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.

Friday, July 20, 2018

President of International Coordination of Young Christian Workers (ICYCW) Pays Visit to JPIC Offices

The YCW (Young Christian Workers) is a movement of young people, young men, and women, at work, in study-work situations, unemployed, in insecure or casual work. It was founded by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn in 1925.

The aim of the YCW is to help young workers reflect and take action themselves in order to gain freedom from what prevents them living with dignity and to bear witness to the presence of God and his plan in Jesus Christ within the world of working youth. For this purpose, it helps young people develop as Christian leaders who will take an active role in society and in the church. The combination of the three characteristics of “young,” “Christian,” “worker” outlined here gives the YCW Movement its specific character and originality within the Church and society.

The International Coordination of Young Christian workers (ICYCW) is an nternational association of the faithful with private juridical personality, according to the code of Canon Law in the Catholic Church. ICYCW was created in 1986. It is a non-profit organization which coordinates 54 national movements of young Christian workers (YCW) around the world and working in eight regions: East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, Indian Ocean Islands, Asia, Middle East, Latin America & Caribbean, and Europe. The ICYCW supports the YCW national movements in the implementation of the project of the YCW. It supports their development or their foundation in countries where it does not yet exist. As a national and International movement YCW advocates for the rights of young workers by organizing campaigns and actions in response to the needs of young adults, including on issues of social justice.

The International Coordination supports the training of persons in charge of the national movements; it supports the exchanges, the communication and solidarity between the various countries and continents. It has a role of representation of the YCW national movements and the situation of young people, their aspirations and their actions with other organizations and international institutions.

In 2016, for the first time, an African was tapped to head ICYWC. Mr. Berhanu Sinamo is a former preparatory high school history teacher from Ethiopia. He was elected during a Congress held in Seoul, South Korea from August 19 to September 1,2016. He has spent his time so far managing the organization, traveling to different regions of the world to visit national movements and giving YCW Training, attending international meetings, representing ICYWC at international gatherings, and liaising with partners and sponsors.

Berhanu recently visited the U.S. to attend a conference at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH, which was held from July 6-8, 2018, on the theme “Lay Movements as Structures of Grace: The Legacy of Cardijn, the See-Judge-Act Method, and Catholic Action in the Americas.” The conference was organized with strong sponsorship from Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the National Center for the Laity, the Christian Family Movement, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and Cardijn Community International. YCW was a vibrant movement in the USA in the late 1950s and 1960s.

While in the U.S. Berhanu was also interested in meeting with groups to discuss the re-establishment and strengthening of the Young Christian Worker movement in the U.S. and get them back participating at the international level. He met with staff at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and Office of Justice, Peace & Human Development to engage in these discussions.

On Wednesday, July 11  Berhanu dropped by the JPIC office to get to know staff and share information about his work. He began by clarifying that although he is the first African to hold the position as ICYWC international president, for many years Africans have served the organization in senior roles. His dream is to see this trend of African leadership in ICYWC continue and further expand. He is also hopeful that an African country will soon play host to the ICYWC International Congress in July 2020, which takes place every four years.

Prior to becoming president, Berhanu volunteered for many years with Ethiopia’s Young Catholic Worker movement, later becoming vice president and East African and Indian Ocean Islands Commission members. His first contact in the YCW movement traces back to when he was 20 years old growing up in his local parish where he was called by the parish priest/YCW Chaplain for formation in the YCW movement in 2008. He shared that his inspiration for the work comes from being regarded as a role model to young people, something he tries to uphold in all of his places of work, including while teaching at St. Joseph High School in Addis Ababa.  The young people, in turn, impart to him their energy. He said the key purpose of ICYWC is to evangelize and educate young people to understand their gifts and to look inside themselves and understand and develop their spirituality. He pointed out that they as young people have gifts that must be used properly, while also fighting for dignity in their workplaces. ICYCW is managed mostly by International secretariat young people and a chaplain in collaboration with Training, Finance, Chaplaincy and Communication commissions, as well as regional commissions.

To bring the voice of young Christian workers from the grass roots into certain forums ICYWC also engages with international organizations like the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other UN agencies, Caritas Internationalis, the European Youth Forum and of course the Vatican. They are also finding ways to collaborate with the African Union (AU) and other similar governmental bodies.

