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I was invited to be the "guest speaker" at the commemoration of Aids Day at Hope House. 
This was my speech


Having received the invitation of Sr Elsa Joseph to be the “guest speaker” at today's Aid's day at Hope House I started wondering which biblical text could be a good image of Hope House.

True that today, Hope House goes beyond the reality of HIV/Aids but one can never disconnect it fully nor can we forget how it all started.

I believe that a good passage – which is also familiar to all of us Christians and probably non-Christians – is the one of the “Good Samaritan”.

Jesus tells us this parable in the Gospel of Luke. 

It all started when a lawyer asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbour?”.

Jesus then tells the story of a man on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell into the hands of bandits who left him half dead.

Three people pass on that road: a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The three of them see him. Two, though, pass by on the other side. The Samaritan instead see him and is moved with compassion. 

I always love to tell the people that being moved with compassion is not just to say: “shame” as we do many times. The Samaritan does not seem to say anything but does a few things. He:

    • goes to him
    • bandages his wounds
    • pours oil and wine on them
    • lifts him onto his own mount (wonder about his strength!)
    • takes him to an inn
    • looks after him all night
    • gives some money to the innkeeper in the morning and asks to look after him with the promise of paying himself for any extra expense

Now ... where is “Hope House” in this story? 

I think, Hope House is ... the inn where the Good Samaritan took the man that was half dead to.

No one comes to this place on his / her own. There is always a Good Samaritan who brings the patients here. No one comes on his / her own because Hope House is for people badly wounded, “half dead” like the unknown man in the parable. 

Everyone is “entrusted” by the innkeeper to look after them.

The innkeeper is not just one person. It is ... many! It is a team that includes Sr Elsa, nurses, volunteers, the security guards, those who look after the garden, who clean... Each one of those working here in one way or another should always think of this place as the “inn” where the Good Samaritan brought a person badly wounded.

But in my mind it is not just those working here. There are many people behind Hope House. People who come and bring donations. People who make sure the “extra expense” of the parable is covered because this is a non-profit place. People who come and bring prayers, a word of hope... 

There are all the Hope House partners with whom we fight against HIV/Aids too and are represented today at this event.

There is also a board who meets regularly and sees that everything is going well and deals with any need and any present or future project.

These days I suddenly felt that in the parable we never talk about the “inn” but only about the Good Samaritan. I would happily called this place: “Hope House Inn” and write next to it Luke 10:35.

As we commemorate today “Aids day”, we need to celebrate all the initiatives that the tragedy of Aids brought to life. All the “Good Samaritans” and all the “Hope House Inns”. Aids day is a reminder of the goodness of people who never sat down to watch people suffer, never pass on the other side but found every possible way to be close to them.


There is though, something else. I feel I cannot just stop at this passage. There is a second one I feel we need to carry in our hearts. Catholics read it last Sunday on the feast of Christ the King: “the last judgement" on Matthew 25

We know the text. It is simple. It is solemn: the coming of the Son of Man in all his glory and with all his angels. Cannot be more solemn than that. 

He then separates the people, some to his right, others to his left saying to some: come to me and to the others away from me

The reason is simple: I was hungry, thirsty, sick ... and you came and had mercy or did not have mercy.

All of them ask the same question: when did we see you? When did we see you and did or did not help you? We know the answer: in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.

"You did it to me" 

Mother Theresa of Calcutta talks about this parable as the Gospel in five words: you did it to me

Aids Day for us is not just about helping the sick but about seeing Jesus in them. Hope House is a special place where we all have the opportunity to meet Jesus. 

While some would only think of meeting him with power and glory, Jesus chooses to identify with the badly wounded. 

The text is an invitation to all of us and not just to some. Even those that are sick here should remember it and look at their neighbors at Hope House as Jesus next to them. 

Let us in this day celebrate the goodness of humanity and also the gift of our faith that keeps our hope strong and alive looking forward to the day when Aids will be only part of our history.

