Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Voices Against Human Trafficking

By Mary O’Herron – JPIC Staff and Br Michael Tembo OMI, Intern JPIC

At a just ended summer fellowship immigration and refugee policies, held on June 4th, 2014 in Washington DC, one participant expressed pain on how human beings are not respected and are victims of human trafficking.  The participant asked, ‘what has gone wrong with this generation?’  Many people, especially the youth have become victims of human trafficking.

Pope Francis in speaking against abuse of human beings said, “Young people at the moment are in crisis. We have all become accustomed to this disposable culture. We do the same thing with the elderly, but with all these people out of work even they are afflicted by a culture where everything is disposable. We have to stop this habit of throwing things away. We need a culture of inclusion.”

Mary O’Herron,[1] whose passion is being the voice against human trafficking, has this to say:
“As an employee of the Oblate JPIC Office in Washington, DC, I spend some time on human trafficking or modern day slavery. I see more people been enslaved now than at any time in history and the number is rising – over 21 million. Trafficking rivals drugs and arms as the most lucrative form of illegal gain.”

Certainly, human trafficking is a global concern. People are trafficked from one country to another and within borders of countries. As many have said, the US is usually a destination country – for both the sex industry and labor.

Generally, people are tricked into being trafficked by being promised some help and or a good wage for interesting work somewhere else and then brought into submission by very harsh measures. Few escape.

Current slavery is much less visible than in previous eras – it could even be going on next door or around the corner. People trafficked now are used up and thrown away – not like in previous times where slaves were expensive to buy. As bad as it was then, it is worse now. The Internet and ease of travelling have also contributed to the rise of trafficking. And it continues to rise – even with many organizations trying to combat it.

The OMI-JPIC Office will not tire in spreading the word about human trafficking in our newsletter, website, and other means. We join with other groups like the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

We work with corporations that might contribute to trafficking -- like hotels and airlines to ask them to be watchful and to educate employees about trafficking. Also, we look at supply chains of companies to try to eliminate labor practices that are unjust and detrimental.

The Oblates, along with other religious groups, are members of the NGO section of the United Nations and through this vehicle work against trafficking.

More information how to get involved to stop human trafficking; visit www.omiusa jpic.org/humantrafficking

[1] Mary O’Herron - Associate for General Administration JPIC Service and Corporate Responsibility. Mary works part time to assist with corporate responsibility efforts in the JPIC Office, and also focuses on the issue of human trafficking.

Monday, June 23, 2014


By Maxine Pohlman, SSND 
Director - La Vista Ecological Learning Center

The state of Illinois’ most rare, natural areas are protected as preserves by the Illinois Nature Preserves  Commission (INPC).  

These areas are almost all that is left of the way Illinois looked in the early 1800’s.  Established in 1963, the INPC was the first in the nation. 

It comprises a system of nature preserves, places of statewide significance. This Commission works with owners of natural areas to preserve the natural areas left in Illinois.  These are dedicated exceptional places.  Illinois is forty-ninth out of the fifty states in having natural lands; less than one tenth of one percent of the landscape remains as it did when first settled.  These are the last remnants of Illinois’ wilderness.

The INPC has twelve staff “stewards” or field representatives
who visit the preserved lands throughout the state and help establish goals with the landowners.  They are to maintain contact with the dedicated preserves, do education by providing talks and field trips and training volunteers.

On June 19, 2014 INPC stewards Debbie Newman and Eric Wright, along with Jack Lau, OMI, and novices James Fernandes, Paul Bwayla Kunda, Nchimunya,  Jack Lau, OMI and I used maps prepared by Hutson and Associates (Alton, IL)  to set boundary posts marking off the sixteen acres that are the beautiful Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve, located east of the lodge.

After getting instructions from Debbie and picking up metal posts, signs, and a 55 pound post driver, we set off around noon.  As a group we would try to spot the marker left by the surveyors.  “I found it!” became a welcome and fun cry.   We’d then gather around and watch as someone drove the post into the ground.  Then Debbie attached the sign.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but scouting the markers and doing the work became a magical time of “playing” in the lovely preserve.

Throughout our jaunt through the woods, Debbie instructed us as she made close observations of the preserve. She indicated that there are many fine old trees along with wildflowers and a small bluff prairie.  However, the Japanese honeysuckle is eliminating diversity on the forest floor, and the towering sugar maples are crowding out the oaks and hickories.  Removing the honeysuckle will be part of the management plan she is preparing.

