Lost Family Portraits: Photographing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon

Dario Mitidieri in Bekaa Refugee Camp, Lebanon
Dario Mitidieri in Bekaa Refugee Camp, Lebanon

Dario Mitidieri began his career as a professional photographer in 1987 working for The Sunday Telegraph and The Independent newspapers. In his long and illustrious career, he has travelled to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to witness the army repression of students. He has also photographed the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Iraq War, the 2005 Tsunami in Indonesia and the Kobe Earthquake in Japan. He recently travelled to the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, with CAFOD and creative agency M&C Saatchi where he worked on studio-styled portraits of twelve families who have fled the conflict in Syria.

It is early – just before eight, but winding through the steep hill side roads of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, there is a frenzy of building work: hotels and luxury apartments going up. This ancient, open city is alive.

Once we leave the concrete landscape behind us, the undulating hills of the Bekaa valley – Lebanon’s agricultural pulse and once the ‘breadbasket of the Roman Empire’ – come into view. Overnight there has been a first dusting of snow on the hills.

Just over the mountain ridge, some nine kilometres away is the border with Syria.

I’m heading to a Syrian refugee camp, with CAFOD and its partner, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre.

Just before Christmas, I came together with CAFOD, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre and the creative agency, M&C Saatchi, to work on a unique project to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees: Lost Family Portraits.

See some of the Lost Family Portraits

The idea is to take a pop-up studio and set it up in some of the camps and take family portraits of Syrian refugees, with empty chairs symbolising the loved ones they have left behind or lost due to this horrific six-year war. Continue reading “Lost Family Portraits: Photographing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon”

CYMfed Youth Leaders’ Congress 2016

On 6 February, the CAFOD youth team will be attending the CYMfed Youth Leaders’ Congress in London. This is a day of nourishment, networking and renewal for those who are involved in working with young people in the Church. Julia Corcoran, a former CAFOD gap year volunteer and currently an intern with Columbans’ Justice and Peace team, reflects on the value of the congress. Julia SitG

My name is Julia Corcoran and two years ago I took part in the CAFOD Step into the Gap programme. I loved my time on the programme and was fortunate to see the work of CAFOD in Sierra Leone. After the programme I went on to complete my masters in ‘Rights, Gender and International Law.’ I am now doing a 12 month internship with the Columbans’ Justice and Peace team and CYMFed’s Administration. My time on Step into the Gap definitely prepared me for what I am doing now. I often go into schools and talk to young people about a variety of Justice and Peace issues.

Looking to do a gap year? Why not step into the gap

Continue reading “CYMfed Youth Leaders’ Congress 2016”

Oscar Romero: a man of God

By Monsignor Ricardo Urioste, Archbishop Romero’s Vicar General and close friend

Monsignor Urioste in the church where Romero was murdered
Monsignor Urioste in the church where Romero was murdered

One of my first memories of Archbishop Oscar Romero was when I accompanied him to Rome in 1977. I can never sleep on a plane, so when we arrived at around eight o’clock in the morning, I was thinking about sleeping for a while. Then somebody knocked at my door. I opened, and it was Bishop Romero. He said, “Do you want to go for a stroll?” I said, “Yes, we should. Let’s go!”

And so we went directly to St Peter’s Basilica. He entered the basilica, went to the altar of the confession and he knelt down. I knelt down with him. After something like five minutes, I stood up. I saw him in such deep prayer that I said to myself: “I have to follow this man because he is following God.”

The spirit of Christ

I was fortunate to work with Romero for another three years after this. He was a man of faith, a man of God, a man of prayer. There is a quotation in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:9 that says: “Whoever does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to me.” And I asked myself, what was this spirit of Christ? And I find three characteristics of Christ essential.

The first was Christ’s sense of praying – looking for God, his Father. Because even if Christ is God, he knows the Father is another person, different from him, so he talks to him every day. And the Gospel tells us how he got up early in the morning and went to the mountain to pray or passed the whole night praying.

Find prayers inspired by Romero

The second characteristic of Jesus is his preaching of the Kingdom of God, based on love for everybody, even for those who don’t like him and make difficulty for him.

The third one is his closeness to the poor. He was close to the poor; to the blind, to the lepers, to the people who needed him. Continue reading “Oscar Romero: a man of God”

Oscar Romero: Clare Dixon's reflections on his beatification

Brothers, you are killing your fellow countrymen. No soldier has to obey an order to kill. In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression!”

Clare and Ben at the tomb
Clare and Ben from CAFOD at Oscar Romero’s tomb

On 23 March 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero called on the army in El Salvador to disobey their government and lay down their weapons. He must have suspected that by doing so he was signing his own death warrant.