Berhanu is the youngest of seven children, born in the town of Wenji in central Ethiopia, known for its sugar plantation area. He grew up in Hosanna in the southern part of Ethiopia and later traveled to Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa to further his studies, completing a master’s degree in history. He taught at St. Joseph Catholic School for one year before beginning his current role as ICYWC president. His parents are deceased but he has his siblings and an extended family back in Ethiopia.

He described his time in Washington, DC as enriching and a wonderful experience. He said he was very happy and grateful to be hosted by the Missionary Oblates at their DC residence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) Hosts Briefing on Sudan & South Sudan

by Bayor Chantal Ngoltoingar 

On Wednesday, July 11, 2018, Mr. Berhanu Sinamo, president of International Coordination of Young Christian Workers (ICYCW) and I joined our host, Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) and staff from several U.S. and international organizations at a briefing on South Sudan. The event’s speakers were Bishop Macram Max Gassis, Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of El Obeid in Sudan, and John Ashworth, author and analyst on South Sudan who lived and worked in the region for many years. 

South Sudan has an estimated population of 12 million but given the absence of a census over several decades, this estimate may be severely distorted. The economy is predominantly rural and relies chiefly on subsistence farming. The region has also been negatively affected by two civil wars since Sudanese independence: the first from 1962 to 1972, and second from 1983 to 2005. As a result, the country suffered serious neglect, a lack of infrastructural development, and major destruction and displacement. After a long struggle, on July 9, 2011, South Sudan became its own country,  the 54th independent country in Africa. On July 14, 2011 it joined the United Nations as its 193rd member and that same year South Sudan became the 54th country to join the African Union (AU).

Bishop Macram began by addressing Sudan’s identity challenges. He especially highlighted the plight of the Nuba peoples who fall within his diocese. Nuba peoples are comprised of various indigenous groups who have inhabited mountainous areas of South Kordofan state for thousands of years. People who, as he explained, continue to experience  marginalization and ongoing aerial attacks by the government resulting in a humanitarian crisis. He asserted that the “cancer of Africa is tribalism.” He also believes the region has not been on the radar of the international community as much in recent time, despite ongoing human rights violations and violence. He said the government sometimes fuels ethnic divisions but there is also fighting among various groups due to long-standing conflicts. Meanwhile, children and women are always the first victims: many lack access to clean water, half of the country’s children are not in school and medical supplies and food donations from humanitarian groups are often stolen by armed groups, never reaching the intended populations. 

John Ashworth in his presentation spoke of ethnic fragmentation and U.S. intervention in the crisis.  He said with every change of U.S. administration comes a new policy approach toward the region, which can be a disadvantage. The country meanwhile is completely and slowly moving toward a deep fragmentation that seems to have increased since South Sudan gained its independence. These ethnic divisions, he said, make unity impossible and peacebuilding a challenge.

During the Q&A a question was asked about food donations and the safest way to get it to people in need. Both presenters acknowledged the difficulty. The conflict in South Sudan has displaced 3 million people in a country of 12 million. About 2 million are internally displaced and 1 million have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.

Concluding the presentation Bishop Macram Max Gassi called for the appointment of a Bishop for South Sudan as one solution for building peace. But both speakers acknowledged that the humanitarian situation cannot wait: children, as well as adults, continue to die for lack of water, food and medical supplies. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Former Oblate JPIC Intern -Sister Nathanael Leading JPIC Office in South Korea.

Oblate JPIC interns: Where are they now? 

After completing Oblate JPIC internship in 2015 - 2016, Sister Nathanael Lee returned to South Korea to join her religious community. She has since professed final vows as a member of the Little Servants of the Holy Family congregation. (Congratulations Sister Nathanael)

Today, her work is Animator for Justice Peace Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Office for her congregation and currently serve on JPIC  Formation Academy which has about 30 students, among them are priests, religious and lay People. One of the students in JPIC Formation Academy a is Missionary Oblate priest from South Korea, who will be completing the program in fall 2018. 

The JPIC Formation Academy is a collaborative initiative with the Jesuit Korea Province. The focus is formation and outreach on issues of No-Nukes campaign, Labor issue, Eco-justice, and Inequality. Sister Nathanael credits the internship experience at JPIC office for helping to prepare her for the work she is currently doing. 

