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!!!