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With free education, Congo’s child miners swap hammers for books

Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

KIPUSHI, Democratic Republic of Congo, – Squeezed on to benches and on the floor, the Congolese students of Kipushi Primary School did not complain that they only had a few, battered textbooks to share – just down the road, hundreds of less fortunate children were working in open-pit mines.

Enrolment at the school – named after the town of 174,000 people, which is dominated by its copper, zinc and cobalt mines – has risen by 75% to 1,400 students since the Democratic Republic of Congo introduced free primary education in 2019.

“The difficulties are there but free education is a good thing because getting kids to study back then was a headache,” said Maloba Mputu Stany, principal of the school in the eastern province of Haut-Katanga.

“The teachers are doing what they can to facilitate the integration of children from the mines,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as he searched for a list of new students in his cluttered office.

About 40 of the 600 new pupils, dressed in white and blue uniforms, are former child labourers, said Stany, who wants donors to fund teacher bonuses to give them catch-up sessions.

The latest figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF show that 6 million children – almost one in four – were out of school in 2018 in Congo, which was one of the last countries in the world to introduce free primary education.

The new scheme, which costs more than a third of its $6.8 billion budget, has enabled 4 million of these children to go to school, according to the education ministry.

But poverty keeps millions more out of school.

“Thousands of children still (work at) the mine sites due to a lack of school kits, according to parents,” said Philippe Nyange, head of child protection at the Association of Women for Community Development (AFEMDCO) in Kipushi.

With funding from UNICEF, the charity has provided 270 child labourers with school kits, containing school bags, notebooks, pens and uniforms, which were quickly snapped up by an eager crowd of parents and children at AFEMDCO’s offices.

It hopes to issue another 230 kits later this year.

Three of the lucky new students belong to Rachel, who works at the Luhongo mine 5km down the road from the primary school with her two other children.

“It is almost impossible to fill four basins per person in one day,” said Rachel, who declined to give her full name, referring to the minimum required to earn 1,000 francs ($0.50) for collecting rocks containing cobalt and copper at the mine.

“I prefer to have (them) work with me on the site so that I can get more money at the end of the day.”


More than 1 million children worldwide work in mining, according to the International Labour Organization, as demand for minerals used in cars, cosmetics and electronics soars.

The United Nations has pledged to end child labour by 2025 and considers mining a priority target as arduous tasks such as diving into muddy wells, digging rocks and carrying heavy loads put children’s health and safety at risk.

“The work is so hard that some children drink strong alcohol to gain strength and fill more stone basins,” said former child miner Pascal Mbayo Kasongo, who tells children and parents about his experiences and encourages them to go to school.

Life has become tougher for many families in Kipushi with the decline of Gecamines, a state-owned mining firm, which was the town’s largest employer and provided free schooling to its staff until mismanagement led to a sell-off in the 1990s.

Food comes before education for many, said Roger-Claude Liwanga, an expert in the exploitation of children in Congo’s artisanal mines, of Emory University in the United States.

“Free schooling should not be limited to the non-payment of school fees, especially at this time of economic crisis related to COVID-19,” Liwanga said, urging the authorities to provide free school meals to boost student numbers and concentration.

But the government is in no position to expand its financial support to schools. Donor funding for the ambitious free education project is already under threat due to corruption.

At the start of the year, the World Bank said it suspended its first payment in a $800 million education support programme after a government investigation “revealed a number of shortcomings and alleged cases of fraud” in the sector. The education ministry and the World Bank did not respond to requests for comment but the World Bank said in a statement that it made the first payment of $100 million in June after it was “assured that the government has taken corrective steps”. Several high-profile figures have been prosecuted over the scandal, including former education minister Willy Bakonga who was jailed in April, according to media reports. Even if the free education policy succeeds, it will not help Sam, 12, who spends six days a week digging, filling sandbags and breaking rocks with his younger brother at Luhongo mine.

“My job allows me to help my parents,” said Sam, who earns 250 francs for 12 hours of work to support his mother who makes and sells traditional beer and father who is a mechanic.

“My mother promised to enrol me next school year. But then, there will be a problem with school supplies,” said Sam, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

Feast day of St Josephine Bakhita/ International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking

“Loosen the chains . . . they are so heavy” – Saint Josephine Bakhita, above.

The Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita on the 8th of February each year.  Her life was a journey from slavery to freedom and faith.  The patron saint of Sudan, her life story inspires hope in the face of modern day indifference and exploitation.  As Pope Francis states:

‘She is charged with showing to all the path to conversion, which enables us to change the way we see our neighbours, to recognize in every other person a brother or sister in our human family, and to acknowledge his or her intrinsic dignity in truth and freedom. This can be clearly seen from the story of Josephine Bakhita, the saint originally from the Darfur region in Sudan who was kidnapped by slave-traffickers and sold to brutal masters when she was nine years old. Subsequently – as a result of painful experiences – she became a “free daughter of God” thanks to her faith, lived in religious consecration and in service to others, especially the most lowly and helpless. This saint, who lived at the turn of the twentieth century, is even today an exemplary witness of hope for the many victims of slavery; she can support the efforts of all those committed to fighting against this “open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ”.‘ (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 2015)

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI considered St Bakhita as an ‘exemplary witness of hope’, in his encyclical, Spe Salvi:

To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II….She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

The International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking is also held on 8 February each year in light of the example of St Josephine Bakhita, so that we might reflect on the circumstances of violence and injustice affecting millions of voiceless people.  We can do this by stopping for a few moments a saying a prayer to God.  We can also learn more about modern forms of slavery and trafficking and reflect on how our choices might be contributing to a system perpetuating this exploitation.  We can join together, pray and start conversations about this important issue.

Brazil court decision sparks fears indigenous land could be handed to farmers

Ywyto’awa (woman in red shirt) stands near the Bom Jardim River, which passes the village of Paranopiona, in the Apyterewa indidgenous reserve, Brazil, 2014. HANDOUT/Carlos Fausto

SAO PAULO, – When Kaworé Parakana sees the smoke rising on the horizon, the indigenous leader knows that another part of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is gone.

For more than three decades, the Parakana people have been fighting to protect their land in the Apyterewa reservation, in the northern state of Pará, from illegal miners, loggers and farmers who clear large swathes of trees.

“With each day that passes there is a huge amount of deforestation. They create large fields. There has been a lot of smoke here lately at the bottom of the area,” Kaworé told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

He said the Parakana fear there will be many more burning trees after a Supreme Court decision that could allow the municipality that oversees the reservation to legalize the presence of farmers already encroaching on the land.

In May, Justice Gilmar Mendes opened the door to negotiations between Brazil’s government and the municipality of Sao Félix do Xingu, which wants to reduce the size of the indigenous territory on behalf of a local farmers’ association.

Land rights activists say the proposal, which would make indigenous protected areas available for development, is unconstitutional.

The negotiations – referred to by the court as a conciliation – could set a precedent for the reduction of other indigenous territories across the country, they warn.

“Rights to (indigenous) territories, as provided in the constitution itself, are non-disposable rights – they are not subject to any type of negotiation,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, a lawyer at APIB, Brazil’s main indigenous federation.

Eloy explained there are several other Supreme Court hearings set for the coming months to address similar land conflicts between indigenous communities and illegal miners, loggers and farmers.

Those hearings may be influenced by the result of the negotiations over Apyterewa, he added.

Eloy and other indigenous rights advocates say the Parakana were not initially asked to participate in the negotiations about their own land.

In June, the Attorney General’s office published a document criticizing the lack of indigenous representatives in the process.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation made several requests for comment to Mendes, the Attorney General’s office, the lawyer representing Sao Félix do Xingu and the farmers’ associations, but received no replies.

For the Parakana people, negotiations are not an option, Kaworé said – the only acceptable outcome for the community is the eviction of the invaders from their land.

“We don’t want to give them even a millimeter,” he said.


Covering 730,000 hectares (1.8 million acres), Apyterewa had the second-highest level of deforestation amongst indigenous territories in 2019, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks deforestation in Brazil.

More than 85 sq km (32 square miles) of forest were cleared last year alone, the institute’s data shows.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an 11-year high last year and has soared a further 25% in the first half of 2020, according to INPE.

The tree loss is driven mainly by forest being cleared for cattle ranching, soy cultivation, and illegal gold mining and logging.

Forests are vital for curbing climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide.

The Amazon forest also plays a crucial role in producing moisture that falls as rainfall in the southern agricultural heartlands of Brazil and Argentina – areas hit by heavy drought in recent years as the forest disappears.

Under Brazil’s current constitution, enacted in 1988, indigenous lands belong to the state, which grants indigenous peoples the permanent right to live and work on them.

