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Number 168 - November 2016
On 1 November we mark the feast of All Saints. In October, Pope Francis canonized seven new saints and in his homily emphasized the importance of prayer in their lives. ‘We addressed this prayer to the Lord: “Create in us a generous and steadfast heart, so that we may always serve you with fidelity and purity of spirit.” By our own efforts, we cannot give ourselves such a heart. Only God can do this....Thanks to prayer, [the saints] had a generous and steadfast heart. They prayed mightily; they fought and they were victorious.’
He continued, ‘Commitment to prayer demands that we support one another. Weariness is inevitable. Sometimes we simply cannot go on, yet, with the support of our brothers and sisters, our prayer can persevere until the Lord completes his work.’
Prayer is central to our lives as MMMs. ‘Prayer is the work that awakens your heart to the life of the Spirit in you’ (MMM Constitutions).
On All Souls’ Day, 2 November, we remember all who have died. It is a day to honour those we have known and loved. At this time it is also important to remember those who have died as a result of war and other forms of violence.
Reporting in the International Business Times on 13 September, Cristina Silva wrote, ‘The death toll from Syria's five-year civil war has reached 300,000 victims, devastating Syrian villages and cities and fueling a refugee crisis that has confounded political leaders in Europe and the Middle East.’
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 86,000 civilians were among those killed in the conflict. Hundreds of people were killed by airstrikes from Russian and Syrian warplanes; others were executed by the Islamic State group, killed by rebel groups, poor health conditions, booby trapped vehicles, explosions, landmines and sniper fire. More than half of Syria's population of 22 million has been displaced.
Many victims of this and other wars have sought safety elsewhere and paid a heavy price.
Sharing the profits: arms dealers and smugglers On 26 October, William Spindler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, wrote on Twitter, ‘This year has become the deadliest for migrants crossing the Mediterranean bound for Europe....We can now confirm that at least 3,800 people have died.’
In a UNHCR report on 31 May, Mr. Spindler noted, ‘[The boats] remain more crowded than those that have normally been seen on the Turkey-Greece route, often carrying 600 or more passengers, and sometimes being towed by larger fishing boats, which in turn puts them at risk.’
In that report, UNHCR repeated its call for more action to be taken to tackle people smugglers. Reports of trauma from sexual and other forms of gender-based violence among women making the journey or being trafficked appeared to be common. Mr. Spindler said, ‘Some women have told us they were subject to sexual slavery in Libya. We have also been seeing an increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children.’
So it is significant that International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is held on 25 November. The United Nations’ website states that 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
In this newsletter, you can read about Sister Aengus Campion, who is celebrating fifty years of dedicated service. A training centre marks twenty-five years of helping young Turkana women to develop their talents. We also tell you how MMMs and MMM Associates have grown in the understanding of the healing charism by reflecting together on their lives and ministry.
These stories illustrate the words from Pope Francis’ homily: ‘This is the Christian way of life: remaining steadfast in prayer, in order to remain steadfast in faith and testimony.’
Thank you once again for your interest and for sharing in our common missionary call. We remember you in prayer each day. Please pray for us as well.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
‘This is the kind of spiritual life the Church asks of us: not to win by war, but to win with peace!’ (Pope Francis)
Celebrating 50 years of dedication
Availability and adaptability are qualities much valued for Medical Missionaries of Mary. They can certainly be applied to Sister Aengus Campion, who marks fifty years of religious profession this year.
Born in Ballagh, County Laois in 1927, Ellen Campion qualified as a pharmacist and worked for ten years in retail pharmacy before joining MMM in 1963. She joined with her friend, Bridget Moriarty, also a pharmacist, now known as Sister Martina. They soon found themselves using their skills on opposite sides of the African continent.
About a year after profession, Aengus was assigned to Uganda, where she spent a year as a pharmacist in Kitovu before going to Tanzania for two years. After two more years back in Uganda she was asked to provide relief for a few months in Ethiopia. In 1973 she was once more in Uganda, this time for seven years.
After home leave in 1980, Aengus did mission awareness work in England for two years and for a year in Ireland. While serving as MMM vocation directress in Ireland for four years, she again returned to Uganda to work in the pharmacy for several months. She worked with the Sisters for Justice and did mission awareness for a short time in the USA.
