships possible.

The traffic around the port area is heavy due to the transit of many huge and second-hand trucks that are loaded with coal which is transported from the Moatize mines to the Nacala port by trains of 120 wagons. Besides the coal industry, that of cement and cashew are among the major industries of the city.

The neighbourhood of Ontupaia is located in the central part of the port area, and it is characterised by simple dwellings mainly inhabited by harbour workers, and it is here that the Comboni Missionary Sisters established the Women’s Polytechnic School in 1998. Then, there were only 25 students attending the school and today they are 350, 191 of whom are internal and 159 external students. The school, which is exclusively for girls and is the only girls school in all of Mozambique, mainly offers courses in technical subjects and the teaching staff consists of 21 teachers. The number of applications for admission to the courses have increased over the years, and they are more than the number of places available, which are eighty per year. The technical courses last three years and they are aimed at expanding women’s access to work.

The school is currently offering courses in accounting, mathematics, administrative management and several other subjects. The Comboni Missionary Sisters arrived in Mozambique in 1954. There are currently 48 sisters serving in twelve communities throughout the country. There are six sisters who operate at the Nacala Girls School – three Italians, one Ecuadorian, one Ethiopian and one Costa Rican. Sister Maureen Ivana Mora Agüero is the current director of the centre. The six sisters are directly involved in the management of the school and three of them are part of the teaching team, along with the twenty one teachers. The three religious teachers teach English, biology, study techniques, social and moral communication and computer science.

The other three sisters are mainly in charge of nursing and domestic work. Despite the fact that the school is grounded in Christian principles, there are several Muslim girls among its students, since the majority of population is Muslim in the region. “The courses we offer”, says Sister Maureen Ivana Mora Agüero, “are aimed at providing girls with a good theoretical and practical professional preparation so that they can find a job more easily and help their families”.

The study program at the Girls School includes several subjects such as Portuguese, biology, chemistry, mathematics, typing, agricultural science, computer science and accounting. The latter two, the director of the school stresses, “are essential in a reality like the one of the flourishing Nacala port which is evolving rapidly”.

– Jaume Calvera

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Uganda: How To Celebrate Christmas In The Refugee Camp

“I often tell them in the Refugees Settlement that Jesus was a Refugee. For at least 12 years of his life, he lived in a strange land deprived of everything, just as many refugees are today…”

For the past six months, I’ve been actively involved in refugee ministry as the Chaplain for Refugees in the Archdiocese of Gulu, ministering to over 36,000 people in Palabek Refugees Settlement in Lamwo District, close to the South Sudan border. I often tell them in the Refugees Settlement that Jesus was a Refugee, at least for about 12 years of his life, he lived in a strange land deprived of everything in life just as they are today. His parents Mary and Joseph made great sacrifices to keep their son alive.

Every refugee wants to return to his or her homeland. They wait for the day to return to their home and start a new life. In the same way, Mary and Joseph took their little son to their home after cruel years spent in Egypt. Perhaps, he was so excited to see Jerusalem, his fatherland and he got lost in his excitement in seeing the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. He showed a great sense of pride and belonging even though he was only 12 years old. Probably, that was the first time he visited Jerusalem, about which he heard so many exciting stories.

Indeed, that was a longing heart of a refugee-returnee to his homeland. The celebration of Christmas and its season every year should remind us of these hard realities of life, which Jesus and his parents went through. In relation to the situation of refugees in Uganda, the message of Christmas and the festive season comes so alive and vivid. Statistics tell us that about 1.2 million refugees are hosted in Uganda. About 86% of the refugees are young women and children. Now, Uganda has become their temporary home. In this temporary home, these ‘unfortunate’ brothers and sisters struggle hard to live with meagre supply of basic things. Even education and medical care becomes a luxury for them.

