A while ago, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference published a pastoral letter in which they called on all Zimbabweans to 'Let us work for the common good. Let us save our nation'. The call is pertinent to our situation for it identifies a critical quality that our country desperately needs. Zimbabwe has never experienced a sense of the common good. Zimbabwe as a nation has always, since 1890, been monopolized by a few. It has always been, since colonialism, a fort protecting a few people against the majority. Our lives were, therefore, moulded by institutions and processes of war, surveillance, suspicion. We perfected the language and practice of protecting group interests and expressing hatred towards those outside our respective interest groups. Some of that hatred, disrespect and suspicion of others is expressed in humour, the other through violence. We have historically developed strategies for working towards the destruction of others and have developed cultures of humiliating others. We celebrated our independence by humiliating those who lost the elections. We continue to do so even today. This is our culture. We are all in our respective forts. Yet this laager mentality doesn't build a nation or democracy. It does not bring us together.
Colonialism, tribalism, sexism
The colonial humiliation of black people was very deep. Up to now, some white people who benefited from that racist system still want to live in that colonial world. There is need for them to culturally get out of the laager mentality that is informed by their history. They need to seriously begin to develop a culture of human solidarity and trust with blacks in this country. A sense of the common good can help them in doing so. As the Catholic bishops write, 'Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the common good of all members of society. A better society is not for the benefit of an elite but for all' .
The humiliation of blacks in colonialism was so deep that blacks internalized it, and so we are today reproducing it among ourselves. This sounds a bit like blaming it on colonialism. Yes it is. But we must also take responsibility for our contribution to colonial culture. We must take responsibility for our active creation and re-creation of tribalism, sexism, and abuse of the environment. Culturally, we Zimbabweans, black and white, men and women, old and young, have never, as a nation, lived in comprehensive solidarity with one another. In this sense we have never experienced the sense of the common good. We have never, at a national level, developed the virtue of trust and being socially comfortable with all members of the nation.
Our solidarity has always been limited and narrowly partisan. Our solidarity has always tended to be limited by racism, ethnicity, ageism, class politics and sexism. These are our various traditions and political means for shutting out others from full political, social and cultural participation. Our idea of political community is still largely informed by pre-colonial experiences of social reality. We still think that politics is about fighting for and defending our narrow group interests, ideologies, identities and resources by whatever means necessary.
This has affected our understanding of the nature of citizenship. Most Zimbabweans have an idea of citizenship which politically closes out some Zimbabweans. The colonial system struggled to give equal citizenship to the majority of its citizens-the black people. The post-colonial regime is struggling to develop a more comprehensive and inclusive idea of citizenship that includes whites, Asians and many others. In fact, thousands of black Zimbabweans have lost their citizenship under a post-colonial government which calls itself revolutionary and pan-Africanist. Women are yet to be equal citizens and the natural environment is yet to receive its due respect.
Survival lies in the search for the common good
The Apartheid system that we experienced, prevented blacks and whites from learning how to live with each other as human beings. Colonial strategies and the development of various forms of ethnic interests ensured that black people were divided. Labour migration which took most African men from their families to work in mines and on farms, deepened the gender divide which already existed even before colonialism.
Now, as Aristotle demonstrated, virtue is always learned through practice, we have never, as a nation, learned in practice the virtues of comprehensive political and social solidarity-the sense of the common good. This is what the bishops have called 'a spiritual and moral crisis'. Zimbabwe has not yet conceived itself as a comprehensive political association that implies a genuine sense of commonality and political community where politics is practised without deteriorating into some kind of war. This is our crisis.
To get out of this crisis, we must widen what we imagine ourselves to be in such ways as to accommodate each other. We need to develop ways of conducting politics that allows us to fight without dehumanising others; to disagree without getting violent and to oppose without disrespect. We must cultivate our emotional responses to each other in ways that are commensurate with Zimbabwe as a modern nation.
By now we must have discovered that whites cannot wish away black people, and neither can blacks wish away the whites. Men cannot hope to dominate women for ever and neither can human beings ignore the welfare of the natural environment without threatening their own lives.
