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Number 160 - January 2016
We wish all our readers peace and good health in 2016.
On the first day of the New Year, we mark the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, our example as Medical Missionaries of Mary. This strong, prophetic woman proclaimed in her song, the Magnificat, that the poor would be lifted from the dust and the hungry would be filled with good things. She dreamed of a world in which, in a reversal of ‘the way things are’, we would all share in the good things of the earth.
Pope Francis has told us, ‘I am counting on you “to wake up the world”, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. This is the priority that is needed right now: “to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth”’(Letter to all consecrated people, II. 2: 2014).
On 1 January we also mark the Church’s World Day of Peace. We are asked to pray and work for the achievement of the theme for 2016: Overcome Indifference and Win Peace.
‘The message aims to be a starting point for all people of good will, particularly those who work in education, media, culture, each one acting according to their possibilities and according to their best aspirations to build together a more conscious and merciful, and, therefore, more free and fair world’ (Vatican Radio).
In this newsletter you can read about Pope Francis’ historic trip to Africa in November 2015. Many MMMs attended events in Kenya and Uganda and told us how they looked forward to his visit. Putting his inspiring words into practice, Sister Patricia Lanigan teaches social ministry in Nairobi, helping students to analyse causes of injustice to bring about social change. As examples of the potential of religious life in Africa, Sisters Christine Nanyombi and Elizabeth Naggayi recently increased their skills through the Sisters’ Leadership Development Initiative.
Thank you for working with us to proclaim good news and bring about positive change in this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. We remember you daily in our prayers and ask you to pray for us as well.
‘And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same’ (Nelson Mandela).
Bringing new courage and hope
In November, Pope Francis embarked on his first journey to Africa, traveling to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. In a whirlwind six-day schedule, he met UN officials, young people, religious and clergy, people of various faiths, slum dwellers and politicians. MMMs were among the crowds that greeted him enthusiastically. Some of them gave us their reflections on this historic visit.
Starting in Nairobi, Kenya
'Eighteen MMMs gathered in our Area house to participate in the events on 26 November. They came from our missions located in Eldoret and in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, and from our house of studies.'
Sister Patricia Lanigan wrote, 'Despite the heavy downpour during the Mass, there was a real buzz. By 1:00 pm the Sisters had arrived back from the Mass on foot, determined to clean up, grab some food, and walk on to Saint Mary's School grounds for the Pope's meeting with religious. There an enormous tent provided shelter. They had seats near the centre aisle, but strict security men did not allow any to reach out and shake the Pope's hand. His talk to religious was simple and challenging.’
In his remarks to religious, clergy and seminarians, Pope Francis said: 'There are people who do not know why God calls them, but they know that He has. Go ahead in peace. God will let you know why He has called you....
'We can be tempted to follow Jesus for ambition: ambition for money or power....In our life as disciples of Jesus there must be no room for personal ambition, for money, for worldly importance. We will follow Jesus to the very last final step of His earthly life, the Cross....I tell you this in all seriousness, because the Church is not a business or an NGO. The Church is a mystery: the mystery of Jesus Who looks at each of us and says, "Follow me.'"
'Never stop weeping. We need to weep for our infidelity, for all the pain in our world, for all those people who are cast aside, the elderly who are abandoned, for children who are killed, for the things we do not understand. We need to weep when people ask us, 'Why?....There are situations in life for which we can only weep, and look to Jesus on the Cross.
'Thank you for your courage in following Jesus, thank you for all the times you realise that you yourselves are sinners... Thank you for "burning" your lives in hope.
'So let this be clear: Jesus is the one who calls....We are all sinners; starting with me. But Jesus' tenderness and love keep us going. May He who began a good work in you bring it to completion’ (27 November 2015, Vatican Information Service).
On 27 November, Pope Francis began his last day in Kenya with a two-hour visit to Kangemi slum. There are approximately 2.5 million slum dwellers in Nairobi, representing 60% of the city’s population and occupying just 6% of the land (Vatican Radio). MMMs and many others who live and work in the Nairobi slums were present. This time Sister Ursula Agge shook the pontiff's hand!
He listened to Mercy Sister Mary Killeen, director of Makuru Promotion Centre, which provides childhood development services. She said that fires break out easily in the slum because of the materials used to construct the simple homes. The area often floods because of poor drainage.
‘Sometimes the challenges…almost cause us to despair,’ she continued. ‘Your visit has given us new courage and hope....We hope that when you have challenges of your own you will be inspired by the people of Nairobi slums who have endured repeated setbacks, yet live courageously with good humour.’
An impassioned plea Pope Francis told the people, ‘I wish to call all Christians...to renew their missionary zeal, to take initiative in the face of so many situations of injustice, to be involved in their neighbours’ problems, to accompany them in their struggles, and to celebrate together each victory, large or small....This is not just another task; it may instead be the most important task of all, because “the Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor” (Benedict XVI, 11 May 2007).