In all these struggles, it is consoling to know that Jesus became a refugee within few days into his incarnation. Hardship and hostility were the hard realities that Jesus had to face when he decided to be human like us. He chose this way to redeem us… out of love for us. In the refugee situation, children suffer more than the adults. They suffer for the sins and mistakes of others. They are deprived of their childhood, their freedom, their education and their basic needs. The other day I asked a little boy of 10 years, ‘what do you miss most in the refugee camp?’ and his quick answer was, ‘I want to go to school…’. I was in Primary Three and I came here with my parents, I have not gone to school ever since, now I want to go to school. Keeping little children doing nothing is perhaps the biggest punishment we can give them.

What did Mary and Joseph carry to Egypt? Perhaps nothing much. The gospels tell us that there was no place for the pregnant mother to give birth and they were forced to take shelter in a cow-shed. In Bethlehem, they were passers-by, they were strangers, and they were the most needy people. From a miserable place, they had to run to Egypt. A few days ago, I asked a refugee, ‘what did you carry with you when you ran from South Sudan?’ And his quick answer was ‘I grabbed my three year child and my wife took a few pieces of clothes and we ran’. Answer from another man was even more amazing, ‘I went looking for my son but couldn’t find him, but I found my neighbour’s child and I came with her’. In the same way, the only concern of Mary and Joseph was their new born child – Jesus.

At the refugee settlement, one night I went to sleep with a heavy heart. I had just witnessed a group of new arrival of refugees.

They were given small plot of land to pitch their tent, a tarpaulin, five poles of trees and few meters of robes to make a shelter, plus a few household items. As I was giving them some clothes, it began to rain. I ran away to my little hut to seek shelter. But I was sure this group of 30 ‘unfortunate’ people among them women and children spent their night in the rain. Can we picture Mary and Joseph looking for shelter to protect their new born child – Jesus? Besides the issue of refugees and migrants, there are so many other suffering sections of humanity everywhere in the world.

There are people who were abducted, trafficked, enslaved in war and conflict and so many others pushed to the peripheries of the society for the reasons of economy, politics and organised crimes. They all remind us of sufferings and hardships Jesus went through from his birth and throughout his life.

– Father Lazar Arasu

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Bolivia: Textiles That Tell Stories

The people of Jalq’a and Tarabuco narrate their legends through their clothes – which speak of their origins, their cosmovision and their Andean identity.

There is no other country in South America that offers such a variety of climate, geography and culture, like Bolivia. The country, which is located in central South America, is surrounded by the Andes in the south, north and west, and by the forest, in the east. Besides, the country shares part of the majestic Lake Titicaca, one of the sacred places of the Inca Empire, with Peru.

The isolation of Bolivia from the rest of the continent has favoured the preservation of its traditions, nature, ruins, volcanoes, glaciers and the tropical Yungas. The indigenous peoples in the country constitute sixty per cent of its population, the several ethnic groups include the Tihuanaco, Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and Inca people who must struggle for their physical and cultural survival.

Native Bolivians have preserved their language, their costumes and their own way of life. They grow potatoes, wheat, cereal, beans and other vegetables and raise llamas, vicuñas and goats, whose wool is woven in their traditional looms to create unique textiles of typical Andean essence.

Textiles have always been items of exchange, as well as recipients of the millennial identity and traditions of the Bolivian indigenous peoples. A large number of the weavers of Bolivia are Quechua and Aymara, who are the descendants of the Incas.

Pre-Columbian looms were often portable and those in use today are generally similar. Many Bolivian indigenous weavers use traditional looms such as the back strap loom, or waist loom, so-called because the weaver controls the tension on one side with her waist, with the other side tied to an upright or tree.

The people of these ancient Bolivian groups use natural colours to dye fabrics and represent motifs that connect them with their ancestors.