Indigenous reservations, which the federal indigenous affairs agency Funai says make up more than 12% of Brazil’s territory, have long been targeted by outsiders looking to tap their natural resources.

Human rights groups say invaders have been stepping up their activities in recent years, emboldened by Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his plans to introduce mining and farming in protected and indigenous lands in the Amazon region.

“The government wants to exchange indigenous people for cattle. That is the government’s main interest – to transform the forest into farmland and put cattle on indigenous land,” Kaworé said.


Carlos Fausto, an anthropologist and lecturer at the National Museum, a leading research institution in Brazil, said the Supreme Court’s decision could have long-lasting implications for indigenous land rights and for the Amazon.

“It means all indigenous land will be a target from now on,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In destroying large swathes of forest cover, the illegal miners and loggers are also impacting water sources vital to the animals that the Parakana hunt for food, he added.

“Worst of all, we are talking about an area where springs that serve as subsistence to the Parakana people are located,” said Fausto, who carried out his doctoral research among the indigenous community.

“One of the greatest threats caused in the process of forest clearing is to the area where game breeds,” he noted, adding that the community relies on the springs for fishing and hunting.

As the Parakana wait to hear the government’s position on the reduction of their territory, Aluísio Azanha, the lawyer representing the community, noted that Brazil’s constitution “imposes a duty on the Union to demarcate and protect (indigenous lands).”

Kaworé said the negotiations are “clearly a threat”.

“It’s nothing more than that: the government is threatening our territory,” he said.

“If this happens to the Parakana people, the people will die together with the land, because how will we practice our culture? It could suddenly die. We don’t want that.”

Brazil’s Indigenous communities are being devastated by COVID-19

A young Yanomami is examined by a member of a medical team with the Brazilian army in the state of Roraima July 1, 2020. (CNS/Reuters/Adriano Machado)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, Catholic organizations have warned that protective measures should be taken to keep the virus away from the country’s Indigenous population — or the consequences would be disastrous.

The surge in the number of cases among Indigenous since the end of May appears to demonstrate that the worst has happened.

With at least 367,180 cases of infection and 12,685 deaths, the Amazonian region is one of the epicenters of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic. The disease is not only impacting large cities such as Manaus and Belém but has also infiltrated many communities in the countryside, including the villages of traditional peoples that live in the rainforest.

The coronavirus has infected at least 6,626 members of Indigenous groups in the region and killed 157 of them. In the whole country, there are at least 9,500 cases involving Indigenous persons, with about 380 deaths, according to the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

The spread of COVID-19 among Indigenous groups reflects a general lack of governmental protection of their rights, said Antônio Cerqueira de Oliveira, executive secretary of the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council (known by its Portuguese acronym CIMI).

“In previous administrations, Indigenous rights were not fully secure … but at least there was some kind of dialogue with those peoples,” Oliveira told NCR. “President Jair Bolsonaro has closed all doors and established an anti-Indigenous policy.”

Since his 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the policy of establishing land reservations for Indigenous groups that are able to prove their historic ties with the territory they are claiming. Although it’s mandated by the constitution, Bolsonaro has claimed that Indigenous peoples already have too much land in Brazil, and promised that he wouldn’t grant any new territory to them.

At the same time, Bolsonaro has declared on various occasions that he would loosen the environmental and legal restrictions for economic activities in the country — especially in the Amazon.

Since he took office in January 2019, there has been an intensification of land invasions and destruction of the rainforest, perpetrated by illegal loggers and miners and by ranchers who want to expand their farming areas. The process often involves violence against Amazonian laborers and Indigenous.

Bolsonaro has also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, even as Brazil has the second-highest number of cases, nearly 1.7 million as of July 8, after the U.S. He tested positive for the disease July 6.

“With the pandemic, the already insufficient number of monitoring agents in the Amazon almost disappeared and invasions quickly increased,” said Oliveira. “The intruders are not only destroying the forest and threatening the Indigenous peoples, but they’re also taking the virus with them.”

Porto Velho Archbishop Roque Paloschi, CIMI’s president, said that wildfires set by invaders also have the potential to increase the dissemination of respiratory diseases. “The removal of such intruders from the Indigenous lands is urgent,” he told NCR.

But the governmental agency for Indigenous affairs, the National Indian Foundation, seems to be going in the wrong direction. According to Oliveira, the foundation has removed its agents from Indigenous lands that are awaiting official recognition from the government, leaving many peoples unassisted.

