In the Holy Land – L’Arche Bethlehem

We had hoped to be able to blog here about the Diocesan Pilgrimage visit to L’Arche, Bethlehem.  On Saturday 7 March, whilst in the Holy Land with 67 Pilgrims from Southwark Diocese and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, we were supposed to visit the newly renovated Church of the Nativity and half of our Pilgrims were due to visit L’Arche Bethlehem and the other half the Comboni Sisters.  Whenever there is a Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land we visit the project, or projects, that are supported through the Lent Call.  Sadly Covid-19 (the coronavirus) beat us to Bethlehem and the West Bank was closed from 4pm on Friday 6 March.  We were thus not able to go there and so were unable to visit the community and see the work that they are doing.

We were able to speak to one of the leaders, Rania, on the telephone, and Bishop Christopher sent her our greetings and told her that the Pilgrims would be praying for the community. Rania asked that greetings should be given to our Pilgrims and to the people of the Diocese and apologised to the Pilgrims that they could not be welcomed at that time.  We hope that she will be able to send us more information about how things are for them and if we do receive something we will make sure to put it onto this blog.

Apart from the threat brought about by coronavirus to the people in the West Bank and elsewhere, the L’Arche communities around the world have been much concerned and troubled by the report which was recently issued about their founder Jean Vanier.

Here is what we have said about the report:

‘When it was decided that the L’Arche Community in Bethlehem would be one of the projects in the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call for 2020 the investigation into Jean Vanier, the Founder of L’Arche, had not been made public. The Bishop of Southwark is distressed to hear of the report’s findings and of the impact on those affected by these events. Yet, the work of L’Arche has proven to be beneficial to so many and it is for this reason that the Lent Call will continue to support the work of L’Arche in Bethlehem and the pilgrims will visit the group there. At this time it is important to support those affected including the members of the L’Arche communities as they seek to continue the important work of providing a community and work for those who might otherwise not feel part of society.’

We were fortunate to have Morwenna and Robin Orton on the trip and they have personal experience of the L’Arche community in London. Morwenna wrote something about this for our Holy Land Pilgrimage blog, which you can find here:

As we couldn’t get into the West Bank the whole group of Pilgrims went to visit the Convent of the Missionary Sisters of Sion – also known as the Comboni sisters.  We were able to hear the work that they had been doing with children who attended their nursery from Bethany.  Their work had been disrupted by the building of the separation wall which took many years to complete near them.  As a result the children were unable to reach the nursery easily, as they had to use a number of different buses to get there.  The Sisters were so concerned not to lose contact with those whom they had been working in Bethany with that they now have a flat behind the wall and work with the Bedouin families who have had to give up their nomadic life as a result of the restrictions on movement.  This is part of the report about the work that we posted on the Pilgrimage blog:

Standing on the roof and pointing to the wall Sister Alicia spoke about the effect that this has had on their work but most especially on the people who could no longer easily get to work or to school.  She spoke most especially of the need for pregnant women to have very detailed scans as they need to book a 24 hour pass to get through the walls to go to hospital.  It is so hard to imagine how women can manage, as it seems impossible that they can get the expected delivery dates just right and then deliver their babies and be back through the wall all in 24 hours.   There are hospitals the other side of the separation wall but they are 50 or more miles away and getting there once someone has gone into labour is very hard.

Sister Alicia also told us about the effect that the wall is having on the work of the hospitals that now serve the people.  She explained that they have become very overcrowded because they have to cater for so many more people but with no more resources.  Many people from Bethany had traditionally worked in Jerusalem which used to be just a short journey away and looked to there for their healthcare and now getting to work is very difficult as they need to get passes to it or to go to medical appointments.  Life is hard.’

This piece is also about the visit to the Sisters

As I look back on the various visits that I have made to the Holy Land and the work that is happening to try to help the different communities there I am always struck by the determination of some, often women, to work tirelessly to try to make a difference to those around them and I give thanks to God for this and hope that you will feel moved to do so too and to support their work through the Bishop’s Lent Call.  We hope to be able to support the work of the Comboni sisters in the future and were able to leave gifts through the collection at the Eucharist and by buying the gifts that they had on offer.

In Nigeria – The Kaduna Centre

During the first week of Lent the project is L’Arche Bethlehem but as the Diocesan pilgrimage will be visiting them during their stay in the Holy Land, we are holding that over until next week. This week we are focusing on the Kaduna Centre For the Study Of Christian-Muslim Relations

Research shows that almost 90% of Nigerians working in the field of Conflict Prevention and Resolution have no knowledge at all about the religious beliefs of the ‘other’ and very little knowledge of their own religious profession. The Kaduna Centre focuses on Religious education with the aim of producing well-informed Nigerian Christians and Muslims with good basic general education in both Christianity and Islam.