Click below for photos of the event

2017 Aids Day at Hope House

“Round tables are designated to facilitate dialogue and participation in public life. They inform opinion, deepen knowledge and clarify concepts. 'Round tables' are a participatory process.”  This was the introduction of the invitation letter to the first round table organised by the Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Swaziland.

In partnership with the “Dennis Hurley Peace Institute” (DHPI) and with the support of the “Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office” (CPLO) on Thursday 23 November we were able to materialise an initiative we had been working on since the beginning of the year. 

Though a small presence in the country, for decades the Catholic Church has been running many projects regarding health, education and poverty alleviation among others. 

Through awareness gatherings in different parts of the country this year saw us more involved in issues of “Gender based violence” and “Human Trafficking”.

The initiative of having “round tables” looks at a new project: to create new spaces for dialogue and participation. Spaces where different voices can engage and be heard.

The first one, “Faith in the fight of Human Trafficking” brought together members of parliament, representatives of Christian churches, youth, priests, religious and other invited guests.

Danisa Khumalo (DHPI director) shared on Thursday that “this is not only the first in Swaziland by the Catholic Church but also the very first I attend where the tables are, in fact, round!”


Four speakers had been invited:
    • Fr Peter John Pearson (CPLO director and member of the “Santa Marta Group”) put us into the global picture of human trafficking at the levels of the concept, numbers and profits!
A person has to be delivered, recruited, transported, transferred, harboured, sold, exchanged or leased within or across the borders of South Africa.
There has to be a threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.
The victim has to be trafficked for the purpose of exploitation, which includes sexual exploitation, servitude, forced labour, child labour or the removal of body parts.
He pointed out that the dehumanisation of people is the key starting point for our engagement against human trafficking. The dignity of the human person is the key on which we build all Christian ethics. Therefore the Church needs to stands up and say “no” to this unbelievable form of modern slavery and crime against humanity

He said: “Slavery, in fact, is not a footnote that happened hundred of years' ago. It is something that has continued unbroken and it is manifested today in the trafficking in persons.” 

Some of the members of parliament who attended the round table
with Fr PJ Pearson (CPLO) and Danisa Khumalo (DHPI)

    • Inspector Zwakhele Dlamini (police officer based in Manzini), brought us into the Swazi context. “When this issue came out we were in a state of denial. 'It cannot happen in Swaziland' we said. Then we realised the number of people reported missing in our communities”. He indicated unemployment, child abuse (a child finding no alternative but to run away from violence at home), domestic violence (running away from an abusive husband) as some of the elements that facilitate human trafficking. 

He then added “let us not fool ourselves thinking it only happens between countries. Inside our country a girl is taken from Lavumisa area and brought to Manzini for domestic servitude. She never gets paid at the end of the month...”

    • Head of Secretariat on Human Trafficking Mrs Nompumelelo Lukhele having explained the terminology, legal frame and Swazi framework, helped us identify the role of faith based organisations at the levels of:

        ◦ prevention: awareness raising programs where members of each faith may be sensitized on issues surrounding trafficking in people;
        ◦ protection: helping with victim identification, care and assistance. Being aware of what can be done, who to contact and for what. Provision of shelter, food, clothing, medical care and attention as well as psychosocial, spiritual and counselling support;
        ◦ prosecution: case identification, encouraging the reporting of cases

    • Mrs Fikile Motsa, St Anne's president, shared her own experience raising awareness. Attending a workshop organised by the Catholic Church in Cameroon some years' ago, she opened her eyes to the reality of human trafficking in the world. Back in the country she made sure our diocese would start awareness programs and partner with government in the fight against it. 

Few minutes were given between speakers for each “round table” to write down some questions and comments to be shared later: 

    • “indifference will not help anyone, all of us are needed to work together”
    • “we need to be vigilant because it is among us, we might even be promoting it by doing nothing”
    • “we need to understand it better and run awareness programs in our churches and institutions”
    • “people are broken souls, our churches might be able to identify those affected and help them”

In my closing remarks I thanked the speakers and everyone who attended and understood the importance of these spaces of dialogue. Future round tables might be held on “refugees” and “gender based violence”.

