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Number 186 - September/October 2018
International Day of Peace is observed annually on 21 September. This year’s theme - The Right to Peace: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70 - demonstrates how achieving peace is inextricably linked to human rights issues. A landmark document, the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations (UN Events Day website).
The UN Member States understood that building a peaceful world would not be possible without economic and social development and universal justice and equality. In 2015 they adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.
An echo of these concerns is found in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, agreed by the Second Vatican Council at its conclusion in 1965: ‘The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well’ (Para1). The Council had been urged to become engaged in social responsibility for suffering in the developing world, for international peace and war, and the poor.
Our MMM Plan also states that our lives ‘will be influenced by the painful realities of our times’, so these issues determine the ministries in which we are involved. Several receive special attention during September and October.
Charities and individuals have undertaken a significant role in alleviating human suffering and humanitarian crises. In recognition, 5 September is designated as International Day of Charity. Occurring on the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, it is, in part, a tribute to her work and dedication.
International Literacy Day is observed on 8 September. While basic reading and writing skills are crucial for one's self-esteem and functioning in society, studies indicate great literacy and digital skills gaps among large adult populations even in developed countries (OECD 2016 - Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills).
The Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Patroness of the Missions, is marked on 1 October. A woman who experienced great mental and physical suffering, at times she wondered if God even existed. Nevertheless, Thérèse had a radical trust of God’s love for her. She discovered the importance of living the ordinary events of everyday well. ‘What matters in life,’ she wrote, ‘is not great deeds, but great love.’
October 1 is also International Day for Older Persons. Globally, there are now about 700 million people over the age of 60. It is predicted that by 2050, this figure will have risen to 2 billion. The increase will be greatest and most rapid in the developing world, with Asia having the largest number of older persons. Africa faces the largest proportionate growth. Greater attention to the special challenges faced by many older people is needed. Just as important is the essential contribution that the majority of older men and women continue to make to society. How appropriate that the theme for 2018 is ‘Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions’!
‘Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art’ (Eleanor Roosevelt).
World Mental Health Day is marked on 10 October. In 2018 the World Federation for Mental Health focuses on young people and mental health in a changing world. Many young people today are affected by human rights violations, wars and violence in the home, schools and businesses. Because they spend much of their time on the internet they may experience cyber crimes and bullying, and play violent video games. LGBTQ youth may feel alone and experience discrimination. Suicide and substance abuse have been rising steadily. We need to give more attention and support to this vulnerable population.
Other critical issues are highlighted by World Food Day on 16 October and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 815 million people worldwide still suffer from hunger even though the world produces enough food to feed everyone: 60% of them are women. Of the world’s extreme poor, 80% live in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture.
Disarmament Week from 24 – 30 October calls our attention to seeming inconsistencies in what nations pledge and what they practice. In an article on 2 May 2018, Shafi Musaddique of CNBC quoted research from The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showing that global military spending rose to $1.7 trillion last year, an increase of 1.1 per cent on 2016. It said that military spending in 2017 amounted to 2.2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to $230 per person.
It stated that China spent $228 billion on its military in 2017. Saudi Arabia spent $69.4 billion, the third highest. European nations increased their military spending and the 29 member nations of NATO spent a total of $900 billion on arms in 2017, over half of the global total. The USA spent more than any other country in the world.
Jan Eliasson, chair of the SIPRI Governing Board, said, ‘Continuing high world military expenditure ... undermines the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts around the world.’
By contrast, the World Health Organisation’s World Malaria Report 2017 stated that in 2016, governments of malaria endemic countries and international partners invested about US$ 2.7 billion in malaria control and elimination efforts globally. The USA was the largest international source of malaria financing in 2016, providing US$ 1 billion (38%). Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Until we ‘do the math’ and discover it is less than 0.06% of the total spent on weapons in 2017.
In this newsletter you can read several stories about MMMs and Associates. Their search for meaning and holiness in their lives involves constant reflection as well as engagement in today’s issues in practical and tangible ways. There is the opening of the MMM Healing Centre in Wau, South Sudan. A volunteer at our Motherhouse shares precious memories of Ireland and Brazil. An MMM describes her journey as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela and an MMM Associate shares her own search for meaning and holiness in the context of family life.
Thank you for your continued interest and support. We remember you and your intentions in prayer each day.
Sister Carol Breslin, MMM
‘The greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall’ (Nelson Mandela).
A Centre for Healing at Eastern Bank
The MMM Healing Centre in Eastern Bank, Wau was opened on 31 May 2018. Sisters Josephine Nabisere and Magdalene Upev described the event, the culmination of much planning, collaboration and prayer. It took place on the feast of the Visitation. This day, celebrating Mary’s joyful encounter with Elizabeth, is a special day of inspiration for MMMs.
