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bookmark_borderAFRICA/EGYPT – Protocol between the Coptic Church and the Egyptian government to improve living conditions in rural areas

Cairo – “For a dignified life”. This is the formula that expresses the inspiration and objectives of the protocol just signed by representatives of the Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church to promote projects and initiatives aimed at improving the living conditions in the villages scattered across the vast rural areas of the country. The signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding also took place in the presence of Nabila Makram Abdel Shahid, Minister of Immigration and Egyptian Affairs Abroad, and Anba Julius, who currently heads the Department of ecumenism and social issues of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. The protocol was also signed by Ms Aya Omar al Qamari, President of the Board of Directors of the Decent Life Foundation, third partner of the project which will be developed nationally with the aim of improving the standard of living in the areas the most economically and socially disadvantaged in the great North African nation. Ambassador Amr Abbas, Assistant to the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Diaspora Affairs Abroad, signed the draft on behalf of the government department. The underlying strategy of the project aims to involve Egyptian diaspora communities around the world as potential actors of economic support for social development projects in rural areas of the country. The initiative is aimed in particular at communities of Egyptian emigrants long rooted in the countries of North America and Europe, with the implicit aim of strengthening the not always serene relations between these communities and the Egyptian political power. On the sidelines of the signing of the protocol, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Julius – as reported by the Copts United news site – thanked the Catholic Church for the opportunity given to it to offer its cooperation to support a project aimed at to ensure full equality of Egyptian citizens in terms of possibilities of access to social services and better living conditions. The participation of the Coptic Orthodox Church in supporting the “Dignified Life” project, which is part of the “Egypt Vision 2030” sustainable development strategy sponsored by the current Egyptian political leadership, confirms the intensity with which the Egyptian Christian communities participate in the real dynamics of national life, far from the complaints about their “marginality” which characterize many statements by representatives of other Christian communities scattered in the Arab countries.
. The participation of the Coptic Church in the project shared with the government and the “Vita Dignitosa” Foundation also constitutes a test of the links and relations – marked also in the recent past by controversies and tensions – between the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. diaspora communities. In August 2016, as Agenzia Fides reports , Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II publicly expressed his opposition to the demonstrations promoted in the United States by groups of the Coptic diaspora to protest against the sectarian violence recorded in previous months against Coptic Christian communities in various areas of Egyptian territory. This declaration was intended as a clear and authorized rejection of the planned demonstrations, in particular in the United States, where Coptic militants had organized a sit-in in front of the White House in July 2016. Coptic Orthodox communities are dispersed in at least 50 countries around the world. The Coptic Orthodox Bishops who carry out their ministry outside Egypt are more than 30. Some Coptic entrepreneurs “in diaspora” have achieved international recognition thanks to their initiatives. Among them, Naguib Sawiris, a leading global operator in the telecommunications sector.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/IVORY COAST – World Day of the Poor between charity initiatives and an invitation to solidarity

Abidjan – With an appeal to charity and with initiatives of solidarity towards the poor and the vulnerable, the fifth edition of the World Day of the Poor, established by Pope Francis at the end of Jubilee of Mercy in 2017. Mgr. Bruno Essoh YEDOH, bishop of Bondoukou, president of the Episcopal Commission of the Integral Human Development Service, urged the faithful to be attentive to the needs of the poor during the official celebration held in the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption of Koumassi Prodomo in the diocese of Grand-Bassam.
This is the exhortation by Father Norbert-Éric ABEKAN, National Executive Secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and the Environment, who denounced the lack of solidarity of some Christians towards their brothers and sisters, defining it as a real “plague”.
At the end of the Mass, a delegation of the same Commission took care of bringing comfort in different ways to some realities where there are men and women who live different “poverty” on their own skin. At the base of any material gesture, there was the desire to show the tenderness of the Church, bringing concrete help but also the human and spiritual comfort of a word and encouragement, of a smile, touching the realities of those most in need, as in the case of the Oasis Center managed by the Missionaries of Charity and the Fraternity of Saint Mary of the Poor.
“God is with us, for example, I arrived in this center three years ago without my family; thanks to the Sisters of Mother Teresa this center has become my home”, commented one of the guests.
Across the country, the diocesan Caritas of Yopougon also joined the World Day of the Poor with targeted initiatives, donating not only food to 180 deaf, visually impaired and physically disabled people in the diocese.

bookmark_borderASIA/ARAB EMIRATES – Dialogue between East and West in music, to “connect souls”

