Africa Day is a celebration of resilience

Mamphela Ramphele: Africa Day is a celebration of resilience

At the end of the 1980s, the major film production “Cry of Freedom” told the story of the ideological conversion of South African journalist Donald Woods by anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. You may remember Steve Biko’s political partner and wife, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. Now 72 years old, Mamphela gives the South African news agency “Eyewitness News” her views on Africa’s potential to emerge from the crisis caused by COVID-19 stronger and more resilient. I reproduce here the article, the original English version of which can be found here:
https://ewn.co.za/2020/05/25/mamphela-ramphele-africa-day-is-a-celebration-of-resilience

On this Africa Day 2020, we celebrate our resilience in the face of the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic. Our resilience stems largely from our youthful population and the continuing embrace of values of Ubuntu that enable interdependence, interconnectedness and mutual support that is critical to mitigating the devastation of this virus.

COVID-19 has enabled us to demonstrate our ability to shift from our tendency to be pre-occupied with the pursuit of personal success to rally together with empathy and compassion to collaborate in response to this existential crisis. This change in behaviour towards what really matters for humanity and ecosystem survival is a critical success factor in our response to COVID-19.

The key question we need to put to ourselves as the people of Africa is what do we need to do differently at a fundamental level to enable us to emerge from this emergency wiser, stronger, and more resilient? What we do know is that this virus has changed the world as we know it, for good. There is no going back to “normal”. Successful regions, countries and communities will be those that seize this moment as an opportunity for fundamental transformation towards more resilient socio-economic and political systems.

Resilience is essential to the future that lies ahead of us, given the multi-layered crises we are likely to continue to face. The high human footprint on our planetary system has led to the fragility on most ecosystems and threats to biodiversity that sustains our lives.

Africa needs to take this crisis as an opportunity to reimagine itself as a place that birthed humanity, those many aeons ago, into one that now needs to birth a new human civilisation characterised by prosperity and well being of all people and our planet. This reimagined Africa needs to set itself new goals and measures reflecting what would matter most in such a new civilisation.

David Korten of Stanford Business School and member of the Club of Rome, in a recently published article as part of Re-articulation of Human Development Project of the UNDP, challenged the notion that humanity’s progress can adequately be measured by the economic goal of growing GDP. He concludes that: “The human future depends on making cultural and institutional choices that align with our needs as living beings, make life, not money, the defining value, and actualise the potential of our human nature and democratic aspirations. These choices frame an emerging vision of a new and truly civilised civilisation of peace, justice, material sufficiency, and spiritual and creative abundance for all.”

The vision of this new “truly civilised civilisation” resonates with the social framework guided by Ubuntu values that most of my generation were brought up to embrace. We grew up in communities in which material sufficiency, spiritual and creative abundance for all was ensured through seamless collaborative approaches to common challenges and inter-dependence enacted in both good and bad times.

Poor households did not suffer the indignity of humiliating deprivation of basic needs. Abundance for all was secured through the Letsema/iLima processes that ensured that poor people’s fields were ploughed in return for working alongside their neighbours. Milk was available to their children in return for helping out with the milking of cows in well-off households. Education and training opportunities were accessible to all children in community owned local primary schools, and the better off members contributed to the establishment of bursaries for secondary and higher education, to secure a better future for all.

President Ramaphosa needs to look no further than to leverage our rich heritage of Ubuntu to create an inclusive new economy characterised by peace, justice, material sufficiency and spiritual and creative abundance for all. We need to have inter-generational conversations to enable my generation to share the richness of our heritage of cultural values with the younger people. We need to discharge our responsibilities to the next generation: re se ke raya le ditaola badimong – we dare not go to join our ancestors before we impart this knowledge. We need to leverage this heritage that has been undervalued and marginalised to create a new economy that promotes well being for all people and protects and promotes our environment – the source of all life.

