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Updated: 58 min 34 sec ago

California church embraces Congolese family as father seeks asylum, fights deportation

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 3:43pm

Constantin Bakala’s sons, from left, Daniel Bakala, Emmanuel Bakala and David Bakala, serve as acolytes at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Diego, California. Photo: Colin Mathewson

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal congregation in California is rallying behind the family of a Congolese asylum seeker as he fights to stay in the United States.

Constantin Bakala, 48, who is being held in federal detention, also longs to be reunited with his wife and seven children in San Diego, where the family has been welcomed into the congregation at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Some of the children, ages 6 to 17, have begun serving as acolytes and singing in the choir, the Rev. Colin Mathewson, the vicar, told Episcopal News Service.

“It’s just been a transformative experience,” Mathewson said, for him and his congregation.

The congregation, which he co-pastors with his wife, the Rev. Laurel Mathewson, is a mix of native-born Americans, Sudanese immigrant families and newer Congolese refugees. They rejoiced last week when Bakala won a stay of deportation while federal officials consider a request to reopen his asylum case, but he still could be sent back to Congo, where he fears he will be killed.

An update on #ConstantinBakala https://t.co/MYUZFh9a1O

— Kate Morrissey (@bgirledukate) March 2, 2019

Bakala’s supporters at St. Luke’s aren’t giving up on him.

“It really feels like a moment that God has invited us into, that we can say ‘no’ to or ‘yes’ to,” Mathewson said. “We said yes, and it’s really changed us.”

Bakala was aligned with an opposition political party in the Democratic Republic of Congo and fled with his family to escape the threat of persecution, Mathewson said. The family flew to Brazil and began making their way to San Diego, at one point nearly drowning in a boat off the coast of Nicaragua.

Constantin Bakala. Photo courtesy of Colin Mathewson

They arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, in November 2017 and requested asylum at the United States border, as prescribed by U.S. law. Bakala’s wife, Annie Bwetu Kapongo, was required to wear an ankle monitor so she could be released with her children while their cases are pending, but Bakala was separated from them and detained. Mathewson said Bakala represented himself in his asylum hearings, and the court rejected his asylum request and set him on the path to deportation.

He has spent the past 15 months behind bars at a series of detention facilities, including Georgia and Virginia, unable to see his family.

“Constantin’s heartbreaking case is one example of the extreme difficulties asylum seekers face in the U.S.,” said Lacy Bromel of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, which advised Mathewson on raising awareness of Bakala’s case. “Family separation, lack of legal support and detention are all too common when it comes to the experiences of those who are applying for asylum protections.

“In the Office of Government Relations, we advocate to the U.S. government to keep families together, increase access to legal representation, and for alternatives to detention and we urge the church to advocate for those systematic changes as well.”

Such issues weren’t on the radar of the congregation of St. Luke’s when the Mathewsons first learned about Bakala’s plight. Their Congolese parishioners primarily are refugees, not asylum seekers, who had immigrated from a camp in Tanzania and speak a different tribal language from the one spoken by the Bakalas.

A bit of chance brought the Bakalas to St. Luke’s. One member of the congregation teaches English-as-a-second-language classes for refugees, and one of his students accepted an invitation to attend worship services at St. Luke’s, which typically draw about 125 people on Sundays. That woman knew Kapongo, Bakala’s wife, through a mutual babysitter and invited her to St. Luke’s as well, in July 2018.

In conversation with the family, the Mathewsons soon learned about Bakala’s deportation case, and within a week, they were able to find an attorney willing to represent Bakala pro bono.

“In a lot of ways, it was legally too late,” Colin Mathewson said, because the court already had ruled against Bakala’s asylum request. His remaining hope is to submit new evidence on appeal. Bakala fears for his life, Mathewson said, “but the hard part is you have to prove it.”

Hope was running out last month with a deadline looming for his deportation. On Feb. 22, Bakala was granted an emergency stay of deportation, but only for one week, buying his attorney time to press for a longer stay.

At the same time, St. Luke’s was mobilizing an awareness campaign that caught the attention of local media, which featured Bakala’s case in several news reports. Hundreds of people signed a petition opposing for Bakala’s deportation, and the congregation raised about $5,000 to support his family.

Then, on March 1, the family received the good news. The U.S. Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals granted another stay. It doesn’t save Bakala from deportation, Mathewson said, but he will remain in the United States at least another few months while the motion to reopen his case is reviewed.

