A string of private financiers have met a considerable part of the public debt of the Seychelles in exchange for the creation of two large protected areas. This is the first time this financing technique has been used to protect a marine ecosystem. The Seychelles plan to restructure their public debt by protecting the Indian Ocean. The renegotiation will take place by means of an ambitious ecological project which will see the small African state, situated almost a thousand nautical miles from the Tanzanian coast, involved in the creation of two extensive Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in exchange for a financial aid package. The environmental plan has been set up through the mediation of Nature Conservancy which, for four years now, has been conducting the negotiations in view of the two MPA that cover an area of 210,000 square kilometres, almost as big as Great Britain. The two marine areas will protect one of the most threatened ecosystems of the planet and will support the fishing and tourist industries, of vital importance for the economy of the east African island state whose turquoise waters have been repeatedly explored in recent years by oil companies. The two new protected areas, in which almost all human activity is limited, include the 74,400 square kilometres of ocean around the Aldabra archipelago, declared by UNESCO in 1982 a world heritage site, the location of the second largest coral atoll in the world, considered the jewel of the biodiversity of the Seychelles. Aldabra is made up of four large islands - Grand Terre, Malabar, Picard, Polymnie and by some other tiny islets, all completely uninhabited except for the presence of some scientists who man a research station of the Seychelle Islands Foundation. These islands are the habitat of the Dugong, one of the mammals most at risk of extinction in the western Indian Ocean, together with 100,000 giant turtles (Aldabrachelys gigantea), that reproduce only in this part of the archipelago. The second protected marine area covers an area of 134,000 kilometres of deep waters, a commercially important ocean zone located in the central part of the Seychelles, between the Amirantes coral islands and Fortune Bank. In this MRA, both fishing and tourism are allowed but both these activities are governed by strict regulations. Thanks to this refinancing operation, the Seychelles have met a significant part of the national debt to the tune of 22 million dollars, a debt accumulated with Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy. The funds obtained by Nature Conservancy will be administered by NatureVest which will make sure that part of the debt repayment of the Seychelles is used to fund innovative projects of marine protection and climate adaptation. The opportunity to restructure its repayments was given to the Seychelles by the intervention of private financiers, such as The China Global Conservation Fund for Nature Conservancy, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust and The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation which donated a million dollars to assist in balancing the accounts of the African island nation. The agreement made is based on other similar agreements which, over the period of the last twenty years, have preserved vast areas of tropical forests in Latin America and the Caribbean but it is the first time that financing has been used to protect a marine ecosystem. It is positive to note that, until now, no country has defaulted regarding the agreements made under the system of exchange of debts for the preservation of nature. This fact may open the way to other broader initiatives under which the environmentalists purchase the sovereign debt of a country in exchange for the adoption of political measures in favour of the environment. On the negative side is the fact that one of the most popular international tourist destinations does not have sufficient income to repay its national debt which recent estimates calculate to be 65% of its GDP. It was this chronic indebtedness that, at the end of 2008, at the peak of the world financial crisis, forced the Seychelles to seek the help of the IMF. However, five years later, in 2013, the coral island archipelago headed the list of the most indebted countries with debts amounting to more than the GDP for a year and a half. Within all of this there is an economic system that seems to have exhausted all its possibilities and now awaits the discovery of a new system that goes beyond mere environmental impact, however positive this may be. - Marco Cochi
Rebecca Bitrus, a former Boko Haram captive, shares with us her experience but above all the strength of her faith during captivity – and how she managed to survive. She speaks slowly. In her right hand she holds a Rosary. It is difficult for her to speak of her past. For two years, she was in the hands of the Islamist group, Boko Haram. Her mind goes back to that August of four years ago, when she was kidnapped. Rebecca recounted “Late one evening the militants of Boko Haram came into our town of Baga in the north-eastern Nigerian state of Borno, from where my husband Bitrus Zachariah and I lived with our two small children, Zachariah and Joshua. At the time, Zachariah was five, and Joshua was three. My husband alerted me. I told my husband to go, because I knew that he would be the terrorists 'primary target'". She pleaded with her husband to 'run and save his life', and fervently urged him to leave them behind. He succeeded in escaping. “I tried to flee but I was captured