Tag Archive: justice


Person of the Year

AMDG

proxyThe announcement that Pope Francis has been chosen as Time Magazines ‘person of the year’  marks an incredible turnaround in the public perception of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II was also given this title in 1994 – in recognition of his moral leadership and role in the downfall of Communism and after he had been Pope for 16 years (Pope John XIII was also in 1962).  It is quite remarkable that Francis got it before he had even completed a year of his pontificate. Time describes him as a “septuagenarian superstar” who “makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office”.  It is worth noting that his biggest critics seem to be from within the church particularly from the right.  I was told by one of our students that he is not going down very well in Poland where the church is still riddled with clericalism.    Maybe aware of these internal critics – many of them who seem to be digital pharisees – the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi SJ, said that Francis wasn’t looking for Time’s recognition, but if it gave people hope, then the Pontiff was happy.

What is the hope based on? Perhaps it is simply leadership.  It is interesting that the day after the Mandela Memorial – when Barack Obama has sharp words for some of the worlds leaders   “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people…..  There are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard”     It was notable that the assembled crowds booed their own president Jacob Zuma who has been accused of wide-spread  corruption.  The Pope Francis vote seems to be against a background of weak-leadership in the world.  Times managing editor, Nancy Ellis, confirmed this by writing, “At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge,”

Ad Multos Annos

Reintegrating Prisoners

AMDG

1376142163There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks.  We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service.  As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again.  We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this.  So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway.  Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank.  It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job.  We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go.  Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.  

National Probation Service (1)However last week there was interesting development.  One guy, referred by the probation service,  came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags.  ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students.  Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him.  The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust.  So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling.  However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience.  It was  interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu.  Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them.  Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated. 

It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.

Longing & Advent

AMDG

Last week we hosted a very interesting talk from Dr John Healey the Professor of Semitic Studies at the University of Manchester.  John and his wife, Elizabeth,  are just back from a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they visited a number of churches and monasteries and also went to see the Chaldaean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda (who is a Redemptorist).  We had a group of students from Syria and also a student from Iraq at the talk.  It was very powerful, but also very depressing.  Some of the most powerful interventions where from the students. One talked about her family in Damascus, who said to her recently ‘We don’t belong here any more’.  Their family have been there for generations.  Another talked about how he grew up in Baghdad with many Muslim friends and neighbours, but how a darkness had descended and they no longer mixed.

It was distressing to hear – on one level we can only pray, but on another we started the first inter-faith soup run for the homeless  in Manchester last  week.   Maybe moderate forms of Islam & Christianity in the West may eventually exert pressure back in those countries where the Christians are slowly being exterminated. One of my favourite Advent Hymns is ‘ O Come, O Come Emmanuel,  and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear…..’   This longing for peace from all forms of captivity and diminshment is a very powerful part of our advent prayer…..  watch this below……  as a friend tweeted (@austeni)…   Stunning. Listen, and pray.

AMDG PakistanIt’s reading week here in Manchester and one of our students ‘Eric’ has been sweeping up leaves for us after the storm.  Eric arrived in Manchester from Pakistan 4 years ago – he is a very hard worker.  It was raining heavily this morning so I told him to come in out of the rain and have a cup of tea with me.  Whilst brewing up Eric showed me some photos of on his phone that were shocking.  They were of his house being burnt down 6 months ago in Pakistan.  I have known him for months now and this is the first time he has talked about it. The riots started when one Muslim resident had accused another Christian resident of blasphemy against Muhammad after the two had engaged in a dispute. The police arrested the Christian accused of blasphemy on Friday, and the mob action took place the next day.  Eric told me that they would remove and burn the blessed sacrament first before burning down the church. Joseph Colony Badami Bagh Lahore Pakistan The Independent

This picture on the right is of the burning of all the  church objects .  He talked very calmly about it – the house was worth about £70,000 and was going to be Eric’s inheritance.  According to the Pakistani government  178 houses, 18 shops, and 2 churches were damaged during the riots. Eric says his friends and family reckon the number of homes destroyed is at least 350, or about twice the size of the government estimate and that the entire operation was very well planned and deliberate, not a case of a peaceful demonstration getting out of hand. That the police told residents in the Colony the previous day (Friday) that they should leave the area. This clearly indicates that the government was aware of the planned mob action, and wanted to minimize the loss of life. The St. Joseph Colony is located on land near a number of industrial sites including steel and iron-making plants. It is well-known that these industries would like more land to expand their operations, and many residents believe that is what was behind the clearance.

