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    CICM and Rights for Undocumented Migrants in Belgium

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    Jean PeetersBy Jean Peeters, cicm  


    In Belgium, as in many European countries, thousands of people are trying to obtain refugee status in order to be able to reside legally in the country and enjoy all the rights of Belgians. But because the conditions for admission are strict–for example, proving that you are in danger of death in your own country, that you risk imprisonment for being gay–more than 140,000 people live here illegally because their application was refused three times. Legally, they do not exist and have no rights except for emergency medical care.

    Despite the occupying of the Béguinage Church in Brussels in 2021/2022 by nearly 120 people for six months, followed by a hunger strike and then a thirst strike and the threat to bring down the Government, the criteria for their regularization have not changed: a bitter failure and a great disappointment. Interested, the members of the Committee of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) of the CICM Province of België-Nederland were mobilized to write an appeal to the Government in all the media and thus try to make the Belgian mentality change.

    Scandalized by the situation of these people, we did not ask for their complete “regularization.” Still, at least we asked that these people benefit from the fundamental rights for a dignified life: the right to complain in case of sexual aggression without the danger of being expelled, the right to work, follow a training, pursue studies, have a bank account, or a driving license, etc.

    Indeed, most of these people live among us through undeclared work. These clandestine or undeclared workers, men, and women, are very numerous in construction companies and markets. They also work as babysitters, housekeepers, and ironers, but always with miserable wages. The base community of the Beguinage, of which I am a member, has often met them, several have shown us the scars caused by a work accident, but without compensation, others have told us the conditions in which they were forced to work almost like slaves: no suitable clothes, 10 hours of work a day, weekend work, lodging on the spot, no medical care, dismissed without payment, impossible to send money to their families with Western Union because they need an identity card...

    JPIC mobilized to interest other male and female missionary institutes to write a common text as follows:

    We missionaries who have lived in various countries of the southern hemisphere have good memories of the hospitality of its people. Some of us have witnessed the suffering of our fellow human beings on the ground, under dictatorships, wars, persecutions, exploitation, land grabbing, impoverishment under the weight of their country’s debt, problems related to global warming... We understand their desire to flee their country at the risk of their lives (...) Therefore, (...), we, the missionaries, ask the government to establish without delay a new parliamentary commission that would deal with the protection of the rights of these people residing in our territory. It should examine particularly what is being done on other continents, such as the agreements between the United States and various Central and South American countries regarding specific job offers (…) For us, former missionaries, the most important thing is that Belgium finds a way to guarantee human rights to people who will not leave Belgian soil anyway (...)

    Translated into two languages, this letter was signed first by Martin, our Provincial Superior, and then by about thirty French and Dutch-speaking missionary institutes, both male and female. The letter was published in a significant French-speaking newspaper, the Dutch and French-speaking Catholic media, and on their websites.

    JPIC’s objective with this action was to try to influence the mentality of our fellow citizens in favor of obtaining human rights so that politicians would then dare to propose laws. Because we know that politicians only suggest what their constituents like. It will take years of struggle before we get there.

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    Undocumented Migrants occupy the Béguinage Church in Brussels

    Stories of Boomerangs

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    Jean PeetersBy Jacques Thomas, cicm  

    We all know about the prophet Nathan’s brilliant strategy to make King David aware of the enormity of his crime. He tells him a story in which a rich man unjustly appropriates the only sheep of a poor man. David’s reaction is immediate: he spontaneously condemns the profiteer. It is then that Nathan says to him, “But that man is you!”

    Jesus uses the same pedagogy when facing the religious authori­ties of his time by telling them the story of the homicidal farmers. In the end, he asks their opinion. It is clear that these criminals deserve an exemplary punishment. By pronouncing this sentence, they are, in fact, condemning themselves. But the difference between the two stories is that David acknowledged his fault and repented, while Jesus’ opponents, who were reprimanded, sought to eliminate him, thus completing what was missing in the parallelism between their behavior and that of the homicidal farmers.

    During the summer, thanks to a brief pause granted by COVID-19, other subjects made the headlines, particularly the painful question of the misdeeds and crimes related to colonization. This is a subject that affects us as a missionary Congregation since we were at least present, if not involved in them. Of course, we regret and condemn today the abuses and especially the attack on the dignity of persons that this implied. We do not recognize ourselves in them, all the more so since it casts doubt on so many sacrifices, generosity, and love for the people to which generations of confreres have given witness.

    But one wonders how in the past such things could have happened without more protests from confreres or other Christians. For whether it was slavery, or colonization, or even the wars and genocides perpetrated until recently, it is difficult to understand what could have been the justification, if not a noticeable lack of recognition of the inalienable dignity of every person, whoever he or she may be.

    In his latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti (FT), Pope Francis refers many times to the only possible foundation for genuine equality and fraternity in relations among human beings: “the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love (FT39)”. And the Pope adds, not without regret: “I sometimes wonder why, in light of this, it took so long for the Church unequivocally to condemn slavery and various forms of violence (FT86)”.

