Excitement builds in Malawi for new Jesuit secondary school

Students from St. Joseph Primary School in Kasungu, Malawi  cheer for the construction of Loyola Jesuit Secondary School, during a recent visit. (CNS/Courtesy Loyola Jesuit Secondary School)

Students from St. Joseph Primary School in Kasungu, Malawi, cheer for the construction of Loyola Jesuit Secondary School, during a recent visit. (CNS/Courtesy Loyola Jesuit Secondary School)

Students in Malawi soon will be able to continue their education in a Jesuit secondary school.

Loyola Jesuit Secondary School in the rural community of Kasungu is nearing completion. Father Peter Henriot, an American Jesuit, tells Catholic News Service the school will welcome its first 125 students in September.

He said excitement is building in the community, population 60,000 about 75 miles from the capital of Lilongwe, as construction enters its final phase on the boarding school that will enroll boys and girls.

While the Malawi government acknowledges the importance of education, few students go on to secondary school. Statistically, less than 25 percent of boys and less than 20 percent of girls continue their education after eighth grade.

“You don’t have development unless you are educating the youth. Education is key, and education in a poor rural area is important. And you don’t have justice unless you are educating the girls,” Father Henriot said.

Joining the Jesuits in the project are the country’s bishops and Malawi’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

By opening the school the Jesuits in the order’s Zambia-Malawi province want to improve access to education for teenage students in what is one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated nations. Through education, the economy can diversify, and the dire poverty that afflicts the overwhelming majority of Malawi’s 15 million residents can be eased.

“We use the expression ‘It’s an option for the poor,’” Father Henriot said.

Because the school is a grant-aided institution, the Malawian government will pay the salaries of teachers. That leaves the school to raise money for necessities such as books, desks, equipment and technology. Tuition is set at $400 per year. Plans call for financial assistance to be provided to students whose family cannot afford tuition.

Jesuit Father Peter Henriot

Jesuit Father Peter Henriot

Father Henriot said an additional 125 students will be enrolled annually, bringing total enrollment to about 500 students in September 2018. Students will come from throughout Malawi.

He said the site was chosen because of its location — near the Jesuit-run St. Joseph Parish — and the availability of the land, which tribal leaders readily allowed the congregation to use.

Raising funds for the project is Father Henriot’s job. He works alongside Jesuit Father Alojz Podgrajsek, project manager.

The first phase of construction will cost about $9.5 million. Furnishings and equipment will cost another $2.5 million

Plans call for a second round of construction to begin in 2015. That will include more dormitories, a chapel, health clinic and larger library. Father Henriot said he hopes the entire project will be finished by the time for the first graduation ceremony in 2018.

The Jesuits also are looking to buy a 125-acre farm about four miles from the school. Father Henriot said the farm will provide food for the school and income from surplus crops, employ local residents and allow students to “get their hands dirty learning about agriculture.”

Vatican II fathers OK’d languages people use daily

The first session of the Second Vatican Council ended Dec. 8, 1962, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, with a closing Mass and speech by Pope John XXIII. You read the speech and the CNS report on the closing congregation of the first session at our council daybook blog, Vatican II: 50 Years Ago Today.

What may surprise you is that one of the very first actions of the council fathers was to approve the use of the vernacular in Latin-rite liturgies. This surprised many Catholic around the world, too, because of the speed with which the fathers made this change. It seemed like overnight, the exclusive use of Latin in the Western rites had been supplanted with the languages people actually used in their daily lives.

Two of the entries in the blog discuss this change. One is the article explaining the approval; the other is a very good analysis by one of the council periti or experts in sacred liturgy, Benedictine Father Cipriano Vagaggini, who died in 1999.

A woman uses a hand missal in Swahili during a Mass in Kenya. (CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A woman uses a hand missal in Swahili during a Mass in Kenya. (CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

As Father Vagaggini noted in his article, the approval did not spring like Athena from the head of Zeus, from the minds of the council father or Pope John. Liturgical reform had been well under way for almost 50 years by the time the council had begun. Missionaries had been pressing for the use of the vernacular for many years, especially in Asia and Africa, since Latin had almost no resonance with people on those continents.