‘Let us together pray, work and commit ourselves to ensuring that every family has dignified housing, access to drinking water, a toilet, reliable sources of energy for lighting, cooking and improving their homes; that every neighbourhood has streets, squares, schools, hospitals, areas for sport, recreation and art; that your appeals for greater opportunity can be heard; that all can enjoy the peace and security which they rightfully deserve on the basis of their infinite human dignity.’
Moments in Uganda
The visit to Uganda was meant ‘above all to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the canonization of the Uganda Martyrs. The Martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, are true national heroes’ (At the State House in Entebbe).
Sister Maria José da Silva, from Brazil, looked forward to meeting Pope Francis at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Kampala. She wrote, ‘I am feeling very happy and privileged to have this opportunity in Uganda. It will be my first time to meet a Pope, and this one is very special because of his way of being: simple, compassionate and loving with people. It is a challenge to find words to describe how important Pope Francis is for us in the Church. He is the man of heart to heart, face to face. He is the Pope of the people. I feel he is the presence our Church needs in our world today.
'Some of our village people here in Makondo travelled to Namugongo [the Ugandan Martyrs’ Shrine] to be present at Mass with Pope Francis. More people have come from Rwanda. His visit to Uganda means a lot to them and it will strengthen their faith and the Catholic Church.'
Francis prayed with Anglican bishops at the Anglican Martyrs' shrine and offered a joint blessing to those outside. An estimated 300,000 were at the Catholic Martyrs' shrine. He said that Christians are called to ‘carry on their witness to Christ…whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world...The martyrs’ example helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society.’
At Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Pope Francis told religious, priests, and seminarians, ‘Our doors, the doors of our churches, but above all the doors of our hearts, must constantly be open to God’s people, our people. For that is who we are.
‘If we are to accompany those who suffer, then like the light passing through the stained glass windows of this cathedral, we must let God’s power and healing pass through us. We must first let the waves of [God's] mercy flow over us, purify us, and refresh us, so that we can bring that mercy to others, especially those on the peripheries....
‘My visit to Uganda is brief, and today was a very long day! But I consider our meeting tonight to be the crowning of this beautiful day when I was able to go as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs, and to meet with the many young people who are the future of the nation and our Church.
'Truly I leave Africa with great hope in the harvest of grace which God is preparing in your midst! I ask all of you to pray for an outpouring of apostolic zeal, for joyful perseverance in the calling you have received, and, above all, for the gift of a pure heart, ever open to the needs of all our brothers and sisters. In this way the Church in Uganda will truly prove worthy of its glorious heritage and face the challenges of the future with sure hope in Christ’s promises.’
A sign of peace: The Central African Republic (CAR)
According to the latest United Nations' estimates, some 447,500 people are internally displaced because of the continuing violence in this country. The situation stems from the 2013 seizure of Bangui, the capital, by a largely Muslim anti-government rebel group known as Seleka, opposed by a largely Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka1.
Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe is based in Arusha, Tanzania. As part of her work with Capacitar last year, she conducted healing workshops with deeply traumatised communities around Bangui.
She wrote, ‘I invite you to pray that this visit may bring reconciliation and peace. I hold the people of the Central African Republic dear to my heart. I was deeply touched by the compassion and total self-giving of people working amidst unspeakable violence in Bangui and Bossangoa. Great efforts are being made to bring Muslims and Christians together. In the forefront are three religious leaders: Imam Omar Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, and Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou. They are truly men of God and know that God is merciful, that we are all called to be one family.’
A time of mercy ‘Bangui is today the spiritual capital of the world,’ said Pope Francis, opening the Holy Door of the cathedral on 29 November before Mass. He decided to open the Holy Door in Bangui as a sign of prayer and solidarity with the country.
‘We all pray for peace, mercy, reconciliation, pardon, love. Throughout the Central African Republic and in all the nations of the world which suffer war, let us pray for peace.’
He called on Christians to be leaders in showing mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. ‘To all those who unjustly use the weapons of this world, I launch this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with justice, love, and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace.’
At the end of his trip to Africa, Francis visited a mosque in Bangui, located in the last remaining Muslim community in the city. It is a refuge for Muslims fleeing violence. The pope traveled in his Popemobile, greeting crowds waiting on the road. He was greeted by the head imam and Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga.
Pope Francis said, ‘Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God.’
Francis also visited a camp of some 3,700 persons displaced by the violence. He told them, ‘We must work and pray and do everything for peace....But peace without love, without friendship, without tolerance, without forgiveness, is not possible...I wish for you, you and all Central Africans, a great peace, that you can live in peace, whatever your ethnicity, your religion, your social status, because we are all brothers and sisters.’
