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New South African alliance calls for Zuma’s exit

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Sister Brigid Rose Tiernan, SNDdeN holds the sign — “Zuma you are accountable.” Photo: Joan Mumau, IHM

AFP

Johannesburg (AFP) – South African opposition parties, religious groups and civil society activists on Thursday launched a new alliance to try to force President Jacob Zuma to step down.

Called the Freedom Movement and backed by retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, it plans to hold a mass rally on April 27, the annual holiday marking South Africa’s first post-apartheid election in 1994.

Zuma’s sacking of respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan last month fanned years of public anger over government corruption scandals, record unemployment and slowing economic growth.

“Never before has there been a more urgent need to build unity of purpose to stop South Africa’s current trajectory,” said the movement at its launch in Soweto, a hotbed of the struggle against apartheid.

Tutu, seen as the country’s leading moral authority, said in a tweet that he supported the movement, adding “it is important that we unite as South Africans to bring an end to state capture.”

“State capture” is a term that refer to the alleged corruption among Zuma and his associates.

Tens of thousands of South Africans have in recent weeks staged demonstrations demanding Zuma’s resignation.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party and several small opposition parties backed the alliance as well as some trade unions and the National Religious Council.

Congo bishops fault politicians for failed mediation

NCR by Jonathan Luxmoore  |  Apr. 22, 2017

Three weeks after the Catholic Church gave up mediating in the conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s bishops are defending their record and blaming the impasse on politicians. However, attacks on clergy and parish buildings have also raised questions as to whether the church has come too close to politics in what’s widely considered Africa’s most Catholic country.

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Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa arrives with other bishops Dec. 21, 2016, to mediate talks between the opposition and the government of of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (CNS/Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

“The bishops’ conference mission has been interpreted by some as an attempt to distract attention from issues of the hour,” said Msgr. Jean-Marie Bomengola, secretary of the church’s Social Communications Commission.” But one shouldn’t miss the target when analyzing events here. The failure of negotiations should be blamed on the political and social actors who didn’t show a spirit of compromise. It’s to them that demands for an explanation should be addressed, and on whom pressure should now be exerted.”

Catholics in six archdioceses and 41 dioceses make up around two-thirds of the 67.5 million inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of Congo — according to the Vatican’s Annuario Pontificio yearbook, published this month — and runs an extensive network of hospitals, clinics and farms, as well as around half of all schools.

The country, formerly known as Zaire, has known little stability since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, and up to 6 million people died in a series of 1995-2003 wars, fought mainly over Congo’s rich natural resources.

Last summer, the bishops’ conference launched a mediation bid after opposition leaders accused President Joseph Kabila of seeking to cling to power by delaying autumn elections.

An initial settlement in October wasn’t accepted by some opposition groups. So the talks resumed before the Dec. 20 expiry of Kabila’s second and final term, and the outcome, in the final hours of 2016, was an accord witnessed by foreign diplomats.

This allowed the 45-year-old president to stay in power until elections in late 2017 alongside a government headed by an opposition-nominated prime minister, with a National Transition Council monitoring the electoral process under veteran opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi.

In a pastoral letter, the bishops said the accord reflected a “consensual and inclusive political compromise that sets out a realistic route,” and they warned that the whole Democratic Republic of Congo risked “plunging into uncontrollable disorder” if the accord failed.

However, negotiations to implement it have run into trouble.

Continue reading Congo bishops fault politicians for failed mediation

DRC tense as police clash with anti-Kabila protesters

Police and demonstrators battle in Kinshasa as talks between President Kabila’s government and opposition fall apart

Kabila’s mandate ran out in December, sparking violent protests at the end of last year [Reuters]

Congolese police fired rounds into the air and launched tear gas canisters to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters in Kinshasa on Tuesday after talks between the opposition and President Joseph Kabila‘s government fizzled out.

Unrest broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s capital after Catholic bishops withdrew from their role as mediators between the government and opposition in talks aimed at paving the way for delayed elections later this year.

