Reflections: 1st July 2018

A Reflection for the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

MK 5:21-43 ( )

The miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fish is the only miracle, apart from the Resurrection, recorded in all four Gospels. Pope Francis, in his homilies, has emphasised the sharing in this miracle.

In Rumbek in South Sudan, where a huge food crisis exists, we have a modern-day version of agricultural project – run by the Loreto Sisters. As chairperson of the school’s board, I am very proud of the high quality of education delivered; the (day) primary school has over 500 boys and girls, a secondary school caters for some 200 girl boarders and an Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP) is offered to dozens of adults and children who have no formal education.

As food prices rose dramatically and it became harder to access food, the Loreto Sisters sought funding for food relief. But more than just seeking to feed the students, they employed between 30 and 80 people each day to cultivate, plant, weed and harvest – as well as cook. Wages injected cash into the markets and the local economy began to function better, while the people enjoyed the dignity of working for their upkeep and helping the schooling of their children.

Loreto also undertook to feed teaching and other staff, including agricultural workers and block-makers; yes, in an enterprising initiative, concrete construction blocks are made! Fifteen Senior 4 girls followed a ‘masonry programme’ during vacation time, making 300 blocks on the first day. Altogther, enough food is grown or bought to feed some 1,000 people daily.

One Kenyan member of the Loreto community, Sr. Penina, is a qualified nurse who has brought health care to the students, the workers and their families.  Assisted in the clinic by local women and school graduates, she cares daily for many patients. The incredible impact of better access to health-care plus nutritious, basic meals for the primary and ALP students has seen the attendance rate soar to 95%.  Class attendance of the girls in the boarding school is near 100%.

One primary student wrote: “I am very happy to come to school. Sometimes I come hungry, there is no food at home. When I come to school we eat lunch every day. The food keeps us strong and helps us to concentrate in class … When we go home we don’t disturb our mothers looking for food, because it isn’t there…” A mother said: “I can see the difference between our kids and the kids from other schools. Ours are happier and have more energy for learning. They are able to learn and concentrate.” Yet another said: “We are very grateful for the support we have received in the form of food. Without this support most of us were going to starve”.

With faith and determination, Loreto has used its resources to help the local community and students. On only one day was there not enough food for the workers. At times, it seemed the food would run out but somehow enough was found. I say a modern ‘miracle’ in South Sudan. 

Bill Firman FSC – A member of the De La Salle order and a former school principal, Brother Bill works as part of Solidarity with South Sudan, an international Catholic initiative.