Dear Confreres and Friends,
In recent years the idea of pilgrimage has been used frequently to describe Spiritan presence amongst the poor and marginalized. It probably first appeared in the General Chapter documents of Itaicí and Maynooth. The 2004 General Chapter at Torre d’Aguilha gives a very rich significance to this same idea – “mission becomes a pilgrimage of mutual enrichment, where together we identify and seek liberation from the chains which impede the full realization of God’s Kingdom” (0.2.1 and 1.1.3). Such a pilgrimage then is a holy journey but not a one way journey. On this pilgrimage we go to others and travel with others; we give and we receive. Indeed we are enormously enriched by participation in such a pilgrimage experience. The Torre d’Aguilha documents immediately and correctly point out that “this understanding of mission today requires of missionaries a deeper, more contemplative spirituality.” (0.2.1)
A description of the pilgrimage experience of various Spiritans is perhaps the best way to summarize the contents of this Newsletter. The pilgrimages described are extremely varied: an enriching pilgrimage in working for reconciliation; a pilgrimage of serving the poor during stage; of being called to an in-depth reflection on the real meaning of baptism in ministering to refugees; going with others on a pilgrimage of solidarity, of building leadership in marginalized communities and of encouraging confreres to deepen JPIC commitments. This style of commitment and mission was beautifully described at the 2004 General Chapter retreat as an “outgoing towards humanity where people do not need, like Zacchaeus, to climb a tree to see Jesus.”
Quite probably you will be reading this Newsletter at or near Pentecost. This feast brings to mind the beginning of another journey, another pilgrimage – that of the first disciples to “the ends of the earth”. In the disciples’ lives the Spirit’s coming replaced fear with courage, energy, and openness – in short with an enthusiasm for the journey. May the Spirit’s presence in our midst this Pentecost give us, the Spiritan family, the courage to be pilgrims in today’s world together with the many peoples we serve.
John Kilcrann CSSp
CSSp JPIC Services,
Curing wounds from the past.
A chance early morning meeting between Spanish-born Spiritan Benedicto Sánchez in Malanje, Angola, and three young wounded soldiers led to a very fruitful ministry of reconciliation for Benedicto. As a result of this meeting he subsequently began a series of regular visits to military installations to contact thousands of former combatants. Angola, which in 2002 emerged from a 27 year civil war where an estimated 1.5 million lives were lost, is experiencing a great desire to see a real peace and reconciliation restored. The following are short extracts from a detailed document Benedicto sent to the JPIC office in the Generalate describing visits he has made to almost 50 different military installations:
When the longed for peace arrived I immediately set about bringing its message through a talk entitled “Spirituality of Reconciliation and Pardon for a Post War Situation”. The first talks were given to different groups and movements in various parishes but soon I was visiting the military and police installations because I believed in the importance of bringing a message of reconciliation to the youth who were in the military services.
When I arrived at the first military installation to give the talk I had little hope of success and I doubted that I would be capable of saying anything which might interest these energetic young soldiers. When I went to the commanding officers to ask permission to make this visit I was really afraid that I would be refused. However, already following the first talk I was completely and totally surprised by the great level of interest shown by the participants. This was so clear from the rapt attention they gave as well as from the lively discussion on themes I mentioned during the talk. This pleasant surprise gave me courage to initiate a pilgrimage to several military installations where in general terms I spoke of a spiritually of reconciliation and pardon through bible stories.
I knew that a process of reconciliation could “cure” many wounds from the past which were still present in the lives of the young military personnel who participated in the conflict. The animated discussions at the end of each talk became in fact curative therapies where painful memories of the past could be explored and perhaps put to rest. Each talk helped to create an atmosphere where I could begin a real friendship with the participants.
The human and spiritual riches which I received in such lively meetings transformed completely my missionary life in all its dimensions and led me to cultivate a thankfulness to God for having led me to meet these young military and police personnel who allowed me to glimpse into the depths of their lives and develop a long lasting friendship not only with them but with their families.
Lessons learned at Marie Rose’s funeral.
… It was a pity to see how, a few months ago a Catholic refugee lady, a member of our choir died in complete loneliness. But during her funeral, which was attended by more then 100 refugees, we all felt our guilt: does our Christian ubuntu extend only to refugees of our own tribe or our area of origin? Anyway Marie Rose, our deceased sister, brought and is still bringing all of us more and more together. She is more alive amongst us than she was before her death. Someone called it her resurrection for us, death has no more power over her according to the first reading (Rom. 3: 5-9) at her funeral.
This funeral made us more aware of how many times we as refugees are tempted to bring over to our refugee communities the troubles from our home lands: troubles and war between our several tribes. How many times do we hear how refugees are rejected by other refugees because they do not belong to their tribe – sometimes this even involves fighting between themselves! Most of them are Catholics, Christians, united to Christ through their baptism but not through his death and resurrection because of lack of adherence to Christ’s values: to live as Catholics, as Christians... death still has power over them: they are “killing” one another. This is an important challenge in our daily pastoral care. We have had regular meetings with leaders of several refugee communities according to their tribe or area of origin to discuss this issue in order to emphasize what peace really means.