The Benedictines were among the most prominent of the liturgical reformers of the first part of the 20th century. Nowhere was liturgical reform more studied in North America than St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., with its renowned School of Theology and Seminary. Today St. John’s is home to Liturgical Press, a pioneering publisher of liturgical resources since 1926.

Saving Ugandan children’s lives has not gone unnoticed

Archbishop John Baptist Odama in an interview with Catholic News Service in 2009. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, has spent much of his public ministry over the last 13 years saving the lives of thousands of children at risk of war and violence.

He has advocated for the kids to world leaders, acted as a human shield in war-torn areas of northern Uganda, called for negotiations with rebels and reached across religious and ethnic lines to organize peace initiatives to teach the way of nonviolence in the face of atrocities.

His work has not gone unnoticed.

World Vision presented Archbishop Odama with its 2012 International Peace Prize in Gulu Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.

The award recognizes peace-builders who work without much fanfare in forgotten areas of the world.

Archbishop Odama promised to work for peace, especially on behalf of children, during his installation in 1999 as leader of the Gulu Archdiocese.

I have had the opportunity to interview Archbishop Odama twice during my career: once during a visit to St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in the Cleveland Diocese several years ago and in 2009 at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.

During both interviews it was readily apparent that Archbishop Odama’s desire for peace consumed his spirit. It was the children who were his utmost concern because they were the most at risk in the face of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army led by John Kony.

Since forming in 1987 the LRA has forced as many as 100,000 children to join their ranks and participate in vicious raids on villages across central Africa. Girls often were taken as sex slaves for Kony and his lieutenants.

Archbishop Odama has placed his life at risk by venturing into remote regions of Uganda and Congo to meet with the LRA. In doing so he secured agreements to stop the attacks on innocent victims.

His most impassioned plea, though, was made to the U.S. and other governments: End the flow of arms into the region. Without armaments, he said, the region’s violence would diminish and people could once again live in peace and without fear.

For the time being Kony’s forces are out of Uganda, but have not disappeared altogether. Archbishop Odama continues to organize people, on faith-based grounds, to resist the violence through nonviolent means.

At last week’s award ceremony he repeated his desire “to always be consumed in the struggle for promoting peace.”

“My wish for peace is not only for this area, it is for the whole country of Uganda and also for the continent,” he said, according to information received from World Vision. “I consistently refer to other areas which are affected by war, to my people. Let us be in solidarity with them. We pray for them, we keep asking that God inspires people who will bring peace in those areas.”

May peace be with you, archbishop.

US priest issues plea for cultural sensitivity

An interior view Sept. 12 shows damage to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the previous day U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s prophet Mohammed. (CNS photo/Esam Al-Fetori, Reuters)

Since 1977, Maryknoll Father Doug May has spent 20 years in the Middle East — primarily Egypt. So when protests over an anti-Muslim film heated up in Cairo and other cities, he tried to help Americans balance freedom of speech with an understanding of what it means to Muslims to depict the prophet Mohammed.

“Mohammed in Islam is forbidden to be ‘imaged’ in any way except with his face covered, so adverse are Muslims to any image of God or any person for fear that the image itself might be worshipped,” he wrote in an article for Arab West Report.

“In our world of ‘political correctness,’ it is generally no longer acceptable to make fun of or ridicule: people of color, women, gays, Jews, Catholics, Hispanics, Poles, Italians, Germans, etc. Yet it is still ‘open season’ to depict Arabs as ‘rag heads’ and Muslims as ‘terrorists,’” he wrote.

“Cultural sensitivity must include religious and social sensitivity,” he added.

I met Father May at the Maryknoll house in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011. He combines a sense of humor and pragmatism with a deep love of Egypt and its people. One paragraph in his essay reflects those attributes:

“Before coming to the Arab-Muslim world for the first time in 1977, could I laugh at this film, watching Mohammed look like a fool? Probably yes, just as I laughed at Jesus and John the Baptist in ‘The Life of Brian.’ However, as a priest, would I feel free to ‘juggle’ the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar during Mass as if I were performing in a circus act? NO! It just isn’t done! If I was short of toilet paper, would I resort to tearing out pages of the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures in a time of need? NO! It just isn’t done. So, is burning the Quran, desecrating the Quran and insulting Mohammed OK? NO! It just isn’t done by anyone who is aware and sensitive to Muslims and respectful of Islam.”

