Tag Archives: racism

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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23 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 2.

Pope Leo XIII

Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.

Slavery was not a matter of abstract theology. Pope and cardinal were well aware of the real flesh and blood suffering and determined to bring it to an end. Lavigerie therefore left his diocese of Algiers and travelled through Europe, stirring up support for justice towards the victims of violence and abuse.

Instead of returning to Africa, I am going to Paris, not to ask for funds, but rather to finally tell what I know about the crimes without name which are destroying the interior of our Africa, and then to let out a great cry, one of those cries which shakes up to the bottom of the soul, of all that is still worthy the name of man and Christian in the world. What I have to do is nothing other than bringing into the light what Leo XIII has just written about African slavery.”

In his encyclical In Plurimis of 1888, Pope Leo welcomed the abolition of slavery in Brazil. He reiterated how Jesus had come to set the captives free, and how the popes, from Saint Gregory the Great onwards had urged the breaking of the chains of slavery to restore all men and women to the dignity God intended. Leo made clear that, ‘The system [of slavery] is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature.’ He rejected outright the theory that some people were born inferior and so could be legally and morally enslaved.

This excuse had been used down the centuries from pre-Christian times to the conquistadores in Latin America; it was how the Portuguese had justified slavery in Brazil and the Spanish in the rest of the continent, and its poison can still be felt in racist attitudes today. Pope Leo made clear that from Saint Paul onwards the Church had striven to put an end to slavery. However, human greed, as well as war had caused it to linger in Christian as well as Muslim lands until the 19th century when the successors of Columbus were still avariciously abusing Africans as well as Indians in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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18 December. The ruined chapel, II: in the nearby church and in Uganda.

richards castle pew

On November 16th we visited an abandoned Methodist chapel. Albert’s comment on that post brought to mind the nearby Anglican church of which this is a feature. To make a sweeping generalisation, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Anglicans had churches, while Dissenters – Protestants who for various reasons did not accept all the traditions of Anglicanism – worshipped in buildings called chapels; that was the case here at the 12th Century church of Saint Bartholomew, right on the Shropshire-Hereford boundary.

This wooden cabin inside the church is actually a family pew for local gentry. There would have been cushions and footwarmers provided for their comfort at this time of year. Small wonder that the poor people of the parish went elsewhere, especially if they heard proclaimed these words of James Chapter 2.

ruined chapel

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

It need not be that way. During the 1930s in Uganda, there was a great deal of unexamined racism with Europeans holding themselves aloof from the locals. They would even expect to go to Communion first in Rubaga Cathedral. One man who stood out against this was Sir Joseph Sheridan, Chief Justice of East Africa. Not only did he mix with the Africans at Communion, unlike other Europeans, he also processed barefoot at the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

It is not just at Church that we are challenged to choose the ‘option for the poor’, though that is a good place to start. Catholics were not invited to share the sign of peace at Mass until the 1960s, but we should assert our membership of Jesus’ family by sharing it with whomsoever we are near, and maybe exchanging a word with them after Mass. People who feel cold-shouldered by congregations today may well just fade away, and not go looking for a congregation that welcomes and suits them.

But a conversation with a lonely person, a few cheerful or sympathetic words with the person on the checkout or in front of us in a queue. There are many people poor in ways other than financial.

 

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21 October: Mandela and Mission

File:Nelson Mandela (cropped).jpg

Reflections on the Legacy of Nelson Mandela  by Rhine Phillip Tsobotsi Koloti, the Anglican Students Federation’s Gender, Education and Transformation officer in South Africa.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.

I leave this quote as unknown because the origin of this thought is highly contested, nonetheless it is often received positively as a general principle for alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency instead of instant dependency. However, I wish to add a line to this adage, a line that will best reflect the situation in South Africa post-1994: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime, but remember to remove the ‘No fishing’ signs!”