with my sons and taken into the forest”, said Rebecca. That was when her long journey of suffering began. The Jihadi group Boko Haram have become one of the most brutal terror organisations. Since the beginning of its uprising in 2009, more than 3 million people have left their homes, at least 250,000 have fled into Cameroon, Chad or Niger and more than 20,000 people have been killed. The group has kidnapped thousands of adults and children during the course of the conflict. The most notorious episode was in April 2014, when they took 276 girls from a school in the town of Chibok. While many of the Chibok girls have since escaped or been released, around 100 of them are still thought to be held by the group. On 21st February, the Jihadi group stormed a secondary school in Dapchi, north-east Nigeria. More than 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped in what was being reported as their largest mass abduction attempt since the notorious 2014 Chibok kidnappings. The school is only 275 kilometres (170 miles) from Chibok. Last month, Boko Haram released 101 schoolgirls, who they had abducted in Dapchi. Rebecca Bitrus, was abducted by Boko Haram in August 2014 and she was a prisoner with Boko Haram for two years. She was forced to take the name Miriam; she said that she was immediately put to work in a labour camp. She said she had been pregnant with her third child at the time of her abduction, but lost the baby due to the strain of her captivity. After arriving in the camp, she said the fighters wanted her to convert to Islam. Having been raised a devout Catholic, Rebecca refused. As a result, she said, the militants grabbed her youngest son, Joshua, and threw him into a river. “I have lost him”, she said, explaining that after the incident, she went through the motions and pretended to accept the Muslim faith, “but never did”. Each time they were forced to recite the Muslim prayers, Rebecca said she would instead pray the Rosary, asking God to free her “from the hands of these wicked people. I was never convinced about Islam. I kept my trust in the Lord and I was praying the Rosary with my fingers”, she said. “I am convinced that the prayer of the Rosary saved me from captivity”. Rebecca said that at one point, she was forced into a marriage with a Boko Haram fighter and, like many of the other female prisoners, she was subjected to repeated rape. She eventually became pregnant and gave birth to a child on Christmas day, whom she named Christopher, in honour of Christ. After two years, Rebecca said, her chance for escape finally came when the sound of gunfire and bombs could be heard in the camp, indicating that Nigerian troops were closing in on the position. A group of prisoners organized an escape, and she fled into the forest with her older son and the child she had conceived in captivity, who at the time was about six months old. In the forest, they spent nearly a month with almost no food or water, she recounted, adding that mosquitoes constantly attacked them and she developed severe rashes that have left scars on her body. Despite it all, Rebecca said, “I never gave up. As soon as I left the camp and we got away, I knew God was going to protect me”, she said. “I put my trust in God”. With the help of a local community, they were eventually pointed in the direction of the Nigerian army. The troops initially didn't believe that Rebecca was Christian, and thought she was a member of Boko Haram. “They were very sceptical of me and said, ‘You must be Boko Haram’. “I told them I wasn’t but that I was one of the women they abducted and that I had now escaped”. She told the soldiers her name was Rebecca - even which, she explained, was a small act of liberation, since her captors had forced her to take the name 'Miriam'. “One of the soldiers who were Muslims told me, ‘If you’re a Catholic, prove it,’ and asked me to recite some Christian prayers. I prayed some ‘Hail Mary’s’ on my fingers, and when I came to the tenth one, I said the ‘Glory Be’ and made the Sign of the Cross”, she said. With that, the troops were convinced, and after having her treated in a nearby hospital, they transported her to her hometown of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria. She made her way to the local Catholic Church, where she was reunited with her husband, with each having believed for two years that the other most likely was dead. Having finally made it home, she said, she was still wondering what to do with the child she carried out of the camp. When she first escaped, Rebecca said she struggled to accept her youngest child, who was six months old at the time, because he reminded her of the atrocities she had suffered. However, the local bishop, Oliver Dashe Doeme, talked to her and encouraged her to both 'accept and love' the child, saying he could grow up to be 'an important person in life, a person who could help her'. She voiced gratitude to Bishop Dashe Doeme, saying he “cared for my needs and I am grateful for that”. Although it was not easy, Rebecca said she was eventually able to forgive Boko Haram for everything she endured. “I am convinced about Jesus' teaching on forgiveness”, she said, noting how Jesus himself was tortured, treated unjustly and condemned to death. However, “even on the cross Jesus forgave those who inflicted pain on him; he said 'Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing'”, she reflected. Despite all of the suffering she was forced to endure at the hands of her captors, Rebecca has learned to forgive, pointing to the mercy of Christ as a model.
