Just Good Company
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Pete Henriot is one of our favorite Jesuits, laboring in the relative obscurity of Zambia, and far away from his home Province of Oregon. We reprint one of his rare newsletters, because it gives us a little window on a world we hardly ever think about.

Letter from Zambia

Peter Henriot, SJ


"Promoting Faith and Justice"

P.O. Box 37774
10101 Lusaka, Zambia
tel: 260-1-290410
e-mail: phenriot@zamnet.zm
fax: 260-1-290759

01 December 2003


Dear Friends: 

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” As I send this year’s Christmas greetings and New Year’s blessings, I hope that the “absence” of my periodic letters for the past few years has made you “fonder” of hearing from me now! Sorry I have fallen off the pattern of some regular communication – but if you have not heard from me it doesn’t mean that you have not been in my thoughts and prayers!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here in Zambia fifteen years now. It’s been a busy and blessed time, thank God!  I often describe Zambia as “a very rich country with very poor people.” Very rich country with resources of agriculture, minerals, water, wonderful human beings, peace (we are the envy of our neighbours!).  But very poor people, facing economic hardships and social decline that really violates human dignity.  Some of that is because of Zambia’s fault – bad leadership, for example.  But so much of it is because Zambia is a small country caught in the web of a globalisation that in structures and attitudes pays very little respect for Africans.

My privilege has been to be a priest serving in a very vital church and to work with a team of twelve young Zambians, well-trained and dedicated, at the JCTR, in the task of “promoting faith and justice.”   What that abstract expression means in the concrete can be seen in a random sample of what might occupy me during a not-untypical week:  

Sunday : After the two-hour ciNyanja liturgy (plenty of singing, dancing, drumming, talking) in my outstation, I accompany leaders of a small Christian community to visit and pray with a dying community member. Looking like he will only last a few more days (last wasting of AIDS), he nevertheless joins in a song after receiving Communion – and we exclaim Amen

Monday : I have the chance to present a sharp critique of macro-economic policies and HIPC debt measures to a team of IMF officials visiting from Washington.  Part of our NGO contingent walk out in frustration with the reluctance of the visitors to acknowledge the failures of policies imposed from outside (e.g., privatisation) that don’t take into consideration the social impact< on the people of Zambia. I stay to the end to “dialogue” – always in the hope that our analysis and recommendations might be heard by those who such power over the lives of Zambians and others….

Tuesday : The JCTR monthly “Basic Needs Basket” goes out to the government, civil society, international community and the media this morning.  I talk with Muweme, who prepares this picture of how people are “surviving,” as he is answering phone calls from some trade unions who want to use the Basket in their next round of negotiations. In the afternoon, I will have to look again at the salaries we pay our workers in my Jesuit community – they too know what the Basket says this month!

Wednesday : Roland, a Jesuit colleague who trains local peasant farmers in techniques of sustainable agriculture, joins me as we work all day on the statement he will present at the up-coming Vatican seminar on GMO food.  We were invited to offer an “alternative” view to the one pushed by the USA government and large seed corporations, since we have supported the Zambian government’s refusal to allow GMOs into the country on health, environmental and economic reasons – especially because of its negative impact on poor farmers. We hope our statement will get a hearing.  (It did – plenty of lively discussion and media coverage!)

Thursday : I meet up with Charity, Jack and George, our Jubilee-Zambia team, as they plan a trip to Mongu, 500 kilometres away in the Western Province, to work with one of our local provincial debt cancellation teams. JCTR considers it important to get our programmes out of the capital city of Lusaka into the outlaying sectors of our country – but for the moment, I’m glad I’m not going on that long and grueling trip!

Friday : Our cooperating partners (donors) are expecting the quarterly narrative and financial reports soon, so I spend time polishing up the reports. We really are grateful for their generous help. Then I look at the syllabus for the course in the Church’s Social Teaching (“Our best kept secret!”) that I’ll again be offering at the local seminary next year.

Saturday : Weekly cleaning of my room (well, almost every “weekly”!) makes me feel a bit more orderly. And then I catch up on some odds and ends, while planning for my annual retreat in two weeks time – always a much needed and much appreciated event.

So that’s a picture of what a week might look like for me – a mix of pastoral work, educational efforts, research papers, advocacy, cooperation with team members, personal time, etc. (Our web site tells more: www.jctr.org.zm)  To be honest, it isn’t always that neat – the urgent too often crowds out the important, at any one moment or on any one level!

But it has indeed been a blessed fifteen years in Zambia. God willing, I look forward to another good fifteen years – and many more!

I suppose it has also been easier for me to be outside the USA at this time. I’m sure it is very difficult for relatives and friends who are in the States these days – a crazy war, fear of terrorism, a shaky economy, a shamed church….  Who was it who said:  “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times”? But these are the times when faith, hope and love must become real and not simply pious exclamations – in the USA or in Africa.

Please know my promise of prayers for you and my asking of prayers from you! Peace!

Pete Henriot, SJ

P.S. If you would like to assist my pastoral and educational work, a cheque made out to the Oregon Province Jesuits will help me help some parishioners with books, students with school fees, refugees with housing, AIDS patients with medicine, etc. Send to Jesuit Treasurer, P.O.Box 86010, Portland, OR 97206. Thank you!