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BRIEFING  - June 8 , 2011

To learn more about the Millenium Development Goals, click on the graphic

Past Briefings:

May 11, 2011
Protecting indigenous peoples protects the earth

April 27, 2011
Harmony with Nature: Respect for Mother Earth

April 6, 2011
Consultation on the Human Right to Peace

March 23, 2011
Military spending does little to secure peace

March 9, 2011
Report on the Commission on the Status of Women

February 9, 2011
The role of civil society in eradicating poverty

January 26, 2011
Social development: Making people, not profits, a priority

January 12, 2011
Climate change: ‘There is much to be done’

December 29, 2010
Iraq: UN affirms progress despite extremist violence

December 15, 2010
Opportunity for progress in Gaza; Sudan referendum

December 1, 2010
Observing a day of solidarity with the Palestinian people

‘Divine blessings’: Meeting Dominican sisters in Africa

Sr. Michael Mduli
(DSI Coordinator of Africa)

I have recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where I had the great privilege to attend the Assembly of Dominican Sisters of Africa, from May 16–23. I was invited by Sr. Michael Mduli (Dominican Congregation of Montebello, South Africa), who is the Continental Coordinator for Africa for the Coordinating Council of Dominican Sisters International (DSI). The visit was just one of the fruits of working closely with DSI over the past few years, in an effort to establish stronger ties between our sisters worldwide and the work of the United Nations NGO Representative.

I was joined by Sr. Maria Fabiola Velasquez Maya (Dominican Sister of the Presentation), coordinator of DSI; Sr. Toni Harris (Sinsinawa), our International Co-Promoter for Justice and Peace; and Sr. Lucia Fernandez (Missionaries of St. Dominic, Rome), who is the Coordinator of Dominican Volunteers International (DVI). We each had the opportunity to share what we do in the name of the Dominican Family, and to invite our sisters in Africa into more intentional collaboration with us, as together we reflected on the theme, “Preparing Our Dominican Future in Africa with Realism, Daring and Hope.”

From left: Sr. Margaret Mayce (DLC/NGO Representative), Sr. Maria Fabiola Velasquez Maya (Coordinator of DSI), Sr. Toni Harris (International Co-Promoter of Justice and Peace), Sr. Lucia Fernandez (Coordinator of Dominican Volunteers International)

For me personally, it was a wonderful learning experience about Africa, in general, as well as an opportunity to literally connect the issues I deal with here at the UN with flesh-and-blood people on the ground. Without going into too much detail, permit me to give you a brief overview of the reality of our sisters in Africa.

The continent is divided into four zones:

  • Western (French-speaking): Benin, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire;
  • Central (French-speaking): Angola, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Rwanda;
  • Eastern (English-speaking): Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia;
  • Southern (English-speaking): Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe.

The coordinators and the justice promoters for each zone offered reports. Some of the most significant challenges the sisters face in their respective zones include the following:

  • Crushing poverty
  • HIV/AIDS, which, according to the sisters from the Southern zone, impacts the very fiber of their society. No group is exempt, and there is probably not a household in the region which does not have to deal with some aspect of HIV/AIDS
  • Tension between Muslims and Christians. This is particularly pronounced in northern Nigeria. In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, a number of Christians were arbitrarily killed in retaliation. The assumption is that anything the West does, is Christian, and, therefore, anti-Muslim. A complex reality for our sisters to live with, and one which carries significant risk for them.
  • Communication. Language is a serious challenge, not only between French and English speakers, but also in terms of the many tribal languages that are very much a part of the cultural milieu of Africa. There was a commitment on the part of French-speaking sisters to learn English; and English-speaking sisters to learn French. And compounding the challenge of language, inadequate technology places a further burden on efforts at communication.
  • Geographic distance. Travel within Africa is difficult, and costly. Some sisters were unable to attend the assembly due to difficulty in securing visas, and prohibitive costs. It was mentioned that it is less expensive to travel to Europe than it is to fly within Africa.
  • The reality of war, armed conflict and perpetual political instability.

Sr. Petronille Kayiba (Dominican Missionaries of the Rosary), from the Democratic Republic of Congo, offered a keynote address in which she urged the sisters to make use of social analysis and theological reflection, in their efforts to see, judge and act, in response to the signs of the times. She reminded us that the future is always before us, though it is “unknown.” And she cautioned us not to allow feelings of fear and discouragement to cloud our vision here in the present. Indeed, the future is only open to us if we listen to, and are open to the present. She then invited the sisters to reflect on the greatest challenges facing the continent of Africa today. The responses were many, and included the following:

  • The negative impacts of globalization.
  • Extractive industries which mine Africa’s resources for import to developed countries, with Africa never realizing the benefits.
  • Rampant corruption and nepotism, both within government and the Church.
  • Lack of access to education, leading to ignorance regarding one’s human rights, and the consequent exploitation.
  • Crushing poverty: lack of access to clean water, food, adequate sanitation, health care, employment
  • Violence against women and girls, and trafficking

Though these problems may seem daunting, we were reminded of an old African proverb which the Bishops of Africa cited in their latest Synodal document: “an army of well-organized ants can bring down an elephant.” The Bishops go on to say, “We should not be afraid of, less still be discouraged by the enormity of the problems of our continent.” And Sr. Petronille then added, “ there is no reason for despair in Africa. Divine Blessings are here.”

From left: Sr. Anna Maria Khumalo and Sr. Eva-Maria Thuparsogong (Oakford Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, South Africa), Sr. Mary Mathe (Dominican Congregation of Montebello, South Africa)

It was very inspiring to pray and reflect with the sisters regarding their lived reality in Africa, and to witness their deep desire to bring about a fullness of life for their brothers and sisters on the continent. They hold dear their identity as Dominicans, and as preachers. Sr. Petronille encouraged the sisters to move towards a unity of preaching as both a “service of charity,” and a “proclamation of the Word.” The importance of freeing the word of women, and thereby freeing The Word, is an essential aspect of our Dominican vocation in today’s world.

In her presentation, Sr. Toni Harris reminded us all that “Working for justice is not optional, nor is it simply a dimension of our lives. Rather, it is a dynamic perspective that informs both our being and our doing. This perception shapes our prayer, our choices, our relationships, our lived commitments and our work.”

I think I speak for Toni, as well as for myself, when I say that it was a humbling experience for us to give “justice-oriented” presentations to these good sisters, who live in the midst of, and make valiant efforts to respond to, situations of grave injustice on a day-to-day basis. They are truly an inspiration for us as we continue to participate in the pursuit of justice in our own unique ways. And as Sr. Petronelle pointed out, in Africa, “Divine Blessings are here…” Many of those Divine Blessings are in the persons of our Dominican sisters throughout the continent.

Margaret Mayce

Margaret Mayce, OP (DLC/Amityville)
NGO in Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
Dominican Leadership Conference
211 East 43 St. Rm 704
New York, NY 10017
email: Margaret Mayce, OP

Dominican Leadership Conference

Building relationships and collaborating in the mission of preaching the Gospel
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248-536-3234 Contact: Executive Director