My experience at the Pre-Forum

1 02 2009

By Karen Monteiro, Regional Advocacy and Policy Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa region

When I was first invited to attend the Pre-Forum and World Social Forum in Brazil, I knew very little about the event and how it would benefit my work in advocacy in the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Eastern Africa region. The theme for the Pre-Forum has been about indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. My work involves working for refugees and forcibly displaced persons. Could my experiences of working in human rights and with refugees add anything to these encounters? The answer is a plain and simple YES.

Karen (on the left) during the March of the WSF

Karen (on the left) during the March of the WSF

The Pre-Forum provided a great opportunity for networking with like-minded persons from various organizations and also with Jesuit Institutions I never knew existed, but which have the potential of being a powerful advocacy network, which can add value to my work in advocacy. I have learnt that the problems faced by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region are not unique to them or to indigenous persons in other parts of the world. They are problems experienced also by refugees and displaced persons that I work with in my region. I was surprised by the fact that not many people were aware of the work undertaken by JRS. I therefore felt that the JRS-East African representation to the Pre-Forum has ensured that a wider audience, both within the various institutions of the Society of Jesus and external to it, will become aware of the work undertaken by JRS.

There was a great opportunity for sharing best practices and lessons learnt. During one of the coffee breaks, I was introduced to a Brasilian lady working with indigenous people along the Brasilian border. She described the hardships faced by the indigenous people that make them resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as drugs, alcohol and even suicide. I discussed the psychosocial work undertaken by JRS in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya for refugees who were thirsty for more than just water, medicines, food and shelter. Refugees are trained to become counselors and they then provide counseling services to other refugees as well as training in counseling to ensure the sustainability of the programme. I promised to send the counseling training manuals and they can be translated into Portuguese as well as indigenous languages.

I personally feel that this event has helped to strengthen my faith and also my commitment to the work I am doing. The Ignatian Day and reflection on GC35 ‘Reconciliation with Creation´ has stirred up great interest within me to learn more about environmental issues and how they link with human rights. This is especially important when working with refugees and seeing the environmental degradation caused by refugee camps. We need to be involved in the research that is already being carried out on refugees and the environment.

I believe that this meeting would only be a disappointment if we leave Brasil and do not carry out or follow through on the great ideas that have come about from the meeting. I am very eager to enlist the contacts I have made for advocacy purposes which benefit my region. I am eager to ensure that people learn more about the work of JRS. I am also very eager to ensure that I maintain the good friends – from all corners of the world, of all languages and ages – that I have made in this beautiful region of the world.

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Un incontro speciale

1 02 2009

di Giuseppe Riggio SJ

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Il Foro Sociale Mondiale di Belém era stato annunciato come quello in cui la partecipazione delle popolazioni indigene sarebbe stata la più alta rispetto alle edizioni precedenti. Ed in effetti le previsioni sono state confermate e la loro presenza è ben visibile nel territorio del Foro, in modo particolare nell’Università Federale Rurale dell’Amazzonia (UFRA) dove si trova il campo del CIMI (Consiglio Indigenista Missionario) che ospita circa 2.000 persone di diverse popolazioni indigene. Il Foro si è perciò tradotto in un’occasione speciale di incontro e scambio per persone appartenenti a diverse popolazioni indigene.

In questo contesto vanno sicuramente ricordati i due incontri che hanno avuto luogo in questi giorni tra la delegazione di SAPI (South Asian Peoples’ Initiative), composta da 29 membri appartenenti a popolazioni indigene indiane (Tribali, Dalit e Adivasi), e le popolazioni indigene dell’Amazzonia. Questo contatto, reso possibile grazie all’aiuto e coinvolgimento dei membri dell’Equipe itinerante, ha costituito qualcosa di veramente significativo per entrambe le parti, che, al di là delle distanze geografiche e delle differenze culturali, hanno scoperto di avere molto in comune dato che devono condividere le medesime difficoltà e confrontarsi con le stesse sfide. Il tema della terra, del rispetto dell’ambiente, dello sviluppo sostenibile si sono rivelati comuni, così come comuni sono le risposte proposte e le vie suggerite.

