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Number 162 - March 2016
This month, on 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day, which is also United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
According to the UN Women’s website, International Women's Day calls attention to the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The 2016 theme emphasizes implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goals Four and Five. It is important to note that these goals highlight equality for all, with girls and boys, women and men enjoying the same benefits.
Unfortunately, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Providing them with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will benefit society as a whole.
The website says that Goal Four is to ‘ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.’ Some of its targets for 2030 include: • The number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship will be substantially increased. • Gender disparities in education will be eliminated and equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations will be ensured. • All youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, will achieve literacy and numeracy
Goal Five is to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.’ Its targets include: • Ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere • All forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation will be eliminated. • Women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life will be ensured.
As MMMs and MMM Associates who ‘constantly strive to promote the wholeness of all peoples and of their milieu’, we are part of the effort to achieve these targets.
World Water Day, on 22 March, stresses the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The 2016 theme, 'Water and Jobs', points out how sufficient quantity and quality of water can change workers' lives and livelihoods, and even transform societies and economies. Today 1.5 billion people around the globe work in water-related sectors. Nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery (UN World Water Day website).
In this newsletter you can read about one woman’s final commitment to God and our MMM way of life. Through our charism of healing and working with local structures, MMMs in Tanzania help to improve access to health care for women and their families. As we move on from our mission in Capim Grosso, Brazil, Sister Nilza reflects on the many positive impacts made on the lives of the people, including access to clean water.
Thank you for working with us to make these developments possible. We remember you in prayer each day. Please pray for us as well.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
'If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there.’ Yogi Berra, baseball player and manager
Called by name
Sister Cecilia Nchekwube is currently on mission in Malawi. Before joining MMM in 2004, she trained in business administration. Sister Celine Anikwem, Area Leader for West Africa, told us about Cecilia’s ceremony of final profession in Nigeria. Cecilia is the first religious from her home town of Igbakwu, Anambra State.
'The date of the ceremony was fixed for 23 January 2016 at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, Igbakwu. A five-woman committee was formed, headed by Sister Nkiru Agunwa, to see to the preparations. On 22 January 2016, all roads led to Igbakwu, a beautiful village in the countryside, along the River Niger.
'When we got to the church we saw many young people setting up canopies and chairs and others decorating the altar. Nearby, some elderly men were entertaining themselves with tobacco and palm wine. We greeted them all and left for Cecilia’s house.
'Many MMMs had come and were feeling at home. A number of women were helping the family with the cooking, some with babies on their backs. I could not tell which people in the house were Cecilia’s family members because everybody was introduced to me as ‘my brother', 'my sister', 'my wife', etc. Before long, lunch was served.'
Surprises in store 'I wondered why the caterers who would cook for the next day had not arrived. I was told that the family would be doing the cooking. I didn’t see how they could prepare food for over 500 people. When I tried to apply some of my management skills to organise things, Cecilia’s brother laughed and said, "Don’t worry, Sister. We will provide enough for the guests tomorrow."
'We left to meet Auxiliary Bishop Denis Isizor of Onitsha Archdiocese. He was very hospitable and invited us to stay. We thanked him and told him that the people of Igbakwu had arranged for our accommodation. Families had opened their homes to about fifteen MMMs. We were greatly touched that there were still people willing to welcome strangers, especially now when boko haram and other security threats have made everyone overly cautious.
'The big day came. Music blared and people were dancing. There were some dignitaries and many priests who had worked in or were from the parish. While we were waiting for Mass to begin, children and adults suddenly ran out of the church to meet a priest who had just arrived. He had worked in the parish for less than a year but had been instrumental in helping families that had conflicts to reconcile. One man said to me, "This village has remained united because of the efforts of this priest." We were all inspired by how someone had made such an impact on the people.'
Missioned by the community 'Finally Bishop Isizor arrived and Mass started at 10 a.m. The ceremony was conducted in the local language so the people could understand the service. At the beginning, the Bishop explained, "During this Mass, everything we do, whether the ceremony proceeds to the next stage or not, will depend on the 'Yes' of Sr. Cecilia."
'Having heard this explanation, the people waited quietly but anxiously for her response. During the rite of profession, Sister Cecilia was called out by Sister Fidelia Ogujawa, Directress of Temporary Professed Sisters in the West Africa Area. The reaction was unexpected and spectacular! When Cecilia responded, "Here I am, Lord," the whole village went wild with excitement.
'In his homily, the bishop encouraged the youth, saying they can be anything they want to be in life. He thanked MMM for bringing such a great celebration to a poor village like Igbakwu. He said he had read about Mother Mary’s passion for grassroots evangelisation in places most in need of health care. Looking at one of our banners, he read out the countries where we work. Then the bishop invited all the Sisters who were not Igbo-speaking to come forward. Seven Sisters told the people where they were from. They cheered when Sister Irene Namibiru said Uganda! He concluded by inviting MMM to come and work in the village. He said the people were disadvantaged, with no health centre or clinic in the entire local government area.'
An ecumenical celebration 'Later there was a reception. The Bishop of the Anglican Communion, church members, and members of Pentecostal churches were present. The villagers presented gifts to Cecilia. Many of them were the fruits of their labours from the soil.
'It was indeed a great day. I prayed that the people would preserve their spirit of communion. They believed that their village would never be the same after this profession ceremony.'
Gratitude in Gawlolo
Sister Joan Grumbach, from Connecticut, USA, is outreach coordinator for Nangwa Health Centre in Tanzania. She told us how the staff in Nangwa worked with a local village and government officials to provide more accessible health services for women and children.
‘In early 2015, local leaders from Gawlolo, a village twenty-eight kilometres from Nangwa, approached us with a request to provide a mother and child health (MCH) clinic. We brought the request to the attention of the health officials in our district. They agreed to discuss the matter and get back to us.
‘In April, they gave us a positive response and asked that we coordinate the service with the government dispensary about eleven kilometres from Gawlolo.'
Involving the community ‘A nurse went with us to visit the village leaders. They were very happy and promised to provide some chairs and tables and a bed for examining the pregnant women. The date for the first clinic was set for Tuesday, 9 June. On that day, a clear, bright morning, the MCH mobile clinic team set off for Gawlolo.
'We stopped at the government dispensary to pick up the nurse and some vaccines and continued on our way. The village leaders welcomed us to a newly-built but unoccupied teacher’s house, and showed us the rooms for our clinic. A suitable tree outside was chosen for the portable hanging scale we use to weigh the children.'
Need for the grapevine! ‘The news had spread slowly, but we eventually weighed and vaccinated sixty-five children and examined fourteen pregnant women.
‘Since then we have gone the second Tuesday of each month and the numbers of women and children have slowly increased with each visit. The women are very grateful not to have to walk the eleven kilometres to the government dispensary.
‘In December, we were asked to move the clinic to the new government office building, about a kilometre away. The special examination couch was moved there and three rooms were delegated for our use. As with some of our other mobile clinics, a small local market is starting on the clinic grounds. People are coming to sell vegetables, fruit, and eggs to those who attend the clinic.'
Giving and receiving ‘The leaders are very helpful and a local woman has been bringing chicken and rice for our lunch after the clinic.
'We pray that in 2016, we will see a continued growth in the number of women and children attending the clinic in Gawlolo, which a man of the Barbaig tribe told me means "belief".
‘It seems a fitting name for a place where the people’s hope and belief that we would come has been fulfilled!’
The fragrance of the Visitation
Sister Miranilza (Nilza) dos Santos, from Brazil, recently completed a BA in Sustainable Human Development at Tangaza University College in Nairobi. She is now on mission in Brazil. When, in 2015, MMM decided to close our house in Capim Grosso, Nilza and Sister Itoro Etokakpan were involved in the research to find another house, closer to our Sisters in Salvador, about a five-hour bus ride away. She wrote to us about moving on from Capim Grosso.
‘The Gospel tells us that Mary went in haste to the hill country to meet Elizabeth in her house to celebrate the wonders God had done for them. That event was an encounter between two ordinary women who were pregnant with hope, joy, and solidarity.
'They were chosen by God to bring people God´s plan of salvation. Mary climbed the hills to be with Elizabeth and together they shared their lives, struggles, hopes, fears, joys and uncertainties about the future. We are told that they were together for six months. This story of Visitation is also the story of MMM in Capim Grosso.'