In 1989 she returned to Malawi, serving as a pharmacist for eleven years in Saint John’s Hospital in Mzuzu and also as postulant directress. A cheerful, outgoing person, with a great sense of humour, she made many friends. She maintained contact with volunteers who came to Mzuzu even after they returned home. In 2000 she went to a new mission in Malawi at Chipini and spent two years at Chipini Health Centre.
Aengus returned to Ireland in 2003, and lived for eight years in the Templeogue community in Dublin. She showed her adaptability in taking on new ministries with her involvement in pastoral work and visits to prisoners. She was on our team for MMM Associates.
In 2011 she moved to the Motherhouse and was a member of Cana Community. Since 2013 Aengus has been in Aras Mhuire for nursing care but was able to be present at the Golden Jubilee celebrations in Drogheda.
We rejoice with Aengus at this special time. She has shared her many gifts with dedication and generosity in a life of healing service for others. We are grateful for the gift that she continues to be for MMM and for others, 'that the world may have life in all its fullness' (Jn 10:10).
Looking back with gratitude
Sister Maria Gonzaga Namuyomba is MMM Area Leader for East/Central Africa. On 7 July she received a very special invitation from Sister Mary Anne Williamson of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), in Kakuma, Kenya. There was to be a Silver Jubilee celebration for the Turkana Homecraft Centre on 12 July. MMM started the training centre in 1991.
Sister Mary Anne wrote: ‘We came across the date in our file just two weeks ago and realized it is the Silver Jubilee of this training centre, so we have tried to plan a jubilee as we say good-bye to our director and welcome a new FMM to take up the leadership.’
She continued: ‘We want you to know of the event and to give the Sisters our thanks as we celebrate. May God reward all the hard work and missionary efforts of your Sisters, who were the pioneers of evangelization here in Turkana.'
How it began In 1961 Mother Mary Martin received a request for Sisters to serve in Kenya with the nomadic Turkana people. Their way of life had been disrupted by torrential rain following two years of drought. Loss of human and animal life was devastating.
The first MMMs, Sisters Elaine (Campion) Campbell and Andrea Kelly, travelled to their new home in March 1962. They were to start a dispensary at the famine camp at Nadapal. Sister Andrea recalled the long journey from Kitale. ‘Crammed to capacity in a Volkswagen Beetle, with Father Paddy Cullen, SPS, driving and Sister Assumpta, OSU, we left the coffee plantations of Kitale...Only the thrill of adventure, knowing we were responding to a stricken people's call for help, and the sense of God's call to be missionaries kept our hearts up.'
Their ‘convent’ was made of corrugated iron sheets held together with wooden beams, with a roof hovering over it. Andrea described the camp site. 'The first sight of Nadapal famine camp was emotional. The people had been told we were coming to help them. As we approached they came running. The sounds of greeting were deafening. Were we afraid? No, it was the realization of a dream.’
Sister Bernadette Gilsenan arrived in September 1962 and quickly put all her skills to use. She described the early days. ‘The famine camp was about two hundred yards from our house. Little beehive huts were provided for the people. Some had to walk several miles to reach the camp. Children got separated from their parents. Some were never found. Some were so weak that even the food and milk were no help.
‘My task was to care for the children and see that they got at least one cup of milk a day. Soon their little stomachs began to shine and they grew stronger. The challenge was to find some way to keep them occupied so I started to teach them how to write their names in the sand with their fingers and little sticks and to count with stones. Soon the first school became a reality. It was a dream-come-true because these were the first children to be educated. I was their first teacher.
‘Several hundred attended the clinic each day. Sister Campion diagnosed their illnesses. Sister Andrea gave the injections. When I was free I gave out the oral medicines. Every evening we gathered to celebrate the Eucharist and after supper we would play cards or have a sing-song. The weeks and months passed very quickly and we grew to love the people. They were happy days without doubt.’ Many more MMMs followed. In collaboration with the government they brought health care and development throughout Turkana, beginning from a small health centre. With community-based programmes people began to take responsibility for their own health. Many of the children Sister Bernadette worked with went on to higher education and training and contributed to the development of their country.
