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Standing in solidarity with the world’s persecuted minorities

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 9, 2015

Displaced Iraqi Christians who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil. Photo: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

[Episcopal News Service] Church bombings, brutal beheadings, forced conversions and mass migration have become the shocking trademarks of extremist factions in the Middle East and Africa, persecuting religious minorities and wiping out Christian populations that in some places – such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt – date back to the first century.

For many in the West who see them only through the gaze of the media, these oppressed communities may seem a million miles away. For others, including many Episcopal and Anglican leaders, they are global neighbors, fellow Christians or interfaith partners, and people in urgent need of a lifeline.

“Jesus is pretty clear that our neighbors are sometimes, perhaps often, those we least expect or wish to overlook,” the Rev. Christopher Bishop, rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Radnor, Pennsylvania, told Episcopal News Service. “The only real difference between us and someone in Mosul or Kirkuk, for example, is bad, bad luck. We need to act on their behalf just as – were the roles reversed – we would long for them to act upon ours.”

Displaced Iraqi Christians who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil. Photo: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Bishop and his parishioners have chosen action over inaction and are committed to walking alongside the displaced Christian communities that are living in tents, abandoned buildings and basements in Erbil, Iraq.

The church has launched the ministry and website Stand With Iraqi Christians, and one of its members lives and works in Erbil. Bishop is planning to travel to Erbil in the coming months “to deliver financial, emotional, and communications support and to build relationships with the communities of survivors.”

According to the people Bishop knows in Erbil, “the situation for everyone, particularly the Christian minorities, is simply desperate,” he said. “We know it’s not just the Christians being brutalized – it’s Muslims, it’s Yazidis, it’s basically anybody who is not committed to the medieval orthodoxy of the Daesh,” the Arabic name for the self-styled Islamic State, the extremist rebel group that controls territory in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria and is attempting to enforce a strict and draconian version of Sharia law.

A displaced Iraqi Christian child who fled with his family from Islamic State militants in Mosul, rocks the cradle of his brother in a school, which is now used as a refugee camp in Erbil. Photo: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

“The mission at St. Martin’s is ‘to seek God, and be Christ’s body in the world,’” said Bishop. “This crisis transcends religious boundaries and nations, and hopefully can inspire all of us to act. If we are going to claim this powerful and empowering witness to God’s reason for our being, that means reaching out the hand of friendship and support to those near and far who are suffering or in need of loving.”

Americans and Europeans often think of Christianity as being Western, he said. But “its origins, obviously, are in the Middle East. The idea that faithful Christian communities dating back to the first century after Christ will be forever extinguished is beyond catastrophic – it ought to utterly horrify all of us who treasure the gorgeous continuities that these churches represent to our current prayer, liturgical and communal lives. It makes me feel first mournful, then motivated.”

The Rev. Bill Schwartz, an Anglican priest based in Qatar and an Episcopal Church missionary since 1993, regularly visits Iraq. Having returned from Baghdad three weeks ago, he said there is a clear sense of dismay among many Iraqis about the exclusively conservative Sunnis called Daesh, and the corruption in the Iraqi government and its inability to protect its citizens.

“The Daesh are intolerant of anyone who disagrees with their perspective, and that perspective doesn’t seem to be consistent,” said Schwarz, whose recently published book, “Islam: A Religion, A Culture, A Society,” addresses the complexities of faith in Islamic contexts. “Many Sunni Muslims are also denigrated and persecuted by Daesh forces … The recent monocultural presentation of Islam that Daesh is promoting has created a polarization in Iraqi society between those who are exclusive and those who wish the society to be inclusive.”

While reluctant to condone violence of any kind, Schwarz said that he believes the military offensive against Daesh “is unfortunately necessary for the protection of those oppressed and for the security of the world.”

The Rev. Bill Schwartz, an Anglican priest and an Episcopal Church missionary based in Qatar, delivers an address at the opening ceremony of the Anglican Centre in Qatar. Photo: Ginger Camel

Schwartz, archdeacon of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, and manager of the Anglican Centre in Qatar, also acknowledged that the Iraqi government needs to crackdown on corruption in its ranks so the country can begin to function normally and prepare for “re-creation of civil society with secure social parameters so that people can learn to trust each other and live together.” He added that “huge amounts of funding and investment” are necessary to rebuild ruined cities and societies, as well as investment in job creation.

The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council at its March meeting passed a resolution condemning the use of religion for the purpose of advancing political agendas “directed at terrorizing, victimizing, and oppressing individuals and communities and impairing their ability to enjoy basic human rights because of their religious beliefs and social, ethnic, class, caste, gender, and national affiliations.”

The resolution also calls on the world’s governments “to confront the reality of religious persecution, protect religious minorities and civilians within the framework of international and humanitarian law, address political exclusion and economic desperation that are being manipulated by the forces of extremists, scale up humanitarian and development assistance to host countries and trusted NGOs, and accept for resettlement a fair share of the most vulnerable people where return to their countries of origin is impossible.”

Not more than two weeks after Executive Council had passed its resolution, the world was mourning the deaths of more than 150 Kenyan students, mostly Christians, targeted in a pre-dawn attack at Garissa University on April 2 by a gang of Islamic extremists claiming to be affiliated with Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group.

In his Easter Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the students were martyrs, “caught up in the resurrection: their cruel deaths, the brutality of their persecution, their persecution is overcome by Christ himself at their side because they share his suffering, at their side because he rose from the dead. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the cruel are overcome, evil is defeated, martyrs conquer.”

Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of the Anglican Church of Kenya described the attack as “a calculated manifestation of evil designed to destroy our nation and our faith,” but he said that their deaths will not be in vain, just as “Jesus’s death upon the cross was not in vain. By his death, death has been destroyed … We call on the government to do all in its power to protect the lives of its citizens and we call on the world community to recognize that this latest outrage is not just an attack on Kenya, but part of an assault on world peace. The time has come for the world to unite as never before in defeating this growing menace.”

As many in the United States and other Western countries are challenged with how to address extremism and persecution in the Middle East and Africa, Executive Council encouraged all Episcopalians “to engage in prayers, support, education, and advocacy for displaced people and the churches that are providing succor and hope to those displaced people who have been uprooted by conflict and living in refugee camps.”

The West can also show support and solidarity, Schwarz in Qatar said, through generosity in giving to relief efforts; investment, both through large corporations and small mission groups; and through the fostering of political will to look at the long-term problems rather than simply the next election (in the United States and Europe as well as in Iraq).

The Rev. Canon Robert Edmunds, Middle East partnership officer for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, said: “We sometimes hear the term ‘Christian presence’ in the Middle East and it sounds passive and lacking in vitality when the truth of the matter for those who live there is quite different. The Christian presence throughout the region is about Christians whose family and religious roots reach back to the time of Christ. These are not sojourners in a strange and foreign land, but people whose lives are an integral part of the landscape, the history, the culture and the traditions which have and continue to shape each generation.”

The presence of the indigenous Christian churches “provides the language of love of God and all neighbors which is in danger of being silenced,” Edmunds added. “We in the West must continue to give these atrocities visibility both in terms of solidarity with our brother and sister Christians, but to encourage political leaders to seek lasting and durable solutions for peace for the benefit of all. To lose the indigenous Christian voice in the region would be catastrophic for the future.”

Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq was home to about 1.5 million Christians – about 5 percent of the population – who trace their roots back almost 2,000 years. Today, fewer than 400,000 Christians remain.

Some of those Christians have fled to neighboring countries, many of which have their own issues of instability and extremism, and are struggling to meet the basic demands of the increased influx of refugees. Others find their way to more stable countries throughout Europe and beyond.

In July 2014, France responded to the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq by offering asylum to Christians from Mosul, home to one of the Middle East’s oldest Christian communities.

The Association d’Entraide aux Minorités d’Orient (Association to Aid Middle Eastern Minorities), established in 2007 by Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and Iraqi businessman Elish Yako, assists some of the refugees with their integration into society.

Many of the refugees are members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which dates back to the first century, when the region around Iraq was known as Babylon.

“For them,” Yako told ENS, “the most important thing is their freedom … and to practice their religion without being afraid of terrorists and [of someone] kidnapping their children.”

Yako stays in regular contact with every family the association has helped to resettle, including, for instance, a family of four – mother, father, son and daughter – that lives about 18 miles south of Paris. They moved to France in 2009 after receiving repeated death threats. The children told ENS that they are happy finally to practice their religion freely and they are proud of it.

“These people ought still to be in Iraq,” Whalon told ENS. “A lot of them still own homes. They never wanted to leave them. They lease them out; they expect to return. Of course, today the situation is impossible. So of course we want Christians to stay [in Iraq], but we want them to live.

“The ones that can live to tell the tale, they witness to the power of God,” he added. “It says a great deal to me about the value of what we do and what we are in the world.”

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

Peregrinos investigan sobre los refugiados y el proceso de reasentamiento en Ruanda y Kenia

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 9, 2015

El campamento de refugiados de Gihembe alberga a 14.500 refugiados congoleses que han buscado refugio en Ruanda. Foto de Lynette Wilson/ENS.

[Episcopal News Service] A poco más de una hora en auto en las afueras de Kigali, la capital de Ruanda, 14.500 congoleses viven encima de una loma y en su falda en chozas de barro colorado, enclavadas en el interior del país, lejos de la provincia de Kivu Norte, de la República Democrática del Congo, de donde la mayoría de ellos huyó del conflicto armado y de la violencia a mediados de los años 90.

El campamento de refugiados de Gihembe se estableció en 1997 luego que milicias armadas masacraran a refugiados congoleses que habían encontrado albergue en un campamento de refugiados en el noroeste de Ruanda. Muchos residentes han pasado tal vez dos décadas en Gihembe, uno de los cinco campamentos de refugiados en Ruanda que atiende a 74.000 de ellos, más de la mitad menores de 18 años.

Desde 1998, más de 5,5 millones de personas han muerto en el Congo debido a la violencia armada, las enfermedades y la desnutrición; 2,5 millones se han visto desplazadas internamente y unos 500.000 han huido del largo conflicto del país, la vasta mayoría de los cuales vive en campamentos de refugiados en las regiones de los Grandes Lagos y en el Cuerno de África. Los refugiados congoleses constituyen la sexta población de refugiados del mundo y el 18 por ciento del total de los refugiados de África.

De los más de 500.000 refugiados congoleses en la región, se estima que 160.000 cumplen las condiciones para optar por un reasentamiento, según el Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (UNHCR, por su sigla en inglés).

Dado el número, lo mucho que ha durado el conflicto y el que no haya ninguna señal de paz, el UNHCR y sus asociados han priorizado en los últimos años el reasentamiento de los refugiados congoleses. El objetivo es 50.000 para 2017 —de los cuales el 80 por ciento estaría destinado a venir a Estados Unidos.

Paul Kenya, funcionario para el reasentamiento de la UNHCR en Ruanda; Deborah Stein, directora del Ministerio Episcopal de Migración y peregrinos de #ShareTheJourney escuchan al Dr. Pascal Kalinda Murego hablar acerca de la salud de los refugiados y de los servicios de salud que se ofrecen en el campamento de Gihembe. Foto de Lynette Wilson/ENS.

A principios de marzo, ocho episcopales participaron en una peregrinación del grupo #ShareTheJourney auspiciado por la Sociedad Misionera Nacional y Extranjera (DFMS) a la región de los Grandes Lagos de África y visitaron Gihembe para imponerse de las dificultades de los refugiados congoleses y del Programa de Estados Unidos para la Admisión de Refugiados.

La DFMS [Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society] es el nombre con el cual la Iglesia Episcopal está incorporada, funciona empresarialmente y lleva a cabo la misión.

“El propósito”, dijo Deborah Stein, directora del Ministerio Episcopal de Migración, el servicio de reasentamiento de refugiados de la DFMS, era “mostrar la Iglesia Episcopal a través de las lentes de los refugiados congoleses que están destinados al reasentamiento, cómo funciona ese reasentamiento desde el principio hasta la llegada a EE.UU.

Fue también una oportunidad de inspirar a los peregrinos a convertirse en promotores de los refugiados, añadió Stein.

La peregrinación del 2 al 13 de marzo, incluyó escalas en Kenia y Ruanda, donde, además de visitar el campamento, los peregrinos se reunieron con representantes y funcionarios de reasentamiento que trabajan para el UNHCR, la Organización Internacional para la Migración, el Centro de Apoyo al Reasentamiento en África del Servicio Mundial de Iglesias y otros proveedores de servicios a refugiados y asociados en [la tarea del] reasentamiento.

A través del Ministerio Episcopal de Migración, la DFMS se asocia con 30 entidades de reasentamiento en 26 diócesis de toda la nación. Esta es una de nueve agencias —cinco de ellas de carácter religioso— que colaboran con el Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. para recibir y reubicar a refugiados en Estados Unidos.

La participación de la Iglesia Episcopal en la labor de reasentamiento se remonta por lo menos a la segunda guerra mundial, cuando las iglesias patrocinaron a refugiados que huían de la opresión nazi. A partir del Fondo del Obispo Primado para Ayuda Mundial (en la actualidad Agencia Episcopal de Ayuda y Desarrollo) y la posterior asociación con el Servicio Mundial de Iglesias, la DFMS estableció el Ministerio Episcopal de Migración en 1988.

Alumnos de una escuela primaria estudian en un aula del campamento de Gihembe. Más de la mitad de los 14.500 residentes del campo son menores de 18 años. Foto de Wendy Johnson/EMM.

Un refugiado es alguien que ha huido de su país de nacionalidad debido a “un temor bien fundado de persecución” por razones de raza, religión, etnia o filiación política o social. Se trata de un estatus internacionalmente reconocido y legalmente protegido .