Sr Nathanael with Fr Daniel OMI at U.N 
During her time at Oblate JPIC, Sister Nathanael had internship opportunities with Oblates at United Nations in New York, visited with Oblates working on U.S Mexico and Oblate Institutions; including advocacy engagements at the World Bank and U.S Congress in Washington DC.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Durban, South Africa: Two Oblate Priests Compete in 93rd Annual Comrades Marathon

On the chilly morning of Sunday, June 10, 2018, approximately twenty-thousand people representing 60 countries stood near the Pietermaritzburg city hall in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa for the 93rd Comrades Marathon, a gruelling annual ultra-marathon run inter-changeably every year between the cities of
Pietermaritzburg to Durban. The Comrades Marathon is the oldest in history with a distance of 90 kilometres (an estimated 55 miles), which has to be done within 12 hours. Among the throngs of hopefuls at the starting line-up were elite runners and other less elite ones who were hoping to finish the run within 12 hours, the official cut off. Among the hopefuls were two Oblate priests; namely Frs. Sithabiso SITHOLE and yours truly Zweli MLOTSHWA. Besides being brother Oblates and sharing a passion for running, both Fr Sithabiso and myself serve in the newly formed council of the united/amalgamated Oblate province of Southern Africa. Fr. Sithabiso is vice bursar/treasurer and I am vice/vicar provincial. 

Running the Comrades Marathon is like going on pilgrimage. One begins at the starting line, confident of the training that has brought them to that point, but also filled with doubt and fear about whether they will finish in time or not. Besides the elite runners, the prize of finishing is not monetary, it is a mere medal. Thus, the race is ultimately a battle between a person and their own self, competing with the self, fighting with the self to reach the goal. Like a pilgrim, one soon realizes that they are not alone in the race and from there on it stops being a race but rather a personal journey accompanied by other fellow pilgrims and spectators on the road who cheer and encourage you from start to finish. For everyone who has run the Comrades Marathon, one of the overwhelming aspects is the enthusiastic support from spectators extending the entire stretch from start to finish, all cheering and calling out your name, which is printed on your t-shirt, encouraging you not to give up. Like a pilgrimage, the Comrades fills one with a lot of self-doubt: Will I make it? Will I suffer from cramps? Will I make it on time? Have I trained enough? So many
questions that might lead one to arrive at the conclusion that it is better to just give up, but then deep inside an unknown spirit pushes one to keep going despite what the mind and sore legs might say. Like a pilgrimage the marathon takes all of you, not just your legs and mind but also your human spirit. It nudges you to encourage your fellow pilgrims, to allow them to draw strength from you and for you to also draw strength from them. 

The Comrades is for the better part run along a beautiful scenic route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the city known as the Valley of the Thousand Hills, which has beautiful green rolling hills that one can miss because they might be otherwise too focused on their legs. The hills are a killer to run but a joy to see and marvel at the beauty of God’s creation, thus my personal challenge to run green. This is a campaign that encourages runners to dispose of empty water sachets and cold beverage containers that are provided during the race in or near the rubbish bins that are provided. Giving a thought to nature might not be the primary focus while nursing tired legs, but one could all of the sudden become aware that throwing rubbing in the rubbish bin also makes it easier for the thousands of volunteers who pick up and clean after the runners. This creates a consciousness of connectedness not just with nature but with other fellow human beings. 

The greatest thing about the Comrades Marathon is not crossing the finish line but seeing the finish line and realising that one has made it on time, and maybe even surpassed their own personal time challenge. Crossing the finish line is a culmination of hours, days, weeks and months of training. In our ultra-modern world of instant everything, the Comrades Marathon is for me a reminder of the old-fashioned principles of consistency, preparation, perseverance, determination and above all, the beauty of the human spirit that can conquer great challenges. Am I running the Comrades Marathon next year? Of course, I am!!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Let's Care for Our Common Home - the Earth.

By: Bro. Willbroad Kapembwa, 
2017-2018  U.S Missionary Oblates Novice - Delegation of Zambia

Your Honor, I, Wilbroad Kapembwa shamefully plead guilty, guilty as charged.