During our time in the preserve we scared a fawn which quickly righted itself on spindly legs and headed down the driveway.  We also identified a large broad-headed skink on a tree trunk and spotted a lovely Eastern box turtle on the forest floor. Debbie also pointed out quite a lot of yellow wildflower called wingstem.  Once the honeysuckle is removed, many more native plants will show themselves.

We completed setting about 2/3 of the posts which are set 300 feet apart, according to law.  We faced them in the direction from which visitors might approach the area.

In one part of the preserve we found quite a lot of trash, especially glass, but also tractor parts.  I plan on organizing a group who would volunteer their time to help remove some of this lighter debris, honoring this special place of wilderness, beauty and serenity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

NIGERIAN OBLATES: Seeking for Peace over Land Conflict

 By Fr. Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius OMI

Nigerian Oblate Fr Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius, OMI writes about how Oblates and local parishes are responding to the ongoing conflict between Fulani herdsmen and the Tiv Farmers over use of grazing land reserve. Fr. Cornelius is currently doing parish ministry in the Nigeria.

Re-divergence in Mission is something that cannot be avoided, especially when human life and dignity is threatened. In the words, of Saint Eugene De Mazenod: “ The sight of these evils has so touched the hearts of certain priests, zealous for the glory of God, men with an ardent love for the Church, that they are willing to give their lives, if need be, for the salvation of souls” – OMI Preface (1825 Manuscript). Surely, passion and zeal for souls always pushes men and women of good will to be the voice of the affected.

The conflict between Fulani herdsmen and the Tiv Farmers over use of grazing land reserve is a major concern for local community in Benue state. The Tiv people depend on agriculture, while Fulani are active herdsmen. Unfortunately the tension over land between Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers has resulted in conflict that has led to loss of lives, families internally displaced and properties destroyed. 

This is the story of the Nigerian people but it is affecting us as well, especially the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their collaborators ministering in Nigeria.  Fr Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius, OMI, as missionary has this to say:

Our very first contact with the refugees Nigerian Oblate mission has always had contact with the poor in multiple faces, but the recent challenges raised by the recent ethnic clashes in Nigeria have brought us into contact with yet another group of poor people. This recent development made us make a little shift from our regular activities that consisted in helping our parishioners have a decent life, access to clean water and qualitative education. For this, we have in the very recent months, had to face few new challenges. This situation, this deplorable situation appeals to us to do in our power by word and example, to rekindle the flame of faith and hope that seem to be dying in the heats of our brothers and sisters.

The above-mentioned problem first occurred in Benue State where we opened a new Oblate mission late last year. It was due to a clash between some Fulani headsmen and Tiv farmers. Even though these two groups have lived well together for a long period of time, they have developed a new hostile relationship that left many Tiv farmers homeless.

The problem is over planting and grazing lands. The people ran away from their villages due to the violence. On arriving at the city of Makurdi, they were stranded and having nowhere to go, had to take refuge in schools and other public buildings. 

Those who took refuge in our territory, Northern Bank, Makurdi, were almost abandoned to themselves. And with the aid of our parishioners from Oblate parish, we had to provide the few basic necessities we could afford. We built the only comfort house that the thousands of them could use. We provided in our own little way to their feeding and other medical needs. And some of our parishioners opted to take care of the educational needs.

Our other contact with these victims of ethnic clashes was in Jos. The Oblate parish in Jos is made up of different ethnic groups. These people who though with some history of conflicting cohabitation have in the recent decades had a healthy relationship till some few months when for a dispute on land ownership, two ethnic groups – The Bace known as the Rukubas fought their neighbor the Miangos. This conflict displaced thousands of our parishioners. Many lost their property, their houses and their relatives. In this very conflict, we were the major actors, knowing that both groups were our parishioners. We also provided them with food material, beddings and some basic necessities according to our own capacity as a growing mission.

This is our recent challenge in a country where conflict seems to be arising every now and then and in every here and there. Encouraged by the support of our brother Oblates and men and women of goodwill, ‘We will labour and spare no effort with all the resources at our command to covert these affected people to see the dignity of human life and share land as their common good. This is our Mission. This is our Oblate calling.’