Africa is well placed to “build back” better by leapfrogging the high human footprint low human development outcomes that most industrialised countries are struggling to emerge from. We have an abundance of land, sun, wind, and rivers to power up an ecologically sound development process for the 21st century. We also have a huge contingent (estimated at close to 200 million) of highly trained Africans in the diaspora to team up with the large youthful population to help with a historic reconstruction and development of Africa into a place of well being for all people and the ecosystem.

Mamphela Ramphele is the co-founder of ReimagineSA and co-president of the Club of Rome

Africana: History of a stable country

History of a stable story

In just a few years, Botswana has become the most stable and thriving country on the African continent. Botswana represents, according to the World Bank, “one of the true successes of economic and human development in Africa”. Its history also takes us back to the beginnings of human habitation on the African continent.

Since several African nations gained their independence in the 1960s, Africa has undergone major transformations, moving from the independence euphoria and pessimism of the 1970s and 1980s to the optimism of the 1990s that has led some media to speak of “Afro-realism”. We have moved from headlines such as “Africa, the hopeless continent” to “Africa emerges, the hopeful continent”.

The problems are not over, but the hopes have been increasing so that more than one country has managed to advance for the good of the population in general. One such country is Botswana.

Upon independence from the United Kingdom in September 1966, Botswana’s future was not very promising; five decades later, it is considered one of the most stable and thriving countries on the African continent. Botswana is the only African country that has not suffered any coup d’état, maintaining exemplary stability. In its 2017 report, the World Bank ranked Botswana among the 16 countries with the greatest political stability and absence of violence in the world and the first among the African people.

Gaborone, Capital City of Botswana

For the United Nations, Botswana is “one of the true successes of Africa’s economic and human development”. Greg Mills of the Brenthurst Foundation, an independent South African economic research group, says that Botswana’s transformation is “the result of a long-term vision, political stability and prudent governments”. Situated in southern Africa, the Republic of Botswana is bordered to the north by Zambia and Angola, to the south by South Africa, to the east by Zimbabwe and to the west by Namibia. Its area is as large as that of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), with a population of 2,370,000 inhabitants since the Kalahari desert occupies 70% of the territory (with only 4% of the remaining area suitable for agriculture). In the north are the marshy basins of the rivers Makgarikgari and Okavango that irrigate a large expanse of savannas, where livestock and agriculture are the main economic activities. Although English is the official language, Setsuana, Cannabis, San (Bushman), Khoi-khoi (Hotentote) and Ndebele are spoken. Its inhabitants are mostly Christians (76%), of which 6% are Catholics; 20% are faithful to the traditional religion and the rest are minorities Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims.

The Bushmen of today are descendants of the first inhabitants of the country.

At the origin of the first African peoples
To get to know Botswana you have to delve into its past, a past that goes back millennia, to the dawn of humanity, when man took his first steps through the savannas of southern and eastern Africa. These peoples inhabited the great plains, moving with the seasons through meadows and mountains through the great wetlands that covered the north of Botswana. Thirty thousand years ago, the Bushmen, the main hominid group in southern Africa, evolved into an organized society of hunter-gatherers; anthropologists believe they are the ancestors of today’s Bushmen living in Botswana. With the Neolithic, some of these peoples adopted a pastoral lifestyle, sowing and grazing cattle on the banks of the Okavango River. Some migrated west to central Namibia, and in 70 B.C., others reached the Cape of Good Hope.

Between 200 and 500, the Bantu came to these lands from the north and east of the continent. One of the first and most powerful groups to inhabit this region was the Sotho-Tswana, formed by three peoples: the northern Basotho who settled in South Africa; the southern Basotho who settled in Leshoto; and the western Basotho who occupied what is now Botswana. By the year 600, groups of nomadic herders began to arrive from Zimbabwe; in the 13th century almost all of eastern Botswana was under the influence of Great Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s most legendary ancient kingdoms. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, Great Zimbabwe absorbed many tribal territories in northeastern Botswana; several hundred years later, the region was part of the Monomatapa kingdom that succeeded that of Great Zimbabwe.

Mokgweetsi-Masisi, president and first lady of Botswana.