Estados Unidos formalizó su programa de reasentamiento de refugiados con la Ley de Refugiados de 1980 en respuesta al creciente número de refugiados que huían del comunismo en el Sudeste Asiático. Hasta entonces, las iglesias habían patrocinado visas de refugiados, pero a mediados de los años setenta, ese proceso era insuficiente para responder a la necesidad, explicó Stein.

En la actualidad, hay 15,5 millones de refugiados en todo el mundo. el mandato del UNHCR es brindarles protección internacional a los refugiados.

El UNHCR se concentra fundamentalmente en la repatriación, o el regreso seguro al país de origen, seguido por la naturalización o la residencia legal en el país anfitrión. La tercera opción es el reasentamiento en uno de los más de 20 países en todo el mundo que aceptan refugiados. Globalmente, menos del 1 por ciento de los refugiados recibe [permiso de] reasentamiento, y de esos el 75 por ciento se destina a Estados Unidos.

“El éxito de los programas de reasentamiento depende de la asociación y la coordinación. Debemos contar con países para el reasentamiento dispuestos a recibir refugiados”, dijo Paul Kenya, funcionario de reasentamiento que trabaja para el UNHCR en Ruanda, en una entrevista con Episcopal News Service en Kigali. “También debes tener asociados para trabajar con el UNHCR en la identificación y para ayudar en el proceso de las entrevistas, la coordinación de los exámenes médicos y la logística del viaje. Incluso el gobierno de Ruanda nos ayuda en la verificación del estatus del refugiado y en otorgar visas para abandonar el país”.

A través de encuestas, la mayoría de los refugiados congoleses dice que no están dispuestos a regresar a su país debido a las condiciones del conflicto bélico que allí reina y porque no pueden recuperar sus tierras si regresan, explicó él.

“El reasentamiento se convierte, pues, en la única solución viable para la mayoría de estos refugiados”, dijo Kenya, añadiendo que el año pasado 2.000 congoleses fueron reasentados en Estados Unidos procedentes de campamentos en Ruanda. Esperamos continuar esta prometedora asociación con otra estrategia multianual que abarque los próximos tres o cuatro años, con un promedio de al menos 3.000 refugiados cada año”.

Una madre y un niño posan para una foto en el campamento de Gihembe. La mayoría de las familias del campamento están encabezadas por una mujer soltera. Foto de Lynette Wilson/ENS.

Una vez identificado para el reasentamiento, ya sea por parte del UNHCR, de un gobierno anfitrión o de otro asociado, el caso del refugiado o de una familia de refugiados se remite al Centro de Apoyo al Reasentamiento en África del Servicio Mundial de Iglesias, que abarca 49 países subsaharianos y ayuda a la Oficina de Población, Refugiados y Migración del Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. a procesar refugiados para su posible admisión en Estados Unidos.

Las familias se procesan como un caso, siendo cinco miembros el tamaño promedio de una familia. Muchas familias refugiadas congolesas están encabezadas por mujeres, la mayoría de las cuales son sobrevivientes de traumas y de violencia sexual o de género.

Entre tanto, los peregrinos se enteraban — a través de reuniones con funcionarios importantes en las oficinas centrales de Nairobi del centro de apoyo a los refugiados— del proceso, que incluye extensivas verificaciones de antecedentes, que toma un promedio de dos años y que está sujeto a retraso por cualquier cambio que tenga lugar en la familia, tal como un matrimonio o un nacimiento. El Servicio de Ciudadanía e Inmigración de EE.UU., una división del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional, toma la determinación final en los casos destinados a los Estados Unidos.

“Preparamos muy bien la referencia del caso de manera que pueda pasar el proceso”, dijo Miro Marinovich, director del centro de apoyo.

Residentes del campamento de Gihembe se congregan en torno a la llave de agua para llenar sus bidones. La escasez de agua es usual en el campamento. Foto de Wendy Johnson/EMM.

Los refugiados han vivido con escasez de agua y comida y limitadas oportunidades de educación y de trabajo, añadió Marinovich. “Queremos garantizar que eso nunca les suceda otra vez”.

De los 174.000 refugiados en Ruanda, el 99 por ciento son congoleses, y la mayoría son mujeres y niños. El UNHCR comenzó a trabajar con países de reasentamiento en una estrategia multianual para reasentar refugiados congoleses en 2012, de los cuales llegó a identificar a 10.000 de ellos en campamentos de Ruanda.

Una vez que un acaso es aprobado para reasentamiento, el ritmo se acelera considerablemente. La Organización Internacional para la Migración o IOM, que maneja los exámenes médicos y los viajes, entra en funciones, trasladando a los refugiados a un centro de tránsito regional, donde permanecerán durante dos semanas pendientes de los últimos exámenes médicos y de las verificaciones de seguridad. Durante ese tiempo, comienzan las clases de orientación cultural.

Cuando los peregrinos visitaron un centro de tránsito en Nairobi, los niños jugaban afuera en un parque infantil con equipos plásticos, en tanto los adultos en el aula aprendían de economía y presupuestos. Además de salones dedicados a la vida en Canadá, Australia y Estados Unidos (que tiene dos de ellos), una cocina y un baño modelos familiarizan a los refugiados con las comodidades modernas.

Una báscula para pesar el equipaje de los pasajeros que se van está situada debajo de un toldo de metal, con sillas plásticas al lado. Un asiento de avión familiariza a los refugiados con el viaje aéreo. Para los que necesiten ropa de viaje, hay atuendos de ropa y zapatillas deportivas para los hombres y ropa más tradicional para las mujeres.

El relacionarse con asociados al reasentamiento del exterior le dio a los peregrinos una mejor idea del proceso y le permitió al personal del Ministerio Episcopal de Migración compartir información sobre lo que le sucede a los refugiados cuando llegan a Estados Unidos.

“Con mucha frecuencia las personas que participan del procesamiento en el exterior no tienen la menor idea de lo que sucede una vez que un refugiado sube a un avión y viene a Estados Unidos”, dijo Stein. “En consecuencia, así como somos capaces de aprender de nuestros colegas en el UNHCR, la IOM y el centro de apoyo al reasentamiento de refugiados, también podemos compartir información con ellos acerca de lo que les sucede a los refugiados cuando llegan a Estados Unidos”.

Paul Kenya, funcionario de reasentamiento que trabaja en Ruanda para el Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados, y Jessica Benson de la Diócesis de Idaho, hablan con estudiantes en una clase de Ingles como Segundo Idioma en el campamento de Gihembe. Foto de Lynette Wilson/ENS.

Durante una reunión comunitaria en el campamento de Gihembe, los refugiados, muchos de ellos frustrados por los años que llevan viviendo en el campamento, estaban desesperados por obtener información acerca de sus casos particulares y lo que podía hacerse para adelantarlos. Pese a que les dijeron que los peregrinos no podían responder a preguntas acerca del proceso, sino más bien ofrecerles información sobre la vida en Estados Unidos, ellos vieron una oportunidad de preguntar por sus casos individuales.

La República Democrática del Congo es el segundo país de África en extensión territorial y el cuarto en población, con más de 80 millones de habitantes. En lo que respecta a recursos naturales, entre ellos cobre, plata, oro, diamantes, uranio y otros minerales, es uno de los países más ricos del mundo.

Como vecinos, el Congo y Ruanda han estado conectados durante mucho tiempo y a veces en guerra.

En la década del setenta del siglo XIX, el rey Leopoldo II de Bélgica segmentó una sección selvática de África Central y la convirtió en su colonia privada, llamándola el “Estado Libre del Congo”. En realidad, no era “libre”. Leopoldo creo un [gigantesco] campo de trabajo forzado para la cosecha del caucho donde se cometieron asesinatos y atrocidades a una escala masiva. En 1908, en respuesta a las protestas por tales violencias, el Congo cayó bajo la jurisdicción del Estado belga.

A fines de los años 30, los belgas reclutaron a miles de ruandeses para trabajar en sus ranchos y plantaciones ganaderas en Kivu Norte. La agitación en Ruanda luego de su independencia de Bélgica en 1962 llevó a otros 100.000 ruandeses a la frontera del Congo. En 1971, el gobierno congolés les concedió la ciudadanía a todos los ruandeses que estaban en el país desde 1960; pero más tarde se las revocó.

Durante la guerra civil de Ruanda a principio de los años noventa y en el genocidio de 1994, durante el cual se calcula que fueron masacradas de 800.000 a 1 millón de personas en 100 días, los ruandeses siguieron huyendo hacia los países vecinos, entre ellos el Congo. A partir de 1995, los congoleses comenzaron a huir en oleadas de la violencia en el este del Congo, siendo la más reciente de esas migraciones la que comenzó en 2012.

Con aproximadamente una décima parte del área del Congo, Ruanda es del tamaño de Massachusetts. Con una población de 11.7 millones, es el país más densamente poblado de África. Siguen habiendo ruandeses desplazados en Uganda, Tanzania y el Congo más de 20 años después del genocidio.

Los peregrinos de #ShareTheJourney depositaron una ofrenda floral durante su visita al Monumento en Memoria del Genocidio en Kigali, Ruanda. Se calcula que de 800.000 a 1 millón de personas perecieron durante el genocidio ruandés. Foto de Wendy Johnson/EMM.

“Ruanda espera que más de 100.000 ruandeses regresen —de manera que no hay una perspectiva de integración para los refugiados [congoleses], y el reasentamiento se convierte en la única opción para ellos”, dijo Kenya.

El reasentamiento es una manera en que la comunidad internacional puede ayudar a aliviar la carga de los países de la región que acogen a refugiados.

Antes de los ataques terroristas del 11 de septiembre, Estados Unidos reasentaba alrededor de 80.000 refugiados al año, y hasta llegó a 120.000 a la altura del reasentamiento de refugiados del Sudeste Asiático a principio de los años ochenta. Después del 11 de septiembre, el número descendió a 32.000. Más de una década después, la cuota de 2015 se fijó en 70.000.

La cifra de reasentamiento es importante, dicen algunos funcionarios, porque envía un mensaje de disposición a otros países que [también] reasientan y alivian una fracción de la carga del país anfitrión.

A diferencia de las torturas y asesinatos en Darfur, Sudán y Sudán del Sur, y del gran número de los que huyen del terrorismo en Somalia, el brutal conflicto del Congo no ha recibido el mismo nivel de atención.

Hay 2,7 millones de refugiados y solicitantes de asilo en África Oriental, el Cuerno de África y la región de los Grandes Lagos. Etiopía y Kenia han recibido a la mayoría de las personas que huyen de la violencia y la inestabilidad política en Somalia, Sudán del Sur, Sudán, Eritrea y el Congo. Los somalíes constituyen el grupo de refugiados más numeroso de la región, con más de 970.000 refugiados inscritos.

Dos nuevos campamentos se abrieron en Ruanda en 2012, la última vez que se produjo una escalada en el conflicto del Congo. Aun sin un flujo constante de refugiados, los campamentos tienen un crecimiento anual de un 3 por ciento, debido a los niños que nacen en ellos.

“El gobierno de Ruanda está sobrecargado con los refugiados, sin embargo, las fronteras siguen estando abiertas”, dijo Kenya. “En los últimos dos años, la población del campamento se ha duplicado, de suerte que el reasentamiento les ofrece esperanza a los refugiados, crea un instrumento para compartir responsabilidad con los países y le da al UNHCR una solución duradera.

“Le pedimos a los países que ofrecen reasentamiento que incrementen sus espacios porque la situación en el terreno muestra que las necesidades de reasentamiento existen”.

A diferencia de otros países de la región que reciben a refugiados —siendo Etiopía y Kenia los mayores— Ruanda no tiene una política de campamento obligatorio, explicó Kenya. El UNHCR ha comenzado un programa alternativo a los campamentos, integrando sus servicios de educación y salud con el gobierno ruandés.

“Si les refugiados regresan alguna vez [a la República Democrática del Congo] o hay alguna otra solución, entonces al menos adquieren sus destrezas y sus vidas funcionan casi a un nivel normal”, puntualizó Kenya. “Pero con la situación de la RDC, no veo la posibilidad del regreso”.

– Lynette Wilson es redactora y reportera de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Pilgrims continue to #ShareTheJourney, become refugee advocates

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 9, 2015

In early March, Episcopalians taking part in a #ShareTheJourney pilgrimage to the Great Lakes Region of Africa visited the International Organization for Migration’s office in Kigali, Rwanda, where they met with Didacus Obunga, an IOM operations officer, right, and Dr. Samuel A. Baghuma, national migration health physician, center. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church has been resettling refugees for 75 years, working with local congregations and resettlement agencies across the United States to welcome some of the most vulnerable people in the world who’ve fled violence, war, political, ethnic and cultural oppression.

In early March, eight Episcopalians traveled to Kenya and Rwanda to learn about refugee resettlement today through the lens of Congolese refugees on a #ShareTheJourney pilgrimage organized by Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s refugee resettlement service.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the legal and canonical name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission.

“Our hope,” said Episcopal Migration Ministries Director Deborah Stein, “is that the participants will be able to share the enthusiasm they have shown throughout this pilgrimage with people in their parishes, in their communities, in their dioceses, and become champions and advocates for refugees: to communicate to the broader church about the wonderful opportunities for Episcopalians to be involved in the life-saving work of refugee resettlement, and ultimately that Episcopalians will see a place for themselves in this work.”

Alyssa Stebbing, outreach director for Trinity Episcopal Church of The Woodlands in the Diocese of Texas, came into the pilgrimage with an awareness about refugees that heightened through the journey.

“This experience has really taken the blinders off,” said Stebbing, who plans to engage with the interfaith community in greater Houston and share what she learned on the pilgrimage.

Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of nine agencies partnering with the U.S. Department of State to welcome and resettle refugees to the United States. Across the church, Episcopal Migration Ministries works with 30 communities in 26 dioceses.

Of the 15.5 million refugees worldwide, less than 1 percent will be resettled, with more than 75 percent of those coming to the United States.

Dr. Muddassar Ban Abad, who oversees the International Organization for Migration’s Health Assessment Center in Nairobi, Kenya, leads #ShareTheJourney pilgrims on a tour of the facility. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

In 2014, Episcopal Migration Ministries and its partners helped to resettle 5,155 of the tens of thousands of refugees who came to the United States through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) screening process. They’ll work to serve as many people this year, as the United States plans to resettle 70,000 refugees.

Many of those refugees will come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the next several years, UNHCR plans to resettle 50,000 refugees from the Congo, with 80 percent to be resettled in the United States.

The March 2-13 pilgrimage, funded by an Episcopal Church Constable Fund grant, educated the participants about the plight of refugees and the refugee process so that they might share their experience with their churches, dioceses and communities.

In Rwanda, they visited Gihembe, a refugee camp housing 14,500 refugees from eastern Congo. There, they heard questions and concerns from refugees in a town hall setting. The pilgrims also learned about the refugee-resettlement process from the overseas perspective through meetings with the UNHCR, Church World Service’s Africa Resettlement Support Center and other non-governmental organizations.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Georgia, speaks to refugees during a town hall-style meeting in Gihembe Refugee Camp. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

For the Rev. Canon Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Georgia, to be able to meet with refugees and listen to their frustrations regarding the resettlement process was informative.

“I think it’s hard for any of us to appreciate what it’s like to flee your country, what it means to be a refugee, so to have had the experience of meeting and talking to refugees was helpful,” said Logue, who journeyed with his wife, Victoria.

The visit to the refugee camp included a tour of its medical clinic, an elementary school classroom, a women’s empowerment initiative and an ESL classroom for refugees approved for resettlement.

Meeting 10 HIV-positive women at the refugee camp who find hope in growing mushrooms made a big impact on Cookie Cantwell, youth ministries coordinator for Province IV.

“Once you’re exposed to something that you know will forever change your perspective, you have to share it,” said Cantwell, who is from the Diocese of East Carolina. “Once you’ve been touched, you have to make a decision about what you’re going to do about it.”

A Somali refugee woman who works as a community health worker poses with Cookie Cantwell, during a visit to Refuge Point, an organization that works to empower some of the most vulnerable refugees in Nairobi and other locations worldwide. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

For Cantwell, it means sharing the women’s story. “They’re living, they’re not dying,” she said.

Many of the pilgrims blogged about their experiences.

“One of the things we asked of all of the pilgrims that have participated in the #ShareTheJourney trip is that, when they come home, they use their experience to talk to as many people as possible to share what they learned: to become advocates for refugees, to visit a local EMM affiliate office, to see what happens on the receiving end to see what they can do to share the information they learned while they were in Nairobi [in Kenya] and Rwanda,” said Stein.

Jessica Benson of the Diocese of Idaho had built a relationship with a Congolese family resettled to Boise through the Agency for New Americans. But seeing resettlement from the overseas end was a completely different experience, she said.

The pilgrims learned, for example, that once a family is referred for resettlement and begins the lengthy process of background, security and medical checks, any change in the family’s status, such as the birth of a child, can delay the process.

“One of the things that stuck in my mind is that infants are screened at the level of adults,” said Benson, adding she also didn’t know large numbers of urban refugees lived in cities, outside the camps.

Before the pilgrimage had ended, Benson already had reached out to a state legislator to schedule a meeting. She also planned to speak to students in the public-school system where the numbers of refugee students have increased to educate them about the resettlement process, she said.

Alice Eshuchi, country director for Heshima Kenya, talks with Alyssa Stebbing, outreach director for Trinity Episcopal Church of The Woodlands in the Diocese of Texas, during a visit to Heshima’s operations office in Nairobi. Heshima Kenya specializes in identifying and protecting unaccompanied and separated refugee children and youth, especially girls, young women and their children living in Nairobi. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

After visiting the refugee camp in Rwanda, the pilgrims visited Heshima, an urban program in Nairobi, Kenya, that empowers refugee girls and young women, many of whom who have lost or been separated from their families.

For Spencer Cantrell, gender violence fellow at the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project in Washington, D.C., the contrast between the refugee camp and the urban program was stunning. In the camp, she visited the dwelling of a man who had lost all hope, despite his family having been resettled to Mississippi, she said. That was hard to reconcile with the hope emanating from the positive attitudes of the girls and young women in Nairobi, many of them survivors of trauma and sexual violence and many of them teenage mothers, she said.

“I’m looking at ways to share this with the church,” said Cantrell, a former Young Adult Service Corps missionary to Hong Kong now living in the Diocese of Washington.

To walk into a classroom in the refugee camp full of eager young boys, four years below grade level and sharing two or three books, was heartbreaking for the Rev. Burl Salmon, middle school chaplain and dean of community life at Trinity Episcopal School in the Diocese of North Carolina. Yet he was encouraged by the rapport the teacher had with his students, he said. “He saw education as their ticket.”

“Education is universal,” said Salmon. “For one it’s a lifeline, and for the other it’s a given.”

Back in the United States, besides engaging with an Episcopal Migration Ministries affiliate office, ways the pilgrims and other Episcopalians can continue to learn about and advocate for refugees include: organizing an event for World Refugee Day, which takes place annually on June 20; encouraging a congregation to co-sponsor a refugee family; sharing their experiences with refugees at The Episcopal Church’s General Convention; advocating for refugees at the local and state level by scheduling appointments with elected officials and speaking at civic gatherings; and becoming a member of the Episcopal Public Policy Network, which engages in public-policy advocacy at the federal level.

One of the things The Episcopal Church, which is present in multiple countries, should do is to encourage other countries to increase the number of refugees they resettle, said the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, one of the pilgrims and the executive director of Forward Movement, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based ministry of The Episcopal Church that encourages discipleship.

There are 2.7 million refugees and asylum seekers across East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region. Ethiopia and Kenya host the majority of people fleeing violence and political instability in Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea and the Congo.

“Ninety-nine percent of refugees will not be resettled,” Gunn said. “We also need to do whatever we can to influence the stabilization of conditions in East Africa; one country is taking another country’s refugees.

“If 2.7 million people could be repatriated, everybody wins. It’s a morally outrageous shell game that’s being played with people’s lives,” said Gunn. “No human being should ever have to utter the words: ‘I have no hope.’”

– Lynette Wilson is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Alison Poage to lead Booher Library at Seminary of the Southwest

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 9, 2015

[Seminary of the Southwest press release] Dean and President Cynthia Briggs Kittredge has announced that Alison O’Reilly Poage, interim director of the Booher Library at Seminary of the Southwest, has been offered and has accepted the position of director of the Booher Library.

“I am happy to announce that the search committee recommended unanimously that she be appointed to this position based on her qualifications and her excellent work since her arrival in January,” said Kittredge.

Poage served most recently as director of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library in Cutchogue, New York. She has lived in Austin before, having worked for the Austin Public Library system from 2007-2010. She received her Master’s of Library Science degree from City University of New York in 2001.

Academic Dean Scott Bader-Saye says, “We are fortunate to have found a candidate with strong administrative skills, a gift for hospitality, a collegial management style, and a true commitment to the mission of this school. Allison has already proven herself able and willing to carry the Booher Library through a time of transition and innovation. She is exactly what we need in a permanent director.”

Un anhelo de seguridad y justicia alimentarias anima la labor de la Diócesis de Los Ángeles

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ophelia Hernández, trabajadora agrícola; Sarah Nolan, directora de programas y asociaciones comunitarias de La Mesa Abundante y Reyna Ortega, gerente de producción, posan para una fotografía en el campo. Foto de Lynette Wilson/ENS.

[Episcopal News Service] Al volar sobre Los Ángeles, la vastedad de la ciudad se visualiza ostensiblemente. Sus pequeños edificios y el concreto emblanquecido por el sol se extienden interminablemente, pero mire usted con mayor atención al área metropolitana y, en las comunidades, escuelas y patios de iglesias, hallará huertos.

Los huertos son parte del plan de la Diócesis de Los Ángeles de responder a la seguridad alimentaria en la comunidades a las que sirven sus parroquias, y una de las formas de cuidar del medioambiente.

En una de las ciudades más grandes de la nación y en el estado de mayor producción agrícola, la gente no tiene acceso a frutas y hortalizas frescas. A través de Semillas de Esperanza [Seeds of Hope] y La Mesa Abundante [The Abundant Table], la diócesis está haciendo algo al respecto.

Hace tres años, el obispo de Los Ángeles, J. Jon Bruno, decidió abordar con seriedad el problema de la inseguridad alimentaria en su diócesis y creó Semillas de Esperanza, que trabaja con congregaciones, comunidades y escuelas para convertir las tierras baldías en huertos productivos de verduras y frutales a fin de brindarles alimentos frescos y saludables a los residentes de la localidad.

“En Los Ángeles, el acceso a alimentos nutritivos es un lujo”, dijo el Rdo. Andrew K. Barnett, que preside los estudios medioambientales y la justicia alimentaria del obispo. “Si vives en una comunidad de bajos ingresos, es mucho más fácil obtener comida chatarra”.

La posibilidad de alimentos frescos versus la comida chatarra de preparación rápida ha dado lugar a una diferencia de 12 años en la esperanza de vida entre los residentes de barrios de bajos ingresos y los que viven en barrios de moderados a elevados ingresos, añadió Barnett.

“Nos fijamos en eso y dijimos, ‘eso es inaceptable, eso está mal’”.

Hasta mediado de los años 50, “el Condado de Los Ángeles era el primer condado de producción agrícola… del mundo”, dijo Tim Alderson, director ejecutivo de Semillas de Esperanza, en un vídeo de la Diócesis de Los Ángeles. En el momento de la fundación de la diócesis hace casi 120 años, el 40 por ciento de la población participaba directamente en la agricultura.

“En la actualidad, el 1 por ciento de la población se dedica a alimentar al resto de nosotros, lo cual ha creado una verdadera desconexión entre nosotros y las fuentes de nuestros alimentos, y eso ha llevado a la obesidad, la diabetes, [y] otros trastornos metabólicos que nos afectan en todo sentido”, afirmó Alderson.

“Tenemos personas en nuestra diócesis que no saben de donde ha de venir la próxima comida y esas mismas personas son obesas”.

Semillas de Esperanza asume un enfoque diocesano a la producción y distribución de alimentos, y sirve también para desarrollar los recursos necesarios al objeto de facultar a parroquias, escuelas y otras [instituciones] para que comiencen a cosechar alimentos. La intención es hacer un impacto directo en la salud y el bienestar, tanto física como espiritualmente, de las personas de la comunidad.

“Todo llega desproporcionadamente a las personas que viven en la pobreza”, dijo Alderson en una entrevista con Episcopal News Service luego del foro del 24 de marzo sobre la crisis del cambio climático. “Decidimos que necesitábamos abordar este grave problema en las comunidades subatendidas a las que servimos”.

A diferencia de lo que ocurre en otras naciones, los estadounidenses que viven en la pobreza tienen más probabilidades de ser obesos, y es más probable que vivan en desiertos alimentarios, o en zonas donde el acceso a los alimentos frescos esté limitado.

El Condado de Los Ángeles abarca más de 10.000 kilómetros cuadrados y es el lugar de residencia de 10 millones de personas; de las cuales 1.800.000, o el 18 por ciento, viven en la pobreza.

La diócesis – que se extiende por el norte hasta la ciudad de Santa María, en el Condado de Santa Bárbara, hasta San Clemente, en el extremo sur del Condado de Orange, al este hasta la frontera de Arizona y al oeste hasta el océano Pacífico— abarca una gran área geográfica y cuenta con 139 congregaciones, 40 escuelas y 20 instituciones.

Tim Alderson, director de Semillas de Esperanza, recoge naranjas para la despensa del Centro de la Catedral. Foto, cortesía de la Diócesis de Los Ángeles.

Ciento ocho congregaciones participan en Semillas de Esperanza, ya sea plantando o distribuyendo alimentos o ambas cosas, y la mitad de sus escuelas tienen huertos. Mediante un contrato con el Departamento de Salud Pública de Los Ángeles, ofrece cursos de cocina/nutrición y salud a residentes de bajos ingresos en 17 iglesias de comunidades subatendidas, explicó Alderson.

Desde su fundación en enero de 2013, Semillas de Esperanza ha crecido de un personal de solo un miembro a 16, entre ellos 3 empleados de jornada completa, tres de media jornada y 10 voluntarios y, mediante la suma de esfuerzos, está produciendo anualmente 50 toneladas de frutas y hortalizas —800.000 raciones—y proporcionándoles alimentos a aproximadamente unas 30.000 familias al mes a través de las despensas de alimentos.

“También servimos más de 30.000 comidas cada mes a personas necesitadas en varios programas de alimentos”, agregó Alderson.

Plantando un huerto en la iglesia episcopal del Buen Pastor en Los Ángeles. Foto, cortesía de la Diócesis de Los Ángeles.

Al norte de Los Ángeles,  en más de 2 hectáreas del Condado de Ventura, La Mesa Abundante produce más de 50 variedades de frutas y hortalizas, entre ellas remolacha, zanahorias, rábanos, berzas, ajíes chiles, tomates, lechugas y coles.

Además de alimentar a los 150 miembros de su programa agrícola de apoyo comunitario, los agricultores venden productos frescos a las escuelas locales y donan el 10 por ciento de su cosecha a un banco de alimentos.