All this must tell us that it is time to listen to the call to search for the common good for it is there that our survival lies. Historical anger, political violence, social exclusion and the spirit of cultural superiority, no matter how historically justified, will never build a peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe. It is when we think seriously about the welfare of others that peace is made possible.
Director of the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching, Harare
We Comboni Missionaries began our missionary service in Zambia in November 1977 with the arrival of Fr. Kizito Sesana in Chipata Diocese. Two parishes were assigned to us: Chadiza in 1978 and Vubwi in 1979. St. Mathias Mulumba Parish was opened in 1983. In 1983 we also took the parish of Chikowa. In time, some of the parishes were returned to the diocese, and new commitments were opened. In 2001 the novitiate was opened in Bauleni, Lusaka. It receives novices - young men who wish to become missionaries - from Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and South Africa.
At present, we have two distinct missionary experiences: urban and rural work. In Lusaka, the capital, we have one community in Lilanda. The missionaries there follow the parishes of St. Andrew Kaggwa and St. Kizito. These two Christian communities are in a slum area, and they were opened by the Jesuits. We took over from them in 1988. The laity in Lilanda is really committed. On Saturdays and Sundays, the churches' compounds are a beehive of activity. There are literally thousands of people praying, rehearsing songs and liturgies, following catechesis or formation courses. They devote a lot of time to the preparation of the Sunday's liturgy. Each small Christian community has a choir and they do their best to animate the Eucharistic celebrations. Most of these groups are proud of their uniform, which is a clear way to establish their identity and service within the Church. Our work there is to support Christian life, follow the formation of the laity, and animate the local Church to be open to missionary work.
Our second field of commitment is in the Luangwa Valley, in the diocese of Chipata. This area was evangelized in the past, but then it was left almost abandoned. In the 1980s, the Bishop of Chipata asked us to take responsibility of the area and revive the life of the Church. In his mind, we should be forming a team with diocesan clergy and other pastoral personnel. In reality this plan never worked. The area is too large and it would require much more personnel. We follow three parishes: Chama, Chikowa and Chipata. Our missionaries work in this vast expanse by visiting local communities and staying with them several days in a row. The distances and the poor infrastructure make everything more complicated. In the Luangwa Valley there are still areas of first evangelization, but there are also some communities already formed. People there are very generous. In June-July, when the main harvest is ready, each Christian community offers maize, potatoes, beans for the work of the Church. It is amazing to see small communities to offer so much. It is also important to keep up this tradition, for the local Church needs to grow in awareness and self support.
In this valley, we try to provide basic educational services, but also technical formation. In Chikowa, there are three Comboni Brothers who run the Chikowa Youth Development Centre, which offers two-year courses in construction, carpentry, and agriculture. Br. Jonas Dzinekou, from Togo, is the principal of the centre. The Centre was started as a response to the shortage of educational opportunities in the country, and exists not just to provide important technical skills to the students, but also to offer human formation. The human formation program at the centre is intended to provide an open space for students to share about their lives and their hopes, to learn skills and to become responsible adults who work for the improvement of society.
We are also involved in social projects, like digging bore-holes for clean water and working with prisoners. One of our fathers is a counsellor and visits prisoners every week. When there are special reasons for concern, he invites government officials to take action. Last year, because of the torrential rains, one of the prisons was flooded and he was able to mobilize the ministry to help with emergency, and also to look into the living space of prisoners, usually massed in crowded cells.
In 1979, Daniel N˙Òez, bishop of Panama's David diocese, wrote: 'The children play outside with smiling faces, despite the worms and malnutrition. Their mother weaves a multicolour ch·cara [an elaborately patterned string bag], while a naked months-old baby crawls around her. The grandmother brings water and firewood together with two children; the father and two other children come from clearing brush and are received joyously. There's a breeze and the tranquillity is palpable. In the midst of their poverty there's a lot of affection among them; there's love. They don't know it, but they're under threat.'