Demonstrators, some burning tyres at city crossroads, took to the streets in several areas in Kinshasa.

A Reuters news agency witness saw opposition members gathering at the home of the late Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition party’s former leader, during a news conference with his son, the new Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS) party leader, Felix Tshisekedi.

Many shops remained closed and some schools called parents to collect their children

Kabila’s mandate ran out in December but polls were not held because of what the government said were budgetary constraints, sparking violent protests at the end of last year in which security forces killed at least 40 people.

DRC’s conference of Catholic bishops (CENCO) helped negotiate a December 31 deal aimed at avoiding a political crisis by ensuring an election this year to elect Kabila’s successor.

In January, the bishops warned the deal was at risk of unravelling if politicians did not act quickly to reach compromises and implement it.

The bishops stepped aside on Tuesday after progress on the deal stalled, raising the prospect of renewed violence in a country that has suffered a succession of wars and rebellions.

“We think that there’s no longer anything to do,” Donatien Nshole, secretary-general of CENCO, told Reuters. “We have given all our time and all our energy, and in the meantime, pastoral work suffers.”

Kabila has ruled the mineral-rich central African nation since his father’s assassination in 2001. His critics accuse him of deliberately delaying elections in order to remain in power.

Catholic priests, religious face wave of violence in DR Congo

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The Congolese Bishop’s Conference has helped to broker a peace deal that could arrange for the peaceful transition to power

Nearly half of the Congo’s 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.Following recent attempts at brokering peace between the government and political opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Catholic priests and religious are facing violent backlash around the country.

According to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid society that works in the country, Catholics have experienced a slew attacks on churches and convents. In particular, a Carmelite Convent and a Dominican Church were both ransacked in late February.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, told the organization that the incidents “lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”

 “Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos,” he said.
The attacks follow recent attempts by the Catholic Church in the DRC to mediate between talks between the government of  President Joseph Kabila and the opposition. The opposition to President Kabila and claims of a constitutional crisis follow after his refusal to step down from office at the end of 2016.

However, after delays for the funeral of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and other conflicts, the peace agreement has all but dissolved, according to some reports. Presidential elections are now expected to take place at the end of 2017.

“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions,” Cardinal Monswengwo said in a statement about the elections.

The attacks have continued into March. According to Crux, 25 Catholic Seminarians in Malole in the south of the country had to be evacuated by UN peace-keeping forces by helicopter after armed troops attacked the seminary. The attackers were part of a militia loyal to former tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who died in August 2016.

 For the Catholics, the violence has been terrifying.

“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers’ rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, rector of the seminary, told Agence France-Presse.

Recently, the Church has also lead anti-corruption initiatives in the province and local area. The animosity towards the Church also extends outside of the church or convent walls.

“In the street, it’s not unusual to hear threats against the Church,” Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of Saint Dominic’s Church, the Kinshasa church vandalized in February said in a statement after the event.

Nearly half of the Congo’s 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.

Continue reading Catholic priests, religious face wave of violence in DR Congo

Join March 16th Airport Protests Against Rewritten Refugee and Muslim

cwsWe are fast approaching the March 16 date on which President Trump’ re-written Executive Order will take effect. As you well know, the order will discriminate against individuals from certain countries and grind the refugee resettlement program to a halt. It also significantly reduces the number of refugees we welcome in the United States, turning our backs on more than 60,000 individuals who we have pledged to protect. After the first refugee and Muslim ban was stopped by litigation and thousands mobilizing at airports it is time to once again show up and resist these unjust and discriminatory policies.

Take Action! We are calling for community mobilizations at airports on Thursday, March 16th to publicly oppose Trump’s refugee ban. Continue reading Join March 16th Airport Protests Against Rewritten Refugee and Muslim

On World Day of Peace, stories of sisters who survived Hiroshima bombing

by Gail DeGeorge
Global Sisters Report

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Sr. Masako Miyake, left, talks to Sr. Estelle Kazuko Takabayashi, who was sharing her memory book. (GSR photo / Gail DeGeorge)

(December 29, 2017) The world witnessed the horror of nuclear weapons on August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m., killing about 80,000 people instantly.

