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Zambian Oblates Attend 25th Africa Faith and Justice Network Conference

April 29th, 2008

Four Zambian Oblate scholastics from Sexton house of studies in San Antonio, Texas attended the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) 25th anniversary in Virginia on April 18-21. AFJN is a coalition of United States based Catholic religious congregations and diocesan organizations that have relationship to Africa. AFJN advocates for responsible U.S. policy towards Africa by engaging U.S. policymakers on human rights, peace building and sustainable development.

During this 25th anniversary, AFJN looked back at the past two years to assess how it has shown solidarity with Africa. AFJN has been able to carry out its mandate of bringing the voices of Africans to the US police makers through the reports of individual missionaries in the field and support from congregations such as the Missionary Oblates, represented by Deacon Barnabas Simatende, Br Kennedy Katongo, Br Emmanuel Bwalya and Br Sidney Musonda from Sexton house of studies in San Antonio, Texas. (See Reflections below)

One keynote speaker was Ishmael Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier“, a former child soldier during a civil war in Sierra Leone. At the age 12, Beak was recruited by the Sierra Leone Army and trained to use AK-47 with orders to shot anything that moved. Beah, now almost 27, brought to the conference the brutality of Africa’s civil conflicts.

Some missionaries at the conference worked in Sierra Leone when the conflict occurred; they too shared the terror of that war and difficulty choices they had to make about their personal safety and mission work.

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was another keynote speaker who joined the conference through a Live video conference. Dr Sachs made an expert assessment on US/Africa policy and challenges and opportunities for the next US President.

Participants of the conference had opportunities to attend workshops on Militarization of U.S. policy towards Africa, resource exploitation, and strategies for twinning (partnerships) of parishes/dioceses in the US and Africa. Roundtable discussions were organized to bring 25 years of experience to planning for action on issues such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic and ending conflicts such as those in Zimbabwe, Congo DR and Sudan. Building coalitions with other Africa advocacy groups was identified as an important step, especially with the European Africa Faith and Justice Network, which was present at the meeting.

At each annual meeting, AFJN recognizes the outstanding work of individuals or organizations in Africa. The AFJN Award Ceremony 2008 recipient is Catholic Relief Services.

The annual Members Meeting adopted two legislative ‘asks’ for the US Congress; to oppose a new Military U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and help to end conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These legislative ‘Asks’ were used by participants during meetings with their members of the US Congress on Monday, April 21.

The closing liturgy was celebrated in a truly African atmosphere with an approved rite of mass from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a 25th Anniversary to remember!!

Reflections by Zambian Oblates on the AFJN 25TH Anniversary

Deacon Barnabas Simatende OMI

“To dehumanize another is to dehumanize yourself” Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

This and many other expressions of solidarity with the suffering peoples of Africa were some of the highlights of the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) conference held in Washington on the 25th Anniversary of its foundation. The conference was an eye opener into issues of Social and Economic Justice affecting the continent of Africa at large, and consequently the global village itself. The Church continues to make strenuous efforts to highlight human suffering and the policies that dehumanize people. AFJN facilitated the recognition of at least two major themes: Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore, deserves the respect and an equal share of global resources; all human beings belong to a realm of interconnectedness.

Bro. Musonda Sydney, OMI

My experience at AFJN was wonderful and life-giving. The first profound experience was that of community, I felt as if I was in Zambia. Secondly, it brought more conviction to me that we are all inter-connected and the policies that are made in a particular region (e.g. powerful nation) affects everyone and the poor usually suffer if the policies are unjust. I also came to realize that there are a lot of people of goodwill who are trying to help the African Continent but most of the time, their contributions go unnoticed. It was also a powerful moment to meet individuals, especially students who have been appealing to those in influential positions to change policies, particularly those which continue to oppress the poor. I would therefore, encourage everyone, whether he/she is from Africa or not, to attend this conference and learn from it because what was shared is not only of African concern but the concern of the human race.

Bro. Emmanuel Mulenga, OMI

The conference was very well organized, and relevant to the current reality concerning the continent of Africa. The fact that we are becoming more and more of a global village was reflected at the conference through the participants who, despite being of different ethnicities and nationalities, desire the realization of the same goal-justice and the common good for all Africans. The conference was also a reminder of the beauty of globalization, yet also of the injustices and inequalities that can come with it. I pray that more of such sensitization will continue.

Bro. Katongo Kennedy, OMI

This was certainly a great moment of learning and searching for alternatives policies that will help promote conditions to allow the poorest people in Africa and other developing countries lift themselves out of poverty. Thus, as an Oblate serving the Church in Africa, these issues are core to our charism. These issues challenge our evangelization process and continue to draw us to reach out to the poor with their many faces. The group discussions were very helpful and the general interactions presented opportunities for us to share deeply and personally on some of the issues. Many thanks to the JPIC office in Washington DC for their support and encouragement.

It was an insightful experience for which we greatly appreciated the opportunity to be part. Should similar opportunities be available again in the future, we unanimously recommend that scholastics are given an opportunity to attend as such gatherings are resourceful and an eye opener to issues of global concern, a necessary aspect of our formation as we attend to and strive to live out the call of our founder- zeal for the salvation of souls.

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