The protection for isolated Indigenous groups — which live in the rainforest and avoid any contact with non-Indigenous people — has also been severely weakened, said Oliveira. “The doors are wide open for invaders,” he said.

Catholic missionaries — at least the ones connected to CIMI — stopped visiting the rural villages at the beginning of the outbreak. They advised Indigenous groups to avoid contact with people from the outside and to remain in their reservations as much as possible.

But eventually, some of the members of the communities go into the city in order to receive their salaries or governmental assistance and to buy groceries. That’s when spread of the virus might occur.

“People have not been properly oriented to use hand sanitizers after leaving a store, for instance, or to always wear face masks, at least when they leave their villages,” said Fr. Aquilino Tsiruia, a member of the Xavante people in Mato Grosso State.

“The healthcare authorities should have told the Indigenous peoples about it, but they failed to do it,” said Tsiruia.

At least 32 Xavante people died from COVID-19, most of them in June. “The local healthcare system is very precarious, with only a handful of ICU beds available,” said Tsiruia. “Our people has a considerable population of elders, many of whom with diabetes. Everybody is very frightened.”

Reports of a lack of physicians and equipped hospitals abound among the Amazonian Indigenous peoples. According to Oliveira, the healthcare situation has deteriorated since Bolsonaro canceled an agreement with Cuba that allowed hundreds of Cuban doctors to work in remote areas in Brazil.

The program had been created during the administration of left-wing former President Dilma Rousseff and was ideologically targeted by the far-right Bolsonaro.

“In many Indigenous reservations, the Cuban doctors were the only professionals available. Now, there’s a total absence of healthcare specialists,” said Oliveira.

This is one of the reasons why many Indigenous people report that they have been treating COVID-19 cases with traditional healing herbs and teas.

“If we only count on regular medicines, there won’t be enough for everybody,” said Fr. Justino Rezende, a member of the Tuyuka people who lives in the city of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, in Amazonas state.

Rezende came down with COVID-19 in June. “The number of cases here is going up,” he said. “Many elderly people are dying.”

Given that most villages are near small cities, the most serious cases are often taken to the state capitals, where the hospitals are a little better. Deaths occurring so far away from patients’ families lead to other complications.

“The disease is disrupting millennium-long life systems, given that it impedes the practice of very important rituals — especially the funereal ones,” explained Sr. Laura Vicuña Manso, a CIMI missionary. “The Indigenous groups feel deeply like they are doing something wrong when they can’t perform their traditional rites.”

Manso described the despair of a few leaders of the Karitiana people from Rondonia State when the first COVID-19 victim of their village died.

“The healthcare authorities wanted to bury the body in the city,” she said. “In the end, after much discussion, we were able to take the body to the village, but they couldn’t perform the whole traditional ritual.”

With Poor Human Rights Record, Repatriation Not Possible

Repatriation photo

Rohingya after they fled Myanmar in 2017 arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS – Policies that allow for impunity, genocide, and apartheid are “intolerable” and make repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, say United Nations investigators.

While presenting an annual report to the member states at the U.N., Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed disappointment in Myanmar’s government under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, stating her hope that it “would be vastly different from the past, but it really is not that much different.”

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity to establish a fully functioning democracy for all its people,” Lee said during a press conference. She also added that the Nobel peace prize laureate is in “total denial” about the mistreatment and violence against the Rohingya which forced over 700,000 to flee across the border to Bangladesh, and questioned her staunch support for the rule of law.

“If the rule of law were upheld, all the people in Myanmar, regardless of their position, would be answerable to fair laws that are impartially applied, impunity would not reign, and the law would not be wielded as a weapon of oppression,” Lee said.

The Chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar Marzuki Darusman, who also presented a report to the U.N., echoed similar sentiments, noting that the government’s “hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle.”

“Accountability concerns not only the past but it also concerns the future and Myanmar is destined to repeat the cycles of violence unless there is an end to impunity,” he said. One of conditions that contributed to the atrocities committed since violence erupted in August 2017 is the shrinking of democratic space, they noted.

While the arrests of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gripped international headlines, the government has been increasingly cracking down on free speech and human rights defenders in the country.

Most recently, three journalists from Eleven Media—Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Phyo Wai Win—were detained and are being investigated for online defamation. If charged and convicted, the journalists face up to two years in prison.

Lee and Darusman also expressed concern over the apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar that persist today including restrictions on movement and access to services such as healthcare and education.

