The decline of human fraternity: violations of human rights

JPIC Promoters with young people from Talitha Kum International at St Peters Square 04/02/2024

Introduction

Thinking about human rights in the light of the Gospel, what comes to my mind is Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman, narrated in John 8:1-11. Jesus did not judge or condemn her. Instead, he confronted customary systems that were blind to the male misdeeds, but harsh to female shortcomings. He opted for the protection of human rights, particularly the life and dignity of the woman who was caught. Jesus’ ideal and attitude remain important to our contemporary human society. The present reflection is guided by four elements: my personal experience, the causes of human rights violations, the concept of human rights and its modern challenges, and the Church’s role in promoting human rights.

Personal experience of human rights violations

My experience of human rights violations is existential. Being born and bred in the Great Lakes Region, writing about the non-respect of human rights is not intellectual entertainment. It is an existential reality. For more than two decades, the mentioned region has been faced with unending war. Its impacts have directly or indirectly affected each individual. Cases of unprecedented massacres, rape, torture and images of mutilated bodies are beyond telling. I see human rights violations in the cry of women and children who are constantly abused by ruthless rebels. I see it in refugees whose rights to life, liberty and property are endangered. It always pricks my mind. I wonder if such human atrocities shall ever come to an end.

Currently, I am faced, not with the human rights violations per se; but rather with unjust systems. The recent changes in the legal frameworks of most countries, mediatic propaganda and populist ideologies are alarming. In the long run, they will affect the human rights of the most vulnerable groups, such as victims of human trafficking, migrants, refugees and political asylum seekers. The UK Illegal Migration Bill that led to the slogan of “Stop the boats”, is one of the challenges, most human rights defenders are faced with today.

Causes of human rights violations

There exist various causes of human rights violations. My observation is threefold: social, economic and political. The way society is organized sometimes oppresses vulnerable individuals. For instance, some customary laws violate the rights of women and children. The right to inheritance exists only for the male child, who eventually controls family wealth. Though women and girls actively participate in the family productive sector – ranging from working on the farm to office work – they do not control what the family produces. In most cultures, it is difficult for women to legally own property. The title deed must bear the husband’s name. Such a rule violates the woman’s fundamental rights of liberty and property.

Politics – of course, bad politics – is another cause of human rights violations. The politics that does not protect the natural rights of life, liberty and property is lethal. It tramples on the dignity of citizens. Recently, the world has seen selfish politicians waging unnecessary wars for economic reasons. It is believed that the real causes of such wars are kept secret within the world economic system.

Human rights: a fluid concept

The concept of human rights is becoming more and more fluid. The fluidity of its nature makes it difficult to define and grasp its meaning. For instance, the classical fundamental human rights of life, liberty and property are being merged with human sexual rights. LGBTQ+ rights defy traditional family norms and religious beliefs. Another challenge is the explicit non-respect of human rights, which enjoys a moral double standard within the corridors of the International Community. For economic and political interests, certain crimes against humanity do not attract global attention. The human atrocities in Ukraine, in Gaza, in the Sahel, the Great Lakes Region and other parts of the world, do not attract the same reprehension. Why? First, there is a remarkable decline in the human fraternity. Humans, when it comes to economic and political gains, hardly see each other as brothers and sisters. What matters most is wealth and power; not human life. Second, the political Manicheism – the politics of “good guys” and “bad guys”- is rendering obsolete the concept of human rights. Those, who worldwide are known to be the “good guys”, when they commit crimes, which are inherently crimes against humanity, they are quickly exonerated and protected by International Law. The turn of “bad guys” is a different story altogether. The harsh sanctions are quickly pronounced. This partial judgment itself points to the fluid nature of the concept of human rights.

Promoting human rights: the role of the Church

To face the challenges already mentioned, the Church needs to re-valorise her identity – being a moral authority figure – who does not command, but rather helps humanity to re-order itself when faced with moral impasse and political confusion. The evangelical virtues of protecting life, love and fraternity (cf. John 8:1-11; Luke 10:25-37), should truly guide the evangelizing mission of the Church.

As prophetic witnesses, first, we need to live and practice the love of the Good Samaritan. This kind of love is practical. It is not a fairy tale imagination; it is about life. Second, we need to revive the spirit of human fraternity. Loving and protecting our neighbour’s life is imperative. It calls us to notice the dire situation of our brothers and sisters and do something about it. Pope Francis reiterates this in Fratelli Tutti (2020). Like Saint Francis, he expresses “the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives”. (FT, 1).

Conclusion

Jesus, by his attitude, confronted systems that did not respect fundamental human rights. He was not blind; he saw the plight of the vulnerable within the human society. Existential realities of human rights violations are not far from us. They call for our prophetic responses. Increasing our awareness and knowledge of such violations is a key to our missionary endeavours, lived in the life of the Church.

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

Violence and insecurity, past and present

Panzi Foundation

“Homo homini lupus est” is a Latin proverb that means “man is a wolf to man”. In the past, human beings behaved like wolves towards their fellow creatures, and this behaviour continues to this day. The violence and insecurity that are spreading around the world are a case in point.