Father May said that, in the interest of freedom of speech, he would defend the “theoretical right” of someone to make the film, but he said depicting “Mohammed as a sex-crazed simpleton” was “a classic example of going too far while hiding behind the concept of freedom of speech and hiding under the rock of unadulterated bigotry.” He said it also places local Christians in the terrible situation of “guilt by association.”

“If motive and premeditation can be proven, I would challenge the U.S. government to arrest and convict the makers and distributors of this film,” he said. “I would suggest that Muslims, along with moderate Christians and Jews, take the filmmakers and distributors to court and sue them for ‘inciting violence’ if such a cause exists in civil law.”

South Sudan’s future depends on making peace with Sudan

A man waves the flag of South Sudan during celebrations marking the country’s first anniversary of its independence July 9 in the capital of Juba. (CNS?Adriane Ohanesian, Reuters)

The danger of war erupting between South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, and Sudan is very real.

Tensions have been rising almost since the day South Sudan gained its independence July 9, 2011. At issue: the tenuous border between the two countries, conflict over vast oil revenues and citizenship rights.

During a one-hour online chat with people around the country today, Catholic Relief Services staff members in South Sudan and Baltimore and a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops answered questions about the country’s future and the challenges ahead.

The discussion revolved around the dangers to peace, but also reflected the hope that people of the South feel despite the tremendous challenges they face as they build a new nation.

Looming is an Aug. 2 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council to resolve the differences. Dan Griffin, Sudan adviser to CRS, commended both sides for making “great progress” in the negotiations taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but said that questions remain over whether any final agreement will be honored.

“My fear is that the two parties are not negotiating in good faith to resolve outstanding issues, but instead are maneuvering to avoid sanctions and outlast each other,” Griffin told the chat group.

No one said whether they thought the deadline would be met.

The Catholic Church, led by Pope Benedict XVI, has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts between the two nations. The church is particularly concerned for the rights of people of southern descent, who are mostly Christian, living in the north, explained Steven Colecchi, director of the bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

The church’s concern continues to be raised with U.S. officials, Colecchi said.

Sudan is facing its own simmering protest movement, which has prompted a crackdown on those calling for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. At the same time, the al-Bashir regime has implemented a campaign against non-Muslims in an effort seemingly aimed at driving them out of the country.

In South Sudan, relations between Christians and Muslims remain “generally good and healthy,” Alfred Okech, senior project officer for governance and peacebuilding for CRS, said during the chat. He explained that the agency attempts to involve Muslims in peacebuilding efforts and developing capacity in self-governance.

Nonetheless challenges remain. Improved access to health care, better schools and economic development has come to the capital of Juba and other municipalities, but the South Sudanese government has been crippled by the loss of revenues from its massive oil fields. Sudan has closed the flow of oil to Sudanese ports, virtually strangling the land-locked South Sudan economy.

Griffin identified two challenges for South Sudan to overcome its almost total dependence on oil revenues to provide necessary services:

– Establishing what historically was a strong agricultural economy by improving production, access to markets and regional infrastructure that facilitates trade.

– Developing new types of commerce and industry through regional trade and foreign investment.

By diversifying its economy, agencies such as CRS can move from doing relief work to development work, he said.

Chat participant Kathleen Kahlau, legislative adviser for CRS, called for prayer for South Sudan and asked people to advocate for the country to their congressional representatives and the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. government continues to seek a resolution to the conflict between the two nations, but much of the work is being carried out in private, she added. The G-8 and G-20 summits have also addressed the difficulties, she said.

More information about the work of CRS in South Sudan can be found here.

Net gain in fight against malaria

Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, said World Malaria Day April 25 is a time to”redouble our commitment to eradicate this pernicious disease.”

