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Number 155 - August 2015
In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis says that he “would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home (3)....The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change....Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded (13).
“It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile” (49).
In this newsletter you can read how another MMM Associate joins with others to share the Gospel in very practical, ecumenical ways, this time in Falmouth, England. A young person from Belfast, Northern Ireland described his visit to São Paulo, Brazil. He saw firsthand the project run by Sister Phyllis Heaney for people with intellectual disabilities, often among the excluded of society. We also tell you about one of our initiatives to bring about integral development in Abajah, Nigeria.
Thank you again for your support. You are remembered in our prayers each day. Please pray for us as well.
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist." Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India
Evangelisation in England today – a personal experience
MMM Associate Mary Bradley lives in Falmouth, in Cornwall, England. She described some of the activities in which she is involved in her local parish, Saint Mary Immaculate, and beyond. The various Churches in her area have taken an ecumenical approach: Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together. This approach echoes one of the Calls of our recent MMM Chapter:
- “To be agents of peace, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and of non-violent living within our communities and in the wider society; - To deepen our understanding and respect for different faiths.”
Mary told us: “In 2013, an ecumenical mission, Walk Cornwall, took place in which teams of missioners from various parts of the country came to ‘walk the high roads and byways of Cornwall,' proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel. They met with people from local churches. Thirteen of our parishioners visited the streets of Falmouth. There was surprise that Roman Catholics were participating. As a sequel, seven of us, including our parish priest, go out as part of an ecumenical team on Saturday mornings."
The joy of the Gospel “Door to door visiting is a rewarding task. It enables us to reach people where they are, proclaiming the Good News, when in the media all one hears is bad news...We take a ‘neighbourhood pack’ with us, containing a local map of churches, times of service, one of the Gospels, and a little booklet Knowing God Personally. We use a short survey of beliefs as a starter to conversation. Often people are interested and eager to participate.
“Basically, the survey has five questions, with a selection of answers. 1. Do you believe in some kind of God? 2. What do you believe happens at the end of our lives? 3. What do you believe about Jesus Christ? 4. If you could ask God one question, what would it be? The usual answer is: ‘Why is there so much suffering in the world?’ 5. If you could know God personally, would you be interested?
“Before going out, we meet for prayer and a ‘cuppa’. We thank and praise God for his many blessings and we pray for those to be visited. We ask God to prepare our way: that we may be open to the Spirit and be given wisdom, compassion and understanding for those we meet. We go out in two's and two of the team remain praying at home base.
“Yesterday it seemed our prayer at base was fruitful. Many people completed the beliefs’ survey and good conversations took place. Missioners often ask if a person would like prayer for anything or anyone. Often this is welcomed. Sometimes people are glad to see the local church and ask to be put in touch again with the church of their denomination.
"Often the housebound and disabled are just glad to see a friendly face and have a chat. There is much loneliness and isolation among elderly people in our locality. We frequently meet students from our local university who talk about re-incarnation, scientific ideas of a force of energy, and who are searching for meaning in their lives. We meet atheists, agnostics, people who have been hurt by the Church, and those who are suffering.
“At the end of the morning we gather back at base, giving thanks for the privilege of walking the streets for Jesus and sharing experiences. We pray especially for those we met and their needs."
Support from each other “Like the others from Saint Mary’s, I have learned much from going forth with our Christian friends of other denominations. My faith has been strengthened, as has my willingness and joy in humbly walking our streets and meeting the people of our local community.”
Mary is involved in other activities with Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together.
The Justice and Peace Action Group has members from five denominations. In the past year they attended the Modern Slavery Study Day. They wrote to local MPs about Syrian refugees and to members of the European Parliament about the effects of the new EU Common Agricultural Policy on sugar producers in poor countries.
In May, several members of Saint Mary’s and a Quaker came together to re-launch Fairtrade Falmouth. Many workers in developing countries find it difficult to provide for their families due to poor market access, monopoly of big corporations, unfair prices, etc. Often the amount they receive does not cover the cost of production. With Fairtrade, workers receive decent wages and a little extra premium to invest in business and community initiatives, e.g. healthcare, safe working conditions, education, or co-operatives.
Mary and her friends have taken to heart the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si: "We Christians ask for inspiration to take up the commitment to creation set before us by the Gospel of Jesus" (246).
Finding a Nest of Hope
Chris Cox is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Saint Brigid's Third World Group, based in his parish, has given great support to projects run by MMMs and many others (see Aug 2014 MMM e-newsletter). Chris described his recent visit to a very special place in the heart of São Paulo, Brazil.
"This June I went to São Paulo, Brazil to visit a project run by Sister Phyllis Heaney. Called Ninho da Esperança (Nest of Hope), it is located in the deprived periphery of the economic powerhouse of Brazil. The project is a day centre run for children with learning and physical disabilities.
"I had heard about the project through the third world group at my local parish, Saint Brigid's, Belfast. Having done a lot of volunteer work with children with learning and physical disabilities previously, I thought it sounded like a very worthwhile cause. I e-mailed Sister Phyllis about the project and decided to do some fundraising.
"Many of these children live in densely-packed residential areas in houses with barely enough room to move round in, let alone play.
"The centre allows them to spend a couple of days a week in a safe and caring environment with friendly staff, most of them working on a voluntary basis. Because the children get regular meals each day, their mothers or regular carers can have time to work and earn some extra money for the family. In some cases the child's government benefit may comprise the majority of their income." Using resources well "When I first arrived at the centre, I was warmly welcomed by everyone. I was shown around by Vece, the chef, whose husband had painted most of the building. With some sofas, a TV with DVD player to show cartoons, and a large play area with several boxes of toys, a number of recreation activities are provided. A local volunteer, Everson, is installing a computer room. With the money I helped to raise, a new playground is being built outside.