About the author: Clare Dixon is Head of CAFOD’s Latin America Department and a trustee of the Romero Trust. She reflects on Archbishop Oscar Romero’s beatification today.

The next evening, Romero was celebrating a memorial Mass in San Salvador. The church doors were open and he probably noticed the car drawing up outside. An armed man climbed out, took aim and fired directly at his heart. Romero died instantly, becoming the third bishop in history to be killed in his Church, after Stanislaus of Poland and Thomas Becket.

Today’s ceremony for Romero’s beatification – declaring him “Blessed” in the eyes of the Catholic Church – will see crowds of up to half a million people gather in San Salvador, alongside at least nine Presidents and Church leaders from around the world. This recognition of Romero as a towering figure in Latin America, martyred “in odium fidei” – out of hatred for the faith – is a clear vindication of one of the great figures of the 20th Century, the moral equivalent of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi.

Read our answers to your questions about Oscar Romero

Voice of the voiceless

In his three years at the head of the Church in El Salvador, where the military-dominated regime was propped up by the United States to combat a supposed communist threat, Archbishop Romero became the voice of the voiceless. He defended the poorer sectors of society against the violence of paramilitary death squads. His human rights office made daily rounds of the rubbish dumps in San Salvador searching for the bodies of people who’d been murdered, and they kept detailed records of the massacres carried out all around the country Continue reading “Oscar Romero: Clare Dixon's reflections on his beatification”

Oscar Romero: A preacher, shepherd and martyr

Gustavo Gutierrez is a theologian and a friend of CAFOD. He founded the Bartolomé de las Casas Institute in Peru, which is a CAFOD partner. In 2005 he gave our annual Pope Paul VI Lecture entitled ‘Remembering Romero in his XXV anniversary year’. Here, 10 years later, Gustavo shares his reflections on who Romero was and what he stood for.

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez meeting Latin American Caritas organisations 2014. Credit: Tania Dalton/CAFOD

On 23 May, Mons. Oscar Romero will be recognised as a faithful witness (this is the meaning of the word ‘martyr’) to the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth.

This recognition will have two principal moments: the beatification when he will be declared ‘Blessed’, that is to say ‘happy’, a happiness born of the will to live out the Gospel; and the canonisation, full acceptance of his sainthood, and his definitive presentation as an example for Christians today to follow.

Find prayers and reflections to celebrate the beatification of Oscar Romero

The process of beatification and canonization of the Archbishop of San Salvador has not been easy.  The people of El Salvador and Latin America in general recognised his sainthood and service very early on; the Bishop and poet Pedro Casaldáliga was quick to proclaim him Saint Romero of the Americas, but those who felt this was not prudent resisted and delayed; they saw him as an uncomfortable person, or they did not commune with the meaning of his preaching. Continue reading “Oscar Romero: A preacher, shepherd and martyr”

Oscar Romero: The voice of the voiceless

Erasmo Valiente works with our partner Jesuit Development Service in El Salvador giving advice to farmers on how to keep crops healthy. In 2013 he visited Connect2 El Salvador parishes in England and was overwhelmed to discover that so many people in the UK have been inspired by the example of Archbishop Romero. His community in El Salvador is eagerly awaiting the beatification of Oscar Romero on 23 May when buses will take people from nearly every parish in the country to San Salvador and celebrations will be broadcast on television.

Find out more about Connect2:El Salvador

Erasmo at work in El Salvador
Erasmo training women who have started a small business making and selling coconut sweets

In El Salvador we refer to our martyr Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez as the voice of the voiceless.  We call him this because always his primary concern was to speak out for the most excluded members of society, denouncing social injustice and military repression.  His dedication to the poorest took the form of a pastoral conversion, and a spiritual commitment to lay down his life for the resurrection of our people.

His response to the death threats he received was, “If God accepts my life as sacrifice, my blood will be a seed of freedom”.  His preaching was always full of humility and peace, and constant communication with God, which gave him the strength and wisdom to speak the truth freely and with dignity in defence of human life.

Find out more Archbishop Oscar Romero

Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez knew that death was coming, but he chose not to escape the country; he stayed with his people, even after death.  “As pastor, I am obliged by divine order to give my life for those I love, that is all Salvadorans, even those who will assassinate me.  If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran People”. Continue reading “Oscar Romero: The voice of the voiceless”

How Oscar Romero is relevant in parish life today

 Father Rob Esdaile is the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes in Surrey. He visited El Salvador in 1999 and shares his reflections on what Blessed Oscar Romero can teach us today.

Father Rob's reflections about Romero
Father Rob visited Oscar Romero’s El Salvador in 1999

I had the privilege of going to El Salvador early in 1999 in the company of Father John Medcalf, a fellow diocesan priest (who had himself worked in both El Salvador and Nicaragua). John had been invited to observe the presidential elections and thought it would do me good to go along.

