Highlights of the African Continental Mission Animation (MA)/ Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Assembly in Accra, Ghana,

The seminar was entitled ‘Communion within our Congregation through our commitment to MA/JPIC’

The goals of the assembly were:

  • To define the role of the Province’s/ Regions’ MA/JPIC coordinator and formulate the way forward in the MA/JPIC ministry and animate sisters in the Province/Regions.
  • To deepen our knowledge of JPIC issues on the African Continent.
  • To deepen our understanding of our Congregation’s response to JPIC issues and to deepen our knowledge in relation to VIVAT International.
  • To elect the JPIC Continental Coordinator.

Names of the Participants: –

  1. Amandine Massame – Togo- Benin
  2. Angelina Vachia Jamba – Angola
  3. Felicita Jyoti purty – Mozambique
  4. Iwona Szatkowska – Botswana/South Africa
  5. Juliana Agbozo – Ghana
  6. Lovely Thomas – Ethiopia/Uganda/South Sudan
  7. Petroneldis Maria Florentina Wea – Zambia

Resource persons

  1. Sr. Gretta Maria Fernandes, SSpS – Congregational Mission Secretary
  2. Sr. Maria Vilma Espinosa – Continental JPIC Coordinator
  3. Fr. George Angmor, SVD – Provincial, Ghana
  4. Fr. Peter Kabutey, SVD – JPIC coordinator, Ghana
  5. Mr. Samuel Zan Akologo – Executive secretary of Caritas Ghana.

Coordinating team

  1. Sr. Ewa Piegdon, SSpS – Regional Leader, Zambia
  2. Sr. Mercy Benson, SSpS – Provincial Leader, Ghana

 

Day 1: April 28, 2019

The Assembly began with the Eucharist presided by Fr. George Angmor, SVD, provincial of Ghana.  In his homily, he shared that “As the Father sent me, even so I sent you”.  Accepting this call and recognizing our responsibility as MA/JPIC coordinators, JPIC coordinators are asked to recommit to the cause of justice and peace in Africa. He highlighted that togetherness of the apostles in the upper room, their being behind closed doors because of fear. He said that we may ask ourselves at this moment in our lives as individuals or as a group, what are the fears that are engulfing me/us?  He further remarked that as JPIC coordinators we know how difficult it can be to fight for justice and experience threat to our own lives just like Sr. Veronika Rackova who was brutally killed in South Sudan. So the need of the hour is our communion within our congregation, and other partners, and pooling our resources together to work for justice and peace.

Following the Holy Eucharist, the participants implored the Creator Spirit and Sisters Vilma and Ewa performed the Enthronement of the Bible.  The first session was on communion within our congregation, which was presented by Fr. George Angmor, SVD. He stated that communion within our congregation through our commitment to JPIC is by working with all marginalized groups, in educating the children in Africa, providing health services. It is by living our life in the poverty of Africa and its cross-cultural reality (threats to life, internal war and conflicts, financial constraints in implementing  JPIC ministry).  In Africa, JPIC ministry is challenged by the corrupt political and bureaucratic system.  He posed a question to the participants: Why I am doing this? Our communion within our congregation is also through our common program like our NGO VIVAT at the United Nations in New York and in Geneva.

Sr. Ma. Vilma Espinosa, the present Continental JPIC coordinator, gave a collated report from JPIC coordinators in the SSpS province/ regions in Africa. She stated in her report that first of all we have to take note of the readiness of the sisters to venture into new apostolates despite the risks. She mentioned that there are good practices in the promotion and empowerment of women/girls especially in educating them and providing hostel/boarding facilities. The street children are also a reality in our midst and ministering to them puts us in contact with the needy families from which they come; family members who are waiting for their meager “remittance”. Additionally, being present among the refugees and displaced people of South Sudan/Uganda unites every one of us in prayer for the sisters whose lives are always at risk.

Lastly, in addressing our common concerns there is a need to strengthen our collaboration at the local, provincial-regional and continental level. Importantly, communication channels and documentation need to be intensified. We cannot enter into continental collaboration unless we start from the basic aspect of working on ourselves in terms of personal commitment to do what is needed.  Constitution 112 says “recognizing that the selfishness of the human heart is at the root of all oppressive structures and systems, we struggle against sinfulness in our own lives” where individualism and ethnocentrism can endanger our ministry in the local level.

In the afternoon, the participants met in three small groups of four and shared on:

  • What struck them most from the morning’s two presentations?
  • What are some of the joys and challenges in your JPIC ministry?

The three groups shared that we are all called to consciously make JPIC an integral part of our lives. From the presentations, we understand that though we are in 10 different countries of Africa with different realities, we are in communion with each other by our commitment to JPIC and working with different issues but all aiming to bring justice and peace to the African continent.