    Of course, this is history, but in fact, I often tell myself that by condemning these mistakes of the past with anger today, we do nothing but condemn ourselves. Indeed, have we ever tried to imagine what will be said of our generation in the next century, unable to take the measure of the challenges we face today?

    Will they not condemn with the same anger our inability to take the urgent measures required by climate change, our indifference in the face of the horrible tragedy of migrants, the success of extreme right-wing parties preaching selfishness and xenophobia, oblivious to the excesses to which these ideologies have led in the past, our inaction in the face of the widening gap between a minority of privileged people who can afford anything and a growing mass, condemned to live often in unworthy conditions and without a future? “Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person that allows him or her to be treated as an object (FT24)”. And we do not have the excuse that we are not informed, that we do not know: “we are comfortably seated in front of our screens watching the multiple dramas that affect the lives of so many of our fellow human beings: we look at those who suffer without touching them. We televise live pictures of them (FT76)”. The gap is widening, and poverty is increasing. Here in Brussels, you only have to travel by metro to see the extent of the evo­lution: last Sunday, just between Louise and Gare de l’Ouest stations, three beggars succeeded one another in the cars. Unheard of.

    What can we do about it? We feel so helpless in the face of the magnitude of these challenges. It is precisely against this guilty in­difference that we must react because history will hold us ac­countable, just as it does today about the past. The encyclical's central biblical text is the parable of the Good Samaritan. We have undoubtedly already had the opportunity to make some lovely comments or homilies about it. But let us sincerely ask ourselves: do we feel personally concerned? “Which of these persons do you identify with? This question, blunt as it is, is direct and incisive. Which of these characters do you resemble? (FT64)”.

    “Sooner or later, we will all encounter a person who is suffering. Today there are more and more of them. The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project. Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders (FT69)”. As Christians and religious, the only way out is to learn from the Good Samaritan. “Difficulties that seem overwhelming are opportunities for growth, not excuses for a glum resignation that can lead only to acquiescence. Yet let us not do this alone, as individuals (FT78)”. May we personally, but especially in the community, dare to take concrete initiatives. ■


    “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

    Martin Luther King Jr.

    CICM-US joins CMSM to condemn racism and brutality

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    Jean PeetersBy Celso Tabalanza, cicm  

    In the wake of a week of tur­moil across the United States, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), which represents the leaders of more than 200 Catholic religious institutes of men across the United States, publicly condemns racism. We condemn the brutality that takes away breath and we call for re­forms to policies and practices that have oppressed Black Ameri­cans. We also pray for an end to the national violence that has been ignited and for a path for­ward that is based on peace and leads to true change.

    This moment in our nation and the life of our Church demands more than a statement of anguish. It requires us to commit publicly to change, starting with ourselves. We must begin a collective ef­fort—as religious institutes for men, monasteries, and societies for apostolic life—to work to dis­mantle the individual and sys­temic practices that perpetuate racism in the places where we live out our vocations. We must listen. We must mourn. We must repent. We must change.

    A throwaway culture that values property over people and asserts that some lives are worth more than others violates the hu­man dignity upon which our faith and vocations are based. To say that we represent a Gospel of Life means we cannot look the other way or fail to hear or see people who are suffering.

    To authentically pursue change requires reckoning with one’s own past. That includes us.

    The historical record of the Catholic Church in the US on racism reflects a lack of prophetic leadership and humanity throughout history, all too often mirroring the accepted morals of the time. While many of our brothers and institutes have been on the front lines of fighting for civil rights, we acknowledge some congregations owned slaves and refused to accept Black men and other men of color for vows and ordination. While we have created ministries, built schools, and founded social justice efforts ex­plicitly to serve communities of color, we have not always prac­ticed true equality, the kind of equality that seeks to understand and strives for mutuality. In our desire to uplift, we have been pa­ternalistic at times and even have perpetuated segregation.

    To be prophetic leaders, we must name past sins, humbly lis­ten to those hurt by racism, and be willing to be uncomfortable with our individual and corporate record of prejudice. We must hear those within our own communi­ties who are marginalized, have been silenced, or remain unseen. We must call ourselves to ac­count.

    The Conference of Major Supe­riors of Men recognizes that this essential work must have tangible outcomes that bear witness to the transformational power of the Holy Spirit working through and in each of us. We will commit to preaching, teaching, praying, and mobilizing in new ways.

    We ask that all people of good­will pray for this effort, that we might live into the question that Servant of God, Sr. Thea Bowman, FSPA (Franciscan Sis­ters of Perpetual Adoration), posed to the U.S. Bishops Confer­ence in 1989: “… how can we work together so that all of us have equal access to input – equal ac­cess to opportunity – equal access to participation.”

    May Sr. Thea’s bold witness serve as our guide for fundamen­tal change in our Church and in all the places where we labor to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ■

    “We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
    And the norms and notions
    of what just is
    Isn’t always just-ice”

    Amanda Gorman

    New Wine in New Wineskins: JPIC Promoters’ Formation Workshop

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    Jean PeetersBy Bernard Kayimbw Mbay, cicm  

    Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Ps 85:11).

