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Number 157 - October 2015
October is the month of Mission, with World Mission Sunday on 18 October. In his message for World Mission Day, Pope Francis wrote, “We ask ourselves: ‘Who are the first to whom the Gospel message must be proclaimed?’ The answer, found so often throughout the Gospel, is clear: it is the poor, the little ones and the sick, those who are often looked down upon or forgotten, those who cannot repay us (cf. Lk 14:13-14). Evangelization directed preferentially to the least among us is a sign of the Kingdom that Jesus came to bring.”
We also celebrate the feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, patroness of the missions, on 1 October. Again Pope Francis said, “Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, Patroness of the Missions, appears in a new light; she speaks with renewed eloquence and inspires reflection upon the deep connection between contemplative life and mission.” This lies at the heart of our spirituality as MMMs.
The theme for World Mission Day this year is ‘Abundant Life’. In this newsletter you can read about some of the ways in which Medical Missionaries of Mary and Associates are bringing life to others.
“The mission of the servants of the Word – bishops, priests, religious and laity – is to allow everyone, without exception, to enter into a personal relationship with Christ.” Associate MMMs illustrate this aspect of the World Mission Day Message very well.
MMMs in Nangwa, Tanzania are concerned about the current drought and poor harvest and are helping with food supplements. One of our generous donors has been part of this response.
In Salvador, Brazil we bring hope and consolation to families traumatized by the loss of their members as a result of urban violence.
Thank you for helping us to bring more abundant life to others. We remember you in our prayer each day. Please pray for us as well.
“Those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries, for they know that Jesus ‘walks with them, speaks to them, breathes with them. They sense Jesus alive with them in the midst of the missionary enterprise’” (Pope Francis: Message for World Mission Day 2015).
The gift of our MMM Associates
In his message for World Mission Day 2015, Pope Francis said, “Living as Christian witnesses and as signs of the Father’s love among the poor and underprivileged, consecrated persons are called to promote the presence of the lay faithful in the service of Church’s mission. As the Second Vatican Council stated: ‘The laity should cooperate in the Church's work of evangelization; as witnesses and at the same time as living instruments, they share in her saving mission’...They are brothers and sisters who want to share the missionary vocation inherent in Baptism.”
Even before the Medical Missionaries of Mary was founded in 1937, Marie Martin knew that the contribution of the laity was integral to the missionary life of the Church. She had been a lay missionary herself in Nigeria from 1921 to 1924. This experience made her aware of great needs in health care, especially for women and children. She dreamed of founding a society dedicated to expressing the healing love of God in providing this care.
While many people have worked alongside us as volunteers and lay missionaries, some of our co-workers expressed a desire to go a step further and share our spirituality at a deeper level.
We formally embraced the MMM Associate Movement at our 1997 Chapter. The handbook, Come, Let Us Listen, says, “We are now inviting others who also hear a call to a global healing mission to explore with us a new dimension of their Christian commitment in a way that would respect the uniqueness of their own vocation, their life choices, and commitments.” The first Associate Medical Missionaries of Mary (AMMMs) made their Covenant in the USA in 1999.
This year the MMM East Central Africa Area organized a gathering of some AMMMs and MMM mentors from the Area to discuss their achievements, challenges and the way forward. Our MMM house at Ngaramtoni, near Arusha, Tanzania was the setting for the meeting from 14 to 17 May, facilitated by Eamonn Brehony, AMMM.
A busy weekend Activities got underway when Hedwig Nafula, the AMMM East Central Africa Co-ordinator, welcomed the group. Sister Goretti Nalumaga gave the opening address on behalf of the Area Team.
Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe guided the first exercise with Tai Chi, followed by a presentation on the spirituality of Mother Mary Martin and Saint Benedict. Mother Mary felt that the members of an active medical missionary society would need ‘a solid foundation and freedom of soul’. For this she desired that the Sisters would live according to the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict. This involved bringing “the liturgical life as well as supplying the missions with the medical service.”
Sister Geneviève asked the participants to reflect on two questions: • What has brought you here today? • What is spirituality?
She then presented other traits of Mother Mary, leading into what Saint Benedict still has to offer us. She asked, “As AMMMs and MMMs called to share Jesus’ mission to liberate, heal and bring peace, what are our gifts?”
The participants were asked to draw images and symbols to create a personal mandala related to their work and life. A mandala is a picture that is helpful in meditation, gaining self-knowledge and healing.
In other sessions the AMMMs were asked: • How they saw themselves involved in the healing mission • What gift they bring to this mission • What is the essence of Associate MMMs? • What are the fundamental expressions to show their commitment to the AMMM movement?