European colonisation

From the 18th century onwards, the British, Dutch and Portuguese arrived. The British tried to unite the continent from South Africa to Egypt and the Portuguese wanted to unite their colonies of Angola and Mozambique through Botswana. The fact is that this region became a real crossroads between the different strategic colonial interests, and between these and the Tswana tribes. In 1840, came the Boers or Afrikaners who were Dutch settlers fleeing the English established in Cape Town.

The Boers, who were farmers, disputed the scarce fertile lands to the Tswanas, provoking conflicts between them and the Zulu whom the white settlers had expelled from southern Africa. 

Many Tswana began working on the Boers’ farms, but it was an uncomfortable association plagued with revolt and violence. In 1895, three tribal Tswana kings went to London seeking support against the Boers and against German expansion from Namibia.

Botswana became a British protectorate under the name Bechuanaland, but the Tswana kings had to grant, in exchange for protection, that the British Company of South Africa build a railway between their lands and Zimbabwe. British tutelage prevented these lands from being absorbed by South Africa, but facilitated economic domination by the Boers. Great Britain colonised Botswana until, giving in to the nationalist movement, which began in the 1950s, it granted independence on 30 September 1966.

Magazine Africana from the Sector of Spain, n° 197 of June 2019

BF: Solidarity but not division!

Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner 
28th May, 2019

Theologians, pastors are looking for a way to display solidarity without accentuating ethnic and religious divisions

Anti-Christian attacks in Burkina Faso are continuing.

On Sunday May 26, heavily armed individuals entered a Catholic church during Mass at Toulfé in the north of the country.

Opening fire on the faithful, they killed four people and wounded several others.

On April 28, terrorists entered a Protestant church in Silgadj, killing the pastor, his sons and three members of the faithful.

On May 13, as the Catholic church celebrated the funeral of a priest and five members of the faithful who had been killed the day earlier in Dablo, four others were killed at a Marian procession in the neighboring province.

The messages of friendship and calls for prayer that circulated afterwards indicate the depth of emotion felt as well as growing concern at the determination of jihadist groups to sow terror in this small country of the western Sahara, which has long enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance.

As has occurred after each anti-Christian attack in Sri Lanka, Egypt or the Philippines, the same question keeps returning. How to show solidarity with the victims without increasing religious division and thus assisting the terrorists’ in their objective?

“We must not fall into their trap and making a lot of noise is precisely what they are seeking by attacking religious institutions,” argues Father Anselme Tarpaga, the provincial of the White Fathers in the Maghreb region and originally from Burkina Faso himself.

Instead, those who wish to show their support should commence by informing themselves of the local situation. Although the authors of the attacks share the same ideology, the context and thus the resources available always differ.

In fact, tribal and family links have created a strong interreligious network in Burkina Faso where interreligious marriages are the norm, according to Father Tarpaga, who has a Muslim father and a Christian mother.

Similarly, Congolese Father Pascal Kapilimba, the director of the Institute of Islamo-Christian Formation in Bamako, Mali, sees this phenomenon as a means of countering the jihadists “by focusing on what unites us rather than what divides.”

“Rather than speaking of Christian victims, it is better to say they belong to the Yampa or Sawadogo tribes because when we say that, all Yampas and Sawadogos feel concerned, whether they are Christians, Muslims or practice traditional religions,” he believes.

While Wahhabi Islam – a form of Salafism – is growing, it is mainly based on the rural exodus.

“Since people are far from their families, young people are more easily seduced by the discourse and money of preachers formed in Saudi Arabia,” said Father Kapilimba.

“They may allow themselves to commit acts that are regarded as reprehensible by traditional Islam,” he says. “Moreover, they prefer to desert their villages because they will be viewed badly there.

“Father Christian Delorme, who is responsible for interreligious relations in the diocese of Lyon, identifies more fuel for the Salafist contagion in “the accumulated anger, jealousies, and feeling that the West – and therefore Christians – are to blame for all the evils of the world.”

For this reason, it is equally indispensable, in his view, to “display our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Africa and our refusal to normalize such actions” and to “refuse the fracture and the fatality of war.