Bro. Willbroad Kapembwa

In my world of fantasy last night, I was in the reality of life, in the court of justice, standing in the dock feeling guilt and shame. I stood facing mother Earth as she looked me right in the eyes, hers pouring with tears of pain and anguish.  Mother Earth stood before the Judge, the Lordship whose name I was told is God, like an African woman in pursuit of justice. She checked her wrap ensuring it was well adjusted around her. 

Visibly in pain, she cleared her throat and lamented before the Judge who seemed to already agree with her. While pointing at me with a finger of anger she said, "Your honor, this human being together with his colleagues Lazaro Angel Leal, Wabo Kabazo Mwana, Joey Methé to mention a few, who claim to have been given reason to deduce right from wrong is a disappointment. I understand that my children and I are placed under his care, but unfortunately, he has treated me with greed, disrespect, and unjustly all because of his insatiable appetite for power and profit. 

Yes for power and profit like a capitalist. In addition, this human being together with his colleagues has rained down upon my life an ecological crisis which has mercilessly afflicted me and my children. 

Your Honor, my beautiful daughters, namely clean air, fresh water, fertile soil, and this one who resides in Luwingu district in Zambia, what's her name… yes Ozone layer, are being ruined by this human’s toxic substances, pollutants, acids, and other poisonous waste products of his modern society."

Having said this, like a mother mourning the loss of her beloved children, mother Earth sobbed African-style with a melodic pattern. And after a short period of sobbing, she checked her wrap, cleared her throat and wiped off her tears with her hands, and continued, "Your Honor, this human being's destruction of my habitats is quickly causing many life forms and species I have nurtured over many years to become extinct and if not stopped this human will never see them again. Your Honor, I seek your sound and merciful ruling in my case." 

At this juncture, from the look on the jury's faces, I could tell that sentencing was inevitable. When the Judge asked me to say something, with shame and guilt, I stood and said, "Your Honor, I, Wilbroad Kapembwa waku Luwingu, stand guilty, guilty as charged."


Let's care for our Common Home, the Earth and all that she gives us.
Peace - 

Bro. Willbroad Kapembwa is doing Novitiate formation with the U.S Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Godfrey, Illinois.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

South African Oblate Priest Reflects on the Legacy of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

By Fr. Zweli Mlotshwa, OMI

On April 2, 2018, Easter Monday, South Africa received the sad news that Ms. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away.  A ten-day mourning period was declared by the government and her burial was on April 14. I attended one of the many memorial services held in her honor in Orlando stadium in Soweto on April 11.  (Among the various memorial services held for the late Ms. Winnie Madikizela- Mandela was one held by the ANC Women’s League at the historic Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.) Here are my thoughts on this experience and Ms. Mandela's legacy.

On April 11 I attended Winnie Madikizela- Mandela's memorial service held in Orlando stadium in the famed township of Soweto outside of Johannesburg. I entered the stadium and walked through the Orlando West/Phefeni viewing area. From this area I could see the Ms. Madikizela-Mandela's house and the famous Vilakazi street; also Archbishop Tutu's house, as well as the original home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.  What really caught my attention though was the sight of the huge Hector Peterson Museum, which tells the story of the Soweto Uprisings, especially the 1976 student riots. These uprisings were by black school children standing up against the might of the apartheid government and protesting an educational policy that would allow their already inferior education to be further lowered by being taught in Afrikaans; a language many were not familiar with. Many of the young people who participated in these uprisings perished from police bullets while others died in police detention. 
Fr. Zweli currently works with the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, South Africa. He previously worked in Zimbabwe as a missionary. 

This led me to think of the present South Africa that I live in, the thought that the very spot and inch of land on which I stood was won by the blood of countless people who fought, so that all inches and spots of this country are free. I thought of the spots and inches of the country which are still not free. Just a few weeks ago a White South African woman was sentenced to three years in jail for hurling racial slurs at a Black policeman who was trying to help her after she was the victim of a crime. 

I was led to think of the spots and inches of land in this country that are not free especially for the women and children of our land. I remember stories of how the young Winnie, or Nomzamo as she is known in her home village, stood up against forces and forms of dominance against children and females by challenging boys in the traditional male game of stick fighting. This is the story of a woman who knew her self-worth and dignity and was prepared to challenge whatever stood in her path.
  A social worker by profession, she used every opportunity granted to fight for the voiceless and meek.  