Even 19 years after the murder of El Monseñor and 7 years after the end of El Salvador’s Civil War, the wounds caused by the violence he denounced lay just below the surface.  My visit was punctuated by encounters with the bereaved, with witnesses to atrocity, and with places stained still with memories of blood.

But I also visited the hospital chapel where Romero died saying Mass and the little bungalow next door where he lived in utter simplicity.  And I prayed at his tomb in the Cathedral of San Salvador, where it became apparent that already the people understood that he was their saint – San Romero.

Find prayers and reflections to give thanks for Blessed Oscar Romero’s life

As I reflect on the story of the Archbishop 35 years after his Martyrdom in my comfortable, wealthy, beautiful, non-violent suburban London parish, three things strike me.

Continue reading “How Oscar Romero is relevant in parish life today”

Oscar Romero: A man of hope

Kate Eastmond is currently on the CAFOD Step into the Gap programme. She is based with Just Youth in Salford and recently visited CAFOD partners in Nicaragua. Since returning she has been to a local school to talk to children about Oscar Romero.

Kate in Nicaragua
Kate in Nicaragua

As 23 May approaches with the beatification of Oscar Romero, I can’t help but reflect on one of my favourite quotes by him: “If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadorian people.” This quote stays with me as I know that this is indeed true.

Find our Archbishop Oscar Romero resources

Back in late January of this year, I visited Nicaragua to meet CAFOD partners working there and what struck me is the fact that this remarkable man has had an impact on so many in the whole of Central America and across the world. He lived his life through words and deeds and dedicated everything to the cause of the poor and worked tirelessly to make sure that their voices were heard.

Read Kate’s blog from Nicaragua 

Spreading the good news

To mark this upcoming celebration, I went into my local chaplaincy school to spread the good news about Archbishop Oscar Romero. The children were asked to design their own Romero Crosses to celebrate Romero’s life. Continue reading “Oscar Romero: A man of hope”

Oscar Romero: El Salvador is coming together in prayer

Fidel visiting a Connect2 parish in Twickenham and sharing news of Puentecitos
Fidel speaking at a Connect2 parish in Twickenham

Fidel and Julia are farmers in Puentecitos, El Salvador. They are part of the CAFOD Connect2 programme which enables parishes to develop a relationship of solidarity with a community in a country where CAFOD works.  In 2013 they visited Connect2:El Salvador parishes in England and Wales.  Here they share how people in Puentecitos are preparing for the beatification of Mons. Romero on 23 May.

Find out more about Connect2:El Salvador

Our family and our community Puentecitos are happy and joyous at the news that our bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez is soon to be beatified by the Pope and the Church.  Our families here in Puentecitos and in our parish are coming together in prayer.  Every day we say this beautiful prayer:

Oh, Jesus, eternal shepherd, you made Oscar Romero, Servant of God, a living example of faith and charity and you  granted him the grace to die at the foot of the altar in a supreme act of love for you.

Grant us, if it is your will, the grace of beatification, help us to follow his example of love for your church, your word and the Eucharist, and may we love you in the poor and needy. We ask this through the intercession of Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

Grant me please the favour I ask you, through the intercession of our Servant of God.

Amen

Continue reading “Oscar Romero: El Salvador is coming together in prayer”

Young climate bloggers: Hal, Leah and Emer talk about the election and the upcoming climate change lobby

Our amazing young climate bloggers were busy during April, raising awareness of our climate change campaign and also raising funds for our Lent and Nepal appeals. Before the General Election, they took action themselves and encouraged all of us to do so by talking to our parliamentary candidates. As Hal from All Saints said before the election:

Hal, young climate blogger from All Saints
Hal, young climate blogger from All Saints

“Now that a General Election is coming up it’s the best time to ask your local candidates what they are going to do about climate change if they become MPs, so don’t miss out on this chance. You might think climate change is not as big an issue as the economy or immigration in this election but CAFOD are campaigning about it for a reason which is that it’s the single biggest threat to reducing poverty. We are a global family so we should make it our duty to help those in need or affected by climate change.”

Leah and Emer from St Erconwalds decided to do just that, and they contacted their local MPs. Here’s what they had to say:

“Emer and I have decided to write letters to all of our local MPs about climate change. This isn’t hard

Leah and Emer learning about how to blog
Leah and Emer on blogging residential

to do, because on the CAFOD website they have a page which can show you all of your local MPs and send an email (which is prewritten for you) to them when you enter your postcode and first line of your address. You could easily send it as an email, but we chose to write letters as we felt it was a more prominent way of getting our message across.”

Be inspired by what some of the other young climate bloggers have been up to.

Continue reading “Young climate bloggers: Hal, Leah and Emer talk about the election and the upcoming climate change lobby”