By December of that year, the death toll in Hiroshima rose to about 140,000, including those who had died in fires and from injuries and radiation sickness. Hiroshima city officials say the toll exceeds 290,000 if the count includes those who died after December 1945 of nonacute injuries or radiation poisoning.

On August 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000. Thousands more from both attacks suffered with lingering health problems.

While in Hiroshima a few months ago, I interviewed five sisters: three who witnessed the attack and are hibakusha, victims who survived the bombing; one who arrived in the devastated city two days later and also is considered a hibakusha; and one who came to Hiroshima as a small child just six months after the attack. They shared their memories of that day and how it shaped their lives and vocation. In some cases, it was the first time they had heard each other’s experiences. January 1 is the Catholic observance of World Day of Peace.

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From left to right, Sr. Agnes Elenor Kazuko Hirota, Sr. Anna Cecilia Yukie Sakimura, Sr. Lucia Joseph Akie Aratani, Sr. Estelle Kazuko Takabayashi, all Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and Sr. Maria Teruka Onojima, a member of the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

Sr. Agnes Eleanor Kazuko Hirota, 76, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
She was 5 years old and playing outside with friends when the bomb dropped. The house cracked, and she remembers suddenly being under the house. “If I stayed still there, we could all have been dead, but I saw a slight, dim light, so we walked,” Hirota said.

She led her playmates toward the light to a nearby river. Her mother came looking for her and found her near the river, where her father also reunited with them. She lost track of what happened to her friends. She would learn later that she was the only survivor.

“As we were there at the river, the oily rain, the black rain came,” Hirota said. The dark rain, which fell for about 30 minutes after the mushroom cloud formed above Hiroshima, contained soot and dust with radioactive particles from the bomb.

Hirota, her father and her mother went to a nearby tree to take cover. Hirota’s mother was badly injured by falling debris, and her brother brought his friends to carry her mother on a stretcher. She was so little that others could carry her, Hirota said.

While she was waiting for her older brother, people kept going into the river for water. Many who went into the river died — some by drowning, some from severe injuries and others from shock.

“That is something I always carry in my heart: All my friends are gone. God must be requiring me to live differently,” Hirota said. “So that has always been my question. What is my mission? What is it I have to accomplish?”

On August 8, “we lost our mother. She called me to her side and told me her last message: to stay strong,” Hirota said.

The next day, her father died.

“My father asked me for a glass of water, I brought it to him, he drank the water and passed away,” she said. Her brother and sister weren’t able to be with her parents in their last moments.

“At a young age, I got to see death, and I understand what it is like to die,” Hirota said. “I’m not very scared of death. It is very quiet, it is very austere.”

Without her parents, life was difficult for Hirota. Her oldest brother was 20 and took care of her and her sister. He sent Hirota and her sister to a Catholic school instead of a public one because it offered a better education.

“I took it as a calling, and I became a nun,” Hirota said.

Her brother had four children, so it couldn’t have been easy to pay the tuition, she said. “God has always protected me all the way up to now,” she said.

She said she was less than a half-mile from the epicenter of the bombing and is grateful she has never been hospitalized with any effects from it. At 76, “I am still up and standing and teaching in kindergarten and thankful for the things I can do.”

Throughout her work as a teacher, Hirota said she has felt called to convey the message of peace to her students. “Where there is justice, there is peace,” she tells her kindergarten students.

“I tell the children their quarrels are little wars — even at that young age, they need to learn to make peace,” Hirota said.

“We can grow peace,” she said. “It’s the peace that we should pass down to generations.”