What is violence?

In its 2002 report on violence and health, the WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force, threats against others or oneself, against a group or community, that results in or has a high risk of resulting in trauma, psychological harm, developmental problems or death”.

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” (Pg. 5, Krug E, Dahlberg L, Mercy J.et al.  World report on violence and health. Geneva : World Health Organization, 2002)

Types of violence

When one person attacks another to cause harm, it is called aggression. When a person kills another, even for legally justifiable reasons, it is called homicide. Robbery, pillage, rape and the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults are other types of violence. Violence can also be psychological, verbal and passive. There is also structural violence. According to Galtung, this “violence is ‘structured’ and is characterised by inequality in the exercise of power, and consequently leads to unequal opportunities”. Nepotism – a political, social, cultural or ethnic grouping that oppresses or excludes others – is part of structural violence.

Violence and insecurity

The prevalence of violence creates fear to the point that people feel unsafe; this is known as insecurity. We could, therefore, deduce that insecurity is a consequence of violence. There are many causes of insecurity: people are said to be socially insecure when their environment is dangerous and threatening. For example, Goma (in the province of North Kivu, D.R. Congo) is an insecure city where, around 9 pm, there are few pedestrians or vehicles on the road. A worker whose job is precarious would be living in a situation of insecurity. The uncertainty of a confrere’s next appointment may cause insecurity. We note that the underlying cause in the province mentioned above is the economic war that has been going on for over two decades.

Violence and insecurity have a negative impact on individuals and their communities. They lead to mass displacement, isolate people from each other and cause trauma, depression and eventually death.

Can violence be prevented?

It is possible to put in place measures to prevent violence, such as promoting people’s rights and duties and measures against harmful alcohol consumption and drug use, especially among young people. Reducing access to firearms and knives, promoting gender equality, and preventing greed, pillage, and illicit extraction of natural resources by the mafia and multinational systems would all help to create non-violent communities and a non-violent world.

Where do we place non-violence and empathy?

If, in simple terms, empathy is the ability to identify with the feelings of others, and non-violence is the abstention from and exclusion of all violence, then both concepts have a role to play in situations of violence and insecurity. Thus, refusing all cooperation, complicity and participation in violent actions, denouncing violent words and actions, and promoting interculturality and peace can encourage non-violence. Putting yourself in other persons’ shoes, trying to understand them without judging them, getting close to them, helping them to express their feelings, and listening with concern are some of the behaviours that are empathetic towards the victims of violence and insecurity.

Which programmes are needed to combat violence and insecurity?

Societies torn apart by violence and insecurity often have NGOs and United Nations agencies trying to find solutions to these scourges. In our environment and elsewhere, these organisations are sometimes accused of ‘creating’ wars and claiming to end them through their programmes. In the provinces of North and South Kivu, programmes to combat gender-based violence (GBV) have been set up to provide health, moral and psychological care and to integrate victims into society. Doctors Without Borders, for example, offers medical care for war casualties. MONUSCO (United Nations Organisation Mission for the Stabilisation of the Congo), FAO, UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, UNDP, etc. have set up programmes to support stabilisation and conflict prevention, gender equality and the empowerment of women, assistance for children and refugees, development, etc. At the national level, there are also projects such as the PRVBG (Projet de Prévention et de Réponse Basées sur le Genre – Gender-based Prevention and Response Project) and the Children’s Parliament to assist child victims of violence and abuse and to bring their perpetrators to justice

At the local level, there is the Panzi Foundation, set up by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Denis Mukwege, which deals with maternal health and genital mutilation of women who have been raped. There are also Christian self-help networks and counselling centres such as the diocesan Caritas and the Nyota centre in Bukavu (where our confrere, Father Bernard Ugeux, is involved), which takes in illiterate young girls who have been raped and abandoned children to help them regain their self-esteem. Night patrols by the police and military and street lighting in the neighbourhoods and avenues of the city and its surroundings are all part of the programme to combat violence and insecurity.   

Peace is possible

Violence and insecurity are realities that remain with us and in us. They have been and still are the cause of many ills in society. But they can be avoided and eradicated. Peace is possible; a lasting peace would be a solution to violence and insecurity.

By: Jean-Paul Cirhakarhula, M.Afr.

Violence and insecurity : an obstacle to development, peace and prosperity

Crédit image: Generative AI, https://firefly.adobe.com/

Violence is a behaviour that hurts physically or damages someone or something. Violence refers to force used to subjugate someone against his will. Violence is an extreme form of aggression against a person or it is a quarrel that results in injury and death of a person. It is an abominable and horrible act, which can lead to the worst (injury-death of a person). Gandhi, theorist of non-violence, has said, “Violence should not be confused with force or conflict. There is violence only when force is in action”.