Some of the joys of working in JPIC ministry are witnessing changes in the lives of people with whom we are working. Our commitment to JPIC does not allow us to give up easily. Empowerment of women and children in our province and regions is another reason for us to be joyful.  The challenge is that there is no full time JPIC coordinator and it affects our involvement in animating the sisters in the province/regions. In some places the communities are widespread and it is difficult to reach those places, as the JPIC coordinator has another fulltime assignment.  There are always financial constraints on the African continent. Due to constant changes in JPIC coordinators we lack long term plans for the people with whom we work.  It is discouraging sometimes when we get no response/reports from the communities. It is becoming increasingly difficult as government policies and laws keep changing.

The afternoon session was on World and Church Realities and JPIC at the Congregational Level by Sr. Gretta Fernandes, SSpS.  She shared how SSpS respond to the current world realities of poverty, refugees and migration, internal conflict and war, climate change and clericalism in the Catholic Church. Her presentation was very informative and she gave updates on the migrant and refugee situation in Europe.  We concluded the day with silent adoration followed by supper.

Day 2: April 29, 2019

The day started with Bible sharing in groups at 6.30am. The first speaker of the day was Mr. Samuel Zan Akologo on “Common JPIC issues in Africa”. Mr. Zan Akologo, is the Executive Secretary for Caritas Ghana and Head of the Dept of Human Development of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference. He began his presentation by referring to Laudato Si, in which Pope Francis points out the crisis of earth, our Common Home which is even truer of our Common Africa Home.  He stressed the point that Pope Francis’ call is particularly relevant to the African context where the crisis is conspicuously both social and environmental. From the global perspective, the crises fuelled by the economic rational and praxis of the rich industrial World of the North, continue to keep Africa and other poorer regions in perpetual poverty and marginalization. We could for instance, talk about how Africa’s natural resources are exploited to feed the greed of European and American economies. He also gave facts and figures about how a deliberate and criminal tax avoidance regime of European and American Multinational Corporations in Africa is haemorrhaging Africa. This has become notoriously called “Illicit Financial Flows – IFF”.  In Africa today, the continuous pillaging of national resources by Political Elites and their Foreign Agents, the displacement of millions of people (the so-called Migration crisis), the wanton destruction of forests’ rare tree species, the filth and sanitation menace, pollution of sources of livelihoods (water and soil) etc, are worrying signs of an imperilled Common Home in Africa. Mr. Zan Akologo also provided resource material published by Ghana Caritas on Laudato Si, sustainable development goals, poverty eradication etc.

The second session of the day was a Presentation by Sr. Gretta Fernandes, SSpS on VIVAT International & United Nations. Since many of the MA/JPIC coordinators were new to JPIC ministry, Sr. Gretta enlightened the group with her sharing on VIVAT International. She began her sharing by making the group aware of what the United Nations is and where we can have a voice and exert influence on policies. She took the Sisters through the goals and organs of the United Nations (UN) with its organization and structure with a special focus on ECOSOC.   She presented the history and development of VIVAT through the years and its work both at the grassroots and systemic level. How NGOs like VIVAT at the UN, lobby, advocate and influence governments in carrying out various legislations and commitments made at the National, International and UN level. Sr. Gretta invited the sisters to work together with other congregations who are VIVAT members and stand together for the cause of justice. She stressed the need to document and report the many JPIC activities to VIVAT offices in Geneva and New York.

In the afternoon, the groups met to discuss the role of JPIC coordinators in their respective Province/Regions, ways of animating the sisters in regard to JPIC and to share challenges that JPIC coordinators face in their Province/Regions.

The last session of the day was presented by Fr. Peter Kabutey, SVD on “SVD commitment to JPIC in Ghana”. Fr. Kabutey is the JPIC Coordinator for the SVD Ghana-Liberia province. He shared that SVDs work with migrants, prisoners, and network with other NGOs in addressing the issue of human trafficking.  He also spoke about the way forward since JPIC is the root of our missionary life. Looking at our Founding generation we can see how they were the agents of justice during their own time. In conclusion, he commented that charity begins at home. First, we have to look at ourselves; the change has to come from myself first. How do we live in our communities? Are we just to each other. After the session, Fr. Kabutey celebrated the Eucharist with the sisters. After supper Sr. Gretta led the group in the evening’s recreation. It was really fun though.

Day 3: April 30, 2019: The first session of the day was an Open Forum. Each group presented the discussion points on the Role of the JPIC coordinators in their respective Province/Regions, Ways of animating the sisters in regard to JPIC and Challenges that the JPIC coordinators face in their Province/Regions.