416bLFOkUuLEric asked me to tell this story on my blog – this all happened 6 months ago – what I want to know is why the BBC is not interested in reporting this? Because it’s an uncomfortable truth for the Liberal Elite.   John L Allen, the excellent American commentator,  has an interesting take on this – he wrote - Stoked by historical images of the Crusades and the Inquisition, and even by current perceptions of the wealth and power of church leaders and institutions, it’s tough for Western observers to wrap their minds around the fact that in a growing number of global hotspots, Christians today are the defenseless oppressed, not the arrogant oppressors.  His new book is coming out soon – already available on Kindle – and it is worth getting, it is called (left)  The Global War on Christians.

Historic Day in Manchester

AMDG

David Cameron visits NuneatonTwo important things happened yesterday in Manchester which offer a contrast that maybe worth reflecting on.  The Prime Minister gave his speech about his vision of ‘ a land of opportunity for all’, whilst just down the road (to be precise Oxford Rd)  we are opening the first student-run foodbank in the country (link to BBC website).   All around Manchester you can see the Conservative Party banners – with their conference slogan proclaiming ‘For Hard Working People‘.  The implication is that we are not the party of scroungers, lazy welfare dependent – ‘feckless’ poor.  The embarrassing truth is that according to foodbank usage statistics (collated by the excellent Trussell Trust), the crisis food provision is increasingly being used by the ‘working poor‘.   The sad fact is that many hard working people seem to be getting poorer, especially those not protected by proper contracts.

The Conservative Party seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with Foodbanks, on one hand they are held up as being a great example of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ on the other hand there is considerable embarrassment about the incredible growth of the foodbank network.  This is embarrassing for the government as it makes visible what was hidden before, food poverty.   Food Poverty is something that teachers have noticed as alarming levels of students arrive at school with empty stomachs, here in Central Manchester we have the highest indices of child poverty in the country.  It was sad to see a meeting between MP’s and foodbank managers was cancelled this week here in Manchester for lack of interest by the Conservative MP’s.  We also had the same problem attracting Catholic Mp’s to speak to the students – none were interested in coming. Last year at the Labour conference a few Mp’s came – including the impressive Jim Murphy, who still came and talked to the students even though he had lost his voice.

Even if the government wasn’t interested – the media were – this report went out nationwide on ITV yesterday

Foodbanks – Hope & Scandal

AMDG

This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments at the end of next week 

 1376142163Here in Manchester – we are about to open the first student-run foodbank in the country.  We have been working with the Trussel Trust (TTT), a Christian charity who currently support the biggest network of foodbanks in the country.  The alarming rate of growth of foodbanks is a direct response to two conflicting trends in British life.  The growth of ‘food poverty’ : as globally food prices rise, energy prices rise, but locally wages stay still or decrease, those with a basic income are finding it harder and harder to put food on the table.  The second trend is the cutting of benefits, and the dismantling of a bloated welfare state.  With pressure on local agencies to withhold benefits for the slightest misdemeanour, those accustomed to relying on this are finding themselves in emergency situations, where they may have to wait a few weeks before any income resumes.   So foodbanks are popping up all over the place, often but not exclusively in churches – to provide short-term emergency assistance. 
Picture1The TT model that we are following,  provides a referral service, where those in crisis can be referred to us for food parcels by a variety of front-line agencies.  People don’t just walk-in off the streets, it is not a drop-in centre they must be referred with vouchers.  These are also limited to three per six months, so it is not creating dependency but rather providing an emergency – short term crisis service.  The vouchers also ensure that a sophisticated monitoring process can go on to find out the causes of these crises, and spot any patterns emerging.  It was interesting to see that TTT was able to identify a spike in demand during the summer holidays as free-school-dinners were not available to struggling families.  Present at yesterdays training day – here at the chaplaincy – were representatives from the council, the huge local hospital, schools, churches, sure-start centres,  job-centers, charities etc.  It was a an impressive kaleidoscope of civil society,  the ill-fated ‘Big-Society’.