‘We had been praying for good weather for the celebration but the day began with showers! The farmers were possibly praying to God for rain and it was a blessing for it to come on the feast of the Visitation. Nevertheless we were disturbed when it continued until 9:00 a.m. It was “all hands on deck”, including the guests, who helped us to set up the venue. We three MMMs were running around the place to get ready because it seemed it would be impossible to start at 10:00 a.m. Others helped as well: City Star Security Company kindly sent extra guards for the day.
‘We began with Mass, presided over by Father Marco Mangu, Administrator of the Diocese of Wau. Other diocesan and religious priests from the diocese concelebrated. The students of Loyola Secondary School formed the choir and sang beautifully in English and Arabic. Father Anthony Ocheng, SJ, who celebrates our community Mass, had helped us to prepare the students for the occasion. During the liturgy, Sisters Irene, Josephine and Magdalene renewed their vows by devotion. This was an opportunity for the people to witness what we profess as MMMs.’
Josephine and Magdalene said that after Communion, Father Germano Bernardo, former vicar general of the diocese, spoke about the beginnings of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Eastern Bank. He explained that the late Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak invited MMM to Wau at the end of 2008.
Later, Sister Kay Lawlor, then MMM Area Leader for East/Central Africa, met Bishop Majak in Nairobi. Kay sent the details of his request to our new Congregational Leadership Team and an exploratory visit was arranged in March 2011. Father Bernardo was assigned to take the Sisters to the different parts of Western Bahr El Gazal, now Wau State. They were shown several places of great need in the diocese, which covers 160,000 square kilometers. Despite the challenges they were welcomed everywhere they went. Project staff emphasized collaboration and self-reliance. We finally chose the open land that today houses the MMM Healing Centre.
Cutting the ribbon The Sisters' description continued: ‘The inauguration of the healing centre began with a speech by Sister Irene Balzan, programme coordinator. She described the history of the work of MMM at Eastern Bank and the activities of the MMM Community-Based Health Care Programme (CBHC). In the past five years we have worked closely with the local communities. We helped with sack gardening, drilling of boreholes, training of hand pump mechanics, health education, and the ongoing expanded programme on immunization (EPI).
‘Mr. Moses Ukel was awarded a certificate as a trained vaccinator. He was sponsored by the MMM CBHC in collaboration with the EPI Department of the Ministry of Health in Wau. This was an important achievement for the programme because it has been challenging to get someone who is committed.
‘Mrs. Theresa Anyuat, Honorable Advisor for Gender, represented the Governor of Wau State. She cut the ribbon and officially opened the MMM Healing Centre. The State Minister of Health, Dr. James Ibrahim Patrice, unveiled a plaque bearing the names of donors. While Father Mangu and the other priests blessed the centre, Dr. Patrice and Mrs. Anyuat had a tour of the compound. Dr. Patrice thanked MMM for their work in Wau Diocese and encouraged the continued collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the Church.
‘Then the cake was cut and everyone got a piece. The students of Loyola Secondary School performed a colourful cultural dance. Some of the Sisters and priests joined them - as did the Ministers!
‘After the long day we all had lunch, served in the beautifully decorated rooms of the antenatal and social departments in the centre. We shared the meal with the neighborhood children. It was wonderful to see their joy over their portions of rice, beans, bread and meat.
‘We are sincerely grateful to our MMM Sisters around the world, our MMM Associates, donors, family members and friends, who supported us for the opening of the MMM Healing Centre.’
Forever in Our Hearts
Cira Franca has known MMM Sisters from our earliest days in São Paulo, Brazil. She worked hard, founded a school with her husband, and was blessed with two now grown-up children. Grateful to God for everything she has received in life, she volunteered to help in our busy Motherhouse for three months. Described as 'having boundless energy and moving with a spring in her step', she recalled highlights of her experience when she returned home to Brazil at the end of June 2018.
‘My desire to volunteer with the Medical Missionaries in Mary in Drogheda came from knowing the MMM Sisters in Brazil. I first met Sisters Brigid McDonagh and Anna Friel in 1973, when I was thirteen. At that time the Sisters treated and cared for people who were sick. I helped them with patient files and facilitated translations of Portuguese conversations.
‘Over the years other Sisters arrived: Phyllis Heaney, Ann White, Eleanor Donovan, Anne Moran and Sheila Campbell. I continued to help with the work in parishes and always noticed how they related to people. It was a relationship in which the spirit of generosity, love, faith, and healing was manifested.
‘In January 2018 I was already retired. I wrote to ask if I could come as a volunteer to Beechgrove. Two weeks later, I received a letter explaining what activities I could help with and was invited to the Motherhouse. So I was able to share my gifts and appreciation for the great work that the MMMs have done in Brazil.