Sin embargo, La Mesa Abundante es algo más que una granja, un programa de capacitación y un lugar donde los estudiantes, agrupaciones de jóvenes y otros pueden obtener una experiencia práctica acerca de los alimentos. Su misión se arraiga en la justicia alimentaria: garantizar que las personas tengan acceso a alimentos frescos y nutritivos, que se respeten los derechos de los obreros agrícolas y que a los trabajadores les paguen un salario justo.

“Un valor fundacional de nosotros es la justicia alimentaria”, dijo Sarah Nolan, directora de programas y de asociaciones comunitarias.

Como ministerio ecuménico e interreligioso de las iglesias Episcopal y Luterana, la iglesia agrícola invita a las personas de todas las tradiciones religiosas a explorar la espiritualidad en conexión con la tierra.

“Estamos en verdad tratando de desarrollar un ecosistema que cree un modelo económicamente viable de iglesia y granja”, dijo Nolan, añadiendo que es experimental y que están contemplando cómo el trabajo agrícola apoya al culto y viceversa.

El año pasado, La Iglesia Agrícola de la Mesa Abundante recibió una subvención de $100.000 de una iniciativa de la Iglesia Episcopal destinada a la apertura de nuevas iglesias. La subvención fue financiada a través del presupuesto trienal de las Cinco Marcas de la Misión. En este caso, la Iglesia Agrícola de la Mesa Abundante epitomiza la Primera Marca de la Misión: proclamar las buenas nuevas del reino.

“La Mesa Abundante es una comunidad de práctica que encarna un testimonio jubiloso y profético del poder de las relaciones justas, no sólo de unos con otros, sino también con la tierra y con los alimentos”, dijo el Rdo. Thomas Brackett, misionero de la Sociedad Misionera Nacional y Extranjera (DFMS) para la apertura de nuevas iglesias e iniciativas misionales, en un mensaje de e-mail.

“[Inspira] medidas prudentes que sostienen a comunidades que, de manera deliberada, se arraigan en las prácticas antiguas de seguir a Jesús.  Fue el criterio de nuestro consejo de financiación de la Primera Marca [de la Misión] que probablemente necesitemos 1.000 ministerios más de La Mesa Abundante a través de Estados Unidos. ¡Sarah Nolan y Amy Grossman marchan al frente por una senda que todos debemos finalmente hacer al andar!”.

El año pasado, la DFMS le otorgó a Nolan una beca de mayordomía ambiental mediante la cual ella está trabajando en la creación de una red episcopal nacional en torno a los ministerios agrícolas y de alimentos.

“Hay tantas personas que ya están haciendo cosas”, dijo ella, además de bancos de alimentos y huertos. El Centro Beecken de la Escuela de Teología de Sewanee, por ejemplo, ha creado la Granja de la Fe y la Red de Alimentos.

Una de las principales interrogantes que ella y otros se hacen es: si la Iglesia episcopal se ve a sí misma como un sistema de [provisión de] alimentos, ¿qué haríamos de manera diferente?” Entonces las preguntas subsecuentes podrían ser: ¿cómo usaríamos los campamentos y los centros de conferencia de distinta manera? ¿Cómo conectaríamos a las iglesias con granjeros nuevos y principiantes? ¿Cómo se relacionan los bancos de alimentos con las granjas locales? ¿Cómo surge la liturgia de lo que hacemos?

En California, que está entrando en su cuarto año de sequía y los granjeros se han visto forzados a dejar que los cultivos se pudran en los campos, hablar de justicia alimentaria es un pretexto para iniciar debates acerca de las maneras de abordar el cambio climático.

“Creo que la facultad de conectarse con el sitio de donde provienen nuestros alimentos y también de participar en el proceso de crecimiento crea una relación con la tierra que da lugar a una actitud de humildad y de asombro ante la creación de Dios. De muchas formas, sabemos que es difícil expresar amor y cuidado por alguien o por alguna cosa sin una relación”, dijo Nolan.

“No creo que podamos incluso comenzar a abordar los problemas que rodean al cambio climático sin desarrollar una relación con la tierra y con las personas más afectadas por las consecuencias del calentamiento global”, añadió. “Espero que todos los niños, jóvenes y adultos que visiten nuestras granjas den un paso, sino más, hacia la restauración de una relación con las plantas, los animales, el suelo y todas las complejas relaciones que constituyen nuestro planeta. Para La Mesa Abundante es labor de la Iglesia (especialmente una Iglesia eucarística) ayudar a restaurar esas relaciones mediante el cultivo y el reparto de alimentos y de invitar a otros a que se nos unan en esa labor”.

Nota de la redactora: Todos los viernes, durante estos 30 Días de Acción, les invitamos a explorar cómo el cultivo y el reparto de alimentos en su familia, en su comunidad y en su cultura le acerca a la invitación de Dios a todos nosotros de “cultivar y guardar” la tierra.

– Lynette Wilson es redactora y reportera de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

EPPN: Urge Congress to support legislation that combats gender-based violence

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

[Episcopal Public Policy Network policy alert] Globally, an estimated one-in-three women will experience physical, sexual and psychological abuse in their lifetime. At its core, this global epidemic is fueled by traditions, beliefs, and practices that view women less-than-equal to men. On a larger scale, these acts have led to creation of systems that infringe on the rights of women. Women and girls in developing countries experience particularly high rates of gender-based violence. Some of this violence is perpetuated in the form of battery, honor killings, rape, trafficking, and female genital cutting.

In March, a number of Representatives and Senators reintroduced the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), legislation which seeks to prevent violence against women and girls overseas. Please take action below to urge your Senators and Representative to support this bill.

Go HERE to take action and tell your member of Congress you support I-VAWA!

Pilgrims study refugees, resettlement process in Rwanda, Kenya

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gihembe Refugee Camp is home to 14,500 Congolese refugees who’ve sought shelter in Rwanda. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] A little more than an hour’s drive outside Rwanda’s capital Kigali, 14,500 Congolese refugees live atop and along a hillside in red mud huts safely nestled in the country’s interior, far from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province from which most of them fled armed conflict and violence in the mid-1990s.

Gihembe Refugee Camp was established in 1997 after armed militias massacred Congolese refugees receiving shelter in a refugee camp in northwest Rwanda. Many residents have spent nearly two decades in Gihembe, one of five refugee camps in Rwanda serving 74,000 refugees, more than half younger than 18.

Since 1998, more than 5.5 million people have died in Congo from fighting, disease and malnutrition; 2.5 million people have been internally displaced; and some 500,000 have fled the country’s lengthy conflict, with the vast majority living in refugee camps in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions. Congolese refugees form the sixth-largest refugee population in the world and 18 percent of the total refugee population in Africa.

Of the more than 500,000 Congolese refugees in the region, an estimated 160,000 are eligible for resettlement, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Given the numbers, the protracted nature of the conflict and no sign of peace, in recent years UNHCR and its partners prioritized the resettlement of Congolese refugees. The goal is to resettle 50,000 people by 2017 – with 80 percent destined to come to the United States.

Paul Kenya, a resettlement officer for UNHCR in Rwanda, Deborah Stein, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, and #ShareTheJourney pilgrims listen as Dr. Pascal Kalinda Murego talks about the health of refugees and the health services provided in Gihembe camp. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

In early March, eight Episcopalians participated in a #ShareTheJourney pilgrimage led by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to Africa’s Great Lakes region and visited Gihembe to learn about the plight of Congolese refugees and the United States Refugee Admissions Program.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business, and carries out mission.

“The purpose,” said Deborah Stein, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee-resettlement service of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, was “to show The Episcopal Church, through the lens of Congolese refugees bound for resettlement, how resettlement works from the beginning to arrival in the U.S.”

It was also an opportunity to inspire the pilgrims to become advocates for refugees, added Stein.

The March 2-13 pilgrimage included stops in Kenya and Rwanda, where, besides visiting the camp, the pilgrims met with representatives and resettlement officers working for UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, Church World Service’s Africa Resettlement Support Center and other overseas refugee-service providers and resettlement partners.

Through Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society partners with 30 resettlement affiliates in 26 dioceses nationwide. It is one of nine agencies – five of them faith-based — working in partnership with the U.S. Department of State to welcome and resettle refugees to the United States.

The Episcopal Church’s involvement in refugee resettlement dates back at least to World War II, when churches sponsored refugees who fled Nazi oppression. Beginning through the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (now Episcopal Relief & Development) and later partnering with Church World Service, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society established Episcopal Migration Ministries in 1988.

Primary school students study in a classroom in Gihembe camp. More than half of the camp’s 14,500 residents are under the age of 18. Photo: Wendy Johnson/EMM

A refugee is someone who has fled his or her country of nationality because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, religion, ethnicity or political or social affiliation. It is an internationally recognized and legally protected status.

The United States formalized its refugee-resettlement program with the Refugee Act of 1980 in response to the increased numbers of refugees fleeing communism in Southeast Asia. Until then, churches sponsored refugees’ visas; but by the mid-1970s, that process was insufficient to meet the need, explained Stein.

Today, there are 15.5 million refugees worldwide. UNHCR’s mandate is to provide international protection for refugees.

UNHCR’s primary focus is on repatriation, or safe return home, followed by citizenship or legal residency in the host country. The third option is resettlement to one of the 20-plus countries worldwide that accepts refugees. Globally, less than 1 percent of refugees receive resettlement, with 75 percent destined for the United States.

“The success of resettlement programs depends on partnership and coordination. We must have resettlement countries willing to receive refugees,” said Paul Kenya, a resettlement officer working for UNHCR in Rwanda, in an interview with Episcopal News Service in Kigali. “You must also have partners to work with UNHCR to identify refugees and help in the processing of interviewing, coordinating medical examinations and travel logistics. Even the government of Rwanda helps us in verifying refugee status and giving exit visas to leave the country.”

Through surveys, most Congolese refugees say they are unwilling to return to their home country because of the conflict there and because they cannot regain their land if they return, he said.

“Resettlement, then, becomes the only viable solution for most of these refugees,” said Kenya, adding that last year, 2,000 Congolese refugees were resettled to the United States from camps in Rwanda. We hope to continue the partnership coming up with another multi-year strategy to cover the next three or four years, with an average of at least 3,000 refugees each year.”

A mother and child pose for a photo in Gihembe camp. The majority of the camp’s households are headed by single women. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

Once identified for resettlement, either by UNHCR, a host government, or another partner, a refugee or refugee family’s case is forwarded to the Church World Service’s Africa Resettlement Support Center, which covers 49 sub-Saharan countries and helps the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to process refugees for possible admission to the United States.

Families are processed as a case, with five members being the average family size. Many Congolese refugee families are headed by women, the majority of them survivors of trauma and sexual- and gender-based violence.

As the pilgrims learned through meetings with senior staff members at the resettlement support center’s Nairobi headquarters, the process, which includes extensive background checks, takes an average two years and is subject to delay by any change in the family, such as a marriage or a birth. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, makes the final determination on cases bound for the United States.

“We prepare the best case for referral so that they can make it through the process,” said Miro Marinovich, the support center’s director.

Residents of Gihembe camp congregate around the water tap to fill their jugs. Water shortages are common in the camp. Photo: Wendy Johnson/EMM

The refugees have lived with food and water shortages, limited opportunities for education and work, Marinovich added. “We want to ensure that that never happens to them again.”

Of the 74,000 refugees in Rwanda, 99 percent are Congolese, and the majority are women and children. UNHCR began working with resettlement countries on a multi-year strategy to resettle Congolese refugees in 2012, identifying 10,000 refugees in camps in Rwanda for resettlement.

Once a case is approved for resettlement, the pace picks up considerably. The International Organization for Migration, or IOM, which handles medical examinations and travel, kicks into gear, transporting the refugees to a regional transport center, where they’ll stay for two weeks pending final medical and security checks. During that time, cultural orientation classes begin.

When the pilgrims visited a transit center in Nairobi, children played outside on plastic playground equipment while adults in the classroom learned about finances and budgeting. Besides rooms devoted to life in Canada, Australia and the United States (which has two rooms), a model kitchen and bathroom acquaint refugees with modern amenities.

A scale to weigh departing passengers’ luggage sits under a metal awning, plastic chairs off to the side. An airplane seat familiarizes refugees with air travel. A travel wardrobe, for men a tracksuit and sneakers, for women more traditional clothing, is available for those in need of travel attire.

Connecting with overseas resettlement partners gave the pilgrims a better understanding of the process and allowed Episcopal Migration Ministries’ staff to share information about what happens to refugees when they arrive in the United States.

“Most often the people who are involved in the processing on the overseas-side have no idea what is happening once a refugee gets on a plane and comes to the United States,” Stein said. “So, as much as we were able to learn from or our colleagues at UNHCR, IOM and the refugee-resettlement support center, we were also able to share information with them about what happens to refugees when they get to the United States.”

Paul Kenya, a resettlement officer working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rwanda, and Jessica Benson of the Diocese of Idaho, talk with students in an ESL class in Gihembe camp. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

During a town hall meeting at Gihembe camp, refugees, many of them frustrated by years of living in the camp, were desperate for information about their individual cases and what could be done to move them along. Despite being told that the pilgrims couldn’t answer questions about the process, but rather offer them information on life in the United States, they saw an opportunity to ask about their individual cases.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa’s second-largest country geographically and fourth-largest by population, with more than 80 million people. In terms of natural resources, including copper, silver, gold, diamonds, uranium and other minerals, it’s one of the richest countries in the world.

As neighbors, Congo and Rwanda long have been connected, and at times at war.

