May – That, like Our Lady, “health of the sick”, the nations may join forces to respond to the worldwide humanitarian crisis, helping to restore health care, security and education to those impoverished by conflicts and disasters. Lord hear us.
Ethiopia is a country very different from the rest, in many aspects. Among them, its own calendar, both civil and religious. Christians follow the Orthodox calendar (both Orthodox and Catholics), in which Holy Week began yesterday, Sunday, April 25 (day 17 of the month Miaziah for Ethiopians).
In these days we have been in Lent, a period characterized by fasting and by the personal and voluntary commitment to abstinence in order to rethink our way of life.
However, our people have been suffering from forced fasting for weeks now. Since the conflict became radicalized and negotiations to reach a peace agreement in our region broke down, thousands of families of all ethnicities had to leave their homes, and it was then that this imposed period of true penance and abstinence began.
Abstinence from food, because they fled with the clothes on their backs, thinking that it would be temporary; and they spent days, if not weeks, without being able to enter any village, wandering through the forests, without eating for long periods, in order to feed the babies and the youngest children with what little they had. This forced fasting has kept them with hardly any strength for more than a week, and malnutrition has surfaced, as well as related health problems.
Abstinence from shelter, because they did not even have time to find something to cover themselves with. No blankets to protect them from the cold and humid night in the forests, nor from the suffocating heat of the days in the sun. Moreover, forced to sleep on the ground, with nothing to rest on and nothing to cover them; exposed to all kinds of animals and insects, especially the mosquito, which has wreaked havoc, leading to a major resurgence of malaria, which is now manifesting itself.
Abstinence from health, since the aforementioned situations, as well as stress, worry, fear and anguish are causing the flourishing of all kinds of physical illnesses, as well as worsening psychological health, especially of the most vulnerable. Hopelessness has a negative effect that I could not even imagine, and that also materializes in the body.
They are not only exposed to inclement weather, but also to attacks from the militias of different ethnic groups, from those who, out of desperation, are engaged in looting, from those who want to profit from the conflict. Life is so fragile in this situation that it seems to have lost all its value.
Tomorrow the Holy Week will begin with Palm Sunday. With the absence of almost all of our people, with the uncertainty of whether we will see many of them again, and with the suffering that is taking root in our hearts. The Passion and Death of Jesus makes more sense than ever at this time when, for hundreds or thousands of people, every day is a Calvary.
For this reason, the Last Supper has to regain its full meaning, when Jesus, before beginning, began to serve his own and washed their feet, a gesture understood in his time as a humiliation of the one who must revere the one who is above him. However, He gave it a new meaning, staging one of the greatest works of mercy that exists: let our faith in God serve us to seek to serve and not to be served. We cannot remain impassive before the suffering of our brothers and sisters. May the suffering of our people (understood from the universal fraternity) not be alien to us, but “neighbor”.
From our mission in Gilgel Beles, from the beginning we opened our doors to the thousands of refugees in the forests around our area. With the limited means we had, searching even under the stones, and with the collaboration of our diocese in Ethiopia, as well as of the local government ( little collaboration due to the number of needs) we tried to alleviate the little we could reach, focusing mainly on the most vulnerable.
For the sick and the pregnant women we set up an emergency medical post, which is always overwhelmed by the numerous cases of malaria, typhus and typhoid, serious skin problems, pneumonia, severe malnutrition, etc. For the children we set up a daily canteen, which unfortunately is almost always overwhelmed by the needs.
The means are insufficient, the forces weaken, the number of people arriving daily increases, the needs multiply, the days go by and the situations deteriorate. But at the end of the day, when our hope is about to be exceeded, we realize that all the children have received at least one meal, the sick have been medicated and at least recognized, the women have received care, and the distribution of clothes and means to protect themselves has been completed. Where there was no food for all, it arrived, and where there was no plan, the solution emerged.
As St. Augustine said, “work as if everything depended on you, trust as if everything depended on God”. These simple day-to-day miracles are what make me recognize that in spite of the fact that we are so foolish as to spoil His work, God continues to take care of us and protect us, especially when nothing is left, “God alone is enough”.
