Art Laffin's brother Paul was associate director of a homeless shelter in Connecticut for 10 years before he was murdered by a mentally ill man in 1999. Art has been working against the death penalty for many years but even more actively since his brother's death.
Art, a dear member of the Journey of Hope, is in Mozambique at Sant'Egidio's invitation right now. Below are a few impressions he sent.
Reflections from Mozambique #1
Maputo, Nov. 30
I write from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Last month i knew very little about Mozambique. Now I am immersed in my first African experience. The Community of SantÉgidio (CSE) has invited me here and, they have given me a great welcome. I've gotten to know different CSE community members during several delicious meals we've shared. I am staying at a small, modest hotel that the community uses for guests. It is still spring-time here so I'm lucky it's not too hot. But it's still hot and humid during the day.
Yesterday, I walked through a good part of the city with CSE members Joao and Roque. Joao speaks some English and has been very good in explaining different things to me. The offical language here is Portuguese and Changana is the local language. I saw some of the government buildings, the main hospital, the central train station and the main market. We also walked a while along a roadway overlooking the beautiful Indian ocean. In the various neighborhoods, there are pockets of extreme poverty and substandard housing. Near the business district and along the seaside the more affluent resisde in good housing. There are also many street beggars and people try to sell you things. As you get into the downtown area there are many shops and stores. Many of the streets are named after Marxist and socialist leaders, from Karl Marx to Salvador Allende.
Marie, who is an CSE member, and I went to Mass last night at a Franciscan parish. It was great to worship with so many new friends on this first Advent Sunday and the singing was beautiful.
This morning I was given a tour the DREAM Center, which was established in 2002 by the CSE to help people with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. This DREAM program is truly a miracle to behold. When everyone, inculding the World Health Organization, was saying that AIDS could not be treated in Africa, and that only prevention measures could be implemented, the CSE believed otherwise. With over one million people suffering from AIDS in Mozambique alone, the CSE knew they had to do something to help. Having developed strong relationships with people here since before and sfter the civil war they helped to mediate, the CSE saw it as their responsibility to help their friends. And so they did. The CSE has establlished various DREAM centers not only in Mozambique but throughout Africa. Indeed, personalism practiced at its best!
The DREAM center in Maputo provides a wide range of services including counseling, on site lab analysis of bloodwork as well as diagnosis for the AIDS disease for each patient, a pharmacy, and a food distribution program. As I write this at the DREAM Center, mothers and children, and the elderly stream though the center seeking help. All those who serve the patients radiate a spirit of love and compassion.
This afternoon I will speak at the Cities for Life event that is being sponsored by the CSE. This one of 1,200 events taking place around the world today to call for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Tomorrow, I will travel outside of Maputo to visit a CSE center that provides a special nutrition prgram to some 1,000 chronically malnourished children. I will also speak with young people about nonviolence.
Be assured of my love and prayers for family and friends, near and far.
Reflections from Maputo #2
Today is World AIDS Day. Being here in Africa and at the DREAM Center which treats people with AIDS, this day takes on a whole new meaning for me. My heart and prayers go out to all who are suffering from this terrible disease, for all those caring for people who have AIDS, and for all who are working to provide the necessary resources to combat this deadly disease. I pray that there will be a greater awareness among people of faith and conscience in our world to support efforts like the DREAM program of the Community Sant'Egidio (CSE) to help treat our sisters and brothers suffering from AIDS. (See: www.santegidio.org.)
Yesterday I spoke at the Cities for Life conference in Maputo with over 200 people, including many young people, attending. This was just one of 1,200 events coordinated by the CSE taking place around the world yesterday to call for the abolition of the death penalty. There was an effort made to have a live internet link to the events in Rome but that did not happen due to techncological and other problems. Also speaking at the conference was Dr. Machili, a former Justice Minister from the Mozambique government and Mr. Manso who is director of Education for the Maputo. Francisco Cocote from the CSE did an outstanding job moderating the conference. A moving excerpt of a letter by executed death row prisoner Dominique Green was also read at the conference.
In my talk I shared the story of my brother Paul's murder and how my faith in God and Jesus carried me through this unspeakable tragedy. I also spoke about Dennis Soutar being a mentally ill homeless man and how he fell through the cracks of our society and ended up killing Paul. I asked people to pray for Dennis who is in a prison hospital in Connecticut for the rest of his life. I also shared about how comapssion, love, mercy and forgiveness is the way to break the cycle of violence, and why the death penalty should be abolished. I spoke of the great work of the Journey of Hope (JOH), Murder Victims Families for Human Rights and Murder Victims for Reconciliation to help bring about an end to state-sanctioned murder. I mentioned that five people from the JOH were participating in Cities for Life events in other countries: Bill Pelke, co-founder of the JOH and death row exoneree Curtis McCarty were in Italy, murder victim family memner Bud Welch was in Belgium, and death row survivors Shujaa Graham and Juan Melindez were in Germany and Spain. I included in my talk several local phrases which were greatly appreciated by those attending the conference. The best one is "Kanimambo", which means Thank You. I was very humbled by the rousing ovation that i was given. After the conference I aksed if we have a big group photo with all gathered. Hopefully, i will be able to later share with you this photo and many others that were taken of this most memorable event.
In closing I would like to share a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I used in my talk. I think this quote is especially appropriate as Mr. Obama is to announce tonight plans to escalate the criminal and sinful war in Afghanistan. Dr. King said:
"Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world."
With love and gratitude,