Category Archives: IMCS AP

Fr Tissa Balasuriya: Memories and Challenges for today

Edited English text of Fr. Tissa Balasuriya 5th death anniversary Memorial Oration, delivered in Sinhalese, on 17th January 2018, at the Centre for Society & Religion (CSR), Colombo) 

By Ruki Fernando

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. Even though I had not known or worked closely with Fr Tissa as some others here. I constantly think of and miss two of my mentors in activism. One is Fr. Tissa. And it’s humbling to speak about such a visionary, committed and simple man. Who I called a  Loving and Gentle Rebel.

I had first met him when I was in the Young Christian Students (YCS) Movement. We used to come to CSR, to borrow materials and equipment. Amongst the videos that Fr Tissa lent us, and left a lasting impression, was the video about Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvadore, who was assassinated for his uncompromising positions and harsh criticisms of an authoritarian regime.

Fr. Tissa had been the 1st Asia Pacific Chaplain of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS). Mentored by visionary and committed chaplains like him, many Catholic student leaders in Asia have gone on to become activists. It’s sad that we don’t have many chaplains like him today. I’m not sure whether anyone from Sri Lanka’s Catholic Students movement is interested in Fr Tissa’s life, work and thoughts and whether anyone is here today to reflect about these.

I continued my association with Fr. Tissa after my YCS life. Going with him to slums in Colombo shocked me. Discussions about liberation theology and social analysis was difficult to follow, but exiting. Few years before he died, he cautioned me to be careful knowing imminent threats I was facing. Later he invited me to stay with him with an assurance he will protect me.

There are many more memories, and it’s easy to get carried away and talk about these. But I will try restrain myself from that temptation. And try to approach the much more difficult, and overwhelming task of reflecting about his life, work and about carrying forward his vision in a way that’s relevant today. I will share my reflections under 3 areas.

1. Fr. Tissa in society, with a vision of a church that was part of society

Fr. Tissa was a Catholic Priest. But in context where many Priests and Catholic leaders were and are distant from society and day to day issues faced by people, Fr Tissa remained firmly rooted in society. His Christian faith and Priesthood appeared to have motivated and pushed him to be a man of and man in society. He had become intimately involved in struggles for social justice and human rights. He initiated, supported and joined social movements. His interests and writings have covered an amazing variety of issues – feminism, women’s rights, worker’s rights, urban poverty, Malaiyaha Tamils (especially those working and living in estates), ethnic conflict and reconciliation, global warming etc. Connecting such issues to Spirituality and Christian faith had come naturally to him and was non-negotiable. He consistently and passionately condemned capitalism and didn’t shy away from asserting that ideals of socialism can identify with Christian faith and his left leanings.

He emphasized the use of social analysis for theology and insisted that “In the absence of a systemic analysis persons of goodwill can be unwittingly used by the powers that be for their benefit. Thus they are persuaded to consider their task as to take care of the victims of the exploitative system, to ensure continuity of the power system, to legitimize the prevailing exploitative order and to prevent or contain dissent leading to revolt. Social workers promoting these causes will be given an honourable place in society, and respected when they do not contest the greed and injustice of the dominant”.

He didn’t fail to identify how religious institutions and traditions, especially the Church, which he remained part of till death, had been part of and promoted oppressive practices and traditions, within Church life and in society.

“Liberation” was a word that he had used often. Three of his well-known books were “Jesus and Human Liberation”, “Mary and Human Liberation” and “Eucharist and Human Liberation”. A series of publications by CSR under Fr. Tissa was named “Vimukthi Prakashana” or “Liberation Publications”. Women’s rights, women’s liberation, feminism and the ethnic conflict related topics were covered regularly by this series of booklets. One was provocatively titled “A political solution or military solution?” The series also dealt with host of other issues, such as multinational corporations and liberation, rural socialist liberation, fisherfolk in Negombo, farmers, white paper on education, free trade zone, tourism, Colombo Municipal Council and housing problem, transport service and Ceylon Transport Board (CTB), Mahaweli development project, challenges in cinema, censorship board and the 1971 constitution.

Contextual Theology – or Theology that was relevant to social – economic – political context at a particular time in a particular place – was key element of liberation theology that Fr. Tissa lived and promoted. One of his lesser known work is on Theology concerning ethnicity. As far back as 1986, he wrote, “A theology related Sri Lanka must relate to life here. Since ethnic relations are dominant factor in Sri Lankan life today, contemporary theology in Sri Lanka must have ethnicity as one of it’s most significant dimensions”.

2. From Contextual Theology to Planetary Theology and Globalization of Solidarity

Fr. Tissa appeared to have tried to go beyond contextual theology in writing about “Planetary Theology” – title of one of his most famous and oldest books published in 1984, the Sinhala translation of which is being launched today. Globalization of Solidarity was one of his latter books, published in 2000.

Although Fr Tissa had grappled with day to day problems facing different communities in Sri Lanka, from slums in Colombo, to free trade zone and ethnic conflict, he also grappled with world problems. His writings regularly and harshly condemned colonization and advocated for recognition and restitution, acknowledging that “even in recent times (2010) it is difficult to even discuss the question of compensation and restitution for long term colonial exploitation of peoples by persons, companies and countries”. To him, world trade was about transferring resources from the poor to the rich. “World Apartheid” was a word that he used regularly to talk about past and ongoing global injustices by western countries towards other parts of the world.

According to him, “in the history of the world the colonial adventure of the European (Christian) peoples constitutes one of the greatest robberies, genocides and abuse of power by a set of human beings and nations. The Church and Christians have been not only involved in this genocide, but have encouraged it and benefited from it”. He had also stated that “the reform of international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, the democratization of the UNO and its security Council and the strengthening of the powers of the UN General Assembly are also needed for dealing with these problems. The whole unjust world order, built up by 500 years of Western colonization, must be reformed to have world justice”.

According to Fr. Tissa, local action is not a remedy for global problems and “given the global nature of the present challenges to life, contextual theologies alone, however well developed and essential for the context, are not adequate to inspire liberative action that has also to be global”.

For him, “human solidarity in the context of present day globalization necessitates a radical transformation of the world order and relationships among peoples in the direction of sharing of resources and caring for all. In addition to changes at the national and regional levels, there has to be transformations at the world”.