Learning from each other They discussed their orientation program, their strengths and weaknesses, and what was needed for leadership and funding. They examined their guidelines - what has worked well and the challenges - and how to adapt them to the reality in Africa.
Group presentations illustrated the dynamism present in the lives of the Associates. AMMMs showed the work in which they are involved in each country, promoting the healing charism in a unique way with different gifts. For example, some Associates are involved in MMM vocation ministry and are on interview panels for aspirants to MMM life. One is involved in a project to improve nutrition among the elderly in Uganda. Others based in Tanzania work on the MMM Resource Team or help in obtaining funding for projects. Some are members of staff in MMM hospitals or clinics. One has a job with government in Kenya.
Some Associates in the Area, such as those in Malwai, do not live near MMMs but said that distance is not usually a hindrance to living their commitment. The charism is alive, even in areas where no MMMs are present.
As in many other groups, the participants said they need to plan and share information and document the work they do. Poor infrastructure sometimes leads to difficulties in communication. They would like more guidance from MMM Sisters, but have learned from each other and feel it is good for AMMMs to do mentoring, too. They expressed concern for each other's welfare, especially if someone falls sick.
Hospitality is central to Benedictine spirituality. The editor is grateful to Charles Matovu, AMMM, in Uganda and Moira Brehony, AMMM, in Tanzania for sharing the minutes. In their conclusion they wrote: “The meeting was held over a weekend and in true MMM hospitality style, Sisters and Associates came together for a Eucharistic celebration officiated by Father Dave Sullivan, a Missionary of Africa, followed by a shared meal. The final session included a vote of thanks from the Associates and Mentors to the ECA Team.” ..............
At this time there are about 120 MMM Associates in fourteen countries on six continents.
Achieving our goals
October 16 is World Food Day. Access to adequate food is a fundamental human right. In September 2000, world leaders signed a commitment to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. MDG #1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Since then: • Forty countries have already achieved the first target, to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. • Over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children are saved every day. *
Despite these achievements, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that 805 million people, or one in nine worldwide, live with chronic hunger. It notes that: • 60% of the hungry in the world are women. • Almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year. • 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished, damaging their bodies and brains.
Medical Missionaries of Mary in many countries have known firsthand about the reality of hunger. Our Sisters in Nangwa, Tanzania are among them.
MMM involvement in Nangwa began in 1985 after an extensive evaluation of the health needs in Hanang area. It was found that the Barbaig people had no health service. The parish priest at Nangwa offered land to build an MMM house and invited us to administer the existing mission dispensary. The Irish Government provided money for the house, which opened in December 1985. In January 1986 MMM took over the dispensary and started the mother and child health clinic, both mobile and outreach.
Its primary objectives were to be the care of mother and child, promoting of family life, and daily curative services. In March 2005 a survey by a team from the Mbulu Diocesan Health Office noted: “The Nangwa Village Health Programme (NVHP) has a good reputation for the wide range of services it gives.”
Being alert to new needs There was ongoing evaluation and assessment of the project, ensuring that it was in keeping with our MMM mandate that “in a world of Health and Medicine we are committed to the care of the sick and to promote the health and wholeness of persons and communities” (MMM Constitutions).
In 2008, the aim of NVHP was restated to be: “to provide an efficient, effective and caring Holistic Health Care Service that enables us to uphold the Primary objective, which is to promote the value and dignity of family life through the Health Care Services we provide.” Treatment, whether preventative or curative, was to be given “to all who come to us for these services”. The MMMs stated their commitment to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
There were many challenges involved in achieving these objectives. In 2013 our Sisters described their ongoing problem of getting access to clean water in this drought-prone area. Sister Protagia Slaa wrote: “Our main thrust continues to be community-based health care...We assess hygiene, the availability of clean water, and nutritional status when we visit homes. Our mobile clinics are well attended. Without the precious commodity of water we can achieve very little.”
Generous donors helped in obtaining water pipes and tanks, both at the clinic base and in the villages, but these sometimes proved insufficient for the needs.
Living on the edge MMMs in Nangwa still staff the base dispensary and provide mobile mother and child outreach clinics in six villages. Matangarimo and Masusu are the biggest and are the furthest from Nangwa. Sisters Sukunda Kimario and Joan Grumbach told us about a recent crisis in the area, which is causing great hardship for the people.
“The rainy season began before Christmas and the farmers decided to plant maize and beans, which are the staple foods. The usual rains did not continue and the plants withered. There was no harvest. Now food prices for the limited harvest in other areas have almost doubled. Food shortages will increase as the year goes on and the rural, distant villages, like Matangarimo (pop. 3,257) and Masusu (pop. 2,100), will be especially affected.