"The first day I visited, I watched a rehearsal of a play with lots of singing and dancing for the approaching festival of São João (Saint John). Run by volunteer Julianna, everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, with lots of smiles and laughter. Over the next few days I played with the kids a lot: Antonio, Fran, Marquinho and all the others.
"Building things, colouring pictures and generally messing about, it was an absolute joy to see their laughter and how much they enjoy the ninho. I don't speak much Portuguese; all I did was based on my moderate Spanish. With the friendly and dedicated young people, with Claudia who helps run the centre, and Kaitano who picks up the children in his van and drops them home, a language barrier can be easily overcome.
"Seeing the work that Phyllis and everyone else here is doing showed me the difference that can be made in places with such a steep gradient of inequality. The synergistic effect of these literal 'nests of hope' can transform communities and bring them on to greater things. Having such a fantastic experience and getting to know some of the friendliest and most amazing people I've ever met (I can't stress enough), also shows how wrong the portrayal of some places by the media can be – as if every other person will take advantage of you.
"My experience was that even in particularly dangerous areas, 95% of people are honest, incredibly hard-working and would bend over backwards to help you. They deserve to be supported and helped in their aspirations. Unfortunately, they only lack opportunities."
Unwrapping the gift that God is offering in Abajah
The Future Directions from our recent Chapter reminded us that MMMs are called to an extraordinary adventure. Sisters Celestina Aganyi and Ifeoma Ifedi are part of the MMM community in Abajah, Nigeria, one of our newest missions. They were eager to tell us how, with Sisters Cyrina Ogbebor and Nkiru Agunwa, they are sharing in this adventure. In these early days they are getting to know the people, as well as “their beliefs and values, history and traditions” (MMM Cons.).
"We arrived in Abajah on 11 December 2014 to a warm welcome from the bishop, the local parish and the village community. This is now the place where we search daily for 'the hidden treasure'. Our basic mission is to experience and witness Christ, befriending the people and being a sign of unity. It is a leap in faith. To keep us focused from the onset, we met several times among ourselves and committed ourselves to pray daily for the new venture.
"Abajah is a town comprising eight villages. The village of Amaudara is made up of four ‘kindreds’*. We met with the leaders in each community ‘kindred’ and with members of the local parish. Some were positive; others were challenging. It was interesting learning about the existing structures and cultural practices. We learnt which villages were friendly with each other and which had decades-old grudges! We heard that long ago in one village there had been a falling out with a missionary who had then left in anger. The people felt that they had been cursed. A few years ago, they again invited a priest to come. They had an all-night vigil to pray for forgiveness. Less than a year later, they heard the MMMs had chosen to come to their village. They believe we are a sign from God, giving them a second chance. They want to embrace this opportunity.
Getting to know the needs Presently we are doing a needs' assessment survey of the eight villages. We visited each house in each village to get to know the people. This has given us more opportunities to integrate ourselves into their lives. Families are closely knit so most celebrations are communal. We have become part of these celebrations.
We collaborate with the community leaders and with leaders of groups such as school principals, school prefects, youth groups, students, volunteers, tour guides, etc. They are generous with their time, resources, and advice. They show their friendship and gratitude by sharing their farm produce with us and help by giving us money for transport.
Our work at present consists of home visits, treatment of minor injuries (domestic accidents), and giving public health awareness sessions in schools and in the village. During the home visits we realized how we could answer other needs.
We discovered some elderly people who were sick and home-bound. The lucky ones were cared for by either a sick or equally old person or a grandchild, who seemed overwhelmed by the responsibility. Others were simply abandoned or were visited only very rarely. Some elders shared their anxiety about the youth and their present life-style. They asked us to educate the girls and women on how to keep a healthy home and help them with basic family life skills.
With community leaders, we organized forums to discuss what topics they would like us to focus on and how we could best respond. These included family counseling, especially for young couples, advocacy and palliative care for the bedridden and house-bound, especially for those who are abandoned, and teaching families skills to care for their elderly members.
A balance of work and reflection Building an MMM community where we are nurtured for mission has been very rewarding. As a new community, we are conscious of our limited experience. Our dependence on God’s Spirit to inspire our daily choices and decisions increases each day. We are committed to a regular communal discernment process to find the best approach to the challenges that present themselves. We try not to underestimate the value of intuition. We affirm creativity and keep improving communication.
We thought we knew what compassion was, but now we are steeped in it. There are days when we feel inadequate and lack what it takes to attend to the situation before us. A few times, the leaders have misunderstood us and misinformed their people about the purpose of our visit.
"Sometimes we long to see visible signs and changes but immediate results are not measurable. How do you measure the relief on the face of an old man you have just cleaned up? How do you measure the smile of a bedridden woman who is given her first bath in three weeks? What about the spontaneous dance of a lonely ‘granny’ you visited and she exclaims that the Lord has sent angels to her today? How do you respond to the faint ‘thank you’ of a sick man who has probably given up on life because he is not getting better? What about days when you lack the ‘right’ words to say to a girl who feels she has wasted her opportunities in life?
"These situations, though frustrating, have also been 'full of grace'. The words of our Constitutions then seem so appropriate: 'Know how to care, to share others' joys and pains, to touch their wounds…at times to be silent, helpless.' We are learning to wait in hope. We may not see the outcome but we believe in what we are doing and that is life-giving.
"We are grateful to our MMM leaders, all our Sisters and friends, who have supported us with their prayers, encouragement - and challenges, too. We are gradually unwrapping 'the gift God is offering' us and MMM in Abajah."
*A kindred is a clan or a group of related persons living not far away from each other.
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