Fast forward thirty years In our MMM healing mission, our particular concern is the care of mother and child and the fostering of family life. It took time before Turkana girls began attending school regularly. It was felt that many would benefit from technical training rather than a more structured education. In 1991 the Turkana Homecraft Centre began with Sister Bernadette Gilsenan as the first director, followed by Sister Ignatius Rooney. Kakuma was chosen as the location because it was easily accessible from most parts of the region.
Young women learned about nutrition, cooking, health education, child care, home and money management, dressmaking, and arts and crafts. Local materials were used in teaching so they could later be adapted for use in homes. The training has helped the girls to face the challenges of their changing society while preserving their own culture and traditions as much as possible. They were encouraged to recognise and develop their own abilities and to pass on their skills to others.
When MMM handed over the homecraft centre, Ursuline Sisters initially coordinated the training. Bishop Mahon requested the FMMs to take on the administration in 2001. Now called Saint Clare of Assisi's Homecraft Centre, it has been re-registered as Saint Clare of Assisi Training Institute. A teacher training programme has begun and more courses are planned.
Part of our legacy Many of the MMM pioneers in Turkana have died, most recently Sister Bernadette Gilsenan. Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe, who had just visited Kakuma in connection with her work with Capacitar, wrote on 8 August to tell us: ‘I rang Sister Mary Anne Williamson this morning and told her about Bernadette. We had been speaking about her while I was in Kakuma. Mary Anne is informing the parish and she will be specially remembered.
‘One day after Mass, I met two men, Ignatius and Patrick. They remembered Sisters Campion, Andrea, Bernadette, Sean (Nina) Underwood, Anna Friel, and many others.
‘At Kakuma Refugee Camp, Robert, a teacher, told me that Bernadette started the first school in Lorogumu. At Sunday Mass on 31 July, Father Charles, a local priest, invited me to greet the people. I did so on behalf of MMM. I said that many MMMs were praying for them and that they had many friends already in heaven.’
We cherish our story in Turkana and all those who shared it with us. We are grateful to the many wonderful people who supported us. We are especially grateful to our Sisters, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who have continued the work and remembered us at this time of celebration.
Sister Mary Anne added a P.S. to her note: ‘Just to let you know: Kakuma Mission Hospital will celebrate its Golden Jubilee on 30 July, also the great contribution of the MMM Sisters to the Turkana people.’
What are we being called to now?
As Medical Missionaries of Mary, we have received a special gift, or charism, of healing. A charism is a gift to be used for the community. It is not something we cling to for ourselves. At our Tenth Congregational Chapter we called ourselves ‘to find creative ways to mutually deepen and share our charism with MMM Associates (AMMMs) and co-workers.’ Our Congregational Plan for 2016 to 2019 also reminds us that we are not the only bearers of the healing charism. Our world is very different from that experienced by our foundress and the other early MMMs. Our core value of creative fidelity is ‘about keeping the message of the Gospel, the charism of our congregation and our commitment fresh, alive and relevant by constantly seeking new ways of being.’ We are asking, ‘What are we being called to now?’
Our MMM Associates have much to contribute to our understanding of what it means to live out the gift of healing. Along with vowed members of MMM, they hear a call to a global healing mission. They live out their Christian commitment in a way that respects the uniqueness of their own vocation and life choices. As Pope Francis said in his message for World Mission Sunday, ‘All of us are invited to "go out" as missionary disciples, each generously offering their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family.’
Our MMMs and AMMMs in Brazil and Honduras have been enriched by reflecting together on their lives and ministry.
MMM Associates in Brazil Sister Ursula Cott started the group in Salvador in October 1999. In the first few years many people came and went. Eventually small numbers began to meet regularly and gradually deepened their understanding of the meaning of healing. Some made covenants as AMMMS. When some chose not to continue, they remained on friendly terms with MMM.
In 2016 five members renewed their covenants and the group meets monthly in our house in Amaralina. New participants are encouraged. Preparation of the meeting is rotated and themes are drawn up at planning meetings. Some Associates are also our co-workers and three AMMMs are active in the MMM Consolation Project. Sister Sheila Campbell is the present mentor.