Posing questions about serving the poor.
Beginning in June 2002 I had a two year missionary experience amongst the Huasteco indigenous group in Mexico – this is one of the 62 indigenous groups in that country. I was in a region known as Huasteca Potosina – it is called Huasteca because most of the inhabitants are from that group and Potosina because it is situated in the State of San Luis Potosí. Following Libermann’s vision of making an option for those who are abandoned, the Spiritans in Mexico who work in the Diocese of Ciudad Valles, have taken on Huasteco parishes because the local clergy and seminarians, even those who are from an indigenous background, have received a very non-indigenous training in the seminary. After ordination many are not interested in the poor and indigenous parishes and work in urban parishes. Because of this the indigenous communities have frequently received significantly less pastoral attention. Consequently the Spiritans have taken on various indigenous parishes in this diocese.
I worked in the parish of Tanlajás which has a population of 20 thousand inhabitants of which 94% are Huasteco. When I arrived the first thing I needed to do was take part in a specialized training for this work. One of my first tasks was to be silent and listen in order to analyze better the local reality in all its aspects – especially social and religious…Little by little I got to know all of the 37 communities in the parish, the people living there, their way of working and interacting with each other. The culture of silence is very strong amongst these people. They speak very little but on the other hand the smile and the word of welcome are very central in the culture. They always smile and greet you and this makes them in fact quite outgoing despite their introversion.
I had different pastoral tasks – catechetics (including the catecumanate), accompaniment of the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, youth pastoral ministry, as well as vocational ministry for the diocese and for the Spiritans. All pastoral activity in the parish needs to be inculturated and this can be difficult especially for catechetics, because the pastoral planning of the diocese does not envisage any cultural adaptation to the indigenous context of the region. This meant that we needed to make significant adaptation in all of our local pastoral planning and action. Even though a person may be very well prepared pastorally from an academic perspective, this is of little or no benefit without an attitude of humility, listening, empathy and self-giving which missionaries need to possess in order to effectively enter the world of the people they are amongst.
There are several questions which arise in such a context: What is the objective of such work? Why serve the poor and especially segments of humanity which suffer? Why serve society?
Our service of the poor should be founded on an attitude of sincere humility. We need to be able to distinguish between humble service and a service which has second intentions. When service is carried out just for personal reasons, especially from a perspective of power, the individual is only interested in a personal agenda. Frequently the image of service is used to hide an oppressor who functions out of a system of self superiority. On the other hand, humble service lacking self interest purifies the heart. Egoism, hatred and ideas of superiority disappear. Values such as sensitivity, love, compassion, tolerance and mercy take over. If service is not sensitive and humble it soon looses an essential missionary ingredient which is an unmeasured giving of self.
Thank you, Vietnamese children.
Sitting on the back of the canoe, he plunges the paddle in the water of this lagoon, slowly gliding forwards, while his father, at the front, lifts up the nets. It’s midday and they have a good catch, which they will be able to sell at the market. However, they must first pay the entrance fee to the lagoon, which will significantly shrink the income of a long day’s work for these fishermen living on sampan boats in the former imperial city of Hué, Central Vietnam. With Peter, a former Vietnamese seminarian, we went to meet these families whose children are sponsored by Taiwanese people: there are about a hundred of them now, from a kindergarten, from three rural parishes, from the mountain ethnic minority Bruq, and from the village of boats anchored on the River of Perfumes. They are followed by sisters, seminarians and lay Vietnamese who visit them regularly and give them the school fee from the sponsors. This time was my fourth visit to Vietnam in five years. I can now recognize some parents and the children know me a little bit. The birth of the ‘Project for the Poor Children of Vietnam’ was not planned, but it’s growing fast! On my first visit, I fell ill after eating river snails. After taking me to see the Chinese doctor, Sister Julienne invited me to visit her Kindergarten. On my second visit, my mother, who has been sponsoring Ho Tapon, asked me to go to the mountains and see how he is doing: Sister Ann gave me a hat and a scarf so that the police would not recognize a ‘long nose’, and took me to the Bruq village. Now, names of children, descriptive files in French or in English, pictures and children’s letters in Vietnamese regularly arrive in Hsinchu, and I compose files in Chinese to give to the sponsors.
When Peter, from Vietnam, came to Taiwan four years ago, he helped me to make some posters so as to raise a little bit of money for the poor children. Danny, from our Bible group, agreed to give a hand for the first translations and to keep the accounts. The parishioners of Holy Spirit were very generous, as were the youth from Hsinchu, and that’s how the Project was started. This year before Lent, I approached the Director and the Chaplain Sister of St Peter High School, where my seminarians go to study, and was invited to go to each class to give a testimony of what I saw in Vietnam, with a video, explaining some basic causes of poverty, and the importance of a school education for the future of the children and their families. These junior and senior high school students were touched and each class agreed to sponsor one child for the years to come.
