Kony 2012, Africa and development

Much has been posted on the famed Kony 2012 campaign, with it’s 100 million hits, supporters and critics. The video begins with the premise of a new form of media allowing for a grassroots revolution. The fall of the campaign shows the double edged sword of modern media, with the same voices able to raise their disagreements and critiques. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about these trends here and here. In the end, the star of the campaign Jason Russell came to a difficult ending, with a mental breakdown and arrest. Here a sympathetic take from Time Magazine:

When I spoke to him the second time, he told me most of the world seemed to view him “as the devil.” He also told me he hadn’t slept for nine days. Three days later he suffered what appears to have been a psychological breakdown and was found by San Diego police naked and kneeling in the street, slapping the pavement with his bare hands. At which point, the baying and blood lust only increased. Russell was down, naked and humiliated. Millions took that as a cue to point and laugh.

This is the other lesson of Kony 2012. Invisible Children have shown us the almost limitless, instant — and by that I mean wondrous — potential for engaging the world that our new media tools allow. But Invisible Children has also shown us the price we have to expect to pay for that: an almost limitless, instant — and by that I mean thoughtless — response. It’s been enough, apparently, to break Russell, someone whose intent, whatever you thought of his methods, was merely to shine a light on one of the world’s more forgotten, and nastiest, conflicts. Will anyone be brave enough to try to do the same again?

But the critiques about the content of the campaign also have their place. Of the several criticisms to the campaign, the best one seemed to me to come from Ugandan Teddy Ruge (linked to The Guardian thread on Kony 2012) “who runs Project Diaspora, an American group working to “mobilise the African diaspora in the states to engaged with the continent”… Teddy wrote this blog about the campaign. He said:

What I’d really like is for organisations like this to have a little bit more respect for individuals like ourselves you have the capability to speak for ourselves. By putting themselves as the heroes of our situation it debilitates our own ability to progress and develop our own capacity. Every time we take a step forward to rebrand ourselves, something comes along like this and uses us in their own game. We are left as the pawns in the game. Without a better brand we cannot develop better international relations. We need to change the image of Africa as a basket case.

The man [Kony] hasn’t been in the country for over six years. You know that the majority of the audience is a bunch of teens and ideological college students who just want to do good. They don’t understand the nuance of the situation. They will take it as the only story about that issue. If we don’t stand up as members of the Africa diaspora, the educated elite of the continent, this story won’t change. We recognise the situations, we know what they are, it’s not everybody’s responsibility to come and rescue us. We’re not babies. We have to rise ourselves otherwise we’ll always be the dependants.

All ill roads are built on good intentions. Meaning well doesn’t give you the right to march into my house and tell me how to live. It does not offer you that right. Uganda is my country, my brothers, cousins and countrymen. Because I have the privilege to be in the States and I have a forum which is listened to, it’s my responsibility to stand up and say something. Just because you mean good doesn’t give you the right to control my life. I don’t care if you mean good.

Uganda needs to be respected as an equal participant in this, we need to be respected as equal citizens of his world. We need to understand that there is more to us than the failures of our past. The US isn’t defined by civil war or 9/11. Uganda is strong, vibrant, developing technology, industry, the resilient women are rising in civil groups, that’s what I want to talk about.

Kony is nowhere near the top of the concerns for us Ugandans. If you go to Gulu, where the worst of his atrocities were committed, it’s a different town. It’s thriving, growing, people are trying to put their lives together. Kony is a sore in our history. We are not defined by him or Idi Amin

What will a $30 kit do? Did I ask you to sell my story for an action kit to make uninformed college students feel good?

This echoes so many things Pope Benedict XVI and the Church have mentioned about development and Africa:

1. Changing the image of Africa: here and here.

2. How the problems of the West lead to problems in Africa: here and here.

3. Subsidiarity in development; let people help themselves: here.

Spiritual Lessons – Water and Blood

Here are a few highlights from the last week, which I will briefly post and add links. First the title: “Water and blood” because the first highlight comes from the Pope’s recognition of the importance of the World Water Day event; and blood from his reflection on the New Evangelization – with plenty in between. Below the different themes, links and quotes:

1. Water: This came from the Pope’s Sunday Angelus about Jesus and the desert. He mentioned the importance of water, a recurring themes in his pontificate and the Church’s social and environmental concerns. It was at a similar event in Zaragoza when he stated the Catholic position on the “intrinsic value” of created things – an often debated and polarized issue among many environmentalists who can only consider a position that subscribes to either instrumental value or an intrinsic value of nature, never both. The Catholic position recognizes both the intrinsic value of creation and the greater dignity of humankind, giving creation an instrumental value as well. Below the Angelus text:

Yesterday was the conclusion, in Marseilles, of the sixth World Water Forum and next Thursday will be observed the World Water Day, which this year underscores the fundamental link between such a precious and limited resource and food security. I hope that these initiatives contribute to guaranteeing equal, secure and adequate access to water for everyone, promoting in this way the rights to life and nourishment of every human being, and a responsible and solidary use of the goods of the earth, for the benefit of present and future generations.