I then asked everyone: “Count on us because, for us, this is a faith issue. As Mrs Lukhele said today 'we are our brother's and sister's keeper'”.



Click on the photo below
for photos of the event 
(from Flickr)

Round Table - Human Traffikcing
godsportswrestling.files.wordpress.com
The previous Sunday we read a familiar passage: "‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’"

I was in Italy and was sharing at Mass how our diocese - together with projects we have been running for decades - has opened to new realities: 
  • Refugees - I still remember when - a couple of years' ago - members of the Swaziland Council of Catholic Women came to me saying: "Pope Francis has asked us to care for refugees. We would therefore like to commemorate "refugee day" at diocesan level". Though we have always been involved through "Caritas Swaziland", they were able to involve all the parishes of the diocese in this project.
  • Gender based violence.  Just a few months' ago we marched in Hlatikulu against GBV and we plan to do it in other regions of the country. Very frequently our media reports on this tragedy in our families.
  • Human trafficking.  The end of August saw us marching together with government and other Christian Churches in Mbabane raising awareness about this crime against humanity where people are bought and sold.
  • Disabilities.  Though not a new project, the death of Fr Ciccone got us more involved aware that our society still sees our children living with disabilities as "a problem".
  • Abuse of alcohol. Then, the one that took me to Italy. Invited by "Impegnarsi Serve" I met young people to talk about the reality of abuse of alcohol which is the cause of at least 50% of our accidents. 
The particular thing was that ... each one of these realities are also present in Italy. Enough to think of the number of refugees arriving daily, the situations of family violence being reported regularly and the sharing we had these days with young people regarding the abuse of alcohol.



There was a time when missionaries would talk about realities unknown in other countries. Not now. At least not regarding these ones. They are present in Europe and Africa, in the North and South of the world.

Globalisation seems to apply to these challenges too which call us to journey together, reflect together and support each other in prayer. 

The bishop is always the parish priest of the Cathedral. That is why he normally appoints an "administrator" (and not a parish priest) on whom he delegates the leadership of that community .

In my case, though, I had transferred the administrator to another parish because one of our priests have been sent for further studies and had to be replaced at the place where he was parish priest. Therefore, I am the part time parish priest of the Cathedral.

Friday saw me celebrating Mass at Lwandle primary school. Because of the number of children and the lack of a bigger place, the priest (or bishop!) celebrates two Masses (one group goes out and the other one comes in!). The children were amazing. Few of them are Catholic but they sang as if they had been members of our Church all their lives!


Saturday, together with another five priests, I presided the funeral of Dr David Mkhumbuzi Manyatsi who was a very active and committed member of the Cathedral community and the Salesian family. 

Sunday I had confirmations at Mater Dolorosa (Mbabane). When Fr Mahazule (parish priest) asked me for a date for confirmations I told him: "If you want me in your parish... you will have to replace me in mine!". So I took the two Masses at Mater Dolorosa and he took the three I was supposed to preside at the Cathedral. It was also good for him to be back at a place where he had been administrator under my predecessor.

The challenge came in the evening. The "Siege of Jericho" had announced in the Cathedral the beginning of their week of prayer at our "Little Flower" Church. I had no more details than that and thought no one would need me.

Wrong. They normally start their week with the celebration of Mass. Evening phone call. The people had arrived and they were waiting for me to start. It was even funny because I had not been able to organize properly the keys I was given and could not find quickly what was needed. The good thing is that we were all helping each other to get everything ready. 

As I finally started the Mass I said: "Please, be patient, I am still learning to find my way...".  

Having sent another priest for further studies I am now officially acting as the parish priest of the Cathedral (which is now being served by two part-time people!). This means among other things that my Sundays are - as far as possible - at the service of the Cathedral and the outstations. 

One of them is St Gabriel (Moneni). We still remember the very first visit. It was in March 2014. I decided to visit the outstations in the diocese starting from the Cathedral. 

On a Saturday afternoon Fr Ndwandwe took me to two outstations to learn the way for Sunday and added: "there is another one but we do not have time today". I replied it was not a problem because sooner or later I would visit them all.

