Voice for the Voiceless
- Sister Lorena Jenal, FSDP and Bp Donald Lippert, Diocese of Mendi
On August 10, 2012 a defenceless mother fought for her life. The woman, Christina by name, is surrounded by hundreds of villagers. Several men tie her up and light a pyre. The incident is like ‘scenes of 500 years ago’.
Amidst the shouting and the chanting there is a woman who boldly stands up to the evil and the hideous crowd. “Stop the madness. Release the woman”, shouts the nun, Sr Lorena who hurries to the village square. The torturers beat the Swiss born missionary, Sr Lorena Jenal, who has lived and served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea for decades. “Get out, otherwise we’ll burn you as a witch too”, they scream back.Sister Lorena Jenal is a Franciscan Sister of Divine Providence of Baldegg,
Switzerland. She has served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea for three decades. On 10 December 2018, Sr Lorena received the International Weimar Award for Human Rights for her courageous work in advocating against sorcery accusation violence and rescuing scores of women who are victims of this terrible crime.
The flare-up of human rights violations occurs in the 21st century all across the globe. In times of war, disease and disaster, people often look for scapegoats. The United Nations is watching this with great concern. Sadly, across over 30 countries of the world, sorcery related violence and witchcraft is at its peak.
Innocent Christina is made a scapegoat and tortured with glowing irons. In her desperation she comes up with a trick. She grabs a stone and simulates a witch’s birth. The stone smeared with mud and blood is considered by men to be evil in her. They finally let her go. Sr Lorena takes her to hospital and tends to her emotional wounds.
For Sr Lorena, the fight against these violations of human rights has become her great mission. She has saved the lives of dozens of people and, with the support of missio, has set up an aid project. The perpetrators of August 10, 2012 are still at large. Christina continues to fear for her life. "I want to live in peace and I want justice, otherwise I will never find peace," she says.
Eight years down the line, and sorcery related accusations and the related violence seems to be on the rise.
On Easter Sunday in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, three innocent women were burned and tortured while local Catholics were at Mass for the Resurrection of the Lord. “One cannot ignore the diabolical irony of this,” wrote Sr. Lorena Jenal. The women, Magdalena, Rika, and Cindrela, were victims of what is known as sorcery accusation-related violence (SAV). They had been accused during Holy Week of causing, through witchcraft, the death of an elderly man with asthma and kidney failure.
Bishop Donald Lippert, OFM, Cap., Diocese of Mendi in the Southern Highlands province, told CNA that this kind of violence was ‘an ongoing problem. “The Catholic Church, and our Catholic faith, is the answer to this darkness. And bringing people into relationship with Jesus and teaching the dignity of the human person are the best ways of changing people’s attitudes and changing their behaviour as well,” he said.
“In Pangia two women were tortured and killed in the month of June. A new case came in from Kirene. I went to Kip with the victim I took care of for almost two weeks and was not received well”, said Sr Lorena.
In the middle of July, a school student died unexpectedly. Six women in a village of the Upper Karinj Pastoral Area were accused of Sanguma. Immediately a team from the Diocese of Mendi, consisting of Fr Alex Remba (parish priest of the pastoral area), Fr Robert Gigmai (pastoral vicar), Sr Lorena Jenal, FSDP (Peace & Justice coordinator), Winnie William (Diocesan Health Manager), Roderick Irepo (Diocesan Development Coordinator), Daniel Beli (Catholic Education Secretary). This team went to the village and found the people gathering and that they had already prepared the metal plates that were being heated up and on which they were going to burn the six women who had been accused.
The people were surprised to see the presence of such an important team from the Diocese of Mendi to oppose what was about to take place. “In these situations, there are often three groups of people. The leaders who sanction what is happening and remain somewhat in the background. The group who actually carry out the torture and the murder - who are usually younger men and often involved with the abuse of marijuana. Finally, the people are there as spectators who by their presence give their tacit support to what is happening - sometimes out of fear. Our team members did not hesitate to confront those who appeared to be conducting this spectacle. The younger men spoke threatening words to the members of the team who showed no fear and answered all of these objections from the perspective of our Catholic faith”, said Bp Donald Lippert, Bishop of Mendi. At one point one of them said that this was a 'spiritual' problem. Fr Robert spoke up and said that spiritual problems are to be handled in the church. He made them understand that what they were planning to do was the work of the devil! After a long, heated argument the leaders backed down, and the attitude of the leaders began to shift from belligerence to shame. The women were saved. Some of the team members have been following up to make sure that the women will be safe for the long term.
The issue of Sorcery Accusation Violence is happening all the time and it is something that the Church, working with people of good will, must confront and root out from Papua New Guinea once and for all.
Bishop Donald Lippert, Archbishop Anton Bal, Bishop Arnold Orawae, and the other bishops have been very much involved in this issue of Sorcery Accusation Violence (SAV). Anton Lutz, a Lutheran lay-missionary, as well as the group Senism Pasin are also very active in the cause.
10 August 2020 is the 1st International Day against Sorcery Accusation Violence (SAV). It is announced by missio, the mission outreach agency of the German Catholic bishops. “This International Day draws draws attention to a new wave of human rights violations in more than 30 countries. For too long, people have overlooked and kept silent about the fact that misanthropic superstition is used to blame women, children and men as scapegoats for social problems”, said Pastor Dirk Bingener, President missio Aachen, Germany.