On 5 March 2020, 19 religious women and men participated in the 2020 Arica Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) Contact Persons Seminar held at the Generalate of the Missionaries of Africa.
The main topic of the seminar was, “How the contact persons could support the Antennas around the world?”
Fr. Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp, the Executive Secretary, introduced the advocacy work of AEFJN, then added the current situation of Antennas. He said that there were 13 Antennas in Europe, but now it has decreased by half. This is mainly due to the aging member congregations. Currently, there are three Antennas in Africa. Fr. Chika emphasized that it is essential to raise awareness about advocacy and to develop advocacy actions based on the local culture.
Br. Christian Roberti, CSSp, from the Belgium Antenna shared that their advocacy action focuses on debt cancellation and ensuring access to quality medicine for the people. He said that aging Antenna members are a severe problem. Br. Christian hopes that the African missionaries in Belgium take the initiative. He informed that the Belgium Antenna decided to close down.
From the Germany Antenna, Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke, M.Afr said that though they also suffer from aging members, they counts 45 members and they maintain their offices in Bonn and Berlin. They work on the focuses of AEFJN, but they also work for the migrants and the implementation of the directives of Laudato Si. They cooperate with the bishops and the religious conference and organize roundtable programs such as land grabbing. He said that lobbying has become more difficult in Germany because it is too professionalized. He said that the future of AEFJN is in Africa.
Sr. Begoña Iñarra, MSOLA of the Madrid Antenna, shared their commitment to raising awareness. They carry this out through the publication of one-page monthly news, organizing the Day of Africa celebration, among others. The challenge is the interest of the people in Spain, which is Latin America instead of Africa. Aging members are also an issue.
Fr. Armel Fopa from Cameroon Antenna shared that their Antenna is well organized and is working in a close relationship with the conference of the Major Superiors. There are members from all over the country. Cameroon Antenna has a permanent secretariat with four staffs. The main issues of their advocacy are land grabbing and mining. Their members animate the people through a website and a quarterly newsletter called “Shalom.”
After the talks from four Antennas, Sr. Pilar Trillo, LSA, the Contact Person of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, shared how her Congregation commits to AEFJN actions. She said that the LSA sisters, who are part of AEFJN Antennas in Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, and France, are taking part in the LSA local JPIC Commission as well. As the Contact Person, Sr. Pilar gives input on AEFJN issues during their general chapter, assemblies, and general council meetings. Finally, she said that LSA members in Europe are growing older. In Africa, the case is different. She hopes to collaborate in establishing Antennas in Africa.
After hearing from six speakers, the participants broke up into two groups for group discussion with the guide question “How can your Congregation contribute to the work of Antennas? What is your role as a Contact Person in this action?”
The groups reported in the plenum about their discussion.
Group 1 (English speaking):
- The grassroots members of the AEFJN member congregations are very active in their social ministries, but not so much connected with bigger JPIC groups such as AEFJN Antenna, diocesan JPIC, religious conference JPIC. So we should animate our local members for more networking.
- To promote AEFJN activities among the grassroots members, Contact Persons need information and tool kits. For example, the contact information of Antennas, information on the need for Antennas, useful material for advocacy and networking, etc.
- Information about the procedure to set up Antennas in Africa.
- In most of the congregations, the local JPIC related members are already overloaded. We need to study how AEFJN could fit in the congregational JPIC structures.
Group 2 (French-speaking):
What our Congregation could do?
- Make sure that member congregations appoint a Contact Person, and she/he knows her/his job and attends the meetings as well.
- Two Contact Persons said they know the chairpersons of the Major Superior Conferences of DR Congo. They could contact them to get their collaboration for the establishment of an AEFJN antenna in DR Congo.
- The member congregations must know what the specific characteristic of the Network is. What is the benefit they get from AEFJN, wherein diocesan JPIC commissions cannot provide?
- What can we do in countries where no AEFJN structure exists?
- The first step is to contact the conference of major superiors to request their collaboration.
- It is essential to be in touch with the persons “in power.”
- Need to contact the provincial superiors to find grassroots religious who are profoundly convinced and motivated in advocacy work.
- Disseminate available information to raise awareness.
What can I do as a Contact Person?
- Make sure that our formation programs at all levels include JPIC and AEFJN and presented as a tool.
- Make sure that there will be a handover process when a Contact Person leaves her/his office.
- Update the general council members.
- Share success stories.
After the reporting, it was informed that the AEFJN Executive Committee would study the above comments and take concrete action with the Contact Persons to support the Antennas in Europe and Africa.
The seminar was an excellent opportunity for the Contact Persons, Executive Committee, Secretariat, and Antennas to get to know each other, and learn the work of Antenna. It was also an opportune time to discuss different ways of collaboration. The Executive Committee is grateful to those who participated and contributed for the Seminar.