    These words of the psalmist makesense to their fullest when we fell in love with Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.

    December 2–6, 2019, seven confreres from ACO, ASI, BNL, LAC, RP, and US CICM Provinces participated in a Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Promoters Formation workshop organized by the International Union of Superiors General in Rome, Italy. The purpose of the training was, in the first place, to provide us with basic information regarding services and opportunities available for JPIC promoters.

    Next, we were guided in ways of developing strategies, plans, and activities in JPIC global endeavors. For that purpose, in addition to learning basic JPIC definition, structure, working groups and responsibilities we were also exposed to many issues affecting our human family such as poverty, human trafficking, exploitation of vulnerable immigrants, exploitation and abuses of children in the mining sector, refugees, climate change, ecosystem vulnerability, etc. As we discussed these issues, we were mindful not to focus so much on the symptoms but rather to go deeper on to causes that put our planet, individuals, and entire communities in such vulnerable and deplorable situations. The greed reflected in so many economic systems, obsession with power, and what Pope Francis has called “culture of indifference” or “the anesthesia of the heart”, are obviously the leading causes of this derail.

    The parable of the New Wine in New Wineskins (Mk 2:21-22) turned out to be the perfect spirituality for us religious JPIC promoters. Our very consecration and our call to holiness impel us to champion the fullness of life that Jesus offers to the entire creation. The new and good wine is the teaching and the fullness of life of Jesus that needs to be poured in new wineskins, which are our renewed identity and passion. It is us that need to be renewed, rejuvenated, and refreshed in order to contain and give to the human family and creation a new and good wine. When we care for the groaning earth, “our common home”, for the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the exploited, and the victims of unjust systems and structures, we are not just performing an act of charity. Every time we hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, we are reminded that we are stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26) and one another’s keepers (Genesis4:9), which implies responsibility and accountability. We are urged to give a prophetic response on behalf of the communities affected and our planet being irresponsibly destroyed. We are the conscience of our society, just as Pope Francis has demonstrated with his strong passionate advocating for our common home and for the poor.

    Finally, the training offered us opportunities to establish networks with diverse groups and organizations working in JPIC-related issues. JPIC is a vast field, and no one can fully tackle all of its issues or as a Lone Ranger. We’ve heard the expression “work smarter rather harder”. Networks are one of the best ways to working smarter, given that all JPIC issues are interconnected, and so we do well when we complete each other and maximize our actions together.

    Working with external groups is beneficial in many respects, including more efficiency and less structures. Groups like Talitha Kum, an international Relations Network of consecrated life against Human Trafficking, Solidarity with South Soudan, the Catholic Global Climate Movement, SEDOS, Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network, Integrity of Creation working group, JPIC Africa, etc. are just a few examples among many organizations that work already in specific areas of JPIC that we can partner with.

    The training was also enriched by experienced various individuals, among whom some had participated in the Pan-Amazonian synod, those who have worked in the United Nations structure, and a representative of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Drawing from their personal experiences and their familiarity with programs and resources, they gave a unique perspective about the world as it is and the world as it should be. The Social Teaching of the Church, the United Nations’s Sustainable Development goals, earth charter, and declaration of human rights, are resources JPIC promoters should use as they respond to respective situations wherever they are.

    The German physicist Albert Einstein once said: “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.” Expecting political governments and Business Corporations to care about the poor and our common home will only create despair and uncertainty. In fact, efforts and actions to change the world to make it a better place for everyone and for nature have always encountered resistance and push back because there are many who profit from human misery.

    In contrast, however, the world has been inspired by the young 16-year-old Swedish advocate and environmental activist on climate change Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman. She is the expression of the necessity to find new ways to deal with the resistance and even sabotage of some world leaders.

    As we reflected in this mixed reality, all of us attendees of the training agreed that JPIC needs to be part of our formation at all levels: Prenovitiate, Novitiate, Philosophy, Theology, Internship, and Ongoing Formation. A panelist observed that our formation programs do teach future priests how to write beautiful homilies but fail lamentably to provide solid training about JPIC, especially real, painful, and often complex issues that the people we serve deal with daily. To bring about the Reign of Christ and a better world, not only do we need to be the voice of the voiceless and the conscience of our society, but most importantly, we need to be the instruments leaders of an integral and whole human development. JPIC needs to be an integral part of all our Mission, charism, ministries, and our way of life, not a side task. If we are damn serious about that, then, as Provinces, we should be intentional, for instance, in appointing a full-time JPIC chairperson.

    We invite all confreres to read our JPIC articles in Chronica and to visit a JPIC website that is being launched to accommodate our JPIC sharing and possible networking among confreres.

    We wish to thank Fr. Adorable Castillo, CICM, Vicar General, and the coordinator of the JPIC desk and the GG for the invitation. We also thank the Collegio Missionario CICM community for their hospitality during our stay in the Eternal City.