While the government is building new infrastructure for both Rohingya still inside the country and those who fled, Lee noted they are usually segregated from Buddhist communities. If a policy of separation rather than integration continues, atrocities will be committed yet again. “It is an ongoing genocide,” Darusman said.

In the fact-finding mission report which looked into the past year’s events, investigators found that four out of five conditions for genocide were met: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Of those, three conditions can still be seen in the country. For instance, in 2015, Myanmar’s government imposed “birth spacing” restrictions on women, requiring a 36-month interval between children with forced use of contraception in the interim.

The Population Control Healthcare Bill was introduced in response to a 2013 government report that saw “the rapid population growth of the Bengalis [Rohingya] as an extremely serious threat.” Prior to this, the government enacted a two-child limit on the Muslim community in Rakhine. And it is because of these conditions that Rohingya refugees cannot go back.

“Repatriation is not possible now. Unless the situation in Myanmar is conducive, I will not encourage any repatriation. They should not go back to the existing laws, policies, and practices,” Lee said.

She urged for the civilian government to adopt laws that protect and advance human rights for all, and for Suu Kyi to use “all her moral and political power” to act.

“Myanmar now stands at a crossroads—they can respond as a responsible member of the United Nations and take up the call for accountability or they can be on the same self-self-destructive road,” Darusman said.

Of the actions that can be taken towards the path to accountability is the pardoning of human rights defenders and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained in order to restore democratic space.

Myanmar should also allow for unhindered access for humanitarian actors and U.N. investigators, Lee added.

“I think we are at a point where Myanmar and the international community both are at a juncture where the right choice to make will determine the future of not only Myanmar but peace and security in the region and the world,” she said.




Greenwich: Religion and science come together to tackle climate change

Greenwich photo


By: Ellen Teague

Representatives of various faiths working on environmental issues in and around Kent joined a dialogue with engineers and scientists on Saturday to examine ‘Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability’.
The Chatham Campus of Greenwich University hosted the unique one-day conference on 13 October, organised by Medway Inter Faith Action, in partnership with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the University of Greenwich.
The conference explored the relationship between ethical and spiritual principals and the practical actions of individuals and communities facing global environmental change. It was fascinating to hear opening prayers from different faiths that could have been from any one of them.

Representing a Jewish perspective was Dr David Herling, a Senior Lecturer at London University and a noted figure in the world of arboriculture. He reflected that “Judaism is obsessed by trees” and pointed out the frequent mention of trees in the Bible, such as the Tree of Life in Genesis and the Cedars of Lebanon. He talked about small locally-based projects to plant trees, improve soil, and try out drought-resistant crops. Dr Nigel Jollands represented the Baha’i perspective, and he works on Energy Efficiency and Climate Change at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He felt climate change is symptomatic of spiritual problems, such as defining prosperity purely in terms of material wealth, and tolerating extremes of poverty and wealth in our society. He felt his faith called him towards seeing the interconnectedness of elements of creation and humility towards nature. He questioned the notion of “green growth” where “you can have your cake and eat it” saying the consumption of physical resources, particularly those creating greenhouse gases, must be reduced.

This was echoed in the Christian perspective, offered by Ellen Teague of the Columban JPIC team. In her talk she highlighted the call in the 2015 Laudato Si’ Encyclical of Pope Francis “to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” and to work towards “ecological conversion”. She showed photos of the huge faith lobby and petition at the Paris Climate talks which contributed towards an agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of live simply parishes, Justice and Peace education work, Pax Christi peace gardens in schools and the ‘Global Healing’ initiative of the bishops of England and Wales were highlighted.

An Islamic perspective was offered by Dr Muzammal Hussain, who has an MA in Environment, Development & Policy. In his talk ‘Healing the Earth’ he underlined the interconnection of creation issues and justice for the marginalised. It is poor communities who are suffering the worst impacts of climate change. He called for a shift away from seeing money as wealth and instead seeing our real wealth as being the gift of the natural world. Islam promotes “awe and wonder” in humanity’s relationship with the environment and emphasises the importance of community in its broadest sense.

