Dear ladies and gentlemen,
dear friends of different religions and confessions who are forming this panel with me,
My thanks to Sant‘ Egidio for the invitation to this conference and especially for inviting me to take part in this panel. If the International Catholic Mission Association missio did not already have a slogan, the title of this panel could also serve as a motto for the work of its almost 150 co-workers. The aim of supporting our project partners in Africa, Asia and Oceania is after all to help the poor and create a more human society. The basis for these efforts is not however an economic purpose but the conviction that we are acting on behalf of Jesus. Social and welfare work as a Christian fundamental principle is part of the nature of Christians and is what characterises them. A love of God and our fellow men are central messages of the New Testament and must on no account be divided. This dual commandment is as it were a concentration of the instructions of Jesus and the message of the Kingdom of God contained in them implies the radical, liberating and healing devotion to our fellow men. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10,30b-35) is a central representation of this. It is acting according to the example set by Jesus – for God.
So the actions of the church always also have a social dimension. Social sensitivity and active neighbourly love have been amongst the most outstanding features of Christianity since the early Church. With this we also testify to our faith and the message of salvation of all people, especially in those places where the devotion is directed to people who have been denied general attention and esteem. So our actions as Christians apply to just those people who are on the edge of society and are forgotten by others. I am grateful that Pope Francis clearly addresses this task in his prophetic, apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium when he writes: „We must learn to recognise Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their requests. […] Every Christian and every community is called to be a tool of God for the liberation and help of the poor.“ With this in mind missio supports around 1,000 projects in over 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Many missio project partners consciously concentrate on regions of their countries which are particularly affected by poverty. This usually occurs not for purely developmental policy motives but is borne by the idea that the church should pay special attention to the poor. It should not only work FOR but above all WITH the poor, take them seriously, let them play a role. From the perspective of missio I would like to give three examples: one from Egypt, one from Pakistan and a project from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Egypt (Project M 143.000-11/004): The founders of the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, especially the Jesuit Henri Ayrout, deliberately focused on the poorest villages of Upper Egypt in the 1940s. They wanted to raise the standard of education, not like was usually the case at that time through missionary schools in the cities of Cairo and Alexandria where the children of an educational elite were taught, but in the Nile valley, where the poor farming families could hardly contribute anything to the upkeep of the school, where there was hardly any awareness of the value of a school education, where social work with the families of the children was just as important as the schooling itself. It was not just about formal education for the children but education of the whole person, of the whole family and village community. Still today the organisation looks after poorer schoolchildren and through the schooling programme tries to make a contribution towards a peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Egypt. Nowadays it runs 35 primary schools, 18 „parallel schools“ for school dropouts aged between 9 and 15 and almost 100 literacy courses for men and women over the age of 15 in Upper Egypt. Through the schools it also reaches the parents. An important aspect for AUEED is the extra-curricular accompanying programme: this includes cultural activities, vocational training in their own workshops for young people and qualifications for women.
Pakistan (Project M 328.004-13/002, see also „Kontinente“ Sept./Oct. 2014, S. 26 ff.): In the Sindh, a desert area in the south-east of Pakistan, the Presentation Sisters work with the semi-nomadic ethnic groups of the Kutchi Kohli and Parkari Kohli. They are originally Hindus of the lowest social status, Dalits or „Untouchables“. Most of them work as day labourers or tenants in the fields of rich landowners. They grow cotton or sugarcane. Many are heavily in debt with their employers; their children are practically born into debt bondage from which they cannot free themselves their whole life long. They live in constant fear of the landowners, who sometimes have their own prisons to make their workers more submissive. School education for children is a thorn in the flesh for many of the landowners; they do what they can to prevent the families from sending their children to school, as a lack of education contributes to the fact that a release from debt bondage is unthinkable. Women in this society are in a particularly bad situation as they not only have to suffer from the violence of the landowners but also have no say in the male society. The Presentation Sisters chose exactly these groups of the population, and out of them the particularly disadvantaged women to work together with them to create a more human society. They want to make the day labourers, many of them practically debt slaves, and above all the women become active so that they have more possibilities of shaping their own lives. In concrete terms, in addition to classic pastoral work and catachesis the Sisters carry out awareness-raising for elementary human rights, justice, women’s and girls’ rights and help with health care and elementary education.
Democratic Republic of Congo (Project M 115.007-13/010): The two provinces of North and South Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest and structurally weakest countries in Africa, have for years been afflicted by heavy fighting, combined with massive infringements of human rights. Government troops, different rebel groups, so-called self-defence militia and troops from neighbouring countries constantly confront each other in changing alliances; the UNO troops try to protect the civilian population, which is only possible to a limited extent in view of the military situation and the geographical conditions. Representatives of the local population complain of rapes and looting by government soldiers who have received no pay for several months and brutal acts of revenge by the rebels against the civilian population. Women and girls in particular have to endure kidnapping and brutal rape, but men too become victims of sexual violence. This however is usually covered up by a veil of silence.
In this situation the diocesan Justice and Peace Commission carries out its activities in the area of psycho-social support and the care of victims of violence. A part of the concept is highest discretion to prevent the victims from becoming stigmatised and marginalised. So consultations with the victims are not usually carried out in the office rooms of the organisation but in parish premises. In addition to the psychological care of the victims, further aspects are sensitising communities and families to the problem of sexual violence and dealing with victims, arranging medical or legal care, documenting infringements of human rights, health care and providing schooling for children who were born as a consequence of rape, the social reintegration of victims of violence including start-up funding for income-producing measures (retail trade, small animal breeding).
In all three projects several things become clear:
1. Poverty, especially extreme poverty as in the case of the projects in Pakistan and in the Congo, fosters infringements of human rights as the people – partly because of a lack of education, partly because of a lack of financial possibilities – cannot defend themselves.
2. Women are affected in a special way in an environment dominated by poverty: they bear a double responsibility – not only do they have to contribute towards their family having enough to survive every day by working but they are also responsible for bringing up the children and taking care of the house. In addition they are particularly at the mercy of sexual or domestic violence, both of which increase through extreme poverty and the insecurity connected with it.
3. The situation of the poor will not change in the long term if we just „do something for them“ but only by enabling them to become actors themselves who can change their situation for the better on their own, even if only in small steps.
Ladies and gentlemen, through our work – that is by supporting our project partners – we want to make these small steps possible so that the situation of the poor improves and a world of justice, freedom and peace can grow. We are convinced that this is our task as Christians and that this task can be realised with all people of good will. Only together can a human society be created. We are burning to reach this aim and from this the passion of our actions grows.