Easter reflection: How do we build peace in our world?

by Catherine Gorman, Theology Programme Communications Coordinator

Easter – a time to build peace

Easter has arrived. It is the high point of the Church’s year and we are filled with joy at the resurrection of Christ. Each year I think back to what it must have been like for the disciples on that very first Easter. Hearing that the tomb was empty, running there and finding that it was. Their minds must have been racing, desperately wondering what had happened to Jesus’ body. What did all this mean? But then, as we hear in the gospel, John entered the tomb, “he saw and he believed”. He opened his heart to the mystery and wonder of God and was given a new understanding.

That is our challenge, too, each Easter – to open ourselves up to the resurrection, to believe in the amazing transformative power of God’s love, and to understand the world through this lens. For God’s love is greater even than death and has the power to bring hope out of the greatest despair.

As Pope Francis said last Easter, in his Urbi et Orbi message: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”

Dig Deep with CAFOD this Easter and support our brothers and sisters around the world>>

This call to be agents of mercy is something that extends to all our lives. How do we build up peace in our own homes, community, society and world? This question took on a new significance for me on a recent visit to Sri Lanka, a country that was racked by conflict for almost 30 years.

Community in Sri Lanka, Wahamalollewa village

One of the communities I visited in Sri Lanka

 

Civil war in Sri Lanka

The civil war devastated the country and tore families apart. Figures are contested but 40-75,000 civilians were killed in the last stages of the war and 320,000 survivors were interned in refugee camps.

One man, Kanapathipillai, spoke to me of his experiences of being displaced during the conflict:

“Peace talks would happen, then the war would start up again. Two or three times this happened. Several times we had to leave the village and go to camps because of the conflict. In 2006 to 2007 the shelling was really heavy. I escaped with my family and started to walk to the refugee camp. We stayed there until the government asked us to resettle in our village. When we returned, we had lost everything. Everything was damaged by the shelling.”

The civil war came to an end in 2009, but five years on, the government still refuses to address the underlying problems that caused the conflict, and, in the words of its own report, “violence, suspicion and a sense of discrimination are still prevalent in social and political life.”

In fact one person I met went so far as to say: “We don’t have peace here. We have an absence of conflict.”

Building peace between Sinhalese and Tamil communities

Sujatha, from a Sinhalese community in Sri Lanka

Sujatha

But CAFOD’s local partner, Caritas Sri Lanka, is helping people on both sides to take the steps required for real peace. They set up an exchange programme for Sinhalese and Tamil communities to meet and spend time together. The people were afraid to begin with, but the exchange helped them to understand each other better. Sujatha, one of the women who took part, explained to me:

“We were frightened. It was scary that Tamils were coming to our village. We didn’t know if they would attack us. But when we met, we realised that they were just people. We were living with a lot of prejudices, but this gave us a new understanding. We are poor, they are poor. We do farming, they do farming.”

Thavaraja, a 22-year-old Tamil from Pavatkodichchenai village in the east of Sri Lanka, told me how he found the experience:

Thavaraja, from a Tamil community in Sri Lanka

Thavaraja

“The 30 years of war created a big distance. Before we went into the village we were really afraid, because they are Sinhalese and we are Tamils. While we were travelling, we had fear in our minds. But when we got down from the bus, the fear reduced in half. While we were staying with them, the fear disappeared. Their way of welcoming us helped us to get rid of the fear. After three days it was difficult to say goodbye. We were very sorry to leave. A relationship was built – we still have a good relationship.”

It was truly moving listening to both Tamils and Sinhalese talking about how they had overcome their fear of each other and formed new bonds.

Easter is a time to celebrate new life, new beginnings, and to recognise that we too can start afresh. It is an invitation to unlock the potential that has lain buried within us and to help others to do the same. It is a time to dig deep and trust in God, knowing that nothing is impossible to the one who gives us life and has triumphed over death.

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Catherine’s blog was published in The Catholic Times.

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“I ask that you continue praying for us”

Nete April 2014

Nete Araujo, Mauá´s community leader, addressing the families who are still facing an eviction threat.