In the 1870s, King Leopold II of Belgium carved out a section of Central African rainforest and made it his private colony, calling it the “Congo Free State.” In reality, it wasn’t “free.” Leopold created a forced labor camp to harvest wild rubber. Killings and atrocities were committed on a massive scale. In 1908, in response to protests over such violence, Congo fell under the Belgian state.

In the late 1930s, the Belgians recruited tens of thousands of Rwandans to work their cattle ranches and plantations in North Kivu. Unrest in Rwanda following its independence from Belgium in 1962 drove another 100,000 Rwandans over the border into Congo. In 1971, the Congolese government granted citizenship to all Rwandans who’d been in the country since 1960; that citizenship later was revoked.

During Rwanda’s civil war in the early 1990s and the 1994 genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people were massacred within 100 days, Rwandans continued to flee into neighboring countries, including Congo. Congolese refugees fled violence in eastern Congo in waves, beginning in 1995, with the most recent wave starting in 2012.

About a tenth the size of the Congo, Rwanda is about the size of Massachusetts. With a population of 11.7 million, it is the most densely populated country in Africa. Rwandans continue to be displaced in Uganda, Tanzania and the Congo more than 20 years after the genocide.

#ShareTheJourney pilgrims laid flowers during a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million people were killed during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. Photo: Wendy Johnson/EMM

“Rwanda is expecting over 100,000 Rwandans to return — so there really is no prospect for integration for the [Congolese] refugees, and resettlement becomes the only option for them,” said Kenya.

Resettlement is one way the international community can help alleviate the burden from countries in the region that host refugees.

Before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States resettled roughly 80,000 refugees annually, and upwards of 120,000 at the height of Southeast Asian resettlement in the early 1980s. After 9/11, the number decreased to 32,000. More than a decade later, the 2015 quota is set at 70,000.

The resettlement figure is important, say officials, because it sends a message of willingness to other resettlement countries, and it alleviates a fraction of the host country’s burden.

Unlike the torture and killing in Darfur, Sudan and South Sudan, and the large numbers of Somalis fleeing terrorism in Somalia, Congo’s brutal conflict hasn’t received the same level of attention.

There are 2.7 million refugees and asylum seekers across East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region. Ethiopia and Kenya host the majority of people fleeing violence and political instability in Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea and Congo. Somalis make up the largest refugee group in the region, numbering more than 970,000 registered refugees.

Two new camps opened in Rwanda in 2012, the last time the conflict in eastern Congo escalated. Even without a steady flow of refugees, the camps have a 3 percent annual population growth as babies are born in the camp.

“The Rwanda government is overburdened with the refugees, yet it is still opening its borders,” Kenya said. “In the last two years, the camp population has doubled, so resettlement provides hope for the refugees, it provides a tool to share responsibility with the countries, and it gives UNHCR a durable solution.

“We ask resettlement countries to increase their spaces because the situation on the ground shows the resettlement needs are there.”

Unlike other regional countries that host refugees — Ethiopia and Kenya being the largest — Rwanda doesn’t have a forced-encampment policy, explained Kenya. UNHCR has started a program alternative to camps, integrating its education and health services with the Rwandan government.

“If the refugees ever go back to the [Democratic Republic of Congo] or there’s another solution, then at least they build their skills and their lives are almost managed at a normal level,” said Kenya. “But with the DRC situation, we don’t see the possibility of return.”

– Lynette Wilson is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Idowu-Fearon ‘committed to God’s mission of reconciliation’

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon (center) with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (left) and Bishop James Tengatenga, chair of the Anglican Consultative Council. Photo: ACNS

[Episcopal News Service] Many Anglican and Episcopal leaders are celebrating the appointment of Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of the Anglican Diocese of Kaduna, Nigeria, as the next secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

“Josiah is, above all, a man of communion, a careful listener, and a respecter of the different ways in which we are called to articulate and live the good news of God in Jesus Christ,” former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold told Episcopal News Service following the appointment.

Griswold served alongside Idowu-Fearon on the International Anglican Conversations on Human Sexuality appointed by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey following the 1998 Lambeth Conference of bishops.

“Though we came from very different contexts, our divergent points of view in no way threatened our mutual respect or our ability to recognize one another as true brothers in Christ,” said Griswold, who as the 25th presiding bishop invited Idowu-Fearon to preach at the Sunday Eucharist at the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis “because I wanted the Episcopal Church to have the benefit of his gracious spirit and his particular perspective in aid of broadening our understanding and appreciation of brother and sister Anglicans in a context very different from our own.”

Griswold and Idowu-Fearon also were panelists on an October 2004 public discussion in London, sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, dealing with issues affecting the Anglican Communion. “Some present expected that Bishop Josiah and I would exchange bitter words and were disappointed by the obvious trust and affection that existed between us,” Griswold said. “I have every expectation that he will be a blessing to the whole Communion in the days ahead.”

The appointment initially was met with mixed reactions, with claims that Idowu-Fearon supported the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria, specifically referring to a 2014 sermon and a 2007 interview. Idowu-Fearon was quick to refute those claims, calling the stories misleading.

“I have never supported the law in Nigeria that criminalizes the gay community and I will never support it,” Idowu-Fearon said in an April 6 statement. “The church is called to love and protect everyone without discrimination, ‘love the person but hate the sin’ whatever the sin may be, corruption, sexual sins of all kinds, misuse of power or anything else.

“For the majority of African Christians, the Bible judges culture, including African culture. As African Christians we must accept other cultures and the way they also understand the Bible’s relationship with culture,” he added. “I accept and promote a culture of respect for such differences.”

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, said he has known Idowu-Fearon for more than a decade through a variety of inter-Anglican bodies and responsibilities and finds him “committed to God’s mission of reconciliation, both between people of different faiths and between the churches of the Anglican Communion.”

Douglas told ENS that while Idowu-Fearon was studying at Hartford Seminary in the 1990s, the Nigerian bishop developed many close friendships with leaders and parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. “These relationships continue to this day, and … have helped us to better know and live the fullness our unity in Christ,” Douglas said.

One such relationship is with Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, which every summer sponsors a medical mission trip to Idowu-Fearon’s Diocese of Kaduna in Northern Nigeria.

The Ven. Tom Furrer, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Connecticut, shares a light moment with Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kaduna on the day he became archdeacon of the Diocese of Kaduna. Photo courtesy of Trinity Church

The Ven. Tom Furrer, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, has worked with Idowu-Fearon for 15 years.

“While others know him as a global expert on Christian-Muslim relations, I know him better as a personal friend, mentor and pastor,” said Furrer, who serves as an archdeacon of the Kaduna diocese and president of Kateri Medical Services, Inc., a non-profit corporation which funds and facilitates medical care for poor rural people in Northern Nigeria in partnership with the Diocese of Kaduna.

“The Anglican Communion has done well to choose this wise, humble, servant-hearted man as its next secretary general,” Furrer told ENS. “He loves our Lord Jesus Christ and he loves the Body of Christ on earth. He will do everything he can to build bridges and heal our wounds.”

Furrer first met Idowu-Fearon just after the riots in Kaduna in 2000, when hundreds of Christians were killed and thousands more rendered homeless. “He was deeply disturbed and visibly shaken by the carnage and suffering of very poor people who were the primary victims of the riots,” Furrer said. “While his understanding of Christian-Muslim relations is very intellectually sound, it is not primarily a theoretical matter. It is a pastoral matter. He has seen first-hand … the devastating effects of interreligious rivalries. And he has worked ‘in the trenches’ with Muslim and Christian leaders to make peace.”

During the annual medical missions, the Connecticut parish and the Kaduna diocese work together “to bring medical care and love to thousands of rural people, about one third of whom are Muslims,” Furrer said. “Our goal is always to build bridges of mutual respect and tolerance. I have observed Josiah relating to very poor and marginalized people – Muslims and Christians of all denominations – with great compassion, humility and grace. For him, reconciliation and bridge-building are deeply personal and pastoral.”

Idowu-Fearon has preached and taught at Trinity Church at least 30 times over the past decade and “is much beloved by the community” in Tariffville, Furrer said. “We are a relatively small parish in a small town … and yet he has always found time to visit us and be here for special occasions.”

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon presents the Appreciation Award from the Diocese of Kaduna to a Trinity parishioner for her role in fundraising for the medical clinic in the Diocese of Kaduna. Photo courtesy of Trinity Church

Three years ago, Trinity Church honored a woman in the parish who had worked hard to raise funds for the medical clinic in the Diocese of Kaduna and who was dying of cancer. “Josiah made a special trip just to honor the woman with a special Appreciation Award from the Diocese of Kaduna,” Furrer said. “The woman died two weeks later. She told me that his visit meant more to her than anything anyone had ever done for her in her life. The award he presented her and a photo with her and Josiah together are prominently displayed in her husband’s home today.”

When the Anglican Communion Standing Committee met in late November 2014, “there was a clear commitment that the new secretary general needed to be first and foremost an ambassador of Christ’s reconciling love for all people,” said Douglas, acknowledging that high priority was given to recruiting candidates from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific given that the last five incumbents have been from Ireland, America and England. A “recruitment panel,” formed as a subcommittee of the Standing Committee, was broadly representative of the diversity of the Anglican Communion, Douglas said. “While I did not serve on the recruitment panel, I do trust that it took these priorities of the Standing Committee into consideration in their selection of Archbishop Josiah.”

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, also a member of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee, said Idowu-Fearon “has worked hard to keep the conversation going among people who would often not want to talk to one another.”

Idowu-Fearon became bishop of Kaduna in 1998, and he is the current director of the Kaduna Anglican Study Centre. Before that, he served as bishop of Sokoto, warden at St. Francis of Assisi Theological College in Wusasa, and provost of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kaduna.

Idowu-Fearon has a Ph.D. in sociology and a postgraduate diploma in education from Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University, an M.A. in Islamic Theology from the U.K.’s Birmingham University, and a B.A. in Theology from Durham University.

He has lectured and been published widely on the subject of Christian-Muslim relations. He serves on a variety of national interreligious bodies and has previously worked with the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace on several projects. Idowu-Fearon has been awarded the Officer of the Order of the Niger, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cross of St. Augustine’s Award, and is a Canterbury Six Preacher.

Idowu-Fearon, who is married to Comfort and has two children, Ibrahim and Ninma, is expected to take up the role in July 2015.

Idowu-Fearon was among two dozen bishops from Africa and North America who in May 2014, as part of the fifth Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue meeting in Coventry, England, renewed their pledge to reconciliation in the Anglican Communion and to walking together as a family despite deep cultural and theological differences.

The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national indigenous bishop, has known Idowu-Fearon for 17 years since they shared the same accommodation quarters at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. MacDonald described the appointment as “the best kind of news” and spoke of Idowu-Fearon as “Christ-centered, fair-minded to a fault, and a sincere lover and servant of that communion that God has given us the Anglican Communion.”

“In my particular part of this Communion, it is helpful and encouraging to note that he understands and lives, guided by Scripture, in the world views of both the West and the more traditional life ways of … the poor, and the majority world,” MacDonald told ENS. “Not trapped in the reductionism of the West, he knows its gifts, as well as the pain of its legacy. Like the very best of our peoples here, I believe he has the capacity to speak from a future where we find our common humanity – in Christ and, called in Christ, to the rest of creation and humanity – in a way that joins the best of the West with the wisdom and depth of our traditional life ways.”

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, sent a letter to Idowu-Fearon congratulating him on the appointment and acknowledging that it is a “role demanding great responsibility and leadership as you impart a vision for the diversity of Anglican provinces. You are called to serve the Communion’s needs, lifting up causes for hope and celebration, and discerning strong responses for its challenges.

“This ministry you are taking up is valuable and sacred. It holds the potential for deepening relationships within the communion and beyond it, and for witnessing to the spirit of reconciliation through your own faithfulness and vision,” Tveit added.

Idowu-Fearon served on the WCC’s Central Committee from 2006-2013 and participated in the Christian Muslim International Consultation in Geneva in November 2010.

“Your exceptional record of devoted work on Christian-Muslim relations is a specific gift you bring to your new role,” said Tveit in his letter. “Developing the role of churches as peace-builders and dialogue partners in a time when religiously motivated violence is causing devastation to so many is an urgent demand for us all as faithful Christians.”

Tveit said that the churches of the Anglican Communion “are dynamic leaders in the life of our fellowship of churches, for which we give great thanks to God. I pray that your wisdom and experience will inform not only the activities of the Anglican Communion in this regard, but the wider ecumenical family as well. We seek to work with you in this and many other areas of our common Christian life.”

– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

Historical Society seeks grant requests

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

[Historical Society of The Episcopal Church press release] The Chair of the Grants and Research Committee of the Historical Society of The Episcopal Church, the Rev. Robyn M. Neville, invites applications from individual scholars and academic and ecclesiastical groups for grants to support significant research, conferences, and publications relating to the history of the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Anglican and Episcopal churches in North America.

Applications must be submitted by May 1st. Grants will be announced in July. It is expected winners will make an appropriate submission to be published in Anglican and Episcopal History.

Grants are usually modest, generally $1,000-$2,000, though more or less may be awarded depending on number of awards given and amount of funds available. Typical grants include travel to archives, collections or resources, dissertation research, and seed money for larger projects. Past grants have been awarded to support documentary films, dissertation research, publication of books and articles, historical events and many other purposes.

For complete details including application information, please visit hsec.us/grants.

Presiding Bishop preaches on Good Friday at Salisbury Cathedral

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

Good Friday
3 April 2015
Salisbury Cathedral, 1:30 pm

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

This is a journey to the mountain of death. Actually, two journeys shape this day’s remembrance. Both undergird and shape our own life’s journey to the last offering of breath.