With this bittersweet feeling of confidence on the one hand, and of discouragement for the situation on the other, we begin Holy Week, with our eyes always fixed on the Resurrection, that is, on the confirmation that in spite of everything, goodness and forgiveness must always have the last word. And it is difficult to believe it with what people are living, but was the resurrection expected?
Because, if these “unexpected miracles of everyday life” are not a sign that there is a God who overflows with Love, “may God come and see”.
David Aguilera Perez, Comboni Lay Missionary in Ethiopia
When, in November 2020, I returned from Portugal, I never thought I would live the moments I have lived in these last months.
I live in Guilguel Beles, Benishangul-Gumuz region, Ethiopia, and in the mission we work essentially with the Gumuz people (we Comboni Lay Missionaries live with the Comboni religious in the same mission). We do not close our doors to anyone, but this is one of the most forgotten and abandoned people in Ethiopia and in the world.
Several people of other ethnic groups also live here, such as the Amara, Agaw and Chinacha. The soil is fertile and that makes it a desirable area. And therefore, many times, the Gumuz have lost land that belonged to them.
But even then, the people lived in peace, without major problems. In 2019, I was already in Ethiopia, a Gumuz village was attacked, people were killed, houses burned…. Our mission was a pioneer in providing aid to displaced people.
When I come back, in November 2020, Gumuz rebels started attacking some non-Gumuz. With great pain I learned of the death of many innocent people. Human life is precious.
However, I also witnessed the persecution of the Gumuz. People fled to the forest, houses were burned, dozens of young people were arrested without any justification.
I remember going with David, CLM, my mission colleague, to Debre Markos, in the Amara region, with two Gumuz because they were afraid of being killed. Several times we went to assist the detainees at the police station.
In the meantime, the government started to negotiate with the Gumuz rebels and for almost two months we managed to open schools, the clinic and the library.
However, the negotiations failed and the Gumuz rebels killed more people. It is not always easy to conclude negotiations when the proposals demanded are impossible to achieve.
In response, rebels from Amara and Agaw attacked villages, killed people and burned houses. The young men I share life with, the women in the group I followed, the children in the school and kindergarten had to flee into the forest: with no food, no clothes, nothing. People I knew were killed: innocent people!
Many people came to our mission to ask for food, money to buy food, medical assistance….
At first we prepared food for all the needy who came to us [“give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16)]; then, with the help of the Diocese, we offered pasta and every morning we offered a meal to more than 200 children. On Sundays we offer a meal after Mass.
David takes care of the meals every day and Sister Nives (a Comboni Sister) provides medical care to dozens of people each day.
I alternate between helping with the work with the children and going to Mandura, to the mission of the Comboni Sisters (who had to leave the mission, due to this guerrilla situation, living for now in our mission. But during the day they try to stay in the mission where they were, Mandura, to welcome the people who come) where I help in the domestic chores, like fetching water for the animals, for the house (as the sisters have no water at home), etc. and I welcome (me and the Comboni Sisters Vicenta and Cristiane) the people who come to greet or ask for help. Many of them risk coming to the mission, after walking three or four hours, to fetch the cereals they have stored in the sisters’ house or to ask for help.
It has been very hard to listen to so much suffering: people who are suffering, malnutrition, seriously ill children, people who have lost their relatives, who have lost their grain. How many times I find it hard to fall asleep thinking about this reality.
Mission consists of faces… and I see so many suffering faces. When I pray in Church and look at the cross of Jesus, I see many faces, I contemplate this suffering reality and I realize that Jesus is on that cross for us and that He continues to suffer daily for us. But at the same time I feel these words in my mind: do not be afraid, I am with you!
It is not easy to live these moments of suffering, but the experience of faith in Jesus, who spent His life doing good, who suffered, who was killed but was resurrected helps us to be witnesses of God’s Love among people.
Thank you to all of you who have contributed to the mission at different levels of prayer, friendship, affection and help. Without your participation we would not be able to help. Thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts!