download (2)The scandal of food-poverty in such a wealthy society – for me points more towards the breakdown of the extended family rather than free-market politics.  Like many post-industrial societies we are in a much-needed reform of the welfare state, but when the family is not there to pick up the pieces – more strain is put on civil-society as big-government withdraws.  However dirty politics also reared its head yesterday.  It turns out that the job-centres, who are enthusiastic referrers to food banks, at times verging on the irresponsible, using us an excuse to meet quotas, cut corners.  The job centres refuse to use the voucher scheme as sanctioned by TTT.  Why – because much of this food poverty is hidden – but the monitoring system TTT uses allows for the identification of the cause of the crisis and this is an embarrassment for the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP).  On the voucher it is indicated why someone is in crisis, e.g sickness, benefit delays, domestic violence, debt etc.   It seems that although there was an agreement with TTT and DWP back in 2011, DWP have acted unilaterally and changed it – refusing to use TTT’s vouchers.  It may be that the TTT network is so extensive and successful now, but also they are so good at data gathering that this is embarrassing the government.  They are happy to dump people on the TTT, but not happy for statistics to get out about how the changes are effecting people – now that is Scandalous!

700_dettaglio2_Paolo-dallOglioAMDG

Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ has been a leader among Christians in Syria.  In 1992 he re-founded an abandoned ancient monastery in  the desert North of Damascus as a place for reconciliation and inter-faith dialogue.  It is becoming more and more famous as a pilgrimage site, attracting over 50,000 pilgrims last year, the majority being Muslims.  At the bottom of the post is a short documentary about the monastery ‘Deir Mar Musa made by an Italian NGO’.  Fr Dall’Oglio has received a prize from the President of Lombardy for his work for peace.  Since then – controversially – he has decided that non-violence is no longer an option in the face of what he has described as Assads ‘ethnic cleansing’ policy of Sunni’s.  In the face of this people have a right to defend themselves he claims.

_66206220_syria_damascus_raqqa_0313As his stance hardened he was told to leave the country by the Assad regime.  After he published an open letter to the UN and special envoy Kofi Annan, his local bishop insisted he heeded the threats and he went into exile.  As things deteriorated in Syria and Christian groups were targeted more and more – he gave this interview from Paris just before a Catholic priest was shot dead inside his church in June. The interview was given to a group called Syria Deeply.   Since the interview Fr Dall’Oglio has returned to Syria – and was kidnapped in the rebel held town of  Raqqa on 29 July by the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, There are claims that he has been executed by the extremist group. The claims are not yet confirmed.

—————————————————————–

SD (Syria Deeply): Is that kind of reconciliation possible in Syria today, a country whose diverse ethnic and religious groups are being torn apart by the conflict?

PD: My position is we need to bring back all the sectors, all the facets of the Syrian population, in order to bring back this harmony that was the pride of the whole country. That so many communities were able to live together in the same society… it’s certainly one of the reasons why I fell in love with the country. And also because it was still outside the Western way of life, there was less consumerism, and traditions were so alive, such great hospitality, such an understanding of how to live together. Everything is lost now, and we need to rebuild on a solid foundation.

SD: Is this why you’ve chosen to risk sneaking back into Syria on two occasions now to meet with opposition activist groups?

PD: And I will go again. I hope to work with television to show and to help the civil society take root and grow.

SD: You’ve met with everyone from Kurds to Jihadists…

PD: I don’t like the word Jihadist. Jihad simply means ‘holy effort or struggle.’ There are Christians whose first name is Jihad, bishops with the first name of Jihad. I prefer to say ‘militarized extremists’.

SD: You met with militarized extremists who oppose the Assad regime.

PD: Yes, [the Syrian state news agency] then accused me of being imbedded with Islamist extremists and paid by Al-Qaeda.

SD: And for you, such meetings are all essential steps in a roadmap to peace?

PD: Absolutely, because at the same time we fight our fight for peace in Syria, we need to prepare the ground for reconciliation. Take the Alawite clan [Bashar al-Assad’s clan], they are not all criminals, there are very good people among them, but they are kidnapped by the logic of community solidarity to serve the regime. They too are victims of the regime.

SD: Your mission has clearly expanded far beyond furthering Islamic-Christian understanding.

PD: I am fully engaged in Islamic-Christian harmony building, but today I’m also in the service of Islamic-Islamic harmony building. We want next Ramadan to be a time for prayer and action for the reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites.

SD: Are the types of causes you’ve taken up typical of a Jesuit?

