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North American indigenous support Amazonian indigenous at synod

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- As the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon heard pleas to defend the rights of the region's indigenous people and of the land they hold sacred, indigenous leaders from Canada and the United States came to Rome to support them.

Accompanied by representatives of their nations' bishops' conferences, the North Americans said Oct. 17 that the struggle for justice, for recognition of territorial rights and for the defense of the Earth unite the indigenous peoples of North, Central and South America.

Sister Priscilla Solomon, an Ojibway and a Sister of St. Joseph Sault Ste. Marie from Canada, said the indigenous peoples of the Americas "have a very similar kind of spirituality, vision, values that teach us that everything is connected: not only people, human beings, but we are part of land. The land is us. The water is us."

Colonization is also a common experience, she said, and one that has left members of the First Nations and Native Americans impoverished, both materially and culturally since their languages, customs and spirituality often were suppressed.

Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Saskatchewan, who accompanied the group, said one task of the delegation was to look at the synod's "implications for our homelands," specifically as regards the treatment of native peoples and the ecological challenges present in North America.

But also, he said, "How are we impacted by what is happening in the Amazon" and "How are we implicated," especially in ties to or outright ownership of the mining and other companies extracting resources, polluting the land and waters and leaving entire populations deeper in poverty.

Rita Means, a longtime activist and representative on the tribal council of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, told reporters that as "a mother and grandmother," she feels driven to work for justice for her people and the protection of the Earth.

Like the Amazonian indigenous trying to protect their lands from the activity of various extractive industries like mining and logging, she said, the Lakota Sioux and others are fighting the encroachment on their lands of oil pipelines.

"Some of these extractive industries are very destructive to our homeland," she said. "Again, as a mother and grandmother, I guess I find that particularly painful."

She and her people have been "nourishing that 'turtle continent' (Earth) for many centuries and to see it being attacked in such a vicious and destructive way really tears at my heart," Means said. "The Earth is crying for our assistance and this is one call that we cannot fail to answer."

Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said he wanted to show his people's solidarity for the Amazonian indigenous, who are experiencing "what happened to us 100-120 years ago" with people trying to steal their land to extract resources. For the Lakota, he said, "there was gold in the hills and they just stole our land."

Sister Solomon said she does not believe the Catholic Church should try to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity, "but where there is openness to knowing Christ and the teachings of the church, the church needs to be ready to offer that."

Bordeaux said the Bible presents Jesus as one who got involved in the lives of the people he encountered, so Christians should ask themselves "What would Jesus do today? Would he stand aside, quiet? I think we know the answer and the church knows the answer."

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Brazilian bishop: Yes, Amazon people can understand celibacy

Breves, Brazil, Oct 17, 2019 / 03:12 am (CNA).- A retired bishop from Brazil has spoken out against the claim that married priests are necessary in the Amazon region because the indigenous people do not understand celibacy.

“It’s not the indigenous culture that finds insurmountable difficulties in understanding celibacy. It's that there was not a real inculturation of the Gospel among them,” said Bishop emeritus José Luis Azcona of Marajó, Brazil.

“For many reasons, there has been a transmission of the faith that was not transformed into culture, a faith that was not completely received, not thought out completely, not lived faithfully.”

Therefore, he said, “the first step in solving the problem of celibacy is not the abolition of it” but to work toward a more authentic incultration of the Gospel.

In an article sent to ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese language sister agency, Azcona commented on the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the region.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the retired head of the Xingu prelature in Amazonian Brazil and a contributor to the synod’s working document, said last week that married priests are the only option in the region because “the indigenous people do not understand celibacy.”

Azcona, who led the Amazonian diocese from 1987-2016, rejected this argument, noting that cultures throughout history have had to learn truths about sexuality and celibacy, and saying this learning process does not post “an insurmountable hindrance.”

The Greeks, Romans, and Jews, he said, “all had the same difficulty in understanding, but at the same time they experienced the unbridled joy of 'glorifying Christ in their bodies.'”

“It’s not an indigenous world-vision that determines evangelization and establishes what can or cannot be accepted of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he stressed. Doing so would create a pseudo-Gospel, based not on the person of Christ and on his Church, but instead “arising from the indigenous, from their cultures or from their analysis.”