“This can be achieved, he argues, by refusing to distinguish between “good and bad victims” and raising our voices against “all forms of violence.

“In a statement condemning the Dablo attack as “ignoble and unjustifiable,” the Federation of Islamic Association in Burkina Faso noted that imams have also suffered.

“The jihadists’ aim is to increase insecurity among all those who refuse to adopt their vision of the world,” said Father Delorme.

“It happens that attacking Christians has a greater impact than attacking victims practicing traditional religions,” he said.

Highly concerned by the attacks in his country of origin, Father Tarpaga has shared on social media the text of a practicing young Muslim Burkinabe who witnessed publicly to his gratitude to the Salesian priests with whom he “played football while young.

“Foreign Christians “must aid the Churches in Burkina Faso to keep their social and charitable works going,” he said because if they also give in to “the closing in, they will end up justifying the terrorists.”

Election is over – SACBC statement

After the election taking place in South Africa over the weekend, the South African Catholic Bishops Conference has issued the following statement :

ELECTION IS OVER - LET THE BUILDING OF THE ECONOMY AND THE TACKLING OF CORRUPTION COMMENCE

We congratulate the Independent Electoral Commission and all political parties for creating a conducive environment for free and fair election. While some parties have recorded discontent about certain incidences during the election, these do not appear to have significantly impacted on the integrity of the election. Nevertheless, we appeal to the Independent Electoral Commission to take effective measures and address all the problems in the voting system before the next municipal election, including the threat of multiple voting, shortage of voting papers and staff inefficiencies.

One of the key messages that the citizens of South Africa have delivered through the 2019 election is that the current social contract, which is based on the Constitutional negotiations in the early 1990s, needs both renewal and repair. The citizens should not be taken for granted. The dwindling in the voter turn-out as well as the incidents of protests during the election are a stern warning to all the political parties that, twenty five years into Constitutional Democracy, there is a need to renegotiate the social contract between the ruling elite and those living in the margins of the economy.

In the previous 25 years, the Constitutional Democracy and its embedded social contract have failed to create tangible dividends, especially to the poor, in terms of acceptable levels of access to quality education, quality health care, job opportunities, and decent housing. In the next five years, the mending of the social contract will therefore depend on the extent to which the ruling party, working with the oversight functions of the 6th Parliament, have managed to rebuild the economy while tackling the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

We therefore expect all the political parties in the 6th Parliament, and not just the ruling party, to put the country first and work collectively to develop effective measures to arrest the collapse of the economy and the looting of the state resources, and to spur economic growth so that it creates jobs. In particular, we call on the ruling party to develop a national strategic plan, with measurable targets that can be subject to accountability, to address youth unemployment, which is a ticking time bomb and has at some level contributed the disenchantment and voter apathy among the youth.

An issue of grave concern to many citizens in our country, which also poses a serious threat to our young democracy, is that of high levels of corruption. Now that the election is over, we expect the President of our nation to dispense with the politics of expediency and show firm hand in dealing with those implicated in corruption and state capture. In particular, we expect the President of the country:

  • To ensure that those suspected of corruption and state capture are not appointed into the cabinet and the Parliament.
  • To ensure that the country’s bloated cabinet is reduced by half.
  • To introduce new measures to strengthen the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the criminal justice and its ability to operate without political interference and prosecute those involved in corruption and state capture
  • To reverse the collapse of good governance and widespread looting at state owned entities (SOEs), like Eskom, SAA and others.
  • To introduce more effective measures to protect the integrity of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
  • To introduce stronger measures to address irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the government departments and municipalities.

Bishop S. Sipuka – SACBC President

For more information kindly contact Archbishop W. Slattery (SACBC Spokesperson): +27 83 468 5473

END OF THE STATEMENT

How to help the Mozambique Sector

Some communities seem not have received the letter from Mozambique sector requesting help :

Dear confreres and Friends and Benefactors and People of Good will, greetings from Beira.