World Malaria Day was established five years ago by the World Health Organization as a means to provide education and understanding of the disease and spread information about ways to prevent and treat it.

Woo, writing in a blog for the Huffington Post, points out that the disease – which is spread by mosquitoes – killed at least 650,000 people worldwide in 2010 and some say the figure may even be twice that. Ninety-two percent of these deaths were in Africa and nearly two-thirds were of children under the age of 5.

Despite such grim statistics, Woo said deaths linked to malaria have declined since 2004.

She said the key to completely eradicating this disease is not only through scientists working to create a vaccine but also in the simple steps of using insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malaria medicines.

According to the United Nations’ program Nothing But Nets, bed nets are so effective because they protect people from malaria-carrying mosquitoes that bite at night. A family of four can sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, safe from malaria, for three years. The insecticide woven into each net also makes entire communities safer because it kills and repels mosquitoes. Bed nets are said to be able reduce malaria transmissions by 90 percent in areas with high coverage rates.

The CRS website  recounts how three years ago it helped deliver about 3 million insecticide-treated bed nets across Niger. Outreach workers who distributed these nets in local villages also worked to convince locals to use them.

But people do not have to be handing out nets and encouraging people to use them to make a difference, the CRS site points out. It urges people to promote awareness about malaria, contribute or raise money to fight it and advocate Congress to work to eradicate the disease.

New appreciation for martyrdom is Nigerian priest’s only consolation

A Nigerian priest who ministered to the dead after the Christmas bombings in Madalla, Nigeria, said he gained new insight into martyrdom.

In a first-person piece for The Catholic Register in Toronto, Father Emmanuel-Mary Mbam said:

In my agony of ministering to the dead I gained insight into why the Church calls the day a person is martyred one’s birthday. These people were martyrs; they died for their faith. As Christ was born into the world, they were born into heaven. This is my only consolation. The past year saw an upsurge in religious violence in Nigeria as a determined Islamic sect intensified efforts to impose Sharia law on the country. Incidents of devastation and death are now common.

Read the whole story here, in The Catholic Register.

Why Egypt’s elections might be good for Christians

On Nov. 28, Egypt’s first round of complicated parliamentary elections begin. Arab West Report has a good explanation of the procedures and breakdown this election, and editor Cornelis Hulsman explains why this election could be beneficial to the country’s Coptic Christian minority.

“Since in the past there were practically no districts with a Coptic majority, Copts only stood a chance at being elected if they were supported by a good share of the Muslim electorate,” Hulsman writes.

“In the new proportional system, Copts in governorates with a substantial Coptic minority, such as the governorate of Minia, which according to CAPMAS had a Coptic population of about 20 percent in 1996, will have much better chances to get elected.”

One of the reasons for the clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is that Egyptians want presidential elections to begin in March, when parliamentary elections end. The military government, which took over after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, wants presidential elections held late in 2012 or in 2013. That, combined with a recent draft document that states the military and its budget would be exempt from civilian oversight, has led to clashes in which nearly two dozen protesters have been killed.

South Sudan’s jubilation a model for Africa

Father Christopher Townsend, a first-rate Catholic journalist and the secretary for communications of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, was in Juba, the capital of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, for the independence ceremonies. It was an emotional time for him and for all Africans. He sent this dispatch this morning, sharing his thoughts about the new nation and a time when his own country had to come to terms with its past and walk brightly to a new future.

“On the eve of independence in South Sudan, I was sitting under trees with a small community of neighbours in an area called ‘High Jerusalem’ The afternoon leading to the evening had an atmosphere I can only describe as high point South African — the sort of feeling we had during our own transition in 1994 and the feeling of the World Cup 2010. I had even heard vuvuzelas. Flags everywhere.

“Sitting near the Nile, in the insect dark, we were celebrating a meal. The South Sudanese had decided on this night of liberation that there would be a type of passover seder. Stories of pain, oppression and slavery were followed by stories of hope. Bread was shared, songs and the new national anthem was sung, candles were lit and there was dancing — the quiet, eager dignity of a people set free.

