SVD-SSpS MISSION ANIMATION

 BULLETIN BOARD #68
Rome - 09 May 2005 for SSpS and SVD Mission Secretaries and Mission Animators

 

In this bulletin:

 

1. Switzerland - MISSION WITH REFUGEES

2. Tamil Nadu - SSpS AND SVD FOR TSUNAMI RELIEF

3. Tamil Nadu - WOMEN REBUILDING LIVES 

4.  Rome - MISNA, NEWS FOR AND BY MISSIONARIES

 


 

1. Switzerland - MISSION WITH REFUGEES

 

In many parts of the world SVD and SSpS missionaries are working with refugees and migrants. Sr. Miriam Fromaget SSpS, who is currently working in generalate administration in Rome, was until recently assigned in Switzerland. There an important part of her ministry was outreach to refugees and asylum seekers. She shares the following reflections.

One of the five Centers that receives asylum seekers in Switzerland is situated in Kreuzlingen at the German border. With Sr. Nicola Kaiser SSpS, I was a member of an ecumenical team that regularly visited asylum seekers.

Many asked, where are they all coming from? Who are they? Over the past three years I met people from Tibet, Mongolia, China, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Congo, Angola, Nigeria, Ex-Yugoslavia, Russia, Ukraine, Roma and Sinti from Eastern Europe, Kurds from Iraq and Turkey, Albanians from the various countries of ex-Yugoslavia, Palestinians from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Most of them will not receive refugee status and will have to leave again.

What was it like to visit the refugee center? I would enter the big hall – which served as dining room, TV room, and place to drop in during the "business hours" of the day from 9 to 11 am and 2 to 5 pm. It was during that time that the asylum seekers would stroll through Kreuzlingen. One could recognize them easily; they were the people who walked slowly up and down the main street, usually in small groups - they were people who had time...

In the big hall, there could be up to one hundred persons: sitting at the tables, some playing, some sleeping, others speaking, some sitting in silence and sadness. I would approach them though sometimes I had no way to make myself understood. Usually, though, there was someone who could help out with translation. Once, in a three step translation, a Russian father was holding up his child and speaking to me quite insistently. First a man from Iraq translated to a language I could not understand, then another man joined us and explained to me in German that the father wanted to have his two children baptized. Another time it was a little girl of the Roma people (gypsies) who translated what her adult relatives wanted to tell me.

Once a young woman from Algeria was sharing her rather dramatic story, she was extremely sad. I listened to her and remained in silence for a while. Then I started to share with her about some points that unite Moslems and Christians. After a little while her face suddenly became shiny and she said: "Now I have hope again!"

Mostly Africans asked that we pray together. Right then and there they bowed their heads and we prayed. We also invited them to the respective churches in town. The Muslims were invited to go to the Moslem prayer house in town. It was maintained by Muslims who had come from Turkey some 10-15 years ago. However most of the asylum seekers preferred to use the small prayer room in the refugee center itself.

AgaThu Social Center: Sometimes people would ask me, "what can you do for us?" My answer normally was, "very little." But one thing I could do was give them information about AgaThu, an NGO related to VIVAT International. It is a meeting place in town where refugees could feel at home, have some coffee or tea and, above all, where there were some volunteers who had time for them. Time, if necessary, to explain things or just to have a conversation. Time to listen to them. Once a young Albanian was talking quite a while with the only male volunteer at AgaThu. The next day he came back and asked: "Where is the man? , the one like my father, like my father…"

Legal Problems: In addition there was in the same building an office for legal advice. Even if there was not much chance that a negative decision regarding asylum would be changed, the asylum seekers had the opportunity to exercise their right to appeal and to do it in a legal way. Asylum seekers who do not meet the requirements of our law have to leave the country. Those who agree to return to their home country are offered help, flight tickets, and a certain amount of money. The others are given a railway ticket to any place on the Swiss border. It is one thing to read about such things in the news and quite a different one to be at the railway station facing these persons. They have a face, a name, a destiny. I felt very helpless and deeply sad. Sometimes the only thing I could do was sit at their side in silence on the bench at the station.