He argued that “The genuinely universal dimensions of Christian theology may be said to be those elements of theology that have a bearing on all reality, or at least on the whole planet earth and all humanity of all time and space”. He went on to elaborate that such universal dimensions would include:

·         Humanity, the human condition in its universal characteristics

·         Male and female, though different, equal in rights and dignity

·         The cosmos, especially the planet earth available, with its limited resources, for all humanity & the planet’s ecology as common essential source of life and hence of concern for all humans, present and future

·         Recognition that each group of humans has a history and a religio-cultural background of its own, which is a universal factor that makes for particularity and different contexts for theology

3. Reflecting on taking forward Fr. Tissa’s life and work – especially for CSR & Oblates

I realize now that Fr. Tissa was one of first Oblates I had met. He probably didn’t realize how far that relationship will go. We have organized and attended seminars, exhibitions, visited war ravaged areas during and after war, been together at the UN in New York and Geneva, at street protests in Colombo, Kilinochchi and elsewhere.

CSR, founded by Fr. Tissa in 1971, has been an important part of my life and that of many activists. CSR had offered it’s meeting spaces when other centers refused to host us. We faced rampaging monks together in this very hall at CSR. When I couldn’t find anyone else to offer shelter for those in fear of their lives, I turned to CSR. After Fr. Praveen (another Oblate) and I were detained by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), some activists and friends, including priests, didn’t want to welcome the two of us, so we turned to CSR.

So I hope CSR can play a bigger role in human rights and social justice activism. This will be possible only if it’s backed fully by Oblates, especially it’s leadership. It is heartening that Oblates have taken on themselves to continue the work at CSR. I must also mention Oblates taking forward the work at Suba Seth Gedera in Buttala, initiated by another Oblate, Fr Michel Rodrigo. These two centres, have the potential to become central places for social justice and rights struggles.

I want to highlight three broad areas, which Fr Tissa had dealt with, for consideration by Oblates and CSR, to have deeper involvement:

i.                    Ethnic conflict and post war issues

Though the war is over, we are still not at peace, and remain polarized along ethnic lines. A political solution to the ethnic conflict, truth and justice in relation to disappeared, political prisoners, land and right to remember war dead are just some of major challenges confronting us. I believe CSR has a fairly strong Sinhalese constituency, and thus well placed to play such a role, but I feel it will have to do more outreach to Tamils and Muslims.

ii.                  Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Today in Sri Lanka, civil society is polarized whether economic, social and cultural rights should be given equal status to civil and political rights and whether they should be recognized as justiciable rights in the constitution. Fr. Tissa’s repeated and ominous warnings about evils of capitalism and neo-liberal economic and development agendas are visible before our eyes and ears today, affecting economic, social and cultural rights. Across the country, there are struggles being waged by workers, fisherfolk, farmers, and students. For land, for free and quality health care and education and against mega development projects such as Port City and Uma Oya. Fr. Tissa’s friend and colleague, Fr. Michale Rodrigo, was killed 30 years ago while he was fighting for rights and dignity of peasant’s in Buttala, and these challenges remain. Fr. Tissa had insisted that “rights of people cannot be ensured and fostered today without a struggle against the evil aspects of capitalistic globalization. A critical analysis of globalization, (within such global apartheid) and a reflection based on the religious and spiritual values of humanity would lead to an option for the genuine development and liberation of the people, especially the poor”.

iii.                Feminism, Women’s rights, Gender and Sexuality

The Catholic Church, along with other religious institutions, dominated by male clerics, has often been on the wrong side of rights and dignity of women and people with different gender identities and sexual orientations. Fr. Tissa was one who appeared to be an exception. I’m highlighting this, even though I’m not confident Oblates will want to take up this challenge. According to Fr Tissa, mother of Jesus, Mary, “was not seen as one who was deeply concerned with the rights of others and opposed to exploitation of all types. Marian spirituality had an effect of de-radicalizing the revolutionary message of the gospel.” Today in Sri Lanka, there are debates about abortion and right to life, by some Catholic laity. Debates about legally and socially recognizing equal rights and dignity of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual people. Young Muslim women are battling against Muslim clerics and politicians to get rid of entrenched discriminatory laws against girls and women. And brave women from different parts of the country campaigning for local government election, which has potential to increase women’s political participation. So perhaps it’s time, CSR considers supporting such struggles, or at least facilitate reflections and debates.

 

Fr. Tissa, if he was here today, would have been in the thick of these battles and debates. On the side of those who had been marginalized, discriminated. Uncompromising, supporting and promoting unpopular positions, within Church, government and society. A meaningful way of paying homage to him would be to reflect deeply how we will get involved in these issues.

I also want to highlight five approaches for CSR and Oblates to consider:

i.                    Diversify leadership:

Within your own institutions and initiatives, give leadership opportunities for lay persons, young persons, women and persons from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, persons with different gender identities and sexual orientations, persons from different parts of the country. Beyond the rhetoric, symbolism and tokenism. This is probably an area Fr. Tissa was not able to make much progress. It will take a long time. But it’s possible to start today.

ii.                  Use of modern technology:

Fr. Tissa had noted that “communications revolution can be a resource and an ally” and that “extraordinary development of the means of communication, including T.V., E-mail and Internet can be a means of contact among the peoples of the world”. He had stressed the “need and significance of economics, literacy, computer literacy, use of media so as not to be brainwashed by the systemic forces, and dominant orthodoxies”.

iii.                Intensive research and publications:

During time of Fr. Tissa, CSR was known for it’s research and publications. Such as “Logos”, “Quest” and “Liberation Publications (Vimukthi Prakashana)”. The “Sadaranaya (Justice)” has been revived some years back and I was happy to hear the English version “Social Justice” will also be revived soon. But more effort will have to be made to revive the research culture at CSR. Help from competent personnel will have to be sought. Fr. Tissa himself has said that “relevant action requires good information, data, knowledge and analysis These must be made available to action groups” and that “Since we are bombarded daily by the mass media with news and views on the economy and economic policies, it is necessary to be trained to demythologize the claimed orthodoxies of economists, academics, policy makers and media programmes, as it is necessary to be able to demythologize the stories of the scriptures”.

iv.                Principled and uncompromising engagement with policy makers:

In order to bring about long term structural, institutional and policy changes, it’s important to dialogue with politicians, bureaucrats and other influential personalities. But challenge is not to be cop-opted, and engage in principled dialogue. Without compromising our fundamental convictions and struggles in favor of money, recognition, safety and other privileges and favors.

v.                  Stronger involvement in local, national and international social movements:

CSR still is a gathering place for various social movements, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, survivors, victim’s families come to CSR. But the challenge is go beyond offering or renting space, and for CSR itself to become involved in these debates and struggles. I also hope the publishing of Planetary Theology in Sinhalese will contribute towards stronger international networking and “globalization of solidarity”. 