The cyclone Idai that hit Mozambique on the night of 14th -15th March 2019, left the people of the Central region of the country with pain and helpless: hundreds of people reported dead.   

People around us have neither food nor shelters as their houses have been damaged. Our parish community in Dombe is in the worst situation. More than 600 people there are taking refuge at the parish school. Our workers and neighbours in Beira have no houses. Sussundenga is not better.

In the Sector house, we lost part of our wall and part of our house.

At Nazaré Centre of Formation, a good number of structures are left roofless.

Our confrere Raphaël Gasimba escaped death as he fell into waters that crossed and split the road, with his car on a journey to Dombe where he is serving. The Toyota Hilux Double Cabine which he was using and some of his personal belongings are lost.

Grateful to God for the safe lives, we are calling upon your generous support in any of the areas mentioned. We thank you for your concern and prayers. Will update you on how the general situation unfold.

Details of our Bank

Millenium BIM-BEIRA CLUB
Missionários de África
Account in US Dollars: 20877214
Account in MZN: 4370627
Swift code: BIMOMZMX

Yours sincerely,

Boris Yabre, M.Afr.
Sector Superior
Mozambique

 

Update on the Mozambique situation

We have just received the following message from Boris Yabre, M.Afr., Provincial Delegate for Mozambique.

Dear confreres and Friends and Benefactors and People of Good will, greetings from Beira.

Six days ago, I sent you a SOS message sharing with you about what we are living on the ground and appealing for help.

We want to thank each and every one of you for your constant prayers and growing concern. Some of you have already sent your contributions to alleviate the pains of the people around us; others are still looking for the ways and means to do so. We wholeheartedly say thank you.

On Tuesday, the Archbishop of Beira called for an urgent meeting of the pastoral agents of the archdiocese. About hundred people or so were present. we shared about the current situation of the people at the various places of the diocese.

Putting aside the lost lives, people are in extreme need of food, drinking water and shelters. Some incidents occurred by which the population went and broke some shops in order to get food without fearing the police presence.  There is no guaranty and certainty if the humanitarian aid is reaching everywhere. Bureaucracy, protocols, greed can be a hindrance to that.

The majority of the parish churches, chapels and schools are down or roofless. Many convents and presbyteries suffered.  The archbishop suspended all the pastoral planned activities until further notice. The urgency of the time is to be with the people, share their pains and give them hope regardless of their religious, political and ethnical affiliation. We were reminded not to lose sight on what the Lord may want to tell us through this calamity.

This 4th Sunday of Lent celebration is dedicated to pray for the victims of the cyclone Idai all over the archdiocese of Beira. Each parish will make special collection today to help its most affected people.

The sad reality is that in the market places the prices of essential products have gone higher. The price of iron sheet and cement have gone up in a moment where people are in dire need. The lusalite (asbestos) sheets cannot be sold to ordinary people. It is reserved for government use in order to fix first the public structures: Government offices and schools.

In the Sector house and Nazaré Centre of Formation, what occupied the mind these last days was to make some cleaning up: gathering the iron sheet left here and there by the wind, clearing the ground as most of the mango and coconut trees were down, in order to give way and protect ourselves. So far there is no electricity. Only the ‘chosen few” have access to it. At least, the Central Hospital have electricity and the Health Centres are using generators. Right now, the city of Beira is running out of generators on sale. To have one there is need to order it from Chimoio or Tete.

Sussundenga has no electricity neither. Those who lost their houses are given only tents by the Red Cross. The fields are swept away by the waters giving way to despair and the imminence of a year of hunger.

In Dombe there is rising need of food, shelters, and drinking water. For whatever reason, it is one of the forgotten places of the country. The fields got flooded and the crops are gone.  Our community chapels in some villages which partly fell are where some families are living.

On the estimates you can add ‘we shall try to come up with so concrete figures by the end of this week for what our Confreres may need for their missions and in order to contribute to helping the needy…

So far, we cannot give any estimate of what could cost the reconstruction of our structures: Nazaré Centre of formation, the Sector house. It seems to be too soon to have clear references, giving the general chaos we are in. We shall try to come up with so concrete figures by the end of this week for what our Confreres may need for their mission and in order to contribute to helping the needy.