Dubai – “Connecting souls”: it is in this spirit that on November 17 and 18, on the occasion of Expo 2020, during the week dedicated to the theme of “Tolerance and Inclusiveness”, the show – inspired by a story of One Thousand and One Nights – titled “The Two Moons” will be staged in Dubai. In the background of the “Document on human fraternity for world peace and living together”, signed on February 4, 2019 by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the project “The Two Moons” was born from the collaboration between the University of Naples L’Orientale, the World Youth Orchestra Foundation and the IULM University of Milan, and received the support of the “Culture and Art” Foundation, which promotes cultural and artistic initiatives in the name of solidarity and of interculturality.
The show, between music and theatrical action, traces a path that crosses and unites two cultures and religions that are different but intrinsically linked to each other: the Arab-Islamic world and the Western-Christian world. Thanks to the universal language of music, the public is invited to cross all linguistic and cultural barriers, all geographic borders, to tell a wonderful story of inclusion, peace and tolerance.
The show features the musicians of the World Youth Orchestra, who are young people from all over the world, from different backgrounds, cultures, languages and religions. “It is a story full of metaphors, which perfectly represents the two sides of the same reality: two cultures, the Western and the Eastern, which confront each other by using the privileged tool of art as a particular message of fraternity, love and beauty”, explains to Fides the artistic director of the World Youth Orchestra Foundation, Maestro Damiano Giuranna.
“I have always been convinced that the arts, including music, play a major role in the cultural and spiritual growth of the individual and in the formation of consciousness, eliminating differences in favor of the social inclusion of individuals and constructive dialogue between peoples”, declares Professor Emmanuele FM Emanuele, President of the “Terzo Pilastro” Foundation, which includes the “Culture and Art” Foundation. “The Two Moons” project therefore builds an ideal bridge between different worlds, cultures and religions, under the sign of dialogue, fraternity and the universality of human values, represented by music, literature and poetry.

bookmark_borderASIA/IRAQ – “Inter-ritual” football tournament between the parishes in Baghdad. The Chaldeans win on penalties

Baghdad – The final of the “Pope Francis Tournament”, the sporting event that competed 12 teams, representing local Armenian, Chaldean, Syriac, Latin and Coptic ecclesial communities, ended on penalties. In the end, the team from the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph won, against the team of the Latin church of St. Joseph.
The final, played on Thursday, November 4, before a large number of fans and broadcast live on Iraqi television, was also attended by the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako and several Iraqi bishops, who at the end of the match handed out prizes to the members of the winning team and individual awards to the best player, the best goalkeeper and the top scorer of the tournament. The sports competition was organized by the Catholic Youth Committee, led by Mar Basel Salem Yaldo, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad. In a country and a city that has been struggling with emergencies , violence and social and political tensions that make daily life difficult for much of the Iraqi people, the football tournament between the parish teams of Baghdad was organized and lived as a moment of fraternal coexistence, a sign and hope of a possible return to a daily life without distortions from the poisons of sectarianism. The football tournament is named after Pope Francis, also in memory of the visit made to Iraq by the current Successor of Peter in March 2020. On the evening of Sunday, October 31, during the Eucharistic Liturgy he presided over in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad , Cardinal and Patriarch Sako stopped precisely at the profession of faith of the apostle Peter recounted in the Gospel of Luke .
The faith of the Church – commented Patriarch Sako – “is the faith of Peter”, and the Church itself is born and grows only as “the fruit of the experience of the faith of Peter, the Apostles and Christians”, experienced “in the mystery of God and Christ”.

bookmark_borderASIA/MYANMAR – Spiritual comfort for the faithful, between conflict and pandemic