The views of the engineers were remarkably similar to faith speakers. Roger Middleton of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Energy, Environment and Sustainability group said, “as an engineer I can’t hold out any hope of the technical solution to the climate change problem”. He lamented that human society is not seriously preparing for the worst impacts of climate change even though scientists have warned about them for at least two decades. Dr AK Rahman, an aerospace engineer and a Muslim, described the environmental crisis as “the canary in the mineshaft of modern society” and suggested that there “must be a philosophical basis of engagement”.
In his view environmental ethics aims to define the best moral behaviour for humans to live without destroying their environment. The term “environmental ethics” is used in the Royal Charter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Since the world’s major faiths comprise 85% of the global population, they can have a major impact on respect for nature, assigning a status to animals and challenging selfish anthropocentrism. Self denial – such as fasting – and the notion of sacrifice were raised by him as areas pertinent to an adequate climate change response.

The chairman of Medway Interfaith Action, Faran Forghani, underlined at the end the importance of dialogue and cooperation between different faiths and disciplines in order to tackle the climate crisis. Kent Area of Southwark Archdiocese for Justice and Peace is an active member. It was clear that simpler lifestyles and consumer action need to be complimented by fundamental work tackling the structural causes of climate instability. It was suggested that systemic change will involve holding governments to account for action in line with the Paris Agreement, and also challenging the destructive activities of large corporations, particularly oil companies, for their greenhouse gas pollution. Advocacy and protest will form a component of tackling climate change.

Brazilians Decide on a Shift to the Right at Any Cost


By Mario Osava

Supporters of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro celebrate his triumph in the early hours of Oct. 29, in front of the former captain’s residence on the west side of Rio de Janeiro. The far-right candidate garnered 55.13 percent of the vote and will begin his four-year presidency on Jan. 1, 2019. Credit: Fernando Frazão/Agencia Brasil

RIO DE JANEIRO – Voters in Brazil ignored threats to democracy and opted for radical political change, with a shift to the extreme right, with ties to the military, as is always the case in this South American country.

Jair Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former army captain, was elected as Brazil’s 42nd president with 55.13 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff election, heading up a group of retired generals, such as his vice president, Hamilton Mourão, and others earmarked as future cabinet ministers. He takes office on Jan. 1.

His triumph caused an unexpected political earthquake, decimating traditional parties and leaders.
The Bolsonaro effect prompted a broad renovation of parliament, with the election of many new legislators with military, police, and religious ties, and right-wing activists.

His formerly minuscule Social Liberal Party (PSL) is now the second largest force in the Chamber of Deputies, with 52 representatives. The country’s most populous and wealthiest states, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, elected PSL allies as governors, two of whom had no political experience.

Brazil thus forms part of a global rise of the right, which in some countries has led to the election of authoritarian governments, such as in the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary and Poland, or even the United States under Donald Trump.
Bolsonaro’s chances of taking his place in the right-wing wave only became clear on the eve of the first round of elections, on Oct. 7.

Little was expected of the candidate of such a tiny party, which did not even have a share of the national air time that the electoral system awards to the main parties. His political career consists of 27 years as an obscure congressman, known only for his diatribes and outspoken prejudices against women, blacks, indigenous people, sexual minorities and the poor.

But since the previous presidential elections in 2014, Bolsonaro had traveled this vast country and used the Internet to prepare his candidacy.
Early this year, polls awarded him about 10 percent of the voting intention, which almost doubled in August, when the election campaign officially began.

That growth did not worry his possible opponents, who preferred him as the easiest adversary to defeat in a second round, if no candidate obtained an absolute majority in the first. The idea was that he would come up against heavy resistance to an extreme right-wing candidate who has shown anti-democratic tendencies.
Fernando Haddad, the candidate of the leftist Workers Party, promised his supporters, after his defeat in the Oct. 28 elections, that as an opposition leader he would fight for civil, political and social rights in the face of Brazil’s future extreme right-wing government.

But this was no ordinary election. The poll favorite was former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), whom the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) insisted on running, even though he had been in prison on corruption charges since April, and was only replaced on Sept. 11 by Fernando Haddad, a former minister of education and former mayor of São Paulo.

Five days earlier, Bolsonaro had been stabbed in the stomach by a lone assailant during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, 180 km from Rio de Janeiro.
The attack may have been decisive to his triumph, by giving him a great deal of publicity and turning him into a victim, observers say. It also allowed him to avoid debates with other candidates, which could have revealed his weaknesses and contradictions.

But two surgeries, 23 days in a hospital and then being confined to his home, due to a temporary colostomy, prevented him from participating in election rallies. So the social media-savvy candidate focused on the Internet and social networks, which turned out to be his strongest weapon.

The massive use of WhatsApp to attack Haddad aroused suspicions that businessmen were financing “fake news” websites, thus violating electoral laws, as reported by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo on Oct. 18. The electoral justice system has launched an investigation.