Conclusion

Fr. Tissa had often highlighted the lifestyle of early Christians. “They believed in sharing their resources and caring for one another so that there was no one in need (Acts 4:34)”. He had also said that “former options made decades or centuries earlier may be inadequate to meet present challenges. Some of them may even be counter-productive”. So as much as it’s tempting to remember the dead Fr. Tissa, a real challenge is to make him come alive today, locally and globally. A tough task indeed. But a worthy one.

Christmas and New Year 2018 Greetings

A very Blessed Christmas Greeting to all our student movements, network movements and partners.  Wishing all  Hope, Love, Joy and Peace as we journey to the end of the year and new beginning for year 2018.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember the humble birth of Christ in cold silent night,  a child who is exposed to hardship and danger and marginalisation,  yet a message of new Hope, Peace, Love and Joy is spoken in that night which translate to message a call to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are marginalised and oppressed.

As students who are more privileged in one sense, yet struggle in another sense in the complex globalised world,  let us together with marginalised, oppressed and the mother earth continue the struggle and bring the message of Christmas to the world through our action.

Wishing everyone a very Blessed Christmas & Happy New Year 2018– a Christmas from Ego to Eco — a new journey to our spiritual awakening to bring justice & peace.

IMCS AP Team: Ravi Tissera, Fr Bonefasius Ola, Ruki Fernando & Anne Beatrice

The Impact of the ASEAN Economic Integration on Agriculture, food security

SOUTHEAST ASIAN CONFERENCE Food Sovereignty and Climate Change

On the 13th November 2017 siding the ASEAN People Forum (APF) in Diliman, Philippine, Asia Pacific Network for Food Sovereignty with the collaborative effort of International Movement of Catholic Students Asia Pacific held a regional conference on the Impact of the ASEAN Economic Integration on Agriculture, Food Security, Food Sovereignty and Climate Change. People from different walks of life has participated in the conference, introducing themselves as farmers, fisherfolks, women, student and minority community youth groups. The opening remarks were given by Dean Rene Ofreneo, President Integrated Rural Development Foundation.

The formal conference was started by the key message from “ASEAN Economic integration and agriculture on the “Impacts and measures to promote and protect smallholder agriculture in the region”. He discussed briefly about the Neo-liberal policy in regards to ASEAN Police, Investment, trade and people. More over given the statistics Dr Rene discuss about the flow of the services, Investment capital and labor. Moreover, he highlighted the issue of over population, scarcity of food and climate change using facts and figures from his research.

Ms. Jelan Paclarin discussed about the issues faced by the farmers. As the community at Regional Steering committee chair and representor of farmers at ACF/APF. she brought out some highlights from the budgets, of how there is no relaxation for the farmers in the form of subsidy, providing seeds and fertilizers ect. Moreover, she stated that it is more on making profits rather than feed our people. In the end she addresses the issue by suggesting that” it is very important that the private departments come together and work for the farmers, that is the only way where I think the farmers can overcome this challenge”.

The ASEAN free trade Agreement fully integrating the region to the Neo-liberal economic order was discussed by Megawati Indonesia for global Justice. Using facts and figures she discussed in detail that ASEAN is a magnet for the global market. It’s a big market which attracts the attention of foreign investors. She also highlighted the issue of migration of skillful workers to abroad. Moreover, she highlighted how the workers are being exploited by contractual jobs provided by the multinational companies. While answering the questions she said: that these are all foreign investors coming to the ASEAN looking for cheap labor” adding inequality and social injustice in society.

Mr. Ravi Tissera Asia Pacific Coordinator for International Movement of Catholic Students drawn the attention towards “the ASEAN climate change” He elaborated saying: that ASEAN in along with the coastal area and we are naturally prone to disasters. At the same time ASEAN is rich in natural resource though, but because of mining and deforesting there is a fast rise in sea level. Therefore, we are facing more droughts, excessive rainfalls and other climate related issues.

The panel discussion was headed by Parid Riwanuddin, Soy Sophorn, Mr. Bong Incong, Mr. Romeo Oyandoyan from KIARA, Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, president, United Broilers Association (UBRA) and PCAF (tbc). Briefed about the fisher folks, farmers livestock and rice sector respectively. They mainly focused on the consumption of food. We ASEAN’s having alternative food but we just use four kinds of crops. They added that a great emission of methane gas is affecting green house because of the rice production, but if we use organic farming we can control this emission i.e. up to 50%.  Similarly, Mr. Bong elaborated that if we reduce the consumption of meat it will have great impact on our climate and health as well.

The Second Panel discussion was headed by: Mr. Adrian Pereira, NSI, Malaysia, Trinidad Domingo, NMFS Philippines, Tanseem Pahoh MSFT Thailand, Prof Mendoza Philippines. They discussed about small scale food producers, Rural women Irrigation, Rural Youth and Academe respectively. He also mentioned about the exchange farming programs where farmers can exchange their skills and techniques. Mr. Adrian highlighted the farming that there are some farmers in organic farming but they don’t want to share the skill with other farmers. Mr. Adrian also brought the unhygienic condition of the migrant workers working in the farms and not taking good safety measures after using pesticides in the farms. After that Ms. Taseen Pahoh come up with some Pattani issues. She discussed about the globalization policies effecting this group in Thailand for the personal interests of the investors. Similarly, Mr. Ted Mendoza discussed about the reduction of electricity bills using organic production of rice. He counted other benefit of organic farming as well. While stating the example of south Korea he suggested that we should work like them, where the farmer get the profit up to 60% and it makes them more empowered therefore the continue with their profession.