2. Mary’s availability: This week Pope Benedict XVI gave a masterful catechesis on the role of Mary in prayer. If reconciliation is the key to solving the rupture with creation, a Jesus is the reconciliation himself, then encountering Jesus takes center stage. The one who teaches us the path to Jesus is Mary, with her full availability. This is a term very close to my spirituality and vocation, the Pope actually says “complete availability”:

Mary quietly followed her Son’s entire journey during His public life, even to the foot of the Cross; and now she continues in silent prayer to follow along the Church’s path. At the Annunciation in the home of Nazareth, Mary welcomes the angel of God; she is attentive to his words; she welcomes them and responds to the divine plan, thereby revealing her complete availability: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (cf. Luke1:38). Because of her inner attitude of listening, Mary is able to interpret her own history, and to humbly acknowledge that it is the Lord who is acting.

3. The silence of God: In the previous weeks catechesis he also mentioned the importance of prayer and learning how to deal with the silence of God. This silence can be found in nature as well.

…often in our prayer, we find ourselves before the silence of God; we experience a sense of abandonment; it seems to us that God is not listening and that He does not respond. But this silence of God – as Jesus also experienced – is not a sign of His absence. The Christian knows well that the Lord is present and that he is listening, even in the darkness of suffering, rejection and solitude. Jesus reassures the disciples and each one of us that God knows well our needs at every moment of life. He teaches the disciples: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8): an attentive, silent, open heart is more important than many words. God knows us intimately, more deeply than we know ourselves, and He loves us: and knowing this should suffice…. The prayer of Jesus indicates to us who are often preoccupied by the efficiency of our work and the concrete results we achieve that we need to stop and to experience moments of intimacy with God, “detaching ourselves” from the daily din in order to listen, to go to the “root” that supports and nourishes life.

4. Educational emergency: In an address on the occasion of the annual Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Pope drew connections between the need for confession and the New Evangelization. This was because of how the New Evangelization requires that people be open to the truth, and confession ” begins with a look at one’s actual condition in life” and opens our hearts. This rings so true when one looks at the hardness of heart and mind in academic settings among professors and students who shut themselves out to the truth, starting with a lack of truth about themselves. Humility was a central theme of his lectio divina to priests this year.

In an age of educational emergency in which relativism is calling into question the very possibility of an education understood as a gradual introduction to knowledge of the truth, to the profound sense of reality, hence as a gradual introduction to the relationship with the Truth which is God, Christians are called to proclaim energetically the possibility of the encounter between today’s people and Jesus Christ, in whom God made himself so close that that he may be seen and heard. In this perspective the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which begins with a look at one’s actual condition in life, contributes uniquely to achieving that “openness of heart” which enables one to turn one’s gaze to God so that he may enter one’s life.

5. Lifeblood: Finally, in the same address the Pope talked about the lifeblood of evangelization which is holiness. The logic is simple and unbeatable:

In what sense then is sacramental confession a “path” for the New Evangelization? First of all because the New Evangelization draws its lifeblood from the holiness of the children of the Church, from the daily journey of personal and community conversion in order to be ever more closely conformed to Christ. Then there is a close connection between holiness and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, witnessed by all the saints of history. The real conversion of our hearts, which means opening ourselves to God’s transforming and renewing action, is the “driving force” of every reform and is expressed in a real evangelizing effort. In confession, through the freely bestowed action of divine Mercy, repentant sinners are justified, pardoned and sanctified and abandon their former selves to be reclothed in the new.

“That Mountain which is Christ”

I have written about the spirituality of mountain climbing before, for which Pope John Paul II has a beautiful reflection, posted here. Recently a friend brought to my attention an official Catholic prayer for the blessing of tools for rock climbing, approved by Pope Pius XI. Here the Church recognizes the spiritual dimension of our activities among other things, and how rock climbing can serve as a metaphor for the Christian life. Thanks to Mary for the link. Below the blessing:

BLESSING OF TOOLS FOR SCALING MOUNTAINS(Approved by Pope Pius XI on October 14, 1931)

P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.