Isaac is the long-awaited son of Abraham, the beloved heir on whom all hope is founded – and God’s test is to ask his life – oh cruelest command! What does Sarah have to say of the fate of this son for news of whom she and Abraham once laughed?

Jesus, too, is the long awaited one, who claims his mission in the already-present and still-coming kingdom. Mary’s heart is pierced as she discerns glimmers of his likely fate.

There is a donkey for each, and wood for the sacrifice. Abraham and Isaac walk on together to the mountain where God provides. Jesus goes alone, carrying the wood himself to the mount of death near where God abides. Each beloved son is bound and laid on wood, to await death. Abraham’s slaying hand is stayed by holy messenger, and Isaac replaced by a thicket-caught ram.

For the other, later son, God’s own, unholy forces collude – Judas with a dementor’s soul-sucking kiss, backroom dealing, intrigue of empire, official fearful self-defense, even a functionary’s public hand-washing – it is neither the first nor last time official forces will slay an innocent. This sacrificial lamb is caught by the head in a thicket of thorns, beaten, bloodied, bruised, and pierced – it appears there will no unblemished offering here. Yet the one who makes this sacrifice is whole inside, in ways that turn back the bile and the vile indignities and cruelty. This is the prince of peace, even in the face of all the outward violence.

That peace has already had some import, for a few women from his circle, and one young well-loved disciple, have the courage to stand and watch from a distance, like Abraham’s two young men brought to watch him make his offering. But all the others have slunk away, afraid for their own lives, avoiding any thing that intimates consorting with an enemy of Rome.

For Jesus is executed by the Empire, not the Jewish leaders. They have been much slandered through the centuries. This account of John’s is the most vehement of all, for it was written for a community of The Way, early followers of Jesus’ who were being pushed out of the synagogues for their new understandings, loyalty, and worship of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a family fight, ugly as sin, much like Jacob and Esau struggling over their inheritance. Jonathan Swift put it well when he noted that “we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”[1] We have more dying to do before we get enough religion.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, on his way to the Temple, he stopped to weep over the city.[2] He speaks of coming destruction because the people have missed what makes for peace – the dying to self and a growing awareness of the near presence of God in and around and among us. That is true religion.

The last acts of Jesus’ mortal life are focused on true religion. Jesus rejects violent retaliation in the garden, and heals the wounded slave whose ear has been cut off. When confronted by Annas, Caiphas, and Pilate, he lets his words speak for themselves – and goes like a lamb to the slaughter, unprotesting. His yes is yes, and his no is no. Let it be.

He binds his bereaved friends and family into a new community – his mother gets a new son, and his friend a new mother. Such a body, undistinguished by shared DNA, may be the most explicit mark of true religion: “See those Christians, how they love one another!” We have more dying to do before we get enough religion like that. Another gospel has Jesus receive one of those crucified with him – bringing him into the kingdom of God, where all are loved for who they are rather than what they do. True religion is that binding together in right relationship, love for God and every neighbor, honoring God with all we are and all we have, even life and breath.

The road Jesus takes for home is truer than a compass pointing north. He goes consciously, intentionally, to the portal of death, and when the body has reached its mortal end, his last breath is offered as sacrifice, returning it to God, the source of all life.

That is the model for the third journey – our own path to the mountain of dying. The true and holy God-ward road is this: to know ourselves as God’s beloved; to live life as a lover of every creature, human and not; to give thanks for all that is, seeking God in each day and moment, acknowledging that God is God and we are not. To seek out the beloved child of God in every member of God’s body of creation; to befriend and serve, honoring each with all we are and all we have; to keep dying, daily, to what is not loving or life-giving. Practice this, and we will go in peace to meet sister Death at our last breath.

We stand and watch with Jesus in his sacrifice. We give thanks in this feast of deliverance and we celebrate the wedding of all creatures into one body of God’s loving and redeeming.

Make us conscious, O Lord, of our violence and demented hunger for control. Heal us for love and greater life. Teach us your son’s peace and befriending, especially when we meet sister death. For you have gone this way before us, and though we grieve, we need not be afraid.

[1] Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1711.

[2] Luke 19:41-44 and ff

Presiding Bishop preaches on Maundy Thursday at Salisbury Cathedral

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

Maundy Thursday
Eucharist of the Last Supper
2 April 2015
Salisbury Cathedral, 7:30 pm

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

This is my body, which is for you. The original says something more like, “here’s my body, for you.” Often we hear it offered with the word broken, as a loaf of bread, or broken on the cross. Hear it again, “This is my body, FOR YOU.” Not just the bread broken in Eucharist, blessed on a table or a tomb, but a body given for the world.

Again. This is my body, which is for you. With my body, I honor you.[1] This is a gift of love, a parting gift that promises eternal fidelity. Jesus is telling his companions – literally, those who eat bread with him – ‘You have my body right here, and we will make a feast, and celebrate a new and enduring covenant.’ He means both his own physical body and this motley crew of diffident disciples, hoping they will indeed be transmuted into a body of substance, and continue to grow like a rising loaf into his enduring, live-giving presence.

At this feast, Jesus may break the bread, but it is to signal our wedding together as the outward sign of his own presence. We are to be his enduring sacrament, the outward and visible, bodily sign of his love alive in human flesh.

We miss the point of this passionate week if we see only betrayal, suffering, pain, and abandonment. Yes, this is the story of ultimate sacrifice, but it is made in the cause of greater life. It is God’s cosmic love story. And this chapter is of a piece with the rest of the Book. God has been luring people into faithful relationship since the days of the Genesis garden. He calls Israel bride, delivers his people from slavery, challenges them to be faithful, and sends prophets like Hosea to act out the divine yearning for faithfulness by marrying one who will not be faithful.

Now the bridegroom himself walks among us, and proclaims his undying love. “Here I am, for you, with all I am and all I have, I honor you.” Why does the first sign in John’s gospel take place at a wedding, when he blesses enormous quantities of wine for the feast? Is it a foretaste of the heavenly banquet? Or perhaps an insistence that there will always be occasion for celebration, for God is in love with us for the long haul, forever. Even though Jesus insists it isn’t time yet, his mother pushes – as though to say, ‘don’t let this opportunity pass.’ This is both a cosmic love story and a most humble one, rooted in the occasions of joy and suffering in human lives as well as the daily errors (who forgot the wine or refused to order enough?). This is for better for worse, in sickness and in health; when we get it right and when we get it wrong.

The Passover supper we remember this night is at once wedding feast, funeral meal, and a reading of the last will and testament. God delivers us from living lonely and walled out of beloved community; the bridegroom leaves his earthly home to cling faithfully to his bride; and his body is commended and pledged to eternal life, lived for others.

We eat this meal to become more of who we were created to be. We are indeed what we eat. Whether dry crackers baked in haste for the journey, or heavy, yeasty, life-filled loaf, this bread feeds us for humble service. Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth, who creates the fruit of the vine to make glad our hearts.

Even as the creator continues to care for the life of his creatures, Jesus’ gathered body is wined and dined for the same humble service. We are wedded to one another, and to all others who are members of God’s created body, to serve each one in love. It’s time to put our towels to use.

Why does Jesus focus on feet? Peter obviously doesn’t want his feet washed. Feet are intimate, and often in the Bible, ambiguous – or euphemism. Feet are also what’s closest to the ground, often dirty, occasionally smelly. They’re tender, too. In the desert feet must be protected from hot sand and stones, and in climates like this one, being trapped in shoes all the time makes our feet prone to bunions, ingrown toenails, and fungus. Most of us aren’t anxious to expose our feet, let alone our inward wounds and shame.

In Middle Eastern cultures, it’s an insult to point your feet at somebody, and throwing shoes is still a way of showing utter disdain. Yet in Jesus’ day, when a guest arrived, a good host offered to wash his feet. But the host didn’t do it, a slave did. Jesus turns that hospitality on its head. Start with the humbleness of human feet, wash lovingly, send them out to proclaim the good news of God’s love, and see how beautiful they become! This whole body of his needs to be foot-washers, literally and in as many other ways as we can imagine.

Some urban congregations mark this day by washing the feet of people living on the street, dusting them with talc, and offering several new pairs of socks. Foot clinics are becoming part of the parish ministry in those places. So is a ministry called Laundry Love, where members of the body show up in a laundromat to help the unhoused and under-housed wash their clothes.[2] Some bring coins for the machines, detergent, and clean bags. Others bring their clothes and towels. Every one brings baskets of need. Together a feast begins, and in at least one gathering, there’s been an ordination, so that a fuller worship life might keep growing. Intimate washing of all sorts characterizes the sacramental body of Christ.

Thirty-odd years ago, my husband and I went to Marriage Encounter. I still remember one of the presenters waxing eloquent and misty-eyed as she talked about the joy of folding her husband’s freshly laundered underwear. I was appalled at her un-liberated bliss. I live in hope that any sneer I cast in her direction has been washed away.

Humble service is our response to the washing we have received. This body is sent to wash whatever or whomever appears, tend what is wounded, feed the hungry, and honor the dignity of the lonely and despairing. Together, this body is for the world God has created, to honor God’s body of creation with all we are and all we have.

We have humble service before us this night – to watch, to wait on the wounded, to accompany the forlorn and forsaken, always letting our souls be washed in love that passes understanding. He has said to us, ‘with my body I honor you.’ With all that we are and all that we have, may we honor our wedded brothers and sisters, all the peoples of this earth. Like Francis, may this body honor all creatures – brother wind, sister water, brother fire, our sister mother earth. We have plenty of feet to wash, and plenty of dying to do, that at the end of our mortal lives we might befriend our sister, death.

[1] With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/pastoral/marriage/marriage.aspx

[2] http://www.episcopalchurch.org/notice/video-explores-ministry-laundry-love

Presiding Bishop’s meditation on the Seven Last Words from the Cross

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

Meditation on James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross[1]
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Salisbury Cathedral

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

James MacMillan writes to transform the listener. That’s usually the idea behind most speech, preaching, and public discourse. But MacMillan goes farther, to say that he intends the listener’s transubstantiation, that we might literally become a different reality, a different stuff. It’s a word normally used of the bread and wine at communion, which is also intended to work a change in the substance of those who eat and drink. Christians become what they eat, that we might be Christ for the world. Might we also become the Word we hear?

MacMillan invites us to approach this work in silence, with open ears and hearts, that this music may work something holy within us, that together we may be or experience or become sacrifice. Those who would be made holy in this encounter must prepare for that encounter by purifying or clearing our minds – setting down prejudgments, letting go of tomorrow’s ‘to do’ list, putting aside our captivity by the clock, and all our varied anxieties. We can’t ever do that perfectly, or for more than a few minutes, yet the intention prepares the heart.

Intention and attention are part of sacrifice. Intention to open the door of our hearts, and attention to keep it from slamming shut or shrinking in fear. How to prepare? As you would for prayer, for an intimate and loving conversation – or a painful one. As though to say, ‘I know this is of deep import, and I want to be fully present.’ Breathe deeply, draw in life and possibility, and then breathe out, exhaling what is unnecessary or distracting right now. Sit up, erect and aware, without strain, yet open to receive whatever may come. And keep breathing.

The seven movements of this work explore the last agony of Jesus of Nazareth, as he awaits death, hanging from the Roman Empire’s cruelest machinery of execution. He is there for sedition, for challenging the power of that empire, for claiming that God rules this world rather than an earthly Caesar. He hangs there for teaching people that God loves us beyond imagining, eternally, no matter what error we might fall into, and that God intends for us all to live together in peace, and justice is a necessary condition for that peace. That message continues to threaten the powers of this world, two millennia on. That message has made many martyrs through the ages, from Alban to Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King, Jr. It has something to do with why John Maundrel, William Coberley, and John Spicer were burned at the stake here in 1556.[2]

Seven movements – a sacred fullness. Seven words of farewell, of “God be with you,” and “God be with me.” Seven-fold sacrifice, God with us.

  • Jesus begins his farewell: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Who is placed in a wasteland of desolation today? Who is being delivered to the lions to devour? Think of Pakistani Christians, living in fear of the next church-bombing or the next charge of blasphemy. Consider the Amish community in Pennsylvania whose school-aged daughters were shot by a crazed and suicidal gunman. That community forgave the murderer and support his widow and children.
  • ‘Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother!’ Behold the love in this world. Open hearts and minds can lead to new and unthought-of conceptions of holy families. The Western world’s obsession with nuclear families has meant the loss of intergenerational and extended family relationships, as well as the possibility of intimate friends who become reflectors of the divine to one another. ‘Who is my mother and my father and my sister and brother?’ Jesus asks. ‘Those who do the will of God, loving others as they love themselves.’ How might our hearts expand to gather those others in? Who is my son, my mother, my sister and brother?
  • Behold the wood of the cross – the tree on which hangs the lover of us all. That lover claims his neighbor for the garden paradise, the robber who asks to enter the kingdom.[3] What sacrifice is required of us to do the same? It begins with imagining the possibility that people we love to hate may enter that garden before us, for its doors are open to all. What a holy-making it is to fling open the doors and gather the world in as sacred harvest! The lover of the world has led the way.
  • ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ‘I am alone and bereft, lost and frightened unto death, where is my helper? I walk the lonely path through the valley of the shadow of death. The light is gone, all is black. Where are you?’ Hear the keening lament of the mothers of the disappeared – in Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, the mothers of the fallen in Palestine and Israel, the mothers of all who die by violence. Jesus weeps for himself and for the world. Transformed and transubstantiated, he becomes succor for all who are fed from his body.

