From 31 January to 3 February 2024, Br. Alberto Parise, MCCJ visited the AEFJN International Secretariat in Brussels. As the recently elected president of the AEFJN executive committee, the task of his visit was to conduct a team building workshop with the International Secretariat staff and visit neighboring organizational partners in Brussels. It was an opportunity for every member to get to know each other on a deeper level and further clarify administrative tasks in the office. 

Among the key concerns that were discussed was the formation of the AEFJN antennae. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, re-establishing contacts, mobilization, and networking have been AEFJN’s preoccupation. While Europe still has AEFJN antennae in Germany and Ireland, Africa has AEFJN antennae in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Kenya. Br. Parise plans to re-establish the antenna in Italy to strengthen AEFJN efforts in Europe, especially that it is also where the general superiors of religious congregations are mostly located. In this regard, he asked the International Secretariat’s assistance to research its archives and the formal procedures involved in organizing an AEFJN antenna in specific countries.

Visit to CIDSE

In the afternoon, AEFJN visited the office of Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité (CIDSE). They were welcomed by Josianne Gauthier, the secretary general of CIDSE. As a major collaborating Church-based organization in Brussels, CIDSE is a network of 18 member organizations based in Europe and North America whose goal is to work for global justice and promote systemic change to uplift the lives of the poor. Among the topics touched on during the discussion was how do we communicate to States the need to make abusive transnational corporations (TNCs) accountable? Practical, ethical, and legal issues arise whenever the State does not hold abusive TNCs accountable mostly because of negligence or because it benefits from their exploitative operations. Moreover, TNCs are known for merely transferring their operations to another country whenever they face pressures from civil society to comply with the State’s laws. Even though TNCs operate in different countries through globalization, their main country of legal registration should make them accountable to its laws. Br. Parise recalls that it was during the 27th G8 Summit held in Genoa, Italy on 20-22 July 2001 when the capitalist “system won” over civil society who fought against neo-liberal anti-globalization through violent dispersion, resulting in human rights violations, injuries, and death of some protestors. Aside from common advocacy issues, Ms. Gauthier also discussed the challenges in their changing team dynamics given that work from home became a common practice since the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that CIDSE’s staff are mostly international employees, Ms. Gauthier emphasized how the organization has become their family given that they are away from their home countries. 

Zoom Meeting with MISA 

On 1 February, Br. Parise participated in the weekly Zoom meeting of the Maasai International Solidarity Alliance (MISA). MISA is an international alliance of Church-based and non-Church based organizations whose aim is to end human rights violations facing the Maasai in northern Tanzania, particularly in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo. Since 2022, the Tanzanian government has been forcefully evicting the Maasai from their ancestral lands to create exclusive gaming and hunting parks in the name of ‘conservation’ by attracting foreign investments from Germany, China, and United Arab Emirates. Through this meeting, Br. Parise planned to bring the International Union of Superior Generals – Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (UISG-JPIC) into a more active engagement with the Maasai concerns so that it can mobilize the AEFJN member congregations in Tanzania. 

Working Lunch Meeting with Manny Yap

After the MISA meeting, AEFJN had a lunch meeting with Jose Emmanuel “Manny” Yap, the Food and Land Officer of CIDSE. Mr. Yap had intensively collaborated with Fr. Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp, the previous AEFJN executive secretary, in coordinating the advocacy platform ‘Our Land is Our Life’ (OLOL). Founded in 2015, OLOL fights for climate justice, agroecology, land rights, and food sovereignty in Africa. As a member of Vivat International, Br. Parise already met Mr. Yap during the COP-27 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt. With the new staff at the AEFJN International Secretariat and other OLOL partners, Mr. Yap hopes that stronger collaboration will be achieved in advocating for the 1) UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights and 2) UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP) this 2024.

Visit to Foyer Catholique Européen

On 2 February, AEFJN visited Foyer Catholique Européen, a pastoral center dedicated to accompanying Catholic Italian, Spanish and Polish communities in Brussels, especially whose members are employees working in EU institutions. Fr. Claudio Visconti, the chaplain and director, explains that Foyer Catholique was founded by the Jesuits in 1963 to support Christians who are actively engaged in European unification. As a space of encounter and dialogue among people of different cultural backgrounds, Foyer Catholique promotes exchanges of good practices among organizations. Moreover, Sofia Tomasi, the EU Funding & Project Consultant, explains that Foyer Catholique also helps channel EU funds to Italian Catholic non-profit organizations that collaborate with international organizations for projects that support EU programs.

Working Lunch Meeting with José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda

After the meeting with Foyer Catholique, AEFJN had a working lunch meeting with José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda. As the former AEFJN’s policy and advocacy officer for nine years, Mr. Gutiérrez Aranda shared his experiences with the current AEFJN staff. He advised that since the International Secretariat is a small organization, it is better to focus on few important EU economic policies since one can be lost in trying to monitor all EU projects in Africa. Although the impact of AEFJN’s advocacy cannot be measured on the ground, at least its monitoring and advocacy activities can create national pressure on governments by sensitizing the public about pertinent issues.

In recent years, the EU-African relations have been in cold waters as seen in the recent coup d’etats in the Sahel region. Br. Parise observes that the EU changed its strategy in approaching African countries. If before the EU primarily sets the agenda, it now lets the EU member states set their agenda while the EU takes the supporting role such as in the case of Italy’s Mattei Plan. Unfortunately, while the EU institutions or its member states take the initiative in setting the agenda, there is still a lack of consultation with African countries.  

At present, Mr. Gutiérrez Aranda works in the Directorate Quality of Legislation of the Council of the European Union. He also gave a short tour to the AEFJN staff about the different EU institutions based in Brussels by explaining to them their functions and their pertinence to AEFJN advocacy. 

Visit to COMECE

In mid-afternoon, AEFJN visited the Commission of Bishops’ Conference in the European Union (COMECE). They were welcomed by Fr. Manuel Barrios Prieto, the Secretary-General, to orient them about the mission of COMECE. Founded in 1980, COMECE serves as the voice of the Catholic hierarchy in the EU by promoting the “common good and a human-centered approach” in its policies. It hosts a large staff that works in different advocacy dossiers. Fr. Barrios Prieto mentions that COMECE attempts to consolidate the views of different national bishops’ conferences on given issues. He states that while the bishops have a consistent and strong position toward the EU’s migration and ecological policies, topics that are “more technical in character” (e.g. artificial intelligence) have the tendency to be more diversified in each country. Given its institutional standing among Catholic Church organizations, AEFJN has been closely collaborating with COMECE, particularly with EU External Affairs. For this reason, COMECE often serves as a common space for other faith-based organizations in Brussels by hosting key events. 

Visit to JESC

In the late afternoon, AEFJN visited the Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC). Fr. Filipe Martins, SJ, the director, oriented the AEFJN about JESC’s mission in four areas: 1) leadership, 2) ecology, 3) European affairs, and 4) social justice. Fr. Martins mentioned that JESC is a member of the European Laudato Si’ Alliance (ELSIA), a network of Catholic organizations, which includes CIDSE and COMECE, that advocate for Pope Francis’s agenda on integral ecology. Among its flagship programs, JESC conducts its five-month European Leadership Programme (ELP) for young future European leaders by giving them the opportunity to meet EU politicians and decision-makers while learning the value of spiritual discernment. ELP strives to cultivate leaders, as Fr. Martins said, that see “power as service to others”. In this way, the Ignatian-inspired program helps young leaders to integrate faith and politics.


Dr. Lawrence S. Pedregosa

AEFJN Advocacy and Communication Officer