Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year Resolution

Fr. Shay Cullen

New Year resolutions were a regular part of my childhood. We were encouraged by our parents to make a new, bright start and promised to study harder, pray more, eat our vegetables and do our chores cheerfully. It was good training. This year, I promise to pray and work harder for justice, write better, promote human rights more effectively and expand the capacity of the home for the children rescued from traffickers, abusers, sex slavery and brothels and persuade many others to join the work.

I resolve to improve our Preda Fair Trade projects to help create more jobs and alleviate poverty. The recession has caused a big reduction in the sales of our crafts and recycled bags. But with the Preda Fair Trade team, I promise to promote a "Bag for Life,” a bag for good. This is a quality shopping bag to replace plastic shopping bags and create work for dozens of village-based bag makers.

There can be no better way to meet the New Year courageously than to revisit the source of our Christian faith, Jesus of Nazareth and His powerful inspiring life and wise teaching. These values we believe in have to be practiced and flow into practical action for the homeless, the hungry, the marginalized and the abused people for whom Jesus died.

This past Christmas at the Preda children's home, we had family meetings, a spiritual retreat and Christmas parties and gift giving for the parents of the 56 children in our care that were abducted, trafficked and abused and then rescued.

During the retreat, they said they rarely attend their parish mass and do not understand it. They are too poor and ashamed of their tattered clothes to be seen with the well dressed in the big parish church. Besides, getting food is their daily struggle to survive at all cost. Their greatest hope is that their children could live someday better than they themselves live.

They were excited to participate in the Mass especially when it was explained to them that Jesus said it was to be done in memory of Him and of all He had done to make the world a better place for them. They heard that He took His uncompromising stand with the poor and for all of us, but especially for the downtrodden, the sick and the throwaway people. He risked Himself by demanding that all human rights and dignity be recognized and this angered the authorities who claimed He was a subversive and that it would be better that He die rather than they loose their power and influence.

Two thousand years ago there were few spiritual leaders teaching a life of total self-giving for the poor, the outcasts, the unknowns by which the world would be transformed and we would all be saved from evil oppression and disaster. The total self-sacrificing love Jesus taught and practiced was new to humankind. There is no greater love than to give your life for your friends, and you all are my friends, Jesus told His disciples.

He came to us as a thoughtful, compassionate, consoling person - the Son of God no less. He did nothing but good and spoke out against hypocrisy and injustice. He was reviled, tortured, jailed and executed for championing the rights of the poor, the homeless, and the sick. He wanted them to be lifted from the mire of poverty and degradation and be freed from the corrupt oppressors that crush and abuse them and their children.

The parents and the children listened to this good news and smiled and were happy to realize that they were precious, important and of immense value and not unwanted eyesores, wretched of the earth and a blight on society. They learned that Jesus wants them to enjoy a life dignity and prosperity together in God's Family - that ought to be our mission for 2010.

To help others enjoy of life of dignity, please contact preda@info.com.ph, preda@preda.org. To read more, please go to www.preda.org.

Fr. Shay Cullen may be reached at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines. E-mail: preda@info.com.ph

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fruits of the Harvest

My family went apple picking over the weekend. It was a gorgeous, warm day at the orchard. We climbed the hill, carried our cloth bags into the rows of trees and marveled at the abundance of the fruit weighing down the branches. In a short time, our bags were very full and heavy. We began the trek back to the building where our apples would be weighed and we would pay for them.

As we rounded the final corner toward the weighing shed, we ran into a group of professional apple pickers. They were at the orchard for the apple harvest and would move on when it was finished. They carried huge, nylon slings filled to the top with apples and were headed to the weighing shed as well. As we walked, we chatted a bit about kids (they were parents too), the weather, the popularity of certain apple varieties. We wished them well in their work and parted company when we reached the visitors’ weighing shed.

My family picked 30 pounds apples at the orchard. We added a gallon of fresh apple cider to our apples, paid for everything and loaded it into our car. During the ride home, I thought about how much fun we had together, how much I enjoy knowing where the food we eat comes from, how I like supporting local farmers. And, I thought about the farm workers who pick apples as a way to provide for their families, not as a fun family activity.

Kate Kenny is the managing editor of Columban Mission magazine.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Laws Bring Hope in the Philippines

There is good news from the Philippines as we celebrate the passing of new human rights legislation and the progress that has been made on other important pending legislation in the Philippine Congress.

The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is striving to leave behind an impressive body of new legislation. After many years of hard work by non-government organizations, human rights groups, women’s organizations, people’s associations, church activists and letter-writing supporters, a women’s rights bill was signed into law by President Macapagal-Arroyo. The Magna Carta of Women, as the Republic Act 9710 is called, was signed into law after seven years of struggle.