The spring of every two years is marked by the celebrations of the World Social Forum (WSF), this year at its 16th edition. It began in opposition to the World Economic Forum in 2001 in Porto Alegre (Brazil) and returned this year to Brazil (Salvador Bahia) after Tunis and Montreal. The choice was not due to the vigorous and beautiful cultural and historical features of this city, still impregnated with colonial and Afro-Brazilian memories, but down to political motivations. This is in contrast with the supposed apolitical and areligious standing proclaimed in the Charter of the guiding principles of what is, unfortunately, the only free platform of movements and ideas. The inspirational motto, "Another world is possible" was almost absent. The former presidents Lula and Dilma's stories, instead, and the Brazilian difficult political moment have dominated this WSF. The Workers Party (PT in its Brazilian acronym), is a leftist party and has ruled for 13 years. Under its rule, there has been a greater distribution of wealth and the gap between the poor and the rich was reduced, but with one huge limit - development was sought with the looting and exploitation of raw materials without, or almost no productive inversion. It was the so-called Latin American Extractivism Pact, followed also by Chavez in Venezuela, with the results everyone knows, in Ecuador, with a president in a Swiss asylum because of corruption charges, and in Bolivia, where Evo Morales clings to an oligarchic power supported by the cocaleros. In 2016, there happened what is remembered as the "white coup". Dilma, the president at that time, was replaced without any kind of popular consultation, by her vice-president, Temer. In the last two years, Lula, Dilma and some representatives of Lula's former government, have been sued for acts of corruption in which, strangely, even the current President Temer was also ever present. The current government is now dismantling social policies built in the previous 13 years, Temer's popular consensus goes beyond 3%, the militarisation of some areas, such as Rio, brings back the memory of dictatorship times, the political debate focuses on national security, while the political opponents murders are repeated and unpunished. It is the case that occurred during the WSF, of Marielle Franco, the municipal councillor of Rio and member of the opposition Party Socialism y Libertad. In October, there will be new presidential elections, Lula currently having 42% of the consensus, is excluded by a second level of guilty conviction that the Brazilian people consider without any legal basis. As a result, Brazil is today a politically divided country, economically fragmented, with an Episcopal Conference ambiguous in many choices. The WSF, even though in many ways rich of positive events and with the usual welcoming and warm atmosphere, has suffered the loss of its historical memory and its ability to criticise. The theology of Liberation has always been the WSF inspiring soul with its presence, sometimes hidden but always fruitful, rich of resistance, creation and transformation strength. The WSF 2018 motto "To resist is to create, to resist is to transform" is an echo of it. And this certainly refers also to Pope Francis' messages to the popular movements. Catholics, Christians churches and many righteous people, even those not religious, recalled Pope Francis' election as a special day it was March 13, 2013 and this year's WSF started on March 13th through 17th. From that day on, the priority has been to unite faith with social and political commitment and today we are talking about "liberating political spirituality". The context, however, is not very exciting in Latin America as in many other parts of the world poverty and inequality increase, finance crushes the real economy, resources are concentrated in a few hands, the market has become an absolute and omnipotent god, who can do anything and is served by all institutions. The consequences are an exponential increase in racism, especially towards migrants, Indians and Negroes, the worsening of living conditions for many people; the persecution and, in several parts of the globe, the murder of the opposition social leaders. The Church has a historical debt with the poor, because with a certain theology, moving away from the Gospel message, had somehow legitimised slavery, poverty, war, and colonialism. This awareness inspires her today humility, perception of weakness, and request for forgiveness. But this is not enough. Today it is a matter of reorienting the paradigms of reflection, revisiting the central "theological places" of faith, freeing the message of Christ from philosophical and theological encrustations, coming from ideologies rather than from revelation. Language, analysis, a certain dogmatic expression of faith brakes and perhaps even prevents the acceptance of Jesus' Good News. The idea of the "reparatory sacrifice", for example, recalls Marcelo Barros, transpires a mentality of violence, while the "liberating martyrdom" would bring back the gratuitousness of mutual love. The idea of an original sin uniting all mankind under a vague slavery of evil, cannot be the base of Christian spirituality: what do Congolese pygmies have in common with the North Americans people? We must ask ourselves about the relationship between our Eucharistic communion and our commitment to history; reviewing the concept of creation as an event of the past while Jesus's Gospel speaks of a God always working among us and directing our eyes to the future when God will be all in all, according to St. Paul's expression; rethinking the resurrection as not linked above all to a material tomb, but to the event of "gathering in unity the children of God who are dispersed" as St. John expresses it (11, 52). The WSF can be indeed an ecclesiastical movement because the Kingdom of God is always beyond and "other" even from the established Church; nevertheless, it lacks a spirituality capable of supporting its journey and the nowadays theology of liberation seems incapable of arousing it. Today, it is urgent to discover how mercy and joy are needed experiences to open new spaces of Christianity and social life, and to live "the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle". Marielle Franco is becoming the symbol of a civic and religious youth who gets out of their illusions and interests, able to risk oneself so that the dream of another "possible world" becomes reality. Perhaps even the organising committee of the WSF and the theology liberation must also learn from her, leaving out ideological choices they have to focus on building the "New Possible World" by pursuing the common good, of all, and this is the dream of the Father's Kingdom in today's world. - Gian Paolo Pezzi