‘I arrived in Beechgrove at the special time of Easter - of resurrection and new life. There was nothing more precious that to begin this period in my life inspired by the example of Jesus. I placed the Risen Christ in command of my actions and now I believe that I lived meaningful experiences where attention, care, love and faith were abundant.
The joy of simple things ‘In a relationship of caring and healing, I accompanied Sisters to the hospital and clinics and helped in the laundry room and the stamp department. As we cut and classified stamps we listened to music and news and chatted in a relaxed atmosphere. Different ideas were heard and respected.
‘I listened to the Sisters’ stories, songs, and poetry, and what inspired them to join MMM. These were moments of insight, learning and meeting with God. I had many pleasant walks with the Sisters. Some were quiet and contemplative; others involved a lot of conversation about the history and geography of the area.
‘I spent many afternoons in Aras Mhuire nursing facility, participating in and helping with activities. I could recreate with the Sisters and take them into the garden to enjoy the sun. Sister Majella, who loves flowers, asked me to remove the old leaves and dry branches of the rose bushes. At about 4:00 p.m. everyone was waiting for Sister Gabriel to guide the afternoon prayer. With her encouragement I read some prayers and helped with the singing.
The inner journey ‘I discovered more possibilities to be closer to God by participating in Christian Meditation, particularly with Sister Noreen’s Smyth’s group on Thursday nights. This is helping me to deepen my spirituality. Two other sacred gifts I received were visiting Knock and Glenstal Abbey with MMMs from Africa who came for the Heritage Experience. When I had free time I was able to appreciate Irish nature and culture.
‘Can you imagine how important it was to meet and be with the Sisters who were in Brazil? They still carry the Brazilian people in their hearts. I also carried the good memories of the times we shared.
‘Time flew by and it was time to leave. These three months of living were very enriching for me. The experience of volunteering showed that our intention is to offer help, but we end up receiving, mainly affection and learning. I returned home renewed in the Spirit of God, with new plans to extend in Brazil the experiences I have had here.
‘Thank you for your warm welcome and the friendship. Everlasting gratitude to all of you.’
Following the Camino
From 31 May to 7 June 2018, Sister Isabelle Smyth joined the thousands of pilgrims who today follow the Camino (highway), leading to the shrine of Saint James the Greater in Compostela in northern Spain. She was part of her parish group from Booterstown, Co. Dublin, who walked the final 100 kilometres of the ‘French Way' of the pilgrimage. This is the most popular route to the shrine. The total covers 780 kilometres (nearly 500 miles), from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz, France to Santiago.
Isabelle explained that many legends contribute to the story of the Camino de Santiago. According to the official history, in the ninth century a shepherd discovered the body of Saint James the Great (San Tiago) in a field in Galicia. Saint James, patron saint of Spain and Portugal, was the first of the Apostles to be martyred. He was beheaded in Jerusalem in the first century. According to one legend, his remains were transported to Galicia by two disciples in a boat led by angels. Somehow his body was then buried in a field there.
These stories were the basis for the pilgrimage route that soon evolved. The shrine became the most famous pilgrimage site in the Christian world. People travelled from all over Europe and beyond, so many different routes developed, all converging on Santiago, where a cathedral was built. The route was highly travelled during the Middle Ages, but it declined with the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe.
While there was renewed interest at the end of the 19th century, it was only during the last quarter of the 20th century that the current revival began.
Isabelle commented that ‘a pilgrimage is a deeply spiritual experience, but very different from a retreat. Far from drawing apart into a personal silent zone, a pilgrimage is a time to journey with others, whether old acquaintances, new friends, or total strangers. You walk for a few kilometres together, learning something as you reflect on what you have shared, and then take time alone to grapple with the questions unique to each person: “Why did I come here?” and “Where is my life going now?” I met many pilgrims who had walked for four to six weeks over hundreds of kilometres.
‘It rained pretty steadily for five of the six days of our pilgrimage. Having grown up in Ireland, I was better equipped to walk in the rain at 10 degrees than I would have been in hot sunshine!
‘A thousand fibres connect us’ (H. Melville). ‘The permanent gift that remains with me is the awareness that on each day’s long walk, we pilgrims had the feeling of being carried by the waft of spiritual energy created by the millions of pilgrims who had passed this way before. The scenery, much of the time, was spectacular; the closeness to nature awesome; the welcome at each village coffee stop deeply touching.’
A stamped credencial, or pilgrim’s passport, must be presented at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago to earn the Compostela, a certificate of completion given to pilgrims who walk the last 100 kilometres or cycle the last 200 kilometres.
Isabelle said, ‘The stretch was actually 115 kilometres, I think. I did get my diploma. To reach the Cathedral Square at Santiago is every pilgrim's goal and a very special grace-filled experience. The cathedral is packed for Mass every day at noon. We were advised to be there one hour earlier to get a seat. There was a lot of talk and excitement, despite appeals for silence, but once Mass began a great reverence descended. At the end of Mass the enormous thurible associated with Santiago began to swing in its huge arc in front of the altar. Incense filled the cathedral, with the circling smoke filmed on thousands of smart phones.