Loikaw – Life is not easy in the various territories of Myanmar, marked by the pandemic and by the ongoing conflict between the regular army and the resistance forces , born throughout the country to oppose the regime military. Citizens, and among them the Christian faithful, are in discomfort and poverty, they have no means of subsistence and often hide for fear of being in the midst of crossfire.
Father Celso Ba Shwe, Apostolic Administrator of Loikaw, in the state of Kayah, in the east of the country, tells Fides: “In addition to the pandemic, the current political crisis has worsened the life situation of our people. People live in fear and insecurity. We can expect bombs, hear shots at any moment. Gunmen can unexpectedly come into homes and arrest adults, young people and adolescents accusing them of having some connection with illegal groups or associations. They can stop people on the street by checking their cell phones. Fights are underway outside the city and in nearby parishes. Given this dire situation and the growing number of internally displaced people, we have hosted more than 300 displaced people in our cathedral complex since May”. The priest then notes: “Starting from the second week of July, the third wave of Covid hit the state of Kayah. Many of my parishioners have been infected and some have died of Covid. In the past few weeks, more than 50 displaced people who are our guests resulted positive to the covid test and we had to do a quarantine by closing our church to other parishioners. In these situations people are hungry and thirsty not only for food but also for spiritual nourishment.
We try every possible means to reach people to give comfort and hope.
We started a Eucharistic procession in the various neighborhoods, distributing prayer sheets and evangelical reflections. Often we also celebrate Mass and administer Holy Communion: this means a lot for them, it consoles them strongly. Many others follow the mass live streaming from the Cathedral”. The faithful welcomed the presence of the priest with joy, appreciating his courage and closeness, thanking him because “like a Good Shepherd he comes to give us spiritual comfort, risking his life”, they affirm.
The Administrator then reports: “In our diocese, in the parish of the city of Daungankha, there are more than one hundred displaced people housed in a house of the Sisters of Reparation of the Sacred Heart while all the parishioners have fled to safer places. Among them there are people who have Covid. The parish church, Queen of Peace, was hit last May. There is great fear. Our humanitarian emergency team has managed to bring seven elderly and sick nuns to Loikaw to receive adequate care”.
Among the works of mercy implemented by the local Church in Loikaw there is also the “Clinic of compassion”, a structure managed by the local Catholic community that continues to welcome and treat the wounded, sick and suffering, without any distinction of ethnicity, religion, social status. There are religious, nuns, nurses and lay volunteers who offer their service to alleviate the pain of patients, in a phase of great labor for the nation.

bookmark_borderASIA/INDIA – No to the polarization between ‘us’ and ‘them’: “Migrants are the others among us”

New Delhi – “In today’s India, division and polarization, chauvinism and xenophobia have gripped different parts of society, especially because of the poisonous hate speech by politicians. A large part of society today speaks of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. The tendency is to exclude others: because of what he eats or wears, reads or sees, believes or professes, because of the color of his skin or his ethnicity. In this painful context, the message by Pope Francis ‘Towards an ever wider us’ for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, celebrated by the Catholic Church on September 26, not only has a profound meaning, but provides precise direction for all those who claim to be disciples of Jesus”, said writer and human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash to Fides on the eve of World Migrants Day.
“The incipit of the Pope’s message – notes the Indian Jesuit – makes his intention clear, that is, no longer to reason in discriminatory or exclusive terms, but only to use “we”, to indicate a clear horizon for the common path in this world”. “The Pope”, he emphasizes, “denies short-sighted and aggressive forms of nationalism and radical individualism, which penalize and stigmatize above all those who are more easily seen as ‘others’: foreigners, migrants, marginalized people, those who live in existential peripheries”. Father Prakash continues: “Pope Francis has made concern for refugees and migrants a hallmark of his pontificate. His message essentially points to an increasingly Catholic, that is, universal Church that invites every community of believers to enlarge his tent to embrace everyone. Among the people who live in these existential fringes, we find many migrants and refugees, displaced persons and victims of human trafficking, to whom the Lord wants to reveal his love and proclaim his salvation”.
Fr. Stephen Raj SJ, regional director of the Jesuit Refugee Service for South Asia, speaking of the challenges that refugees face today in India, notes: “The refugees from Myanmar, who are pouring into Manipur and Mizoram , face unspeakable difficulties for survival. They are in dire condition and in urgent need of food, clothing, shelter, medical care and protection. For them, reaching the headquarters of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in New Delhi, where they can apply for asylum or be recognized as refugees, is the biggest challenge. Without refugee status they remain illegal and face constant threats of harassment and imprisonment. The situation of refugees or forcibly displaced people is getting worse because of the pandemic. Existing vulnerabilities of the refugees are exacerbated. Refugees need a well-integrated and comprehensive rehabilitation program to address their problems to promote life and promote their dignity”.
Faced with this situation, which requires the solidarity of the entire Catholic community in India, Father Prakash concludes with a wish: “Let us dare to dream together and act courageously as a ‘we’ in order to be authentic witnesses of Jesus in the India of today. Every migrant or refugee is the ‘other’ in our midst.

bookmark_borderChina in Ethiopia: Between a savior and an exploiter?