Key messages from the conference were on how the neoliberalism creeped into the economic, political social cultural of the country, and how ASEAN been a fundamental neoliberal approach to consolidate the economics of the region and integrated it in the local economy order. It’s a myth that the markets, state, and society are separated entities and the market through the neoliberal framework in its own workings can lead our countries into economic growth and then the economic growth need to development which will trickle down as benefits to our people. In the case of experiences in our countries here is opposite and the benefits they say which we receive is actually the benefits to the cooperation. The impact of ASEAN Economic Integration (AEC) are in facts where the cooperation’s are taking over our land, water forest and seas, it’s the cooperate power which is strengthening and expanding in which the food system is corporatize. With that it’s the farmers and fisherfolk will remain the poorest and who their rights are impacted and undermined and violated and the food system is undermined. We also see increasing rural to urban migration where young people are going out of rural areas abandoning farming because farming is no more profitable and we see aging farmers. Most the farmers are old and we see no sustainability in future of farming without strong support from the national governments the country. In term of economics integrations, we see our agriculture is made towards meeting to demands of the export marker rather than meeting the food need of the people. As we also can see the change in the mindset of our people who do not want to support the local food but more the imported food.

And with this context, the rights people in term of economic, social and political rights especially the rural sectors are violated and we clearly see the importance to resist the ASEAN economic integration project.

Our recommendation we presented here

  1. We want to resist the neoliberal system in all forms and in all front meaning at the local, national, international level, even in the different context, like in Philippine, we have democracy where participation of civil society who are resisting but however the policies in some sense is still neoliberal needs to privatization, deduction and more increased cooperation in the system even though we have active civil society but the policy reflects their interest. More it’s in authoritarian regime even in our democracies. all works towards the agenda consolidation of international capitalist system.

At national level – building movement to transform the state to build political power of farmers, workers and fisherfolks to transform policy towards policy which protect the interest of these sectors that are marginalized

Fisherfolk to transform policies that protect their interest that protects the rights the sector marginalized.

At the local only resisting oppression for example are companies are grabbing the land, like in the case of Indonesia working the local authorities to defend the land to prevent the grabbing of the land and the costal resources.

International level building solidarity people to people solidarity and define it further. Recent movement in the international civil societies to push for UN resolution to initiated a binding treaty on transnational cooperation activities which regulate the transnational companies where it can criminalize some action of the transnational cooperation especially those pertaining to land grabbing and resource grabbing.

There is growing movement in the light of impact of climate change, social movement and civil society all over global for system change which we can also take advantage or maximize to building our solidarity.

South South solidarity where this one even more in compulsive as in they ask for system change where it not only talk about production but also in consumption pattern and shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy and even some are campaign for zero emission. Actually this a shifting of capitalize system.

  1. The need of movement building for engaging , reclaiming the policy space public space, as this public space is been dominated by the TNC and their agenda to further consolidate the export orientated and import dependent countries as of our countries and to which they benefit from the stagnation of  manufacturing and industries which benefit more from import and export and they actually influence the policies, so there is need to engage and claiming the public policy space which we means able to be strong to reclaim that and there many ways to do it, we need to be our voices increasing heard and we have shift from mere consultation to actual policy making.

Malaysia no policy for farmers, so need different way of reclaiming base on their own circumstances and that why there is need for greater solidarity, like exchange experience of each other.

How do we mainstream all these practices and making it really sustainable and the needs of our communities and people.  We have organic farming which shown as very viable, earn income for the income for the farmer while protecting the resource space, water and protecting the health of our farmers and our consumers. There is need for funding as subsid that’s why the state should support the transformation of our food system. And transformation of food system is not only production, it should be towards balancing development that mean our farmers and consumers are both taken into account and the farmers and the fisherfolk earns in the process. They should earn income and not become mere supplier and that where need to build cooperative. Cooperative which are of the self-empowerment type and cooperative that from the traders. Cooperative that generate values and earn income for farmers and linked to SMEs.

SME is an area of which we need to look into where the ASEAN economic integration will open up the free flow of investment which will also target SMEs and it is in own respective countries should protect in favor of the lively hood especially SME in which provide employment for the informal sector -worker who are in the informal economy.

  1. In context of climate change, the organic farming how to be really scale up in term of change and adaptation of climate change. Lastly others sectors which are really important in this transformation and our resistant are the young people and women movement, especially our young people who are very vocal and big in number and need to organize them. And the women have a special not only as giver of life but are both into production and reproduction and excellent breeders of seeds. We aim a food system that are sustainable, ecological food system that will resist neoliberal system.

The day was a success the organizer of the conference thanked all the participants for their active participation throughout the day, hoping that this day will be fruitful to them in certain ways.  For the remembrance, group photo was taken at the end of the day.

Insights for Asia Pacific Network for Food Sovereignty Regional Conference: 2017

As a participant of “The Asia Pacific Network for Food Sovereignty” conference on November 13th 2017, listening to the great experienced scholars and professors on global phenomena like Neo-Liberalism, Globalization and Climate Change. It was a chance to sharpen my knowledge and thought to think deep and critical on these issues. It directs my mind to re-think and reflect on: How the poor and the less fortunate people are being abused by the land lords. Mainly, how industrialization is effecting the society as a whole and the individuals at the same time? In addition, how all these so called global phenomenon like globalization, industrialization and privatization penetrating into our lives that as a common people we cannot even realize that we are already part of it, contributing social injustice to society.

The sharing about the foreign investment gives new dimensions to the discussion. We have a large market in Association of South Sea Asia Nations (ASEAN) and the labor market is cheap. Therefore, investors like to invest and keep the profit with them leaving a lot of tangible and intangible impurities like drainage of industrial waste to our oceans, harmful gases for our environment, physical and mental illness and most of all economic depression. Moreover, there is a lack of skilled workers in ASEAN, as they like to migrate to develop countries. Same imply to the farmers as their generation do not want to continue with their profession. They prefer to work in a factory 8hrs/day and have monthly payment. The greediness of industrialization here is that factories offers contractual jobs providing no other benefits for their workers, hence the poor common people left with no choice rather just living her/his life from hand to mouth.