Parlando con alcuni membri della delegazione SAPI ho potuto cogliere quanto importante sia stato per loro questo incontro. La calorosa accoglienza, il cibo offerto in segno di profonda amicizia, l’essere chiamati parentes (membri della famiglia in portoghese), i doni ricevuti, le danze tradizionali ballate in loro onore … sono state per loro attestazioni significative della comunanza di origini tra i popoli indigeni che supera tutte le barriere. In questo senso è stato davvero toccante vedere le donne indiane e quelle amazzoniche dialogare silenziosamente con gesti e sguardi.

Questo incontro tra gli indiani del gruppo SAPI e gli indigeni dell’Amazzonia non è stato certo pubblicizzato come quello dei cinque Presidente dell’America Latina, ma di certo nella vita di chi l’ha vissuto ha segnato un qualcosa di importante: una nuova consapevolezza della propria identità e dei confini del proprio mondo.





We share a common present

26 01 2009

Interview with Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

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Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

The sessions began today with a few words to remember the celebration of Republic Day of India. We joined this celebration by presenting today a conversation with Xavier Jeyaraj, the Coordinator of the social apostolate in South Asia. He has led to Belem and the Pre-Forum a delegation of 29 persons, men and women from different parts of India. The group has already made an impact among all participants and has worked hard to prepare the presentation of an experience describing the situation of tribals and Dalits in India. It is not easy to catch Xavier even for a short interview. His spare time, as he acknowledges, is taken now by the preparation of a shared public session at the World Social Forum with the group of indigenous people from the Amazonia. They want to show that globalization has brought the same havoc to dalits and tribals in India as well as to the indigenous communities of the Amazon region. Between one sandwich and a cup of tea, I asked him whether, two days in Belem, he was satisfied.

After talking to some members of the delegation, Xavier feels quite happy especially on this second day. Many acknowledged that they were struck by seeing other people like them fighting for land; by realizing that other men and women have also been displaced from their homes and lands by the same type of forces, even though they may have different faces. This has helped in the realization that they are not alone, that the issues they face have a global character, and that they are not an exception or an unfortunate accident. Many in the Indian group have been touched, Xavier confessed, by the way other groups have talked about the role faith plays in their lives, Faith seems to have been a strong force to sustain their lives and struggles. This ‘faith’ element acquires for some of the Indian members of the delegation, a new relevance and dimension; they have, quite often, seen their own lives as a continuous and somewhat barren and dead struggle against external and even internal odds. Language is a barrier for many in the group, but tribal and dalit women have been able to touch and embrace women from other parts of the world to communicate and receive love, concern and understanding. They know they are not alone, and they know they have hope in a new future.

 SAPI delegation at Pre-Forum

SAPI delegation at Pre-Forum





Experiencias de vida, fe y lucha

26 01 2009

By Fernando Franco (Con la colaboración de J. Xel, México)

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Una parte importante del programa del Pre-Foro ha sido la presentación de varias experiencias en torno a las luchas de los pueblos indígenas y de comunidades socialmente excluidas por la tierra y una vida digna. Las masacres contra pueblos indígenas y su lucha por la tierra fueron contadas con dramatismo y frescura por los Macuxí del territorio de Roraima (CIR) y por el grupo de SAPI (India). Una religiosa india llegó fue muy aplaudida cuando narró su lucha para que las mujeres de una barriada (slum) de una ciudad en el estado de Andhra Pradesh pudieran organizarse y luchar por sus derechos. Sus palabras fueron un testimonio de la importancia de la fe en Dios y en el pueblo para poder seguir adelante durante los momentos de desánimo y cuando se crean divisiones dentro de la misma organización.

La narración viva de muchas vidas comprometidas nos hizo sentir que solamente desde una profunda mirada desde el Amor por la vida, por la tierra y por los pueblos vivos y concretos es posible sentir en el corazón el dolor, la indignación y la esperanza en un futuro. Este encuentro nos está enseñando experimentalmente, que a pesar de diferencias geográficas y culturales, todos participamos de experiencias comunes: la destrucción del medio ambiente, el desprecio por la vida de los pobres, las luchas por la vida y que a pesar de todas las monstruosidades, la esperanza en un futuro mejor está viva.