5) I thirst. He has shed blood and water, become living water for the world, and for his mortal thirst he is offered bitterness and the acid bile of revulsion. ‘I cannot swallow this cup, take it from me.’ Cruelest cup, acid taunting, most bitter rejection – when have we offered vinegar? Where have we tasted bile?

6) It is finished. ‘All is lost, there is no hope within me. Wherever I turn there is none to help.’ Who cries thus but the slaves of ISIS and trafficked women, the child soldiers of Africa’s warlords, or rootless young men lost behind bars or imprisoned by drugs? Why do we fail to hear the shackles snapping shut, or see the bodies stabbed and mutilated? Each a sister or brother – who will be family to them, who will accompany their agony? Let it be finished!

7) Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. I return my breath and spirit whence it came. The pain is ended, the veil drawn. If in the beginning a wind from God blew over the waters of chaos, that breath has been withdrawn. Chaos remains… yet it is now a blessed and holy chaos … awaiting the wind of God, moving again over deep and dark…

[1] 1993 Cantata for choir and strings

[2] Salisbury’s Protestant martyrs

[3] Luke 23:39-43

Video: Presiding Bishop’s Easter Day sermon at Salisbury Cathedral

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at Salisbury Cathedral in England during the Easter Day Eucharist service. She preached and led services at various times at Salisbury Cathedral during Holy Week 2015 at the invitation of the Very Rev. June Osborne, dean.

The full text of her Easter Day sermon follows.

Easter Day
5 April 2015
Salisbury Cathedral, 10:30 am

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Alleuia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today – the beloved son, in whom God is indeed well pleased. Christ is risen among us. The grain of wheat has been threshed and exposed, then laid in the ground to die. In the winter of death that life giving seed went far below, into the fires of hell, to comb the ashes for other lives long laid in darkness. God’s life-giving power will not be denied. Jesus’ search of hell brings forth life, damps the heat for lively use, to raise this bread. Smell the sweet savor of yeasty risen life in this place, in this beloved community wedded together in God’s love, Jesus’ life given for the world.

See life and hope in the faces of newest members of this body, and in the lined and white-haired seers who keep finding home here, year by year by year. Christ is risen again in this, his body, given to honor the poor, heal the hurting, and feed a hungry world. This body is a microcosm, but we cannot stay here; God’s larger creation calls us to keep rising and expanding, to share that new life with abandon near and far beyond this place.

This risen body springs from the side of the crucified one – a river of new life, gushing forth to satisfy the world’s thirst. That fount of new life overflows into the members of this body, and it is meant to keep overflowing, a river running out into the desert, to the sere and dessicated, to hopeless hearts, to wash the dirt from clouded eyes and sooty souls, to soothe the pain and flood the violence around us with peace.

This living water is meant to overwhelm death. When you go from this place today, don’t just look at that lovely water in the font. Stick your arm in – up to the elbow! Get wet enough to re-member yourself as part of the living body sent to give life to this world. We are born again today for life abundant. Share that water – that’s why there is such a ridiculously lavish well of water! Get wet – and get someone else wet, too. That river is flowing out into the world – carry it out in your hand and your heart – and pour it over the next cracked and bleeding soul you meet.

This is not a day to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” It is a day to rejoice with wild abandon, for death is conquered, hell and darkness banished, light and life has come into the world. It’s a day to be a fool for Christ. The Orthodox insist that the Resurrection is God’s cosmic joke on the devil – so rejoice and carry on – with mirth and deep joy!

Let the joy you meet here today mend the broken places within you – for those cracks and wounds are entrances for the risen one. Just as he goes below to recover the lost, he will enter if you unbar the gate. Then let the new life you receive this day help mend the broken places in the world around us. For as Jesus says, ‘I am the gate for the sheep,’[1] this living, risen body of Christ is meant to be the gate to new and risen life for all – this body is risen to open doors and unlock prisons, beginning with rejoicing here and carrying that risen, rising life into all the world’s places of death, despair, and destruction.

We are the risen body Christ has wedded together in a loaf of life. We are to be living water for a parched and dusty world. We are branches of the true vine, yielding fruit for the wedding feast of God’s beloved family. We are to follow Jesus into the hells of this world to bring out forgotten inmates, despised immigrants, refused asylum seekers and refugees. We are to call all creatures beloved of God, and to know that of ourselves.

We have come here today to be fed and watered, to be inspired and healed, to be revived, but not to stay or hold this body fast.

When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb in grief and despair, its emptiness compounds her own, and the loss of even his mortal frame adds to the cruelty. Yet the empty tomb becomes an echo chamber for good news: “why weep?” they ask. He is not here! Why weep, indeed? The gardener himself is risen, like wheat that springeth green.[2] What joy she feels! As she reaches out, he warns, “No, don’t cling to me. But go, go and tell my brothers I am ascending.” Let go the strings, dear Mary, find your voice and your feet, go and share the news of rising life. The bridegroom is leaving his earthly home to cling to the world for which he has given his body in troth.[3] And now, as his body has been broken, this loaf must also break and be sent out with good news of great joy.

The Orthodox call Mary “apostle to the apostles,” the first one sent to teach the truth of new and risen life. She shared that truth, and the risen Lord appeared and shared it himself, until a small band of frightened human beings began to find their courage, and re-member who he had been among them, and what he had shown and taught. He continued to eat with them and encourage them until he returned to the Godhead, and sent the yeasty spirit to enliven us to the end of the ages. This body here cannot contain that living presence – we cannot cling here; we must go and share good news of rising joy.

Rejoice, believers, he is risen! Be at peace, go in peace, and be his peace in the world. Be of good courage – remember you are beloved, and Christ will strengthen you. Hold fast to what is good, and die to what is not. Honor the body of God’s creation with your own body. Rejoice, give thanks, and make a feast, for God is with us. Death no more has dominion; light abounds in the heavens and on earth; we are raised with Christ, to be-love and befriend the world he cherishes for eternity.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

[1] John 10:9

[2] “Now the green blade riseth” John MacLeod Campbell Crum (1872-1958). Cf. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-now-the-green-blade-riseth

[3] Cf. Genesis 2:24

Kenyan archbishop’s statement on Garissa University attack

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

[Anglican Church of Kenya] Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of the Anglican Church of Kenya issued the following pastoral letter for Good Friday following the al-Shabaab attack at Garissa University, Kenya, that killed more than 150 people, mostly Christians.

My dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Good Friday we gather in our churches across Kenya in the shadow of a great and terrible evil. People who deal in death have slaughtered [more than 150] people in Garissa, most of them students, and brought wrenching anguish to their families and a deep sadness to our nation.

These young people died because they were Kenyans and they were Christians. This attack was a calculated manifestation of evil designed to destroy our nation and our faith, but on this Good Friday we are reminded that the very worst evil can do is not the last word.

Through spite and blatant miscarriage of justice, Jesus dies the agonising death of the cross, but his last words are ‘it is finished’. The cross was not a tragic accident, but the fulfilment of God’s purpose to reconcile men and women to himself through the atoning death of his Son, a reality gloriously confirmed by his resurrection from the dead.

But we must not rush on to Easter Day too quickly.  Today we stand at the cross with Mary and the other women, heartbroken by loss and suffering and despite the horror before their eyes, not running away.

Horror is fresh in our minds too and let us not run away or deny it, but stay by the cross. We stay with Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, we share in the grief of Mary and we share in the grief of those who have been so shockingly bereaved, but as Mary was to discover, we know that this is not the end of the story.

Jesus death upon the cross was not in vain. By his death, death has been destroyed. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb of Jesus assures us that death does not have the last word. As we think of those dear ones who died at Garissa because they were Christians, let us remember the promise of the Lord Jesus that nothing can separate them and us from his love.

Above all, let us resolve today that these deaths, and those of other Kenyans who have died previously at the hands of Al Shabaab, will not be in vain. We call on the government to do all in its power to protect the lives of its citizens and we call on the world community to recognise that this latest outrage is not just an attack on Kenya, but part of an assault on world peace. The time has come for the world to unite as never before in defeating this growing menace.

While governments have a vital role, even more important are the hearts and minds of ordinary people. Let us covenant together before God that we will never ever surrender our nation or our faith in Christ to those who glory in death and destruction. We will not be intimidated because we know and trust in the power of the cross, God’s power to forgive our sins, to turn death into the gate of glory and to make us his children for ever.

Amen
Archbishop, Anglican Church of Kenya

Idowu-Fearon responds to misrepresentation of remarks

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

[Anglican Communion Office] The Rt. Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon issued the following statement responding to “misleading stories concerning a sermon in 2014 and an interview in 2007.” Idowu-Fearon currently serves as bishop of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and was recently announced as the next secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

In Benin on Sunday 23rd March, 2014 at St. Mathew’s Cathedral where Knights and their wives were being admitted, I encouraged them to continue to uphold family values in their homes bringing up their children as Christians in order to make a difference in their society. I then went on to challenge the National Assembly, comparing corruption with homosexuality that they had just criminalized. I wished the National Assembly had spent all that time and energy to criminalize corruption rather than homosexuality which is not damaging the Nigerian society as is corruption.

I have never supported the law in Nigeria that criminalizes the gay community and I will never support it. The Church is called to love and protect everyone without discrimination, ‘love the person but hate the sin” whatever the sin may be, corruption, sexual sins of all kinds, misuse of power or anything else.

In this I believe I am affirming the position of the Anglican Communion in Lambeth 1:10.

In a Dallas interview in 2007 the question was about the Bible and culture. I did say by way of explanation that the West brought the Christian Faith to us and our forefathers embraced the faith finding it corroborated our view on marriage. Today, the same West are telling us that the position has changed. To the African, that is confusing, hence the difficulty between the Western church and the African church.

Again, my position is clear. For the majority of African Christians, the Bible judges culture, including African culture. As African Christians we must accept other cultures and the way they also understand the Bible’s relationship with culture. I accept and promote a culture of respect for such differences.

The Rt. Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon

Ecumenical Easter letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

[Lambeth Palace] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby issued the following Easter letter to partners and heads of other churches around the world.

“Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour, our Lord of life, shines upon you! Let all God’s people sing and shout for joy!”

These words of triumph are sung out across churches as Easter dawns. For centuries such sounds of joy at the Easter festival have echoed and continue to echo around the globe in a multitude of different tongues and cultural contexts, making a deep impact on the lives of Christians and Churches. With the confession of Jesus having conquered death we proclaim that we have been raised to new life in him.

In the 15th chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthian Christians, St Paul couples the resurrection of Christ with confidence in the resurrection of Christ’s people.

The Apostle clearly states that the resurrection of Christ is a beginning, and that the hope of our own resurrection can only be in Christ. He argues: if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then his proclamation is empty and our faith is in vain.

Having laid out all the arguments that would dispose of the Christian claim to the risen Christ, he continues: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” This is the faith that is also proclaimed in the Byzantine opening to the Easter Liturgy and which has been the confession of Christians down the ages.

The resurrection of Christ is the great hope, not only for each of us individually, but also for today’s troubled world – a world in which violence and violation of human rights describe the day to day context of people in many parts; a world in which moral and spiritual values often seem hopelessly inadequate against the forces of self-seeking gain in every sphere of life.

It is also a world in which our brother and sister Christians are still a beleaguered and even persecuted community in many places, as they have been at different times and places in history. We continue to remember the suffering Christians in the Middle East.

This year our remembrance is also focussed particularly on the Armenian people who a century ago were driven to their death and into exile because they were Christians.

It is into this world that the message of the Church at Easter remains constant over the centuries, proclaiming in the midst of hopelessness the hope of Christ, triumphant beyond death and the powers of evil; living and life giving amongst us.

In this resurrection faith we follow the saints and martyrs throughout the ages who have proclaimed the Risen Christ as their Lord and Saviour, who believe that in Christ there is abundant life and that death and suffering will not have the final say. The Easter faith strengthens us with the hope in life, here and now and in the world to come.

This hope is not an illusion, which turns out to be empty; rather, it is the tested cantus firmus over the ages for all Christians. Beyond human imagination, the power of the resurrection overcomes disparate, conflict-laden and destructive forces. We are called to proclaim God’s Good News in confidence and obedience to Christ to bring healing and reconciliation.

Christ’s resurrection, therefore, also compels us to ever closer bonds of Christian fellowship with one another – the saints in the here and now – to seek greater unity and work together with Christ, as his Body, in the newness of life already begun by him.

It is in this spirit that I greet you with this letter.

I will continue to pray that the hope and joy of the resurrected Christ will deeply move our hearts and souls, that it will heal relationships between individuals, communities and nations, and that it will banish fear, overcome suffering, broker peace and bring reconciliation.

I close with the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:78): “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

I embrace you with brotherly love in the Risen Christ,

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury

Easter 2015

Hunger for food security, justice feeds Diocese of Los Angeles’ work

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 6, 2015

Farmworker Ophelia Hernandez, Sarah Nolan, The Abundant Table’s director of programs and community partnerships, and Reyna Ortega, production manager, pose for a photograph in the field. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] Flying over Los Angeles, the city’s vastness comes sharply into focus. Its low buildings and sun-bleached concrete stretch on forever, but look closer at the greater metropolitan area, in the communities, schools and churchyards, and you’ll see gardens.

The gardens are part of the Diocese of Los Angeles’ plan to address food security in the communities served by its parishes, and one of the ways it cares for the environment.

In one of the nation’s largest cities in the top-producing agricultural state, people don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Through Seeds of Hope and The Abundant Table, the diocese is doing something about it.

Three years ago, Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno decided to get serious about addressing food insecurity in his diocese and created Seeds of Hope, which works with congregations, communities and schools to turn unused land into productive gardens and orchards to provide healthy, fresh food to local residents.