“The evangelization of the Amazon cannot arise from the desire to please men, or to win their favor,” he stressed.

“It's Jesus Christ and his Spirit that transcends all culture, but at the same time he is incarnated in the values and deepest expressions of each culture. He is the beginning, the middle and the end of all inculturation.”

The bishop argued that elements of the synod’s working document reflect a secular worldview and lacks the joy and hope that come from authentic Christian witness. He added that celibacy in the priesthood allows for an undivided focus on the work of God.

Abandonment to the will of God will create the environment in which priestly celibacy can be joyfully understood and experienced, Azcona said.

“It is exclusively God who gives the gift of celibacy. Man is incapable of achieving it with his own efforts,” he said.

Rather than abandoning celibacy, the bishop urged the Church to renew its prayers to Christ for strength to carry out his will.

“The time has come to reaffirm in the Amazon the importance of prayer in face of the activism and secularism that threatens many Christians in evangelization.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Digital. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Gonzaga, Catholic Charities team up to offer immigration legal assistance

Spokane, Wash., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane is partnering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to offer immigration legal assistance to low-income individuals, as well as training in immigration law for students.

Second- and third-year law students under faculty supervision will assist clients pro bono in the “Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic at Gonzaga Law School” starting this fall.

“We're viewing this almost like a joint venture between the two of us,” Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, told CNA.

“The attorney in charge has a vast network through her time at Catholic Charities. We envision the students and the attorney going on-site to different areas of the state to provide walk-up assistance, and that's going to start as we get further into the project,” Rooksby said.

The law school has several pro bono clinics already, including Indian Law, Elder Law, and Business Law. The students will work with Megan Case, an attorney who formerly worked with Catholic Charities.

Case told CNA that the center has a significant caseload at the moment, mostly on family reunification cases, whereby legal immigrants can petition for other family members to come and join them in the United States.

The center will also work with individuals seeking asylum. Additionally, they have an immigration court hearing scheduled for January in a deportation case.

Case noted that immigration law is one of the broadest and most complicated areas of U.S. law. She said during her time at Catholic Charities, she oversaw a number of naturalization cases, family reunification cases, and green cards, among others. They also helped individuals who qualified for victim-based visas.

She noted that the center assists both documented and undocumented individuals.

“There's definitely a need for attorneys to assist people in these types of cases, and there's a lot of work,” Case told CNA.

Rooksby said there is already student interest and client need for the program.

“As a Jesuit institution, I think we're taking seriously the Catholic Church's position on immigration as being one of the signature issues of our time,” he said. “So we see this as very consistent with our mission...the need is already there.”

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Catholic snakebite clinic in India saves thousands of lives each year

Patna, India, Oct 16, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- In most religious orders’ novitiate year, prospective sisters study and pray. Sister Crescencia Sun, however, had another habit to acquire: killing venomous snakes.

In rural Bihar, about 4,500 people die of venomous snake bites each year. When the Sisters of Our Lady of Missions arrived in the Indian state in the 1990s to educate young girls, the sisters realized that God was calling them to another mission – a medical snakebite clinic.

“Initially, we didn't have in mind to open the snakebite clinic, but because the people, so many of them suffered from snakebites and … many people were dying, we trained our sisters to learn this because they are nurses already,” Sister Crescencia Sun told CNA.

During the hot summer, the sisters treat 40-50 patients per day at their snakebite clinic, saving the lives of thousands of snakebite victims each year.

“In this place, many people are bitten by snakes … such as cobra, vipers, russell vipers, and krait to name a few,” Sr. Sun shared at the “Women on the Frontlines” symposium in Rome Oct. 16.

The symposium – hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See – highlighted religious sisters’ work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

“Women religious are among the most effective and vital partners we have on the frontlines in fragile communities around the world,” Callista Gingrich, US ambassador to the Holy See, said at the symposium.

“Women religious are often the last beacons of hope for millions of people who otherwise would not have a voice. They serve the displaced and the desperate, frequently at the risk of personal harm, in places where governments have failed and humanitarian organizations struggle to operate,” Gingrich said.

Sister Sun told CNA that, at first, she found the work at the snakebite clinic to be very emotionally draining.