‘I would not have missed this for anything! If you ever get the opportunity of making this, or a similar pilgrimage, plan well, ensuring the distances you walk match your ability. Train well to be as fit as you can be, but remember the real challenge should be more spiritual than physical. Leave all your expectations behind, and open your pilgrim heart to the gift of the moment.’
A Variety of Gifts
In the document Rejoice and Be Glad, Pope Francis reminds us of the universal call to holiness. ‘The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts’ (Para 12.).
While we each search for our path to holiness, ultimately we live our call as part of the body of Christ. ‘We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another’ (Rom 12:4 NRSV). In living out our individual vocations, it can be helpful to find others who share our values and who give us support. Some do this by joining a religious community or society with a special gift or charism that attracts its members. MMM has a charism of healing. People who work with and support these groups may also be attracted by the charism and feel drawn to live it in a deeper way. Groups of Associates have evolved as a response.
Moira Brehony and her husband Eamonn have been part of the MMM Associate movement since its beginnings. Sister Winifred Ojo, of the Saint Louis Sisters’ Central Leadership Team, asked Moira to present her experience to the associates of the Sisters of St. Louis (SSL). Mainly a teaching congregation, the SSLs have associates in West Africa, the USA and Ireland.
Encouraging collaboration At the invitation of the Saint Louis Sisters, twenty-five SSL Associates and Sisters gathered in Paris, France from 27 May to 2 June 2018. The meeting had a number of aims, including facilitating greater understanding of associate membership; taking responsibility for formation programs; and assisting greater understanding and ownership of the Saint Louis mission and charism. In addition to Moira’s reflections there was input by Father Patrick Mwania, CSSp, of Tangaza College, Nairobi, about the participation of the laity in the Church and how this could be developed.
The charism of the Saint Louis Sisters is ‘May all be One’. It calls them ‘to grow towards oneness in Christ and to foster right relationships with God and the whole of creation.’ That certainly resonates with our MMM charism! The SSLs are called ‘especially to stand in solidarity with those who have no choice - the poor and marginalised.’
Always room for growth Moira explained: ‘The MMM Associate movement was founded following a request that Eamonn and I made to the Congregational Chapter of 1997. There were a number of meetings in Dublin with the Congregational Leadership Team, including people with similar interests from other countries like the USA and UK.
‘Initially the movement spread mainly in the USA, where people were more familiar with the concept. It was also in the USA that the first associates made covenants. During this time Eamonn and I undertook the preparation programme to become associates where we lived and worked with the Sisters in Tanzania.
‘There we were assigned an MMM mentor. We joined the Sisters for morning and evening prayer and other prayers and attended daily Mass in the local church. Our spiritual life continued to develop.
‘MMM invited us to work with them as associates in Africa, where we set up the MMM Mapambazuko Training Centre for short courses for local community-based and non-governmental organisations and religious groups. Our work in Tanzania was a landmark for MMM because both Eamonn and I were working with the congregation, doing work that was previously done only by the Sisters. Eamonn was a course facilitator and I was the manager of the centre.
A variety of possibilities ‘Association to me is a deep form of commitment as it encompasses a way of life. It involves how we live and what we do through giving witness to Christian values. This is through fidelity in our marriage and praying together as a couple, with the MMM Sisters, and in our local Catholic and community church. We are called to a special relationship with MMM in ministering to all people according to the charism, mission and core values.
‘The congregation gave us a lot of freedom in how the movement evolved and developed. Now associates have a fully developed structure detailing the orientation process, with roles and responsibilities for both the congregation and the associates. Each associate works out his/her own way of being involved.
‘As an MMM Associate I now administer a Village Primary Health Care Outreach Programme with the Tanzania Ministry of Health. Now in its third year, until October 2017 it was managed by an MMM. She was due for upgrading and I was requested to take over the responsibilities. We have signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health and the programme is going from strength to strength.
‘I am both a member and an elder of a lay-led ecumenical Christian Community Church, which enhances my scope to live as a committed Christian. I serve on a Christian education committee that is responsible for teaching children Christian values and an understanding of the life of Jesus. I regularly lead services and select bible passages and hymns, which make our services participative and attractive to all age groups.
‘In our local MMM community, I take my turn to lead the Divine Office and sometimes initiate a special service, e.g. Ash Wednesday, a special MMM feast, etc. I also feel so privileged to be a Eucharistic minister in our local Catholic church.
‘Being an MMM Associate has given me the skills and the confidence to explore ways that I, as a lay person, can help and influence others.’
The meeting in Paris was an opportunity for Moira to share her experience and encourage others on their own paths to holiness.
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