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After seeing the impact of their work with the Christian communities from around the flash points of the Northern States of Nigeria, the centre became recognized by the Federal Government of Nigeria to run programmes at both Certificate and Diploma levels for their students and became the ‘Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations’ in 2008. Since then almost 250 students, all Christians in secular and religious leadership positions, have successfully completed courses at the Centre. In August 2019 the Centre enrolled twenty students from the Christian and Muslim communities who are studying together for a year after which they will work in pairs on a project before graduating.

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Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who was at the time the Diocesan Bishop of Kaduna, funded the Centre with support from friends in the UK and using the facilities of his Diocese. The Centre’s classrooms were moved to Archbishop Josiah’s family house after he took up the post of Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, based in London, giving them three years of secure accommodation. The staff all work on a part-time basis and are paid a small stipend only.

The Board of Trustees now believes that the Centre needs a permanent home to meet its increasing needs and is in the process of setting up a permanent home for the Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations within Kaduna metropolis. The building project will be carried out by qualified designers and engineers who are giving their services voluntarily as their contribution to the Centre.

The Centre now plans to include peace studies as well as Conflict Prevention and Resolution programmes. It is also aware that there are many young college and university graduates without jobs. In order to meet this need, the Centre also plans to run job acquisition programmes in useful subjects such as poultry keeping, fishery, dry-season vegetable farming, events, IT programming and rabbit farming.

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The success of the project will be judged by how it achieves its goal of creating a group of young people who understand both their religious teachings and those of their neighbours. Young people who are willing and ready to respect those outside their religious community and to cooperate in building a peaceful and harmonious society devoid of extremism, leading to decreasing levels of intolerance and an increased respect for the ‘other’ and a willingness to live with differences.

Research has shown that there is a demand for a Christian Guest House in the centre of the city of Kaduna and the Centre intends to support itself by including within its development a 40-room guest house, which will provide accommodation for guests as well as facilities for residential conferences and workshops. Once fully operational, the staff costs of the guest house would be covered as would most of the activities at the Centre. It is hoped that there will also be the funding to provide sponsorship for those unable to afford the Centre’s programmes.

In Zimbabwe – the Diocese of Matabeleland

The Diocese of Matabeleland is linked with the Kingston Episcopal Area, and their Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Cleophas Lunga – who has been Bishop for just over a decade – sent us this video.

As Bishop Cleophas, noted in his video, providing for their six retired clergy, who are quite elderly and some of whom are not very well, can be challenging. The economic situation has made caring for the retired clergy even harder, and priests who are pensioners do not have very much to live on. At a time such when food is becoming scarcer and more expensive, one of the ways in which the Diocese tries to help them out is be providing them with groceries when they are able.

Matabeleland also has a project which it hopes will help make the Diocese more financially secure, as well as providing evangelistic opportunities: a bookshop and Resource Centre near the Cathedral in Bulawayo. Anglicans in the Diocese purchase a lot of their reading materials and liturgical resources from the Roman Catholic bookshops and so clergy, lay ministers and the laity of the area will all benefit. It will aim to offer products at competitive prices and to make it possible for local people and rural parishes to access resources. Owned by the Diocese, the shop will be overseen by the Diocesan Trustees and in order to reduce running costs it will be managed by a volunteer.

The Diocese expects the start-up costs to be USD20,000 and hopes for average monthly sales of USD4,000. It will thus take about five months to recover the initial investment and to start making profits. The bookshop aims to offer high quality coffee and pastry products at a competitive price to meet the demand of the middle- to higher-income local residents and tourists with whom they will seek to share the gospel.

Bishop Cleophas mentioned his desire to help motivate young clergy as well as provide for the elderly clergy and Matabeleland’s bookshop project hopes to do both – with accessible reading material and evangelism for their young clergy and generating an income which can benefit the retired. As with the other Dioceses in Zimbabwe, the funds raised by the Bishop’s Lent Call will bring Matabeleland closer to self-sustainability.

In Zimbabwe – the Diocese of Manicaland

The Diocese of Manicaland is linked with the Woolwich Episcopal Area, and has a total of 50 full-time Priests and four full-time evangelists, overseen by Rt Revd Erick Ruwona, who was consecrated Bishop in May 2015.

They have seven parishes and six big mission stations which were established during colonial rule, though the rest of the churches are very rural and poor. The Diocese borders Mozambique to the East, and its offices are in the Provincial capital city, Mutare – below is a video sent to us by Bishop Erick from there.

Despite the effects of Cyclone Idai in parts of the Diocese, Manicaland is faced once again with a major drought this year, and a lot of crops have already failed. The Diocese relies on the contributions of its members to pay the clergy and to run the Diocese, but the economic situation has had a knock-on effect on what people can give to support the church. As Bishop Erick says, the Diocese is engaging in agribusiness to enable sustainable development and food security – in part through a piggery project which the Lent Call can help support. This project has already had two people have been trained in Piggery Husbandry (at a cost of cost USD1050) who are now helping to construct the piggery.