We are grateful for this historic visit, which brought hope to so many. Wherever he went Pope Francis ended with, ‘And I ask you, please, do not forget to pray for me.’
1President Catherine Samba-Panza was leading a temporary government that was to facilitate elections for a permanent government in December. The international Community of Sant’Egidio announced that all of the presidential candidates had met for the first time, with the group’s help, to issue a joint statement of welcome to Pope Francis. Information on the visit to the CAR was taken from an article by Joshua McElwee, NCR, 28 Nov 2015 and from CISA, 1 Dec 2015.
Q & A with Sr. Patricia Lanigan: The art of listening
Sister Patricia Lanigan teaches in the Institute of Social Ministry in Mission at Tangaza University College in Nairobi, Kenya. She was recently interviewed by Melanie Lidman, Africa/Middle East Correspondent for Global Sisters Report (GSR). Melanie was happy for us to reproduce the article for our readers.
The parishioners in the church wanted a marble altar. The church was squeezed in the dark, cramped slums of Lagos, Nigeria, a wooden barn that was barely finished with rough-hewn furniture. The priests wanted to build a social hall, so they could hold classes or training sessions for income-generating activities. But the parishioners were adamant: they wanted a marble altar.
Many aid workers and international development experts might shake their heads at the request. A marble altar? In a slum? When the parishioners could benefit so much from a social hall and the educational opportunities held there?
The term 'social ministry' is an academic concept for a community development methodology, which holds that listening to the communities is the only way to carry out effective change. Religious and community leaders have been practicing various forms of social ministry in their pastoral work for centuries, but teaching this approach in an academic setting is a recent development. The approach holds that when a community is so adamant about something, like a marble altar, there’s a reason. There’s a reason even if they are not able to articulate why this particular need is so pressing, or even when it seems like they could be better served another way.
Prof. Patricia Lanigan, a Medical Missionaries of Mary Sister originally from Dublin, Ireland, has been in Africa for 38 years. She worked for two decades in Nigeria, and has been in Kenya since 1998. The 63-year-old sister now teaches at the Institute of Social Ministry in Mission at Tangaza College in Nairobi. Fr. Francesco Pierli, a Comboni Missionary from Italy, founded the social ministry program at Tangaza College in 1994.
Global Sisters Report spoke with Lanigan between the classes she teaches to understand more about the importance of listening.
GSR: What is a degree in social ministry? Lanigan: We aim to train people in faith-based community development and project management. We do a lot about participatory work with communities, leadership training, advocacy work for justice, and conflict resolution. Our graduates mostly work in voluntary agencies, NGOs, and church-based organizations with poor communities. There are a few [graduates] in government, but our training and the government approaches don't exactly match.
Why is having a faith-based approach beneficial for community development work? Part of being human is the spiritual dimension, the transcendent dimension in our lives. It is, after all, what gives meaning to people. But we very deliberately call our model 'faith-based' rather than Catholic or Christian, even though obviously we're a Catholic institution and our focus is from the Christian perspective.
We consider everybody's faith important. Faith really enables groups to work together, trust another, forgive another's problems and reconcile. If you want groups to continue working together for long periods, like 20, 30 or even 40 years, you need that trust-building. Otherwise groups fall to pieces. They start arguing over money or projects or priorities, and the groups collapse.
You mentioned that the term 'social ministry' is new for Kenya. How are you adapting the term for your work in East Africa, compared with other parts of the world? In the [United] States, there is a whole tradition of the social ministry, or what used to be called the 'social gospel'. The concept of social welfare and social development is certainly here. There is a verbal acknowledgement about social advocacy for justice, but practicing it is another matter. Part of that is because, on the whole, parts of Africa have been very repressive. It's not so long since the Daniel arap Moi government [Moi was president of Kenya from 1978 to 2002] had extremely strict rules for TV and media. People are afraid to speak up.
When people live in very precarious situations, even if they don't have the police arresting them for no good reason, well, the next thing is their landlord may chuck them out and they won't be able to rent a room anywhere else. So people are careful about holding protests, and it's very difficult to get permission to hold any kind of legal protest here. One of the comments from the Waki Commission Report after 2007/8 post-election violence [when tribal-fueled rioting over fixed election results killed more than 1,000 people and internally displaced 50,000], is that the only protest people seem to know is violent protest. They haven't had the practice of non-violent protest.
Is a lot of social ministry about organizing protests? The whole thing about social ministry is trying to change social structures and systems. But people get scared, and also part of it is not knowing how to do it. That is one of the reasons, when I'm teaching foundations of social ministry, that I concentrate for part of the course on social activists around the world, what they've done and how they did it. We study people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., to learn how they did things.