The Cotonou Agreement is the overarching framework for European Union (EU) relations with countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) and is based on three pillars - development cooperation, economic-trade cooperation, and the political dimension. This agreement will be valid until 2020. The European Commission has initiated the process for a new, Post-Cotonou Agreement and presented a first draft in December 2017. At the same time, it announced that the negotiation with Africa would begin in September 2018. So the draft has been presented before that negotiation. This detail highlights the attitude of the EU. It is within the economic and trade cooperation area the sub-Saharan African countries and the EU have negotiated the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). However, the trade balance between Africa and Europe is still colonial after many centuries. Nothing has significantly changed. The EU has expressed the willingness to change the trade relationship with Africa into a partnership but has failed to put it in practice. Europe keeps manipulating its economic power over African economies that are now more dependent on the western countries than in the past. The content of the EPAs is adapted to the circumstances of the different economies and countries but the same dynamic of economic (neo) liberalisation remains. Currently, there are 5 different EPA negotiations with different African Regions. However, only 7 countries in Africa are implementing provisional or interim EPAs (only Trade in goods) but the intention of the European Union is to negotiate comprehensive EPAs that would include liberalisation in services, public procurement and foreign direct investment. Thus, Europe has the upper hand in Africa regarding Trade and this is playing out in the lives and social welfare of ordinary people as well as the environment. In short, EPAs favour EU Member states and European interests at the expense of African countries. Thus, EPAs must be rescinded or no longer pursued. The slowing down of the process has been the main success of civil society in the last decade. The African national governments are aware of their situation but lack of policy space and strong democratic institutions together with endemic corruption make it more difficult for them to act differently. The various trade commitments between the EU and individual African countries or regions make regional trade integration in Africa extremely difficult or even impossible. Therefore, there is a long way to go in Trade advocacy work to improve the agreements in order to restore a trade balance, not only between the African countries and the EU, but among all developing countries and the EU in other multilateral agreements. The EPAs allow for differences in both operational and quality standards in African countries regarding investment and trade, differences that are not permitted in EU countries. For this reason, in EPAs nothing should be permitted in African countries regarding investment and trade that would not be permitted in European Union countries. Advocacy work can help to improve the outcomes from EPA agreements for African countries and their people on a number of issues. The first element that should be included in the EPA negotiations covers Human Rights, labour standards and Sustainable Development. The EU stated that new trade agreements include these chapters. However, this is not the case with the EPAs with Africa. They are not even foreseen in the current agreement with SADC and ECOWAS regions. Trade agreements cannot be negotiated at any price; they must protect the human and social rights of the people, the environment and the sustainability of their economies. Secondly, the advocacy work on trade and specifically on EPAs has a relevant task in technical issues like bilateral safeguards, Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) as well as Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS), quality standards and facilitation on Trade. It is evident that the economies of Africa and Europe are at different stages of development. A win-win negotiation must start from a principle of reality aware that African economies need protection to strengthen their infant industry. African countries cannot lose the revenues that they receive from import tariffs as these are essential to maintain social services such as education and health. But a third area of advocacy work must focus on the EU trade policies. The current trade defence instruments, subsidy policies on agriculture and fisheries and the investor-state disputes settlement of the EU must be readdressed to reach fair agreements with African countries. The EU has removed the subsidies for export but there are still subtle mechanisms that prevent fair competition with African economies. These three areas of advocacy work are essential to obtain fair Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African countries. The EPAs must help obtain sustainable development for all and should serve the general interest of the population, not just particular interests or those of transnational companies. The EU must reform both its trade policies and the way it negotiates with developing countries. Promoting international democracy values is a matter of co-responsibility and not of one side imposing its own capacities and interests. - José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda, Trade Policy Officer, Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network