That was my reasoning. It was not theirs.

Once they knew I would be doing those two outstations they phoned me on Sunday at 7 am to let me know I should celebrate Mass with them too on that very day. 

I tried my best to use every possible "logical" reason ... "Do not worry, I will visit you" ... "I could not see yesterday where you are" ... "I do not know the place".

That final one was the least useful. The answer was: "Do not worry Bishop, someone is on the way. She will lead you here. We are all waiting for you".

So it was. Few minutes' later I was starting Mass at St Gabriel. We never forgot the story and we still laugh about it.

Now it is different. I will be there every month. They know that and they are reminding me about the need to build a proper church. "It should be a mini-Cathedral being the bishop the one in charge". I am afraid to say anything. Knowing them, anything is possible!

« Organising the service of charity in Africa: the role of the Bishops »
Dakar, 18 - 20 September 2017

Final declaration

OUR MEETING

1. We Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, Presidents of Episcopal Conferences and National Caritas from 43 countries of the Caritas Internationalis Africa Region, thank God for having gathered us in Dakar from 18 to 20 September 2017 on the theme ’’Organizing the Service of Charity in Africa: the role of the Bishops’’. This meeting took place five years after the one in Kinshasa in November 2012 on the “Identity and the mission of Caritas in the light of the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est”, sanctioned by a strong final declaration, insisting on the ecclesial nature of Caritas and its specific mission to the light of the Gospel and the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.

2. We reaffirm the content of this declaration and invite those who engage in the Church's pastoral social action to continue to act and act as credible witnesses of Christ (Act 1, 8).

3. We express our gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Francis for the message addressed to us through H.E. Archbishop Michael W. BANACH, the Apostolic Nuncio in Senegal; this message is a sign of Pope Francis paternal solicitude towards our Churches.

4. We thank the Church Family of God in Senegal for welcoming us and for its hospitality.

5. Our gratitude and appreciation, with the assurance of our prayers, go to His Excellency Macky SALL, President of the Republic of Senegal and to his Government for the exceptional facilities provided for us to hold our meeting.

6. We have had the joy of rereading the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, as well as the Motu Proprio Intima Ecclesiae Natura and Humanam Progressionem, and to understand more fully how much the charity service is central to the mission of the Church as a community of faith and love (Jn 4, 7-11).

7. The presence of His Eminence Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah TURKSON, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio TAGLE, President of Caritas Internationalis, has been an encouragement to us and their interventions, inspiration in our responsibility as fathers of charity in our particular Churches. We welcome the creation of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and encourage the start of its structuring and its approaches that we will take into account in our pastoral mission and organization.



 OUR FAITH

8. We share the faith of all those who, in the small cells of the Christian life in parishes and local communities, to the more global structures contribute to the effectiveness of charity and the presence of the Church and of Christ in the world. The enriching positive experiences shared during this gathering give the image of a Church on the move, resolutely committed to the service of every person and humanity as a whole (Populorum Progressio, 14) despite many challenges and which call for more and more imagination and creativity in our pastoral mission.

9. We take the thought of Pope Francis on the plane that brought him back from Colombia, on 10 September 2017, according to which Africa is not a land to be exploited but a friend to love, to help to grow. We are grateful to the organizations of the sister churches that accompany us and reiterate our willingness to walk with them in Christian hope, fraternal communion, support and mutual reinforcement without substituting ourselves for the service of the most disadvantaged who are our brothers and sisters, letting us evangelize them.
   
10. Our limited means of action must not be an excuse for a wait-and- see attitude, for the development of the poor can only be achieved by the poor themselves. That is why we strongly encourage South-South as well as North-South exchanges within our Churches, the capitalization of experiences and pooling of expertise and resources, harmonization at all levels of the guidelines that guide our collective commitment.

11. Our hearts are bleeding to see that the misery of our people is often caused by some of our own leaders, in collaboration with foreign powers, while these very ones are supposed to fight poverty and stem it out. In the end, they force us to act as extinguishers of the hotbeds of tension which they light and feed, thus pushing our young people into exile or turning them into militants of political or religious extremism.