PD: The Jesuits are an order of priests committed to the service of the gospel and souls, but not in an artificial way—we are very much for engaging and compromising in the society, by fighting for justice, for [community] development and human development, and for inter-religious dialogue and harmony building. Such has been my commitment… and in this I’m certainly very Jesuit.

SD: I’d like to understand what moved you to settle in Syria 30 years ago. What did you discover in the ruins of Mar Musa monastery in 1982, and what did you later try to build there?

PD: Simply, it’s a place of hospitality in the name of Abraham… In fact, traditionally, the Christian monastery in the desert is an organic part of the Islamic symbolic system, in literature, in relations between spiritual leaders, and in the massive flow of visitors—especially pious visitors. This began immediately after we opened our doors—up to 50,000 visitors in the year, the vast majority of them Muslims. Even now, in this difficult moment, this site is protected by the Muslim population.

SD: Were you able to function more or less freely for a time under al-Assad?

PD: The Syrian State is made up of people, yes it was kidnapped by the regime, but it still was a state with its ministries. So I worked with the ministries of agriculture on the environment, with culture on historic monuments and restorations, with tourism on development. The regime was always there watching, but I was in a sincere relationship with the state… But when we started to oppose corruption, then I was recognized as an enemy of the regime, and all my activities were shut down, game over. That was 2010.

SD: People had initially been hopeful about al-Assad as President.

PD: We had hoped that Mr. Bashar Assad would change his country, and free his people… The Syrian people who remembered the Hama uprising in 1982 knew this regime was capable of massacres, yet they hoped slowly there could be a shift to a new era of real democracy, even in small steps. They said, ok you stole all the money, fine enjoy it, but change the system. You have half the country for yourselves, fine, keep it, but let the people breathe. You have an enormous amount of power, fine, but start to share it. This was the hope. And it didn’t work. When our youth started the Arab Spring, they said enough is enough, obliging all of us to stand for freedom, and to stop this game.

SD: How has your perspective on Syria changed since you’ve been in exile?

PD: I’m really outside today, and being outside I find myself in the company of an entire people in exile. I meet with Syrians who have been in exile for 20 or 40 years, second generation expelled people. When you meet with a group of 15 Syrians outside the country, you have stories of years spent in prison and an incredible amount of suffering, violence and torture that has been witnessed—it is unbelievable. I want to raise up the voices of these people asking for freedom, democracy and justice.

SD: What do you believe those supporting the regime are fighting to preserve—the status quo?

PD: Today the regime is using actors in different sectors, Muslim leaders, Christian leaders, journalists, and working to convince them that the regime, although not the best in town, is better than anything that could come after them. They don’t pretend to be good, but the theory is the alternative could be worse. They say, look at Afghanistan, at Iraq, it didn’t work. Somalia was a disaster. Look what’s happening in Libya. In Tunisia and Egypt the Muslim radicals are taking power. So why do we want change in Syria if it’s to be the same story?

It’s to the point that today, you have Marxist anti-imperialists on the extreme left who are for Bashar [al-Assad], and who go march for him in the street alongside the right wing Christian traditionalists… both out of Islamophobia.

I see these [Syrian] Christians as victims too of what’s happening, they’re trapped in the middle, unable to believe in the revolution, in democracy, having been educated from their early days to believe that democracy is part of a big conspiracy, a big lie of [Western] imperialism. So they go under the protection of the regime thinking without it they will be forced into exile.

SD: You were exiled soon after the massacre of Houla, was that a turning point in the conflict for you?

PD: Yes, in the sense that it was the moment when my calls to the international community to act in a nonviolent way to protect the freedom of the Syrian people in their pacifist protest ended in a failure, where the international community was unable to act. The regime chose to use more and more violent repression, until it reached the point of massacre.

SD: At that point you decided a violent response to this repression was justified?

PD: The moment came when I said people have the right to defend themselves. The soldiers that have left the army so that they won’t be forced to shoot their own people, they have the right and the duty to protect the people. And when a democratic civil society is pleading not to be destroyed by violent repression and torture, the international community should help

l_arche_logo_with_titleExciting news from Manchester is that L’arche are opening a new community in Manchester.  The leader of the group, Kevin Coogan, came and gave a fascinating and engaging talk about his experience with L’arche and his passion for living with adults with learning disabilities.  He explained how L’arche, set up by the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier, had pioneered the model of ‘care in the community’ in the 50’s and 60’s when those with serious mental or physical disability had been confined to large institutions and kept out of sight and mind.