The President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Most Rev. Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., has recently issued a letter to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Writing on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Canada, the President acknowledges the need for the Catholic Bishops to improve relations with Indigenous Peoples in terms of healing and reconciliation. He also assures Indigenous Peoples that the Bishops have profound respect for them. The following letter to the country's indigenous peoples. As Catholic Bishops of Canada, we see our relationship with Indigenous Peoples as a major pastoral priority. In recent years, we have seen many examples of healing and reconciliation and we are committed to building on these efforts, working in close partnership with one another and learning to walk together. We also wish to reflect on our relationships with you, some of which go back centuries, and our responsibilities to foster long-term constructive engagement. We look forward to a future where systemic injustices are meaningfully addressed, where we all discover new ways of living together through which the First Peoples of this land are honoured and respected. Pope Francis, in fulfilling his mission as Universal Pastor, has spoken often and passionately about the plight of Indigenous peoples around the world and the wisdom they offer, not shying away from acknowledging those injustices that have failed to conform to the Gospel and expressing regret for past wrongs. He has pointed to Indigenous Peoples as critical dialogue partners to whom the Church needs to listen. The Catholic Bishops of Canada have been in dialogue with the Pope and the Holy See concerning the legacy of suffering you have experienced. The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously. As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the Bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond. At the same time, sharing your pain, he has encouraged the Bishops to continue to engage in an intensive pastoral work of reconciliation, healing and solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples and to collaborate in concrete projects aimed at improving the condition of the First Peoples. With respect to their culture and values, the Pope encourages the young to gather the wealth of traditions, experience and wisdom that comes from the Elders, whilst inviting the Elders to make this patrimony available to the young, so that they might carry it forward while facing the challenges that life presents. In this context, a future Papal visit to Canada may be considered, taking into account all circumstances, and including an encounter with the Indigenous Peoples as a top priority. For our part, through the participation of Catholic Bishops and faithful in the TRC process and from our ongoing relations with Indigenous Peoples, we have heard your invitation to engage honestly and courageously with the past, to acknowledge the failings of members of the Catholic Church, and to take active steps of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples towards a better future. To this, with the strong encouragement of Pope Francis, we pledge our commitment. Inspired by our exchanges with the Holy Father, we wish to dedicate ourselves with you to reconciliation at the local level through concrete pastoral initiatives. Such initiatives need to be grounded in authentic encounters. These encounters have already begun across the country. Through our conversations, we wish to deepen our understanding of what it means to walk in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples in different parts of the country, mindful that our shared history, as well as your needs and aspirations, differ significantly from one place to the next. All of these ongoing conversations and actions - and many more that need to be initiated - are vital to reconciliation and the vision of a future full of hope. In the near future, we Bishops wish to share with you what we are learning from our encounters, and with you, to take further steps towards reconciliation. As the Church enters the Paschal Mystery this Easter, I wish to renew with all the Bishops of Canada the promise to accompany you in prayer, and to work with you in striving for respectful relations and building a just society.
After 40 years working in the Media, Sr. Lissy Maruthanakuzhy, decided to move for another challenge experience. She tells us her story. It was the desire to become a missionary that brought me to the Daughters of St. Paul in Mumbai, western India, more than four decades ago. There, I learned the first lessons of a media missionary through theory and practice. Our mission was to proclaim the Gospel through the media of communications, we were told. Although I was happy and contented in all that I did, the desire to be a missionary who worked among the poor in unknown places still tugged at my heart. It was ironic that, for my introduction into such a mission, I was sent to Kerala, my native state in southern India. In Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram), the state capital, I got a chance to visit families of fisher folks in the coastal areas as part of parish renewal programs. There, I encountered stark poverty that challenged my existence as a missionary. While our media mission caters to the elite and intellectual, missionaries among the poor attend to their physical and economic needs. They help fill the hungry stomachs because Jesus also cared for such needs. These missionaries find immediate results in the joy of the people they help. The house visits inspired me to spend even my leisure time for the needy. I now think that all of that was God's way of preparing me for a still bigger mission. That came when my provincial asked me to work with a missionary archbishop in north-eastern India. I had not seen Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati in person until then, but I knew of him since we had published one of his books. I asked my superior what I was expected to do. "You will have to accompany the archbishop on his village journey", she answered. I had heard about the archbishop's famous mantra for missionaries in Asia. "Whisper to the soul of Asia. No loud proclamation of faith, but gentle nudging at the heart of your neighbour in silence and love". This is what he does when he visits villages, I learned after joining him in May 2008. To be honest, I dislike travel, but I was willing to join the archbishop's journeys just to know what he did with villagers. Thus began my two journeys — one to interior villages and another into my own inner self. A missionary's debut The archbishop told me that his trips offered him opportunities to know his priests in their workplaces and villagers in their real-life situations. My village journey began the day after my arrival. We set out to a village at 6:30 a.m. and returned after midnight. As he dropped me at the convent, Archbishop Menamparampil told me to be ready by the next afternoon