This very simple program not only provides financial help to some poor families in Vietnam, but also provides a spiritual help to the Taiwanese sponsors: giving 250 Taiwan dollars (7 euros) per month is not much for them, but caring for a poor child whose name and face becomes familiar, whose future is partially in their hands, is spiritually enriching for Taiwanese youth, too often closed in on their island, buried under a mountain of books to study, with a horizon limited by a forest of micro problems. ‘I am responsible for this poor child’: this is an experience of being called to responsibility by the frailty I see on the other person’s face saying ‘take care of me’. Links of solidarity between people are nurtured by this relationship between sponsors and children, as is the connection of our Spiritan Community with Vietnam. I still hope that some day I’ll be able to take with me a group of young Taiwanese and interest them in taking charge of the Project for Poor Children. I will then have reached my goal: give the paddle and the net to the Taiwanese.
JPIC coordination in the Province of Trinidad.
1. The Provincial, Fr. Herbert Charles, kicked off the Peace and Justice initiative at our Libermann Day get-together, explaining the importance of the issue and asking that all the confreres become involved.
2. That week a group was formed at Arouca Parish, where I live, with the cooperation of Father Neil Rodriguez, C.S.Sp., the pastor. This group is taking on 2 issues:
(a) the need for proper food labeling on the part of major companies in the nation. (b) addressing a report issued by Human Rights Watch that the torture of prisoners occurs in Trinidad prisons.
3. Also in that same week, Father Ron Mendez, C.S.Sp., Principal of St. Mary's College, a Spiritan institution, invited me to address his 6th Form students and to follow up that talk with a series of talks on Peace and Justice issues. This was done and a schedule of talks for the balance of the school year is being worked out.
4. This past week, Father Peter de LaBastide, C.S.Sp, pastor of a large parish and Vicar for this Deanery, invited me to address a general group in his parish, with the idea that I would, after explaining the idea of linkage between all the Spiritan parishes on the question of Peace and Justice, ask for volunteers to form such a group in his parish. All who attended the meeting agreed to be part of such a group.
5. Father Gregory McLawrence,C.S.Sp., pastor of Marabella Parish, has invited me to speak at his parish in a few weeks time.
6. I had lunch a couple of days ago with Fr. Gregory Augustine, C.S.Sp., who resides and teaches at Fatima College, another of our educational institutions, and he informed me that after having had discussions with the Principal of the College, they decided on inviting me to give talks on a regular basis at the College, for the next 2 years.
7. Father Gervaise Gerod, C.S.Sp. has offered to share his ideas and notes used over the last few years in the general area of Peace and Justice, in teaching situations. I am very grateful both for the emphasis and support given by our Provincial and the resultant response so far from the confreres.
Fondwa: A Spiritan-founded University for the poor.
The Association of the Peasants of Fondwa (APF) is an example of a grassroots community effort in Haiti, to help poor people assume their responsibility for their own lives. APF is a peasant membership organization founded in Fondwa on April 24, 1988. Its goal is to empower the people of Fondwa and their neighbors to assume responsibility for their own lives in their rural communities. Its objectives are to work together with its members as one single body to create basic infrastructures and to provided needed facilities to help people to get access to roads, water, health care, education, communications, financial services and technical assistance especially for agricultural activities. Since its foundation APF has expanded to become a national NGO which provide services to the people of Fondwa and through its recently founded University, to the other 564 rural communities of Haiti.
Located in the mountains of Fondwa in Haiti, the University of Fondwa, an APF project, is a private non-profit university dedicated to the study of agronomy, veterinary sciences, and management. The university seeks to contribute to sustainable development in Haiti by providing access to higher education to young people from the rural communities who are required in return to go back to their communities and apply their knowledge and skills to the development of their own regions.
On January 4, 2004 church and community leaders, farmers, students and professors gathered to inaugurate the university and its first academic year. The mass was presided by the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot. The inaugural class of the University of Fondwa 2004, came from various parts of Haiti. 11 students are studying agronomy, 7 students are studying management, and 2 students are studying veterinary medicine. 10 of them are women and the other 10 are male students
Our expectation is to get 3 students from 40 different rural communities every year, in order to prepare 3 specialists for each of these communities - we have 565 rural communities in Haiti. Coming from poor families, poor organizations and poor communities, who should be their regular sponsors, our students cannot afford the annual cost of about US$4.500 for their studies at the University of Fondwa. Therefore, we are in the process of creating a student revolving loan fund, which will enable students to borrow money for the entire period of their academic program of 5 to 6 years. During those years, the loan will incur no interest and repayment with interest will start six months after graduation.
We will accompany the student to insure that he/she is employed and can start repayment. One of our challenges is to encourage and accompany the organizations from the student home community to get enough financial resources to hire the student after graduation. The university will serve as a bridge between the students and their home base communities. Every year each student is expected to do at least two internships in his/her community. The University staff is required to do follow-up visits to evaluate the students’ work at the internship site. This will also give us the opportunity to evaluate the progress of the students’ sponsoring organizations.
The University of Fondwa exists to educate future servant leaders, who will develop innovative strategies to issues of poverty and land use. Graduates of the University of Fondwa will return to their home communities in an effort to share their knowledge of innovative, sustainable agricultural techniques, ethical business practices and a strong sense of values with others in their communities.