The recently concluded campaign in Brazil triggered a debate about the role of this free instant messaging network and “fake news” in influencing the elections.
The social networks were decisive for Bolsonaro, who started from scratch, with practically no party, no financial resources, and no support from the traditional media. The mobilisation of followers was “spontaneous,” according to the candidate.

Brazil, the largest and most populous country in Latin America, with 208 million people, is one of the five countries in the world with the most social media users, with 120 million people using WhatsApp and 125 million using Facebook.
But these tools were only successful because the former army captain managed to personify the demands of the population, despite – or because of – his right-wing radicalism.

He presented himself as the most determined enemy of corruption and of the PT, whose governments from 2003 to 2016 are blamed for the systemic corruption in politics and the errors that caused the country’s worst economic recession, between 2014 and 2016.

As a military and religious man, recently converted to an evangelical church, he swore to wage an all-out fight against crime, a pressing concern for Brazilians, and said he would come to the rescue of the conventional family, which, according to his fiery, and often intemperate, speeches, has been under attack by feminism and other movements. He seduced business with his neoliberal positions, represented by economist Paulo Guedes, presented as a future minister.

The promise to reduce the size of the state and cut environmental taxes, among other measures, brought him the support of the agro-export sector, especially cattle ranchers and soybean producers.
The economic crisis combined with high crimes rates, added to a wave of conservatism in the habits and customs of this plural and open society, galvanised support for Bolsonaro, while offsetting worries about his authoritarian stances or his inexperience in government administration.

Bolsonaro said he would govern for all, defending “the constitution, democracy and freedom…It is not the promise of a party, but an oath of a man to God,” he said while celebrating his victory, announced three hours after the close of the polls.

His speech did little to reassures the opposition, which will be led by the PT, still the largest party, with 56 deputies and four state governors.
A week earlier he said that in his government “the red criminals will be swept from our homeland,” referring to PT leaders. He threatened to jail his rival, Haddad.

In the past he defended the torturers of the military dictatorship and denied that the 1964-1985 military regime was a dictatorship.
His brutal statements are downplayed by his followers as “boastfulness” and even praise his declarations as frank and forthright.
The problem is not the statements themselves, but the fact that they reveal his continued fidelity to the training he received at the Military Academy in the 1970s, in the middle of the dictatorship

He considers the period when generals were presidents “democratic”, since they maintained parliament and the courts, although with restrictions and subject to controls and purges..
Bolsonaro’s victory, with 57.8 million votes, also has the symbolic effect of the absolution of the military dictatorship via elections, to the detriment of democratic convictions.

Arrest warrant issued for alleged killer of Saint Oscar Romero

Saint Oscar Romero St. Oscar Romero. Courtesy photo, office of canonization

A court in San Salvador issued an arrest warrant for the man suspected of the March 24, 1980 killing of Saint Oscar Romero, who was canonized on October 14, 2018 by Pope Francis.

The suspect is Álvaro Rafael Saravia, a 78 year old former army officer.
Charges against Saravia were dismissed in 1993 after an amnesty law prohibited criminal trials related to the country’s civil war.
In 2017, however, Judge Rigoberto Chicas reopened the case, after the amnesty law was rescinded.

Now the National Police and Interpol are charged with finding the former soldier so he can be tried for aggravated homicide.
No one else has been charged in connection with Romero’s death.
Romero was shot while he celebrated Mass at a hospital chapel, amid the civil war between leftists guerrillas and the right-wing government that left about 75,000 dead between 1980 and 1992.

Several investigations have concluded that the murder was carried out by a death squad linked to the military dictatorship, who falsely believed that Archbishop Romero was supporting Marxist guerrillas because of his concern for the poor of his country.
In his work with the poor and in his denunciations against the dictatorship, the archbishop was supported by Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II during their pontificates.
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Jesus maps the path to peace, reconciliation, pope says

Jesus maps the path to peace, reconciliation, pope says
by Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
November 28, 2017

Pope Francis greets clergy before celebrating Mass at Kyaikkasan sports ground in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) November 28, 2017 — Jesus’ love “is like a spiritual GPS” that guides people past the everyday obstacles of fear and pride and allows them to find their way to a relationship with God and with their neighbors, Pope Francis said.

Christ’s message of “forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross is ultimately unstoppable,” the pope said Nov. 29, celebrating his first public Mass in Myanmar.