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Sr. Anna Cecilia Yukie Sakimura stands next to a bust of St. Pope John Paul II, who visited the Memorial for World Peace Cathedral Feb. 25, 1981. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

Sr. Anna Cecilia Yukie Sakimura, 80, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Sakimura, then 9, had been evacuated to her aunt’s house outside the city before the bomb dropped. Many parents sent their children to the countryside to protect them during the war.

She saw the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, then learned that something awful had been dropped. On the path near her aunt’s house, she saw people walking or being carried on stretchers to get away from the city.

Because her family was in the city, “I was really worried about the mushroom cloud.” So on August 9, she and an older cousin took a train into what was left of Hiroshima. Amid the vast devastation, she remembers seeing an iron bridge that had fallen and others that were half destroyed.

Her father was away for work in Iwakuni, about an hour from Hiroshima. Her mother and two older sisters were in the city when the bomb fell. Her oldest sister was rescued from a building that had collapsed, but a friend her sister had been with died instantly.

Her brother, who was a soldier in charge of telecom operations, had been walking to the train station when the bomb dropped. His body was never found.

In the years after the bombing, Sakimura’s family lived near a Christian family in Hiroshima that hosted a study group with a German priest. Because of their relationship with the Christian family, Sakimura’s family, which had practiced Buddhism, became Christian.

When she was 13, Sakimura decided she wanted to be baptized, but her parents said she was too young. She waited a year and was baptized when she was 14. Her calling to consecrated life came thanks to Sunday school at the Hiroshima Peace Cathedral. Her older sister also decided to become a sister.

“I read about saints, and the most touching was Francis of Assisi” because of his peaceful and gentle nature, Sakimura said.

“My calling was to be part of this religion,” she said.

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Sr. Lucia Joseph Akie Aratani; Sr. Agnes Elenor Kazuko Hirota pose on the grounds of the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace in Hiroshima, or Noborimachi Catholic Church, built 1950-1954. On the right is the 1915 Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, which was damaged in the bombing and left as a memorial. It is commonly referred to as the Atomic Bomb Dome, or Genbaku Domu. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

Sr. Lucia Joseph Akie Aratani, 82, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
At the time the atomic bomb exploded, she was 11 years old. She was attending a school just outside the city but would return to her house near the Hiroshima train station after.

School started at 8 a.m., but the students had to be at school at 7 a.m. to work in the school’s garden. On the morning of August 6, the students had done their hour of farming work and were on the second floor of the school in their classroom. Class was about to start.

Aratani was seated in the front row. She remembers seeing her teacher standing up from her desk and going to the podium, and “all of a sudden, there was a flash with a beautiful orange color — bright orange. It was very transparent. . . . I turned my head to the other side and from the window, the white building across the way turned blue from the light. Then all of a sudden, bam! A great sound and all the windows fell with a great noise.”

“I was so scared,” Aratani said. “I was crazy enough to run away from the site.”

She took her backpack with her lunch and her school helmet and ran. She had to be careful walking because of the holes in the floor, and there was shattered glass everywhere.

She ran to her teacher’s house near the school.

“My mother told me she would come [if there was an emergency], so I just waited at my teacher’s house,” Aratani said.

She went into a storage house and saw her teacher’s brother and others coming up on a hill. She saw people were injured and burned, with some being carried on stretchers.

At that point, “I’m expecting my parents to come find me,” Aratani said. Her teacher, who wanted to find out what happened to the students, came looking for her. The school was rearranged as an emergency center.

She remembers one scene in particular at the emergency center: “One mother was trying to take care of her baby, trying to feed her. But she was greatly burned and shaking. She was all black and red and must have been in great pain but needing to feed the baby. But the baby wasn’t moving. That scene stays in my mind. I don’t forget, even now.”

Before the light fell, she and some friends wanted to go home, so they walked part of the way to Hiroshima but were sent back — the city was in flames. She stayed at her teacher’s house, then later went up in the mountains to the relatives of her teachers.

“We were looking at the city burning,” Aratani said.