In Mandela’s country, my country, economic bondage and poverty are maintained by structural injustices which prevent the poor from achieving economic freedom. Apartheid ideology is indeed over but the legacy thereof remains in institutional racism and ‘no fishing’ signs. Thus we plead for prayers that will guide our leaders to see the need to remove those signs so that Mandela’s totality of freedom will be achieved.

Loving God, we give you thanks for the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
May we be inspired by his never-ending struggle for justice, peace and reconciliation in the face of unimaginable suffering; and may we continue in the quest to bring the hallmarks of heaven to earth. Amen.

Source: USPG

Picture from Wikipedia

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November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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July 29: Deep in this Skin that I Live

raindrops-storm-485x335

 

Deep in the skin that I live

Of a thousand tales and a million whispers

Like autumn’s oak on western hills

Olive soaked to save winter’s scourge

Then to glitter in summer’s heat

Deep in the skin that I live

Flows the blood of slavery

And so too the blood of its slave master

Marked by David’s star

And so too the desert’s cross and crescent

Deep in the skin that I live

Throbs the Celtic cross and the cross of George

A thousand generations gone past

A million rejections of enigma’s tale

Led to streams, but stopped from drinking

Deep in the skin that I live

I catch that look again. That curious look, that stupid

smile

Wrapped in subtle nuance. Prepared, well served

That forbidden question: where are you from?

That cold reluctant handshake,

The sudden silence. Distance. No reply

Deep in the skin that I live

Stranger in my fatherland

Alien in my mother’s house

You can run a bit fast, jump a bit high:

Spring rains and washes all away

Deep in the skin that I live

Curled within, locked in, stained outside

The silent scream heard only by silence

Strolls had with pain and frustration

Cards played with insomnia in vain

Tick, and tock, and tick

Let the clock, clock into day

Deep in this skin that I live

A skin that dares dream of tomorrow

And when tomorrow comes

This skin only hopes cynicism never fathers

mendacity.

VE

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June 8. Justice IV: Justice and Debt

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007 

The virtue of justice is particularly sensitive to all forms of indebtedness, not merely monetary. ‘The just deed,’ says St. Thomas with admirable succinctness, ‘is the deed that is adjusted to or commensurate with the other’ (S.T., II.II, Q. 57:3). For example, a parent feeds baby-food to her three-month-old baby because that is what the baby needs. The rest of the family receives normal food. An employer in a large company normally would not expect the daily cleaners to be doing executive work. Justice apportions expectations, services, and wages according to the needs, services, and abilities of the other.

Justice, therefore, does not mean that everyone is treated in the same way. Rather, it is the role of justice to see that people are treated differently when they are different, when they have different needs, and exist in differing situations. The equality with which justice is concerned involves ensuring that what is done for another or given to another is duly proportionate to that person in his or her situation of need.

At the same time, when people are existing in identical situations, then it is the role of justice to ensure that their treatment is identical. Two people performing the same job in the same company should be paid the same wage, regardless of the colour of their skin, their country of origin and so on. ‘Justice’, says Thomas Aquinas, ‘is the perpetual and constant will to render each one his right. A man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others’ (S.T. II.II. Q58:1).

SJC

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October 20: Bitter Fruit, Bitter Seed

blackthorn

Blackthorn opens at the end of Winter, but never one flower alone, always a constellation of Hope. 

… waiting, as at the end

of a hard winter

for one flower to open

on the mind’s tree of thorns.[1]

I could not shake off yesterday’s image of a fleshly body, hanging on that tree. Waiting for a flower to open in my mind, I recalled this tree of thorns, the lynchings of black men in America: Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Abel Meeropol

Strange Fruit

While the song was written in response to lynchings in America, we are more than aware that the sudden smell of burning flesh could appear on any breeze, anywhere in the world.

Bitter crops come from bitter seeds. Let us pray for the insight to see how to relieve whatever bitterness we encounter in our neighbours, and the courage to reach out to do so.

MMB.

 

 

[1] Waiting SP p137

 

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