Its key importance is the recognition that “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.” The new law says that all “rights,” as stated in the constitution and in international conventions ratified by the Philippines “shall be the rights of women under this act to be enjoyed without discrimination.” The law forbids any form of discrimination against women and promotes equality and dignity of women. In addition, there must be gender balance in the police departments and other government service personnel within five years under the law. Government developmental councils must have 40% female members, and political parties with women's agendas will get incentives. The law also protects pregnant women and single mothers from any kind of discrimination in school or the work place.

A law banning torture by government officials, their agents and any private person is near the final voting. The bicameral conference committee reconciling the house and senate versions approved the consolidated version of the bill, and it will be ratified within the week.

These new laws are good news indeed, but will they ever be implemented? Those of us working for justice and peace believe that I mplementation will be the biggest challenge.

Visit www.preda.org for more related articles. Contact Fr. Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines. e-mail: preda@info.com.ph

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lomas del Poleo Update

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dear Friends and Supporters of Lomas del Poleo:

Peace. Thank you for your ongoing, active and generous support of the residents of Lomas del Poleo.

This has, indeed, been a prolonged, complex and painful struggle. While it has been a window on corruption, impunity, and injustice in Mexico and along its borders with the United States, it has also manifested the commitment of a small community of courageous settlers to persevere under the most difficult of circumstances. It has highlighted the dedication and skills of social activists committed to the transformation of their country and the willingness of people of faith and good will from across the globe to advocate for and support the oppressed seeking justice.

The residents of Lomas, accompanied by local activists and the Lomas support group of El Paso and Las Cruces, continue to make and sell items to raise funds for legal and travel costs. The responses of various individuals, churches and non-profits have been excellent and so the struggle continues.

The following account is based on the written report by Cristina Coronado and conversations with her and Juan Carlos Martinez.

This past Tuesday, August 18, the audience at the Agrarian Tribunal in Chihuahua continued the people’s case begun on April 6 of this year. The audience was the longest so far, going from 200-630p.m. In these four-and-a-half hours more was achieved than in the previous two years. The people were once again represented by the law office “Land and Liberty”, and its principal lawyer, Barbara Zamora, assisted by her husband, Santos Garcia.

Two weeks earlier on August 4, the audience was suspended because the Zaragozas presented a new suit against Vicente Estrada claiming they owned the land upon which his house is built. They had previously denied ownership of this and the land where the other families represented by Barbara Zamora live, only claiming ownership of some 70 square meters of Vicente’s land, the exact area that the Camino Real road traverses. Ms. Zamora asked for the length of time allowed by law to prepare a response to the new suit by the Zaragozas.

The parties re-gathered at the Agrarian Tribunal on August 18 at which time Barbara Zamora attempted to submit the proof/documentation of the Lomas residents’ claims. The court rejected them saying the time for submission of documentation had elapsed. Magistrate Imelda Basurto, however, later accepted Barbara’s arguments and allowed the submission of documents.

The people’s documents demonstrated that those living on this land in Lomas del Poleo for more than thirty years have the right of possession and that the lands themselves are federal not private lands.

Zaragoza’s lawyers then presented their proofs and documents. They then asked permission of the court to address the residents of Lomas directly, offering a negotiation. They said the Zaragoza’s have always been “well disposed to relocate and to negotiate with the people inhabiting this private property.” They would build a house equal to the house the Colonos now lived in, on other lands also owned by Pedro Zaragoza. They claimed to have already relocated the majority of the people and that many had accepted a “just” payment and been treated with respect.

Barbara Zamora turned and looked at the people, asking for a response to the negotiation offered. Theirs was a resounding “No!” The people of Lomas have witnessed the tricks, lies, abuse and violence that those in the employ of the Zaragozas have used to try and displace them from the land for the last six years. They said they would stay with the legal process until the court reached a decision. Barbara reaffirmed her commitment to accompany them until the case is resolved.

During this same audience the Magistrate concluded the submission of documentation and set the date for the presentation of the results of the land surveys/civil engineering results and the testimony of witnesses. This is the most important element of the Agrarian cases. These will be presented on September 28.

To that end there will be a meeting in Lomas del Poleo on September 10 at 12 noon. The Magistrate has ordered that the civil engineers for the Zaragozas and for the Colonos of Lomas del Poleo will gather that Thursday under the supervision of a Court official to take the measurements of the land in dispute in accordance with the Agrarian law. If either party fails to appear, they lose their right to present the measurements/expert testimony as proof in support of their case.

I spoke with Barbara Zamora by telephone and she said the engineer, Hector Alvarez, had gone to Chihuahua today to be officially mandated by the court to take the necessary measurements for the Lomas group and to present them to the Tribunal. Barbara was very happy with the outcome Tuesday, though she confessed she was exhausted by the lengthy audience and travel back and forth to Mexico City. Please keep her and Santos in your prayers, as well.