Let us pray.
Lord, we beg you to bless + these ropes, staves, mattocks, and
these other tools, so that all who will use them in scaling the
mountains’ heights and precipices, in ice and snow and raging
storms, may be preserved from all accidents and catastrophe,
safely reach the summits, and return unharmed to their homes;
through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Let us pray.
Protect these servants of yours, O Lord, by the prayers of St.
Bernard, whom you have made patron of mountain dwellers and
travelers; and grant that along with scaling these heights they
may also reach that mountain which is Christ; through the same
Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

They are sprinkled with holy water.


Post on Habermas Referenced Online

A post from this blog on Habermas and Ratzinger has been linked to an article by Dorin Tudoran of Vox Publica, a Rumanian blog with 10, 000 daily visits. I do not read Rumanian, but from what I can tell from the Google translate version, Tudoran’s article is serious and balanced. He explains the history of the Habermas-Ratzinger debate, especially what led to the dialectics of secularization publication, and how the dialogue unfolded. This is where this blog is mentioned, where I reference other Pope Benedict XVI quotes on Habermas. I have written about Habermas and Ratzinger in other posts here, here and here and an application on the burka issues here. My Master of Science thesis was based on Habermas’ and Ratzinger’s dialogue and truth theories.

Tudoran also links an interesting article by Sandro Magister alongside mine, which I happened to have missed. It follows Cardinal Ruini’s defense of Ratzinger against Haberma’s critique of the Regensburg address by Pope Benedict XVI. I have written about Regensburg here. Below a section by Magister:

So it was to be expected that Habermas would reply to this lecture. And this is what he did with a long article published on Saturday, February 10, 2007 in the leading newspaper of German-speaking Switzerland, the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung.” 

In his discourse, presented below, Ruini makes a detailed summary of Habermas’ positions and his criticisms of the lecture in Regensburg, before analyzing and contesting them. 

Here it’s enough to add that Habermas describes the impulse that drove him to study a new relationship between reason and faith in this way: “the desire to mobilize modern reason against the defeatism that lurks within it.” 

Habermas sees this “defeatism of reason” at work both in “positivistic scientism” and in the “tendencies of a modernization run amok that seems to obstruct rather than to foster the imperatives of its moral view of justice.” It’s a secular lesson that has much to teach to Catholics fascinated by modern rationalism. 

Saving Dolphins- Humanity at the Service of Creation

We all have probably heard at some point or another of dolphins helping human beings, rescuing them from dangerous situations, etc. There are some links to these stories here and here. But to those who think human beings are a cancer on this earth, a problem best dealt with extermination, there has been a beautiful response with this video filmed in Brazil.

This happened in Arrail do Cabo, on the coast of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Just a heads up, on our next CreatioMissions trip to Brazil in August it is one of the stops on the journey.

Lent and Nature II: From Creation to the Cross

This year Pope Benedict XVI launched Lent with a homily for Ash Wednesday that offered several insights into the Catholic view of creation and the environment. His homily centered on the “ashes”, the central symbol for Ash Wednesday and an important one for the Lenten season. Following the trajectory of ashes from creation, through sin to reconciliation, the Pope gives a masterful teaching about the mystery of evil, suffering, hope and the right place of matter. Initially, the human person was a unity made of “matter and divine breath”, where matter was part of the wonderful creation of God. Matter becomes corrupted through sin, where man must suffer and labor the earth, and return to it eventually as he decay’s. But God himself became “dust” too, and assuming our material condition as well, He elevated it in Christ: body, mind and spirit. The entire human person is redeemed and reconciled. Below the central passages:

First of all, ashes are one of those material signs that bring the cosmos into the liturgy. The principal signs are of course those of the sacraments: water, oil, bread and wine, which become true and proper sacramental material through which the grace of Christ reaches us. 

This is why the sign of ashes brings us back to the vast canvas depicting creation, in which it issaid that the human being is a singular unity of matter and divine breath, as suggested by the image of the dust formed by God and the divine breath breathed into the nostrils of the new creature. We can see how in the account of Genesis the symbol of dust undergoes a negative transformation because of sin. While before the fall the soil is a potentiality that is completely good, fed by a spring of water (Genesis 2:6) and able, by God’s handiwork, to bring forth “every sort of tree, fair to behold and pleasant to eat of” (Genesis 2:9), after the fall and the consequent divine malediction, it produces “thorns and thistles” and only through “toil” and “sweat of the brow” gives up its fruits to man (cf. Genesis 3:17-18). The dust of the earth no longer reminds us only of God’s creative gesture, wholly open to life, but becomes

a sign of an inescapable destiny of death: “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). This cursing of the soil has a medicinal purpose for man, who must from the earth’s “resistance” be helped to keep himself within his limits and recognize his nature…. 