Social media discourse about the China-Ethiopia partnership contradict governmental narratives

Originally published on Global Voices

Today, Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa grows, so is construction opportunities.Image Source; Simon Davis/DFID licensed under CC BY 2.0 400w, 800w, 768w" sizes="(width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" />

As Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa grows, so are construction and infrastructure projects. Image Source; Simon Davis/DFID licensed under CC BY 2.0

The official Chinese narrative about Sino-Ethiopian relations presents China as an empowering partner, helping Ethiopia accomplish multifaceted development targets. The Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia's social media team regularly promotes messages about the Chinese government providing vaccines to Ethiopia, launches of new Sino-Ethiopian infrastructure projects, and China-led capacity-building programs. But this praise is not shared by everyone in Ethiopia and public opinion can be much more critical of China’s presence in Ethiopia, including Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

Popular narratives about China’s partnership with Ethiopia, however, complicate and challenge the official ones. Although Ethiopian media enjoys relative independence from the state, critical coverage of China remains rare in mainstream media, and the most dynamic space for China discussions remains the internet.

A more nuanced public opinion: China as an antidote to US influence

Whereas some online commentaries celebrate China’s help and contributions to Ethiopia, other discussions on Chinese projects tend to emphasize their exploitative features: Chinese enterprises are described as discriminatory when it comes to hiring Ethiopian labor; as extractive of Ethiopia’s natural resources, and as binding Ethiopia into long-term financial dependency. Chinese actors are not solely blamed for this unfair partnership. Some commentaries also implicate Ethiopian politicians. 

The positive depictions of China on Ethiopia’s social media platforms either frame China as an optimal choice of partner as opposed the United States or compliment specific projects that China has implemented in Ethiopia. 

As for the former, one Facebook post reacts to the US critique of Abiy’s government when it comes to the handling of the Tigray conflict, and argues that Ethiopia should now decouple from the United States and work primarily with China that helped save Ethiopia’s economy and shift the overriding mentality away from dependency on Western donations. “We don’t need America’s wheat and dollars,” it says. 

Another Facebook post praises China’s introduction of solar power technology to Ethiopia. It talks about the challenge of living with power shortages and asks:

What would be our fate if China didn’t introduce solar power to us?

Ethiopia does suffer from severe electricity cuts, with only 30 percent of the country having access to electricity, according to some reports. Chinese companies have recently become more actively involved in the solar sector in Ethiopia. In 2020, four off-grid PV (photovoltaic wire) power stations were completed by a Chinese company. 

Critical voices on social media 

At the same time, grievances about Chinese projects dominate social media narratives. One of the concerns expressed is that Chinese companies bring their own labor and even their own materials. The depiction of the influx of Chinese workers is linked to the perception of China and Chinese firms as self-interested. An editorial in a major Ethiopian newspaper, the “Ethiopian Reporter” notes that the influx of Chinese labor does not help with the unemployment situation in Ethiopia and that even if Ethiopian workers do get jobs at Chinese companies, they tend to be low-pay, while Ethiopians aren’t treated well by their Chinese managers.

Another posting specifically concerning the construction of the Adama Industrial Park notes that a report from the Ethiopian Investment Commission found that Chinese workers engaged in construction work illegally (by law they are not supposed to work in sectors where Ethiopians are unable to get employment). Some online commentaries even go as far as to incite violence against Chinese workers. 

China's extraction of Ethiopia’s natural resources is another source of anxiety. This post is concerned about the alleged illegal exports of opal stones to China (as well as India). The commentator, however, primarily blames the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) for using the Chinese industrial zone in Duken as coverage for illegal export, and for underpaying the local labor involved in opal mining. In this post, the Tigray officials are presented as colluding with Chinese companies to the detriment of the Ethiopian people. 

Finally, indebtedness to China is a topic of grave concern. China is presented as disproportionately benefitting from the infrastructure projects in Ethiopia and across the BRI, and Ethiopia is burdened with insurmountable debt. A popular report from Ethiopia Wiki-Leaks states:

The infrastructure to be built under the BRI project is to boost China's foreign trade and not to facilitate the country's economic activities. As a result, countries’ interest rates are rising and they would be burdened by loans.

Some discussions also critically unpack China’s promises of loan forgiveness. This post analyzes the promised cancellation of debt following Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Beijing in 2018 and argues that China only canceled interest on a few development projects, with the total amounting to US dollars 25 million — a meager number in the context of Ethiopia’s nearly 14 billion US dollar debt to China.

As with the discussion of natural resource extraction, the critiques of indebtedness to China also implicate Ethiopian officials. In the post introduced above, the author concludes by urging the Ethiopian government to stop spreading misinformation about loan forgiveness, suggesting that it is complicit in misrepresenting the intentions of the Chinese government.

Social media posts also condemn the alleged corruption in assigning projects to Chinese companies in the first place. A discussion of a road construction bid in Bahir Dar, in the Amhara region in Northern Ethiopia suggests that the project was given to a Chinese company without a bid. The proposed explanation behind this favorable treatment of the Chinese company is that city officials are likely given a commission and that Chinese construction companies can finance their projects through Chinese loans. Some commentators refer to TPLF officials as especially corrupt when it comes to making unfair deals with Chinese companies. 