Since times, Power really matters, everyone wants to hold power in his hands therefore, there is no sharing of power, consequently imbalanced society both economically and socially. Hence we violate rights of others that directly leads to different forms of terrorism. Unfortunately, Government is also part of it.

As the civil society leaders we must come up with awareness, for their rights and empowerment. It’s actually the hard work of the farmer who wake up early in the morning to grow food for us. Just to remind we cannot eat money, human being still dependent on crops to eat. We need to empower our farmers pushing our government and civil leaders to provide facilities and opportunities to the farmers. Therefore, their work will be recognized.

by Sana Mariam

State needs to stand up against the bully

Article by Paplu Bengali,
Bangladesh Student Activist

Will Bangladesh government protect those who have burned and vandalised Hindu houses in Horkoli Thakurpara village of Rangpur district today (Nov 10, 2017) similar to other miscreants who have not been punished by the law?

On 30 October 2016, hundreds of people gathered in Brahmanbaria district in eastern Bangladesh, to protest a Facebook post allegedly made by Rasraj Das, 25, is a fisherman and member of the Hindu religious minority. which they claimed insulted Islam. The mob, which had links to the groups Hefajat-e-Islam and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a network of madrasa leaders who hope to introduce Shariah in Bangladesh, went on a rampage through Hindu villages in the area, vandalising at least 100 homes and several temples. As usually, no justice we have got of that assault; however, Rashraj Das has been detained in Bangladesh since October 2016. He was arrested for allegedly posting an “offensive” image on Facebook and charged with “hurting religious sentiment” was locked up and had to be subdued even though he did no crime.

And again On 10 November 2017, after saying prayer of Jumuah, thousands from several villages gathered in front of a mosque and then, many of the people carrying sticks, torched and vandalised Hindu houses claiming that one Titu Chandra Roy ”insulted Islam” on Facebook two weeks ago; but it is very ridiculous that no one of that mob can say what the insulting word is.

We have seen a photo of an aged woman wailing in front of her burned down house. I just meticulously fear to think of her unuttered words and mental condition. Since we are a human being, that howling reaches to our eardrum. We get angered- definitely, these barbarisms make us offend.

Very ago Hefazat-e-Islam, a network of madrasa leaders who hope to introduce Shariah in Bangladesh, threatened and declared that those who would dishonor Islam religion would have been throttled and killed. But, very sadly it is to say that the leaders who threaten people again and again in different ways on behalf of Hefazat are, however, highly entertained at the head office of government. Moreover, the government abides by the demands and makes a syllabus for education system after the assertions of Hefazat. Since the government doesn’t pay attention to these wrongdoings that are being happened in the country, zealot people who need land burn Hindu houses using religious sentiment- besides this, people who want to strengthen political platform using religion are active in the time of persecution.

I have no word to console the oppressed people of Horkoli Thakurpara, Rangpur. To stand by the tormented people, prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina might not go to Rangpur; but, if it were Cricket, she would surely be on the field.

A face of a white whole cloth wearing elderly woman who wailing in front of her burned down house comes again and again on my mind. Is it believable that the howling woman who downtrodden by her neighbors who dwelling just before her house! It is hard to believe in this century but it seems as if it were a very normal thing in our country.

The down-hearted people of Horkoli Thakurpara are going to spend their night under the open sky. They are helpless, burned with envy by the majority Muslim zealot people. It is crying need to stand by the abraded lawful Hindu minority people; but we are being late.

22nd National Conference  of Bangladesh Catholic Students Movement

By Alfred D’ Costa

22nd National Conference was organized by Bangladesh Catholic Students’ Movement and was a four day conference held in Lokkhipur, Sylhet. Bangladesh Catholic Students’ Movement is considered by many, the leading students’ movement for educating students about Catholic Social Teaching. The main theme for this year’s National Conference was “Endangered Environment: Youth solidarity for environmental protection, ensuring natural beauty”. I’m a member of Dhaka archdiocese and representatives of Tejgaon BCSM, and I looked forward to the conference, believing that I would learn a lot about the ongoing environmental disasters and as a Catholic student what I could do to protect the world that I live in, the world that we call Home.

The conference itself was directed towards helping BCSM members to achieve the following goals –

  • To educate everyone the concept of climate change
  • To make them understand the consequences of global warming
  • To inspire everyone to make a stand against climate change
  • To help members to cooperate with students from all over the country
  • To raise awareness among everyone about the vicious effects of climate change
  • To make students “Think globally, work locally.”

The conference had a good response, with over 130 participants, the executive committee tried to involve the participants in the conference as much as possible. Throughout the conference, there were many demonstrations and activities for us to do.

All over, I was very much happy with the conference, as it met positive expectations I had before coming. Although the conference had a few weakness and several strengths, overall there were three aspects that attracted me making it a successful experience. Firstly the conference had highly qualified speakers who had provided us important information and knowledge about the climate change and what could we do about it as a student from our place. The resource persons were very much proactive in making the participants more involved in the sessions. Secondly the conference provided us the opportunity not only to attend sessions or to have discussions but also in allowing us go on exposures and meeting indigenous people face to face, knowing about their everyday life and their connection with environment as they live surrounded by nature and use natural elements in their day to day lives. The participants and me personally love this sort of field work as it helped us to be more involved in our activities and helped us to learn even more for why climate change is so dangerous for the world that we live in. Thirdly, the conference gave all the participants the platform to stand up and speak in front of everyone to eradicate the shyness that holds them back. And the proactive, informative sessions allowed the participants interact with BCSM members from all over the country and that they could learn how the Movement is performing all over the country.

The presence of Cardinal Patrick D’ Rozario and his wise words in the session greatly inspired me to work more precisely for the society that we live in. His sharing proved to be very much successful as the participants took it very seriously and promised to do whatever necessary to protect the our planet Earth, our Home. The great thing about the conference was that the speakers who took the session classes gave us information on objective data of the main theme rather than the speaker’s personal experience. This helped the participants to learn the abstract concepts and ensuring the understanding of concepts and facts.