Today, many things have changed, including in the indigenous zones, but many others have not. A legally defined territory called Ngöbe-Buglé District has existed in Panama since 1997, the product of a long and bloody struggle. A little over 110,000 Ngöbe and Buglé indigenous peoples live in the Ngöbe-Buglé District, 55% of a total population of 200,000. To work out the law for the Ngöbe-Buglé District, an Organic Act was first approved, which the government changed last August without the consensus of those affected. There are more schools and health posts in the zone now, as well as some poorly constructed roads. The indigenous presence is also 'felt' more in the media; more indigenous people are studying at university; the political parties have thoroughly inserted themselves in their territories; many projects have been developed, and a lot of money has been invested.
And yet, 95% of the population of this district is still living in poverty, while 60% are considered 'illiterate' in Spanish and treated as pariahs because they speak their own languages and have a different-colour skin. Many now migrate to western Panama and to Costa Rica. They emigrate to get better paid jobs, but those who only go as far as the Panamanian cities of David and Santiago end up even poorer and more marginalized, as many research studies have shown.
As if the problems these peoples already have weren't enough, projects and more projects are now being proposed for 'the country's development.' All have a history behind them' In 1977, the project to exploit Cerro Colorado hovered over the Ngöbe-Buglé District like an eagle ready to swoop. Since then technical studies have analyzed and denounced the mortal danger in which the indigenous of the entire district found themselves, as well as the negative consequences of this particular mining exploitation not only for these communities but for the whole country. It was documented at the time that an 'open cast' mine meant ecological and ethnic death for many communities. International solidarity abounded and many united to confront the 'monster.' The project was denounced by multiple groups, and especially by Bishop David N˙Òez, later joined by all the country's Catholic bishops.
Meanwhile, with the Cerro Colorado project shelved, they turned their sights on Veraguas, the gold mine in CaÒazas. They were there for ten years getting gold out and leaving behind contaminated rivers, soil and, above all, people. When they left, all they bequeathed was a lunar landscape and many sick people. As all these project need electricity, they next went after the beautiful, abundant and deep rivers that bathe our small country. They had already exploited the R'o Bayano in the eastern part of the country in the seventies, building a dam that flooded part of what is today the Kuna District of Madungand'. The Kunas are still waiting for their benefits and compensation. The peasants and indigenous people of the R'o Cobre have been struggling for eleven years to keep from being thrown off their land. In Valle RiscÛ, the Ng‰be have suffered evictions, dispossessions, loss of lands and crops, marginalizing of communities, and the destruction of the ecology and the Protector Forest of Palo Seco, all to the construction of the Chan-75 dam.
With great stealth, as if to keep many people from finding out, the Canadian Dominion Minerals company was granted a concession for over 24,000 hectares in 2006 with no environmental impact study, to exploit a copper, gold, silver and molybdenum deposit in the middle of the Ngöbe-Buglé District. The Environmental Authority, on which the laws on reserves and districts depend, said nothing. Nor have the owners of these lands been consulted. Not until April 2009 did the Supreme Court suspend the mining company's actions, and then only temporarily. So the sword is still hanging over the heads of the Chorchas and all Panamanians.
'Clean mining' has been the banner proclamation of exploitation, as is currently the case in CoclÈ-ColÛn, where Petaquilla Gold and Minera Panam· are exploring for copper, gold and silver. But the reality is that there's no such thing as clean mining; in all cases it's an oxymoron. Panama's Chamber of Mining recently declared that 'if mining weren't good, there wouldn't be so many mines in Chile, Peru and Brazil.' But history and the evidence in those three countries point to dirty and polluting mining there.
With international copper and gold prices now rising, they are back to exploit mines in Panama, and the Panamanian government has already taken various steps to permit it. These include approving a reform to the 1963 Mining Code, which has sparked the opposition of all of the country's environmentalist groups. Another was to reform the Organic Act of the Ngöbe-BugléDistrict, thus opening the way for 'authorization' of this mining exploitation. Those opposed to this outrage have banked on organization, consciousness-raising and commitment. The first step has been to 'organize the rage' produced by the determination to exploit riches by going over people's heads. The organization of that rage has been reflected in community groups, traditional authorities, solidarity groups, civil society, pastoral groups and international support. After demonstrations and protests, the issuing of communiquÈs and the blocking of highways, in which people were wounded, beaten and imprisoned, we got the government to back off and repeal the mining law.