“In Los Angeles, access to nutritious food is a luxury,” said the Rev. Andrew K. Barnett, the bishop’s chair for environmental studies and food justice. “If you live in a low-income community, it’s much easier to get fast food.”

The availability of fresh versus fast food has led to a 12-year life expectancy gap between residents of low-income neighborhoods and those who live in moderate-to-high-income neighborhoods, added Barnett.

“We looked at that and said, ‘That’s unacceptable; that’s wrong.’”

Up until the mid-1950s, “Los Angeles County was the main agricultural producing county … in the world,” said Tim Alderson, executive director of Seeds of Hope, in a Diocese of Los Angeles video. At the time of the diocese’s founding almost 120 years ago, 40 percent of the population was directly involved in agriculture.

“Today, 1 percent of the population is involved in feeding the rest of us, which has created a real disconnect between us and the sources of our food, and that has led to obesity, diabetes, other metabolic disorders that affect us across the scale,” said Alderson.

“We have people in our diocese who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from and those same people are obese.”

Seeds of Hope takes a diocesan approach to producing and distributing food, and also serves to develop the resources necessary to empower parishes, schools and others to begin growing food. The intention is to make a direct impact on the health and wellness, both physically and spiritually, of people in the community.

“Everything lands disproportionately on people living in poverty,” said Alderson in an interview with Episcopal News Service following a March 24 forum on the climate change crisis. “We decided we needed to address this serious issue in the underserved communities that we serve.”

In contrast to other nations, Americans who live in poverty are more likely to be obese, and more likely to live in food deserts, or areas where access to fresh food is limited.

Los Angeles County covers more than 4,000 square miles and is home to 10 million residents; 1.8 million, or 18 percent, live in poverty.

The diocese – which stretches north to the city of Santa Maria, in Santa Barbara County, to San Clemente, the southern-most border of Orange County, east to the Arizona border, and west to the Pacific Ocean – covers a large geographic area and is home to 139 congregations, 40 schools and 20 institutions.

Seeds of Hope Executive Director Tim Alderson harvesting oranges for the Cathedral Center food pantry. Photo: Courtesy of the Diocese of Los Angeles

One hundred and eight congregations participate in Seeds of Hope by either growing or distributing food or both, and half of its schools have gardens. Through a contract with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, it provides cooking/nutrition and fitness education to low-income residents at 17 churches in underserved communities, said Alderson.

Since its inception in January 2013, Seeds of Hope has grown from one staff member to 16, including three full-time and three part-time positions, and 10 interns, and through combined efforts is producing 50 tons of fruits and vegetables – 800,000 servings – annually and is providing food to approximately 30,000 households monthly through food pantries.

“We also serve more than 30,000 meals each month to people in need at our various meal programs,” said Alderson.

Garden planting at Christ the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. Photo: Courtesy of the Diocese of Los Angeles

North of Los Angeles, on 4.8 acres in Ventura County, The Abundant Table farm produces more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including beets, carrots, radishes, kale, chili peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and cabbage.

In addition to feeding the 150 members of their community-supported agriculture program, the farmers sell fresh produce to local schools and donate 10 percent of their harvest to a food bank.

The Abundant Table is more than a farm, however; it’s also a church, an internship program, and a place where students, youth groups and others can gain a hands-on learning experience about food. Its mission is rooted in food justice – ensuring that people have access to fresh, nutritious foods, that farmworkers’ rights are respected and that the workers are paid a fair wage.

“A foundational value of us is food justice,” said Sarah Nolan, director of programs and community partnerships.

An ecumenical and interfaith ministry of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, the farm church invites people of all faith traditions to explore spirituality in connection with the land.

“We’re really looking at developing an ecosystem that creates an economically viable church and farm model,” said Nolan, adding that it’s experimental and that they are looking at how the farm supports worship and vice versa.

Last year, The Abundant Table Farm Church received a $100,000 grant from an Episcopal Church initiative aimed at new church starts. The grant was funded through the Five Marks of Mission triennial budget. In this case, the Abundant Table Farm Church epitomizes the First Mark of Mission – to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.

“Abundant Table is a community of practice that embodies a joyful and prophetic witness to the power of right relationships, not only to each other, but also with the land and with food,” said the Rev. Thomas Brackett, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s missioner for new church starts and missional initiatives, in an e-mail message.

“[It models] wise actions that sustain intentional communities rooted in the ancient practices of following Jesus. It was the discernment of our First Mark [of Mission] funding council that we probably need 1,000 more Abundant Table ministries across the U.S. Sarah Nolan and Amy Grossman are out in front on a path that we will all need to eventually make by walking!”

Last year, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society awarded Nolan an environmental stewardship fellowship through which she is working to build a national Episcopal network around food and agricultural ministries.

“There are so many people doing things already,” she said, in addition to food banks and gardens. The Beecken Center of The School of Theology at Sewanee, for example, has created the Faith Farm and Food Network.

One of the main questions she and others are asking is: “If The Episcopal Church looked at itself as a food system, what would we do differently?” Then subsequent questions might be: How would we use camps and conference centers differently? How would we connect churches with new and beginning farmers? How are food banks connecting with local farms? How does liturgy emerge out of what we are doing?

In California, which is entering its fourth year of drought and where farmers have been forced to leave crops to rot in the fields, talking about food justice is an entry point for beginning discussions about ways to address climate change.

“I think the power of connecting with where one’s food comes from and also participating in the growing process creates a relationship to the earth that forms a level of humility and wonder for God’s creation. In many ways, we know that it is difficult to express love and care for anyone or anything without a relationship,” said Nolan.

“I don’t believe we can even begin to address the issues surrounding climate change, without developing a relationship to the earth and the people most impacted by the consequences of global warming,” she added. “I hope that every child, youth and adult that visits our farm experiences one step, if not more, in restoring a relationship with the plants, bugs, soil, people and all the complex relationships that make up our planet. For the Abundant Table it is the work of the church (especially a Eucharistic church) to help restore these relationships through the growing and sharing of food and invite others to join us in that work.”

Editor’s note: Every Friday during these 30 Days of Action, we invite you to explore how the growing and sharing of food in your family, community and culture bring you closer God’s invitation to all of us to “till and keep” the earth.

– Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.

Western North Carolina Bishop Taylor will resign in September 2016

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 2, 2015

[Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina] Diocese of Western North Carolina Bishop G. Porter Taylor recently announced the he will resign at the end of September 2016.

Taylor, 65, was consecrated as the sixth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina on Sept. 18, 2004.

He included the following letter in the March 26 edition of the weekly diocesan e-newsletter.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For every time there is a season. I have been honored to be your bishop for this past decade. It has been a privilege beyond my dreams. I have travelled the globe and represented you to the wider Church. Most of all, I have been honored to be part of your lives and your parishes’ lives as your bishop — to confirm/receive, to baptize, to ordain, to celebrate new ministries, to bury, to celebrate and give thanks to the Lord. We have labored together; we have started new initiatives; we have been blessed by the Lord in smooth and rocky times.

After much prayer and deep conversations, it has become clear to me that God is calling me to something else. In 2016 I will be 66 and am convinced that this is the time for me and the diocese to begin a new chapter. I have consulted with the Standing Committee. They are prepared to move the nomination/election process forward appropriately.

Therefore, at the Renewal of Vows on March 26, I will announce that I will ask the Executive Council to authorize the election of the Seventh Bishop of WNC on October 1, 2016.

I give thanks for our ministry. Working with you has been a joy. I am absolutely assured that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well.”

Grace and peace,

+G. Porter Taylor

Bishop, Diocese of WNC

Nigerian bishop to be Anglican Communion’s next secretary general

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon (center) with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (left) and Bishop James Tengatenga (right), chair of the Anglican Consultative Council. Photo: ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Most Rev. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon has been appointed to be the next secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

Idowu-Fearon currently serves as bishop of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) where he has earned a global reputation for his expertise in Christian-Muslim relations.

He was selected out of an initial field of applicants from Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Since 1998, Idowu-Fearon has been bishop of Kaduna, and he is the current director of the Kaduna Anglican Study Centre. Before that he served as bishop of Sokoto, warden at St. Francis of Assisi Theological College in Wusasa, and provost of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kaduna.

Responding to his appointment, Idowu-Fearon said, “I am excited to take up the post of secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and to continue the fine work undertaken by my predecessors in this office.

“It is a privilege to be so honored and recognized by the Communion for this leadership position. I look forward to serving the Anglican family with my future colleagues at the Anglican Communion Office and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Bishop James Tengatenga, chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, warmly welcomed the appointment: “I am delighted that Bishop Josiah has accepted the position. He will bring a vital new perspective on the Anglican Communion, its life and ministry. His experience and expertise in Christian-Muslim relations is particularly welcome at this time.”

Welby said, “I warmly welcome the appointment of Bishop Josiah and look forward to working closely with him in the renewal of the Anglican Communion amidst the global challenges facing us today.”

The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon

Idowu-Fearon has a Ph.D. (Sociology) and Postgraduate Diploma in Education from Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University, an M.A. in Islamic Theology from the U.K.’s Birmingham University, and a B.A. in Theology from Durham University in the U.K.

He has lectured and been published widely on the subject of Christian-Muslim relations. He serves on a variety of national interreligious bodies and has previously worked with the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace on several projects.

Idowu-Fearon has been awarded the Officer of the Order of the Niger, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cross of St. Augustine’s Award, and is a Canterbury Six Preacher.

The person specification for the role of secretary general indicated that the next incumbent should “assist the Communion to become even more faithful to, and engaged in, God’s mission of reconciliation. The successful candidate will be a committed Christian, a person of deep faith and prayer, a visionary ambassador for Christ and his Church, a bridge-builder to effect healing amongst the churches of the Anglican Communion, a creative and imaginative thinker, and an inspirational leader who will help to renew the witness and effectiveness of the Communion, its structures, and its programs.”

Lay and clergy individuals from member churches of the Anglican Communion were encouraged to apply.

Idowu-Fearon, who is married to Comfort and has two children, Ibrahim and Ninma, is expected to take up the role in July 2015.

Dioceses add twists to Holy Tuesday traditional renewal of vows

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ken Baker, a resident of Hartford, Connecticut, greets Bishop Jim Hazelwood, right, of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American, and asks him for a hug. The bishop was with a group of clergy returning from a visit to Hartford Hospital. Photo: Marc Yves Regis/Diocese of Connecticut

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Church clergy in two dioceses joined with their neighbors for unique variations on the Holy Tuesday tradition of renewing their ordination vows.

In the Diocese of Connecticut, Episcopal and Lutheran clergy visited and prayed at four public sites in the state capital city of Hartford before their renewal service.

A group of about 60 clergy, including Connecticut Bishop Ian T. Douglas and Bishop Suffragan Laura J. Ahrens along with Bishop Jim Hazelwood of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America started the day with a renewal of their baptismal vows and a service of Communion in Bushnell Park, a large park in the city near the capitol.

Carrying their banner in front, one of the four groups of clergy leave Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut, after a communion service to visit the Manna Community Meals site. On the right is the Rev. Miguelina Howell, the vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, carrying a gift of bread for people at the site. Photo: Marc Yves Regis/Diocese of Connecticut

“Are we willing to be present, listen, pay attention and partner with others in the journey?” Ahrens asked during her sermon preached the park. “Being about seeing Jesus in the other, building community, connections and relationships.”

Afterwards the clergy divided into four groups, each to visit one of four nearby sites: the Hartford Public Library, Hartford Hospital, Capital Community College, and the Manna Community Meals and Church Street Eats program based at Christ Church Cathedral.

“We seek as Lutheran and Episcopal sisters and brothers together, to be a visible presence in the city of Hartford,” the three bishops wrote in an invitation to the gathering. “We offer our prayers and our presence in the neighborhoods where we see people creating spaces that care for, empower and strengthen all people. By visiting these places with our prayer and our presence we both affirm their work, and see possible partnerships and collaboration with those who are about the work of God’s mission, sharing God’s love.”

The bishops said they hoped the visits would encourage the clergy to see their own neighborhoods in a similar way.

After the visits, the Episcopal clergy gathered at the round noon they reconvened at Christ Church Cathedral for more prayer and to talk about where they’d seen Jesus that day. They then renewed their ordination vows and received newly blessed holy oils.

In the Diocese of Atlanta, clergy gathered to renew their vows at The Temple, a Reform synagogue in Midtown Atlanta.

Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright, bishop of Middle and North Georgia, arranged to hold the Holy Tuesday service at The Temple. Rabbi Peter S. Berg was the preacher for the service.

Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright, right, and Rabbi Peter S. Berg, leader of The Temple, a Reform synagogue in Midtown Atlanta, talk outside The Temple March 31 as Episcopal Church clergy enter for the traditional Holy Tuesday renewal of vows. Berg preached at the service. Photo: Diocese of Atlanta

“The Temple is our neighbor, and has been a friend of the Christian community in Atlanta for many years,” Wright said in a press release. “It represents the faith Jesus was formed by.”

Wright and Berg worked out the arrangement last summer when they worked side by side on a community summer meal for kids service project at The Temple.

“In a world of religions in conflict, we can rejoice in an opportunity to celebrate that which binds us together,” Wright said.

Berg called the event “historic.”

“We are honored to host the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta for the annual reaffirmation of ordination vows at The Temple,” Berg said. “This is an historic moment for our interfaith community. We hope this will be one of many opportunities for our communities to study and pray together… and we applaud all of the clergy who are reaching this significant milestone.”

A local National Public Radio station report on the service is here.

More than 200 clergy are part of the Diocese of Atlanta, which stretches from Columbus to below Macon and east to near Augusta and all parts of Georgia north of that line. There are 110 Episcopal worshiping communities within the diocese.