Kapongo expressed gratitude last week to everyone who has stepped forward to help her family while her husband is in detention.

“I feel at ease when I see you helping and supporting me,” she said in French at a demonstration at the federal building in San Diego, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Without them, I would still be sad at the house.” She and her children are due at a hearing in September on their requests for asylum.

NEXT on @KPBSnews #EveningEdition -Time is running out for a father of 7, who may be deported back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. After she survived torture, poison and dangerous journey to the US, Annie Bwetu Kapongo made a public plea to save her husband #ConstantinBakala pic.twitter.com/E0juKJuRat

— Kris Vera-Phillips (@queenkv) February 28, 2019

At this point, the congregation wouldn’t think of turning its back on the family, Mathewson said.

“They are a part of our church, so it’s not some partisan issue,” Mathewson said. “We’re family, and let’s do what we can to take care of each other, to stand up for each other.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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Bishop Samuel Peni chosen as next archbishop of Western Equatoria in South Sudan

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 12:21pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Bishop of Nzara, Samuel Peni, has been elected Bishop of Yambio and Archbishop of the Church of South Sudan’s Internal Province of Western Equatoria. He will be installed into both new roles on March 10 to succeed Archbishop Peter Munde Yacob, who was also the provincial dean. Archbishop Peter died in October last year after a short illness.

Read the entire article here.

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Environment Network calls on Anglicans around the world to use less plastic

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 12:19pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Communion’s Environment Network (ACEN) is encouraging Anglicans to reduce their use of plastic in Lent. Organizers hope that those taking part in the “plastic fast” will learn to use less plastic in the longer term in order to protect the earth’s environment. The Environmental Co-ordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Canon Rachel Mash, said that that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. “Plastic is already entering into our drinking water”, she said. “Plastic clogs our rivers, leaches into our soil and is one of the greatest challenges the planet faces.”

Read the entire article here.

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Cuban church celebrates 110 years, its final synod before Episcopal Church reintegration

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 12:04pm

Episcopal Church of Cuba clergy and guests gather with Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio outside Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana following the March 3 closing Eucharist of the 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Havana, Cuba] The Episcopal Church of Cuba recently celebrated its 110-year history during its final synod as an autonomous diocese in anticipation of its official reintegration with the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 2020.

“For 50 years the Episcopal Church has been isolated,” said Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio, at the close of the Feb. 28- March 3 General Synod held at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Reintegration, she said, “is a way to be part of a big family.”

Delgado’s strong leadership drove the reintegration, said Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada, who serves as chair of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba. The council has overseen the Cuban church since its separation from The Episcopal Church in the late 1960s.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio and Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada outside Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana, Cuba, following the opening Eucharist of the 110th General Synod on Feb. 28. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“I mean every word when I say, she’s a visionary, she’s a hard worker,” said Hiltz, in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “She will do anything to promote the interest, wellbeing and resource capacity to support the ministry of this church. She’s steadfast, she perseveres, and it’s not always been easy for her.

“Not everybody was thrilled with the idea of returning to The Episcopal Church, but she just plodded along consistently, she’s worked with the clergy, the laity. I watched her prepare for the special synod last year to decide what province they would belong to, and just the careful way she made sure there was conversation all the way across the church here in Cuba. They came into the synod with the decision and that’s a huge credit to her style, organized and focused, spiritually-centered leadership.”

The Diocese of Cuba is set to join Province II, which includes dioceses from New York and New Jersey in the United States, the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

The Cuban church’s reintegration with The Episcopal Church was one of many topics discussed during the synod, which brought together clergy and laity from across the island.

“We are indeed so happy to welcome the Church in Cuba back into The Episcopal Church; there is so much that we can learn from their creative approach to ministry and mission,” said the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church.

The House of Bishops on July 10, 2018, voted unanimously to readmit the Cuban church as a diocese with the House Deputies concurring. The actions of the 79th General Convention accelerated the reintegration process first set in motion four years ago.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio leads the recessional following the Feb. 28 Eucharist opening the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

In March 2015, two months after the United States and Cuba agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations following a 54-year breach, the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s synod voted 39 to 33 in favor of returning to the church’s former affiliation with The Episcopal Church. That summer, the 78th General Convention called for closer relations with the Cuban church and a lifting of the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

The Rev. John Kafwanka, the Anglican Communion’s director for mission, gave a presentation about the importance of training Christians for ministry in their everyday lives. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Episcopal Church of Cuba traces its origins back to an Anglican presence that began on the island in 1871. In 1901, it became a missionary district of The Episcopal Church. The two churches separated in the 1960s, after Fidel Castro seized power following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and diplomatic relations between the two countries disintegrated. The Episcopal Church of Cuba has functioned as an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba since the separation in 1967. The primates of the Anglican churches of Canada and the West Indies and The Episcopal Church chair the Metropolitan Council.

