Category Archives: Justice and Peace

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.]

Our Consumption Of Earth’s Natural Resources Has More Than Tripled In 40 Years

Huffington Post
Dominique Mosbergen Reporter, The Huffington Post

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We’ll need 180 billion tons of material annually to meet demand by 2050 if the world continues to use resources at the same rate it does today, the UN report finds. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Limestone and steel for our homes, wheat and vegetables for our dinner, fossil fuels for our industries: we rely heavily on our planet’s natural resources to survive.

Yet we’re using up these resources at such an unsustainable pace that we may be “irreversibly” depleting some of them ― and critically damaging our Earth in the process, according to a new United Nations report.

The report from the International Resource Panel, part of the UN Environment Program, said extraction of primary materials has more than tripled in 40 years. Rising consumption driven by a rapidly growing middle class is fueling the rate.

In 1970, about 22 billion tons of primary materials were extracted from the Earth. These included metals, fossil fuels like coal, and other natural resources, such as timber and cereals. In 2010, that number had ballooned to 70 billion tons.

We’ll need 180 billion tons of material annually to meet demand by 2050 if the world continues to use resources at the same rate it does today, the report estimates.

“The alarming rate at which materials are now being extracted is already having a severe impact on human health and people’s quality of life,” said IRP co-chair Alicia Bárcena Ibarra in a press release about the report, published late last month. “It shows that the prevailing patterns of production and consumption are unsustainable.”

“We urgently need to address this problem before we have irreversibly depleted the resources that power our economies and lift people out of poverty,” she added. “This deeply complex problem, one of humanity’s biggest tests yet, calls for a rethink of the governance of natural resource extraction to maximize its contribution to sustainable development at all levels.”

The increase in the use of fossil fuels, metals and other primary materials fuels climate change, according to the IRP. Other dire environmental consequences include higher levels of acidification and eutrophication of soils and water bodies, increased biodiversity loss, more soil erosion and increasing amounts of waste and pollution.

There’s an urgent need to significantly reduce the amount of primary materials used to lessen these impacts, the report said. Material efficiency needs to improve to do this and “decoupling escalating material use from economic growth is … imperative.”

Decoupling ― the ability of an economy to grow without a corresponding increase in its environmental footprint ― “requires well-designed policies,” the report said. Investments in research and development, as well as improved public policy and financing, will be critical.

The report also revealed the enormously uneven distribution of material use worldwide. “The richest countries consume on average 10 times as many materials as the poorest countries, and twice the world average,” it said.

The IRP ranked countries by the size of their per capita material footprints, or the amount of material required for total consumption and capital investment.

Europe and North America, which had annual per capita material footprints of about 20 and 25 tons respectively in 2010, topped the list. In contrast, the footprints for Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean were between 9 and 10 tons. Africa’s was below 3 tons.

Black women faced racism in pursuing religious vocations, says speaker

Catholic News Service
By Andrew Nelson | Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) — Black women desiring to serve a life devoted to the Catholic faith were not welcomed by religious communities with anti-black acceptance requirements from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, said historian Shannen Dee Williams.

GEORGIA LCWR ASSEMBLY
Shannen Dee Williams, assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, addresses the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Atlanta Aug. 10. She spoke about racism and U.S. religious life. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin) See LCWR-VOCATIONS-RACISM Aug. 16, 2016.

Those who could gain admittance faced discrimination from their fellow sisters, she added.

“Black sisters matter, but they constitute a dangerous memory for the church,” said Williams, assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

She was joined by Sister Anita Baird, a Daughter of the Heart of Mary, and Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, on an Aug. 12 panel discussing racism in religious life at the assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Atlanta.

Williams upcoming book is called “Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America.” It was the subject of her doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University.

Later, scores of sisters walked from the LCWR assembly being held in the Hilton Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park to pray on the plaza outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is dedicated to the achievements of the U.S. civil rights and worldwide human rights movements.

Earlier, the participants wrote on slips of paper when they and their religious communities have not welcomed people of color. The slips became a “chain of bondage,” which was later broken after prayers of lamentation and a blessing.

Williams’ presentation was titled “Shattering the Silence: Black Women and the Challenge of History.

Continue reading Black women faced racism in pursuing religious vocations, says speaker

For the displaced of Rio, ‘The Olympics has nothing to do with our story’

Washington Post
By Sally Jenkins

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An estimated 60,000 people who lost homes to the Rio Games; this man refused to allow his to be one of them.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Just over there, the dolphin-backed Michael Phelps glides through another heat. Over here, a lone ramshackle favela house practically leans against the Olympic Park where Phelps swims. Just over there, Simone Biles does a breathtaking handspring. Over here, the sodium stadium lights glint on the scarred hardpan that was once a vibrant community before it was bulldozed to make room for the Rio Games.

Just over there, the International Broadcast Center rises like a monolith, while over here it casts a shadow over the listing sheet metal roof of Delmo de Oliveira’s favela house, which sits directly across the parking lot. Just over there, Katie Ledecky lashes through the water, but over here there is no crowd noise, just a young man playing guitar for a handful of residents who refused to be evicted even as the Games begin.

Just over there, International Olympic Committee members enjoy prime seating and dine on a per diem of $450 a day, while over here, the Brazilian minimum wage amounts to $228 a month, and nobody has a ticket to the Olympics, even though it’s just 50 yards away, “If they didn’t want us to stay here, I don’t imagine they’ll invite us inside,” says Maria Da Penha Macena, 51.