Sister Siobhan Corkery started Associate membership in Capim Grosso in 1997. Later Sister Sheila Lenehan continued as mentor, followed by Sister Itoro Etokakpan. In May 2016, six Associates renewed their covenants and four made their first covenant.
Suely from Capim Grosso works in the Casa de Saude, a health project that we started. She is the local AMMM coordinator. The others are also eager to see the links between their daily lives and the healing charism. When MMM moved from Capim Grossi this year, the Associates willingly committed themselves to continue sharing the gift that MMM has left there, which gave us great hope.
In October 2016, the Associates in Salvador and Capim Grosso met in our new house in Cabaceiras do Paraguaçu. They discussed our MMM core values and what it means to be an AMMM in today’s world.
Living the healing gift in Honduras From the very beginning in Choloma, Honduras we shared the translated MMM Constitutions with our staff in Casa Visitacion. We used them for providing information about MMM, for reflection in monthly team meetings, and during annual retreats. Some team members and parishioners who were closely associated with the MMM healing ministry asked about becoming Associates. The first Choloma AMMMs made their covenants in 2013 and seven renewed in 2015. There were two new Associates in December 2015.
They are involved in a variety of ministries, including Casa Visitacion. For example, Roberto Rodriguez is a teacher and is very active in his parish. His wife, Claudia, is also an AMMM. Maribel Carranza is a volunteer in the Casa Visitacion pastoral social ministry. She is a nurse aide in a parish dispensary. Maria Suyapa is a lawyer and a member of the Casa Visitacion Advisory Board.
They usually meet at the MMM Sisters’ house in Colonia San Miguel. They use the book ‘The Rule of Saint Benedict for Lay Persons’ for prayer and reflection and receive handouts of translations from MMM documents related to spiritual enrichment.
The Associates in Choloma planned a wide variety of activities this year, expressing their commitment to the poor. They bought food such as beans and rice from the mountain community of Majaine, which the outreach team visits monthly. This helps the people to earn some income. Then food baskets were prepared and given to the very poor in our area.
In August 2016 the AMMMs joined the MMM Sisters at the diocesan vocation festival in San Pedro Sula. The Associates shared enthusiastically with the youth groups that visited the MMM exhibits. Lilian demonstrated clay therapy to volunteers while Sister Cleide exhibited and sold her beautifully decorated handicrafts.
When pupils and their parents celebrated National Children’s Day with the Casa Visitacion Reinforcement of Education Team, AMMMs Sirleny, Sandra, Jessica, Maribel participated, as did Lilian’s daughters. Associates have been involved in fund-raising for Casa Visitacion projects. Searching together Every year, the MMM Associates have had an annual retreat. Our spirituality is based on that of Saint Benedict, with its emphasis on a balance of prayer and work, of moderation and respect for individual needs, and hospitality. The AMMMs in Honduras had input on Benedict and his Rule during their meetings. In keeping with our call to find creative ways to mutually deepen and share our charism, the Sisters provided AMMMs and co-workers with an opportunity to have a short retreat at a Benedictine monastery. The nearest one is in Esquipulas, Guatemala, where the site has been a place of pilgrimage since Spanish colonial times in the 1500s. The Benedictine monks administer the nearby basilica and attend to thousands of pilgrims from around the world.
From 4 to 6 February 2016, MMMs, Associates, and other Casa Visitacion staff reflected on their personal journeys at the abbey. They joined the monks for morning prayers at the basilica, followed by the Eucharist, and had their meals with the monks. The retreat master provided conferences on the Benedictine motto ‘ora et labora’ (prayer and work). This material was used later for reflections during staff team meetings. The silent and prayerful atmosphere and the deep faith of the pilgrims was a deep and unforgettable experience for the group.
In Marcala, there are seven Associates and a new candidate. They meet every month and reflect on different themes, including the Jubilee of Mercy and Laudato Si by Pope Francis. This year the theme of the retreat was Peace in Our World, encouraging participants to be signs of peace in their ministries.
Most of them work in pastoral care and support some of the families in a remote area. They want to continue their journey with us and keep the MMM charism alive in their work. Next year they plan to meet the Associates from Choloma. It will be a great opportunity for them to share their experience as AMMMs.
There are now over 140 MMM Associates in 17 countries on 6 continents.
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