We have received some more news from the Mauá community in Brazil who were facing eviction yesterday, Tuesday, 15 April 2014. The good news is that the eviction order has been suspended for 60 days, until early June, on the grounds that the community did not receive enough warning.

Nete, the community leader, has sent us a message of thanks for our support. Last night, she and about 200 residents from Mauá marched on São Paulo City Hall to urge the government to purchase the building without further delay.  They were met by a spokeswoman, who said the government had promised to make a down payment next week.

According to Nete, the safety objections raised by the fire brigade could still provide leverage to evict the families.  A follow-up inspection has raised even more safety issues, even though a lot of remedial work has been done.  Families are trying to address these issues, which include having fire extinguishers, hand rails and emergency lighting.

Nete´s message for us is:

“I would like to thank you all for your support and for your concern for the families of the Mauá community. Things are not easy at the moment and we have been working hard. Although things sometimes seem impossible, when the cause is right, we get strength from knowing we are on the right course. I believe in God first of all. I ask that you continue praying for us, thinking about us and sending positive thoughts as we remain with hope for a positive solution. Happy Easter to you all. Missing you deeply. Nete”

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Sarah considers an NGO career

Sarah volunteering with the Youth team

Sarah volunteering with the Youth team

Hi my name is Sarah, I’ve recently completed a MSc in Biology and control of parasites and disease vectors. I am interested in working with an NGO as I really enjoyed learning about public health and humanitarian work. I’ve also volunteered in Tanzania and I loved working there. As a Catholic, I have grown up knowing about CAFOD and I have volunteered with at CAFOD’s Shrewsbury office, which I really enjoyed. I was keen to learn more about the amazing work that CAFOD does so I volunteered in the Youth team during my Easter break. Continue reading

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Children speak up for CAFOD

By Bernadette Taylor, CAFOD education volunteer.

Bea Taylor_St Marys Swanage_speak upOn 3 April children in Year 5 at St. Mary’s RC Primary School, Swanage, presented speeches about CAFOD to local dignitaries of the town council, local representatives from Fair Trade, and their classmates from school.

The class prepared speeches as part of their ‘Speak up for CAFOD’ project. The topic was about giving a voice to people who are hungry as part of the Lent Dig Deep theme.

 

Find out how children and young people have been digging deep this Lent to help the world’s poorest people get the food, tools and training they need >>> 

All of the speakers stood with dignity and poise, and presented their work clearly and with diction. Two 9 year olds, Amelia and Ruby, were selected as  having the winning speech. They opened with:

‘Did you know that 1 in 8 people go to bed hungry every evening? Yet in this world we produce enough food for everyone to eat? The way food is produced and shared is not fair.’

They continued to list some of the reasons why people go hungry every day, and described how campaigning with CAFOD and buying Fairtrade makes a real difference.

They closed their very powerful talk by showing how their listeners can help make a difference:

‘You can support CAFOD as part of your community, speak out for others in your school and tell important people about supporting CAFOD. You could do this by fundraising or taking part in Lent Fast Day. Donate the money you save this Lent to CAFOD – change a life!’

We can all Dig Deep this Lent. Please join us today >>>

Swanage Town Mayor, Ally Patrick, presented prizes to the speakers, and said she believed that there were many public speakers of the future here.

Fair Trade coffee, tea and cake were the enjoyed after the event, whilst the children mingled with the guests. The listeners in the audience were so impressed with the speakers that they organised an impromptu collection and donated  £25.

As the CAFOD education volunteer who worked with this class to prepare the project, I can say that we are all so proud of what these children achieved and delivered.

Find out how to run a Speak up for CAFOD event with your pupils >>>

Well done to everyone who took part. We are so proud of you.

Thank you to the class teacher, Mrs. Meteau and Head teacher, Mrs. Lake.

Visit cafod.orguk/uk to organise a CAFOD visitor for your school >>>

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Learning to smile again after the Rwandan genocide

by Debbie Wainwright

They say if you worked in Rwanda or in the refugee camps on its borders 20 years ago, you never forget the fear and horror etched on the faces of the survivors. Visiting Rwanda just four years ago, and talking to those same survivors, I took away a different memory.