The synod marked the final time Hiltz, who has served as the chair of the Metropolitan Council for 12 years and is set to retire later this year, would attend.

“It’s a bit emotional for me this synod, it is my last synod here as the primate of Canada and the chair of the Metropolitan Council,” he said.

“It’s mixed emotions, great joy that things have come thus far. I would have felt really awkward ending my time as the chair of the Metropolitan Council if things hadn’t been as far along in terms of the reintegration,” said Hiltz. “It’s been just really wonderful to watch that process unfold since 2015. I’m really happy to see it coming to fruition and to think that next year’s synod, their presiding bishop will be here because they have sometimes spoken of me as their primate. And I guess for all intents and purposes I have been.”

Pending alignment of the Cuban and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church’s constitutions and canons and sign off from the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, next March, the Diocese of Cuba will hold its first convention along with a celebration and visit from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

The Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, gave a presentation on March 2 about next steps in the process of reintegration during the 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“We are deeply thankful to Archbishop Hiltz, to the Metropolitan Council (of Cuba) and the Anglican Church of Canada for their years of faithful partnership and support to the church in Cuba,” said Robertson.

Delgado was installed in November 2010. Prior to that, Bishop Miguel Tamayo of the Anglican Church of Uruguay served the church as an interim bishop for six years, splitting his time between Montevideo and Havana. Bishops from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have also served in that role, both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are Episcopal Church dioceses in Province IX.

On Feb. 27, The Episcopal Church announced a campaign to raise pension funds for retired and active clergy. The average priest’s salary in Cuba is $55 per month; the Cuban government doesn’t recognize religious employment, rendering clergy ineligible for state pensions or social security. Over the last 50 years, clergy have had to forgo pensions. The establishment of a pension system provides some security to clergy who can now rely on the church into old age, said Delgado.

The Cuban church has 23 clergy members serving 10,000 Episcopalians in 46 congregations and missions across the island. At the time of the official announcement, the Episcopal Church already had raised more than half of the targeted, one-time amount of $800,000. The money, to be managed by the Church Pension Fund, makes up for the absence of contributions during the separation and addresses an injustice.

“This is part of the work of reconciliation, bringing us together across historic divides. This is not just fundraising; it’s following Jesus and finding our way back to each other,” said Curry, in a press release.

During the church’s February Executive Council meeting, Curry referred to the pensions campaign and the Church of Cuba’s return to The Episcopal Church as an act of “reconciliation no matter what our governments do.” The Obama administration attempted to open relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments; before President Donald Trump’s election, travel restrictions imposed on American citizens were relaxed. In 2017, Trump restored the restrictions.

-Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

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Anglicans welcome International Women’s Day campaign theme of gender balance

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 1:56pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The International Anglican Women’s Network Steering Group has issued a statement in advance of International Women’s Day on March 8, welcoming its theme of gender balance.

“Gender balance is essential for all communities to thrive,” the statement says. “The Anglican Communion is no exception.” The subtitle for this year’s celebration is #BalanceforBetter, and it has been designed to promote gender balance across all of life, including boardrooms, government, media, employment, wealth distribution and sports coverage.

Read the full article here.

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Police recover skull of ‘The Crusader’ stolen from Dublin church

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 1:53pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The police service in the Republic of Ireland has recovered the mummified head of The Crusader, which had been stolen from the crypt of a Dublin church last month. The head, along with another skull, were taken from the crypt of St Michan’s Church in Dublin over the weekend of Feb. 23 to 25. This week a police spokesperson said that “the items were recovered as a result of information that came into the possession of the investigating [police].”

Read the full article here.

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Tributes paid following death of former Archbishop of York John Habgood

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 1:50pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of York John Sentamu has led tributes to one of his predecessors, Lord John Habgood, who died March 6. He was 91. The scientist and theologian – he attained a double first in natural sciences at Cambridge University – was serving as bishop of Durham when he was appointed archbishop of York in 1983. He held the post until his retirement in 1995 and was appointed to the House of Lords as a Crossbench (independent) Peer in his own right. He had previously been a member as bishop of Durham and archbishop of York.

Read the full article here.

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