Global Issues

Kenya’s Catholic Church to Fight Hunger by Farming Its Vast Land Reserves

Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

A Kenyan soldier looks at a cow that is dying from hunger. Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

Drying livestock carcasses and anguished faces of hungry women and children have become a common feature here as droughts increase due to climate change.

But now, in an effort to fight hunger, the Roman Catholic Church is making 3,000 acres of church-owned land available for commercial farming.

“We want to produce food, create employment, and improve quality of life for the people,” said the Rev. Celestino Bundi, Kenya’s national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

This is the first time the church has entered into large-scale farming, though it owns massive tracts of land across the country, most of which is idle and in the hands of dioceses, parishes, missionaries, and congregations.

“We have the will and the support of the community and government,” said Bundi. 

“I think time has come for Kenya to feed herself.”

Neither Despair Nor Complacency

IN JUNE 1966, Sen. Robert Kennedy joined the National Union of South African Students for a conference held in Cape Town. Tension was running high. NUSAS president Ian Robertson had been banned under the Suppression of Communism Act, and the pressure was on Kennedy, from both the apartheid government and sectors of the anti-apartheid movement, not to attend.

Kennedy went anyway and delivered one of the best speeches of his career. “Few have the greatness to bend history itself,” Kennedy reminded the students. “But each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [s/he] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope ... daring those ripples to build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Twenty-eight years later Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The West embraced him, celebrating his magnanimity, “disremembering” the support it gave to the very apartheid regime Mandela worked to dismantle.

In the years that followed, Mandela’s leadership enabled a country to project itself beyond the cognitive illusion that suggested there was no way out of a pending Armageddon. He insisted that things only seem impossible until there is the will to make them possible. He created and energized that will, injecting optimism and political excitement into a desperate situation. When an overenthusiastic supporter called Mandela a “saint,” he responded, “No, just a sinner who keeps trying.”

At the time of Kennedy’s 1966 speech, however, Nelson Mandela was in prison, serving a life sentence for sabotage under apartheid; no one realized he was among the “few” who would succeed in bending history. And as we know now, there are certain things that even Mandela could not do.

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Cuba, North Korea, and Freedom

THOUGH SOME HAVE accepted “axis of evil” characterizations of Cuba and North Korea, my experiences of the two countries—nine visits to Cuba and one week in North Korea—have led me to far different conclusions: There are very few similarities between the two nations, and neither is inherently “evil.”

Music infuses the air in Cuba as in no other of the 60 countries to which I’ve traveled. The streets are alive. Children play baseball and soccer in the streets. Cafes, parks, and other public places are crowded and noisy. Nearly everyone I’ve met has treated me like a long-lost friend, even more so when they learn I’m American. There is a natural affinity between Cubans and Americans. More than 100 flights a week ferry people between Havana and Miami.

In North Korea, the streets are eerily quiet. There is virtually no visible human interaction. North Koreans are forbidden to make eye contact with Westerners. There appear to be no public gathering places except the massive government plazas where military parades and government rallies are staged. I was never allowed to go anywhere without a “minder.” I traveled with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) official who was born in North Korea and returns there frequently. His counsel: “Assume that everywhere you go you are followed and that every conversation you have, no matter where, is bugged.” His relatives received permission to travel from their home village to Pyongyang to visit him. In our hotel room, he turned the television volume up to full blast before they began talking quietly. On one early morning walk near our hotel (the only time I was unescorted), I took a few photographs. By the time I returned to the hotel, government representatives were waiting in the lobby, demanding to see all my photos and instructing me on which ones to delete.

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Netanyahu Speech Deepens Rift Between Israel, U.S. — and American Jews

President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benja

President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Image courtesy White House/RNS.

American Jewish leaders and activists are worried about widening political divisions between Israel and the White House, sparked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress on Tuesday despite strident objections by President Obama.

Many are concerned about the threat to Israel from Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of a weak deal with the United States to curb it, an issue on which Netanyahu has been an outspoken Obama critic. Even so, they believe Netanyahu’s unrestrained attacks on the White House and in-your-face visit jeopardizes the close ties Israel has long enjoyed with the United States.

“People are upset about it,” said Rob Eshman, publisher and editor in chief of the Jewish Journal, a Los Angeles-based publication and website.

“They’re obviously concerned about Iran and want a good deal and think it’s really unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing this — creating a conflict outside the existing conflict.”

The divisiveness among Americans mirrors that of many Israelis equally concerned the visit will plunge traditionally close relations between U.S. and Israeli leaders to an unprecedented low.

Islamic State Refugees Grow Disgruntled: ‘We Loved Them so Much’

Zaid AlFares, a journalist from Raqqa city, tells about life under the Islamic S

Zaid AlFares, a journalist from Raqqa city, tells about life under the Islamic State group. Image courtesy RNS.

Hassan, a chain-smoking 20-year-old from Syria, sits in a cafe across the border from his homeland, one of thousands who escaped the clutches of the Islamic State group.

Not so long ago, he was one of their recruits, having undergone four months of religion training where he learned how to pray and read the Quran, while at the same time patrolling the rebel stronghold’s checkpoints.

“We loved them so much,” said Hassan, who was not willing to be identified by his real name for fear of retribution against family members still in Syria. “They gave us so much information and taught us very sweet things about Islam.”

But then things started to change.

As the Islamic State group grew in power, he saw more orders to target members of other widely popular Sunni rebel groups. At checkpoints, Hassan said, recruits were commanded to arrest or kill any members affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella of rebel groups that he and his family supported.

His mother, who was growing increasingly disgruntled with the Islamic State’s strict rules, confronted him. “‘Why are you doing this?'” he said she told him. ‘”This is wrong.'”

It wasn’t long after, as intense fighting broke out with another Islamist brigade, Ahrar ash-Sham, that Hassan decided to stop fighting for the Islamic State.

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