She remembers seeing soldiers on the road, some lying down without hats or hair. They were asking for water. She remembers someone shouting that if the victims were given water, they would die. (Although they were not aware that a nuclear weapon had been used, they had watched people die from shock shortly after being given water.)

Her sister found her with the teacher’s relatives. “Our houses were all burning — still burning the whole week. A tree trunk kept burning for a week downtown. We’re still in wartime, so the fighter jets were still coming.”

“From August 7 on, the city was filled with the stench of death,” Aratani said. The bodies were covered with maggots and flies. Three days later, group cremation began.

After the bombing, many priests came to Hiroshima. Aratani’s sister decided to get baptized and took Aratani to church and to catechism class.

A very famous German priest, Fr. Hubert Cieslik, was among a small group of Jesuit priests in Hiroshima who survived the bomb.

“He was a very gentle man,” Aratani said.

The priest spoke in slow Japanese, but Aratani loved his sermons. She didn’t like Mass at first — it was in Latin and the priest wasn’t facing the congregation. She didn’t want to go at all, but he helped her understand it.

She was baptized, and her mother came to the ceremony in a kimono. Aratani still has a card from her baptism. “It was a grace from God, and I fell in love with prayer,” she said.
Every morning, she would go to Mass with her sister, walking to the church and to school. She was very impressed with the Catholic sisters who taught and cared for them.

“I wanted to be a sister — from the blood of my heart,” she said. “They took care of us. I never had any doubt.”

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Left, Memorial to Sadako Sasaki and the many children who died in the A-bomb attack or from effects afterwards: Sasaki was 2 years old during the bombing and had no apparent injuries, but developed leukemia nine years later. She kept folding paper cranes, believing they would help her recover, but she died Oct. 25, 1955. Thousands of school children joined in folding the cranes while Sasaki was battling the disease and continued afterwards in her memory, including Sr. Maria Teruka Onojima. Right, the Genbaku Domu. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

Sr. Estelle Kazuko Takabayashi, 90, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
After high school, at age 19, Takabayashi was sent to a factory in Kurashiki, where she was when the bomb dropped in Hiroshima, where her mother and brothers lived. (Her father had died of a cerebral hemorrhage when she was 10 years old.)

She decided to try to go to the city on August 7, taking trains from the countryside into the city in a roundabout way. She arrived August 8. There was no train station and no buildings. Soldiers were trying to clear the streets. She remembers seeing one lady who must have been beautiful, as she was an officer’s wife, but she looked like a ghost. She was carrying bones in her hands — her father’s bones, the lady told her.

She tried to find her mother. Their home had been near a school in the central part of the city where the Peace Park now is. Her mother, she heard later, had gone on an errand to what would become the hypocenter and must have died in the blast. Her body was never found.

She passed a swollen corpse that looked like a horse. As she walked along the railroad, she met many Koreans who had been working in the area who were crying because they had lost their families. She arrived in west Hiroshima and met up with her elder brother.

Her younger brother had been injured breaking up houses to stop the fires that raged in Hiroshima after the bomb. He was taken to a relative’s house in the hills, where there was a long line to see the doctor, who could do nothing to help people. Takabayashi and her brother went back home, and he died on August 11.

“I said, ‘Stop, do not go,’ but he got colder and colder,” she said. “I cannot forget the experience of death itself. Even now, I feel something.”

A few years later, Takabayashi began teaching at a Catholic school, Notre Dame Seishin High School in Hiroshima. Her whole family was Buddhist, but she decided to study the catechism. She went on a retreat and was baptized in 1951. She entered the convent in 1955.

She says she has put her life in God’s hands. “I accept from God everything, and that has given me peace,” Takabayashi said.

“There is tragic news every day with terrorist attacks,” she said. She said she gets peace from faith: “People have forgotten [getting peace through faith] because there is confusion and terrible things still happening in the world.”

Sr. Maria Teruko Onojima, 74, Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls
Onojima is Japanese but was born in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. When she was 3 years old, just six months after the United States dropped the bomb, Onojima’s mother moved her and her 2-year-old brother to the suburbs of Hiroshima to join their grandparents, who had lost everything in the bombing.