to go to missions in the opposite direction. As I was tired, I skipped the morning Mass. "Archbishop Thomas inquired about you", my sisters returning from Mass told me. I felt ashamed. The archbishop, who is much older than I am, celebrated Mass at 6:30 a.m. even though he was more tired than I was after the previous day's long journey. I could visualise a faint smile on his face, thinking of a missionary's weakness. That day I promised not to repeat that behaviour. The archbishop, who has spent nearly six decades as a missionary in north-eastern India, taught me that a missionary needs determination and commitment the most. No obstacle should stop a person committed to his duty to proclaim Christ to the poor. We began the second day with me thanking the prelate for his understanding. He had given me enough time to revamp for another tedious mission trip. On the way he stopped at different mission places — first to meet the sisters and priests because, they seldom got visitors, and then to replenish ourselves. While the priests and nuns vied with each other to attend to him, the archbishop was much concerned about me, a first-timer on a tough mission terrain. But I had already become a "tough" missionary, at least in my mind. We reached our destination around 5pm. After refreshing ourselves, we set out with the parish priest to an interior village. There was no proper road, and our vehicle swayed on the uneven path. It zipped past forests and villages. The parish priest later told me that underground militants stayed in those villages. He then asked the prelate, "Archbishop, you were in a five-star hotel two days ago and now you are in this jungle. How do you manage this?" He knew that the archbishop had just returned from an international meeting in Rome. "This is our life. We are missionaries", he answered as the jeep skidded through a paddy field, making me wonder if we would ever reach the destination. After the vehicle stopped, the driver turned to me and asked, "How is your back?" I was touched by his concern for my bad back. But I felt quite well and refreshed that night. Healing had taken place with my willingness to venture out into the unknown for the sake of Jesus. The archbishop told me such miracles are part of a missionary's life. Miracles are not only in healing the sick or multiplying loaves. They are also about refining perceptions, transforming hearts or opening eyes to deeper meanings. Mass in that tiny, thatched village chapel was amazing. I felt so much at home in the May heat, sitting among the villagers in their worn-out clothes. They offered rice, vegetables and live chicken at the offertory. The joy I felt that night is still fresh in my mind. I felt as if I had captured the world. No one in my community had this unique experience. Since the place had no toilet, I decided to get up early in the morning. Alas, even at 4:30, the sun was up and the villagers were already out with their cattle. So, I had to wait for our return to the parish house at 8:30am to use its newly built toilet — a pit with two fresh banana stems placed across it. I enjoyed being so close to nature, drawing fresh water for a bath. It was fine for a day or two, I said to myself, but those missionaries lived for years in this situation. The sacrifices the missionaries made to keep their people rooted in their faith are inexplicable. They would walk miles to teach catechism to prepare people for first Communion or confirmation. They would live in a one-room hut with a family for a whole week and forgo a bath because of water scarcity. With every trip to a village, I was slowly converted from a city missionary to a village missionary. It was again Archbishop Menamparampil who explained a village missionary's joy amid inconveniences. What drew people to Jesus was not his impressive eloquence, but his ability to enter into the agony of the masses who were like "sheep without a shepherd", unable to see meaning in their distressing condition. The journeys helped me understand how missionaries from other cultures adjusted to the local lifestyle. The archbishop's voice resounded in my ears, "A strong sense of mission gives meaning to one's life. One is able to stand any trouble as long as one sees meaning in what one does. “All I can say to that is "Amen."
In his Easter message, Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar urged his people to remove the stones of hatred, injustice and ethnic conflict that have entrapped millions in despair and hopelessness. In his message, card. Bo said “Easter is a day of Hope… This country awaits the miracle of Hope. On the day of resurrection the disciples and women went to the grave but found the stones were removed from where Christ was buried. Easter is about removing the stones in our personal lives and the society where we live. There are many stones of despair need to be removed from the graves of hopelessness in our hearts and in our nation let the Easter’s wonder, touch every human soul in this country. As the Bible exhorts us: Let us choose life, not death”. The great event of Resurrection has three significant steps, the suffering of the innocent Lamb of God; Jesus, the Hope of Holy Saturday and the grave stone removed and Jesus rising again in triumph over powers of darkness. According to the bishop, “Myanmar too has gone through these stages. Suffering of the millions of our country men and women in the past, at present our people are living in the Hope of the holy Saturday hoping that this country will leave its addiction to wound, as Pope said in the Mass here, “leave its known and hidden wounds of the past.” To do that, this nation has come out of the manmade graves - roll down the stones that block our people’s blessings”. The first stone to be moved from grave is the stone of hatred. In this, the bishop pointed out “This nation’s spiritual heritage was built on the great virtue of Compassion – Karuna. But hate speech has been used by a small fringe in this country to kill brother by brother. Pope Francis has advocated for tolerance among the religions when he met the religious leaders in Myanmar. In the Public Mass, he exhorted the Christians not to repay vengeance with vengeance but with reconciliation. Catholic community, according to the Pope must be witnessing to Christ’s death and resurrection. We are in urgent need of heeding to the advice of the Holy Father understanding that this country had suffered long the pope has said