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Number 169 - December 2016
As we prepare for Christmas we are reminded that God is present among us and truly cares for us. Sadly today, as in Jesus’ time, our world is deeply affected by issues of war and conflict, uprooting of peoples, hunger and disease. Jesus asks us to continue to work with him to eliminate the causes of these problems and to bring God’s healing love to those affected. Several issues of global significance receive special attention in December.
World AIDS Day on 1 December is a reminder that HIV continues to be a serious health issue in many parts of the world. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 36.7 million people are living with HIV around the world and there were about 2.1 million new cases in 2015. While as of June 2016, 17 million people were receiving medicines to treat HIV, about 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the heaviest burden worldwide and accounts for 65% of all new infections (July 2016 fact sheet).
We mark International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December. Holding people in servitude persists in our time in the form of trafficking in persons. The desire to escape from poverty; the demand for commercial sex and human organs; pornography; the possibility of making huge profits; and gender inequality all fuel a global industry worth billions of dollars each year. According to a May 2014 report by the International Labor Organization, about 21 million victims, mainly women and children, are trapped in modern-day slavery.
On 3 December we observe International Day of Persons with Disabilities. People with physical and intellectual challenges often suffer from exclusion by society. In an address on 12 November, Pope Francis said that inclusion, an ‘aspect of mercy... reaches out to everyone without regard for social conditions, language, race, culture, or religion.’
He told the audience that inclusion is shown in the love of each person ‘as God loves them....God’s mercy, which excludes no one, challenges us to be merciful and open to the needs of others, especially the poor and all those who are weary and burdened. We, who have experienced that love and mercy, have a part to play in [God’s] saving plan, which embraces all of history’ (Vatican Radio).
Embracing all these themes is Human Rights Day on 10 December. It commemorates the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. As disrespect for basic human rights continues to be widespread around the globe, this year Human Rights Day calls on each person to stand up for someone's rights.
In our December e-newsletter you can read about Sister Martina, who celebrates 50 years of dedication and commitment to God and others. Sister Justina wrote about her involvement in efforts to combat human trafficking. Sister Phyllis described several activities that made inclusion a reality for people with disabilities and their families.
Thank you again for being a part of our healing mission this year. We remember you in prayer each day. Please pray for us as well.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
As we celebrate the great feast of the Incarnation, we remember that ‘the glory of God is [humanity] fully alive’ (St. Irenaeus).
A very golden jubilee
Another Medical Missionary of Mary, Sister Martina Moriarty, celebrated fifty years of commitment to God and of service to others this year. Martina was born Bridget Moriarty in Dingle, County Kerry in 1927. She qualified as a pharmacist in Dublin and worked for seventeen years in pharmacy before joining MMM in 1963. Her friend Ellen Campion, also a pharmacist, now known as Sister Aengus, joined with her. Apparently they hadn't said too much to each other about their plans until the big day!
After profession Martina worked in the pharmacy in the IMTH in Drogheda for three years. She was then assigned to Nigeria in 1969. There she served as a hospital pharmacist over the next thirty-one years. She worked first for four years in Abakaliki, followed by four years in Afikpo, where she also served in MMM leadership. In 1977 she moved to Ibadan, in the west of the country, where she spent twenty-three years at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Eleta. During that time she lived in the novitiate community nearby, sharing her wisdom and experience with women in their early years in MMM.
In 2000, Sister Martina returned to Ireland and has since lived at our MMM Motherhouse in Drogheda. Here she helps with hospitality in the nursing facility in Aras Mhuire.
Friendly and outgoing, Martina is known for her sense of humour and story-telling ability. She also enjoys a game of bridge.
Modern day slavery
Many people today associate slavery only with the horrors of the African slave trade, in which millions were sent to work on plantations in the Americas. A plaque in Elmina Castle in Ghana witnesses to this time and pledges: ‘May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this.’
International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December reminds us that slavery persists in our time in the form of trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, abusive child labour, forced marriage, and forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. It often involves discrimination against the most vulnerable in society. The US Department of State estimates that between 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year.
Sister Justina Odunukwe, from Nigeria, now based at our MMM community in Abuja, spent 27 years as a hospital administrator in Nigeria and Tanzania. While attending a renewal program in Berkeley, California in 2014 she became aware of the global reality of trafficking in persons.
She explained, ‘As part of my program, I helped at soup kitchens for homeless people. I visited rehabilitation centers for people with drug addiction and for young women, mainly from Mexico, who were trafficked and forced into prostitution. I learned that 60 to 80 percent of all immigrants working in the commercial sex industry in Italy are Nigerians.’
Laws need to be enforced In 2003 Nigeria enacted a law prohibiting trafficking in persons and passed the Child’s Rights Act Bill. Nevertheless, according to UNESCO, Nigeria remains a source, transit and destination country for victims of forced labour and sexual or physical exploitation, especially women and children. In 2008, the US Department of State noted that 46 percent of transnational victims were children. Even babies are sold for money. In 2006, UNESCO ranked trafficking as the third most common crime in Nigeria, after economic fraud and drug trafficking.