He was so honest and open about the challenges of living with people who had often been abandoned at birth, confined to institutions which may have provided a safe but often not a caring environment.  So the psychological damage of  this experience created another level of difficulties. The power of L’arche is that these people become friends.  And it was fascinating to me to hear how an emotional co-dependence can actually be healing rather than destructive or limiting.  The Community is being part funded by the local authority as they are providing a quality of care for vulnerable adults that is unlikely to be matched. But that relationship has a very interesting tension – for instance where do you draw the lines between a true life-giving healing relationship and safe professional distance.

C_71_article_1492290_image_list_image_list_item_0_image

Kevin Coogan and his brother Steve raising money for L’arche

A fascinating example Kevin gave was his experience of going on holiday with his wife and kids and bringing two community members with them.  From a faith perspective this is a wonderful and inclusive act of generosity, an unforgettable experience that is priceless.  As a priest I am often grateful for the hospitality of being received into families whether for dinner or a brief break.  However from the cold hard gaze of the local authority – often the funding agency – it would be tempting to be cynical and say, this is a sneaky way of subsidising a family holiday.  Of course this is open to abuse, but when you see the compassion and the generosity with which they are received into the family environment you have to applaud the vision behind this, and bemoan the short-sightedness of the limited vision that comes from a cynical administrative approach.  It was a meeting that has left me much to ponder!

 

Success against the odds

AMDG

Yesterday was a day of celebration here in Manvi as the school received the first set of exam results.  The SSLC exams are the equivalent of GCSE‘s (public exams for 16 year olds).  Taken at the state level. The school achieved a remarkable 100% pass rate, making it top out of more than 60 schools in Manvi District.  Fr Rohan Almeida S.J. the Director of the school has written today about what this achievement means and putting it into perspective.  

Fr Rohan :  Yet again our students who appeared for the SSLC examinations have come out with flying colours. All who sat the examination from our school have passed with good marks. It gives me immense joy to tell you that some of them were grazing cows and sheep few years ago. For them to come to school and achieve this, especially in English medium is a great thing. According to me it is mainly because of the high motivation of these children that come from the remote villages and are mainly Dalits have. They have a great desire to prove that they too can achieve great things in their lives.  I thank all the teaching and non–teaching staff for motivating and encouraging these children and helping them achieve this great feat. This is a message from one of our boys, (Manesh).

 I am very delighted that I have got good marks in board exams. I am thankful to Loyola school, all the fathers and teachers who have given me an opportunity to study and encouraged me to write the exams. I want to continue my studies here in this institution and want to be an Engineer. Few years ago I was grazing cows in my village and now because of Loyola school I can dream of becoming an engineer.

The SSLC is a public examination, formulated by the regional board of education that the school is affiliated with ( i.e not an internal exam set by members of the faculty of the school).  The performance of a student in the SSLC examination is one of the factors in admission to Pre University Courses in India. Therefore, the SSLC is often regarded as the first important examination that a student undertakes. After successful completion of SSLC, a student wishing to pursue his education further would join a course based on the specialization he chooses and which gives him knowledge sufficient for him to enter an university which is sometimes called a Pre-University Course (PUC), for two years. After this a student may enter a university for undergraduate studies. Alternatively, after obtaining the SSLC, a student may choose to attend an industrial training institute where one can be trained in skills necessary for technical occupations. The other options include joining a polytechnic for a three year course of diploma in engineering and then further pursing degree in engineering after the completion of diploma. Many of our students want to do their PUC and go for the engineering and medical studies.

Many Dalit children are left to a life of illiteracy and looking after sheep or goats

Mustur Rayappa one of the parents says “Really you have brought the light to our children by starting Loyola school in Manvi. You have given us a ray of hope that even our Dalit children can study and stand equal to other children. I am grateful to Jesuit fathers who started this school and brought the best education to the poor and downtrodden in the society.”

I thank almighty God for giving us strength to carry out this Mission to educate the poorest of the poor and the marginalized in the society. I thank all the teaching and non–teaching staff for motivating and encouraging these children and helping them achieve this great feat. I thank all the benefactors and the well wishers without whose support these children would have been still grazing cows and sheep or might be working as child labourers in their villages.

New website of the school – just launched – click here www.xaviermanvi.in

To support these children – click here www.supportingdalitchildren.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,789 other followers