Her classmate, Sadako Sasaki, died of leukemia 10 years after the bomb at the age of 11. Her story is immortalized in Children’s Peace Monument as well as in the symbol of paper cranes: Sasaki believed folding paper cranes would help her recover, and she kept making them during her eight-month fight with the disease.

When Sasaki was hospitalized, “we started making cranes. It was very serious leukemia, so we tried to join her wish. All of us made cranes.”

Onojima’s grandparents were very religious, she said. Onojima remembers her grandmother telling her: “You have to look for your own God.”

“So that was my assignment. That’s what I was looking for,” Onojima said.

She first went to the Protestant church, but by her first year of senior high school, she was studying with a Jesuit priest who was a pastor in Hiroshima. He introduced her to a sister who was a Helper of the Holy Souls. She was baptized at 18, and at 25, she decided to join the Helpers of the Holy Souls community.

As part of the international congregation, Onojima was sent the Philippines in 1979 during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. She lived in a very depressed area to help build the Christian community. When she introduced herself, she would say she was from Hiroshima.

“They don’t know much about Japan, but they know about Hiroshima,” Onojima said.

After 10 years in the Philippines, she went to the United States for five years then returned to Japan. “Little by little, [working with hibakusha] became a special mission,” she said. “For me, this is natural.”

The Society of Helpers was the only congregation in Hiroshima before World War II, so when the  Memorial Cathedral for World Peace was built, the center asked them to send a sister to help manage the church. Since then, sisters of the Society of Helpers have worked at the cathedral, and it is now Onojima’s turn. She has provided spiritual direction and support to hibakusha at the Cathedral for World Peace for 23 years.

“There are so many people seeking the meaning of life and are really suffering,” Onojima said.

After World War II, “many adults didn’t have any inner care” — emotional, psychological or spiritual counseling, she said. Adults could not express their feelings even to their families, so relationships with children and parents become strained.

“When I started working here, many were looking for someone to tell their stories, so I continued listening to the stories,” she said. She is not a psychologist but studied spiritual direction and accompaniment in Chicago. “My experience in the Philippines and the States and international congregation and that international experience is very helpful.”

“For many years, [survivors] didn’t want to talk about the war or their experiences,” she said. “But now, they want to talk.”

[Gail DeGeorge is editor of Global Sisters Report. Her email address is gdegeorge@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter @GailDeGeorge. Thanks to Mariko Komatsu and Sr. Masako Miyake of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur for their help in telling these stories.]

 

A dream coming true: Mobilizing African sisters for systemic change

Global Sisters Report
by Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN

eucharia-m-2015I was received into the novitiate on April 1, “April Fools’ Day,” despite my disapproval of the date. In her effort to ease my discontent, my postulate director told us of a saint she considers a fool for Christ, Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan who became a martyr of charity for volunteering to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz, a World War II Nazi concentration and death camp. Although this story did not assuage the poor choice of a date for the novitiate reception, it left a lasting impression on me. The story enlarged my mind about other ways of serving humanity. Kolbe’s love of God in the other, his recognition of the dignity and worth of the person, and his giving up his life choices and opportunities for the other were indeed inspiring.

Everyone is born with worth and dignity, choices and opportunities. Unfortunately, some individuals enlarge their own choices and opportunities at the expense of others by creating unjust systems and structures. This deprivation of the humanity of others became clearer to me as a provincial of my religious community some years ago. Part of my job was to listen to sisters’ stories, conduct intake interviews for young women wishing to enter a religious community, seek employment for sisters after qualification, and set up new ministries and projects. In the process of doing these tasks, I came face to face with the reality of life for ordinary Nigerians. I witnessed the threats to the dignity of the human person and the pervasiveness of structural injustice that has eroded the peoples’ choices and opportunities.