 

Dionito (CIR)

 





The Pre-Forum has started!

25 01 2009
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We are on time and we are on track. The official ceremony to start the Pre-Forum Fé’namazônia full of life and colour took place on Saturday, 24 January. Two people who were there, Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ from Africa and Sergio S. Sala SJ from Europe (who lives in Brazil), tell us of the joy and festivity of the initial ceremony.

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French

En marge du Forum Social Mondial qui aura lieu à Belem au Brésil (27 janvier -1er février 2009), la famille ignatienne a prévu de se rencontrer du 24 au 27 janvier 2009. C’est donc dans l’après-midi du samedi 24 janvier que le pré-forum a commencé dans l’enceinte du Grand Séminaire Pie X. Le thème général en était : « Foi religieuse et défense de la vie ». L’assistance d’Afrique et Madagascar y a été représentée par une délégation de sept personnes.

J’ai aimé la joie et la fraternité qui ont caractérisé l’ouverture du pré-forum. Tout s’est passé dans la simplicité, la concorde et la joie. Je revois encore le sourire des participants venus du monde entier : Asie, Europe, Amérique, Afrique, océanie. Ce fut le temps des retrouvailles pour les uns et de nouvelles connaissances pour les autres. On pouvait voir les gens prendre les photos et se saluer fraternellement.

Un petit orchestre a agrémenté la soirée. Les participants ont spontanément envahi la piste, montrant ainsi que la diversité est une richesse à exploiter pour construire un monde où règnent la justice et la paix.   Le mot d’ordre que la délégation africaine a choisi est éloquent : « Un leadership fort pour nourrir les nouvelles espérances en vue de la paix et de l’unité ».

Oui ! J’ai retrouvé la joie et la spontanéité africaines! Que de ce genre de rencontres naisse réellement un monde de justice et de paix ! Un autre monde est possible ! A nous tous d’y travailler, dans l’unité et la concorde.

(Ghislain Matadi SJ, Coordinateur de l’Apostolat Social d’Afrique et Madagascar)

Italian

125 partecipanti al Pre-Forum provengono da 30 paesi d’ogni parte del mondo. Costituiscono una comunità  variopinta e molto eterogenea ma unita da un pensiero comune: un altro mondo è possibile.

Oggi c´e stato il primo momento d’incontro e conoscenza. Le presentazioni per zone geografiche, pur brevi e preparate in pochi minuti, sono state indicative del clima che si respira nel proprio luogo d’origine. I delegati africani vogliono unità  e pace; gli europei sperano che il vecchio continente sia più accogliente e integrato; gli indiani chiedono terra e vita per ogni popolo e razza; i latino-americani sollevano il problema dell’acqua, simbolo di vita che unifica tutti i paesi; i brasiliani, ospiti dell’evento, sottolineano le disuguaglianze ancora presenti in questo pur ricchissimo paese.

Una nota d’attenzione va data ai numerosi indiani, presentatisi con l’uniforme del SAPI (Iniziative dei Popoli Sud Asiatici), gruppo di cui abbiamo già  fatto accenno e di cui scriveremo meglio nei prossimi giorni.

Tutti i partecipanti sono invitati a ragionare insieme sul trinomio fede-religione-difesa della vita, a creare legami tra le varie associazioni presenti, a partecipare al FSM preparando assieme i tre eventi organizzati dalla famiglia inaziana per il 29 gennaio.