The presence of Mr. Ravi Tissera, IMCS APC Coordinator, enriched the value of the conference highly. His sharing about IMCS and it’s work were very much helpful as many of the participants didn’t have any idea about IMCS before the conference. And the conference personally helped me to build up a good relationship with Mr. Ravi and was provided with a lot of ideas of how I could improve my activities in BCSM unit. The likes of Mr. Shamsul Momen Polash, Mr. Kazi Anis. Major General John Gomes greatly inspired all the participants with their magnificent sharing. They presented us data and facts about climate change in Bangladesh and the dangers of it, how we can raise our voices and show everyone the violence on environment through social media and various news portals, as Catholic student what should be our duties, how could we work for the environment from our place and many more things.

Each participants were given the opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas of how they can work to protect the nature and uniqueness of biodiversity. The conference provided the key facts of climate change and how we can work on it to stop it. And the primary concept was to aware the participants so that they could raise awareness among everyone in their own society about the affects of climate change. The idea was very successful as everyone including our diocese was committed for the implementation of the facts that we learned from the conference. The cultural programs basing on the culture of indigenous people were very delightful to watch and the football match at the last day of the conference was very refreshing.

There were very few weaknesses such as time management could have been a bit better even though that very much depended on the arrival of the participants timely. In some parts, the sessions got too much informative and as a result participants got a bit bored. More exposures could’ve been added because that interested me and all the participants the most.

The whole conference was very effective and successful in my opinion. The different sessions and sharing from successful, wise and creative educators widely kept me interested throughout the four day conference and made me come to know about many things and facts about the environment that I didn’t know of. I always enjoy being around other movement members who as well work the welfare and betterment of the society. I learned a great deal of new things about what activities I can do in my own unit and diocese for the environment. I was reminded the importance of mother nature, why it is important to protect from the greedy industrialization society, who only thrive for money and for themselves. In a whole, this conference inspired me to work even more hardly for our BCSM and always try to be a part of it. This conference will help me to work on a goal to protect the environment, the biodiversity and the beauty of it. Solidarity among everyone is the only way to stop the vicious effects of climate change. If all of us can stand together make our actions speak louder than words, we can surely fill the world with greenery that she used to have and protect it’s unique biodiversity. I hope we can use all these information that we’ve gathered from this conference and implement in our unit. Our small steps could turn into a huge change in our goal of protecting the planet.

I thank and congratulate the executive committee of BCSM for arranging this inspiring, informative, productive and successful 22nd National Conference. I believe we can go much further in working for the society if we keep going like this. I learned a great deal from this conference and plan on to keep on working for BCSM in the coming days and hope everyone else will also work on the proper implementation of what they have learned from this conference.

Building Bridges

“Building Bridges” – Chiang Ching (Tina)  of Chinese Catholic  University Student Association (CCUSA) of Taiwan experience sharing of IMCS  International Council 2017

Have you ever questioned yourself what a Catholic should be like? Am I different? Am I proud of being a Catholic? I’ve been wondering all these questions during my IMCS journey, for it’s a journey of awareness and introspection. The shining sun led our way to the mountains, breezes ruffling up my curiosity of this exotic country. It was my very first experience in IMCS. As the representative of Taiwan, I was grateful and honoured to participate in the 2017 IMCS International Council which is the global level second-high decision making council of IMCS – Pax Romana held in Foligno, Italy from 28th August  to 8th  September 2017. For both my country and I, it was a golden opportunity to join in this global family. Everything seems new and challenging. But I am ready to serve in Jesus’ name.

On the first day of the council I met all those beautiful spirits from all around the world, nervous and worried as I thought, as soon as I attended the Holy Mass presided by Fr. Fratern Masawe SJ, the International chaplain of IMCS Pax Romana, I knew this is a place I will call home. Wherever I am, whatever language is spoken, within our Catholic church, we all celebrate the same miracle, being raised up by the same father, and listen to the same word from our Lord. It was the moment that I realized how blessed I am as a Catholic, a catholic that embraces the world with solidarity and unity. There’s no barrier in faith. There’s no difference between our loves to the Lord. And this glowing love would spread to the one besides us just like how each participant greeted me with those radiant and caring smiles when I just arrived. All of the sudden, I know this is my family here.

During our first meeting, each country presented the realities of our own situation based on the topic: “Building bridges: protecting migrants by empowering students”. We had representatives from North America, Europe, Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia (yeah!me!), who are all young leaders contributing in our national movements. By listening to different countries’presentations, its give us clearer understanding of each other’s ability and disability. Every country has its own reality. And because of this difficulty; we are all here gathering to understand and find the solutions for the issues. All those young and smart individuals have touched me so many times when seeing them devote themselves to understand others’ difficulties, to approach more complex and global position. This triggered me to think again why we are different from others. We’re here together not only because we care about this issue, but because we can see this problem through our religious perspective, and as I know that is from the eyes of Jesus with endless and unconditional love. “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in.” We are here to serve the poorest, the weakest Jesus. And that’s the most important difference and strength that we have. Being a Catholic student is not just attending weekly Sunday Mass; we can do so much more with our young hearts.

After days of meetings and courses, we have listened to lots of experts on migration and even the refugee sharing life stories with us. Luca Marin from CIEMI (Center for Information and Studies on International Migration) has provided us the backgrounds and calls of migrants, and most importantly, how can we do for them in both mental and political level. To know the migration background is to see the real world. It is totally beyond history and geography, which brings us back to the origin of civilization where nobody should be excluded or discriminated by their races. Later on, Christopher Dekki, the IMCS UN advocacy team leader demonstrated the aspect of political advocacy of a Catholic student that enabled us to know how to manage our knowledge and strength in the global platform. To most of my amazement the Catholic Social Teaching that Fr. Antoine Sondag and Fr. Masawe shared with us got me thinking profoundly about how a young Catholic should be. We Christians have three basic truths which is life, faith and solution. Jesus is the one who brought our life and faith together. And a solution is to find faith in our daily life, contributing our gifts to the church, fulfilling the virtue of the bible. By seeking the truth of solution, we can simply follow the constant circle: To look at life, reflect what’s going on, to see, judge and act. And here’s the worthiest thing I’ve learnt from IMCS: See before you judge, judge with your critical sight, take action before well recognizing the problem, see and judge again on your action. It’s so important to reflect on our selves every day, refreshed with the tenderness of mercy and grow with the wisdom of life.