Protest: At one point we wrote protest letters to our Church leaders and to the organizations that help refugees. We also gave a short interview on the radio. It was like a drop of water in the ocean, but I felt the need to make at least one small gesture. Once a forum was held for the Pastoral Teams of the Refugees Centers. In attendance were the respective delegates of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Protestant Churches, the Old Catholic Church and the Jewish communities, and there were officials of the federal government. We were given a chance to dialogue with them. We could express our great worry about some new, more restrictive laws regarding asylum and its painful consequences. Now several months have past since the implementation of the new laws and it is known that most of those who were asked to leave Switzerland did not leave. They have gone "underground" and nobody knows exactly where they are or how many they are.

It is consoling for me to know that various churches and other organizations have taken up the task to help refugees. Several local government authorities have also taken action in favor of them, in spite of the new law. If you ask me whether it is worthwhile to visit asylum seekers, I would certainly say, "do it." Even if one can do very little, a visit can be very important for people in this difficult situation. I learned this lesson when I was waiting near the entrance of the refugee center some time ago. A young man came up to me, and smiling he said, "Three years ago, when I arrived here, you asked me how I was."

[Contact Sr. Miriam at sspscurach@pcn.net.]

 

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2. Tamil Nadu - SSpS AND SVD FOR TSUNAMI RELIEF

 

Fr. Lazar SVD, the provincial of the Hyderabad Province, continues to send periodic updates about the rebuilding efforts after the tsunami disaster. His mid-April report stresses the collaborative efforts of SVDs and SSpS.

This is just to brief you about the participation of the Arnoldus Family in tsunami work. I have made my fourth visit to the Tsunami affected areas. Two times the Tamil Nadu District of Divine Word Missionaries met to discuss the issues connected with Tsunami. In the second meeting the confreres proposed a team of Arnoldus Family in collaboration with the SSpS Sisters and our confreres. Subsequently, the four SVD Provinces along with the Sisters formed a team and pitched our tent in the centre of the Tsunami areas. Now we have two Sisters, six scholastics and one priest fully involved in this project.

In our latest meeting with the team of two Sisters and six confreres, on April 6 in Kanyakumari District, a rather detailed Action Plan was worked out along with the JPIC coordinator Fr. J. Felix SVD.

It is our belief that with your kind support and prayers we will be able to carry out this mission well.

A study conducted by our confreres has revealed six tasks for reconstruction.  The action plan focuses on these six tasks. They are:

[Contact Fr. Lazar at svdinh@sancharnet.in.]

 

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3. Tamil Nadu - WOMEN REBUILDING LIVES 

 

Br. Joseph Anthu SVD, of the Hyderabad Province, has visited the tsunami affected areas several times. His report stresses the role of women in the reconstruction.

With a delegation from the Hyderabad province I visited Pondicherry-Cuddolore, a part of Tamilnadu that experienced the killer wave. Almost a month after the disaster we could still see the signs of destruction far and wide.

Two things really struck me at first. On the one hand, there was the curiosity of the people. Thousands of onlookers from all over India and abroad thronged to these costal areas. And on the other hand, there was the great generosity of the average individuals. Even a month after the tsunami, people were coming in trucks, vans, and cars carrying food and clothing and other utility articles.

Visits by VIPS: Ministers and politicians were also coming in and out, making the customary promises. The local administration rose to the occasion by providing temporary shelter and food to the affected areas. However, the food became something of a problem. The ready-made food brought by the visitors was not really liked by the people of the area and after sometime they wanted their own cooking.

Women's Self Help Groups: One very important factor that got my attention was the post-tsunami gender roles. While before it was the men who brought in the money, now it is the women who have taken over, silently and swiftly rebuilding livelihoods. As we walked into any street in any of the costal villages that were tsunami affected, we found many men wasting time in gambling and alcohol while women were pitching up shelters, getting the children back to school and negotiating or bargaining with government officials over relief. The women have formed self-help groups. One such is the Kalaslevi Magalir Kuzhu, a local organization consisting of only women. (Kalaiselvi is a name of a goddess, Magalir means women and Kuzhu means group). My contact with this particular group gave me lots of insight into the women-power coming to the fore now. The organization lobbies with aid-givers and NGOs to get the best possible shelter arrangements and community kitchen. But, above all, it counsels distraught survivors and cajoles them out of depression.