This is the most significant advance seen in the case of Lomas del Poleo; a case in which Pedro Zaragoza had constantly refused to appear in or send his representatives/lawyers to the Agrarian Tribunal. After having been allowed to use a variety of pretexts to defer the case, now he has complied with the demands of the court, sending his representatives, lawyers, submitting documentation and technical proofs the same as the Colonos of Lomas.

In large part this advance has been possible thanks to the generosity, support and advocacy efforts of all of you who have remained close and in solidarity with the residents throughout this struggle.

The law services of “Land and Liberty” whose honesty and professionalism have forced the case to stay right where it belongs—in the Agrarian Tribunal—are due much credit. The friends of La Otra Compana in Chihuahua have also done much to offer moral support through their presence at the audiences and their willing to help convey documents and messages between the court, Land and Liberty and the Colonos themselves.

Finally, your prayers and support are still asked for all involved in this case especially for the small community of courageous settlers of Lomas del Poleo whose willingness to peacefully resist the evils inflicted upon them and faithfully remain in the way of the laws and constitution of Mexico.

Gracias a Dios!
And to all of you,
Fr. Bill Morton, SSC

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taiwan typhoon damage update

Fr. Pat O’Beirne provided the following update regarding the damage sustained from typhoon Morakot.

Greetings to all,

A couple of people have emailed me inquiring about the typhoon damage in Taiwan, so I thought I should send a short update. Moving slowly, typhoon Morakot brought torrential amounts of rainfall in its tail. The south of the island, especially Kaohsiung county, was most severely hit. All 15 Columbans currently assigned to Taiwan live and work in the north western part of the island, so we are all safe and sound, thank God.

However, the devastation and loss of life in the south has still not been finally tallied. So far, 103 people are dead and 61 people are missing. There was $300,000,000 U.S. worth of damage done to agriculture and aquaculture and $100,000,000 U.S. worth of damage to roads and bridges. Loss to personal property is still unknown. Rescue efforts are still being hampered by bad weather.

In the mountain parish where Fr. Larry Barnett, lay missionaries Tabitha Bark and Vida Hequilan and I live, we were without electricity for almost two days. The roads in the area have been severely damaged by landslides. One main road to our parish has been temporarily repaired. Speaking from past experience, many of the the aborigine survivors who are trapped in the mountain villages are elderly and require regular access to medical clinics. The situation with the roads is an added stress for them.

The government of Taiwan is getting severe criticism nationally and internationally for its slow response to the crisis and for initially refusing offers of help in the rescue effort, except for financial donations which came in from 50 nations. Many thanks for your concern for our safety. Please continue to keep the people in your prayers,

Fr. Pat O’Beirne

Monday, August 10, 2009

One Dollar A Day

How much money do you spend every day on food?

In the U.S., people spend an average of $10 per day on food. In developing countries, 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and 1.1 billion survive on under $1. [Source: thinkquest.org]

In my family of two adults and two children, we spend roughly $5.35 per day per person. The total includes 28 breakfast meals, 18 lunch meals, 28 dinner meals and approximately 50 snacks. My son buys lunch at school during the academic year, and my daughter’s lunch is included in the price of her preschool tuition. I did not add those amounts to our weekly total. My best estimate is that we spend $175.00 per week on food, a total that includes purchases from the grocery store and farmer’s market. I believe that we are under the U.S. average primarily because we don’t go out to eat very often; my husband and I take our lunches to work; we buy locally as often as possible. I anticipate that our food bill will increase significantly as our children get older.

In September 2008, a young married couple vowed to spend $1.00 per day (each) on food. Christopher and Kerri chronicled the month on their blog, http://onedollardietproject.wordpress.com. At the risk of spoiling the ending, I will say only that they were successful and did not cheat.

However, some interesting questions arose during the month.
• Would it be ok to eat “free” food (i.e. food provided at work conferences, samples at the grocery store, cookies from students) without subtracting the cost from their daily total?
• Why do people with the most food security have the most access to free food?
• How do the demographics of the areas in which we live help determine our food security?

What would you do if you were living on $1.00 a day? $2.00 a day?

Kate Kenny is the managing editor of Columban Mission magazine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

News from Pakistan

Pakistan-based Columban Fr. Tomas King emailed the following correspondence from Bishop Joseph Coutts regarding the recent killings of Christians in Pakistan.Fr. King offered the Bishop condolences and solidarity on behalf of the Columbans.

The beast has had its fill and is now digesting its meal before hunger drives it again to look for new prey.