The cost of construction and the purchase of ten sows and two boars will cost USD680, and the animals will also need to be fed and the workers paid, so it’s estimated that USD31,860 is needed to ensure that this project becomes fully operational.

Like our other link Dioceses in Zimbabwe, Manicaland don’t want to use money to plug gaps in finances and top up the donations from parishioners; they’re on a journey towards being self-sustaining, and projects like the piggery will help to bring them closer to ensuring their own livelihoods are secure, rather than “continuing to move around with a begging bowl”.

In Zimbabwe – the Diocese of Masvingo

The Diocese of Masvingo is the newest Diocese in Zimbabwe and when it was formed it did not have a partner Diocese.   Rochester Diocese is linked to Harare and the three other Dioceses that were already in existence were linked with the Diocese of Southwark’s three Episcopal Areas.   So in 2009 Southwark Cathedral became the Link for the Diocese of Masvingo.  In this video Bishop Godfrey speaks about the way in which money which has been sent from Southwark Cathedral to Masvingo Diocese has been used.  Some of the money which goes to Masvingo via the Cathedral is from the Bishop’s Lent and other monies are raised by the cathedral congregation.   Together these help to give budget support to the Diocese of Masvingo and support to the projects which have been proposed in previous Lent Calls.

As well as the ongoing needs mentioned by Bishop Godfrey in the video, this year’s Lent Call monies are asked for supporting their proposal for a greenhouse project at Daramombe Mission Farm which, the Diocese hope, will enhance food security. Recurring dry spells and drought have meant food security is a serious issue in Zimbabwe, and especially in Masvingo as it contains areas which experience the least rainfall in the country. The benefits of greenhouse farming – a longer potential growing time, cost-effectiveness and a high yield – mean this would be a great benefit to the Diocese and the people it serves.

Though it mainly affected other parts of the country, Cyclone Idai has caused a lot of damage in the eastern part of Masvingo Diocese, which borders with Manicaland Diocese. Four people died and nearly 3000 were affected by events including collapsed houses, damaged foodstuffs, and bridges and roads being washed away. Money raised by the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call will be important in rebuilding both the infrastructure and the livelihood of Zimbabwe and her people.


In Zimbabwe – The Diocese of Central Zimbabwe

The Rt Revd Ignatios Makumbe was consecrated as the 4th Bishop of Central Zimbabwe on 10 June 2018, taking over from Rt Revd Ishmael Mukuwanda. Bishop Ignatios was previously a non-stipendiary priest in the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe, and brings to the role a wealth of experience in both the church and in business.

As well as the hospital at St Patrick’s Mission, which according to Bishop Ignatios will have had the necessary work done to enable access to the site ‘by the end of this year’, the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe is working on three major income generating projects: a dairy project, solar fields and a gold processing plant. In this video, he tells us about these projects, and the motivation behind them.

As we’ve heard from Bishop Ignatios, the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe is moving forward with these income generating projects as a priority, as they seek to not only provide for their clergy during their ministry and their retirement, but to ensure that their parishioners don’t need to keep contributing to clergy funds. The money that the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call raises isn’t used as a one-off donation to plug a gap in Diocesan finances, but to provide the means to establish long-lasting and forward-thinking projects that can go on helping the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe for many years to come. In the weeks following Cyclone Idai, although Central Zimbabwe Diocese was not in its path, it is clear that it is important to make sure that there are projects and work which will help the Diocese to be able to cope with whatever the future holds.

In Zimbabwe – Cyclone Idai

In the final two weeks of Lent our attention turns to our link Dioceses in Zimbabwe, and the ways in which the funds that the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call raises can support the pastoral needs, farming and other income generation and capacity building projects and building work of the Dioceses of Central Zimbabwe, Matabeleland, Manicaland and Masvingo.

As we consider projects for the Bishop of Southwark lent Call each year we are aware of the careful forward planning that is involved in the projects that we support and in the work of the Diocese in Zimbabwe.  The monies from the Lent Call goes to help the Diocese to make their plans a reality and it is always great to see the progress that is made even though there are many difficulties.   Unfortunately, there are some things that neither we, nor they, can plan for – and Cyclone Idai was one such event. The cyclone hit land on March 14, and the estimated cost of the damage is currently over $1billion USD. In Zimbabwe alone there have been 261 recorded deaths, and that number rises to over 800 when you count those in neighbouring Mozambique and Malawi, with over 3 million people affected in total.


A lot of the damage has been caused by the flooding following the cyclone, and so this is where a lot of the relief work is focused. We were sent a video by Revd Benjamin Mandivei, the Priest at St Barnabas, Chipinge, which is in southeastern Zimbabwe in the Diocese of Manicaland, and close to the border with Mozambique – you’ll see from the video the effect that the floods have had on life there.

This year’s Lent Call theme is taken from  John, chapter 10: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’. We ask that, through your prayers and your donations, you’ll help our brothers and sisters in our link Dioceses to rebuild their lives following the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai.