lunes, 15 de marzo de 2010

Convivencia de Verano 2010

“Juntos como hermanos al encuentro del Señor”

(Together as brothers and sister, to meet the Lord)

Summer Gathering 2010

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We gathered at the door of the small wooden chapel to greet the sun as it peaked from the side of Patena Hill. Ari core Ngöbö ye”, (we give thanks to God) we sang in native Ngöbere to end a night long vigil of music and preaching. It was mostly the kids who were wide awake at this hour, as many adults had slipped out little by little to get some rest in the early morning hours.

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“Together as brothers and sisters, to meet the Lord”, words from a song frequetly used during mass, was the theme picked by the host community – Quebrada de Hacha (Ax Creek). The words reflect the hope we had in gaining a deeper sense of our being Church – one people united in Christ. The night was filled with joyous music, personal testimonies and various themes presented by the Ngöbe community animators from several villages.

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With the sun up we filled ourselves with boiled bananas and coffee and began preparations for the mass under the mango tree that would be the culmination of the gathering. The generator ran out of gas halfway through the mass – silencing the instruments of the group that came from Concepcion to animate the gathering. But the enthusiasm of the community, despite little or no sleep, was evident as the songs went on in great volume.

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“Ari core Ngöbö ye”


video

Chorcha River Dam Update:


It has been more than 3 years since we first heard of the plan of a Columbian company to dam the Chorcha River to produce power for the Central American Electric Grid. (None of our communities have electricity and there is currently no plan to receive it). The tireless efforts of the Ngöbe to prevent the environmental, social and cultural damage that this project promises have produced little fruit in face of the economic power of the company, back by the government.


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In December the company landed by helicopter within Ngöbe reservation territory with National Guard and private security armed with M16 semi-automatic rifles. The company spent several weeks realizing design studies at the river while the residence of Quebrada de Arena lived in fear their lives. The company left with the promise to return shortly.


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“If want to cultivate peace, protect creation” was the 2010 New Years message of the Pope to all Catholics and people of good will. The violence that surrounds environmental destruction becomes more apparent each day, and it’s repeatedly the poorest who suffer most.


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We pray that true peace comes to this situation, that the dignity of the Ngöbe be respected, their voice be heard, and that the integrity of God’s creation be revered.


viernes, 12 de marzo de 2010

In Ngöbe mythology, Mögatda is a sea serpent who enters the river from the sea. As a small creature he goes up the river unnoticed, and spends years or perhaps hundreds of year under the mountains growing larger and larger. The hot springs flowing from the hillside give testament to the creature inside. The frequent landslides give caution that the creature is now much too large for his subterranean dwelling.

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One day, when no expects it, Mögatda leaves his hiding and heads back to the sea. Now with seven heads and much too big for the river, his tail knocks down trees, water floods the banks and wipes out whole villages. Music from traditional flutes and other instruments can be heard as he makes his ferocious dash for the sea.

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On September 3, 2008, as the sun was setting, Mögatda came down the Fonseca River where we serve as the Soloy Catholic Mission in a way even the elders have never seen or heard. Huge trees from the high mountain forest came down river, wiping out villages and crops.

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Plinio, a young Ngöbe man who always helps Fr. Charlie in guiding the missionaries through the mountains, quickly looked for higher ground with his family. But like most, the only alternative was to climb trees with children in tow. Plinio left his safe spot in the tree when her heard the screams of young girls in a nearby hut, and quickly saved a women and child as the waters continued to rise. He waded through the water once again, returning to the hut in search of the last little girl. But as he left the hut – with the girl in one arm and a pig in the other – the force of Mögatda was too strong. Plinio and the girl in his arms were among the six that died that night.

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When we gathered for mass a few days later – three bodies had been found and three were still missing. The government had stopped looking, so the men from the villages took up the search. After mass, which we celebrated under a tree, as the chapel was too small, we invited people to speak to the large group gathered for the quasi-funeral. The words of the Ngöbe in this moment manifest there immense struggle to survive, and their deep faith in God’s loving hand. They spoke of the humble bravery of the men searching the dangerous river for the remaining bodies. They spoke of the need to help the families who lost the little they had, rebuilding homes, planting crops. More than anything they encouraged one another to have faith in the love of God for the deceased and the now homeless.