Mali is going through a deep crisis because of insecurity due to conflicts that are leading to violence such as inter- and intra-community tensions in the country. Acts of violence against the civilian population continue to increase in different regions of Mali and civilians continue to pay the heaviest price for conflicts, violence and attacks by armed groups that are causing great loss of lives and properties.

There are different types of violence in our society today

Gender-based violence: there are many forms of gender-based violence, which we experience in our communities today.

  • Physical violence: physical abuses like punching; spitting, pushing; slapping; biting and even using weapons etc.
  • Sexual violence: sexual violence takes place in many forms and it can take place under very different circumstances. It can include sexual slavery, sexual harassment, trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced pregnancy and forced marriage.
  • Violence against women: women are always the victims in our societies. Excision, early marriage and conjugal violence are forms of violence against women. All these cause a lot of physical and psychological health problems in a woman’s life. Many girls withdraw from school because of these and other types of violence against them. It is important to know that there are multiple forms of violence in our society that people face and that they have serious consequences on individuals, families and communities.
  • Inter- and intra-community violence: there is violence between farmers and breeders. This is a territorial conflict, causing the destruction of lives and properties in our communities today. There are also armed attacks against people, villages and public infrastructure, which continue to undermine the protection of civilians and cause numerous losses of human life. Violence in all its forms constitutes an obstacle to the sustainable development, peace and prosperity of a country. Territorial conflicts lead to destruction of lives and property. There is also verbal and moral violence which provokes hatred.

In Nioro of Sahel

Here, in our region, Nioro du Sahel, we experience violence between ethnic groups and also between different communities. Islam is a dominant religion in the region; many also follow African traditional religions. Or they may follow cultures and traditions that harm individuals and society as a whole. Such violence is at the origin of the destabilisation of the country and causes poverty and unemployment in the society. It seems that the society does not want or accept some of these cultures and this causes physical and psychological harm both to individuals and to society at large. Some religious leaders and parents still seem to support practices like excision and child marriage. That’s why these practices continue to exist though now reducing slowly. We get to know this, when we, as church, participate in different sessions organized by some NGOs and by the Government projects that promote and tackle the issues of violence and insecurity. In our towns and villages, violence such as female genital mutilation and underage marriages are causing a lot of physical and psychological health problems to young girls. These different types of violence can be the cause of destabilisation of the communities and the country at large. And that can cause economic insecurity, preventing a country from developing.

Attacks by armed groups

The humanitarian consequences of attacks in the villages, killings, kidnappings, burning of harvests in the fields and setting fire on barns and houses as well as livestock theft are many. In such a climate of insecurity, it is difficult to think about the economy and stability of one’s country.  In the region, from time to time few NGOs try to bring peace and raise the awareness of the communities about the consequences of violence. Inter- and intra-community violence and attacks by unknown armed-men against the population, villages and public infrastructure continue to undermine the protection of civilians and cause numerous losses of human lives. This is the situation in many villages and regions in Mali, and many of these displaced people are children and women. Faced with this situation, survivors of these attacks flee from their villages in large number to places seemed safer. This forced displacement makes them victims of famine. The government intervenes by following the law of the country. The increase in attacks in the villages subsequently causes forced displacements. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) is increasing day after day due to persistent insecurity in the country. The situation is complex for carrying out mediation activities, reconciling the different communities, strengthening social cohesion and encouraging the return of basic social service personnel. The fields, granaries and houses are set on fire by groups of armed men. From time to time, there are NGOs which provide humanitarian aid like providing cereals, agricultural materials and also moral help.

The region of Nioro du Sahel is mostly dry desert. It has a short rainy season. Because of that there is not enough harvest. This problem causes economic insecurity in the region. Unknown armed men attack and rob transport buses. That limits people from moving from one place to another. There are territorial conflicts that lead to violence such as peasants against breeders; violence between ethnic groups etc.

Violence is causing loss of life and properties. Child marriage and female genital mutilation have been a big challenge in the area. Many underage girls withdraw from school and lead a life they are not yet prepared for. These conflicts and violence are causing great economic insecurity in the region and are an obstacle for the development of the country. In a real sense, it is difficult for the people to live in peace while things are not working. It is evident, that many people are not at peace but they have no choice. Some of them are losing their family members, because of the way others are mistreating them.

By: Gidey Mekonnin Girmay, M.Afr.

Have you rejected South Sudan altogether? Does your very soul revolt at her?

South Sudanese displaced by war (2013). Crédit image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eu_echo/

When, in 2021, my appointment to South Sudan became known, I received a couple of messages ranging from inspiring prayerful wishes to nerve-wrecking comments on South Sudan. Someone said “there is so much violence in that country, I wish you wouldn’t have to go there”. Another regrettably asked “why are you always appointed to war-torn countries? You are leaving Mali, a troubled country, to go to a worse one. You are moving from the frying pan to the fire”. A Muslim friend teased, “that country ought not to exist, why go there?” More seriously, another said, “the people in that country are not good, they will kill you”.