Textiles play an essential role among these modern descendants of the Incas, because through the themes and colours they represent on their fabrics they have passed down their cosmovision through generations for 2000 years now. The clothes weaved by the people of these communities ‘tell stories’ about their origins, beliefs, legends. Therefore textiles become wordless language. The colours, the patterns of the weave tell stories about life, death and reproduction. Textiles bind the ancestors’ spirit to their descendants and they play a fundamental role in the social, political, economic and religious aspects of the community.

Clothes are so important to the indigenous Bolivians, that they are mentioned even in the myth of the origin of the Tiahuanaco people. Spanish chronicler Bernabé Cobo, in 1565, reported this myth as follows – “The Creator began to raise up the people and nations that are in Tiahuanaco, making one of each nation of clay, and painting the dresses that each one was to wear… and to each nation was given the language that was to be spoken, and… When the Creator had finished painting and making the said nations and figures of clay, he gave life and soul to each one, as well men as women, and ordered that they should pass under the earth. Thence each nation came up in the places to which he ordered them to go. Thus they say that some came out of caves, others issued from hills, others from fountains, others from the trunks of trees. From this cause, and owing to having come forth and commenced to multiply, from those places, and to having had the beginning of their lineage in them, they made huacas and places of worship of them in memory of the origin of their lineage which proceeded from them. Thus each nation uses the dress with which they invest their huaca”.

The Jalq’a textiles

The Jalq’a are a Quechua-speaking ethnic group which is spread over both sides of the border between the provinces of Chayanta and Oropeza, a couple of hours from the city of Sucre.

The Jalq’a textiles are considered among the most beautiful and enigmatic of Bolivia. They represent chaos and tell the story of the Genesis.

Black figures and strange animals emerge from the darkness. The Jalq’a weavers use only colours that absorb light to represent a disordered space, a world of darkness, death, dreams, restlessness, fear and multiplication, peopled with the unknown and an imaginary world. The mythical figures refer to an amazing pre-solar time inhabited by winged mammals, bats, birds and mythical animals that seem to emerge from very old memories. These strange figures are called Khurus, or wild animals, such as owls, frogs and viscachas.

Other characters are simply imaginary – quadruped with humps in their heads and animals with eyes in their tail. The reality expressed in these textiles is a fantastic and chaotic universe populated by few human beings lost in this fantastic animal world. The style of the Jalq’a textiles is unique, conceptual and highly appreciated by collectors in the world. For their quality, the beauty of their characters and patterns, and for their daring representation of chaos, these textiles constitute a unique heritage of humanity worthy of being considered as modern art.

The Tarabuco textiles

Tarabuco is a small Indian town about 65 kilometres east of Sucre and it is best known as the home of the traditional ‘Yampara’ culture.

The Tarabuco textiles often display designs ordered into bands, and the first thing that catches people’s attention is their clear segmentation and symmetric order.

Traditionally the Tarabuco woven cloth incorporated abstract geometric patterns, and gradually designs began to incorporate artistic expressions of daily life in colourful lines and animal shapes. The Tarabucos weave with the wool of sheep and cotton dyed in bright colours, creating intricate patterns in various colour gradations, which contrast with the background tissue in white cotton. In this way, not only colour but also fabric, highlights every detail of the pattern. The colour gradations produce characteristic light ray effects.

Horses are the most represented animals in the Tarabuco textiles, but weaving patterns also visualize shapes of condors, llamas and viscachas, zig-zag shaped rivers, rhombus shaped eyes, birds and flowers. These textiles are exhibited with pride on the occasion of the Pujllay Festival of Tarabuco. Pujllay (‘play’ or ‘dance’ in Quechua) is held to commemorate the 12 March, 1816 Battle of Cumbate, an event in which the people of Tarabuco liberated their town from Spanish forces. Along with celebrating independence, the festival is also dedicated to memorializing those who have died and to expressing gratitude and making offerings to the Andean deity Pachamama (Mother Earth). This Bolivian festival plays an integral part in preserving the Quechua -Yampara traditions.