With the loss of livelihood pushing the men into alcoholic coma, the women are putting the pieces back together. I was delighted with this emergence of women-power. In many places, the women's willingness to cooperate with the NGOs and government administration has made a world of difference. Direct linkage was established with other women's groups for vocational training and full market assistance. Kausalya, a young woman from one of the groups said to me: "Thankfully, for the first time, both donors and the government seem to believe us more than men."

Fish prices: In the post tsunami situation, fish prices are falling drastically, threatening the livelihood of costal families. Many people are refusing to eat fish and other seafood for fear that the fish have been contaminated by the numerous human corpses dragged out of the sea. Kerala state, where seafood has been an important part of the diet, is one area where people are turning their backs on seafood. Most of the restaurants have stricken fish items from their menu. The lack of demand for fish has pushed prices down, driving fisher folk, most of them Catholics, into utter poverty.

Hope: As a whole, the victims of the tsunami seem to live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; hunger, poverty, oppression and exploitation will vanish; and people will be able to live like before. And there are many good people trying to help realize the dreams of the victims of tsunami.

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4. Rome - MISNA, NEWS FOR AND BY MISSIONARIES

 

Mission secretaries and mission animators are always looking for information about other parts of the world. That is because one part of our task is to help people become more aware of their brothers and sisters on "the other side of the world." MISNA, the Missionary Service News Agency, is a good source of information about the people we most care about. Last year, the SVD became partners in a group of missionary congregations that direct MISNA, the Missionary Service News Agency. We join together with PIME, Comboni, Xaverian and Consolata missionaries to provide an alternative source of information.

MISNA is a press agency which focuses its reporting on political, economic, social, religious and cultural aspects of the world's South. Founded in December 1997, it releases around fifty news updates per day and forty-some special service bulletins each month. What makes MISNA truly unique is that its privileged sources are the thousands of missionaries spread around the world.

Currently MISNA produces its bulletins in English, Italian and French. The opening of a Spanish language service is being actively planned at this time. Cesare Baldi PIME - Codirector of MISNA visited the SVD generalate on 5 May 2005. I asked him a couple of questions about MISNA.

What is MISNA? MISNA stands for Missionary Service News Agency. At our press office here in Rome we gather information from missionaries all over the world, and produce press bulletins that are published on the internet. Many other news broadcasters pick up the news items we gather and transmit them to the wider public.

MISNA is an instrument in the hands of the missionaries. The information for the stories we write comes from the missionaries around the world who are living among the people. So often, reporters from big news agencies barely get away from their hotels and their telephones. They can't know the situation as well as someone who is making a life among the people. Often, missionaries are the best sources for stories that would otherwise go unreported. Of course, MISNA is very careful to protect the identity of individual missionaries to minimize the chance that their reporting could lead to reprisals.

MISNA is one effort to help give a voice to the voiceless. But t needs to be used. Use it.

Why does the world need a news agency like MISNA? We live in a world full of information, we are swimming in a huge ocean of information. The trouble is that information is slanted from so many different perspectives depending on the interests of the sources. Hidden political and economic interests can make it difficult to evaluate the news we consume every day. The Editor in Chief of MISNA, Mariano Benni, likes to talk about GMI - Genetically Modified Information! We try to provide information that is less modified by hidden agendas. We try and maintain balance, and we maintain our autonomy. The information that we want to publish is that which matters to those people who are often left without a voice in today's world.

[Contact MISNA on the web at www.misna.org. For more information about SVD participation in MISNA contact the SVD communications coordinator at the generalate, Niels Johansen, at svd.communications@verbodivino.it.]

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Items for the SVD/SSpS Mission Animation Bulletin Board can be sent to:

Tom Ascheman SVD

Mary John K. SSpS

SVD Generalate Mission Secretary

SSpS Generalate Mission Secretary

Divine Word Missionaries

Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters

svd.missec@verbodivino.it

Missec@pcn.net