As I kept pondering over these comments, I resolved to do everything possible to avoid hearing more of that kind for fear that the worse things would be said to put my soul to fright. I was determined to safeguard my inner peace and keep myself free from the clutches of anxiety. Thankfully, to an appreciable degree, I succeeded in remaining unperturbed by the frightful warnings those comments signalled, as the little echoes of violence they contain remained oblivious to me. However, as the days went by, the more I learnt about South Sudan in preparation for my eventual going there, the more the comments imposingly affirmed their significance. In most of the materials I read, violence, war, conflict, insecurity, poverty and suffering were the recurring subjects. On further research, I discovered that South Sudan, though the youngest country in the world, was according to the Global Peace Index Ranking, “the most dangerous country in Africa and the fourth most unsafe place in the world” .

When I finally arrived in South Sudan, the reality on the ground spoke more nobly than the sum of all that I had up to then learnt. The spate of violence and its awful consequences are stark. From the account of eyewitnesses and surviving victims, fear, sorrow, despair, uncertainty and great suffering are heard. In my first audience with Bishop Stephen Nyodho Ador of the diocese of Malakal to which we belong, he grieved over the weight of destruction South Sudan suffered from the terrible violence that befell her, spanning from 2013 to 2016. With specific reference to his hometown and seat of his episcopate, he said “Malakal is in ruins”.

Like the prophet Jeremiah

This wasn’t an overstatement! Indeed, violence and war have left the towns of Malakal, Renk, Wedakona and similar others in terrible desolation. Were one to travel back in time to those towns in 2013 or 2014, the horrific scenes may have obliged one to lament as did the prophet Jeremiah;

«If I go into the countryside, there lie those killed by the sword; if I go into the city, I see people tortured with hunger; even prophets and priests roam the country at their wits’ end»Have you rejected Judah altogether? Does your very soul revolt at Zion? Why have you struck us down without hope of cure? We were hoping for peace — no good came of it! For the moment of cure — nothing but terror! (Jer 14:18-19)

This lament of the prophet may appear an exaggeration. Nevertheless, it gives a vivid mental picture of the level of violence and the horrific consequences South Sudan suffered shortly after her independence in 2011. The joy of independence and freedom were short-lived. People hoped for peace and prosperity, but somewhat, “no good came of it.” They hoped for a moment of cure, but terror struck instead! One cannot but ask: Lord, have you rejected South Sudan altogether? Does your very soul loathe her being? A young man from Akobo, one of our outstations, recounted that somewhere at the outskirt of the town, lay many skulls which he and one priest discovered as they took a stroll. He proposed me to go with him to see, but I declined his invitation, lest the words of the prophet be fulfilled in my hearing, “If I go into the countryside, there lie those killed by the sword”. Born out of fearless struggles and great sufferings, South Sudan indeed, is yet to reach her Sabbath and find her true rest. Like Ramah, she is inconsolably in tears because violence has usurped the peace of her children and left her in perpetual insecurity.

What is violence in South Sudan?

Violence is a multifaceted concept and as such, no single definition of it may be absolute. In the context of South Sudan, I tend to think that any hitherto known definition of violence is applicable. The World Health Organization defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force, threats against others or oneself, against a group or community, that results in or has a high risk of resulting in trauma, psychological harm, developmental problems or death.”   I find this definition the most fitting as every element in it is true of any form of violence taken at random in South Sudan. I observe however, that this definition is yet to be understood by a majority of people as they mistake violence for bravery or rather that violence is misconstrued as a justified act of bravery. In some cultures, for example, coming of age justifies raiding for cattle, children or women as by that act the youth is confirmed “brave and responsible” enough to assume his place in society. It goes without saying then, that violence is not perceived as something innately negative. In fact, what is standardly known and shunned as violence in most cultures has yet to be understood in that way by other cultures.

The different facets of violence and their underlying causes

There are as many kinds of violence as there are underlying causes. There is a strife for ethnic/tribal and economic dominance among the ethnic groups. This is driven by their hidden desire to ascend to ultimate political power and governance. From this is engendered political, tribal/ethnic violence. Independence, cultural identity, religious freedom among others were the overarching pre-independence goals for all well-meaning South Sudanese. After independence, there seems to be a gradual shift in vision, ideals and values. The spirit of nationalism and patriotism seems to be giving way to ethnic interest. It seems to matter now who leads and who is led and hence the continuous wrangling for political power. There exist also other forms of communal and ethnic violence which are not directly motivated by any urge for ultimate political power. This violence erupts between communities mainly based on territorial, agricultural and other socio-cultural interests. There are constant reciprocal deadly raids for cattle, children and women among tribes. High bride price, perceived infertility among certain tribes, and insufficient grazing fields for cattle are arguably thought to be the underlying causes of this category of violence. The level of insecurity created by this type of violence is regrettably growing at an alarming rate. The hub of this sort of violence is the Jonglei State, which is the ecclesial territory of the Missionaries of Africa at St Paul’s Parish.  Even as these words are written I am reliably informed that more than twenty people have been killed in a violent clash between two tribes in Duk, one of our outstations. Related to communal violence is the subtle and systematic violence of revenge killing, the cause of which I would say is dysfunctional culture and religion. There is also domestic or gender-based violence whose victims are mostly women and children. Interpersonal violence is also a common phenomenon as individuals, most often overtaken by the effects of other forms of violence, suffer attacks, abuse, threats, or simply vent their anger on each other. As a shepherd, I get wounded by my wounded sheep in this regard. Yet, even so, I must remain their shepherd.   