Jean Bosco with his sister Nukahigiro, Rwanda

Jean Bosco with his sister Nukahigiro, Rwanda

 

Jean Bosco was nine years old when he found himself seeking refuge with his family in a church as the genocide came to their village. It didn’t take long for the church doors to open and the killers to continue their sickening spree. Only Jean and his one-year-old sister Nukahigiro survived; hidden under the mutilated bodies of their family and fellow villagers.

Jean travelled an arduous, emotional journey into adulthood but came through, smiling. He told me: “We lived a very bad life for many years. I don’t want to tell you how hard it was. My childhood stopped that day. I had lost everything but my sister. I had the responsibility of looking after someone when someone should have been looking after me. But we did it. As life goes on it changes and there is hope.”

On the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, use our resources to pray and reflect >>

With support from CAFOD and our then Rwandan partner AVEGA East, Jean - and hundreds of orphans like him - started to feel like living again. He became the president of the Rugango cooperative; a cooperative of 20 orphans who are head of their households, looking after another 50 younger orphans of the genocide. He told me: “Since we came together and are able to understand and help each other life has already improved.”

Gilbert, just four years old when he was orphaned, joined a similar association of 48 child-headed households that managed a pineapple plantation, supported by Uyisenga n’Manzi, another former CAFOD partner. He said: “We have a strong hand as we are together. I have my own problems but I am not alone. Without this group many of us would not be here; we felt we had nothing to live for.”

Sitting in the small but neat house of Jocelyn Ingabire, with colourful hand-woven cloths adorning the sparse furniture, Jocelyn shared her story: “My husband and both our families were killed. The men from my village then cut, beat and raped me. I had nothing to live for.” Jocelyn was left with nothing except the daughter she had so desperately wanted with her husband, but fathered by one of the men who had slaughtered him, and the HIV he had infected her with.

Jocelyn was found by AVEGA East. She was alone and traumatised. They provided her with a home, that she now shares with her daughter and three orphans she adopted. They also provided her medicine and taught her how to grow garden vegetables. She too joined an association and trained as a voluntary psychosocial support worker so she could help others.

Like Jean, Jocelyn could frequently smile. She smiled about her children, her group of fellow women survivors, her garden, singing in the church choir and her strong religious faith. But it was while talking about her faith that she finally set free her tears: “I was very angry with God. I felt God was useless because of what had happened. I forgave God and God forgave me. Now I like to pray and sing.”

Another of the genocide widows groups supported by CAFOD was the Abishyizehamwe cooperative: a group of 13 women harvesting bananas from a lush plantation that stretches across land about the size of two football fields. All the women were raped and beaten during the genocide and their husbands and some of their children killed. A few of their scars were still visible. The spear wounds, left untreated, serve as an angry and raised reminder of the viciousness of the attacks. Other scars were not so visible: the internal injuries, the HIV inside their bodies and the deep emotional damage.

But we walked down the narrow and dusty path towards the plantation to the sound of singing and laughing. Phelomene Mukamutara, the president of the association, told me: “Before we came together we lived in loneliness because of the atrocities. We didn’t feel human. I wanted to die. Without each other we would have died. We now share our sorrow and our agony and lead each other out of loneliness. The money we get from the plantation is saved so we can buy medicine if one of us gets sick or we treat ourselves to a nice dress to celebrate New Year. This project has helped save our lives and given us hope. We feel we can sing and dance again.”

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, like the CAFOD staff who worked there at the time, I cannot forget the stories I heard and the faces of the survivors that I met four years ago. But I thank God the faces I remember have learnt to smile again.

 

Sunday 6 April 2014 marks 20 years since the Rwandan genocide. In the space of 100 days an estimated 800,000 people were massacred, leaving more than 50,000 women widowed and tens of thousands of children orphaned.

On the 20th anniversary, we revisit some of the inspiring individuals who have shared their stories with us over the years.

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