Christians in Pakistan were once again the target of Muslim mobs looting, burning down their houses and killing. This time the epicenter was a village called Korian, very close to the small city of Gojra about 50 kilometers from Faisalabad. On July 26, 2009 there was a Christian wedding in the village. Some children cut up pages of an old book to use as sort of ticker tape to shower on the wedding party. They had unknowingly cut up pages from an old school book of Islamic Studies. The next day when some Muslims found pieces of paper with Arabic script and some Qur’anic verses scattered about, there was an uproar in the village. However, the matter was settled amicably when it became clear that this had been done by children who were illiterate and there was no intention of desecrating any holy texts.

Life in Korian returned to normal, and the matter was almost forgotten. However, sinister forces were at work. The rumor was being spread that the Christians of Korian had desecrated the Holy Qur’an by tearing out pages and scattering them on the roadside to be trampled underfoot. Around sunset on July 30, a large mob descended on Korian demanding that Taalib Masih (the father of the children) be hanged for blasphemy. Fortunately the Christians had been forewarned and had already fled their homes to safer places. The mob then began its spree of looting and burning the 70 to 80 Christian houses in the village. The two small churches, one Protestant and the other Pentecostal, were ransacked but not burned down. There was no loss of life.

The following day, July 31, the Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, came from Islamabad to view the scene of destruction. The Provincial Minister for Minorities & Human Rights, Kamraan Michael, was also there as were a number of Christian members of parliament. Assurances were given that every effort would be made for compensation and to bring the situation back to normal. It seemed as if this was the end of a terrifying and traumatic experience.

But malicious rumors continued to be circulated that Christians had desecrated the Holy Book. It did not matter where this had happened or who had done it or whether it was true. Christians in many surrounding villages and towns began receiving threats as Mullahs (Muslim clerics) began preaching hatred and revenge. On August 1 a large mob moved towards a Christian locality called Christian Town in the center of Gojra city. They carried sticks, clubs and even firearms. The small police force’s half-hearted attempt to stop them was ineffective. Some Christians who had pistols or hunting rifles tried to defend themselves but soon ran out of ammunition. The mob overwhelmed the locality and went on a rampage looting and burning about 60 Christian houses. Police reinforcements arrived by late afternoon, but it was too late - the damage had been done. Till evening bodies were being recovered from the smoking ruins of the houses. The number of injured is not known, but seven Christians were killed, two of them children.

It was planned to have the funeral of the Christians around noon on Sunday, August 2. But when the local Action Committee came to know that the police had not yet registered a report against 12 persons who they had identified and two city officials for criminal negligence, they refused to release the bodies for burial. The Provincial Law Minister, Raja Sanaullah, who was present, supported the demand of the Christians. But the police delayed in registering the report, offering to enter a milder, watered-down version instead. But the Christians did not back down. By 4:00 p.m. a large group carried the seven coffins and placed them on the railway track. They then sat down around the coffins thus blocking the railway track and disrupting rail traffic. Hundreds of other Christians waited in the church compound, singing Psalms and hymns, praying for the deadlock to be broken. Finally, around 8:30 p.m., the police entered the report and the funeral took place by 9:30 p.m.

Bishop Joseph Coutts, who was present with the people throughout the day, presided at the funeral accompanied by Rt. Rev. John Samuel, the Protestant bishop. Bishop Coutts appealed to the government to repeal the infamous Blasphemy Law that was repeatedly being misused and had now caused the death of seven innocent Christians. He also said that the government’s plan to celebrate August 11 as “Minorities’ Day” should be observed as a “Black Day” or “Day of Mourning” instead.

There are indications that the attack on Korian as well as on Gojra was planned and the people instigated by a banned Islamic group. Such extremist Islamic groups want to “purify” Pakistan by making it a strictly Islamic, theocratic state. Democracy is rejected as something Western and un-Islamic. Non-Muslims should either convert to Islam or leave the place. They want a sort of religious cleansing.

In describing the hatred and destruction it would be unfair not to mention and commend those Muslims who gave shelter to their terrified Christian neighbors or tried to help in other ways while the storm of hatred and destruction raged around them all. The government has announced compensation of Rs. 500,000 (US $ 5,250) for each of the affected families. The Chief Minister of Punjab province has also announced that he will visit Gojra on August 3 to condole with the Christian community there and to listen to their grievances.

What happened in Korian and Gojra was almost a replication of what had happened near Kasur a small city about 40 kilometers from Lahore only a month ago. Similarly, in 2005, in the town of Sangla Hill, Christian houses, two churches, the parish house, a high school and convent were ransacked and badly damaged. In 1987 a large Christian village called Shantinagar was reduced to ruins. In all these cases the police did almost nothing to stop the rampaging mobs. No doubt condolences, apologies and assurances pour in from officials and other citizens after the event. But the timely action required to prevent such incidents has always been missing.
+ Joseph Coutts
Bishop of Faisalabad