Others chose to reflect personally and raise awareness in solidarity with people who struggle to get clean water. As I heard each idea, I was touched by their commitment and willingness to push themselves.
I decided to attempt a Channel swim (although admittedly it was in my local swimming pool rather than the cold waters of the Channel) in solidarity with girls like Proscovia, who have to walk two to four hours just to get the water they need.
Damian Conlin, from our fundraising team, has set himself a Lent challenge to run 5km at least once a week to a local water source. He reflects on how his challenge has helped him think about those who need to take hours out of their day simply to collect the water they need to survive.
I rise early. I climb reluctantly from my warm bed and dress quietly in the dark, not wanting to wake my family. I stretch a few times then step out of the house into the cold morning. With only the faint glow of the streetlights to show me the way, I begin to run.
It is Lent and I have a new challenge. Before completing my usual morning routine and going to work, I have to find time at least once a week to go to the local river.
Elsewhere a young girl rises early. She too climbs reluctantly from her bed, dresses quickly and efficiently and leaves the family home. She lifts up the large water containers and begins to walk.
She too has a new challenge. She is now deemed old enough to take on certain responsibilities. So, instead of completing her usual morning routine of getting ready for school, she is going to the local river to collect water.
Despite the parallel storylines there are worlds of difference between the trips.
The Year of Mercy is an opportunity to celebrate God’s love and to bring mercy to others. Celia Deane-Drummond, a member of the CAFOD Theological reference group, reflects on God’s mercy towards creation and what this teaches us today.
Most of us have had times in our lives when we have known what it means to receive mercy from others. Perhaps through the caring we received after an injury or illness, either physical or mental; perhaps through knowing we have done something wrong and feeling dependent on someone else’s forgiveness; perhaps just sheer material need that depends on another’s act of generosity. Mercy is what we need when we are vulnerable and in need of love, healing and forgiveness. It accompanies those good actions like a quiet breath of hope.
The only time that Pope Francis explicitly mentions mercy in Laudato Si’ is in a paragraph on God’s love for creation where he cites Pope Benedict XVI’s Catechesis, written ten years earlier in 2005. For love has a way of binding up all other attitudes towards the created world, and without which mercy becomes impossible. So, in the same paragraph, Pope Francis refers back to the work of the early Church father, Basil the Great, as well as the well-known medieval poet, Dante, in order to support his claim. It is worth meditating on this passage a little more in order to unpack what mercy might mean in relation to the created world:
“Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. Saint Basil the Great described the Creator as “goodness without measure”, while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves the sun and the stars”. Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy”(§77). Continue reading “Love and mercy: learning God’s tenderness towards creation”
Libby Abbott, Campaigns Coalition Manager at CAFOD, tells us how witnessing an act of kindness from a supporter on the Paris metro has inspired her to Show the Love and tackle climate change.
In December, I had the privilege to travel with 21 CAFOD campaigners to Paris as part of the UN COP21 – where world leaders met and agreed a binding deal to tackle climate change. We had an incredible time bearing witness and participating in mass mobilisations around the Eiffel Tower.
We also had some very meaningful exchanges with Parisians. On the Paris metro, one campaigner, Jane, noticed a woman staring at a badge she was wearing. The badge was a heart made of green felt with the word ‘families’ embroidered across the front.
Jane explained to the Parisian that it represented families all over the world who would be affected by climate change. She then unpinned the green heart from her coat and gave it to the woman to keep. Looking back to me she said, ‘I guess I’ll just have to make another one for myself!’
Montserrat Fernández, Programme Officer for Central America, has been working against gender-based violence for 22 years. On the first day of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign she shares her thoughts on why violence against women and girls is such an important issue, and what motivated her to act.
My experience of gender-based violence
I belong to the 35 per cent of women worldwide who have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in our lives. At 20 years old, I was living in Barcelona and studying teaching. One day, while travelling to teach at a primary school, I was raped.
I went to the police station to denounce the attack but there were no police women at that time, in the 80s, in Barcelona. The policeman who took my testimony got red face as I described what had happened. My parents then accompanied me to another police station to look through photos of all rapists in Barcelona, to see if I could recognise my aggressor. He was not in the police photo albums, but my neighbour, the son of one of my parents’ friends, was.
I decided to denounce the attack because I didn’t want the young girls who were going to the primary school to have the kind of bad experience I was facing. Today, in Nicaragua where I work, I know that girls going to school in rural areas are facing similar experiences on the way to school or even inside their schools. Because of this, some girls decide to drop out of school.
The Climate Coalition ran the film project, Close-up on Climate, which invited young people between the ages of 5-18 to make films highlighting the issue of climate change. Three films were chosen as being outstanding in each age category. Bernie Goddard, who took part in CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme last year, writes about her experience of working with the young people at St Mary’s Blackpool to make their film.