The second session of the day was sharing by Sr. Gretta, on promotion of JPIC on the SEE-JUDGE-ACT Process. The See-Judge-Act Process is a method of working that ensures a balance between reflection and action. Its importance lies in the results it produces. Through this process we engage ourselves in a program of commitment, action and transformation. It helps us to develop critical judgment about situations, events and structures. Often, the stages overlap and intermingle. Sister Gretta used the article from ‘The Guardian’ featuring the toxic air in Accra, to explain the SEE-JUDGE-ACT process.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/apr/24/rotten-chicken-eggs-e-waste-from-europe-poisons-ghana-food-chain-agbogbloshie-accra

Experience/See: Starting from our own experience we share our own understanding and knowledge of a particular issue, giving the group a foundation on which to build as well as plenty of opportunities to discuss our concerns and learn from another people’s experience. The following questions can be asked about the issue: 1. What do I know about this? 2. What have I experienced about this? Who are most affected by this and how? 3. How did the issue arise?

Analysis/See: Human beings are not creatures who live independently of other members of the human community and the natural world. We need to understand the role we play in the structures which order human society, the links between our lives and the lives of the poor with whom we wish to be in solidarity. We recognize our interconnectedness. Thorough analysis needs to form the basis of our work, so that we can identify instances where we may be unconsciously participating in the oppression facing marginalized peoples, and the ways in which we can most effectively challenge that oppression. Questions: 1. Why is this happening? 2. Who gains from this situation? 3.  Who loses out? 4.  Why does this situation continue?

Reflection/Judge: We need to discern what our faith has to say about the realities we face. Through our ministries, we put faith into action, participating in building God’s Kingdom. Listen to the word of God by reflecting on Scripture, particularly through the eyes of the poor and marginalized. Question: 1. What particular insight/view do our faith, Church teachings, Scripture, etc. provide with regard to serving the disadvantaged in our society?

Action/Act: The group has to decide on what it wants to do or is able to do. 1. Set objectives that are realistic, considering the availability of resources, talents and time. Questions: 2. What needs to be done to resolve the situation? 3. What can I/we do? 4.  How will my/our action change those involved? 5. How can I/we tell if it is successful?

In the afternoon session, Sr. Gretta explained the process of “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR). In her presentation Sr. Gretta pointed out that the UN Human Rights Council oversees two important mechanisms for monitoring human rights: UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW (UPR) and SPECIAL PROCEDURES (SP).  There are 193-member states in the UN and these member states are evaluated every four years by the human rights council.

She explained extensively the 9 main points of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

  1. Identification of Human Right issues
  2. Identify the potential partners
  3. Collecting of data and research
  4. Report drafting and editing
  5. Sending a report
  6. Circulation and publication
  7. Follow up
  8. Challenges of VIVAT
  9. Information on the website

This was an interactive session as many participants wanted to know how they can learn/do UPR process in their respective countries. Sister Gretta encouraged them to contact the VIVAT representative in Geneva and to network with other national NGOs who work on UPR reports in their respective countries.

In the next session, Sr. Gretta focused on “Global Compact for Migration” (GCM). The GCM is an inter-governmentally negotiated agreement prepared under the auspices of the United Nations and organized under 23 Objectives. It is aimed at improving cooperation on international migration. GCM is not legally binding, but consistent with human rights treaties and fully respectful of States’ sovereignty. It covers all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive way. Global Compact Migration is rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and aimed at maximizing the potential of migration to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  It was negotiated between 2016 and 2018 to be formally adopted by the Intergovernmental Conference in December 2018. It is to be implemented by governments in cooperation and partnership with migrants and all relevant stakeholders.

Sisters briefly shared some of the initiatives they are taking in their countries in registering migrants and obtaining identity cards for migrants. Many also shared the challenges as their governments constantly change policies and the sisters who are overseas missionaries are frequently not familiar with the changing immigration policies of the national governments. A brochure on GCM was given to the participants to have a clear view of the 23 objectives.

Sr. Gretta also spent some time on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS).  In her presentation Sr. Gretta explained the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. She stressed the importance of the 2030 Agenda as it is a call for action to change our world. She added that the SDGs and targets will stimulate action over the next eleven years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet: These are the five Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. She further discussed that Religions in Africa can play a role in achieving 2030 Agenda as:

  • Religions play an important role in promoting peace, dialogue and the common good, and therefore they hold a special place in the public arena.
  • Due to the lack of political will or scarcity of economic and human resources to achieve the SDGs, world religions can work in implementing and realizing the 2030 agenda through belief and conviction.
  • That four years into 2030 agenda the imperative is clear; we must accelerate our actions and we must do it together or fail to achieve these goals. We have less than 4000 days to act….