“The first three months that I stayed there, I saw very many people dying of snake bites. I was very sad, and I said: 'Maybe this is not the mission for me,'” Sun shared.

“But, you know, when you see the people keep coming, then you get the courage, and I prayed to God everyday 'Lord, if this is what you want me to do, you are the one to give me the courage and the strength,’” she said.

Apart from treatment, the sisters work in preventative education, explaining to people in the surrounding villages the danger and how to protect themselves from the snakes.

“Hindus worship snakes, so they do not kill them, even when they become victims of snakebites. So during summer, we work 24/7 day and night,” she said.

Because of poverty, many of the patients they see live in huts made of bamboo and grass with a type of mud floor that can attract venomous creatures, particularly in the summer and rainy seasons.

“We have many stories of people telling us that when they get up in the morning, they just put their foot down from their bed and that is where they were bitten by a snake,” Sun said.

To keep themselves safe, the sisters have also trained dogs to detect the presence of snakes.

“I was very much afraid of snakes. But, being in Bangalore for my novitiate, training to become a religious, in that area we also have plenty of snakes and cobras. That is where I learned how to deal and even have killed a number of snakes, so when I came here, that was a kind of preparation for me,” she said.

In 2018, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Our Lady of the Missions treated more than 6,000 snakebite patients at their snakebite clinic in Kanti, Bihar.

“I believe that God uses us religious as instruments and miracles take place because God heals,” Sister Sun said.

UN set to elect slave state to human rights council

Geneva, Switzerland, Oct 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Mauritania, the west African nation where slavery remains a widespread practice, is expected to be voted on to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on Thursday. 

According to its website, the UNHRC is “an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.”

The UNHRC membership spaces are allocated according to different regions of the world, with some regions only having as many candidate nations as there are slots to fill. For this election, there are four African countries--Libya, Mauritania, Benin, and Sudan--seeking election to the four spots on the Human Rights Council reserved for African nations. This means that they are essentially guaranteed to be elected to the council on Oct. 17. 

Mauritania made slavery illegal in 1981, but did not criminalize the practice of owning slaves until 2007. It was the last country to abolish slavery. According to a 2012 CNN report, only one slave owner had been prosecuted for owning another human being since the practice was made illegal. 

While the Mauritanian government officially denies that slavery is ongoing in the country, Mauritanian watchdog groups allege that one out of every two members of the country’s Haratine ethnic minority group are enslaved, and that as many as 20% of the population is enslaved. The exact number of slaves within the country is unclear, and estimates range from 90,000 to 500,000. The Global Slavery Index estimates more than 140,000 people are currently enslaved in the country.

Slavery in the country is most often found being enforced on farms and in homes. According to media reports, slave owners give away people as gifts, and enslaved women are regularly sexually assaulted by their owners. 

In a report jointly authored report by UN Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Mauritania, Libya, and Sudan were all rated as “unqualified” for the council, and Benin was evaluated as “questionable.” Libya, Mauritania, and Sudan were criticized for their authoritarian governments, limits on freedom of the press, and for their “negative” UN voting records. 

The report singled out Mauritania for its history of corruption, ethnic discrimination by government actors, slavery, human trafficking, child labor, and criminalization of homosexuality. The country’s current president, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, was elected in June of this year despite reports of irregularities in the voting process. The country’s internet was shut down to quell protests that erupted after the elections. 

In addition to slavery, Mauritania is subject to a range of other human rights concerns. The United Nations estimates that over one third of Mauritanian women are married before they reach the age of 18, and female genital mutilation is commonplace. Sex outside of marriage is not legal in the country, and women who were raped can face prosecution if they report their assault to the police.

A State Department official told CNA that the U.S. “hopes that ultimately only suitable candidates will be supported and confirmed for election to the Council.” 

“We hope that the new members of the Council will follow through on their commitments to improving human rights conditions in their countries,” said the official. 

While the election for the African slate is uncontested, a UN voting nation is not required to actually vote for a country to join the UNHRC if it does not wish to. 

“Voting nations can and should refrain from electing rights abusers to the UN’s highest human rights body,” said Hillel Neuer of UN Watch.

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