during the Mass in Yangon ‘I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible', the temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom. We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus. Jesus' way is radically different. When hatred and rejection led him to his passion and death, he responded with forgiveness and compassion.” According to card. Bo, the second stone is to remove the stone of injustice. He said “When there is no Justice there is no Peace. No country can enforce peace on its population. Peace flowers forth when planted on justice. Christ life was spent on upholding the justice of the marginalised. His dream of Kingdom God that brought to attention of rulers and the rich, the plight of poor and the oppressed led him to Cross. But his death was the ‘grain of wheat that fell into the ground, and gave the hundredfold in the form of the church that continues to be concerned about Justice. Pope Francis has constantly brought the ‘two eyes of justice’ economic justice and environmental justice as two eyes of humanity. But Millions are buried in the grave of economic injustice in this country, thousands are buried as ‘modern slaves’ in unsafe migration to nearby countries. Resources have become the deep grave for our ethnic brothers and sisters. Looting has buried thousands in conflict and displacement". The third grave is ethnic conflict, the stone we need to remove is conflict. The pastor remembered that “We have had six decades war. Conflict has buried us all – the countries in South East Asia who were poorer than us are now economic powers today. But we remain one of the poorest nation on the earth. Conflict has eaten the core of Myanmar people’s dignity. Peace is the only way forward. Conflict has mutilated this country. Nearly 3 million of our youth are out, a million are displaced, a million have fled the country as refugees. This was once a golden land blessed with great wealth. Our wounds are self-inflicted wounds. Refusing to accept the multicultural nature of this country has brought ethnic conflicts”. Cardinal Charles Bo concluded that the Catholic Church is an instrument of peace and work with all stakeholders in working for a nation of peace built on Justice. Church works mostly with the ethnic communities who are themselves victims of decades of war and displacement. We accompany all people in their way of their cross and their unending Lent. Christ continues to be suffering, carrying his Cross in our ethnic brothers and sisters. The joys and sorrows of the people of this world are the joys and sorrows of the Church of Christ. We are animated by the triumph of the Cross which did not in an inglorious death and disappearance of Jesus but the Jesus of resurrection who won over the death. "We celebrate life today, in this Easter! Come let us together join the march to roll out the stones that have entrapped our people in man- made graves. Let Peace break forth in the dawn. Let My Country be raised from hopelessness into Peace and prosperity and become the Golden Land once again.”
Jesus undertook many journeys during his life. As an unborn child, he went from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As a child refugee, he went to Egypt. As a preacher he travelled the roads of Galilee. His seemingly final journey was to travel up Calvary carrying the heavy wooden beam of a cross. But what appeared to be the end of Jesus’ journey was really a beginning. By leaving the tomb, Christ shatters the boundaries of what we thought we knew. By rising from the dead, Christ invites us to roll away the stones that are blocking our own hearts and imagination and to share the journey with each other – in particular with the most vulnerable people, such as migrants. In September 2017, Pope Francis launched our 'Share the Journey' campaign and invited us to open our hearts to hope, as that is what drives migrants to leave their lands. It is also in the hearts of those who welcome them. “Hope is the force that drives us “to share the journey”, because the journey is made jointly, by those who come to our land, and by us who go towards their heart, to understand them, to understand their culture, their language”. Not long after his death, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were full of fear following Jesus’s death. They didn’t recognise Jesus until they sat down for a meal together and he broke bread. How many times in a day do we not recognise Jesus in the people who cross our paths? We may be busy or distracted, or we may be closed in the tomb of our own fears and misconceptions. But there are specific moments in our lives when we need to be reminded of a fundamental truth: we were given each other so that we would have someone with whom to share our journeys. A small gesture like reaching out with your arms to somebody else means a lot as it touches different levels of human existence. This is the gesture we are encouraging people to do as part of Share the Journey. I reach out and if a person feels alone and isolated, my reaching out is a gesture of solidarity. If I reach out and that person is wounded, it could be a sign of healing. If I reach out and the person is lost, it could mean an offer of guidance. If I reach out and the person feels like nobody cares, then it will be a sign of friendship. That small gesture means different things in different stages of people’s life journey. Christ performed the ultimate gesture of reaching out to others on the cross. He opened his arms and emptied himself out to receive God’s will. We do not necessarily need to do extraordinary and extravagant things to make a difference in the lives of people. Small gestures, ordinary gestures, when done with sincerity, with the light of human understanding and compassion, can do extraordinary things. We invite you all to join us in making small gestures of compassion towards the migrants you meet on your daily journeys. We invite you to see Jesus in the migrant and in yourself. In the week of the 17-24th June 2018, we will hold a global week of action for Share the Journey. You can join Caritas organisations and migrants around the world in the activities we organise that week. In particular, like Jesus and the disciples in Emmaus, we invite you to share a meal with migrants as a reminder of our unity as one global family and of our need for each other. We hope that through these small actions of understanding and communion, we create a wave of global solidarity which rolls away the stones which are blocking us and takes us on a journey which ignites our imagination. By harnessing our collective global energies – migrants, refugees and communities together – we will set the world on fire with God’s love. - Card. Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and President of Caritas International