The families of our candidates which we managed to contact are safe. They do also have some challenges like anybody else. Our confreres and stagiaires are doing well. They continue to be close to the people and to face with them the test of time.

Boris Yabre, M.Afr.
Provincial Delegate

  • The big chapel of Nazaré
  • Desolation in Nazare
  • Desolation in Nazare
  • Dombe, what remains of maize fields
  • Dombe camp of tents for the homeless
  • Maize fields swept by water in Sussudenga.
  • Some people trying to regain their villages after the flood for a new giving with almost nothing in Matarara- Dombe
  • The remaining of a community chapel serves as a shelter for this family
  • Improvised homes
  • Drinking water has to be supplied...

Cyclone Idai – News from Hugh Seenan (Facebook)

Thanks to all who have been worried about me here in Malawi or worried about Beira, getting in touch with me or my family. Where I am in Malawi, where I’ve been for the last year, we have had good weather. I was in Beira for 10 years before that. It’s been devastating seeing the reports. Over the years I’ve been in all the places from Beira to Chimanimani in Zimbabwe, even in Buzi where you see everybody on top of buildings without food. It is only in the last couple of days that I started getting news from friends and former neighbours. Slowly they are clearing up trying to repair their homes. It’s good to hear. Nazaré Centre , Beira Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, where I worked, was badly hit. Some pictures follow. They have started cleaning up but it will be a while before they can receive groups. All going well, I will go there for Holy Week. Thanks for remembering me. Pray for everyone affected and the relief teams. God Bless,

Hugh Seenan, M.Afr.

 

Beatification : a responsability (Mini-lien n° 481)

The Church in Algeria almost disappeared several times: at independence, during nationalizations and during successive attacks. Cardinal Duval and Bishop Teissier’s intuition was to say: “Our premises, instead of remaining empty, let us put them at the service of the people (1). “Our premises must become platforms for service and meetings,” said Pierre Claverie. And as a result, churches, presbyteries and communities became places of life, service and animation. This Church has really set itself up to serve and has established very close friendships with many Algerians.

In the Church, not just anyone is beatified. We observe life but then, “the blood spilled” speeds things up. In the lives of these men and women religious, what is it that makes them beatified? Some have studied theology, Islamology, but all have said the same thing in one sentence: “I freely choose to remain in the country despite the risk, out of fidelity to Christ, to the Gospel and to this Algerian people.” It’s not the fact that they were killed that counts, it’s the very fact that they stayed out of love.

Why did the bishops ask for this beatification? “Because it is an example for today.” Hence the publication of this work by Jean-Jacques Pérennès: “Pierre Claverie, La fécondité d’une vie donnée (2).” Already in bookshops, there are dozens and dozens of books on the shelves, not to mention the written press of all confessions ; the film: “Des Hommes et des Dieux” was watched by millions of people in a secular France; Adrien Candiard’s play : Adrien Candiard’s play: “Pierre et Mohammed”, created at the Avignon Festival, has exceeded 1200 performances. It is played in front of Muslim audiences, which shows that there is an obvious fertility and that friendship is possible. It is a message for our time: listening, meeting without fear of the other.

In Algeria, it is significant that the authorities have accepted that for this beatification, 1200 people would travel. So the Algerian authorities have accepted and this is a strong message. Algeria acknowledges that they died out of friendship for that country. The bishops, in their communiqué announcing the beatification, said: ” As far as we are concerned, we do not want to distinguish our martyrs from the 150,000 Algerian dead, we want to emphasize the friendship which we want to maintain with this country. “It is therefore not a beatification that accuses Muslims, on the contrary. It is to be hoped that it is the same in France and in Europe where we are afraid of migrants. It is an invitation to “not be afraid”, said Saint John Paul II. Let us not be naive, it is not simple, but we must build and dare to meet, which can be very enriching.

