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The Training Course on Safeguarding in Nairobi has concluded

Status and perspectives for the future

16 February 2024

The training course organized by the Office for the Safeguarding of Minors and Vulnerable Adults of the General Curia was held from the 1st till the 15th February in Nairobi, Kenya, involving over 50 friars from the African Conference
In the two weeks of meetings, pedagogy and didactics were used as crucial elements for the success of the course. Initially the participants analyzed the real situation in the various Entities, and then spoke about safeguarding as a form of evangelization and expression of the Franciscan charism in the African continent. 

The dignity of each person was placed at the centre of each meeting. The participants listened to the testimonies of some victims of abuse and prayed for all the victims; they examined the consequences of abuse on people and the accompaniment of primary and secondary victims. They have seen how to offer aggressors professional therapeutic support for their personality. 
After these introductory topics, the course focused on the principles of safeguarding: prevention, intervention and education. To this end, the organizers have presented guidelines for the drafting of a policy and procedures for safeguarding. An entire day was dedicated to legal issues, thanks to the intervention of a canonist Religious Sister who teaches in Nairobi. 
In the last part of the course the focus was on the theme of Safeguarding in ongoing and initial formation and on the systemic aspects involved in abuse at various levels of the Church and the Order.

Some questions were put to Br Albert Schmucki, the Director of the Office for the Safeguarding of the General Curia, in order to take stock and find out the prospects for the future.

What were the expectations? Were they respected? 
The Safeguarding Office wanted to offer a training course within the African context, in which local cultures play a key role. It is no coincidence that we invited a large number of African speakers to be able to delve deeper, together with the participating friars, into the principles of abuse prevention in dialogue with the various cultures of the continent. During these 14 days we traveled together on a journey of awareness and perception regarding the issue of violence against minors and vulnerable adults in all its forms, in a climate of solidarity amongst the friars coming from very different cultures on the African continent. It seems to me that the contacts that were created during this meeting will also have an impact on the future development of the Conference. 

What prospects and plans for the future? 
In the last days of the course we asked the participants, grouped according to regions, to develop an action plan on Safeguarding in their Entities, in collaboration with other Entities. We asked some friars if they were available to be coordinators of the delegates for Safeguarding in their various Entities. We are evaluating the possibility of offering some friars more in-depth formation in collaboration with some Study Centres. 
Currently there are few entities that have real Safeguarding Commissions. We will have to work in this direction. 

What will change in initial and ongoing formation?
I was very struck by the fact that towards the end of the course the friars considered Safeguarding a constitutive part of each stage of Franciscan formation. Given that at the centre of Safeguarding lies respect and care for human dignity, it cannot be a secondary or "external" theme, but must be included in the training process from the beginning. The friars present underlined the need for a more careful selection of candidates, for attention to the friars who come from a context in which relationships and violence are often mixed, but they also spoke of the need for a more competent preparation of formators in terms of personalized selection and accompaniment. Last but not least, the theme of Safeguarding should be included in the Ratio Formationis of the Order and in the Rationes Formationis of the Entities.

How is the process of the Safeguarding Commissions in Africa going?
To tell the truth, there are few Entities that have real Safeguarding Commissions. Very often a delegate has been appointed who is expected to gradually set up a Commission. We will have to work in this direction.

What are the relationships with the regional Episcopal Conferences of the African continent on the topic of Safeguarding? What are the future steps together?
The General Statutes of the Order in Article 45 §3 explicitly speak of the importance of collaborating with the particular Church in the field of Safeguarding. In Africa the situation in the Dioceses is very varied. Some Episcopal Conferences, for example in South Africa, Zimbabwe, but also in Togo, have already developed policies and set up listening centres. In other Dioceses collaboration becomes more difficult because the structures for Safeguarding are almost non-existent. In any case we recommend that the friars study all available documents from the Episcopal Conferences and Dioceses and integrate them into their Safeguarding policies.

We also asked some questions to some course participants. 

Br Santana Cafunda, of the “Immaculate Mother of God” Foundation of Angola, responded to us as follows:

“I wanted to better understand the scope of the topic and the preventive elements for a fruitful development of the fraternal pastoral mission. It is a topic that I was aware of to a lesser extent: with this course it was possible to broaden our horizons, we were challenged to share and reflect more with the friars in this changing world. We friars minor are called to care for the poor and the marginalized, to put at the centre the dignity of every man and every woman and, in a broad sense, the dignity of creation, as the work of God. 

This course has certainly taught me to look at the topic with a more mature and attentive gaze than before. Many speakers spoke about the issue with great urgency and concern, we must therefore start a global dialogue with the pastoral groups, in stages, forming the community on this aspect of human dignity, based on three characteristics: listening, verifying, helping. For the future, at least two annual online meetings on the topic could be held at regional level: it could form an integral part of the annual regional initial and ongoing training programme”.

Br Fanuel Magwidi, of the Dependent Custody of the “Good Shepherd” of Zimbabwe, was also very satisfied with his participation in the course:

“There is a lot of talk about Safeguarding, and I wanted to know not only the numbers and the impact of this wave that has hit the Church and the Order, but above all I wanted to delve deeper into the topic of the implementation of the Protocols and what we must pay attention to.
The different methodologies with which this problem was addressed opened my eyes, there were many new things for me, I realized that, as friars of the African Conference, we come from different contexts and experiences. Africa is so complex and diverse! Some friars seemed very defensive about what was presented as facts and figures, but in general the arguments were accepted.
As Friars Minor, having realized the reality of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, I now understand our duty to adapt new styles of evangelization to make people aware of their role in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults by preventing, intervening, and educating people.
I also realized the need to change and cultivate the culture of Safeguarding through ethical credibility in the ministries assigned to me. As friars minor we are committed to breaking the culture of silence, empowering people through various workshops; we are aware of the Safeguarding of the dignity of victims, listening, avoiding judging them and being empathetic.
This course changed me personally. I was not very knowledgeable about the real facts and figures, but now I have realized that in all my ministries I cannot escape from this. It affects me and my ministry personally. Now I expect that each Entity will have a Manual and a Safeguarding Protocol, which will be presented to all friars and at all levels, and that there will be a serious follow-up to this initiative.
For the future, it is necessary to give an important follow-up in the implementation in the Conference of what has been taught; a local structure (at Conference level) is needed that can assist the General Office for Safeguarding in the implementation of what the African Conference has received and greater and specialized training of some friars of our Conference on the topic, so that we is an adequate continuation and continuous training throughout the African continent".

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