Tag Archives: liberation

25 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 4.

wed-feb-8-bakhita

We know about the lives of some liberated slaves. Lavigerie had opened orphanages for ransomed children in Algeria, and a college in Malta to train ‘medical catechists’ to work alongside the missionaries. From there Adrien Atimen became a medical missionary in Congo from 1889 to his death in 1956, often working in very difficult circumstances, refusing to accept the salary to which he would have been entitled, but recognised by popes and civil governments for his selfless devotion.

Another, Bakhita, was taken to Italy after being sold to the Italian consul in Sudan. In Genoa she was given to the Michieli family who planned to take her back to their hotel in Sudan, as their children’s nanny. In 1889 it took a court case for Bakhita to prove her right to refuse to return to where she had been cruelly treated by her previous owners.

With her right to make her own free choices established, Bakhita sought baptism as Josephine Margaret Fortunata (her Arabic name Bakhita means Fortunate), and entered the convent of the Canossian Sisters, and lived happily in community until her death in 1947. She was greatly respected by the local people near her convent in Schio in Northern Italy, who considered her a saint, a judgment recognised by the Church Universal in 2000.

We hardly need such demonstrations that no people are inferior; all of us are sisters and brothers in God’s family. Yet despite all the dedicated hard work since 1888, slavery continues in other forms. Human trafficking brings people to the shores of the Mediterranean or the Channel. Many girls and women especially find themselves condemned to be used as underpaid domestic servants or in the sex industry, a crime that the Church is tackling through the dedicated work of religious sisters and their collaborators in the police and civil society.

It is sobering to read Cardinal Lavigerie’s 1888 prayer to Our Lady and realise that we can recite it with just as much urgency today:

Mary Queen of Africa at Bobo diolasso from MAfr W Africa

Mary Queen of Africa at Bobo diolasso from MAfr W Africa

Mary, we proclaimed you Queen of Africa here twenty-five years ago and Africa relies on your protection. What have you done for Africa? Again, how can you still bear such horrors to continue? Are you to be just a Queen of corpses? Are you a mother just to forget her children? There must be an end to this!’

MMB

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13 May: Time to have fun

herefords

The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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February 13: Favela!

favela-379x640

As well as fantasy, the BOing! Festival at the University of Kent tried to provide a contrasting awareness of the hurtful and distressing reality of severe overcrowding. This installation in the foyer of the Gulbenkian Theatre was called ‘Favela’ which is the name for large concentrations of slum dwellings in shanty town conditions around the cities of South America. The impression of thousands of families barely housed at all, piled on top of one another, given here for the teenagers and pre-teens to wonder at, was very striking. Poverty, even when represented in a cardboard imitation, is overwhelming.

The Brazilian Catholic Franciscan theologian Leonardo Boff writes about the way in which Francis of Assisi “brought great liberation to the poor,” even without the advantages of a social services structure. “That which makes poverty inhuman is not solely (though it is principally) the non-satisfaction of basic life needs. It is the denigration, exclusion from human community, the introjections into the poor of a negative image of themselves, an image produced by the dominating classes. The poor person begins to believe he is low and despicable.”

In St. Francis, “the ferment of the Gospel breaks forth in all its questioning, challenging reality. We realize how lazy we are, how strong the old man still remains within us. [Francis] is more than an ideal; he is a way of being, an experience of identification with all that is simplest, fraternization with all that is lowliest, enabling the emergence of the best that is hidden within each human being.” [From L. Boff & W. Buehlmann eds., Build Up my Church.]

CD, January 2017

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