Other online discussions about debt to China touch on the threat that China poses to Ethiopian sovereignty. A recent post on the Wazema Radio site, an online media platform launched by two Ethiopian journalists based in the United States directly invokes the possibility of invasion. Here the construction of the Chinese military base in Djibouti is used as evidence of China’s potential military objectives for entire Africa, not only for neighboring Ethiopia.

Some posts also mockingly associate the large-scale presence of the Chinese community in Ethiopia with political leverage. “They would ask for seats in the Ethiopian Parliament,” suggests one of these posts. Others fear that certain infrastructure projects built by China, if not repaid, will eventually be taken over by the Chinese. One post, for instance, notes that the Zambian International Airport has already been taken over by China due to a loan non-repayment and that the Ethiopian railway is likely to face a similar fate. 

Most social media do not reflect the economic reality

These popular portrayals of China as deliberately creating dependencies and even as scheming a potential take-over of Ethiopia are not backed by existing research. A recent study by scholars at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies in London that draws on four years of fieldwork in Ethiopia and Angola, for instance, finds that Chinese companies in fact do widely employ local labor. In the case of Ethiopia, 90 percent of employees in companies surveyed were local. Moreover, the study finds that many Chinese companies, especially in manufacturing, carried out extensive skill training in Ethiopia. 

When it comes to Chinese debt, Chinese lenders have offered faster and more substantive debt relief to African countries than Western lenders, especially during the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic (between 2010 and 2019) 16 cases of Chinese debt restructuring worth 7.8 billion US dollars have been documented for 10 African countries. In Ethiopia, far from taking over major infrastructure, such as the Djibouti Railway, the Chinese government has also restructured some of the debt. The repayment for the Djibouti railway, for instance, has been extended by 20 years in 2018. Another post suggests that the Addis Ababa light rail system (an overground metro built by China) is another target of future take-over. 

The scientific findings of the localization efforts of Chinese companies and the relatively flexible debt arrangements of Chinese lenders, however, thus far, don’t appear to trickle into popular perceptions of China on the ground. China and its capital are still seen as driven to primarily benefit China, leaving Ethiopians with new infrastructure but few new jobs and dangerous vulnerabilities of long-term financial obligations that the government might not be able to fulfill.

This story is part of a Civic Media Observatory investigation into competing narratives about China’s Belt and Road Initiative and explores how societies and communities hold differing perceptions of potential benefits and harms of Chinese-led development. To learn more about this project and its methods, click here.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA – Mgr. Tlhagale: “too much mixing between Catholicism and traditional faith: we need to focus on catechism for adults”

Johannesburg – Poverty, racism and the influence of ancestral cults are among the greatest challenges to evangelization in South Africa. This is what the Archbishop of Johannesburg, His Exc. Mgr. Buti Tlhagale said to a group of new missionaries.
“There is still a lot of racism in South Africa, it is always under the carpet, below the surface”, said Tlhagale, adding that this translates into economic inequality where a minority is fine and the majority is ill. The Archbishop said he sees a lot of young people in Johannesburg going mad because of the dire situation they are facing due to realities like unemployment. “They sleep on the streets, they lose their dignity, they beg for food, and eventually you can see that there’s something abnormal about their behaviour”, said Archbishop Tlhagale. He pointed out that apart from material problems there’s a lot of brokenness amongst the people of South Africa which results in a loss of hope.
The Archbishop questioned the role of the laity in the society at large wondering whether they go out to make in impact on the society, motivated by their faith to try and change society and its expectation.
Archbishop Tlhagale believes that the major obstacle to total conversion is the ancestral cult, noting that people believe in the ubiquitous presence of ancestors. To make the missionaries understand something concrete with regard the ancentral cult Archbishop Tlhagale showed them a video of a trainee sangoma . The video was of a Catholic who became a sangoma recently and the Archbishop was trying to show them that everyone is into this even Catholics of all walks of life. He said this traditional religion is mixed with Christianity even by Catholics including some priests and nuns.
The Archbishop made missionaries aware that there are cases where one goes to two funeral services of the same person on the same day because there has to be a service for the ancestors and a service for the Church. He said people do these things sometimes as a way of double insurance. For this reason Mgr. Tlhagale urged to place more emphasis on adult catechism which is almost non-existent, because after confirmation, the Catholic faithful stop studying and deepening the teachings of the Church.

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