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.”

Radio Waumini: Voice for the Catholics in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a country where many people outside of cities still do not own a television set, a 43-year-old priest and his staff of 35 are working to become the voice of Catholics.

Father Martin Wanyoike and his staff operate Radio Waumini, which was started by the Kenya Episcopal Conference but receives no funding from the bishops.

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

The station has a mix of music — not just religious — broadcast on an FM signal. It also broadcasts live online from 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. each day and even has a page on Facebook.

“Our target — we want very much to bring on board the young people,” Father Wanyoike recently told a group of mission directors from the United States. “You cannot reach the young people by playing only choir music.”

Father Wanyoike has his own morning show and recently extended it to include Nairobi’s early morning drive-time for commuters. He also believes that some of the station’s talk shows and programs on reconciliation contributed to the “healing process of our country” after the ethnic violence that followed the December 2007 elections.

In the African culture, where people are orally inclined, “the radio has become the storyteller,” said Father Wanyoike. Radio is “easy, it’s accessible, it’s cheap to own.”

Archbishop Alain Lebeaupain, the Vatican’s ambassador to Kenya, agrees that radio is the way to communicate with people. When he met with the mission directors, he encouraged them to support Radio Waumini and said he would like to see it as a national network of stations so the church can communicate with all Kenyans.

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec were in Kenya last month on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Virtually there: Small Christian communities online in Africa

A child prays the Our Father during Mass in Kenya Feb. 13. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The model of parish in East Africa is based on small Christian communities, but the church in Kenya actually has three virtual communities.

By going to smallchristiancommunities.org, a person can click on a link to access a virtual community.

Maryknoll Father Joseph Healey, who teaches a class on small Christian communities at three Kenyan universities, helped set up the virtual communities using a public Facebook page.

The communities meet together to pray, study Scripture and help others. Online communities are limited to six people.

Home is where the heart is, even for Kenyan street kids

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec are in Kenya on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Young men walk outside the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi-run Ukweli Home of Hope for boys in Nairobi. The home takes in 25 boys living on the streets and gives them shelter, food, education, medical care, guidance and counseling. The program has several success stories, with boys going on to college and professional careers. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Young men walk outside the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi-run Ukweli Home of Hope for boys in Nairobi. The home takes in 25 boys living on the streets and gives them shelter, food, education, medical care, guidance and counseling. The program has several success stories, with boys going on to college and professional careers. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Twenty-five African boys, ages 5-16, clustered excitedly around the visiting Americans, smiling, shaking hands and welcoming them.

The U.S. diocesan mission directors were enthralled with the boys, residents of the Ukweli Home of Hope for street children. The boys were just as enchanted with their guests.

Deacon Ed Kelly of Scranton, Pa., was talking sports, discovering that the youths knew Kenyans often won the Boston Marathon.

Msgr. Francis X. Blood of St. Louis and Heather Lupinacci of Harrisburg, Pa., were taking photos of the boys. Father John Zemelko of Gary, Ind., stood between the two photographers, making rabbit ears behind their heads to make the youths smile. Father Donald LaPointe of Springfield, Mass., was teaching the boys to give high fives.

And inside, Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, was greeted with howls from boys who recognized him from an archdiocesan Mass two days earlier.

Sister Catherine Wanza walks wtih Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert on the grounds of the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Sister Catherine Wanza walks with Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert on the grounds of the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Ukweli Home of Hope project, begun by Maryknoll in 1995, is now run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Catherine Wanza, project director, said the sisters moved the project out of Kibera slum in 2005 because the boys were falling back into their old behaviors such as taking drugs and sniffing glue. In addition, there were physical problems such as water shortages and crowding in Kibera.

Today, the boys live in small concrete and corrugated tin buildings on the grounds of the headquarters of the sisters. They go to public schools in the area, and those that go to secondary school are normally sent to boarding school.

“They volunteered to come,” Sister Catherine told the visitors. As her charges go off to school, she tells them to “prove to them that you are no longer a street boy.” She proudly says eight of those who came through the program are in college, including one in the United States.

Life on the streets, competition for grades and gratefulness to the sisters for their care all came through in the children’s skits for the visitors. Several young men showed a flair for the dramatic, and one skit even showed famous Kenyan politicians arguing over the fate of a street boy.

The visitors were touched and, later, Michele Meiers of Philadelphia joked about the minor miracle that occurred. She found in her bag 25 rosaries made by eighth graders at St. Alphonsus School in Maple Glen, Pa., so each boy received one. She thought she had given them all away.

And Father Bill Holoubek of Lincoln, Neb., thought he had nothing left, but dug into his bag and found just enough Miraculous Medals for the boys. He gave each of them a medal — blessed by the pope — and taught them the special prayer that goes with it.

Nairobi’s Catholic children talk about mission

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, CNS visual media manager, are visiting Kenya with 10 members of  U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 30,000 children of the Archdiocese of Nairobi joined Cardinal John Njue today as they celebrated Missionary Childhood Day. The children, members of the Pontifical Missionary Childhood — known in the United States as the Holy Childhood Association — are taught that they are all missionaries. Listen here as some of the children speak about what being a missionary means to them.

