Those “frontline nuns” up against war and human trafficking

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Sister Maria Elena Berini (right) together with two sisters in Bokaranga, Africa

Those “frontline nuns” up against war and human trafficking

By Luca Attanasio/ lastampa.it

In Rome, a seminar organized by UISG and US embassy to the Holy See. The testimony of three religious working in Central Africa, the Philippines and Syria.

They face war, sexual exploitation, trafficking in human beings, with their bare hands. They handle the most complicated and dangerous situations in the world, armed with faith and kindness, they stand alongside the most vulnerable and wounded populations on earth, fighting for their rights, putting their own lives at stake. They are the “Women religious on the frontline”: representatives of many congregations serving in some of the most dangerous conflict areas of the world.

They met in Rome for a seminar organized by the United States Embassy to the Holy See in collaboration with the Union of Superiors General (UISG). The conference saw a series of nuns serving in the most problematic places on the planet, offer their geopolitical analyses of the contexts in which they operate, as well as descriptions of the many forms of intervention directed towards the victims.

For several years now, the US State Department has been awarding the international Women of Courage prize to ten women who have distinguished themselves for their courage in difficult situations. In recent editions, the award went to women of various faiths, cultures and areas of the world who, amidst countless problems, have carried out their activities aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation. During the conference, the US ambassador to the Holy See, Callista L. Gingrich, invited one of the ten winners on stage: Maria Elena Berini, Sister of Charity of Saint Joan Antida, a missionary in Central Africa, who was awarded on March 29 by first lady Melania Trump.

“For years we have been serving the population in the Bokaranga area on the border with Chad and Cameroon. We have gone through two terrible times such as in 2014 and 2017, when the conflict in Central Africa got worse” the nun said. “We and the Capuchins have saved many people by offering them sanctuary”. “The situation in Central Africa is extremely tense while the rebels control 80% of the territory. According to the religious, “there are too many economic interests even on the part of Western countries: Central Africa is very rich but the people live in absolute poverty. The country’s wealth is now under the rebels’ control, while the arms trade continues to flourish. There will never be peace as long as the country is an arms market. So here is my appeal: stop using weapons!

Of all the continents, Asia holds the sad primacy of modern slavery, about 30 million human beings are subject to various forms of exploitation, 60% of the world total. The five countries with the highest slave numbers are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. Immediately followed by the Philippines where another “woman of courage” operates, Sister Cecilia Espenilla, Dominican of Saint Catherine of Siena. “I have been Justice and Peace Coordinator since 2012 and have decided to dedicate a large part of our activities to combat violence against women and children,” she explains. “In our country and in Asia, a frightening level of violence has been reached and we have decided to structure our intervention in two ways. On the one hand, after creating a very wide network, we have started a campaign in schools to inform and prevent around 250 thousand children and mothers. On the other hand, we have dedicated ourselves to the poorest communities, by building shelters to foster victims of sexual exploitation. We also welcome girls who have been abused at a very tender age. It is a very difficult job.”

“We have two communities in Syria - Monique Tarabeh, of the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Shepherd Charity explains - one in Homs and one in Damascus. Our charism is reconciliation and we carry it out through a series of programmes dedicated to women victims of violence, who suffer from post-traumatic syndrome or are in extreme poverty. We provide psychological therapy and social assistance while our listening centre is open 24/7 to women, all year round.” “Our society – she continues -is seriously affected by violence. Children can recognize by sound whether it’s the government’s missiles, or those of the rebels or Isis. We still believe in the importance of small gestures of reconciliation: they are the basis for a new Syrian society that we are all looking forward to”.

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 09:57
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