The extent to which the Olympic “movement” has become a destructive force, driven by an officialdom whose signature is indifference, can be seen just outside the Olympic Park fences, and I mean just outside. The Vila Autodromo favela was once a working-class neighborhood of 3,000 residents curling around a lagoon and the perimeter of the park. Now all that’s left is Olympic parking lot tarmac, raw dirt and 20 tiny white utilitarian cottages, built grudgingly by the city as a concession to a core of families who refused to leave even as their homes were demolished. For a while, some of them lived in converted shipping containers. One of the new cottages bears a sign: “Museum of the Evicted,” it reads.

Ten Days For Peace Message from Bishops of Japan

Independent Catholic News

Building peace begins within ourselves, Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, Archbishop of Nagasaki and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan says in the following message:

japanIn response to the strong “Appeal for Peace” at Hiroshima by Saint Pope John Paul II on February 25, 1981, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan designated the days from August 6 to 15 as “Ten Days for Peace.” These days were chosen because the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Memorial Days and the Commemoration Day for the end of World War II all occur in this period. This year marks the 35th time we mark this period.

It goes without saying that our prayers for peace, and the responsibility to learn and think about peace and to act for peace are never limited to this period. For example, we must not forget Okinawa Memorial Day on June 23. We must pray for peace, learn and think about peace and act for whatever is needed for peace throughout the year. And yet, we are required to spend this particular period giving even more attention than usual to peace.

World peace has been shattered and is constantly threatened by such events as the Syrian War, terrorist activities by fundamentalists and others, armed conflicts involving control of resources and hegemonic shows of force. Numerous people including children and women are killed or injured, forced to leave home, deprived of a normal life and even life itself. Terrorist attacks occur in major cities in Europe, the United States or in Muslim nations. Many Japanese people have become victims. Terrorist attacks are waiting to happen at anytime and anywhere in the world. That is why we pray that powers in both Asia and the West will move toward reconciliation rather than a sort of cold war, and that the spirit of peace enshrined in the European Union (EU) will spread globally and tensions in East Asia will be reduced. US President Obama stressed in his speeches seven years ago in Prague and this past May in Hiroshima that we seek and pursue “a world without nuclear weapons.”
Continue reading Ten Days For Peace Message from Bishops of Japan

Kenya’s Climate Change Bill Aims to Promote Low Carbon Growth

InterPress Service
By Isaiah Esipisu

A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS
A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya’s Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

NAIROBI, Jul 27 2015 (IPS) – Alexander Muyekhi, a construction worker from Ebubayi village in the heart of Vihiga County in Western Kenya, and his school-going children can now enjoy a tiny solar kit supplied by the British-based Azuri Technologies to light their house and play their small FM radio.

This has saved the family from use of kerosene tin-lamps, which are dim and produce unfriendly smoke, but many other residents in the village – and elsewhere in the country – are not so lucky because they cannot afford the 1000 shillings (10 dollars) deposit for the kit, and 80 weekly instalments of 120 shillings (1.2 dollars).

“Such climate-friendly kits are very important, particularly for the rural poor,” said Philip Kilonzo, Technical Advisor for Natural Resources & Livelihoods at ActionAid International Kenya. “But for families who survive on less than a dollar per day, it becomes a tall order for them to pay the required deposit, as well as the weekly instalments.”

It was due to such bottlenecks that Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, a member of parliament for Emuhaya constituency in Western Kenya, and chair of the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, moved a motion in parliament to enact a Climate Change Bill, which has already been discussed, and is now being subjected to public scrutiny before becoming law.

“Once it becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth,” said Ottichilo.

While Kenya makes a low net contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the country’s Draft National Climate Change Framework Policy notes that a significant number of priority development initiatives will impact on the country’s levels of emissions.

In collaboration with development partners, the country is already investing in increased geothermal electricity in the energy sector to counter this situation, switching movement of freight from road to rail in the transport sector, reforestation in the forestry sector, and agroforestry in the agricultural sector.

“With a legal framework in place, it will be possible to increase such projects that are geared towards mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” said Ottichilo.

The Climate Change Bill seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change, to facilitate and enhance response to climate change and to provide guidance and measures for achieving low carbon climate-resilient development.

“We received the Bill from the National Assembly towards the end of March, we studied it for possible amendments, and we subjected it to public scrutiny as required by the constitution before it was read in the senate for the second time on Jul. 22, 2015,” Ekwee Ethuro, Speaker of the Senate, told IPS.

“After this, we are going to return it to the National Assembly so that it can be forwarded to the president for signing it into law.”

The same bill was first rejected by former President Mwai Kibaki on the grounds that there had been a lack of public involvement in its creation. “We are very careful this time not to repeat the same mistake,” said Ethuro.

Under the law, a National Climate Change Council is to be set up which, among others, will coordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies, and make them available to the public.

“This law is a very important tool for civil society and all other players because it will give us an opportunity to manage and even fund-raise for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects,” said, John Kioli, chair of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG).

Evidence of climate change in Kenya is based on statistical analysis of trends in historical records of temperature, rainfall, sea level rise, mountain glacier coverage, and climate extremes.

Temperature and rainfall records from the Kenya Meteorological Department over the last 50 years provide clear evidence of climate change in Kenya, with temperatures generally showing increasing trends in many parts of the country starting from the early 1960s. This has also been confirmed by data in the State of the Environment reports published by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

As a result, the country now experiences prolonged droughts, unreliable rainfall patterns, floods, landslides and many more effects of climate change, which experts say will worsen with time.

Furthermore, 83 percent of Kenya’s landmass is either arid or semi-arid, making the country even more vulnerable to climate change, whose impacts cut across diverse aspects of society, economy, health and the environment.

“We seek to embrace climate-friendly food production systems such as use of greenhouses, we need to minimise post-harvest losses and food wastages, and we need to adapt to new climate friendly technologies,” said Ottichilo. “All these will work very well for us once we have a supporting legal environment.”

Edited by Phil Harris