The persistent collective violence (war) in recent years has led to high proliferation of arms in South Sudan paving the way for the cycle of violence to continue. Due to easy access to guns, armed groups are on the surge wielding sporadic violence on the population. 

The effects of violence

The effects of violence are manifold. Violence has left many a South Sudanese traumatized, emotionally numbed, and aggressive. The ransacking of villages and towns has retarded and continues to hamper the infrastructural development of the country. (The diocese of Malakal for instance lost more than 30 cars and other valuable church properties during the violence of 2013). Closely related to this, are the dire effects of hunger and starvation due to reduced economic productivity. Whenever violence breaks out, it freezes economic activities leading to continuing poverty. Socially, violence has alienated certain groups, tribes and individuals. It is needless to say that the massive loss of human life and displacement during violence, also lead to an upsurge of dysfunctional families, a situation that hampers the proper development of children. Through violence many families have been deprived of their father figure, as too often men perish during clashes. It has to be stated also that violence adversely affects people’s faith and morals, as some, out of their bitter experiences, lose hope in God and humanity. For some people, to take away human life is an easy thing to do. This points to the depth of irreligiosity and moral decay that violence can cause.

What is being done to reduce violence and heal its victims

At the national and international level, efforts are made to combat violence in South Sudan. Up to now, the 2018 Addis Ababa Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan is yielding some positive results, even if much more is left to be desired. There is a fragile peace across the nation. The Ecumenical visit of Peace by Pope Francis and his allied Shepherds to South Sudan significantly contributed to national healing, peace building and hope restoration in the country. There are also many support programs run by many local and international Non-Governmental Organizations and Institutions some of which target reducing violence through peacebuilding, education, healthcare and similar activities. They also offer a variety of humanitarian support systems centered on providing shelter, feeding, accompaniment, healing and the rehabilitation of victims of violence.

The Church in South Sudan is also at the forefront in helping victims of violence. The diocese of Malakal for instance, is rendering an immense service to thousands of victims fleeing violence from neighboring Sudan by offering them free transportation to reach Malakal from the border town of Renk. As a new community of the Missionaries of Africa, our humble apostolic duty is to eke out the efforts of the local church by bringing to bear our “tout à tous”. In this ocean of violence, we consciously present ourselves as “witnesses of the Kingdom”, for we know that he to whom the Kingdom belongs is in the midst of his people. We break the bread every day in supplication for the people. In other practical terms, while we ourselves are still finding our bearings as a new community, we seek first to befriend the people. This will lead us to gaining their trust and from that we can live together as brothers and sisters. For the time being, owing to lack of resources at our disposal, we only facilitate the running of courses on trauma healing, justice and peace promotion, women empowerment among others. Topical among our many pastoral plans are faith revival and education for transformation. We are convinced beyond doubts that only good education decked with firm faith can break the vicious chain of violence and bring about development, for the people perish for lack of knowledge; they lag behind for lack of a positive mindset. We are certain that the Lord has not rejected South Sudan altogether and neither have you! 

By: Cletus Atindaana, M.Afr.

Non-violence : an essential requirement of the human conscience

image credit: https://www.latestly.com

Violence and Insecurity

Violence and Insecurity! I have to say that these are two realities that also affect me deeply on a personal level and the level of “my life in general” because, since 2011, the violence and insecurity that used to be in the North of Mali has spread to almost the entire Malian territory and then to Burkina Faso in 2013. I noticed that since 2015, the same reality of violence and insecurity has found its way to Burkina Faso.

What is violence?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force, threats against others or oneself, against a group or community, that results in or has a high risk of resulting in trauma, psychological harm, developmental problems or death”. There are different forms of violence: physical, sexual, psychological and verbal.

In our communities

I can testify to having suffered in the community from attempted physical violence from a confrere, psychological violence and very often verbal violence from certain confrères. While saying all this, I don’t want to accuse anyone, but only to testify that “violence, especially verbal violence”, does exist in our communities.

In the Sahel

In the Sahel, physical violence and insecurity unfortunately affect a large proportion of our population! The kidnapping of our confrere Father Ha-Jo Lohre in Bamako on November 20, 2022, is proof of this. Fortunately, he was freed on November 26, 2023.

 Many here associate fear and the sense of insecurity with the rise in violence in certain regions. A. Peyrefitte, the French Minister of Justice in 1977, said: “The impression that each person has of violence stems in particular from personal experience, the knowledge that he or she might have had of it from those around him or her, and the information disseminated by the media”.