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Two days later, we stood on the river bank along with the last body, a four year old girl; her mother and grandmother were also among the deceased. I looked around at the many Ngöbe gathered in silence, waiting for several hours for the government’s OK to take the body to the chapel. In the midst of this, I couldn’t help but think of the wisdom of Vincent in encouraging his missionaries to open their lives and hearts and find Christ present among the poor. Standing for hours on the river bank beside a water-bloated body of a four year old, who now laid in a grain sack, I knew that following Christ evangelizing the poor is the greatest gift and greatest challenge we face. The experience of Christ in the most desperate circumstances is overwhelming, indescribable, yet “swells up” from the experience of the poor.

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“And (Christ) himself wished to be born poor, to receive the poor in his company, to serve them, to put himself in their place, and even to say that the good and harm that we do to them he would consider to have been done to his person”

Vincent de Paul

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When Vincent said that “love is creative even to infinity” he was not speaking of the need for creativity in serving the poor, although that is surely a good thing. He was speaking, rather, of the creating and loving God who broke into human history as a poor child to a young mother of an enslaved people. Vincent was speaking of how when Christ deeply desired to be present to his disciples in a concrete way, he unexpectedly left for them his very presence in simple bread and common wine.

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I think Vincent knew that God, in all his abundant creative love, enters our story in ways we often fail to see. I believe Vincent understood this most in his accepting the way Christ is present in a special way among the poor. In sending his missionaries to the margins of society and the forgotten corners for the world – he was inviting them to accept the gift of God once again breaking into our story, our journey, in the humblest of ways – through the lives of those who God loves most.

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I come to realize more each day the privilege it is to journey amongst the Ngöbe as a Vincentian, share their joys and celebrate their culture, as well as witness their unshaken faith and commitment to each other in the most horrific of circumstances.

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As we continue our plan of renewal as a Province, I thank God for our vocation in following his Son accompanying the poor; I thank Vincent for the simple and rich heritage that continues to be our guiding light today; and I thank the poor, the Plinio’s in the life of each of us, who allow us the privilege to walk with them and experience Christ among them.

7:04am, Day 19

I woke up, though I had not yet opened my eyes. A common question that enters my head before opening my eyes is “Where am I?” Sleeping most nights in a different village, mornings can be disorienting.

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I was lying on the ground, which was not that unusual, and I was in the midst of the indigenous Ngöbe, which also is not out of the ordinary. But I was not in the Chiriquí Mountains this morning; I was waking up in Cathedral Park, in the middle of Panama City.

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I got up, put on my shoes, and walked down to the bay to watch the sun come up. When I came back to the plaza around 7am, someone has made coffee on the open fire, as in the mountains. I sat down on a bench and began reflecting on the gospel I would preach the next day – Thomas refusing to accept the testimony of the other disciple proclaiming the Risen Christ. I though of the Ngöbe and poor farmer sleeping on the plaza in front of me and the way in which it is so difficult for us to accept the testimony of those who represent Christ crucified today.

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As I was reflecting, I saw a group of people walking directly towards the plaza, somewhat odd at 7am, but did not take much note… deep in though. As the group came closer I was startle from my meditation at the realization of what was happening… I saw him in the middle of the group and first rejected the idea, thinking he was still in Chile. But he wasn’t in Chile, he was now in Cathedral Park coming towards us and our group was far from ready to have the encounter they had so long awaited. I stood up, and walking through those still sleeping on the ground, said “Get up, we need to get up”.

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“Buenos Dias”, he said and extended his hand. I shook it and welcomed him to the “camp”. Assessing the makeshift camp of tarps and protest banners, he said “Let’s go across the street to have a coffee”. I asked him to give us a few minutes, as everyone quickly gathered themselves and searched for those who had stayed off. We left Cathedral Plaza and entered the gates behind him – a pivotal moment in a long fought struggle for justice. As the newspapers would put it eh following morning… “President Torrijos finally receives the indigenous!”

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Let me back up a bit…

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Several months ago, the indigenous Ngöbe, as well as communities of poor rural farmers (campesinos) - who have been struggling for years against the destruction of their lands, societies and cultures in the face of hydroelectric dams and open-pit mining projects - decided to take the campaign to the capital. The form of the protest took many different shapes before the final consensus was reached - send a large delegation representing many indigenous and campesino communities to the capital for three days of marches, campaigning, educational sections, etc. A central goal of the trip would be pressuring the government to at least acknowledge the human rights abuses, indigenous rights abuses, corruption, and lack of true mechanisms of participation, which surrounds these projects.

