By Bill Firman – The basic things we need for daily living we often simply assume they will be there. Not so in South Sudan where very little can be taken for granted. When I first came to South Sudan in 2009, I lived in Malakal. Most people there cooked on charcoal but we were lucky enough to be able to use gas. It is very convenient to be able just to turn a burner on and off when you like. When gas was no longer available, we used charcoal, a much slower and less convenient way of cooking.
When we turned the generator on, or there was town power, we could use an electric hot plate. At that time there was town power at night in Malakal. In Juba, where I am now, there used to be town power all day; but town electricity is only a happy memory today. It ceased to be available several years ago. We have adjusted and installed solar power but our solar system will not support cooking on an electric hot plate or in an electric oven.
In most of our houses and institutions, charcoal or wood is used for cooking, backed up by gas. Bottled gas is not readily available outside of Juba. We have found ways to maintain a limited supply of gas in Wau, Yambio and Riimenze but only if we use it sparingly. One cannot just go into town to renew the supply. In large towns such as Juba, Wau and Malakal, charcoal has to be brought in from bush areas. It is, or maybe was, a common sight to see trucks laden with bags of charcoal moving into Juba. Making and selling charcoal from wood has been a traditional South Sudan occupation for people in bush areas.
Amid the soaring prices of food, the shortage of diesel and petrol leading to greatly increased public transport costs, the great devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) and the general insecurity, we thought conditions for the people could not get much worse. But in the past month, they have. In just three or four weeks the price of a sack of charcoal in Juba has increased from SSP700 per bag to SSP2500. One man living in a UN PoC (Protection of Civilians) camp told me recently that most of the people there have not cooked for several days.
In the PoC camp, the cost of a bag of charcoal is SSP3,500. That is about USD 24. It may not sound much in some countries but when salaries are low, it is a huge problem. The judges in South Sudan have been on strike recently as their salaries are in the range of 8000SSP to 12,000SSP (not even USD100) per month. Most South Sudanese are paid significantly less than this. So how can they afford this inflated price for charcoal?
Why has this happened? Insecurity. Apparently charcoal producers are too easily robbed bringing their charcoal to the city to sell it or when taking the payment for it back to their home place. The rising cost and shortage of fuel may also be a significant factor leading to the high new price. So there is a charcoal shortage. I suppose some may say not burning charcoal is good for the environment but it is certainly an unwanted scenario for those living in Juba who lack alternatives.
The shortage and rising cost of fuel affects everything. Our driver and cook in Juba each have to catch two buses each day, each way, to get from where they live to here. It does not seem long ago that the fare was SSP1 for a bus ride but now it is costing them SSP100 to travel to and from work each day – about SSP2000 per month.
The front cover of a recent Amnesty International Report carried the statement in large bold letters: ‘If men are caught they are killed; if women are caught they are raped’. In another report, Amnesty asserts that ‘A survey conducted in 2015 by UNFPA found that 72% of women living in the Juba PoC sites reported having been raped since the conflict broke out, mostly by police and soldiers.’
These are startling statements and there is fear among the people of becoming victims of violence. There are many traumatized people but most cope by putting it out of their minds and getting along cheerfully with life. But how do you remain cheerful when you can’t even afford to boil the water for a cup of tea? How do you remain healthy if you can’t cook your food or sterilize the water you drink? Many South Sudanese are used to living with a simple diet, and with hunger, but many will find life very difficult if they can’t cook their porridge or enjoy a cup of tea.
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2017 (IPS) – A former French judge has been appointed as the head of an independent team tasked with investigating war crimes in Syria.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to lead a panel known as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which aims to gather, preserve, and analyze potential evidence of serious violations of international law committed in Syria since 2011 for use by courts or an international tribunal.
The legal team, established in Geneva, was created by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 after facing longstanding resistance from Russia which has used its veto power eight times in the Security Council to block investigations and action on the conflict.
Marchi-Uhel is the first head of the panel and has extensive experience in international criminal law, previously serving as an international judge with the UN mission in Kosovo and in Cambodian courts prosecuting leaders of the Khmer Rouge. She was the Head of Chambers at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and worked in various legal positions at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with UN peacekeeping missions.
Most recently, Marchi-Uhel has been serving as the ombudsperson for the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.
Many applauded the move, including Human Rights Watch who noted that the team is “critical” for the “long march to justice,” stating: “For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair, and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.”
Though the exact figure is uncertain, estimates of casualties from the 7-year long war range from 320,000 to over 400,000.
A UN International Commission of Inquiry has comprehensively documented atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, including systematic attacks on hospitals and schools.
One of the deadliest attacks in Syria came in October 2016 when a series of airstrikes hit a complex of schools in Haas, killing a total of 36 civilians, 21 of whom were children between the ages of 7 and 17. Another 114 people were injured in the attack including 61 children. Afraid of future attacks, the school was closed.
“A Syrian Air Force attack on a complex of schools in Haas (Idlib), amounting to war crimes, is a painful reminder that instead of serving as sanctuaries for children, schools are ruthlessly bombed and children’s lives senselessly robbed from them,” the commission stated.