I had no solution to propose during my term as provincial, as neither my social nor my religious formation had prepared me to handle structural and systemic issues. Nevertheless, I was convinced that systemic injustice stands in the way of sustained progress of the people; progress that could come about through the sisters’ services.

In my desire for sustainable change and being conscious that my social and religious formation had not adequately prepared me to tackle structural injustice beyond prayer and service, I started thinking of building my capacity in this area so I could pass this on to other sisters. After my leadership ministry, I enrolled in a social work program, concentrating on social justice and social change. Concentrating on how I myself could engage as well as mobilize other sisters for systemic change, I also studied development and public policy in relation to Africa.

One of the greatest gifts I received was having the privilege of being employed at NETWORK where I studied the intersection of faith and politics as well as practical ways of working toward structural change from the standpoint of Catholic social tradition. Witnessing NETWORK’s influence on shaping public policies and its effort to ensure that U.S. policies have a human face, I came to the conclusion that sisters acting on behalf of justice by exerting political influence must complement their provision of services for people in need. As a result, I became more convinced that African sisters, like their counterparts in the U.S., could become a formidable force for change if they are mobilized for collective action on behalf of justice on the African continent. This idea took form for me thorough my year at NETWORK.

It was like a dream come true when, at the end of my time in NETWORK, AFJN invited me to coordinate its women empowerment project, designed to empower African sisters for collective action on behalf of justice so that they in turn will mobilize other women. Working with AFJN interests me because we hold a common belief that African sisters could be a formidable force for change by giving their leadership in providing critical and essential services– education, healthcare, pastoral and social services– to families, mostly women and children. As individuals and groups, sisters represent a unique social diversity that is essential for ending poverty, protecting human rights and building a fair society. In fact, most Africans, especially women, can attribute their education and standing in society to the sisters’ educational ministries.

To harness African sisters’ enormous potential to work for a more just society and to engage in action for justice requires rallying their political will in this direction. So from April through the month of June this year, while I was visiting Nigeria, AFJN sponsored my travelling around the country to speak with some leaders of women’s religious communities, both individually and in groups, to ascertain their willingness to address systemic injustice. AFJN also sponsored a one-day sisters’ forum on “Just Governance and the Common Good: Religious Vocation and Faithful Citizenship.” More than 50 sisters from over 23 congregations gathered to discuss Nigeria’s socio-political reality, the intersection of faith and politics, and the possibility of expanding the sisters’ mission of service to include working for systemic change.

At the end of these meetings with the sisters, most especially the one-day sisters’ forum, I was pleasantly surprised at the sisters’ level of awareness of systemic injustice and its negative impact on the people, as well as their recognition of the need for something more than providing service to the victims. I was also astonished at the excitement with which the sisters kept referencing Pope Francis’s challenge to religious during the celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life in 2015 to “wake up the world.” It was very revealing.

The sisters affirmed their having been brought together, not as a congregation, but as Nigerian Catholic sisters to discuss this issue of great concern. Their vibrancy and eagerness to work together for change showed their understanding of the power of associational relationships and networking. Despite fear of being misunderstood by church leaders and ordinary Nigerians, the sisters showed an enthusiastic desire to raise their voices and hands against the sorry situation of Nigerian women and children. They demonstrated readiness and determination to engage the endemic systemic structures in the nation.

Catholic Sisters in Nigeria and in Africa have always been an integral part of the social fabric in their various societies. They have shown their leadership potential and proven that they can become formidable agents of change through their efficiency in providing services. Enabling them to expand their leadership in society into the socio-political arena in their various communities will go a long way toward dismantling structures that hurt the people the sisters serve. The sisters’ engagement with the structures of injustice, as well as their service provision, is indeed their mission of “bringing life in full” that is at the heart of religious life. It also restores their right to participate in shaping the affairs of their society.

[Eucharia Madueke is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in the Nigerian Province with expertise in social analysis, grassroots mobilization and organization. She coordinates women project of the African Faith and Justice Network.]