Nobody knows where the man with the leather suitcase is headed to but we all know that he carries the most precious thing he still has: hope. That child is the hope and the deep yearning for peace in Syria. For over ten years Syria has been the theatre of a heinous, fratricidal war that we have come to learn about through the images circulated by news and the media. It is those very images we thought we would no longer see other than in old documentaries on the Second World War broadcast on television every now and then. We had all imagined and hoped that the last major conflict in modern history would be the one that over half a century ago caused death and devastation, an image indelibly fixed in our collective memory. But that did not happen! Sixty-five years later, from a small Middle-Eastern country resurfaced the same images, the same faces, the same stories of men and women torn apart by an endless conflict, fleeing a country that no longer exists. These images feed into the sadness and shock of those who helplessly witness the annihilation of a people, millions of families forced to live with the pain of having lost their dear ones in the battlefield or under the bombings, or innocent victims of arbitrary executions. The risk of growing inured to the thousands of images circulated by news media on the Syrian conflict is always very high, and at the same time, just like every process of desensitisation, it entails the danger of making us numb and of passively accepting what is happening just a two-hour flight from our home. Thus We must give credit to all those working in communication, still capable of triggering emotions, forcing us to reflect on the absurdity of what is happening in Syria. The latest case is the photo of a child in a large leather suitcase carried by his father, with a firm hand, as he fled from the martyred area of Ghouta, in Damascus. Incredibly, the face of that child transmits deep tenderness and serenity, despite the fact that war is all he experienced in his short life. Perhaps for him that journey inside a dark-red suitcase was not that extravagant. It’s part of the absurd reality that in his eyes was the norm. Just like him, thousands of children were born in Syria in the past 7 years. They are the children of war, young Syrians who don’t know the meaning of the term “normality”, whose days are marked by the sound of gunshots and by the rumble of warplanes bombing the little that is left of their cities and villages. Going to school, shopping, strolling in the park, are experiences they never had. They learn about them in the many stories told by their parents. It’s a way to remind their children and themselves that a normal life is possible. Nobody knows where the man with the leather suitcase is headed to. But we all know that he carries the most precious thing he still has: hope. That child is the hope and the deep yearning for peace in Syria. - Oliviero Forti
The religious sects which proliferate throughout Congo and Islamic extremism, among the challenges for the Church. We talk with Fr. Armand Brice Ibombo, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Congo. “The Church in the Republic of Congo was founded 135 years ago by the French missionaries of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit who arrived in Brazzaville in 1880. Since then the Church has taken root all over the Country. Everywhere there are churches and parishes, and above all communities full of faithful”, said Fr. Ibombo, "The challenges we face", continued Fr. Ibombo, "as a Church are manifold. Firstly, there is the formation of the laity in understanding the doctrine of the Church and in explaining the hope of their faith. In this way the laity can deal with the so-called 'Churches of awakening', those of Pentecostal origin, and the real religious sects that proliferate throughout Congo and do not have a good opinion of the Catholic Church”. "These churches do everything to attract the faithful, with material goods, often financed from abroad, from the United States in particular; many of their Pastors come from outside our Country", underlined the Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference. "There are Churches of local origin that draw resources from the population with the promise of future benefits, exploiting the credulity of the poor". Fr. Ibombo said that "in addition to the evangelical and Pentecostal churches, the Islamic extremism is spreading in the Republic of Congo, similar to the 'churches of awakening', through the collection of economic aid especially towards young people. Some offer the possibility of opening a business start-up, while others offer the opportunity to go and train in an Arab country". According to Fr. Ibombo, "for some time we have noticed a small increase of Congolese teenagers who have become Muslims and bear witness to their new faith by wearing Islamic clothes. At the moment, there are no problems. But we also have the infiltration of extremists in our country. Congo borders with the Central African Republic where there are Islamist groups like Seleka. Central Africa borders with Cameroon where there are the Nigerian Islamists of Boko Haram". "To face these challenges in addition to the formation of the laity, we need to focus on the education of young people", emphasised the Secretary. "Our students need to be formed not only culturally but also spiritually, with Christian and human values, as the Social Doctrine of the Church urges us. If we want to have a future of peace in our Country, this also depends on our commitment to our young people". The priest pointed out "The Republic of Congo has been experiencing a special moment at a political level since the 1990s. This situation has led the Bishops, the clergy, the religious, the laity to commit themselves more to the pastoral level in the proclamation of the Gospel". Patience and a continuous prayer for peace is required. The Bishops, with their declarations on the political and social situation, remind the government to think primarily of the common good and of peace", concluded Fr. Ibombo.