– Catalina S. Montoya


Acacia Senegal: An Anti-Inflammatory Medicinal Plant

It is a multi-purpose tree that has been used for more than 4,000 years as food, human and veterinary medicine, and in art and crafts. The plant is highly valued for its potent effect in relieving pain and irritation.

Acacia senegal is a small, thorny, deciduous tree commonly referred to as arabic gum. The plant is native to the semi-desert and drier regions of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a small tree of about 6m in height, with a greyish bark and strong fibrous inner layers and the leaves are bi-pinnately arranged.

The plant has dense spikes of small yellow flowers which are longer than the leaves. The broad pod fruit contains 5 to 6 seeds. The gum is formed by metamorphosis of the cells of the inner bark exudes spontaneously and hardens on exposure to air forming pale to orange brown colour and is very rich in soluble fibre. The gum is highly valued due to its emulsifying, stabilising, thickening and suspending properties.

Historically, Acacia senegal is a multi-purpose tree that has been used for more than 4,000 years as food, human and veterinary medicine, and in art and crafts. The plant also has valuable use in aromatherapy. In fact, Acacia senegal is one of the species of acacia that was used by the Egyptian and pre-Egyptian healers in medicinal preparations where its soothing properties on inflamed mucus membranes, and its unique ability to treat cough and catarrh were highly exploited.

Each part of the plant – the roots, bark, leaves, flowers, gum, pods and seeds – is used in one way or another in traditional medicinal practice to treat or manage a variety of disease conditions including bleeding, respiratory infections, low blood pressure, bronchitis, leprosy, and typhoid fever among others. The plant is highly valued for its potent effect in relieving pain and irritation. Indeed, this demulcent and emollient property of the gum makes it very useful in traditional medicine for internal treatment of body inflammations and externally to cover inflamed surfaces such as burns, sore nipples, typhoid, nodular leprosy, diabetes, and urinary tract infections.

Acacia senegal gum has also been used to treat bacterial and fungal infections of the skin and mouth as well as to soothe the mucous membranes of the intestines. Apart from its use in African traditional medicine, Acacia senegal gum is also used to treat intestinal disorder among Indian communities. The extract from the plant is given as part of a special diet to provide digestive comfort and improve bowel movement. Furthermore, traditional healers also administer Acacia senegal gum decoction to alleviate the adverse effects of kidney pains and chronic renal failure.

Due to its high astringent effects, Acacia senegal bark and leaves decoction has been used in traditional medicine to treat a number of conditions including bleeding and diarrhoea. The powdered leaves or mixture of the pulverized stem bark with gum is topically applied to treat body injury and to cure wounds. This also stops wounds from bleeding and prevents them being infected by microbial organisms. It is also applied topically to treat skin fungal infections.

Acacia senegal has been used to reduce irritation and inflammation. For instance, the gum has been effectively used to ease stomach and throat discomfort. The decoction made from Acacia senegal gum is also orally administered to treat coughs and sore throats as well as ease or prevent symptoms, including voice loss. In fact, the cough curative effect of Acacia senegal is attributed to the anti-inflammation property of the plant.

The decoctions made from the powdered stems and leaves is taken for treatment and management of dysentery, malaria and diarrhoea. The effectiveness of the decoction is known to be due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Nutritionally, freshly harvested gum is directly eaten by people as foodstuff providing a large quantity of dietary fibres and is also extensively used as a food additive in candies, soft drinks as well as chewing gum. In fact, the fibres in the gum are also known to play a vital role in body weight loss management. The seeds are normally harvested, dried and used for human consumption especially during times of food scarcity. In soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, the gum is used either as a flavouring, stabilizer or as a clouding agent.

Apart from the medicinal and nutritional benefits, Acacia senegal is used by local communities in a number of other roles. The mixture of its gum and charcoal dust is used in traditional ink preparation. The dusty and impure gum is usually mixed with animal waste especially cow dung, mud and water and used for painting the walls of newly constructed traditional houses and is known to be very effective in preventing moisture and weevil attacks on the constructed materials.