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The three days were very fruitful, and received much national and international press. The several hundred campesinos and indigenous set up camp between the National Cathedral and the presidential palace. As the end of the three day campaign approached, it became evident that the government was ignoring the poor camping on their doorstep – and so the “stand-off” began.

The camp would remain.

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Although many people in the group had to return to other parts of Panama after three days – a contingent remained, with a continual flow of other arrived and began to replace those who left. A 24 hour presence was maintained, and some stayed for the duration. I had only arrived at the camp the day before, having come from a 5 day retreat where my thoughts were always in Cathedral Park.

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The reason for the government not acknowledging the group – and thus not receiving the official document the group prepared with the help of human right groups – was not evident.

Rumors began to make their way into the press – that the group was financially supported by the Venezuelan socialist government of Hugo Chavez, that the group was being financed by oil companies who would suffer from hydro-plants, or that the group was a front for a number of other interests. The rumors were painful for the group, which remained firm in its resolved and announced that the camp would exist until the president spoke. The number of days of the “stand-off” was daily news in the papers, radio and TV…day 15…day 16...

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During the day – there was always many visiting groups, university students, the press, human rights groups – the atmosphere was one of wonderful solidarity, national and international – yet always in the shadow of the silent presidential palace… until Saturday morning… day 19.

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I had about ten minutes to speak one-on-one with the president while the group prepared. I entered the presidential palace, as most of the others, wearing the jeans and t-shirt that I had slept in (not exactly the vision one has of a meeting with a president). We entered the “Salon de Paz” and I hoped the name would have some meaning as we left.

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The president closed the door on the press who now started to descend on the palace. The only other person in the room besides the 20 or so of us and the president was one of his assistants.

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The document was presented to the president, and Larissa, a campesina fighting to prevent a dam being built in the Cobre River facilitated the meeting, that would last almost three hours.

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The Ngöbe spoke of people’s crops and huts being burned, people being forcibly removed from their lands, children being hit by police, and the continual presence of police in the mountains, which was never a Ngöbe custom. Campesinos spoke of corruption, manipulation, and a system that leaves them helpless against transnational corporations and a government system that provides false mechanism of consultation that leaves all power in hands of the companies and government.

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Much of the testimony was personal and emotional, coming from people living the tragic reality day after day.

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Larissa asked me to close the presentation, speaking after all was said on the part of the campesinos and indigenous… I thanked the president for receiving and listening to us.

After hearing the testimony of the group, I spoke about a Catholic vision of development that considers the needs and dignity of the poor first. I spoke of the need to truly listen and learn from the indigenous and campesinos, and the need to form new mechanisms of true participation in a progress that respects their cultures and values.

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Things were now in the presidents hands. After addressing some of the specifics, including promising investigation into human rights violations and some general responses to the demands in the document – he made one commitment… to form a new “working group” that would work directly with the issues presented and work with the indigenous and campesino communities. He promised to from the “group” by Wednesday.

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After leaving the palace, the group decided to stay camping in Cathedral Park until Wednesday when they have a written reply to the demands, and the names and nature of the newly proposed “working group”.

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By no means did we leave the presidential palace with the feeling that victory was won. We did leave, however, feeling that new ground had been gained. The struggle is no longer only in the mountains, it was now at the centers of power. And the government was forced to accept an embarrassing reality – the poor are suffering from a national development plan that rarely takes them into account. With God’s blessing… this small victory will be looked back on as a turning point in a long fought battle.

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I thank God for the testimony of the humble Ngöbe and campesinos, who, after sleeping on a concrete ground for three weeks, were able to share their story with truthful simplicity…. I ask God to give us all the grace to accept their testimony, and act on it…

Birth of Day

The darkness lingers...

Running low into the valleys...

Trying to extend the night just a little longer.

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The sky promises different,

Shedding glimpses of color between clouds

to which the forest gives birth.

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Birds change their songs… some seek refuge for the day…

Others flutter from tree to tree… awaiting the warmth of the sun…

announcing its imminent coming.

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Bare feet of children do their morning dance… chasing the chickens and dogs…

Running down muddy paths with empty jugs…

Climbing back up tired with the weight of fresh water.

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The crackle of fires throughout the mountain…

The smell of fresh coffee simmering in large cauldrons…

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The gentle thump of the Pilón…

heartbeat of a people welcoming another day…

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Announcing to their God, Yes Lord, we’re still here….waiting... watching...hoping…for what you bring us this day.