The second step is consciousness-raising. Much still needs to be said to the entire country. Incredibly, there are still supposedly well-educated professionals (doctors, engineers, etc.) who think that culture is synonymous with backwardness, that land is only possessed by purchase and that all investment is progress. We're frequently surprised by the racist statements and justifications born of the ignorance of many Panamanians.
The third is commitment. Panama's Catholic Church spoke clearly in a January 13 Bishops' Conference CommuniquÈ. 'Not all investment is desirable. Such is the case of mining, which together with deforestation has become the greatest threat to environmental sustainability in the region. In general, countries have weak laws regarding foreign investment and lax regulations that do not guarantee that contaminating substances such as cyanide are handled safely for the health of the population. Nor have legitimately recognized consultations been conducted to truthfully inform affected communities and make sure their demands are recognized.'
In numerous meetings, bishops and pastoral agents (priests, nuns and committed lay people) who work in the country's districts have demonstrated our concern about the mining projects, given that the marginalization and extreme poverty are now exacerbated by the growing threat of dispossession and the despoiling of their ancestral territories by mining concessions and hydroelectric projects in the name of 'national progress.' Many indigenous accounts support this struggle. As a Church, we must remain at the side of these peoples even if we have to pay a high price. It's the only task the Gospel of Jesus Christ asks of us.
Sarsaneda is a Jesuit, member of the Panama national indigenous pastoral coordinating body.
In the 1960's, Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcìa' speaking out against Chiapas' unwritten laws - such as those prohibiting Indians from walking the streets after dark and forcing them to step off city sidewalks into the gutter whenever non-Indians approached. He said his faith led him to examine the roots of the injustice and prompted his writings on the exploitation of Native Americans and his research into indigenous cosmology and theology. His remarks against the powerful landlord class were construed by some as originating from Marxist class theory, rather than the Gospel. During Pope John Paul II's 1990 visit to Mexico, landowners published an open letter, accusing Bishop Ruiz of being communist and fomenting class hatred.
Starting in 1970, Bishop Ruiz ordered translations of the Bible and other religious texts in the indigenous languages of Chiapas. He trained Indian catechists, or instructors, to organize village assemblies throughout the mountains and jungles of the diocese. By the end of his tenure, there were more than 20,000 Indian catechists in Chiapas. He made the Word of God accessible to the people. Bishop Ruiz learned to speak four Mayan languages and often traveled by mule through his diocese, where he was affectionately called Don Samuel or "Tatic," which means father in the Mayan language.
Samuel Ruiz Garcìa's own life had started in poverty: he was born on November 3, 1924, in Irapuato, in central Mexico. He was the eldest of five children, and his parents struggled to survive on a shared smallholding and a little grocery shop. His schooling was irregular at first, in part because of the stringent laws against Catholics and their schools in the years of persecution of the Mexican Church in the 1930s, after the Mexican revolution. At the age of 13, however, things changed when he joined the diocesan minor seminary. After his ordination in 1949, he obtained a doctorate in biblical studies in Rome. On his return to Mexico, he became a teacher, then rector of the diocesan seminary in LeÛn and, subsequently, a canon of LeÛn Cathedral, before being made Bishop of San CristÛbal.
When Bishop Ruiz first arrived in Chiapas the Church in Latin America had begun a process of change, although the new bishop was not at first fully aware of the shape this was taking. He explained that he initially followed his predecessor in encouraging the work of catechists who, by their service and the example of their own lives, inspired the rest of the community. However, in hindsight, he criticized this approach for its orientation towards Western attitudes and organization from the top down rather than from among the people themselves using their own cultural values.
A bishop's conversion
He was present at the Second Vatican Council and was particularly impressed by the part played by the bishops from Africa in putting together the decree Ad Gentes about the Church's missionary activity. They were lobbying strongly for a new approach to Christian anthropology which would help them more with their missionary work and value the dignity of different cultures. He referred often to the influence that Ad Gentes had on him at a time when he says he himself was still thinking of ways to teach his people to substitute Spanish for their own indigenous languages in order to evangelize them and help them economically. And here was Ad Gentes, advising Christians to familiarize themselves with their own national and religious traditions and seek out the seeds of the Word that lay latent within these.