I attended the Winnie Madikizela- Mandela's memorial service today, not really to listen to the long speeches but to be in the presence of the large, colorful and loud crowd that was anticipated. Indeed, the crowd did not disappoint -  it was large, it was colourful with people clad in different African-style attire and African National Congress (ANC) regalia of bright yellow t-shirts, and it was loud almost chaotic with songs sprouting out from different corners of the stadium, especially when a new group entered the stadium greeting the crowds with their special song and dance. 

Interesting for me was the young school-age children, singing their brand of revolutionary songs. I thought of how a few yards away (Hector Peterson Museum), a few years ago, the sight of school children chanting was an invitation for police to attack, not just with tear gas and rubber bullets but also live ammunition. I thought of this present South Africa, where school children can sing freely as children should do; this is the South Africa which Winnie Madikizela- Mandela and countless others like her sacrificed their lives, their homes, families, innocence, and dare I say morality.

In the stadium, while the speeches were going on and the music was getting louder, I thought of the present South Africa and then chanted along, responding to the shouts and slogans of Amandla!! (Power to the people!!)  and Viva Winnie Viva; I found myself screaming back, to shouts of Viva ANC Viva!! For although this was a national memorial service, it was still an ANC event. I shouted back Viva ANC VIVA!! I did so without shame for indeed in these days many are not proud to be associated with the ANC. As the speeches went on and the singing got louder, I thought of the ANC of old and felt nostalgia for the days of the idealistic, strong, revolutionary and almost naïve ANC of old. The ANC of selfless leaders ready to die, kill and be killed not for the ANC or members of the ANC, but for every inch of land in this country and for every suffering person of this land.  Where has that ANC gone? Has it been swallowed by the struggle for self- enrichment? Has that ANC lost its path as it fights a new struggle to stay in power without empowering those who placed it there? Where has our ANC gone? The ANC which made us dream of a South Africa that would be free for all (men, women and children); the ANC, which taught us to honor our dignity, not as poor people, not as Black people, but as human beings.

As the speeches went on and the singing got louder I thought of the present ANC and was inspired to think that the ANC of old, which has morphed into a big uncaring institution, but remembered that this is the ANC which Ms. Winnie Madikizela Mandela challenged bitterly to remember its past, its mission its identity as a party for human dignity. 

I attended the Winnie Madikizela- Mandela memorial service today, not to listen to the speeches but to honor a village girl who became the mother of a nation. As the speeches went on and the singing got louder there was a voice which refused to be drowned. In the stadium, there were large screens beaming the footage of dignitaries on the stage and from time to time showed photos from the life and times of Winnie Madikizela- Mandela. Each time this happened from all corners where the big screen was visible, voices which refused to be silenced remarked: "This was a beautiful woman", many people said this and commented on her beauty.  Indeed, she was a beautiful woman and she wanted to be beautiful even in her old age; but maybe her beauty was also the hiding place for the deep ugly scars, of rejection, isolation, torture, vilification and many other ugly skeletons as one of the most visible victims of apartheid.

I attended Winnie Madikizela Mandela's memorial service not to listen to the speeches, but to honor a woman who, though she was the embodiment of struggle, not just the struggle for the country but also of her own dignity; a woman who was tortured physically and emotionally and morphed to be viewed not as the wife of Nelson Mandela, but was for many years viewed as a heartless, cold and cruel woman. A woman who even when the country was free was herself not free, because she dared stand up against the ANC and even challenged the giant and 'saint' Nelson Mandela. For that, she paid the price of isolation and rejection by her own colleagues and friends in the ANC.

I attended Winnie Madikizela Mandela's memorial service not to listen to the speeches but to sing, to dance a bit to the struggle songs because South Africa is still not free; the struggle still has to be waged for the dignity of the poor who cannot get out of the poverty trap. To remind myself that even when they have no voice the poor still sing and by singing they challenge all of us with a voice to speak up for them; to remind myself that although they have no means of transport the poor still dance and by dancing challenge us to walk their path and in so doing, in talking with them and walking their path we may realise that the struggle is still me very much alive and because there are spots and inches of this beautiful country that are not free. ALUTA CONTINUA, AMANDLA!!!