Saturday, February 28, 2015

Newest Mission in Sierra Leone, West Africa

The Xaverian Missionaries have been working in Sierra Leone, West Africa since the early 1950's. In recent times we have moved to the peripheral area of Mongo Bodugu. The mission of Mongo Bendugu is settled by the Koranko Tribe, traditional Muslims who migrated from the nearby borders of Guinea in the last century. Fr. Carlo Di Sopra shared the fourth anniversary of our presence there.

On Sunday, 22nd February 2015, Mongo Parish reached the age of 4 years. We celebrated the fourth anniversary of its establishment by Bishop George Biguzzi in 2011. Looking at the better situation of the country, we agreed to have a simple feast on this occasion. It is also a kind of compensation for the ban of Christmas celebration last year because of ebola. The presence of Fr. Carlo di Sopra and Fr. Louis Birabaluge, who just arrived in Sierra Leone from Republic Democratic of Congo on January this year, was also a blessing for the community.

In this anniversary we tried to strengthen the family spirit of the parish. Sometimes we feel that we have not been familiar enough to each other, especially with the communities in the surrounding villages. This unfamiliar relationship is a barrier for building a Church as a family. So we invited some members and prayer leaders of the outstations in the surrounding villages which have started building their small Christian communities. They came not just to join the celebration, but also to experience living together with the Mongo community as their mother Church. They came on Saturday, joined the preparation of songs and penitential service in the evening, watched film of Jesus, then stayed together with the Christian families of Mongo town in their houses. This was an effort to develop our parish to be “really in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few.” (EG no. 28.)

During the mass, Fr. Carlo reminded us that when Bishop George Biguzzi opened Mongo Parish he
said in a parable that he was like throwing a ball so that the parishioners of Mongo could start playing it. Therefore, like a game, parishioners of Mongo with the fathers and brothers have been playing the ball for 4 years. Some fathers could come and go, even the parishioners could come and go, but the game continues. As in any kind of games, success and failure, happiness and sorrow are inevitable, so in the life of Mongo parish.

The game is going on and will go on continuously, because, as Fr. Carlo  reminded us, the establishment of a parish in Mongo means that Jesus is here present in the parish permanently. The activity of mission in this parish is based on that presence of Jesus. As God the Father said about Jesus, ‘This is my own dear Son, listen to him’ (Mark 9:7), so the parishioners have to listen to Jesus through the fathers, brothers and the community who are present here to work in the parish.

During the reception in the Parish Hall, we were reminded that Mongo parish is not just for the Christian community. It is also for the society in general. Especially in this Muslim dominated area, we are obliged to nurture a good religious tolerance with Islam. The presence of the Paramount Chief and elders of the town also reminded us about the important of this religious tolerance. Fr. Carlo even asked us not only to practice the religious tolerance, but have to go beyond it by building a sincere and honest friendship where we can love each other and work together. With this attitude, we can avoid bad experience in other places where there is conflict between Christian and Muslim, even killing each other. Furthermore, we even should practice the mission through interreligious dialogue.

Beside speeches, the parishioners and guests also enjoyed the entertainment from our youth who performed cultural dance and songs. Their beautiful performance was a reminder that it is part of our responsibility to keep the local culture, to learn and develop it as our precious heritage with whom we need to open ourselves for dialogue.

We could see how enthusiastic we were when Mr. John K Kamara offered quiz which helped the parishioners to be aware of some practical knowledge about our church, the xaverian and the environment of Mongo society. At the end, with Salon music accompaniment, we had lunch together with a delicious local menu, namely rice produced by Mongo farmers with soup of goat beef also reared by them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Healing the Divisions Among Us

A time will come for singing
when all your tears are shed,
when sorrows chains are broken,
and broken hearts will mend.
The deaf will hear your singing
when silent tongues are freed.
The lame will join your dancing
when blind eyes learn to see.

A time will come for singing
when trees will raise their boughs,
when men lay down their armor
and hammer their swords into plows,
when beggars live as princes,
and orphans find their homes,
when prison cells are emptied
and hatred has grown old.

A time will come for singing
a hymn by hearts foretold,
that kings have sought for ages
and treasured more than gold.
Its lyrics turn to silver
when sung in harmony.
The Lord of Love
will teach us to sing its melody.

© 1977, Daniel L. Schutte. Published by OCP. All rights reserved.