Therefore, in the punishment, and also in the malediction of the soil, there remains a good intention that comes from God. When he says to man, “You are dust and to dust you shall return!” together with the just punishment he also intends to announce a path of salvation, which will travel through the earth, through that “dust,” that “flesh” that will be assumed by the Word. 

Ash Wednesday liturgy: as an invitation to penance, to humility and to an awareness of our mortal condition, but not to end up in desperation, but rather to welcome, precisely in this mortality of ours, God’s unthinkable nearness, which, beyond death, opens the passage to the resurrection, to paradise finally rediscovered.

Yet the theme of the value of matter for Christians, was reiterated by Pope Benedict in a lectio divina delivered to Seminarians. Here the Pope reflected on the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, and I’d like to highlight 3 key reflections based on this passage:

“And so, I beg you, brothers, by the mercy of God, that you offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, with the subservience of your mind. And do not choose to be conformed to this age, but instead choose to be reformed in the newness of your mind, so that you may demonstrate what is the will of God: what is good, and what is well-pleasing, and what is perfect.” (12, 1-2)

1. Liturgy: We are called to present ourselves, with our bodies, as a living liturgy, a prayer to God. Our body and materiality, united to Christ, becomes the glory of God. As CS Lewis said, “God loves matter, He invented it.” This matter, especially our matter has as its goal the glorification of God.

“Present your bodies”: he speaks of the liturgy, he speaks of God, of the priority of God but he does not speak of the liturgy as a ceremony, he speaks of the liturgy as life. We ourselves, our body; we in our body and as a body must be liturgy. This is the newness of the New Testament, and we shall see it again later: Christ offers himself and thereby replaces all the other sacrifices. And he wants “to draw” us into the communion of his Body. Our body, with his, becomes God’s glory, becomes liturgy.

2. Incarnation: Christ became man so that we can be like God. God is Logos, and this creative reason of God chose to embody itself, just dignifying and elevating bodily things. As members of his Body, we participate in God himself.

The same happens in the world of Greek philosophy. Here too one understands increasingly that it is not possible to glorify God with these things — animals or offerings — but that only the “logos” of man, his reason having become the glory of God is really worship, and the idea is that man must come out of himself and unite with the “Logos”, with the great Reason of the world and thus truly be worship. However, here there is something missing: man, according to this philosophy, must — so to speak — leave his body, he must be spiritualized; only the spirit would be adoration. Christianity, on the contrary, is not simply spiritualization or moralization: it is incarnation, that is, Christ is the “Logos” he is the incarnate Word and he gathers all of us so that in him and with him, in his Body, as members of this Body, we really become a glorification of God.

3. Creation and Sin: The world in a biblical sense can signify different things. One is God’s wonderful creation, and the other is the embodiment of sin itself, the world that corrupts. The first world, is necessarily affected by sin, and becomes the second world. Here comes Paul’s final invitation: “renew your minds” in order not to be conformed to the world of sin. This renewal is possible from the Cross of Christ, who gives us access to the Truth and to the mind of God.

the word “world” has two meanings and thus points to the problem and to the reality concerned. On one side is the “world” created by God, loved by God, to the point that he gives himself and his Son for this world; the world is a creature of God, God loves it and wants to give himself so that it may really be a creation and respond to his love. But there is also the other conception of the “world” kosmos houtos: the world that is in evil, that is in the power of evil, that reflects original sin. We see this power of evil today, for example, in two great powers which are useful and good in themselves but can easily be abused: the power of finance and the power of the media. Both are necessary, because they can be useful, but are so easy to abuse that they frequently convey the opposite of their true intentions.


Obese and Pampered Pets

There are 2 problematic articles that reflect more about us than perhaps the animal kingdom, one on obesity the other on pet spending. Vatican II has a key phrase I often repeat, which proves true time and again: “The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man” (GS 10). In the case of pet obesity and excessive care for pets, it seems that we are projecting our own selves onto the created world. That is a scary thought if you look at the pics. Here a piece of the article on pet spending and some pictures on obesity (!can you believe the size of these creatures! – the squirrel is just for the absurdity of it all):

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) says spending on pets in the US passed $50bn (£31.5bn) in 2011.

Food and veterinary costs accounted for about 65% of the figure, but the category of “pet services” grew faster than any other, totalling $3.79bn (£2.39bn) in 2011.

Pet services includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels, and pet-sitting.

Spending on pet services should continue to grow and reach $4.11bn (£2.59bn) by the end of 2012, said APPA President Bob Vetere.

“We are seeing a boom in this category as people continue to work and require services such as pet-sitting, boarding and walking to care for their pets at home,” Mr Vetere said.