For many of us, it is rather amazing to see someone with whom we have thought, worked and washed dishes, walked and participated in retreats, be beatified. Often we bless someone who had founded a movement or congregation in the 19th century. But these are our contemporaries with whom we have lived. The apostles said: “What we have seen and heard, we proclaim to you also, that you too may be in communion with us…” There is a little bit of that for us.

Beatification shows the fruitfulness of these given lives, and this fruitfulness shows the responsibility of the Church of today and tomorrow.

Bernard Lefebvre, M.Afr.
(French Sector – Mini-lien n°481 du 1er février 2019)

(1) Je me suis inspiré de l’interview du 8/12/2018 de Jean-Jacques Pérennès sur KTO.

(2) Jean-Jacques Pérennès, Pierre Claverie, La fécondité d’une vie donnée, Cerf 2018.

 

Interview with Paul Desfarges

This post is based on an article from Jeune Afrique in December 2018 and is restricted to M.Afr. members for copyright reasons. Written originally in French, the post is translated quickly with the help of modern tools of traduction. In case of doubt, please refer to the original French version. 

Interview with Paul Desfarges

« This beatification is an opportunity to prepare for the Pope’s coming »

Monks of Tibhirine, relations with the authorities, interreligious dialogue, evangelical proselytism: the prelate shares his vision of the role of the Catholic Church in the country.

(Interview by Farid Alilat)

Nineteen religious Catholics, monks, white fathers and nuns, murdered in the 1990s during the Black Decade, will be beatified on December 8 at the Basilica of Santa Cruz in Oran. The memory of 114 imams who were victims of terrorism will also be honoured. Jean-Paul Vesco, Bishop of Oran, John Mac William, Bishop of Laghouat-Ghardai, Jean-Marie Jehl, Administrator of Constantine and Hippo, and Paul Desfarges, Archbishop of Algiers, will attend. For JA (Jeune Afrique), the latter explains the meaning of the event and discusses the place of the Church in Algeria.

Jeune Afrique : How was the decision of the béatification of these 19 religious taken?

Mgr Paul Desfarges : It is the result of a long investigation that gathered all the testimonies concerning the lives and writings of these men and women of faith. At the end of a long work, Pope Francis signed a decree authorizing their beatification. It is right that these 19 people should be shown as examples of life according to the Gospel, models of self-giving to God and humanity, and people of deep faith.

What is the symbolism of this ceremony and of the decision of the Pope?

For our Church, they are a testimony of brotherhood beyond what may appear to be barriers. We can witness, Christians and Muslims, seekers of meaning and people of good will, that we can live together because deep down there is a human fraternity that unites us. We are in a climate of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation.

Who are those 19 religious being beatified?

There are the 7 monks of the monastery of Tibhirine, kidnapped and killed in the spring of 1996. There are also 4 white fathers murdered in January 1995 in their presbytery in Tizi-Ouzou, Kabylia. We also have Brother Henri Vergès and Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, who were tortured in May 1994 in their library in the popular district of La Casbah, in Algiers. There are Esther Paniagua Alonso and Caridad Álvarez Martin, two Spanish nuns killed in October 1994 in the same district. Also to be beatified 3 missionary sisters murdered in Algiers in September and November 1995. And finally, Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, murdered in August 1996 in the explosion of a bomb placed in front of his bishopric, which also killed his driver. As far as the 7 Trappist monks of Tibhirlne are concerned, the investigation has not yet shed full light on the circumstances of the abduction that led to their murder. The case continues to generate tensions and unease between Algiers and Paris. Will this beatification ease these tensions? This is not at all the concern of our Church. We have always thought that they died because they had, in fact, taken the risk, knowing that they were threatened, of remaining at the monastery of Medea and among the Algerian population. Their relationship with neighbours and partners was more important than protecting their lives. That’s what makes them witnesses and martyrs. Moreover, it was not us, as a Church, who asked for an inquiry into their death. We are close to the people of Medea, and it is obvious to them that they were kidnapped and killed by an armed Islamic group. I have no further information. And once again, that is not the meaning we want to give to this beatification. They had already given their lives when it was taken from them.