The final session was led by Sr. Ewa Piegdon to discuss and finalize the recommendations from the Assembly. One of the proposals voted and agreed upon is to have the continental JPIC coordinators assembly once in three years. Sr. Lovely Thomas from the region of Ethiopia was elected as the new Continental JPIC Coordinator. The participants made the following recommendations:

  1. Province and Regions should make it a point to have a full time JPIC coordinator wherever possible.
  2. To provide opportunities to train JPIC Coordinators who do not have an educational back ground in social work/services, and experience in the field.
  3. As far as possible the JPIC Coordinator should be appointed for at least six years.
  4. To make sure that there is sufficient budget to run JPIC activities.
  5. To have Continental JPIC Coordinators meeting once in three years

The Role of the JPIC Province/Region Coordinator in and for JPIC ministry was discussed and some of the specifics are below:

  1. Helps in integrating JPIC aspects into the life and mission of the sisters.
  2. Informs the sisters and lay partners about JPIC issues.
  3. Animates and updates the sisters on JPIC/VIVAT activities and provides possibilities for sharing.
  4. Coordinates and organizes JPIC activities in the Province/Regions.
  5. Collects the report of JPIC activities in the Province/Regions and presents them to the Congregational Mission Secretary.
  6. Collaborates with Congregational Mission Secretary, African Continental JPIC Coordinator, and P.L.T/R.L.T.

Ways of animating the Sisters in JPIC in Province/Region

  1. If possible, invite a resource person to give an input to the sisters on JPIC issues.
  2. In consultation with PLT/RLT provide opportunities for sisters to attend programs/ workshops/seminars, etc.
  3. Provide the list of International days and JPIC calendar and remind them of some very important events for prayer in the communities.

Example:  World Day of Peace, Earth Day, Women’s Day, etc.

  1. Keep sisters updated on what is going on in other part of the world in regards to JPIC and VIVAT International.
  2. Visit the communities and sisters MA/JPIC apostolate.
  3. Give talks during International day celebrations: Water, Gender equality, Anti-human Trafficking, etc.

Some of the challenges faced in JPIC ministry are: Multiple responsibilities, lack of training in JPIC ministry, financial constraints, insufficient documentation of activities, lack of mastery of the local language, Government restrictions and regulations related to social services and immigration, poor or no internet connectivity in some places etc.

The Congregational Mission Secretary took the chance to thank the sisters for making time to come. She appreciates the effort done by the Coordinating Team and Sr. Vilma in the preparation of this Assembly.  She especially mentioned the hard work that Sr. Ewa Piegdon has put into this activity as the representative of the Africa Continental Coordinating Team.

Sr. Gretta promised to share important information through the newly-created WhatsApp platform. She also encouraged everybody to take small steps, talk to somebody, network and connect with others. She also encouraged the participants to talk with the Provincial/Regional to plan the echo of this Assembly to the sisters.

Sr. Ewa Piegdon thanked everybody for their active participation from the beginning to the end of the Assembly. She also thanked Sr. Maria Vilma for the time and service she spent as the immediate past Continental JPIC Coordinator. The day closed with Holy Mass presided over by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie, CSSp. His deep insight and reflection on JPIC/VIVAT were an added value to the input from other speakers/resource persons in the previous days.

Day 4: May 1, 2019: the final day of the Assembly, the participants visited “Positive Action for Porter Girls Centre” in Medina Market, Accra. The Centre is a joint initiative of SVD and SSpS in Ghana. Today this initiative has grown into an NGO offering services like counselling, education both formal and informal, and health services to porter girls. The participants interacted with the young girls and listened to their stories on the genesis of their becoming “Kayaye” (porter). The kayaye is one manifestation of internal migration of young girls from the northern part of Ghana. They are literally street girls whose occupation is to carry head pans to transport things of market shoppers. In two groups the sisters walked through the extremely busy and crowded Medina market to the little shacks where the girls sleep after a day’s work.  One group interacted with the lady who takes care of the little children of porter girls. These children are anywhere from a few months to 5 years old. The porter girls are often easy targets for sexual abuse. Their living conditions were inhuman and unsafe. There were moments where the sisters were sobbing with tears when they heard the hardships and struggles of porter girls’ survival stories.

The 2019 African JPIC Assembly ended with one of the realities that confronts and challenges the SSpS missionary hearts – the heart-breaking migration crisis – in the lives of our young Ghanaian porter girls. The goals of the Assembly with its theme: “Communion within our Congregation through our Commitment to MA/JPIC” was successfully and meaningfully achieved.

In the evening, the participants gathered at St. Mary’s convent in Accra for prayer and a meal with the community.