The plant has also been used for tools and woodwork for centuries. Furthermore, the tree bark, leaves, flowers, and pods are used by farmers as fodder for domestic animals.

The main phytochemical component of Acacia senegal gum is arabin and the calcium salt of the polysaccharide arabic acid. These make Acacia senegal truly a multi-purpose plant that contributes significantly medically, nutritionally, and for foreign exchange earnings for the communities that have engaged in its production, thus providing absolutely valuable social-environmental benefits.

– Richard Komakech


Mongolia: A Twenty-Five Year Old Church: The Challenges Of Mission

The Catholic Church in Mongolia recently turned twenty-five. It was only in 1992 that the first Catholic community was set up in its capital-city Ulaanbaatar, shortly after the Mongolian government established diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

The Missionhurst CICM (Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) congregation was asked to send some missionaries to the new mission. The first to go were three CICM priests who were already engaged in missionary activity in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Among them was Philippines-born Fr. Wenceslao Padilla, who was then serving as provincial-superior in Taiwan. He now has the distinction of being not only the first but also the longest-serving missionary in Mongolia. He was appointed its bishop in 2003.

When the three priests first set foot on Mongolian soil, they were literally starting from scratch and ground zero. There was no church or convent or native Catholics to welcome them in the land of horses, nomads, and blue sky. They initially stayed in hotels and later moved into rented apartments which doubled-up as their mission headquarters.

The only Catholics they came across were a handful of expatriates working in international aid agencies or the Polish and other embassies. Like the early Christians, the three priests ministered out of house-churches, going from home to home to celebrate the Eucharist and supporting one another in the faith. The attendees soon brought along their colleagues and friends, including local Mongolians, and with time they had to rent community halls for the Sunday celebrations.

But it was their mission that brought them out to the public sphere and revealed the face of the Church to the Mongolian society. Noticing that many homeless runaway street-children were hanging out in the capital city in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Soviet pull-out which resulted in economic turmoil, the new missionaries began their mission by befriending them, bringing them tea, pancakes, medicine and clothing. They were later invited to visit the underground rat-infested sewers, which housed the heating pipes that served as homes to the children needing to escape the harsh winters.

The priests became familiar with the manholes in the city and in particular the “residents” living beneath each of them. As their ministry expanded they sought the assistance of their neighbours and youth groups to serve the street children. Having rubbed shoulders with the missionaries and marvelling at their selfless service, some would inevitably ask about Catholicism and eventually joined the Church. Today, there are few children left roaming the streets and the Catholic Church in Mongolia runs orphanages and care centres housing many of them.

With time, the ministries expanded to providing formal education as well as social and other forms of services, with other Catholic religious congregations being invited in to set up appropriate centres to cater to the peoples’ needs. Today, twenty-five years later, there are more than 70 missionaries from about two dozen countries and representing a dozen congregations serving in Mongolia. They come mainly from African countries such as Congo, Cameroon and Tanzania, Asian countries such as the Philippines, Korea and India, and European countries such as Spain, France, Italy and Poland.

The Society of the Divine Word runs a technical school providing training to young men and women in the areas of secretariat service, plumbing, welding, mechanics, sewing, and so on. The Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity have set up homes for the aged, orphans, and for the sick and dying. The Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres operate some of the best kindergartens and health care centres, primarily for the benefit of those who would otherwise not have access to basic education and medical services.

Caritas Mongolia offers relief services when disasters and catastrophes strike, reaching out especially to peoples living in the interior and remote villages, accessible only by 4-wheel drive trucks through unpaved roads. All these ministries are supported by the 1,300+ native Mongolians who have since asked for baptism into the Church.

Like any fledging mission, there are of course many challenges which confront the Church as it continues its evangelizing efforts in the land of the great Mongol warriors of old. Chief among these is the poverty of the people, which brings with it a host of problems such as unemployment, alcoholism and domestic abuse.