The 'conversion' did not stop there. In 1968, CELAM held its second conference, this time in Medell'n, Colombia, to look at ways of making Vatican II more readily applicable to the Latin American context. There was a dramatic shift in focus towards the widespread misery on the sub-continent which was diagnosed as coming from unjust social and economic structures which the poor were powerless to change. This attention to what was described famously as 'institutionalized violence' made a profound impression. So the catechists in Don Samuel's diocese became the spokespeople of their communities, which were considering all aspects - social, political, economic and cultural - of their situation in order to work out where the Spirit of God was leading them.
The next point of departure on Don Samuel's road was the Congress of the Indigenous that he held in San CristÛbal in 1974. The communities had elected speakers whom they felt led straight lives and could represent them. The catechists of the diocese now were not just there to help with traditional catechism, with services and singing, but were genuine representatives of their communities in all the matters most important to them.
There followed three days of lament for all the abuses that the indigenous peoples had suffered, with details, but also concrete suggestions about what to do in each case. By this time, Don Samuel could speak two of the four languages of the indigenous present and had a working knowledge of the others. He said that he learned enough at the meeting to see the inadequacy of his diocesan pastoral plan, which he scrapped there and then and developed another based on what he had heard.
Obviously, all this sustained work - to make his people aware of the sources of their problems and then encourage them to discover and apply solutions - was sooner or later going to lead to conflict with those causing the problem: the large landowners and ranch owners and their political backers in the state of Chiapas, as well as in the federal government.
The only mediator
When the frustration of the people finally broke out into the rebellion of the Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN) in 1994, the first person to be blamed was Don Samuel. Supposedly, it was his scheming and his orchestration of the theology of violence that had driven the indigenous to join the rebel army and invade several towns. But this phase of blame passed when it became clear that he was the only mediator that the rebels would accept to deal with the government, and the parties met, under his mediation, in the cathedral in San CristÛbal.
A truce was agreed and eventually an agreement on greater autonomy for the indigenous was made between the representatives of the government and the EZLN. What was more surprising was the tensions that Bishop Ruiz had with the Church. At a certain moment, he was asked to resign and replied that if asked to by the pope, of course, he would do so. This did not happen and his later prestigious role as mediator further protected him.
In 1996, Bishop Ruiz was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of goodwill to secure peace among all nations. He won the SimÛn Bol'var International Prize from UNESCO in 2000 due to his efforts to fight poverty, exclusion, corruption, violence and for his help in the mutual understanding of Latin Americans.
Like prophet Jeremiah
'I haven't evangelized them, they have evangelized me!' So, Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garc'a replied, with directness and humility, to a compliment about his work in his diocese of San CristÛbal de Las Casas in Mexico. This quiet, chubby, unassuming little man gave everything that he had of his mind and strength to the people of his diocese, over the forty years that he was their bishop. Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garc'a died on January 24, 2011, of complications from long-standing illnesses. Wearing a miter and stole embroidered with Mayan motifs, his body was buried in the cathedral of San CristÛbal accompanied by lamentation by the indigenous people to whom he had dedicated himself. At his funeral Mass, Ra˙l Vera, Bishop of Saltillo, recalled how Bishop Ruiz 'always had eyes to see the image of God in each one of his brothers and sisters.' "Don Samuel was like the prophet Jeremiah, a man who lived amidst and experienced contradiction," said Bishop Vera.
Mexican President Felipe CalderÛn said Bishop Ruiz's death "constitutes a great loss for Mexico.' 'Samuel Ruiz strove to build a more just Mexico - egalitarian, dignified and without discrimination in it - so that indigenous communities have a voice and their rights and freedoms are respected by all," the president said in a statement. Don Samuel has left, as important and tangible example of his work, the Fray BartolomÈ de Las Casas Human Rights Center that he set up in 1989. Its website shows just how terribly his people in Chiapas still suffer. We can only hope that Don Samuel's commitment to the people of his diocese lives on through his prophetic legacy and those who continue his work.