Here’s another experience that I can’t forget for my entire life. One of the nights, Sameh Kamel, a member of IMCS UN advocacy team from Egypt requested us to make a row in the straight line. Then, he started to ask several questions, if your answer is yes, step forward, vice versa. “Does your country provide sustainable drinking water?” “Do you ever work/live under an unbalanced gender proportion?”“Do you study in private school?” “Do you dare to walk alone on the street at night? Twenty of us started this game with all of us in a same row as equal and by end of the game we were not in in the same straight line. And I know at that moment, it was about international view. There were a few of my friends standing behind me. And I believed it was not something I should boast about, because our mission is to look back, to see things we always fail to see, the inequality. It’s a world that we don’t dare to see the misery. We refuse to face poverty, disability and cruelty.  But I couldn’t bear seeing any of my friends living in such condition. The world is unfair, but it is human to change this unfairness and its in our hands to bring about the change. When we started to see it, we have already made a difference in our own world, for the real compassion is to witness pain fearlessly.

I’ve learnt and seen so much along the journey, especially to acknowledge what I’ve missed and been lack of.  We made a short film together which brought our concerns on refugee issues; we analyzed using SWOT within our communities; we practiced on how to speak out our minds in United Nation conferences. Moreover, I met all the inspiring people that I admire and respect so much. This is a life time friendship and partnership that will be stored in the bottom of my heart. We are all just young students but because we are young, we are fearless and powerful. While we are young, our evangelization can be sharing the ideas of stopping discrimination toward migrants or encouraging friends to care about the nature. The influence that a young man can extend is immeasurable. There’re many things we can change, just start our journey with see, judge and act.

Pope Francis once said, “I would like to remind you that being happy is not having a sky without storms, or roads without accidents, or work without fatigue, or relationships without disappointments. Being happy is finding strength in forgiveness, hope in one’s battles, security at the stage of fear, love in disagreements.” After my IMCS journey of awareness and introspection, I know I’m happy. I’m different and I’m proud of being a Catholic.

May Thy Will Be Done

MAY THY WILL BE DONE Father..

A call will be real when we say “Yes” to God’s will as what Mother Mary did.

“Guide me to walk in Thy will, and teach me more about you; Thou art the Lord my Savior forever. I am here Father, use me according to Your will … “

My personal experience of the program “Laudato si” in Action AS  organised by IMCS Pax Romana in Bangalore, India on 20 – 28 May 2017

Thank you Lord Jesus, You know me thoroughly.

I am blessed with the opportunity to follow this program because all my questions about the IMCS program have been answered. The wonderful opportunity for me to follow the Laudato Si in Action programme is not wasted as it has given me  new awareness and has changed me from being passive to being more conscious and concerned towards issue  politics, economics, education, culture and social issues especially in Malaysia.

During the program, many sessions were conducted like Laudato Si in Action ( Fr Jojo Fung, SJ) Climate Change Research in Asia (Dr Noelyn Dano), Climate Change and Food Sovereignty (Ms Myrna Dominguez), Global Warming (FR Kasi Rayappa), Environment Conservation Strategies (Mr Leo Saldanha), Citizen Journalism (Prof Mark Rasquinha), Exposure and Eco Spirituality (Fr Robert Arthical, SJ). These sessions opened my eyes and mind on how faith and reality should be practiced together in mission.

In a few session, I was touched with the words which was said Fr Jojo  who said “If all races were united from the start to care for the environment as how God wanted, surely the world will not experience such destruction as we see today. Climate change is a consequence of human behaviour whom do not understand and are unaware of their responsibilities to care for God’s creation. Laodato Si in Action says very clearly that the world is not our property but God’s.

In the session “Climate Change and Food Sovereignty and Eco Spirituality”, I gained awareness on how important it is to change my behaviour from “EGO” to “ECO” so we can overcome the climate change crisis. Through “ECO”, I now understand who I am and my relationship with the environment. This session  reminds  me that one way to overcome climate change is to take action as real a Catholic who lives like Christ.

My awareness was  strengthen by the exposure programme which made me to think and reflect and become more aware that life and  the environment are both interconnected. Throughout the exposure program, I silenced myself, listening, experiencing, observing the surrounding situation of the exposure place, while at the same time I reflecting about my attitude towards the environment back home. With this, I have learned many things and I need to to change myself to be person of ECO and live the call to serve as a Catholic youth.

This program also thought me that as a youth of Asia Pacific, to always voice out justice and peace as written in Catholic Social Teachings. Besides that, we were exposed to a methodology called Web Chart Analysis to find the root cause of the complex climate change problem  and find effective solutions together.

One of the most valuable experience gained from this IMCS program is meeting youth from different Asia Pacific countries, which helped motivate me to be consistently concerned on current issues especially in Malaysia. They have also brought me closer to Jesus. Other than that, I also got to know more about the different and unique cultures of the participants during the cultural night.

 COMMITMENTS NEEDED TO BE MADE AFTER THE LAUDATO SI IN ACTION PROGRAMME

In this program, we were invited to make our commitment to action after this Laudato Si in Action program. A number of collective commitments were raised but I choose three life commitments which  are not wasting food, reduce eating meat and to take immediate action . After making the commitments, I was given 3 wristbands to be used every day to remind me of my chosen commitments.

Commitment to myself after following this program …

Jesus said, “Everything that you do for one of my most despicable brothers, you have done for me.” Many  faithful people are moved by this verse.

After the Laudato Si in Action program finished, a question arose in my heart “What does He( Jesus) want me to do next?” This question arises because I felt that if I don’t take follow up action, I have wasted my participation in the programme. Furthermore, I have sacrificed my time, energy, money and much more to follow this program. After reflection  and prayed, my conscience finally gave me a clear answer that what I saw, heard and experienced during the program had to be lived.

So, I first chose to go deeper into the Gospel before I approache my local enviroment by studying the issues discussed in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu PAX Assembly in 2015. Through this study, many things I have learned and need to take action wisely to address the three key issues that were identified and are critical today.

