Pope Francis met with refugees and leaders of religious faiths including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus who joined him for a day of prayer for peace in Assisi, home of his namesake, the 12th-century friar St. Francis.
But it was the migrants he invited to join him for lunch on Sept. 20 who captured the headlines and illustrated the tangible impact of war and conflict.
The ground on our mountain is rocky ground and the land seems to have more stones on it than soil. I think it is a miracle that things grow here, that things grow so well here. But they do. We are planting, as all farmers do, in the hope that good rains will come and help the seeds grow into whole, full stalks of millet. I am enjoying learning the life of a Malinke farmer. Bala is my teacher. This is his field.
There is a small, mud-bricked, tin-roofed building on a piece of flat land below a mountain in Kenieba, Mali. This simple structure, surrounded by courtyards, peanut fields, and scrub grass, is the church building where we lived for three years, a place that became our home. The people who are this church are simple people like the building itself. Most of them are subsistence farmers growing just enough peanuts, millet, rice and corn to eat for the year. When I think of these friends of ours, three people come to mind who symbolize them all.
As Al-Qaeda-linked rebels strengthen their control over northern Mali, France has taken the lead in plans for possible military intervention. In an exclusive report, AP revealed that as French and U.S. military leaders and diplomats are meeting in Paris this week, France will send drones to the area.
France will move surveillance drones to West Africa and is holding secretive talks with U.S. officials in Paris this week as it seeks to steer international military action to help Mali's feeble government win back the northern part of the country from al-Qaida-linked rebels, The Associated Press has learned.
France and the United Nations insist any invasion of Mali's north must be led by African troops. But France, which has six hostages in Mali and has citizens who have joined al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, is playing an increasing role behind the scenes.
Many in the West fear that northeast Mali and the arid Sahel region could become the new Afghanistan, a no-man's-land where extremists can train, impose hardline Islamic law and plot terror attacks abroad. And France, former colonial ruler to countries across the Sahel, is a prime target.
Peacemaking happens in many forms. Sometimes peace is offered to others, and sometimes given in unexpected ways.
It was early morning. The African sun had yet to rise above the mountains, and the sky was the soft yellow of newly shucked corn.
“Beep, beep,” sounded the horn on the old truck as it rumbled to a stop in front of my house. My old friends – Momadu, Madu, and Balamusa – greeted me with smiles, waves, and morning blessings.
We were on our way from Kenieba, a small town in western Mali, to Sitaxoto, a large village about two hours away over a broken dirt road.
A church was there, a little group of people who met each week outside under a big baobab tree to pray, study the Bible, share their stories and ask, “How do we follow Jesus?”
This morning, Madu walked the one kilometer path from his village to my house. He is married to Sirima and they have two children: four-year-old Sira, who they call Bonnie, and two-year-old Musa, who they call Papa. He told me that Papa had burned his hand and wrist in the morning cooking fire.
Maybe the path to civility and peace can be found somewhere along the path from my house to Madu’s village.
“Do you have any medicine for a burn?” he asked.
There is a hospital in our small town on the southwestern edge of Mali, but its small staff of doctors serve a large population of people without the use of technology, electricity, or even running water. Many times people come to me for help and healing before they go to the hospital because I have free first aid supplies, a generator, and a deep water well. I consulted my ragged copy of Where There Is No Doctor and turned to the section on the treatment of burns.
Washing dishes. This is how I remember Momadu.
Washing dishes is a chore, you know. In the pre-dishwasher days in America, my mom put "wash the dishes" on my list of things to do every day. I washed them, obediently though begrudgingly.
In the pre-dishwasher days in Mali, though, we asked Momadu to wash the dishes, and he washed them with joy.
How could he do something as mundane as washing dishes and do it with joy?
How much water have you used today?
You probably took a shower, used your toilet, brushed your teeth, maybe boiled some for a cup of tea of coffee, not to mention being well on the way to the 64 ounces of water that we’re told to drink every day.
Very quickly the amount of water you’ve used, without even thinking, adds up. Thankfully, water is not a luxury in America, or the developed world in general.
But a new video released by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today paints a stark picture of just how precious and luxurious resource water is in many parts of the world.