There is no lack of tribulations, but be assured that your prayer sustains us. The mission is God’s and in Him we must put our trust.
Pedro Nascimento, LMC in Ethiopia
In this month of April we received in our community of Ipê Amarelo Father Serafim who came to join us in the mission. And together he brought the joy of the first Mass in our mission house Santa Terezinha. Since I arrived a year and six months ago, there had not been a Holy Mass in our house. To receive the Eucharistic Christ is to renew our strength and keep alive the hope of continuing our journey.
In this time of uncertainty, of waiting in which we cannot plan well the future, the next steps, the joy of being able to live this moment is immense. I had a great desire to say “Lamb of God” in community.
The presence of the missionary spirit, the desire to live and work with us in community, which was evident in the attitudes and words of father… also made me vibrate with joy. May Jesus the missionary unite and strengthen us on this journey, so that together we may live the mission of the Risen Christ.
A strong embrace.
Regimar Costa, CLM Brazil
NB. Regimar Costa and her husband Valmir Barp are waiting for the opening of the borders to go on mission to Mozambique.
I am the Resurrection and the Life
The sisters sent this message to Jesus: “Lord, the man you love is ill.” Jesus said: “This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory and through it the Son of God will be glorified”. “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live…” Do you believe this? “Yes, Lord”, she said, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11, 3.4.25-27).
The world is going through a very difficult period due to the Covid 19 which continues to cause much suffering with thousands of people falling ill and dying. There are various peoples who are suffering not only due to the Covid-19 but also because of wars, instability, being left homeless, dangerous migrations, problems provoked by climate change and economic circumstances. When we think of the pandemic, we remember the many confreres and sisters who have had this experience of death and resurrection and are now in the glory of the Risen Lord. In this sorrowful situation of suffering and death where the Christ of Good Friday is continuously crucified and dying in those who suffer the consequences of this pandemic, it is not an easy matter to find words of encouragement, of joy, of life or, in the final analysis, of resurrection.
However, it is precisely because we are Christians and missionary disciples of the Lord that we are invited this Easter to place our trust in Him who is the Lord of life and has gone through suffering, sorrow and humiliation even to dying on the Cross, and being raised from the dead by the Father. Consequently, the words He spoke to Martha on the death of her brother Lazarus are all the more appropriate for us and the whole of humanity at this moment: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies he will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.
Faith in the resurrection and the hope that He has brought us are the greatest and most precious gifts we can proclaim and offer to all people. Let us never tire, therefore, of repeating to each and every person: Christ is risen! Filled with this certainty, we bear this proclamation to every community, ever home and every family and to all those places where people suffer most. As Pope Francis affirms: “Let us try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let us be generous; let us help those in need in our neighbourhood; let us look out for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks; let us pray to the Lord for those who are in difficulty in Italy and in the world. Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love. This is what is needed today: the creativity of love” (Video message of Pope Francis for Holy Week 2020).
It is the mission of compassion that we, as missionaries, are called to proclaim, the closeness of God to His people, His tenderness and His love. Like Jesus, who cured many sick people, we are today His instruments to heal suffering, indifference, selfishness and the distancing that this disease generates. It is the mission of the encounter that makes room for acceptance and fraternity that generates life in abundance for all. We are therefore missionaries of hope and joy in the present context when we prophetically remind everyone that “We cannot go ahead, each one on their own, but only together” (Homily of Pope Francis, 27/03/2020). This is a new way of being in the world: not just a return to the past we know but a way of being involved in the world with creativity and wisdom.
It is only by confronting the cross that we can find the hope we need to live as risen people, as Daniel Comboni teaches us: Could a true apostle’s heart ever be downcast and fearful at all these obstacles and extraordinary difficulties? No, it is not possible, ever! Triumph is in the Cross alone. (W. 5646). This is the triumph of the Risen One. In the Risen Jesus, life has overcome death. This is the hope for better times, the hope that never leaves us disappointed.
With these sentiments of joy, we wish for you and all of us a Holy Easter of Resurrection!
Rome, 19 March 2021
The MCCJ General Council