I read an article last year by a Burkinabe sociologist, Mr. Sidi Barry, who said that the security crisis we are experiencing has its roots in ethnic and religious issues, the frustrations of populations who have been forgotten, the lack of investment in development infrastructures in many areas, especially in communications, health and education; to this, we must add the endemic unemployment we are experiencing in many Sahelian towns. Violence and insecurity, therefore, lead individuals and communities to destroy or devalue physical capital (infrastructure, equipment), human capital and social capital based on trust, rules and networks of relationships.

An example of this is the speech made by General Moussa Traoré, Governor of Gao, on February 19, 2023: “The problems the population of the City of Askia is suffering from are linked to electricity, telecommunications, water shortages, insecurity and rural development”; at the same meeting, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga reassured us that these concerns would be passed on to the proper authorities, and that development only makes sense when a country is secure. Conflict and war can have a high cost regarding military expenditure and external debt.

On the social level, we sometimes see activists and social networks destabilising society by preaching intolerance, ethnic discourse, hatred, and terrorism. so much so that we often hear people say, “Nobody trusts anybody”; governments are doing their best to educate and sensitise people on this problem, but there’s still work to be done on the freedom of the press, human rights, freedom of expression and political parties.

Measures we can take to prevent violence

It is possible to prevent violence, but the unprecedented humanitarian and security crisis in the Sahel poses significant challenges: reconciliation to appease the hearts, education, reintegration of children who dropped out of school because of insecurity, strengthening dialogue and negotiation involving political and religious stakeholders, fostering trust between the military and the population, continuous prayer for peace asking the Lord to ensure the security of the population and their property, since in certain areas, people no longer sleep peacefully, nor cultivate the land, nor travel.  In Burkina Faso, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is around 2,000,000.

Promoting empathy and non-violence in society

Breaking the cycle of violence means overcoming the processes of justification and legitimisation of violence to show that violence is not inevitable. We also need to show that non-violence is an essential requirement of human conscience and that it can be an alternative to violence in various areas of society and even international relations.

It is also urgent to prepare children to become citizens. A genuine civic education for children, with the following characteristics: cooperation instead of competition, creativity instead of the reproduction of models, solidarity instead of rivalry.

To conclude, I would say that there is renewed hope because, in many parts of the Sahel, things are looking much better: many people, structures, associations and movements are engaged in the fight against violence and insecurity for a better future.

The Catholic Church, through organisations like Caritas, has many projects and programs along these lines; at the archdiocese of Bobo-Dioulasso level, there are security sessions. I quote: “From the petty marauder to the violent terrorist, the actions of criminals trouble the quietude of citizens, laypeople, priests and religious communities, putting a strain on evangelisation efforts and the process of human development”. May God bless and protect us!

By: Manuel Gallego Gomez, M.Afr.

Anti-human Trafficking Campaign: “A luta continua”

Human trafficking is a criminal activity within which victims are recruited, harboured, transported, bought, or kidnapped to serve an exploitative purpose, such as sexual slavery and forced labour. Due to social, economic and political vulnerabilities, men, women and children are trafficked across international borders. Despite legal and immigration measures taken to curb this man-made disaster, the number of victims keeps on increasing. Worldwide, traffickers do not only target their victims for sexual exploitation and forced labour but also for organ harvesting. In West Africa, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), “three out of four victims are children”. The Missionaries of Africa, in their various Provinces, Sections and Sectors, are involved in the campaign against human trafficking. Recently, our confreres working in the Ghana-Nigeria, Central Africa and Eastern Africa Provinces organized anti-human trafficking campaigns to raise awareness, mostly among the young.

To celebrate Bakhita Week, the Missionaries of Africa joined with other religious congregations to animate, inform and educate young people about the tricks and incentives used by traffickers. On 8th February 2024, Obai E. Patrick, (M. Afr.), together with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA), other religious congregations and teachers, met with children of St. Augustine’s Junior High School, Tamale, Ghana. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, Alex Manda (M. Afr.), is working with a team of 3 religious sisters: 2 sisters from the Comboni Missionary Sisters, and another sister from the Sisters of Our Lady of the Garden. To mark St. Josephine Bakhita Day, the team organized for the first time an awareness event in Limete – a suburb of Kinshasa -, and many religious men and women from various congregations attended. In the future, they look forward, together with the Conference of Major Superiors (COSUMA), to a sustainable collaboration with Talitha Kum International, for the animation and formation of religious men and women, and other people of goodwill.

Awareness raising is a process. It is another way of living and carrying out the mission of the Church. Being prophetic missionaries today ought to include the campaign against human trafficking and other forms of human exploitation. The Missionaries of Africa continue to collaborate with like-minded people to inform the public so that it does not fall prey to traffickers. It is worth noting that, on January 30, 2024, Talita Kum International launched the “Walk in Dignity” App. It is an application available on Google Play Store. It is meant to increase awareness and knowledge of the phenomenon of human trafficking.