"When blind eyes learn to see." In these weeks the Gospel of Mark reveals the initial experiences of the ministry of Jesus healing those afflicted with disease and illness with no hope of any cure. In the biblical context healing was not merely a matter of curing physical illnesses, but one's relationship with God and with the community. As we often fear what we do not understand, the sick were often segregated from family and community. The real power of the healing of Jesus is a paradigm for the healing of separation and division and reuniting ill loved ones with family and the community at large.

Christ heals our humanity, body, heart, and spirit through the charisms of religious life and the mission of families,  parishes, and dioceses. Healing allows our Catholic embrace to be wide across the deep divisions that keep us distant from each other, across our cultural and faith boundaries. We are cognizant of this balm of unity in our desire to build bridges of dialogue and collaboration, to connect with people we ordinarily don't connect with. Leaving our comfort zone behind, we begin to understand each other in a new and life giving light as an effect of this dialogue, the boundaries of our hearts transcend the limits our fear places upon it. Blind eyes learn to see.

Jesus not only confronts illness but he also confronts evil itself, the unclean spirit. The word for devil comes from the ancient Greek word, "diabolos." It literally means to "tear apart," according to one of its many meanings. Jesus' curative and mending powers literally brings together  what has been divided by fear and hatred. Our hearts, like our bodies, journey toward a greater wholeness through this healing.

In many ways interfaith dialogue is a way of  sharing the healing power of Christ through the transformative relationships between people of different faiths and life convictions. The desire to seek common ground together helps to slowly mend relationships that were once estranged. In this age of religious extremism and violent fundamentalism this healing power of Christ is needed more than ever. The world awaits our testimony.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Civil Conversations Project: Kwame Anthony Appiah — Sidling Up to Difference

One of the more remarkable projects out there today is one called: Civil Conversations Project: A Public Forum Providing Ideas and Tools for Healing our Fractured Civic Spaces. It is hosted by Krista Tippet. Each week, those who listen to her show ‘On Being’ have the opportunity of listening to Tippett in conversation with some of the most interesting people in the world. No matter what the subject, by the end of the program listeners have had their assumptions challenged, awareness expanded, and new questions formed.

In this particular conversation, how can unimaginable social change happen in a world of strangers? Kwame Anthony Appiah is a philosopher who studies ethics and his parents' marriage helped inspire the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. In a tense moment in American life, he has refreshing advice on simply living with difference.

We as Catholics need to listen to many voices and the wisdom of God shared through the many rivers of faith and reason that flow throughout the world in many different ways. Our embrace needs to be wide and Mr. Appiah offers some interesting advice. Listen to this podcast from Krista Tippet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Religious Commitment to Eradicate Human Slavery

On January 11 National Awareness Day for Human Slavery and Trafficking was held with activities
throughout the country to spotlight this insistent, relentless injustice that harms mostly women and children. Religious leaders from around the world gathered at the Vatican with Pope Francis in order to declare together that religions of the world must help eradicate human slavery. Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the fundamental rights and dignity of the human person. The United Nations Protocol on Human Trafficking defines it as "the "recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud or coercion."

What is Human Slavery?
According to the U.S. State Department, every country in the world is affected by trafficking. The United States is no exception, serving as a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children - both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. According to the State Department's 2012 annual Trafficking in Persons Report. . . , federal and state human trafficking data indicate more investigations and prosecutions have taken place for sex trafficking than labor trafficking in the U.S.; however, victim service providers reported assisting significantly higher numbers of foreign national victims in cases of labor trafficking than in cases of sex trafficking. Non-governmental and religious organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have noted increasing reports of children recruited into criminal activity, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as traveling sales crews and peddling rings utilizing the forced labor of children and adults.

Why is Human Trafficking So Prevalent?
Owing to the lack of anti-human trafficking laws, enforcement of such laws where they exist, along with the ease and ability to re-exploit individuals, human trafficking has become one of the fastest growing sources of profits for criminal enterprises worldwide.  Though efforts to combat it have been increasing, human trafficking has been experiencing a dramatic resurgence in recent years according to the ILO.

Traffickers lure vulnerable men, women and children with false promises of good jobs, an education, economic security and even love. Once lured, the traffickers are able to keep their victims from seeking help by confiscating identification documents, using threats of violence against the victim or their family, as well as subjecting the victim to physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse.

No sector or industry is immune from human trafficking.  Victims have been identified in factories, restaurants, construction work, agricultural fields, hotels, spas, nail salons, and even private residences.
Catholic Social Teaching and Human Slavery
The Catholic Church's vehement opposition to human trafficking is rooted in principles of Catholic social teaching, central to which is the sacredness and dignity of human life, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which "for­bids acts or enterprises that, for any reason, lead to the enslavement of human beings – to their being bought, sold, and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity." The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Migration's Statement On Human Trafficking clearly outlines the Church's teaching on human trafficking, noting "Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the basic dignity and rights of the human person. All efforts must be expended to end it."

For over a decade the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been a leader in the U.S. and global response to human trafficking, and has even established an Anti-Trafficking Program within the Migration and Refugee Services Department to coordinate the response of the U.S. Church. Explore the links below to learn more about the Church's effort and to find out how you can help.

Resources to Learn More and Act

God of freedom and love, we are saddened to know
that more than one million people are trafficked into
slavery each year.
The effects of contemporary slavery are felt in every
country around our world.
As sisters and brothers, we are tormented by this
reality that will leave devastating repercussions for
generations to come.
Our hearts grieve for what our minds can barely
comprehend, particularly when we hear of women,
men, and children who are deceived and transported
to unknown places.
We recognize this sexual and economic exploitation
occurs because of human greed and profit.
We are sorrowful and our spirits angry that human
dignity is being degraded through deception and
threats of force.
Help the violators to be transformed and enlightened
to realize the scope of their unjust actions.
Allow them to see the value and the dignity of every
human person.
Lord of Life, strengthen all those whose hearts have
been broken and whose lives have been uprooted.
As a people in solidarity with Your suffering children,
grace us with strength and courage to denounce this
crime against humanity and to work against the
demeaning practice of human trafficking.
~ Adapted from a prayer by Sr. Genevieve Cassani, Franciscans International

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Letter from Ebola Country, Sierra Leone, West Africa

Fr. Luigi Brioni, Xaverian Missionary in Sierra Leone for many years shares a candid look at Christmas in Sierra Leone at a time when the Ebola virus is claiming many lives. Please pray.

Dear Friends and Xaverian Brothers to my heart:

It’s Christmas again this year, with the Babe that never says NO to be with us and for us all. Last year I spent the last ten days of December in hospital with serious malaria; this year Ebola has come to our Country and keeps everyone afraid and sorrowful. But I remain with you (without Ebola!) with my prayer and best wishes, with His heart and mine!

The situation now in the Country is still tragic, in spite of all the authorities’ promises and people’s expectations. Even yesterday 27 people have died of Ebola, and in the first two weeks of December 550. Many International Organizations have come to our help, but still there is no light by the end of the tunnel. The Catholic Church is making herself very present to the Nation by instructing people to avoid infection, by assisting quarantined families and villages with food and money, by taking care of some of the orphans that Ebola has made everywhere.

In my own area of Fadugu and in our whole District of hills and mountains the virus has remained fairly under control and at present we are “still” free from Ebola. But anything can happen at any time. That’s why the Government has decided a total lockdown of our northern part of the Country for 5 days beginning tomorrow morning. The only exceptions allowed would be the Masses on Christmas Day. But no public festivities, caroling, parties, football games … So our Christmas this year will be a very quiet one, just hoping that the Angels of Bethlehem will come nonetheless to visit us with their song of glory!

Personally I feel OK and my health holds on. But, as you can imagine, my heart cries to the Lord as I see our people living in fear and confusion and more misery, with children without education and traders without markets! To our poor in the area we try to be present with small money to make their Christmas meals less sober than usual. However we missionaries are far away from solving any problem this Ebola has created to the Country.

No matter what, at my Mass of Christmas, it will be my great joy to think of you all in adoration to the Little One, who is the only Great One of the world. And He will not fail to smile at all of us, both there and here, with the supreme smile of God.

May Bethlehem give us in Sierra Leone the joy of Jesus’ fraternal conviviality also with your prayer. Thank you.

Blessed Christmas to you all with my love and my missing.

Fr. Luigi Brioni, sx
Xaverian Missionaries
Sierra Leone, West Africa

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Very Busy, Interfaith Friendly Pontiff

This news was gleaned from the Interfaith News Roundup of the Interfaith Observer. This is a very useful resource for those interested in interfaith dialogue and collaboration.