According to the Vatican, 150,000 people attended the Mass at the Kyaikkasan sports ground. Thousands of them had traveled hundreds of miles to be at the Mass, and many of them camped out on the sports field the night before the liturgy.

Pope Francis acknowledged the sacrifices made by the people as well as the struggles Catholics face as a tiny minority in Myanmar and as citizens of a country struggling to leave violence behind and transition from military to democratic rule.

“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” the pope said in his homily. “The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom” or to think that “healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.”

Pope Francis prayed that Catholics in Myanmar would “know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory. In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.”

Father Francis Saw from St. John Cantonment Church in Yangon said he had 400 guests at his parish. “Many people came from the hill towns. I welcomed them and fed them and then they came here at 10 p.m.” the night before the Mass.

“We are very happy and encouraged by the pope’s visit,” he said. “It is good for our country and for our church.”

Some people had reserved seats close to the altar. “Every parish got some VIP tickets for those who are very involved in the parish, very poor or sick,” said Noeli Anthony, a ticket-holder from the Myanmar Catholic community in Perth, Australia.

Salesian Father Albert “Sam” Saminedi, pastor of the Perth community, said the immigrants he ministers to “love their country” and “are very strong, very loud and full of faith.” More than 100 of them traveled home to be with the pope.

The “VVIP” section at the sports field was reserved for government officials, diplomats and representatives of other Christian communities and other religions.

The Rev. U Chit Toe Win, chair of the Myin Thar Baptist Church and deputy chairman of an interfaith dialogue group in Yangon, sat with the Anglican, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim members of his group in the very front row.

Like any Baptist minister, Toe Win said, “I believe in Jesus first,” but “these are my brothers. We are for unity.”

AFJN Women’s Empowerment: The Story of Sr. Theresa Anyabuike



After I attended the “National Conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Biosafety Act and GMOs – Implications for Nigerians and Africa” organized by AFJN in collaboration with other Nigerian NGOs in Abuja, May 24−26, 2016, I was moved to action, particularly after listening to the lack of government guidelines and regulations on the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in Nigeria, as well as the environmental, social and health implications of this way of growing the food. Feeling strongly that no one has the right to colonize the Nigerian food system, I know I have to do something to let the people know what is going on in our country.

At the end of the conference, I knew that the people I work with, the Community Self-help Association of the Justice Development and Peace Mission, Oro, Ilorin Diocese, Kwara State Nigeria, should be made aware of the danger ahead of them in relation to the food we consume and the way the food is grown. On July 23, 2016, I held an awareness workshop where fifteen people comprising of farmers and civil servants attended.

At the workshop, I shared with the participants what I learned at the Abuja conference: the loopholes in the Nigerian biosaftey laws, the government granting Monsanto a sweeping concession to introduce genetically modified crops in Nigeria and target Nigeria’s major crops, and the overall implications of genetically modified crops for the nation. Mostly, I expressed my fears on the activities of big corporations like Monsanto which is nothing other than the colonization of our nation’s food system.

During the workshop, the participants shared their experiences in relation to their fears about GMOs. One of the farmers shared how the crops he had in his farm didn’t do well because of the chemicals he used. He confirmed that some persons gave him and other farmers from his locality the chemicals they used which affected their crops. Another said that the maize (corn) he planted earlier produced a bumper harvest, but the recent ones were diseased. He lamented, “I know that some people are giving out crops and chemicals for farmers to use. I got some, and now my crops are no longer the same.”  Further, another participant shared that there was a period in which some farmers brought abnormally large tomatoes to the market. He told them that the tomatoes were GMO because they were bigger than the natural organic tomatoes, but they didn’t listen to him. Others said that Agrochemical agents advised them to use chemicals on their farms.

The participants were shocked at the level of government insensitivity, to allow Monsanto and GMOs (and the chemicals that come with them) into the country. They expressed concern that they have consumed or planted some genetically modified produce.

At the end of the workshop, I felt confident that the group saw the danger ahead if GMOs are allowed to take over the Nigerian way of growing the food we eat, which is healthier and more sustainable. I was also delighted that they pledged not to allow anyone control to their food system. They committed themselves to going back to their rural areas and localities to disseminate the information as well as to educate other farmers to be vigilant and not to be deceived by anyone who comes promising bumper harvest by altering their natural way of growing. The participants also pledged to stand against anyone who wants to sell the nation to big corporations and anyone who wants to subject the country to a new form of colonization, one where outsiders control our seed, land and way of growing food.