Why is listening such an important part of social ministry? We teach something called 'the four stages of the pastoral cycle'. It's about getting involved in a community, listening to what they bring up as their particular issues, and working with them on social cultural analysis. We use faith reflection and theological reflection as tools, which usually provides the motivation for people to say, 'Let's stop saying the government should do something and do something ourselves, to take action.'
It takes time. You have to get to know people; they have to get to know you. You have to do a lot of small group work, so the meetings don't get taken over by one or two vocal people. Sometimes you also need to separate women and men and youth, because otherwise women culturally may not feel they can speak up in front of the men. They certainly feel they can't disagree with a man.
How did this idea of listening to the community expressing their needs help you in the past? People can't always say what really is driving them, which is something I really learned in Nigeria. I was working in one of the slum parishes in Lagos. Their system in the parish is to do a major fundraising once a year, the Harvest Thanksgiving, and then have a parish meeting to decide what to do with the money. The priests were thinking that we'd use it to try to build a hall for social activities, like catechist and training courses. But the parishioners said, 'We want a marble altar.'
The church we had was built like a barn, with just very basic wooden furniture. And they said, 'Yes, here in the slums, we want a marble altar.'
The priests met with the community leaders and said, 'Go back and ask the members of your societies what they want. These are the two choices we have: a social hall or a marble altar.'
They all came back and said, 'We want a marble altar.' The priest said, 'OK, well, if that's what you want, yes.'
We checked further into the idea of the marble altar and understood what they really wanted was a properly built and decorated sanctuary, with a beautiful altar.
What we found was that once the church sanctuary was decorated, people came in all the time for prayer and meditation. You know, they live in these small, dark huts. When they come to the church, there's a bit of space. They said when they're here, they can 'cool their minds'. They couldn't explain this need beforehand; it's only what we saw happening afterwards. So that really was a conversion experience for me. People may not articulate clearly why they want something, but if they're very strong about it, they have a very good reason why they want it. You ignore that at your peril. Certainly, it really made a difference that people had that quiet space.
Scholarship recipients in the social ministry course: Rebecca works with a large programme for disabled children in Tanzania. She is an amputee herself and encourages families to stop hiding their disabled children. Mary is improving programmes for the deaf. She has two deaf brothers. Salome works in the Mercy Sisters' programme in Mukuru, run by Sister Mary Killeen, mentioned in the first article, above.
Responding to growing needs
An illustration of the joyful perseverance of which Pope Francis spoke was a ceremony at the secretariat of the Association of Religious of Uganda. Sisters Christine Nanyombi and Elizabeth (Betty) Naggayi graduated with certificates in finance management and administration, respectively.
Held on 30 October, this was the third graduation of its kind. From twenty-five religious congregations in East Central Africa and South Sudan, 116 Sisters received certificates from Marywood University and the African Sisters’ Education Collaborative (ASEC), through the Sisters’ Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI).
ASEC was started in 1999 by leaders of four religious congregations of women in Pennsylvania, USA and the presidents of the colleges and universities their congregations founded:
• The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia (Neumann University) • The Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill College) • The Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Scranton (Marywood University) • The Society of the Holy Child Jesus (Rosemount College).
Goals for women's empowerment The goal of ASEC is to contribute to access to education for women religious, enabling them to acquire necessary skills and credentials for teaching, health care, and spiritual and social ministries in their countries. Women religious in Africa are gifted, resourceful and committed to serving the people, especially those in greatest need.
ASEC members believe that education is the key to assisting African nations in their quest for social-economic development and self-sufficiency and that women religious play an important part. Its outreach extends to ten sub-Saharan countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Malawi, Cameroon, Lesotho and South Africa. With the creative use of technology, capacity-building and training programmes are effective ways to respond to the educational needs of growing numbers of African Sisters.
Building a better world In a similar vein, the Sisters’ Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) is a partnership originally proposed by Steven Hilton, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. It aims to increase access to management and leadership skills-building for African Sisters, adapted to the specific contexts in which they work. They will develop competence to utilize their talents and limited resources more effectively, which will have a greater positive impact on the lives of those they serve.
Marywood University and ASEC were selected to develop a project through grants over six years. During the first three years, five countries were selected as sites: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The program has now expanded to include Zambia.
The curriculum includes mentoring, requiring participants to share their newly-acquired insights with at least three other Sisters of their congregations. This will greatly extend the outreach of this project.
An ongoing journey At the graduation ceremony, Sister Mary Germina Keneema, ASEC coordinator, called out each graduate and the Archbishop handed out the certificates. Also present was Doctor Jane Farr, of the ASEC Board of Directors.
Doctor Farr recognized the Sisters in Africa who have participated in these courses and have continued to put their skills into practice. She thanked local religious community and congregational leaders for allowing their Sisters to avail of this training.
The journey of ASEC continues, because all graduates join the Alumni Association, which facilitates members to keep updating their skills and share experiences annually.
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