Sister Justina continued, ‘When I returned to Nigeria, I asked to work in the area of human trafficking. Our Congregational Plan encourages providing opportunities for ministering in such situations. The MMM West Africa Area Team advised me to help with an existing NGO or the government. In June 2016, I was accepted by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) as a volunteer.
‘NAPTIP headquarters is in Abuja. It has eight departments and one closed shelter for victims. I work at the shelter under the Counselling and Rehabilitation Department, where victims of human trafficking are offered accommodation, food, counselling, skills training, and eventually reunion with their families. Those in closed shelters are not allowed to leave until their legal cases are over. Often their traffickers are awaiting trial in NAPTIP detention cells. The legal department prosecutes, tries and sentences traffickers.
‘At the facility, professional counsellors, social workers, nurses, cleaners, a matron, cooks and security staff endeavour to create an atmosphere where residents, from 20 to 35 at any given time, feel accepted, loved and cared for. My work includes spiritual direction of victims of trafficking, listening to their stories and helping to deepen their experience of God. Ninety-nine percent are minors; ninety-five percent are young women rescued from forced prostitution from within and outside the country. The remainder are boys who are victims of exploitative child labour.
‘NAPTIP coordinates services and partners with other stakeholders both nationally and internationally. According to its records, 9,895 people were rescued and 291 traffickers were convicted from 2003 to 2014.’
The need for networking Sister Justina drew attention to the important work also being done by the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious. In 1999 it established the Committee for the Support of the Dignity of Women (COSUDOW) to counter the trafficking of Nigerian women and children. Its head office is in Benin City. About 90 percent of Nigerians who are trafficked leave the country through this city.
COSUDOW is involved in awareness-raising and prevention. It collaborates with other NGOs in developing materials and making radio announcements to warn about the tactics traffickers use. It helps with family tracing, emergency assistance and reintegration of women deported from countries of destination, particularly Italy. It works with NAPTIP and other NGOs to ensure that trafficked individuals and their families are protected from extortion and reprisals from their exploiters, and that traffickers are punished.
In November 2016, Sister Isabelle Smyth attended the assembly of RENATE (Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation) in Rome. The reports presented echoed Sister Justina’s experience. Isabelle said, ‘My consciousness of the huge problem of trafficking in Nigeria was raised. Benin City was mentioned again and again. The links between the Mafia in Sicily and the Mafia in Nigeria were emphasized.
‘I could not help thinking that those who die attempting to cross the Mediterranean may be more blessed than those who survive, given what faces them, despite the extraordinary efforts of the people of Italy and their government and churches to help them.
‘The speaker described one’s lot when her or his identity papers are taken. When the papers are sold and one’s fingerprints are associated with those of another person, it is next to impossible for the bureaucracies of our world to sort people out. Some people the speaker tried to help have had so many names and have been through so many ordeals they cannot remember their original name. Most of the women have been raped. It is impossible for many children to establish their country of origin.’
Underlying causes Justina pointed out that to bring about justice, people must be educated about the root causes of human trafficking and the domestic situations that sustain it.
Many Nigerians migrate to escape poverty and easily accept promises from recruiting agents. They are then held by threats of harm to themselves or their families. Law enforcement officials are frequently complicit in human trafficking.
Nigeria’s family and work cultures place high expectations on young people. It is very common to see underage children hawking goods to help their families. It is accepted practice for family members to take children, usually girls, from poorer members to serve as maids. Their families are paid for the work. When these children are placed in caring situations, some have received education or marketable skills. But others have been sexually and physically abused, made to provide labour beyond their capacity, trafficked and even murdered. Young adults are expected to contribute to immediate and extended families and to community development. If unable to do so, they and their families are vulnerable to the tricks of traffickers.
There is also the societal attitude towards childless marriages, which are considered an anomaly. In their desperation for a child of their own, some couples have engaged in secret and/or undocumented adoption. This has led to baby trafficking and the abduction of young girls who are forced to bear babies that are then sold for an exorbitant price.
What can we do? We can support the fight against human trafficking: • Become an advocate: Lend your voice to the international community of supporters who are refusing to look away. Utilize your online social platforms to spread awareness and connect others to this need. • Stand for justice in our communities, our places of work and in our families. • Give a gift to programmes that work to prevent trafficking and help rescue and restore young women and men to dignity and freedom. • Pray that human trafficking will be crushed, that justice will be done and lives will be freed from this modern day slavery.
Beautiful things can happen.
On 3 December we mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities. One of MMM’s great supporters, Jack Leonard, completed a Master’s degree in Applied International Human Rights Law and Practice at the University of York in 2015. He kindly agreed to contribute to this article by providing background information about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He began by explaining how he got to know us on the ground – as well as in the air!
