Churches that use the Common Lectionary readings focus this week on the Transfiguration and more broadly the revelation at different times of God’s power and glory. This week also sees the beginning of Lent … the desert period of fasting and prayer. We’d heartily commend Development Matters reflection on the Sunday readings, as well as their stories and notes for sermon illustrations.
Madagascar … Bahrain … Prison Conditions … G20 Ministers Meetings
Please keep the people of Madagascar in your prayers. Tropical Cyclone Giovanna is predicted to affect the island twice: it made landfall on the east coast as a category four storm, crossed over the island, made a rough U-turn in the Mozambique Channel and is now off the southern coast. The storm has displaced thousands and killed at least seventeen; moreover, communication with some of the worst-affected communities has been cut off, so that the scale of damage is not yet fully known.
Giovanna, however, is not the only difficulty facing Madagascar. Following a military coup in 2009, the country is under pressure from the rest of the region to re-install democracy. The Southern African Development Community has produced a roadmap and is urging the island’s politicians to follow it. The roadmap includes, inter alia, the release of political prisoners, the unconditional return of politial exiles, and promotion of human rights.
Please pray for all in Madagascar and especially for those who have lost loved ones, housing or livelihoods. Pray that rapid work may prevent the spread of any water-borne diseases following the storm. Pray, too, for those in charge of government and the implementation of the roadmap for democracy, and for SADC leaders who are monitoring the roadmap process.
With so much concern surrounding other countries in the Middle East, Bahrain is getting less attention in the news. It is, however, a situation in need of much prayer. Many recent reports (such as this one from the BBC and this one from Al Jazeera) indicate that while reforms have been promised and commitments to human rights made, the government stands accused of continuing to torture Shia activists and using excessive force regularly in Shia villages, even in response to peaceful demonstrations.
By responding to protests as if they were a sectarian attack sponsored by a hostile country, Bahrain’s government may well be creating precisely the circumstances it most fears. Whereas the initial protests were peaceful (and included members of different sects), some youths’ response to continued repression has been to turn to violence.
Please pray for all who are in prison for fighting for justice. Pray that Bahrain’s government will fulfil its commitments to reform and restore trust within the country. Pray that the country will move towards justice, peace and equity for all.
A horrific fire in a Honduran prison killed 358 people this week. The prison was holding twice as many prisoners as it had been built to hold. It was also understaffed. The staff appears to have done little or nothing to help prisoners escape, and the prisoners – trapped in crowded spaces crammed with flammable goods – would have had little chance had it not been for the heroism of some individuals.
The deaths (Spanish) — as well as the injury and trauma suffered by survivors — are tragic. But in addition to possessing their own horror, they also act as a reminder of the poor conditions in which many prisoners around the world are being held.
Experts have warned that the circumstances which enabled the Honduran disaster are replicated throughout Latin America.
The issues involved, however, are not limited to Central America. Overcrowding and the use of prisons to hold people for long periods pending trial, poor staffing, and lack of nutrition and medical care are issues in many prisons around the world. In many countries, moreover, prisoners live in fear of official torture or violence perpetrated by other inmates.
Every human being has an inherent worth — whatever he or she may have done. And many of those in prison may have done nothing wrong at all — more than half of the Honduran prisoners were simply awaiting trial.
Please pray for all who were injured, mentally or physically, in the Honduran fire and for the families and friends of those who died. Pray for those investigating the cause of the fire, that they may proceed carefully and wisely. Pray that the investigators produce a fair report, that the authorities learn lessons how to prevent future disasters … and tht they act on what they have learned. Pray more broadly for all who are in prison in poor conditions. Pray for their safety and well-being, and that they will know God’s love whatever their circumstances. Pray for all who are working for prisoners’ human rights and for a transformation of prisons.
Action Points: Might you be able to support a charity working with or on behalf of prisoners? For example, Amnesty and Christian Solidarity Worldwide offer support for prisoners of conscience; Human Rights Watch issues reports and press releases to draw attention to poor prison conditions; and the African Prisons Project is working to improve prison conditions in East Africa.
G20 Ministers Meetings
The G20 foreign ministers are meeting this weekend, and the G20 finance ministers will meet on the 25th and 26th.
The foreign ministers are meeting for the first time. Their remit is broad and vague, including: “breaking the deadlocks in multilateralism; the need for stronger leadership to deal effectively and consistently with cross cutting challenges; building common understanding on green growth and sustainable development; and the building global responses for human development, among others.” No conclusions and no final statements are anticipated.
The hope for this meeting appears to be primarily that it would, as one US foreign policy expert put it, ” foster the habits of cooperation among a set of countries that have not yet had to develop those habits,” enabling more progress to be made at the major summits later in the year. Brasil’s Celso Amorim, writing in a personal capacity, also expresses the clear hope that the meetings will eventually have an impact on the Northern-dominated multilateral institutions.
At a time when there are many international relations challenges which require the countries of the G20 to work together — and where, as with Syria and Iran, this is proving difficult — please pray that the G20 meeting may enable progress towards greater peace and justice for all.
Please also pray for the finance ministers meeting. That meeting will in all likelihood be dominated by the European crisis. Pray for wisdom and discernment for those meeting, and for a willingness to think about the social and economic aspects of the crisis within a wider moral framework. And please also pray for Greeks, suffering from unrest and economic decline … and for all making decisions this week about Greece’s finances.