Pope Francis may have been the busiest cleric on the planet last month. He vigorously chided European leaders for being unconcerned about unemployment and not caring for the migrants drowning in the Mediterranean in their attempts to reach Europe, 3200 so far this year.

On a journey to Turkey, he condemned the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and called for Christian-Muslim dialogue. He met Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (a powerful gesture towards healing an ancient breach), and they jointly signed a declaration urging leaders everywhere to help the victims of the Islamic State group and pleading for the right of Christians to remain in the lands where they have been at home for 2,000 years.

Back at the Vatican, Francis gathered with leaders from half a dozen faith traditions to initiate an anti-trafficking campaign with the goal of ending slavery by 2020.

In another historic first, Pope Francis visited a Pentacostal church and apologized for past oppression.

The pope also welcomed (though he didn’t organize) a conservative interfaith conference at the Vatican on marriage and the “complmentariety” of male and female.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I Choose to Live My Faith Outside of Organized Religion

We ran across an interesting blog post on Huffington Post by Mickey Mooney who authored the book, An Outsider's Guide to the Gospel. Mr. Mooney represents a growing number among our younger generation who are foregoing participation in institutional religion and are find their own ways to live out a faith life in God. Others bring together multiple identities that seems to fit their lives very well, like being both secular and Christian, or Hindu, or something else. Welcome to the world of the New Evangelization and what we must dialogue with in order to understand this new world we live in, and to find much better responses to a younger generation who have little trust in absolute truth, church hierarchy, and institutional religion. We include his blog post in its entirety in order to invite you to engage in a conversation about this. What is your response to Mr. Mooney? What are the implications of a younger generation opting out of the institutional churches and other faiths? We appreciate respectful and constructive comments.

Let me start by making my premise clear: Believing in God doesn't mean I believe in religion, and believing in Jesus doesn't mean I believe in the religion of Christianity. While I accept I'll often be lumped into these groups because I believe in God and Jesus, I know that I myself don't subscribe to any organized religion. I have in the past, and I learned my lesson.

While some say only one religion leads to God, and others might say all religions lead to God, I would say the opposite: That no religion leads to God. They may talk of God, point to him even, and have some relevant points, but, in my opinion, they do not, and can not, lead fully to God; the various branches and denominations of Christianity are no exception.

The very structure religion confines itself within, along with its immovable dogmas, is proof enough that it will always fail to lead anyone to the full reality of our boundless, cosmic-sized God. It's clear to me that God is bigger than any box a religion can set up to put him in.

While it seems popular to think Jesus came to build an army of sorts for God, and to then organize his followers to build him an empire on earth, I personally don't subscribe to such a concept. In fact, I think Christ came to do the opposite; I believe he came to end empire thinking and bring each of us back to a personal, individual experience of God.

I believe it is a divine experience that is not based on us (as some kind of Christian army) conquering the world on his behalf, but rather, it is the experience of Christ himself conquering our individual heart with the victory of his love. For it is only when his love has fully overcome our hearts that we can truly be led into a divine understanding of God.

So what does a personal relationship with God feel like? It feels personal, that's what. It's a relationship that you and God experience and understand. It's not a corporate relationship. Yes, many others also have a personal relationship, and that's a beautiful thing, just as connecting with other believers is a beautiful experience, but I don't expect their relationship to God to be a cookie cutter of mine. Vocabulary that describes my faith and belief is -- and I think should be -- different. The way I connect with my divine Father naturally varies to others.

The thoughts and questions that God stirs my heart with -- and the answers I find -- are never going to be the same as everyone else, because my relationship with God is personal.

Contrary to this is organized religion. Religion creates a corporate identity. When we buy into religion we end up speaking, sounding, even looking like everyone else within that corporate branded identity. Same thoughts. Same beliefs. Same well-defined doctrines; and if you step out of line and have questions that don't fit that corporate identity, chances are you might be silenced, or even booted out.

Well, you know, I don't mind if I don't fit the corporate identity of organized religion, nor do I seek membership. I'm happy to have a relationship that is unique with my creator, to let go of long-held religious ambitions, and simply live in the reality of everyday life. I simply want to walk freely in each day, with an open mind to learn new things and an open heart to connect authentically with the world around me.

Mick Mooney is the author of An Outsider's Guide to the Gospel.
The best place to connect with Mick is on his facebook page.

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