The Church’s mission has therefore concentrated on communities who are poor, which effectively means that they are engaged in non-income-generating ministries. Reliance on the outside-world for funds is a major burden as they are at times inconsistent. The bishop sometimes describes himself as a “professional beggar”, as the young Church depends on the generosity of more established Churches in developed countries as its does not have the resources to sustain the many projects for the least, the last and the lost.

Moreover, the Church, as a foreign NGO is bound by governmental regulations with regard to its activities and especially the staffing of its ministries. While missionaries from abroad may be willing to offer their services free-of-charge, there is a quota which states that for every missionary who comes into the country the Church needs to employ x number of local Mongolians. That in itself is a good policy as it serves to ensure that foreign entities engage actively with the locals. But it also means a lot of funds are needed to maintain each missionary as jobs need to be found in the Catholic mission schools or clinics or care centres for the locals to be employed in.

Another major challenge is that all the missionaries are in Mongolia on work visas which need to be renewed regularly, sometimes annually. One can only imagine the difficulties resulting from the non-renewal of the visas, especially how its impact on the ministries. There are occasions when priests and Sisters have had to leave the country on the eve of their visa expiration date and wait outside for months before they can re-enter. At times the reason or excuse given for the non-renewal of visas is that the missionary is proselytizing the locals.

This charge is better appreciated against the backdrop that there is a resurgence of Buddhism in Mongolia in the post-communist era. Christianity, therefore, is viewed as a threat. Aside from these issues, there are also the difficulties confronting the missionaries such as the minus 30 or 40 C temperatures, the remoteness of lifestyle in mission outposts and also the difficulty of learning the language, with its hard guttural sounds and use of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Not only is the perseverance rate among the missionaries a challenge, the perseverance rate of the local converts to Catholicism is also a reality that confronts the Church. Of the 1,300+ who have received baptism perhaps only a few hundreds remain active church goers. That in itself is not bad as it represents about 30 or 40% of the Catholic population especially if this is compared with the many so-called “Catholic” countries in the West where church participation rates are as low as single digit percentage figures.

However, most of the regular church goers in Mongolian are the Catholics who are employees of the many ministries of the Church. Those who cease working in these ministries usually move on to other jobs and soon lose contact with the Church as well. Others go abroad in search for greener pastures.

Needless to say, the way forward is for the Mongolian Church to develop its very own local Church, in all its facets, including self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. Remembering that many other Churches around the world took a few centuries to reach that stage, one can only be proud that as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, the Catholic Church in Mongolia has been making inroads in that direction. It is slowly but surely developing into a local Church, having inculturated significant aspects of the Catholic tradition.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, built in 2003, is modelled after the traditional ger (nomadic tent), with its circular shape and walls of thick felt. A Mongolian version of the Bible was printed in 2004 which includes common Catholic prayers, all written in the traditional Mongolian script. The six parishes in the country and the 1,300+ baptized natives rejoiced at the ordination of the first native-born priest just a year ago, a young man baptized as a child by Bishop Wens many years ago. There are a few more seminarians currently studying in the seminary in South Korea. They, together with the other native Mongolian Catholics, will be the ones forging the way towards a truly Mongolian Church.

– Edmund Chia and Gemma Cruz


Mozambique: “My Heart Was Always Full…”

“Marvels happened as time moved on, and each day had a special touch that made me enjoy being there, where nothing else mattered…”. A Testimony of a Comboni Lay Missionary.

It was a dream that turned into a reality! It all started the first time I listened to the witness of a missionary priest and I marvelled at the intensity of his love, lived and shared. I was an adolescent and at that time my great wish was to be able to love like that. Time went by and I almost saw the dream disappear into my routines, responsibilities and job.