‘I first met Medical Missionaries of Mary when I was working as a teacher in Turkana, Kenya, in 1971/72. The residents in Lodwar were Sisters Patrice O’Leary and Breege Breslin, plus the delightful Sister ‘Evang’ [Evangelist O’Connor]. I met Sisters Bernadette Gilsenan, Campion [Elaine] Campbell and Maura O'Donohue fairly frequently.
‘I sometimes flew with Sister Sean [Nina] Underwood, hitching lifts to and from Nairobi so that I could go to see my girlfriend, now wife, Patricia, in Meru, about 600 miles from Lodwar by road. Sister Sean taught me the rudiments of flying a small plane.’
Jack subsequently moved to London and qualified as a solicitor. After 35 years’ practice there he retired to Ampleforth, North Yorkshire, and began his mature studies. Ampleforth is near the college where Mother Mary Martin's brothers went to school, and Jack suggests it was probably the first Benedictine influence on her thinking.
His comments on the rights of people with disabilities are as follows:
‘After more than 25 years of negotiations, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) became part of international law on 3 May 2008. Since then it has become one of the fastest growing of all UN treaties with 167 ratifications by States, although Ireland and the USA have not yet done so.
'”Persons with disabilities” are defined as “all those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which ... may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
‘Article 1 provides that the purpose of the CRPD is “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” Article 3 sets out underlying principles such as respect for the individual, non-discrimination, equality between men and women and equal opportunities for full participation in society
‘The Convention includes many rights which already exist under other treaties, such as economic and cultural rights, but emphasises that they are equally applicable to persons with disabilities. In addition there are specific rights for the disabled, including access to information technology, a right to live independently, to personal mobility and rehabilitation. The States must raise awareness of these rights for persons with disabilities and ensure their access to, for example, transport, buildings and information.
‘Nations which have ratified the Convention are required to implement it by new laws and/or modifying or abolishing existing laws. National legislation may require an employer to make “reasonable accommodation” for an employee with disabilities, meaning that changes must not impose “a disproportionate or undue burden.” Governments may say that they have limited resources and many calls on those resources so that they cannot yet implement these rights in full.’
Applying human rights law The information that Mr. Leonard provided shows us how much farther we need to go to implement the CRPD. MMMs have been fighting to change the reality for many years. At our 2015 Chapter we recommitted ourselves ‘to be in solidarity with and empower the poor, the powerless and the marginalized.’
Sister Phyllis Heaney has devoted her life to working with people with disabilities in São Paulo, Brazil. Around 1991, she moved to a parish in Jardim Angela and began a ministry with people with intellectual disabilities. Meeting with Jean Vanier inspired her to form a Faith and Light community, in which families were encouraged to have a vision of 'living life to the full' (Jn 10:10).
Phyllis dreamed of having a house where children with these disabilities could stay while their mothers had one day a week to care for themselves. The target groups would be the most vulnerable, economically poor, and rejected from the area. Eventually, sufficient funding was raised to buy a suitable house. Nest of Hope is a welcoming centre with a garden. The image of a nest is from Jean Vanier, describing a safe, supported, and secure place that allows the young to fly when they are ready. The enterprising mothers decided to use the respite time to take jobs such as doing laundry to earn an income.
Another of Phyllis’ dreams came true with the establishment of The Forum for Included, which struggles for the rights of these special people, to be their voice to the authorities. It advocates for access to current services and for developing services that are needed.
Phyllis said that many beautiful things happened this year. ‘In October I was visiting with our health team in a place where people who have no housing and can’t afford rent, live in shacks on local government land. I met a young couple and their baby, and the husband’s mother with two more sons. One was twenty-one years old, deaf and dumb, and the other was twelve years old, autistic and almost blind. Neither Joe nor John have had any treatment and have no allowance benefit. Because of our work in The Forum we now have a centre for treatment and to look after the rights of our people with autism. Hopefully from now on life will be better for all. It is a great privilege to be here with them.’
‘Our Forum for Included has been working on perfecting a survey that will give us a breakdown of the number, type and density of people with disabilities in the entire area of Jardim Angela. This year the survey was completed in detail. Those who participated included all the co-ordination teams of the nineteen health centers, social workers in the area, members of Nest of Hope, and others with similar interests.
‘Now we are planning a seminar. We will invite our local government authorities - to hear and see and feel. Our hope is that they will become aware and respond to the urgent need for public services for all our disabled. We want them to hear the cry of our marginalized people!’
While much media attention this year was devoted to an international sports event in Rio de Janeiro, another celebration took place in São Paulo. ‘In our Forum, every year for about fifteen years we have had The Dance (or Ball) of Happiness, with all the intellectually limited persons in Jardim Angela and other areas. This time the theme was The Olympics, because we hosted them in Brazil. So we participated from Nest of Hope with a special dance. Then we had a fancy dress parade all together!
‘We had great fun and ALL won an Olympic medal. You should have seen our smiles and joy and those of the mothers, just beaming. Then we had a big party with presents. The place was full of joy and happiness and our families went home feeling valued, precious and special, including me and all our Forum and friends and volunteers. Praise and thanks to God!’
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