An arid land ‘Capim Grosso is located 267 kilometres from Salvador, the capital of Bahia State. The climate is dry and very hot. The irregularity of rain is not promising for livestock-raising and farming, even though the soil is fertile.
‘The first missionary was Father Alfredo Maria Haasler, a Cistercian monk who was living in Jacobina, a town sixty-three kilometres away. Father Alfredo brought evangelization integrated with meeting the basic needs of the people, especially education and health care. He often travelled by horse from Jacobina. Later the Jesuit Fathers came.
‘In 1989, Sisters Eleanor Donovan, Ann White and Monica Ndege arrived. The town was small and in the peak of its development. The MMMs worked tirelessly for the betterment of the people.
'At the beginning, they lived in small rooms that were part of a pastoral centre where many parish functions still take place. They did pastoral work locally and in the outstations. They worked with the youth. They believed in the potential of young people and helped them to discern their vocations through pastoral animation.'
Using a variety of gifts ‘MMMs were also involved in the liturgy, administering the Sacrament of Baptism, witnessing marriages, and celebrating the Word of God with the people. They trained leaders of Small Christian Communities who helped to transform the people and encouraged communities to pull together to change oppressive structures. They empowered women in rural areas of the parish, fighting for the betterment of their lives through their involvement in the Movement of Women Workers. They used complementary therapy to promote women’s dignity and enhance their self esteem.
‘The Sisters promoted health care and established the Casa de Saúde Integral (Integrated House of Heath). They worked to reduce child malnutrition. With the people, they embraced the challenges of planning and implementing the water project. They were involved in constructing cisterns to ensure there was enough water during the dry season. They established the nursery and preschool for needy families of Planaltino neighborhood.'
Sharing memories ‘On the third Sunday of Advent the Church celebrates the joy of waiting for God’s revelation. It was in this spirit of joy that we MMMs celebrated the many ways we expressed the healing charism in Capim Grosso. We, like Mary and Elizabeth, met in the church and recalled how the Visitation encounter has been made so concrete in the twenty-six years we lived in this community.
‘We had a parish Mass at which the parish priest, Roberto, a recently-ordained Jesuit, presided. Afterwards we were welcomed in the home of one of our MMM Associates, where we had an enjoyable meal and shared our stories. During this special time we also had the Associates’ election. Suely was chosen as the coordinator of the MMM Associates in Capim Grosso. This gave us great hope as the group of twelve people willingly committed themselves to continue to carry on the healing charism and legacy that MMM has left in this soil.'
Giving thanks ‘In the evening we had another celebration with the community in Planaltino, the neighborhood where the MMMs lived. The people paid special tributes to the Sisters, expressing their gratitude and praying for good health for Sister Sheila Lenehan, one of those who stayed longest and was also the last to leave.
‘The Visitation story was recalled with tears in the eyes of the people. They expressed how the presence of the Sisters brought them encouragement and hope. One said, “This street won’t be the same and I feel emptiness when I remember that they are not there.”
‘Another said, “To know that they were there reminded me that God is close to us. I had many challenging times in my life and the Sisters always opened their door for me. Sometimes we did not need to get any natural medicine from them; it was an excuse to go there and be listened to.”'
God gives the increase ‘Hearing these words, I recall the ones used on the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero: “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.”1
'These words resound strongly in my heart. They were incarnated in our reality through the lives of MMMs and God’s people here. As missionaries we plant seeds that one day will grow, and many other times we water seeds already in the hearts of the people. They are resilient and have great faith. In their simplicity they offer everything they have to build God´s kingdom.
‘Thank you to all the Sisters who lived and worked here. We pray that our lives will always have the fragrance of the Visitation and that the seeds planted hold future promise.’
Sisters Itoro and Nilza have since told us that they moved into their new home in Cabaceiras do Paraguaçu on 19 February. On Sunday, 21 February, the priest introduced them during the Masses in the parish of Cabaceiras. They said, 'We will be relying so much on your prayers as we embark on this great adventure of faith.'
1Bishop Ken Untener: Words drafted for Cardinal Dearden for a Mass for deceased priests, November 1979
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