But God knows what he is doing, and could not possibly let such a rich dream die. He was able to lead me along the right path, on the journey of Faith and Mission that helped me grow closer to him, to know myself more deeply and to realise that I was called to do something more. So that, with a million fears and desires, he wanted me to go even further, and live this month, where I could learn and savour a bit of the missionary life.

After the preparation, the gathering of funds and the goodbyes, I only accepted that it was real when I saw myself in Nampula. So, I got off the plane, picked up my camera to take some pictures and a security guard stopped me. There, I discovered that this was not the world I had grown up in and to which I was used.

On the journey to Carapira, I realised that I was living a different life. On the paved road, without painted lines and which stretched to infinity, I had the chance to see the reality of living in Mozambique.

From the window I could see the scenery along the way, the little markets where they were selling a bit of everything, many women with their babies on their back and others carrying buckets of water or other things on their head. The red soil, the local trees and the infinite plain with some mountains in the distance completed the scenery. In some areas you could see straw huts and inhabited areas. We arrived in Carapira and the warm welcome reminded me of my familiar world. The place was rather similar to what I had been imagining.

The first days gave me the opportunity to get to know the place where we would spend most of our time, the houses of the different branches of the Comboni family, and the work they were all doing. Tasks were assigned to the entire Faith and Mission community, mostly related to the Technical Commercial Institute (TCI) of Carapira and with the girls at the Comboni sisters’ boarding school.

We developed our assignments during the course of the month, adapting them to the local rhythm of life. Time is relative and there is no hurry, always finding time for a chat whenever we were going from one place to another.

Every day we took part in lauds and vespers held in church together with the Comboni community. At first, it was not easy to wake up so early for lauds, but as I entered into the rhythm of life, I rarely missed any of the prayers. It was a time to stop and join Him and remember all the reasons that had brought me there.

Besides the tasks initially assigned, I had the opportunity to visit a community outside Carapira together with Sr. Eleonora. There, I had the chance to “inculturate” myself by eating with the community. I also visited the rosary in Makua in a barrio of Carapira, to accompany Sr. Maria José on her visits to the sick. These times gave me the opportunity to get to know about the customs and the life of the Makua. They were always happy to hear us use their language, as little as it was.

Marvels happened as time moved on. Even though I missed Portugal, the desire to stay was growing with every passing day.

Slowly I was learning more and more, especially with the girls at the boarding. From the first time I met them, I was captivated by their smiles, songs and contagious joy. My heart was always full when I was with them! They endeared themselves to me with their simplicity and, even though my job was to teach them and help them in their studies, I felt that I learned from them even more. They were teaching me Makua words and always had a good laugh when I attempted to pronounce them.

When I was already feeling my heart warmed by so much love, and I thought it could not get any better, there appeared a little one, who wanted to talk to me alone. I confess that I harboured many thoughts and some fears, together with much curiosity. What does she want to tell me? Finally, the proper time arrived and the question was very simple and expressed very sweetly – “Would you like to be my friend?”. I was unable to react and was speechless. I was not expecting such a small question but loaded with so much feeling. I hugged her and told her that we were already friends, without having to ask for it. But this little heart was going to surprise me even more.

Even after I tried not to accept it, she came with a gift for me. I know that we have a lot and they have little. How was it possible? It was a small notebook with something she, herself, had written. During the month, the little attentions of this child moved me in a very special manner, turning upside down also my world and my way of thinking. After all, it is so simple!

All this helped me see life in a simpler way, stopping to value some of the things I have and reflecting over this love, almost wordless but communicative. This is how God took me into the desert and spoke to my heart.

– Mónica Silva, Comboni Lay Missionary, Mozambique

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Central African Republic: A Comboni Missionary, Jesús Ruiz Molina Is Appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Bangassou

The celebration took place in the capital of Bangui, on the 12th November, because his own place in Bangassou, in the south eastern of the country only be reached by helicopter. In fact, the political authorities and other guests did not want to be taken to Bangassou, due to the state of insecurity prevailing in the region. The new Bishop will work with Mons. Juan José Aguirre Muñoz, another Spanish Comboni Missionary. We talked with him.

