Tuesday 28 October 2014

Japan and the Philippines - Against the death penalty, for a justice that is respectful of humanity and life

Over the past two weeks two important conferences have been focusing on the Asian cultural debate on the death penalty. They were organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio in the context of the “Cities for Life” campaign. The conferences which took place in Tokyo and Manila during these past days provided an opportunity to discuss, in an elevated and in-depth way, human rights, the value of and respect for life, and the abolition of the death penalty even in the continent in which the majority of states, still today, continue to contemplate it in their laws. 
In Manila, the delegates of a variety of Asian countries - the Philippines, obviously, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia - thirty mayors of cities who have joined “Cities of Life”, and representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, endeavored to build a dialogue platform useful to those countries that have recently abolished the death penalty or are about to embark on a journey to a moratorium on executions. The point is to rediscover, while fully respecting the Asian cultural and religious heritage, those values of humanity and justice that are at the heart of those populations as they are of all populations. 
Similar themes had already been addressed the previous week in Tokyo, in the halls of the Diet, the Japanese parliament. There, representatives of the institutions, activists from the
campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, witnesses to the injustice and arbitrariness of the latter, together with Mario Marazziti, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Italian parliament and Alberto Quattrucci, of the Community of Sant’Egidio, had emphasized the human and legal magnitude of the challenge represented by abolitionism.
The meeting in Tokyo included a highly emotional moment with the intervention of Iwao Hakamada who spent 46 years on death row as an innocent man: “Ten thousand days without leaving my cell” he stated (you can read about this on www.santegidio.com), “without knowing if, on the other side of the door, there was the attendant bringing me dinner or the firing squad”.
A wind of humanism and life blows therefore in Asia, just while we record the authoritative words of Pope Francis who, at a meeting with members of the International Association for Criminal Law, invited “all Christians and people of good will to fight for the abolition of the death penalty, be it legal or illegal, and in all its forms”. 

Friday 24 October 2014

Rome, Italy - Sant’Egidio and the Synod fathers remember persecuted Christians

The Synod of Bishops on the family has recently ended. It was summoned - as Pope Francis said in his homily for the beatification of Paul VI - “to respond with courage to the numerous challenges of the present”, to “take care of the wounds that bleed and to reignite the hope of many people without hope”.
Among the wounds in the heart of the Church one is certainly the difficult condition experienced around the world by many Christians who endure marginalization, discrimination and persecution. This is among the issues being addressed on October 20th, in the presence of the Patriarchs of the East, in the Consistory which also discusses the Christians in the Middle East and the commitment of the Church for peace in that region.
In the same spirit, on Sunday October 12th, in the Basilica of Saint Bartholomew, the Synod fathers from Europe, Africa and Asia prayed together with the Community of Sant’Egidio,
commemorating those who lost their lives for the Gospel and invoking peace and protection for those who are being persecuted in our time. 
Remembering the Christians who suffer in the Middle East and elsewhere, Cardinal Schonbom, archbishop of Vienna, said: “Martyrdom is also history and testimony of the profound unity among the Churches in the midst of tribulations”. It is a unity which is plastically visible in a Basilica whose side chapels house relics of martyrs from all persuasions and celebrate consistently a history of both suffering and redemption, the two faces of the 1900s and of the century that just began.  

Saturday 11 October 2014

Conakry, Republic of Guinea - DREAM Program against Ebola too

On the website www.dream.santegidio.org the last published page focuses on the commitment that the DREAM project, created to address the AIDS pandemic in Africa, is now turning against the outbreak of Ebola virus, in particular in the Republic of Guinea.
Ebola infection is unfortunately booming in West Africa. Since last March there are about 7,000 infected and more than 3,000 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
In the Republic of Guinea, especially in Conakry, Dobreka and Fassia, DREAM has to cope with a major emergency. Panic is large, people are suspicious of everyone, afraid of getting
closer to health facilities.
DREAM has therefore enhanced prevention measures (hand washing with chlorinated water, gloves, masks, etc., for sampling and laboratory analysis) to protect both staff and patients, and the ones who were no longer attending the appointments have been contacted. The Program also began a campaign of health education and awareness about the routes of transmission of Ebola virus and the appropriate preventive measures.
It’s important that in this time DREAM centers continue to be a reference, especially for those who are afraid, confused, not knowing what to do.
DREAM has been included in the protocols for epidemiological surveillance in three prefectures of Guinea. The Program will carry out screening for AIDS patients and their families, monitoring those who have had a contact with a person with Ebola or who have symptoms referable to the disease.

Friday 10 October 2014

Bujumbura, Burundi - The elderly are at the center of Sant’Egidio’s commitment to that country

On October 1st, we celebrated the International Day of the Elderly, established by the United Nations in 1990. For the occasion, the Sant’Egidio Community of Burundi gathered all those - institutional or other - who are interested in the elderly’s condition to reflect on the social protection of the elderly in Burundi.
Burundi is one of the youngest countries in the world, with a fertility index of 6.4 children per woman and a population growth rate of 3.1%. On the other hand, the increase in life
expectancy, the improvement of living conditions, etc. suggest that over the coming decades the population will experience a very rapid aging process. It is therefore important that the key national players in Burundi assess the current reality and future prospective of the elderly in that country. A vision for the future is necessary.
At the center of the conference organized by Sant’Egidio were the social protection of the elderly in Burundi and the attitude of those around them.
Today, support for the elderly is primarily based on family networks. The overwhelming majority of the population in Burundi does not have a retirement option, as the term is used in the North of the world. Pensions are restricted to public employees and a few employees of the private sector. There is also no guarantee for the elderly in terms of health services under Burundi’s welfare system. It will be necessary therefore to “sensitize the nation” promoting greater protection for the elderly and develop a more empathetic outlook towards the old Burundians. This had already been stated in February in a similar workshop attended by Mons. Matteo Zuppi. Far from being a problem or a burden, the elderly are - quoting his presentation from a few months ago - “a resource for society”, because it is time to build or strengthen “an alliance among generations”.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Abuja, Nigeria - Working for peace in times of violence

The representatives of the different communities of Sant’Egidio in Nigeria gathered a few days ago in Abuja, the capital of the African giant, to reflect on the challenges facing the church association in the country. In particular they addressed the need to take on the responsibility to testify and communicate peace even in a context marked both by pervasive
violence and - most of all - the threat from the Boko Haram movement, whose terrorist operations shield themselves behind a religious vocabulary.
The representatives asked themselves how to ensure for Nigeria a future of peace, how to establish relationships built on friendship and reciprocal respect with religious leaders, the members of the different faiths, the youth, and how to be a seed of dialogue and of a unifying and compassionate perspective for society.
The Nigerian communities intend to fully live up to the mandate that Pope Francis gave Sant’Egidio on the occasion of his visit to the Community in Rome on June 15th, by implementing the three “Ps” mentioned by the Pope: “Go forth on this path: prayer, the poor and peace. And proceeding this way promote the growth of compassion in the heart of society, and of friendship in the place of the ghosts of enmity and indifference.”