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Malindi – Dialogue and commitment/2

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This is the second part of an interview with Bishop Emanuel Barbara. See part one here.

A major concern is the abuse of young people both by the local population and tourists. What is the diocese doing in this area?
The problem of abuses on minor is always before my eyes. When I came, I found a priest and a lay woman working on this matter. I encouraged them to work for the abused and create a structure to protect them. At the root of the abuses we have, first of all, tourism. Many children of this area must find their own means if they want to go to school. They try selling trinkets to tourists, when this is not enough, they become easy prey of sexual propositions. Among the many good people who come to visit the area, there are some who come only for sex, and sex with minors. This is a problematic situation which has negative effects of the physical and psychological health of children. There is local connivance, in fact tourists are able to take these children to their rooms in the hotels. What is the tourist police doing? There is much to do to make police and private guards aware of the problem.
A second aspect to be considered is the abuse taking place within the family. Kenya is becoming more and more eroticized. Printed material, television programs, and other media promote a cultural change in the sphere of sexuality. This is having a negative effect on people. Incest and sex amongst siblings is becoming commonplace.
In both cases, the Church now tries to intervene. At the beginning there was a shroud of silence, now people realize we can help and we do have the power to support the prosecution of abusers. While there is always the tentative to buy the silence of the police, since we have started working in this field there is a new awareness also among security forces. We already offer training to girls as a way to prepare them for alternative activities to support their lives. We are also preparing a secure home where to welcome victims of abuse and help them deal with what they went through.

In the past, Muslims were the majority here at the coast. Things are changing today. How is the state of the dialogue between Muslims and Christians?
mal2bI have a positive vision of dialogue with Islam. My predecessor had a good relationship with local Muslims. When I came here, it was during the Ramadan. I called the Islamic leaders to give them the message sent by the Pontifical Institute for Dialogue. We met and started again the dialogue. I invited religious leaders and their wives again to celebrate the end of the year. Besides social meetings, we had occasions when we discussed how to tackle problems in our society. There are also ecumenical groups meeting regularly in the diocese. These are all instruments to keep the dialogue open and fruitful.

Do you think cohabitation is possible?
We should realize that Islam never clashed violently against the Church in our region. We have not seen episodes of radicalism. Here in Malindi there is a Cross erected by Vaco de Gama, a few tombs from the time of Portuguese invasion and a small chapel built by Saint Francis Xavier. These have been there for five centuries and were never touched by the local population. In other areas of Kenya there have been incidents, but not here.
So far we have experienced respect. There have been tensions. For instance, when the diocese wanted to build a church in Lamu, an island with a strong Islamic identity, the priest had to call builders from outside, for local workers refused to cooperate. Yet, this is an event of the past. The parish priest there is now in good terms with the local Islamic leaders and he has often meeting with them. I know some imams have asked our priests how they tackle the problem of drugs spreading among the youth. So there is cooperation even in pastoral work. If it is true that there is a presence linked with terror activities, we should not forget that this is expression of a minority. There have been terror attacks by Muslim, but they are not the only ones using violence.

In the past there has been political tension. Some fight for the secession of the coast…
The mal2cCoast is not receiving the political attention it deserves. This is an important region for the economy of the nation, yet the central government seems unaware of the needs of the people. I do not think the people of the coast want independence. But certainly they see the lack of schools, the poverty of the infrastructures, the lack of water, electricity … The people want the government to realize they exist and deserve better services. I do not believe anyone is still thinking of the time when the area was under the Sultanate of Zanzibar.

What do you see in the future of this local Church?
The diocese of Malindi is developing. The pastoral centre of the diocese works well. Caritas is the centre of social action for the whole diocese. We offer simple but important projects: the school of catering, computer, hair-styling, and tailoring are helping the youth. We are at the beginning and so we need to grow more. People see that and they know we are on their side.
In the next years, a new port will be built in Lamu, and from there new communication links with Ethiopia, and Sudan. The area will take on a new importance for the whole nation and there will be important changes at social level. We need to be prepared and present, for this is a great challenge.

 

J.C.

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