L’arcivescovo di Belem ha voluto essere presente alla serata inaugurale, spendendo parole d’apprezzamento per l’opera dei gesuiti in Amazonia e di incoraggiamento a tutti i partecipanti. Infine ha  impartito la benedizione sull’inizio dei lavori del Pre-Forum. (Sergio S. Sala SJ, Brazil)

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pictures by Anselmo Dias SJ





We and Creation: Some paradoxes

24 01 2009

by Fernando Franco

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Mary Cowell is an English woman who has worked as a documentary maker with the BBC. I met her at breakfast and we talked about a subject she loves deeply: ecology and creation. She is here to share her strong feelings about the lack of awareness on issues of ecology in the Church. She told me that “we need to carefully un-pack what we mean when we say we are made in the image and likeness of God; science in the 21st Century is telling us many challenging things about what it is to be human.  DNA science tells us we share 98% of our DNA with a gorilla – our closest relative – but 60% with a fruit fly and 50% with a cabbage.  So what is the face of God?”

I was struck when she asked me pointedly the role of the Society of Jesus in supporting the right view on Ecology. We Jesuits have talked about the earth in the documents of GC 35. The questions however are coming to us faster and more deeply than we ever expected. She added for my own consideration these words:

dsc004754“We are intricately inter-connected with all life and we are part of a web of life rather than a Victorian ‘chain of being’.  What does that mean theologically? It is also challenging to us to acknowledge that if all ‘higher’ animals like top predators and mammals, such as ourselves, were wiped out tomorrow, life on earth would carry on fine without us, with a few adjustments.  But if we destroy the beetles on earth then all life dies in about three months.  We are utterly dependent on creatures we have very little emotional connection with and very often see as unimportant – and for Catholics that is a new challenge to our perceptions.”

She strongly criticized an idealized view of creation, a mere dream or movement to contemplate the “the beauty of creation”. She made her point passionately:

“Indeed it is beautiful, but it is blindly ruthless and that beauty is the result of sheer, unthinking competition.  So what does that tell us about God in all things? What this understanding requires is for us to be humble, to accept facts that challenge us and to consider their implications in the light of faith. Humility is the key word!”

I did get the message. We are too far away from this way of thinking and we need to be humble to be open.

[Editor’s note: read Mary Colwell’s challenging article about “The Future of the Amazon” here]





On the eve of Pre-Forum Fé’namazônia

23 01 2009
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The Pre-Forum Fé’namazônia “Faith(s) and Defence of Life”, the meeting organized by Amazonian Jesuits on the occasion of the WSF, is now about to begin.

The first participants at the Pre-Forum Fé’namazônia “Faith(s) and Defence of Life” have already reached Belém do Pará, and they will continue to arrive over the next few hours. Coming from all over the world, the 125 participants are a fair representation of the richness and variety present in the Society of Jesus. Here are a few examples. There is a large and well-qualified presence from the Jesuit Conference of South Asia, thanks to the South Asian Peoples’ Initiative (SAPI) delegation, comprising 29 members (Jesuits, religious sisters, lay men and women). Other Jesuit Conferences are also well represented with Jesuits and collaborators from Europe, Africa, and East Asia. Not surprisingly, the majority of the participants come from Brazil and South America. Then there are also participants who belong to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS Eastern Africa and Italy) and Fe y Alegría networks.

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In addition to Jesuit participation, the Pre-Forum will also be attended by about 100 diocesan priests, religious men and women and lay people working and living in Amazonia. This large participation is a consequence of the inter-institutional and inter-congregational work done by Amazonian Jesuits and bears witness to the effective, specific way of proceeding adopted by the Society in Amazonian region.

The alternation of important speakers, such as Marina Silva, Frei Betto and Fr José Comblin with those presenting grassroots experiences will characterize the schedule of the three days’ meeting. The six organizations and groups sharing their experiences are: Vicaria del Sur from Caquetá (Colombia); the Sisters of Notre Dame from Anapú, Pará (Brazil); the Inter-institutional Equipe Itinerante da Amazônia (“travelling team”); the Conselho Indigena de Roraima (Indigenous Council of Roraima, Brazil); South Asian Peoples’ Initiative and the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar.

The participants will have time to reflect on the numerous inputs and share their own experiences during the planned sessions of Working Groups. These groups offer an important chance to discuss concrete proposals for initiatives in areas considered relevant for the defence of life.