In Kenya, web-savvy seminarians with no Internet

NAIROBI, Kenya — Can you imagine being in a master’s or PhD class in a college that did not have access to the Internet?

That, in essence, is the situation at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, which doubles as one of Kenya’s national seminaries and the seminary of the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Fourth-year theology student Richard Odhiambo is among the 125 men studying for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. Odhiambo looked up for a photo while studying for an exam in moral theology. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Fourth-year theology student Richard Odhiambo is among the 125 men studying for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. Odhiambo looked up for a photo while studying for an exam in moral theology. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Someone donated 27 refurbished computers to the seminary, but the more than 100 students basically use them as word processors, said one seminary official.

Father Dunstan Epaalat, the IT department coordinator at the seminary, said the latest estimate for a one-time wiring of the seminary was just over $8,000 — well outside the seminary budget.

One professor at the seminary indicated that students are quite Internet savvy and have even fixed his computer. Seminarian John Abraham Ayieko told a delegation from the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States that social media is very important, and that future priests will be writing blogs like his to evangelize.

“We might not meet the youth of the world in the church, but we meet them on Facebook,” he said.

The seminary’s library has fewer than 10 rows of bookshelves, and most of the books are very old. One student was studying for an exam associated with the Pontifical Urbanian University with an inch-thick sheaf of papers containing a handwritten outline and notes.

Father Joseph Njoroge Ngugi quizzes seminarian Samuel Lima on his Greek lesson during a class at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Joseph Njoroge Ngugi quizzes seminarian Samuel Lima on his Greek lesson during a class at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Celestino Bundi, head of the Pontifical Missionary Societies in Kenya, said St. Thomas Aquinas seminary is a recipient of aid from the Society of St. Peter Apostle, one of four agencies associated with the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Father Bundi and Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, meet at the Vatican to go over applications to the various funds and choose projects that exhibit the most need. Msgr. Kozar told the delegation of mission directors from the United States in mid-February that in some seminaries around the world, students might only have a bowl of rice for a meal, or they might be eating exposed to the elements.

In a meeting Feb. 18, Msgr. Francis X. Blood, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, asked Nairobi Cardinal John Njue for advice on prioritizing all the mission appeals that cross his desk back home.

“Projects that focus on deepening of the faith” take priority, said the cardinal. In addition, he said, “the issue of the formation of the priests is so vital,” because “if the priests are shaky” when facing the challenges to the church, it will “trickle down.”

Sounds of a Mass celebration in Kenya

A altar server carries a candle at the start of Mass at St. Mary's Parish in the informal settlement of Mukuru Kwa Njenga in Nairobi Feb. 13. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

CNS international editor Barb Fraze, who blogged on Saturday about her arrival in Kenya, shares with us the sounds of a typical Sunday Mass at a parish in the slums of Nairobi. (Listen above.) She notes in this podcast that the liturgy can last three hours and is punctuated with the sounds of bongos, keyboards, shakers and the spontaneous shouts of congregants. The choir practices three times a week to ensure that the liturgy is a true celebration.

Fraze and CNS visual media manager Nancy Wiechec are visiting Kenya with 10 members of U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

The give and take of mission work

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, CNS visual media manager, are visiting Kenya with 10 members of U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of  Philadelphia sings with Kenyan sisters during Mass following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 15.  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sings with Kenyan sisters during Mass following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — When Americans think of missions, many think of what they can provide to others in developing countries. What they don’t often realize is that they can learn much from Catholics in those countries.

Diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States and Kenya met yesterday at the Archdiocese of Nairobi’s Resurrection Gardens to share problems, exchange ideas and get to know each other.

The Americans discovered that their Kenyan counterparts are really using the societies as a means of evangelization.

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said the way Kenya’s Pontifical Missionary Childhood — or Holy Childhood Association in the U.S. —  is organized is almost like a parish religious education program. The national director gives weekly lessons that tie a Bible reading to a mission theme. Those themes are given to diocesan coordinators to distribute to parish animators, or coordinators.

Dominican Sister Suzanne Brauer of New Orleans and Elizabeth Howayeck of Milwaukee join Kenyan church workers following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 15, 2011.  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Dominican Sister Suzanne Brauer of New Orleans and Elizabeth Howayeck of Milwaukee join Kenyan church workers following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Donald LaPointe of Springfield, Mass., called the day “pretty awesome. I was impressed.” He said he asked one Kenyan national staffer if he could take her back to the United States — and if he could use her materials.

Sister Ursula Fotovich, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from Wichita, Kan., called it an excellent exchange.

“We found out we share a lot of the same issues even though we are from different countries,” she said.

The Kenyans, too, were happy.

“You’ve really touched us,” said Father Peter Muvea of the Kitui Diocese. “It was an experience that we have really become a family. We are really tied by Jesus. That’s the common denominator — Jesus.”

Sister Lucy Mwangi, a member of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate from the Diocese of Muranga, said she had just been working with children in parishes, and she was encouraged to try working with children in schools.

She said she also received encouragement to keep going when she gets discouraged. “Christ also had sufferings,” she said.

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