“The village leaders asked for assistance. The District Commissioner wrote to us, saying that the local government can only provide limited support. He asked that we help in the best way we can. He and his staff have been advising people with animals to sell them to have money to buy food.
“We had already been helping underweight children with supplementary food and we foresaw that the number would increase because of the drought. The Nangwa Village Health Programme coordinator and the staff person, who visited the villages in the targeted areas, met with the local leaders to identify the need for food for the poor. The aim is to provide food to people more affected by the drought and crop failure.
“We appealed to others to help with the immediate situation. Misean Cara has given a generous grant to help the households most in need for three months. Their donation is especially helping families with underweight children who have been given food at the child welfare clinic and those that do not have animals to sell. The grant is helping us to buy food and hire a lorry to deliver it.”
While this assistance will help the worst affected, for the present the people of Nangwa are facing the consequences of an uncertain harvest.
*Website of World Food Day USA
Projeto Consolação – The Consolation Project
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” This quotation from Jeremiah (NRSV)strikes a chord with MMMs who work with families affected by the consequences of violence. Of the 50 cities in the world with the highest murder rates, 19 are in Brazil (seguridadjusticiaypaz.org.mx.).
Sister Sheila Campbell is co-ordinator of the Consolation Project (Projecto Consolação) in Salvador, Brazil. Her report shows the background and current activities in this work, which brings hope to families, especially mothers, living with terrible violence and bloodshed in her own neighbourhood.
“The Medical Missionaries of Mary have lived and worked in poorer neighbourhoods of Salvador, Bahia since 1996. These areas are marked by violence and a high prevalence of substance abuse. We have been working in Nordeste de Amaralina neighbourhood in Salvador since 2000 and are known and respected by the people.
“The neighbourhood is a two km2 area, with a population of 82,976 (IBGE Census 2010). Local community leaders tell us that these government figures are outdated and that the current population is around 100,000. They are predominantly young: 49% are under 25 years of age, with the majority between 10 and 19. Only 9% are over 55. According to a recent survey there is a predominantly Afro-Brazilian descendant population with more than 90% black/coloured (IBGE 2010). Besides the intense problem of violence in all its forms (including domestic violence, discrimination, etc.) and drug-trafficking, there is a high unemployment rate. Functional illiteracy in the State of Bahia is about 14.4% (IBGE, 2012)."
Women are disproportionately affected “In Salvador, about 43.5% of households are headed by women. The national average is 33%. In the State of Bahia last year the average monthly income of women was the equivalent of US$196, while the national average of male income was about US$495 (PNAD, 2007). The female unemployment rate in Salvador is 25.3%.
“The aim of the Consolation Project is to support families living in Nordeste de Amaralina whose members have been assassinated as a result of urban violence. These are usually young sons, either caught up in drug trafficking or suspected by the police of drug involvement, who are summarily executed. We also have cases of domestic violence and victims of stray bullets because the local gangs are heavily armed and the police presence is minimal.
“We help them to deal with their grief and to overcome the isolation and stigmatization they experience. When a family member is killed, the natural process of bereavement is disrupted and distorted. Family disintegration often results. We help families through the intense grieving stage and reintegrate them into the wider community. Just as important, we provide human rights training, trauma counselling and conflict management." A healing presence “In listening to mothers and other family members pour out their grief or struggle to come to terms with the finality of it all, the team members have become skilled in Active Listening. This is a therapeutic approach that is sensitive, respectful and positive. In pastoral terms, it means recognising Christ´s presence in the other, just being present as they go through the mourning process, without giving advice or passing judgement.
“As part of achieving these objectives we have offered a community therapy group, meeting every two weeks. Handcraft skills enhanced the work and it had a steady attendance. We plan to continue this therapy.
“We also had a recycling workshop, which involved women from the larger community. They decided to work together on building a Christmas crib, set in the reality of their local area. As the backdrop for their Nativity scene they used one of the small streets, the one where we have our Centre. When it was finished they invited all the neighbours to come and pray the Christmas Novena. After Christmas they continued to make other items, such as vases, candle holders, wall plaques, etc.
“For the rest of this year we want to continue these activities. We have included a workshop on peace-making. We used the theme proposed by the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, calling for all communities, parishes and dioceses to participate in a 'March for the Poor and Excluded' on 7 September, Brazilian Independence Day.
“We are very grateful to our supporters, especially Saint Brigid's Third World Group, based in Belfast, No. Ireland, which has helped to fund many of our activities: Active Listening workshops, Community Therapy, recycling workshop, etc.”