Do you know who will represent the Algerian authorities at the ceremony?

Since the beginning of this process, we have been very well supported by the Algerian authorities, in particular the Minister of Religious Affairs, who has done everything possible to ensure that everything goes smoothly. He will be present at this ceremony, as well as imams. We want to celebrate this beatification not among Christians but with our Muslim friends and neighbours who also suffered and lost theirs own friends and relatives during this black decade. We also want to honour the memory of the 114 imams, men of faith and fidelity to their conscience, who lost their lives because they did not want to sign fatwas and endorse the violence of armed groups. Not to mention the journalists, intellectuals and artists who died during those years.

It is therefore a time of communion between Christians and Muslims…

We feel that it is a time of communion, peace and coming together, which will not be turned towards the past but towards the present of living together. The 19 martyrs took the risk of dying rather than leaving those with whom they lived and who were the meaning of their lives.

Why is it that Pope Francis, who will be visiting Morocco in March 2019, is not going to attend this ceremony of beatification?

I think there have been delays, and the Pope does not systematically come to beatifications. We are close to the [Algerian presidential election of 2019]. The authorities have made it clear to us that it is better to wait a little while. It is only a postponement.

A possible visit of the Pope to Algeria is therefore in discussion with the authorities? 

Algerians are available and favourable to the coming of the Holy Father. We have been assured of this, but the conditions are not yet in place for a visit. I think that this beatification is an opportunity to prepare for the Pope’s visit after the next elections.

What is the place of the Catholic Church in Algeria today, when we have witnessed the emergence of evangelical Protestantism in recent years?

We follow our vocation as a universal Church. We are an international church with a community of expatriates, diplomats, students from sub-Saharan Africa, migrants from this part of Africa, as well as Algerians of the Christian faith. Our vocation is to love and serve, as St. Augustine said. We are part of the long tradition of Saint Augustine.

Are you concerned about the proselytism of the Evangelical Churches? Or is this part of the practice of religious life?

Our Catholic Church does not proselytize. We believe in witnessing in love and brotherhood, and every sincere believer bears witness to his or her faith. We are not going to look for anyone because it is God who converts. We only convert to God. Our evangelical brothers have another practice of religion. We have fraternal links with some, but each one has his own vocation.

Do you feel a religious revival in Algeria?

Yes. We feel that this people is proud of its Muslim faith. We also note that, in society, there are questions that arise. There are people who are looking for an open and tolerant Islam, a larger space of freedom.

How has interreligious dialogue evolved in Algeria in recent years?

We can speak to each other with much more truth and recognize ourselves in what brings us together. Despite the differences, the essential thing is spiritual communion. Our 19 martyrs are for us a path to this spiritual encounter. We can meet between Christians and Muslims in moments of sharing, prayer and meditation without entering into theological discussions. The spiritual persons of each religion can meet at the deep level of faith.

As Archbishop of Algiers, what relations do you have with the Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs?

Excellent personal relationships. My brother bishops also have very good relations with Minister Mohamed Aïssa. He is attentive to the life of our Church and, whenever we raise an issue, he is attentive.

Precisely, one of the problems raised is the refusal of the authorities to grant visas to certain religious people. Has it been resolved?

It is not settled. It is one of our difficulties. We don’t always understand these refusals. The problem of visas does not only concern religious men and women. Nor is it an absolute refusal. Some visas are granted. Others take a long time to obtain. We are still in dialogue with the Minister of Religious Affairs, but this question does not completely depend on him.

Victor-Luke Odhiambo SJ — A life lived where few dare go

A tribute to Jesuit priest Victor-Luke Odhiambo who was slain while serving at a teachers’ training college in South Sudan. Francis Anyanzu SJ, a Ugandan-born Jesuit priest now living and studying in South Africa, reflects on his life of service in a remote place of great need. Continue reading “Victor-Luke Odhiambo SJ — A life lived where few dare go”