The thirst for Peace and Justice is obviously a growing reality in our world today. The effect of political crises and injustices is clearly visible around the world while the cries of the multitudes of people demand to be heard by all.
Thus the Church in line with her calling from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, does well to champion the causes of the weak and most abandoned. Also as an entity in the Catholic church, the Society of African Missions has taken the challenge of giving the mandate to her missionaries all over the world and especially in Africa to institute JPIC groups and so foster a tribune of discussions on Peace and Justice issues.
In the Region of Liberia, the JPIC initiative was given a stand in January 2015. From that period, some activities were undertaken and despite the challenges, there exists reason to keep hope, for peace remains a treasure never secured, “never guarantee, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.” Cf. Introduction, Paragraph 1, Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII.
The Activities of the JPIC
From the 7th to the 9th of January 2105, the DFGG organized a workshop held in SMA Regional House in Accra Ghana on the topic: “Ensuring Justice and Peace through Christ”. That encounter was an eye opener and also gave a road map for all the JPIC coordinators who attended the seminar. It was also an occasion to receive the special mandate to initiate some JPIC groups in all the Parishes where our confreres work.
- Saint Muggaga Parish
Following that mandate after my return to Liberia I chose the Saint Muggaga Parish Klay as a test ground. After four months of mobilization through announcements and comments during Mass and other activities, our first JPIC group was born on 23th May 2015. That was the eve of the Pentecost and we hoped that with the special grace of the Holy Spirit the group would develop and last. Till now we rejoice for the interest of the people and desire to contribute to a peaceful environment. Members agreed to have regular meetings on every last Saturday of the month, where different topics are discussed regarding the situation of their Community and the Country as a whole. Some insights are also given by me from the topics discussed at the workshop in Accra, such as:
“The understanding of Conflict, the Analysis of Conflict, Conflict Early Warnings, Clean Environment and Justice etc.”
Our first workshop was held on 26-27 February 2016 in Gaya Hill, one of the Outstations of Klay Parish, and the community where we have the Rubber Plantation. This was more than the appropriate place to begin. Beside the sensitization, we helped two Communities (Todien and Vaguah) still in the Klay Parish, to renovate their water Pumps in order to secure safe and clean water.
- Saint Dominic Parish
The JPIC Group of Saint Dominic Tubmanburg began a year later on 28th February 2017. It opened also the wounds of the experiences of injustices experienced by the people and was as well, met with a lot of enthusiasm. We could feel the healing opportunity given by the attendance during our discussions. Many registered to belong to the group and they continue to show interest and support. Some non-Catholics are also showing interest. Members here as well decided to hold regular meetings every third Sunday of the months. They have programmed a series of activities beside the regular meetings; beginning with a workshop on 14 May 2017 in Tubmanburg and on 16 June 2017 in Bieveny an Outstation of Saint Dominic Parish. There is also a process of introducing a Radio talk show and Awareness Program on the Local Radio of the Town. Discussions are still on with the management of the Station.
- The Awareness Program on Radio Maria-Liberia
In order to reach a large audience, I requested a time on the Catholic Radio Station, that is, Radio Maria Liberia. That fosters again our continuous collaboration with the diocesan clergy. This is a talk show where we invite the audience to call and contribute and also where we prepare and debate on Peace and Peaceful attitudes and values and early warning signs. The program has been on since January 4th, 2017 and we have conducted 12 talk shows so far. The response has been good despite the challenges. Members of the JPIC group are invited to the show and some resource persons are also called upon sometimes. It has been a great experience for our JPIC Members since most have never been to a Radio Station.
- The Drama Club
This is thankfully a drama Club I initiated when I was working in Saint Muggaga Parish. Thus with the birth of the JPIC on the parish, we associated the Drama club. We write some sketches in connection with the topic of the week which his performed and recorded. So during the talk show the pre-recorded sketch is played to entertain the audience.
- Saint Mulumba Parish
Our last JPIC group was born to the Saint Mulumba Parish, Cooper Farm, Monrovia on the 05th of March 2017. It is a young group that is believed will grow faster than the others since it is in city and members are more educated. There have attended their first talk show and cannot wait to go again. The Radio experience gives joy and vitality to the groups. They are yet to present a program of activities for their group.
- The Next in Line: Saint Monica Bopolu
Our next focus is directed toward the foundation of the Saint Monica Bopolu JPIC Group in Bomi Deanary. I have arranged with the Parish priest, to meet with the people on 2nd April 2017. Our vision of extension our commitment in the Region (Cf. Regional Assembly 2017), includes the Saint Monica Parish Bopolu. There also, we shall establish dates for regular meetings and plan of activities for the year. And here specially, our focus will be directed toward the awareness of the preservation of the forests because there are many Timber Companies in the area and there is a risk of destruction for “the loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future...” Cf. Paragraph 32, Laudato si, Pope Francis.