Such attacks in Syria are estimated to account for half of global attacks on schools from 2011 to 2015.
Several countries have already begun their own investigations into war crimes in Syria including Sweden which prosecuted a former Syrian opposition fighter for war crimes in December 2016.
The International Mechanism headed by Marchi-Uhel is expected to further these efforts around the world.
However, the team, funded by voluntary contributions, has only received half of the $13 million that its work is estimated to cost in its first year with 26 contributing countries as of June.
Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Qatar are among the group’s top donors.
Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, right, attend an ecumenical prayer service at the Church of St. Peter in Cairo April 28. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)
Christian leaders in the region say Pope Francis’s April 28-29 trip to Egypt was a great success. The pope has backed Egypt’s efforts to tackle Islamic militancy, saying the country has a special role to play in forging regional peace as well as in “vanquishing all violence and terrorism.”
AMMAN, Jordan – Pope Francis’s historic, 27-hour visit to Cairo has left a profound mark on Egyptians, Catholic leaders said, as they anticipate increased ties with fellow Orthodox Christians and Muslims.
“The pope’s visit was a big blessing to the Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians. It boosted the morale of the Egyptian people, especially after the Palm Sunday blasts,” Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops, told Catholic News Service by phone. “He gave a message of love, peace and hope.”
Greiche referred to a pair of terrorist attacks April 9 at two Egyptian churches. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attacks, which killed at least 45 people, injured more than 100 others and shook the Middle East’s largest Christian community to the core.
“The pope’s visit for Catholics in Egypt was a great happening, very positive,” Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, a noted Egyptian Catholic theologian and Islamic studies scholar, told CNS. The professor teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and St. Joseph’s University in Beirut.
Even more important, he said, was the historic improvement in ecumenical ties between the Catholic and the Coptic Orthodox churches. Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II signed a declaration on common baptism.
“This was a big step,” said Father Samir.
“In Egypt, there are a lot of mixed marriages between Catholics and Orthodox,” Samir explained, citing the previous Coptic Orthodox requirement that new members joining the church – including those who had previously been baptized as Catholic – had to be baptized again.
“This was very unhappy,” he said. Now both churches agreed to recognize each other’s sacrament of baptism and pledged to continue working toward greater unity.
“In general, the ecumenical relations with the Coptic Orthodox Church made very good steps and can go further,” Samir predicted, citing a possible reconciliation over the celebration dates of Christmas and Easter.
He also said Francis and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reached a better understanding. This is important for the country’s Christians, who are among the oldest communities in the Middle East, dating back to the apostle Mark.
“By meeting (el-Sissi) and having a normal, positive relationship, the pope is supporting the only one who can help the Christians,” the theologian said. “Being a very pious Muslim, el-Sissi is also the one trying to protect the Christians against ISIS.”
Francis has backed Egypt’s efforts to tackle Islamic militancy, saying the country has a special role to play in forging regional peace as well as in “vanquishing all violence and terrorism.”
Yet, Greiche said he believes it may be difficult to protect Christians and other Egyptians from growing acts of extremist violence.
“Criminal acts are designed in the heads of terrorists first. You cannot say that Christians are safe or anybody is safe from any terrorist attack. We pray and we ask for our Savior to help us and not to experience more than what we already have,” the priest said.
“We cannot say that Christians will be more safe (due to the pope’s visit), because terrorists are always there,” he added.
However, Francis’s call to expose extremist violence carried out in God’s name impacted Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, who heads al-Azhar University in Cairo. He hosted the International Peace Conference attended by Francis, Tawadros and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Although “ISIS will not listen to whatever the pope says,” Francis has now put the Vatican’s relationship with al-Azhar on a stronger footing, said Father Samir.
As the world’s highest authority in Sunni Islam, al-Azhar trains Muslim clerics and scholars from around the world and has the potential to change the discourse.
Critics, including el-Sissi, complain the university is not doing enough to properly challenge Islamist extremists on theological grounds.
However, scholars also point to a dichotomy in the Quran in which Islam’s Prophet Muhammad at times espoused peaceful interactions with Christians and Jews and at other times violence.
By emphasizing nonviolence and that “only peaceful means are acceptable, it will help some Muslims to go along this line – to be nonviolent,” Samir said. “The main thing is change the mentality of Muslims, especially of the teaching of Islam, which is mainly the teaching in al-Azhar. “
Samir also pointed to another challenge.
“In the last five to six years, there is a new element, the militarization of radical Islam,” he said. The scholar blames the United States and some European countries for providing arms to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which allegedly finance radical Islamic movements.
“The problem is much larger. It’s a question of rethinking Islam,” Father Samir said.
Francis also met with Egyptian seminarians, priests and religious before wrapping up his Cairo visit, leaving a deep impression on them, too.
“He greatly encouraged us to live a life dedicated to Christ, the living hope. And to instill that hope in all we minister to: the disabled, the poor and disadvantaged,” Father Shenouda Andraos, the head of St. Leo Great Coptic Catholic Seminary, told CNS.
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.
(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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.]
I 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.]
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.