“I couldn’t help thinking that this is what we should have done in 1994 — encouraging neighbours to take their time to share stories. But maybe we weren’t ready, with our apartheid living and apartheid minds. Maybe it is something that we can imitate though — a chance to tell stories and listen, not to public hearings, but the personal TRCs among neighbours.

“On the day, sitting under the shade reserved for the not quite VVIPs (thankfully so — we didn’t get as burnt as they did) with a press of bodies around us constantly streaming forward to see this new day, was an experience in humility. For while we were there as guests, friends, donors, supporters, this was not our day.

“The Jubilation of seeing the flag raised, the quiet confidence of a new constitution and country was only outdone, for me, by the ‘hand of god’ moment when the power failed before [President Omar] al Bashir could start speaking. When he eventually finished, the crowd gave him a very polite, almost English, clap and then spontaneously stood up and waved him off. Priceless. An unmistakable sign.

“Al Bashir and his policies of Islamicization and Arabification are the latest in the long timeline of the former Sudan’s struggle with identity and centralization. Even before the coup that bought this particular latest calculating genocidal barbarian to power (these words are carefully chosen and used), the dynamic in Sudan had been Khartoum directed. Almost all post-colonial leadership has come from four small ethnic groups — Arab, Islamic, northern.

“Powerfully, South Sudan has committed to reverse these tendencies of centralization, coercive religious compliance and a single Arab identity by publicly committing to a multicultural, diverse and secular state.

“The Republic of South Sudan has a long way to go — the lack of development and infrastructure is chronic. Many Southerners who were in the North have fled south to few schools and less opportunity.

“But arriving at the very little Airport of Juba, six months after departing after the referendum, clearly shows how great the energy is for explosive growth — South Sudan is a country of enormous potential.

“As the Catholic Archbishop of Juba, Paulinus Loro, said on welcoming his guests to a certain chaos before the celebrations, we have never been a country before.”

For more on the independence of South Sudan, check out the stories on the CNS homepage. Also read CNS Rome correspondent Cindy Wooden’s post earlier today about the visit of Pope John Paul 11 to Sudan in 1993.

Remembering Blessed John Paul’s words in Sudan

VATICAN CITY — In his weekly editorial for Vatican television and radio, the papal spokesman marked the independence of South Sudan by reminding listeners of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Sudan in 1993 and the extremely strong words he used to defend the rights of Christians in the predominantly Muslim nation.

I was with Pope John Paul for that visit in February 1993 when we spent just eight hours in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, at the end of a week-long trip that also included Benin and Uganda.

The 50 or 60 journalists traveling with the pope had only a couple international phone lines and telex machines to use to file our stories. I remember feeling fairly panicked that I wouldn’t be able to file my story before we had to head back to the airport for the flight back to Rome. In those days, before everyone had fast internet connections, it usually didn’t matter if we had to wait a day to file.

Pope John Paul II was greeted by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he arrived in Sudan in February 1993. (CNS/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)

But Pope John Paul was blatant and bold as he denounced the persecution of Sudanese Christians. He said their names were written “on the palms of the hands of Christ, pierced by the nails of the crucifixion.”

There were soldiers carrying guns everywhere. It was the first time I’d seen military with weapons standing in plain sight on the platform where the pope was celebrating Mass. (It was also the first and only time I’ve seen camels grazing at the edge of a field where a papal Mass was being celebrated.)

In the end, I only got one story out from Khartoum, but it included news of the pope’s meeting with President Omar al-Bashir, who is still in office. The pope told al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, that the measure of a national government’s maturity is the way it respects human rights and protects its minorities.

And Pope John Paul told church workers that when he looked at what was going on in Sudan, “I see clearly a particular reproduction of the mystery of Calvary in the lives of the majority of Christian people.”

As Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, pointed out in his editorial, it’s been more than 18 years since Pope John Paul visited the African nation, “an estimated 2 million people have died and 4 million were displaced, but now there are hopes that the war really is over and that the new Republic of South Sudan, desired by an overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, can start a new chapter in peace.”

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