- The Mobilization
This will be the first tool. To Speak about the JPIC and motivate the parishioners during or after homilies with the idea of challenging people to act on it. With the repeat of the same announcement and comments, people usually get interested.
- The Meetings
It is also important to have a precise date, like a monthly regular meeting for discussions. Sometime people are discouraged when it takes too long before meeting.
- The Awareness Program
A day or night of awareness program helps to keep members busy. They have to be involved in the preparation. Setting the date, themselves and carrying out of the program. Here again the Drama Club is very helpful to entertain the audience. Some gadget like t-shirt are helpful to give an identity to the group. We printed some t-shirt with the SMA logo and our Motto: JPIC Liberia, Our Peace, Our Nation.
- The Idea of Projects
This will be the most important strategy. People are very interested in doing practical things. They want to be associated to a work. Like going out to talk or meet people. But most specially doing things that can earn them some finances. The renovation of the two Pumps in the village helped to begin the group in Klay parish. Others projects are planned. These could provide some funds for the Groups.
- The Motivation of the People in General
The first challenge remains the motivation of the people. There is a need for of mobilization and organization. The notion of gratuity or volunteering is hard to understand. Also, people are present to meetings only when the priest is present. There is not much respect of the local leader unless the Priest is present.
- The Lack of financial Support
The second challenge is the lack of financial means. We are so far using the funds allocated for the running of the Regional House. There is no particular extra budget allocated to the JPIC. And some confreres are already complaining about the use of the Region’s funds for the JPIC. We can’t do much because of lack of financial support. The awareness and Radio program demand some contribution for the transport of Radio Guests and others resourceful persons. Sometimes the Radio Station goes off during the Program because of lack of fuel and electricity.
- The implication of all Confreres
The third challenge remains an appeal to all confreres to be interested in the JPIC and give a contribution by adding their voice and contribution to the mobilization of their Parishioners. All confreres welcomed the idea but more needs to be done. “We need a conversation which includes everyone…” Cf. Paragraph 14. Laudato Si, Pope Francis.
We will be able to establish the groups of Foya, Sanniquellie and Sasstwon by next year. And hopefully they will last if confreres attend the meetings of the group on their Parish when the group are established. This is our goal for the coming year.
Success and Hopes.
- The Enthusiasm of the Idea of Projects
Despite the challenges, we have a reason to rejoice. Many are opened to the JPIC and wish to have a role to play in it. The Klay group have shown a lot of enthusiasm even if this is sometime with the agenda of getting something out of it. The newly created group of Saint Mulumba is encouraging.
As mentioned above, we have created three groups so far and the fourth is at the corner. Those groups have plans and projects. We are trying to engage in a Soap making business for fund raising. We also wish to create a bookshop and Library in the Regional House and open a Branch in a town around Klay where students could have access to textbooks, books and school material etc. Those projects will need financing. We have presented the Library-bookshop project to the “Fonds de soutien de la Province de Lyon” with hope.
- The Radio Show
The Radio Program raises the interest of people. We hope to continue if we have the means. And many wish we have more times and engagement on other Radio Stations.
- The JPIC as an NGO
The idea of turning the JPIC into an NGO was brought up during a meeting. I reflected on the matter and I am trying to seek a connection with RESTCOR, the recent NGO of the DFGG. A discussion with the Leader of RESTCOR has been engaged for this eventuality. An NGO will define a clear Identity and bring in more impact Nationwide. Thus, it will bring more clarity in our Activities.
Liberia the land of freedom is with no doubt, the land of hope where everything is to be rebuilt. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese is also fighting to make its voice heard and be counted among thesignificant organizations of the Country. It is with great zeal and vision that the SMA spirit always wishes to break the ground and walk hand in hand with other agents of Peace and development. Especially in this year of the general elections in the Country; it is more than ever appropriate to speak of peace, justice, and free and fair elections. The establishment of the JPIC as an NGO or its connection with RESTCOR will be of great help for the promotion of Peace. Despite our inadequacy and all the difficulties, may we, through the intercession of the Prince of Peace our Lord Jesus, “conceive of it as our duty to devote all our thoughts and care and energy to further this common good of all mankind”. Cf. Paragraph 167, Pacem in Terris.
Fr. Firmin Kouassi, SMA,
JPIC Liberia Coordinator.