OUR COMMITMENT

12. We implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to be in our churches the first craftsmen and the good guardians of the service of charity (Mt 24, 45; Tt 1,7).

13. Hence we commit ourselves to:

1) stand on the side of the communities and individuals, whose God given resources and means of livelihood, including their land, are under threat of exploitation by both internal and external interests;

2) pay more attention to migration and refugee problems, to the consequences of political crises and natural disasters and, where appropriate, to work proactively upstream in order to better contribute to the eradication of the causes of poverty on a continent that is rich in its populations, especially its young people, its cultures and its natural resources;

3) involve ourselves in the preparation and participation in the next synod of the young people who are the wealth of the Church and of the nation and to do everything possible to make them feel at home in the Church;

4) create with our partners opportunities for these young people to contribute to their integral formation and to their Christian and citizenship growth;

5) strengthen the participation of women and make visible their contribution to the development of our families and communities;

6) encourage responsible leaders and elites who serve the common good and constantly denounce those who are corrupt and who maintain the impoverishment of the masses as a strategy for the maintenance or conquest of power;

7) progressively adapt our socio-pastoral structures to those of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, according to the contexts of our particular Churches;

8) contribute to the improvement of governance in our socio-charitable works, by adopting appropriate constitutive texts and by appointing competent and appropriate persons;

9) integrate into the religious and priestly formation the systems of the social teaching of the Church and the minima of the principles of transparent management of the property of the Church belonging to the poor;

10) develop a genuine synergy of action at the level of the continent, sub- regions (zones), Episcopal Conferences and dioceses with a view to productive ecclesial communion in the service of integral human promotion;

11) strengthen fraternal solidarity with Sister Churches, interfaith collaboration and cooperation with civil society organizations for peace building and development in our regions, while respecting our Catholic identity and avoiding us to be guided by contemporary ideologies.

May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, intercede for us.

Dakar, 20 September 2017

Click on the photo below
for photos of the event (Flickr)

2017Senegal_CaritasAfrica

The second "Meeting of Bishops President of Episcopal Conferences and Presidents of Caritas in Africa" (Dakar, Senegal) was opened this morning with Mass presided by Cardinal Tagle. Here are some notes from his homily.

* * * * *

All today's readings (1 Timothy 2:1-8 & Luke 7:1-10) speak about prayer. Intercessory prayer. Praying for one another. 

We need to realize we are interconnected, even before the label globalization or networking become famous. We are one humanity. What happens in one part of the world affects the others and, if for good or for ill, we affect one another, imagine the power of praying for one another!

When one person connects with God, the rest of humanity and creation also goes to God. 

In the first reading we are asked to pray for everyone, for those in authority, for kings and queens. As we get involved in works of service, let us accompany our work with prayer. 

Most of us had the experience of, having done what is humanly possible, all the negotiations and all the diplomatic skills have been used, we then still say "we pray to the Lord...!" 

The second thing is: Jesus invites us to pray with "faith". Very often we pray with memorized prayers. We get used to repeat them without having anymore that investment of the heart which the centurion had. The centurion, who was an outsider, believed in the power of Jesus: "just say a word"... "I believe in the power of your Word"! May our prayer be a prayer of faith.  As we pray together and for one another, let us do it with faith.

Finally, St Paul invites us to pray for those in authority. The centurion addresses Jesus as Lord. One of the most subversive things Christianity brought into the world is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. This means telling those in authority "you are not the Lord". It is really surprising that human authorities still tolerate the Church, a Church that says "Jesus is Lord. You are not the one. We do not pray to you, we pray to the real Lord and we pray for you to the real Lord". 

How much we need to pray now for those who are in authority...! For those who think they are the Lord... but for us there is only one intercessor: Jesus. 

* * * * *

(He then invited us to keep in our prayers the Rohingya people and the visit of Pope Francis both to Myanmar and Bangladesh in November)