After 25 years in Africa, they make you a bishop…

It was a cold shower, practically icy, because I neither feel worthy nor find it humanly attractive. By the end of this year I was planning to return to Spain and work in vocation promotion and in justice & peace while, at the same time, be with my aging parents and rejuvenate myself in all fields. Trusting in God, I said yes and this has completely changed my life.

Is Bangassou the most complicated place in which you have been?

I spent 15 years in the savannah of Chad in a difficult environment with famines and wars. I spent my last nine years in the forest with the pygmies and with extremely poor people. Currently, Bangassou is one of the most conflicted areas of Africa. You can only get there by air. The 12 parishes we have there have been looted by the 14 armed groups who are fighting to dominate the country. Violence and massacres are a daily affair. The majority of the population is displaced. The majority of the priests and of the sisters have fled. In the cathedral, we haven’t said Mass for four months because we have been housing 2,100 Muslim refugees that the anti-balaka want to kill. No state employee wants to come here. This is why we decided to celebrate my ordination in Bangui. My people of Bangassou will not be able to attend, but on the 8th December we will celebrate a mass of thanksgiving to celebrate the fact that God does not abandon us in our sorrow.

What do you think the mission of a bishop must be in a place like Bangassou and yours in particular?

I have no preconceived plans. I am going in order to stand with people who suffer. For me, to be a bishop is not a promotion, but rather trust, in the one I love, who is inviting me to follow him on the journey to Jerusalem – “Come, follow me”. I never studied to become bishop, so people will have to teach me. The bishop is the shepherd who, when the wolf comes, does not abandon his flock, but watches over all, both those who are outside and those who are inside, who denounces the death brought by injustice and proclaims salvation which is life in Jesus Christ. Today in Bangassou we need peace, a lot of peace, in order to heal the many bodily wounds and, above all, those of the spirit. We need reconciliation and forgiveness. We need to build together a future for this traumatised population. We will keep it up for them, making an effort to keep the schools going, to cure the sick, to care for the poorest and most abandoned, standing by the weakest, working for justice, the only way to true peace, and through it all we will continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, who came that we may have life and have it in abundance. Today, this life has been snatched from my people.

You have Bishop Aguirre and Card. Nzapalainga as points of reference…

There is no doubt that we keep Aguirre and Card. Nzapalainga as points of reference who daily give flesh to the Gospel, they give me breath and stimulation, the novice that I am. But there are many other teachers as well who stimulate me, from the sisters working from morning to dusk surrounded by enormous amounts of violence, to the priests who risk their lives to save a few. The Christians who live by mercy on a daily basis. The people of God is the greatest source of stimulation for a shepherd, they teach us to be shepherds.

You have always been with the poor…

This preferential option for the last, those who do not count, the discarded as the Pope says, comes from Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus showed us an impartial God, who leans freely and lovingly towards those whom the world despises. Being the unsatisfied searcher that I am, curiously I discovered that it is in those who are despised by the world that we find the true face of God. The poor, the humble, the hungry, those who cry, the persecuted, those who cry for justice… they are the Bible in the flesh. I was given this great treasure of being able to serve them a little, and I am happy to be the one who greatly benefits from it, because it is the poor who give me God.

As a Comboni Missionary your ties to Africa are very strong. Is it still the forgotten continent in our time?

In the economic organism of the world, Africa does not count. The terrible attack in Barcelona was world news, while the hundreds of people murdered in my diocese on that same day did not deserve one line in the press. An underhanded neocolonialism is taking over Africa today. The world’s powers unscrupulously fight over its riches causing wars, destroying cultures, exterminating entire populations. But Africa is life with a capital L. The origin of humankind is in Africa and I dare to say that its future passes through Africa.