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

Limete, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

During the Eucharistic Celebration

Manda Alex (M. Afr.) with religious men and women after the Eucharistic Celebration

Obai E. Patrick (M. Afr.), with sisters, teachers and children during the Anti-Human Trafficking campaign at St. Augustine’s Junior High School, Tamale, Ghana

The “Walk in Dignity” App

Lent, a Way to Freedom?

Do you like Lent? Well, I don’t. At least not spontaneously. Having to listen to talks about conversion, penance, fasting, questioning my lifestyle, material sharing, and with all that purple in the liturgy, so sad, for 40 days. It doesn’t really appeal to me, and I could do without it.

However, if I pause and reflect momentarily, I will be forced to admit that I need it. We’ve made the most of the festive season, we’re back to the routine of ordinary time (which, we’re told, must be lived “in an extraordinary way”!), and the little routines have started to fall back into place, with the ever-present risk of mediocrity and lack of creativity.

So, let’s move on. Let’s get going! We’ve been hearing more lately about the journey ahead. Pope Francis, for example, in his Lenten letter this year, speaks of crossing the desert and of freedom. Recently, in his invitation to us to prepare for the Jubilee Year of 2025, the theme he proposed is: “Pilgrims in Hope”. So, we need to keep moving, like pilgrims on a journey. Interspersed throughout all this is the synodal journey we started many months ago, between two celebrations, and we’re still on the move. It’s not easy to establish yourself when you’re a Christian or a missionary in our Catholic Church. Here, I’ll focus on the first two propositions.

God leads us to freedom through the desert

This is the title of Pope Francis’ Lenten letter. It begins with a quotation from Exodus (20:2): “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”. The project is clear: our Lent is presented as a time of desert and freedom. The Pope adds: “When our God reveals himself, he communicates freedom”. From the outset, he insists on what prevents us from freeing ourselves: our attachment to slavery. In the desert, God educates his people and vigorously calls them to freedom; this was the long journey during the Exodus when the people were resistant on several occasions. 

Today, however, we too are attached to constraining bonds which we must abandon and which are often the consequence of a lack of hope. We know the desert is a place of temptation and divine seduction (Hosea 2:16-17). Lent is the season of grace in which the desert becomes once more the place of our first love, where the Lord reminds us of the very thing that once set us on this journey: that unforgettable encounter with his son. Where is your treasure?

To be concrete,” says the Pope, “we must break free from Pharaoh’s domination. He reminds us of the questions raised in Lampedusa about migrants: “Where are you?” (Gn 3:9) and “Where is your brother?” (Gn 4:9). He denounces the culture of indifference.

First, we must recognise that we live in a model of growth that divides and robs us of a future, polluting creation and our souls. Do I want a new world? Am I ready to free myself of my compromises? Our lack of hope is an obstacle to our dreams, a regret for slavery that paralyses. He believes this is why we cannot overcome global inequalities and conflicts. 

We must look our idols in the face, our desire to be recognised, valued, and dominate others. We become attached to idols like money, our projects, our ideas, our goals, our position, our traditions and sometimes certain people. And in the end, this sets us against each other. Fortunately, there are the poor in spirit who are open and ready to move forward, “a silent force of good that heals and sustains the world”- those who, like the God of Moses, see and hear the cries of people in bondage.

Lent is a time to act; in this special season, to act also means to pause, to pause in prayer to receive the word of God, to pause in action, like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother: love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable.

Here again, the Pope challenges us. Since we’re on a synodal path, Lent should be a time for communitarian decisions, of decisions, small and large, that are countercurrent, capable of altering the daily lives of individuals and entire neighbourhoods. He even speaks of questioning our lifestyles: our buying habits, care for creation, and inclusion of the unnoticed and despised. He invites every community to re-examine its priorities. And as if by chance, I discovered his letter after reading the latest letter from our General Council (on the state of our finances), questioning our priorities and lifestyle.

To the extent that this Lent becomes a time of conversion, a stranded humanity will experience a burst of creativity: the dawn of a new hope. Here, the Pope reiterates his appeal to the young people during the World Youth Day in Lisbon in August 2023: “Keep seeking and be ready to take risks. At this moment in time, the challenges are enormous, the groans painful. We are experiencing a third World War fought piecemeal”. But, he adds, don’t live this time as an agony, but as a birth process.

Pilgrims of hope

This is the theme chosen by the Pope for the Jubilee Year 2025, strongly emphasising reconciliation. We just heard him tell us that our discouragement often stems from a lack of hope. Elsewhere, he even speaks of the weariness of hope, referring to people, particularly consecrated people, who no longer understand why they are so exhausted in a world of rapid change.

What can we retain from this jubilee theme for our Lenten journey?

This jubilee is also part of the synodal process.

Indeed, it’s all about pilgrimages and journeys. For Pope Francis, a Christian is a pilgrim who walks with others, searching for God’s will.