Why have I chosen to go deeper into the Gospel and reality (Church Social Teachings)? Because I really believe in the power of the Gospel and reality, that one can change the world like St. Francis of Assisi did. The Gospel also says “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.” Luke 1:49

My Hope towards myself and for the youth today

Pope Francis said in the book Docat, “If until today there are Christians who do not care about the needs of the poorest of the poor, it is clear that he is not a Christian.”

My hope for myself is to continue getting closer and learning about Jesus so to change from Ego to ECO. Through a closer relationship with Jesus, I am confident that I will continuously be  concerned about matters around me. In addition, I also hope that I will always live out what is contained in the Laudato Si in Action and DOCAT says as this book helps me to see the world together with all the concerns and realities of today. This book also guides me to change and grow in values to do something small for the well being of the world, especially in my own home. This book also teaches me to live up to the Church’s Social Teachings that lead to charity.

As I hoped for myself, so is my expectations for today’s youth. Be active and always caring and aware of what’s happening around us, especially current issues in politics, economics, social, education and culture. This is because through awareness and attentiveness, we learn something that is expressed and implied in current issues. Let’s unite for the sake of justice and humanity, especially for the poorest among the poor. We are the Church and we are the one who will make sure whether the Church is alive or not.

The book “Social Teachings of the Church” teaches us about the principles of life namely People, Kindness, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Let us live out the principles of life so that we can become  Catholic Christian youth who truly lives according to God’s will. Amen!

“Holy Father Frances called on the youths to make Mother Mary as a model of prayer who lived according to the “Eucharist” learning how to be grateful, prayful and hopeful despite the problems and difficulties in life.”

Alex Paulus Jiran
Youth of St Edmund Parish, Kota Belud

A Learning Reflection of Asia Pacific Council 2017 by Jenny Toppo

An international student camp was held in Bangalore, India. Student representatives were present in this camp and I had opportunity to meet and interact closely with the students and activists from other countries.

                       It was imperative that students from all parts of Asian countries participated actively in all relevant of decision- making process because it affects their lives today and has implications for their futures. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilize support, they brought unique perspectives that need to be taken into account.

            From group activities I learnt that the environmental problems in other countries are no less than ours. Strengthening the participation of youth in environmental protection is partly a matter of increasing opportunities in governmental organisation, established NGOs and restoration projects; partly a matter of student themselves devising new forms of action, as the preceding example of innovative activism made clear; and partly question  of more effective environmental education and media presentation of environmental issues.

                The cultural night was very enjoyable as we saw each other’s colourful culture, their costumes etc. All the sessions of the camp were interrelated and did justice to the theme of the camp. It has been argued that a focus on the global environment is important because it helps to control for displacement across place. However, global aggregates obscure important local variations, which are substantial. Both environmental well-being and environmental stress are distributed unequally across globe, meaning that issues of distributive justice intersect with environmental concerns.

                  After all this deep study about the camp thing which bothers me is, why has environmental education so far failed to deliver the anticipated benefits? Part of the reason may lie in the kind of education delivered. According to my thought the real problem may not lie in the kind of environmental education being promoted, but rather in the difficulty involved in translating the environmental values commitments into action of any kind, be it terms of lifestyle adjustments or political activism. If so, the right kind of environmental education may not be enough to make much difference.

                       It’s around the time of the year that my mind feels most like a cool deep lake, a place where there is plenty of sustenance and the clarity is remarkably inviting. I say this because I had distinct pleasure to attend the Asia Pacific Council camp and I can’t even express the words of appreciation and admiration I have for this camp. I have feebly attempted to explain my thoughts. I have written this in hope that when I am old and grey, my memory of camp will never fade…….

Ecological Conversation – All Gujarat Students Development Movement, india

An Ecology Camp was organized by the A.G.S.D.M (All Gujarat Students Development Movement) at Ashadeep – Human Development Centre, Vallabh Vidyanagar Gujarat on Sunday 23rd July, 2017. Trupti, Priyal, Nikunj, Ketan and Ratnadeep were mainly responsible for organizing the camp as a follow up  of the International Environmental  Workshop, “Laudato Si in Action”, which they five attended at Indian Social Institute Bangalore.  The first activity was the registration done by the youth.

The camp began seeking the blessings of the Almighty. Ketan shared some information on ‘Food sovereignty’. The points he raised was on how the farmer was getting less procurement price for his produce.  This phenomenon leads to frustration among the farmers who had taken huge loans and were unable to repay those loans leading to suicides. He also explained to the group that the amount paid for the food we buy from the market is proportionally much greater than the actual price. By providing examples Ketan’s message was well received by all.  Finally, it meant that the poor are the most affected.  This led to interactions among the participants,

Trupti Parmar spoke about ‘Global Warming’.  She dwelt upon how people were polluting the land, air and water. This is something we have experienced as we have seen this around us. There is an excessive use of Plastic which has replaced paper and cloth bags. The misuse of polluting vehicles has choked up the cities. Many trees have been cut down to broaden the highways. This has harmed our environment.

Ratnadeep Macwana explained about ‘Climate Change’.  He interacted with the youth and made his talk interesting. He spoke about ‘Laudata Si’ the Holy Father’s encyclical which was appreciated worldwide. Pope Francis had through his book had given a clear message that God created the nature and human beings alike. We as his creation ought to preserve and save Our Common Home (Earth). We as human being are responsible for what we are experiencing today. Through the discussions the participants were made aware that they are equally responsible in nurturing Mother Earth. It was due to our lack of interest and irresponsibility that we are feeling the effects of Global warming.  There are many organizations who are involved not only in organizing tree planting programs but are challenging those forces that are actually indulging in harmful activities resulting in creating damage not only to nature but to the all of humankind.

After a short break time, a few participants shared their experiences through which they expressed their desire that the youth get more involved in showing their concern and taking care of the environment.  One of them spoke about air pollution and the hazards it poses on our health.

We also conducted two activities in which the youth wrote and drew some beautiful and inspiring messages and on the need to nurture and save the environment.

We then had the tree plantation ceremony in the open plot. We planted around ten saplings mainly medicinal plants.

The team strongly felt that the outcome of our experience at Bangalore led us to organize the one day camp, with the aim of imparting information and creating awareness among the youth, on the dire need of caring and nurturing Mother Earth.