As a Gapper at St Mary’s, part of my role was to keep an eye out for what projects CAFOD were running which I could encourage students to get involved in. The Climate Coalition film project, Close-up, was an amazing way to get students involved in a current issue which they had heard about from me when I returned from Nicaragua and shared my experiences with them. I had also spent time attending meetings with CAFOD and had heard of the Climate Coalition: the coming together of many organisations to focus on climate change education and campaigning. This, along with seeing the effects of how climate change impacts others in our world, inspired me to get the young people involved in this project.
Bishop Antoine Audo, SJ is the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo and the President of Caritas Syria. He writes:
If you want to know why so many Syrians are seeking a new life in Europe, just come to Aleppo. Large parts of our city have been laid to waste. Bombs and rockets fall every day, and we never know when or where they will hit. We do not feel safe in our homes, in our schools, in the streets, in our churches or in our mosques. It is exhausting to live with this fear hour after hour, day after day.
Even without the shelling, life here would be almost unbearable. Throughout the summer, as temperatures have soared, people have been forced to cope without running water or electricity in their homes. Four out of five people don’t have a job, so families are not able to afford food or basic supplies. The middle-classes have become poor, while the poor are now destitute. Many of those who are still here are elderly. Almost no-one is still in Aleppo by choice: most of those who remain do not have enough money to leave.
I have been the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo for 25 years, and it fills me with sadness to see what has happened to my city. As President of Caritas Syria, I have chosen to stay so I can lead distributions of food and emergency supplies, with support from Catholics in England and Wales and their aid agency CAFOD. But our work is becoming harder, because more and more of our staff are leaving the country. I do not blame them, but their departure makes the task of helping those in need even more difficult.
In some parts of the country, we have had to suspend our operations. In 2014, my colleagues in the city of Hassakeh provided vulnerable Syrians of every faith with vouchers for food, clothes and school equipment as well as covering the costs of medical treatment. In total, they reached over 20,000 people. But this July, as the city fell to extremists, all our staff had to flee at short notice. One of my colleagues had given birth only three days beforehand. Continue reading “Why Syrians become refugees: a view from Aleppo”
CAFOD is working with its partner Caritas Serbia to support thousands of refugees as they attempt to travel north. Stefan Teplan from Caritas describes what it was like to meet just one of them.
“I walked so many roads,” says Abdalkarim. “I crossed so many rivers. I went over so many hills and valleys. I lost my home, my belongings, literally everything.” Abdalkarim Zahra is only 26, yet he says he is “totally finished”.
It’s been many weeks since he fled his home in Syria. His journey has taken him to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. People smugglers have taken all his money. He has been pushed into an overcrowded boat to reach Greece. He has worn the same clothes for weeks. He has suffered hunger and thirst. He has been kicked by border police. “Can I still be called a human?” he asked.
I meet Abdalkarim Zahra in a refugee aid camp in Kanjiža, a Serbian town 3.5 kilometers away from the Hungarian border. About 2,000 to 3,000 refugees come here every day on their way to Hungary. They then head mostly to Germany.
With support from CAFOD, Caritas Serbia is providing emergency relief there, in two other refugee aid camps in the south of the country in Preshovo on the Macedonian border and in the capital Belgrade. Just like tens of thousands before him (and most probably hundreds of thousands after him), Abdalkarim Zahra has stayed in them all.
In these camps, Caritas Serbia distributes drinking water and juice to the refugees, provides medical help and legal support. In Kanjiža, Caritas is even providing a temporary facility for refugees and migrants that has bathrooms, showers and beds.
Sunday, 9 August is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Our partner Davi Kopenawa Yanomami has dedicated his life to working to ensure that the rights, culture and land of Yanomami and Ye’kuana indigenous people are respected. In 2004, he founded our partner organisation Hutukara Yanomami Association, HAY. In September last year, Davi left his home in the Amazon to visit us here in the UK. He walked with CAFOD pilgrims in Hexham and Newcastle Diocese and met school children in Jarrow. He joined the march in London that launched our One Climate One World Campaign.
This is what Davi has to say about how we can work with his people to build a better future for us all.
“Hutukara means the World; the World where we live: you and us. Hutukara wants to protect, to preserve the Earth. We want to take care of the streams. Water is a priority. Everything that exists in the planet: the land, water, mountains, trees, the clean air, and we the indigenous people and you, we all live in this World. Hutukara’s role is to ensure that the land stays alive for our future and generations to come. Hutukara defends the people, the land, the forest, the rivers, the animals, clean air, health and education. We, the Yanomami people, are the guardians of the forest of our country.
Here [in the UK], people have understood. They are worried about the lungs of the planet. So they did something. The indigenous people did something, and the people from here did something. We are fighting together to save the planet. This is very good. It is the first time I have seen a demonstration for our planet. I really liked it. Continue reading “‘We are fighting together to save the planet’”