A pilgrimage is a journey, a people on the move. A Christian – let alone a consecrated person – does not establish himself in the comfort of the world. Jesus gave us the example of an itinerant life. He had no fixed abode, sometimes residing in the house of Simon and Andrew in Capernaum. The rest of the time, he travelled through villages and towns to proclaim the Good News.

What’s more, Jesus always respected the Jewish tradition of going on pilgrimage. As a child, at Passover, he went on a pilgrimage with his parents from Galilee to the temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel recounts how, at the age of 12, he remained in the temple while his parents were already on their way home. He stayed to deepen his understanding of his heavenly Father. This shows us that Jesus was not only looking for men and women but also looking for God, regularly taking time out to spend one-on-one time with his Father to be inspired about his mission.

One useful question we can ask ourselves as missionaries: do I see my life here on earth as a pilgrimage? For example, the life pilgrimage from birth to death. Or the journey of my faith and my commitment as a missionary, where from the beginning of my formation, from one stage to the next, I draw closer to the Lord and seek to belong to him fully. Or the pilgrimage of my apostolate takes me out of the comfort of my presbytery or house of formation to constantly set out to meet the people entrusted to my care. Speaking of synodality, Pope Francis says the encounter is “a time to turn towards the other person’s face and words, to meet them face to face, to allow ourselves to be touched by the questions of the sisters and brothers, to help each other so that the diversity of charisms, vocations and ministries may enrich us. As we all know, every encounter requires openness, courage and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the other’s face and story” (Homily, October 10, 2021, Vatican City).

In the dynamic of synodality, pilgrimage cannot be separated from encounter and thus becomes a path of hope and peace. The Lenten journey is a journey of liberation.

We are all invited to be pilgrims of hope during this Lenten season.

Pope Francis has often spoken of hope, urging us to look afresh at our existence, especially now that it is being subjected to the many trials of our world, and to look at it with the eyes of Jesus, “the author of hope”. He helps us overcome these difficult days, “confident that the darkness will be transformed into light “.

Indeed, it seems to me that when we have so many reasons to be pessimistic and so few signs of hope around us, it is in the certainty that the Lord accompanies us and will have the last word that we draw the strength and courage to continue to commit ourselves to our apostolates. Hope is a way of looking at reality with different eyes. This is what the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in the dough tell us. Suppose we limit ourselves to media information, watching the news on TV or our smartphones, for example, these days. In that case, we are struck by the accumulation of ruins in the Holy Land, in Gaza, in Ukraine and in all the wars that continue in Africa. But if we consider in faith all the gestures of love, solidarity and sharing among our brothers and sisters, especially the poor, the efforts of Christians and consecrated persons to fight for greater justice and peace, and the confidence of all those young people in formation in our congregations who believe that a better future is possible, then our hope is nourished.

It’s up to us…

Whether we choose the image of the Exodus through the desert to free ourselves from slavery or that of the pilgrim of hope who, wherever he goes, shows people how much God loves them, the question for us at the start of Lent is: “Without getting dispersed in a flood of good but utopian resolutions that I won’t keep, is there any area of my life that I feel is a place of stagnation, fatigue, rumination, diminishing hope and the quality of my love?”. Pope Francis said that to act in Lent is also to pause. So, whether it’s a personal commitment or a community recollection (where we’re not afraid to talk frankly about the latest letter from the General Council), we must set ourselves a realistic and generous goal if we don’t want to be surprised on Palm Sunday morning when we exclaim: “Ah, is it Holy Week already?”.

Happy and fruitful Lent to all….

By: Bernard Ugeux (M.Afr.)

Pictures of the way of the Cross at St Francis Parish, Lilongwe, Malawi (2022)

Transition Session 2023

Transition Session 2023

Bernard Ugeux and Helga…Franke…. Have been “giving” the “Transition” and “Senior” sessions for over 15 years.

Thank you to both of them for their dedication and expertise, which have helped so many brothers and sisters to live this adventure peacefully in their lives.

Now it’s Terry Madden and Hélène Mbuyamba’s turn to take up the torch by accompanying the participants in these sessions.

This year, the transition session was held in French. There were 7 participants. 4 people were not able to attend the session due to health or visa issues.

The participants were Gloria Sedes Alvarez, on mission in Chad; Kordula Weber, on mission in Karlsrgou, Germany; Marie-Christine Rousseau, on mission in Rome; Jacques Lacour in Paris, France; Jean Michel Laurent, in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso; Jean-Louis Godinot in Mours, France; and Jean Baptist Amona, in Kinshasa, DRC.

We cannot speak of this session without mentioning our deep gratitude for the contribution of the confreres of the Generalate and the MSOLA in Rome, our hosts and guides. In particular, we would like to mention the essential contribution of confreres Prosper and Olivier for the modules given, as well as Salvador and Vitus for their service in the audio-visual field. Without Luigi and Guy, we wouldn’t have been able to do even half the programme. We owe them a great deal for the preparation and running of the programme.

We thank God for this wonderful experience together.

Terry Madden