Fr. Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius OMI – Nigeria

Contributing Editor- SCH. Michael Tembo OMI.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oblates… The Moon that Shines in the Darkest Moments

By Tembo Michael OMI

Tembo Michael OMI is doing a summer internship at the Oblates JPIC office in Washington DC. He reflects about the global issue of Immigration and how Missionary Oblates are responding.

The struggles and challenges of migrants is a global issue. Each country is responding in its own way. Other countries are adopting policies that are friendly to migrants. Other nations are passing laws which are anti-migrant. However, one fact remains today that more people are on the move from their countries of origin to other nations. People are moving for varies reasons including to escape war, violence especially religious conflicts, to reunite with families and for economic reasons.  If this is reality, how are we called to respond as Missionary Oblates?

Certainly our voice cannot be silence on issues affecting our fellow human beings especially immigrant families.  We are called upon to pledge ourselves to work with everyone. Can we be the voice of the weak on issues affecting them? How do we as Oblates respond to laws or policies, which negatively impact migrants in our midst?  Looking at the current situation with the eyes of our Founder St. Eugene De Mazenod, immigrants and refugees are the vulnerable and poor.

Today we are faced with some many issues that affect many poor people yet we focus on one thing and neglect the other. This month, most people are focusing on who is going to win the world cup and yet many people in many parts of the world are suffering.

Can we be the voice of the weak on issues affecting our beloved brothers and sisters? Yes! We have to be the voice and their voice. This is so because “The joys and hopes and the sorrows and anxieties of the people today, especially of those who are poor and afflicted [immigrants], are also the joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties of the disciples of Christ, and there is nothing truly human which does not also affect them” (Gaudiam et Spes, no. 1).

As Oblates, I believe that the above mentioned caption is central to our mission, that is, being with the people who are on the margins. Can we as Oblate also affirm this stance? Yes. Like Bishop Evans C. Chinyemba OMI, Bishop of Mongu diocese in Zambia affirmed: 

I pledge myself to preserve unity in the Church [and the world]. [Our] role is to animate and shepherd…. Our voice on the issues [affecting our people] will never be silenced. The Church’s voice will always be sound and clear when it comes to issues of Justice, Peace, reconciliation, morality, development, economics, education, health, and other issue… When we come face to face with [laws and policies that restore the dignity of our fellow human beings,] we shall not hesitate to tell [others]. … We can no longer live together separately (Ordination Speech, May 28th 2011).

Having been home and foreign missions, I have come to realise that human beings by our very nature will always want to seek ways that will promote our wellbeing. Again, human beings will always categories each other and set rules and laws on who should be part of their inner cycle. We also have a natural tendency of pointing out ailments of others and hide their own. But nepotism is the ailment present in all of us. We either side with the haves and have nots. But we have to live in tension.   

When I was growing up, the laws of the society protected us. As a consequence, I believe immigration laws and policies are meant to do the same. But the opposite is true, these laws, in most cases do favor the haves and disregard the have nots. 

The immigration laws and policies insofar as they are meant to protect and preserve our being, the opposite is true. These laws and policies have a ‘nepotistic’ mark, that is, the mark of promoting the deemed useful and negating others. This is true in many places I have been too. Those who are weak in society are negated and if taken into consideration, it is because they have been deemed useful as means to an end.

In many places I lived in, Oblates have a deliberate attitude, that while aware of this global pandemic, that is, nepotism, they do ministry with those favored and less useful; those who make policies and those who are affected by the policies. They work with those who make policies that affect those who are deemed useful or less useful. This is in line with the OMI charism, the minister and those ministered to are both changed by the experience of the other. I can further ascertain that the Oblates have taken a deliberate move to be the moon that shines in the darkest moments in the lives of those affected rather than be the sun that wants to be the sunshine in the life of those already in light.

I believe the immigration laws and policies should promote the wellbeing of human beings and creation. We need to be in incarnational and multiplex relationships with passion. Passion exists when there is relationship centered on the common good. This is what we call justice for all. Sadly, many people are in simplex relationship rather than incarnational and multiplex relationships. Incarnation and multiplex relationship exist in many levels and is a relation of mutual intentionality, that is to preserve the common good of all, the rich and poor alike.