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Number 180 - January 2018
In his Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace on 1 January 2018, Pope Francis said: ‘Among these whom I constantly keep in my thoughts and prayers, I would once again mention the over 250 million migrants worldwide, of whom 22.5 million are refugees....
‘In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands....By practising the virtue of prudence, government leaders should take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate and, “within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good, to permit [them] to become part of a new society.”
At the same time, he said, ‘Leaders have a clear responsibility towards their own communities, whose legitimate rights and harmonious development they must ensure.’
Dealing with the causes of displacement At the same time, he pointed out, ‘to this date, the new century has registered no real breakthrough: armed conflicts and other forms of organized violence continue to trigger the movement of peoples within national borders and beyond.’
It is not helpful that there are ‘those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace. [They] are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great concern for all those concerned for the safety of every human being. All indicators available to the international community suggest that global migration will continue for the future. Some consider this a threat. For my part, I ask you to view it with confidence as an opportunity to build peace.
‘The wisdom of faith fosters a contemplative gaze that recognizes that all of us “belong to one family: migrants and the local populations that welcome them...Migrants and refugees do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures. They enrich the lives of the nations that receive them.
Pope Francis stressed the example of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, ‘a remarkable woman, who devoted her life to the service of migrants and became their patron saint’. Quoting Saint John Paul II, he said, ‘If the “dream” of a peaceful world is shared by all, if the refugees’ and migrants’ contribution is properly evaluated, then humanity can become more and more a universal family and our earth a true “common home”.’
On 1 January, we honour Mary, Mother of God, who was well acquainted with the joys and stresses of life. Deeply troubled by the announcement of God’s plans for her, she later had to give birth in less than ideal circumstances, far from the support of her family and friends. Not long after his birth she was told that her son would be a sign that would be opposed. Soon she was forced to flee her country because of a tyrant’s jealousy. She suffered anguish when her son was lost for several days as a twelve-year-old and finally saw him die the death of a criminal.
She was often left pondering the meaning of these events, searching for peace in her life. Yet instead of running away, Mary was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry. She prompted him, perhaps unknowingly, to perform his first miracle. She stood at the foot of the Cross. After the Resurrection, we see this woman of faith praying in the heart of the Church with the other disciples, awaiting the coming of the Spirit. She, the Queen of Peace, is our inspiration as Medical Missionaries of Mary. And God constantly tells her – and us: ‘Do not be afraid.’
In this newsletter, you can read how MMMs in our Motherhouse help to provide peaceful spaces in the lives of ordinary people. Other Sisters work to build networks to eliminate the crime of human trafficking. ‘We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers.’ (Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi, 2017). The last article tells the story of one of our Sisters who embodied the qualities of one fully committed to God and to the service of others in MMM.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
‘You, O God, are the Holy One who gathers us together in the womb of our earth. May we reverence the life you gave us in Jesus through Mary, our mother’ (The People’s Companion to the Breviary, Vol. I: Carmelites of Indianapolis).
'Prayer should be short and pure' (Rule of St. Benedict).
MMMs and MMM Associates are encouraged to develop our understanding of the ways in which we participate in Jesus’ healing mission. ‘Reflect on the signs of the times...In faith and humility, respond to God with creative fidelity and allow the Spirit to unfold the charism (gift) that is given to you’ (MMM Constitutions). We are called to share that gift in prophetic ways, ‘to be agents of peace, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and non-violent living’ (Acts of 10th Cong. Chapter).
Writing in 1933, Marie Martin described her attraction to Benedictine spirituality, which she felt would give us ‘a solid spiritual foundation as well as the freedom of soul so necessary for the members of an active medical missionary society’. She saw the need ‘for a very solid, intense and interior life of love and union with God. The Sisters must be so trained as to seek God in all.’
Responding to people's expressed need to find a point of silence and stillness in their lives, Sister Noreen Smyth coordinates a John Main meditation group that meets weekly at our Motherhouse in Drogheda, Ireland.
Seeking God1 John Main was a Benedictine monk who introduced many people to Christian meditation. Born Douglas Main in London in 1926, he enjoyed visiting his father’s family in Ballinskelligs, Kerry. He was influenced by the story of the sixth century monks who lived on Skellig Michael, off the coast. After serving in the Royal Signals in the British Army at the end of World War II, he studied law at Trinity College, Dublin. He then entered the British Diplomatic Service and was posted to Malaya, on the governor’s staff.
One day he was sent on an official visit to thank a Hindu monk for his work running an orphanage and ashram in Kuala Lumpur. He sensed that he was in the presence of a holy and enlightened man whose inner experience was the source of energy for his work. From this monk, Douglas Main learned a simple way of meditation and was reinforced in his commitment to silence, stillness and simplicity.
After returning to Europe he taught international law in Trinity College. In 1959 he joined the Benedictines in Ealing Abbey in London, taking the name John. To his dismay, his novice master told him to give up his form of meditation because ‘it was not a Christian way of prayer’. Though he found this difficult, he accepted it as a detachment, feeling that God would guide him. In 1969, while a school headmaster in Washington, D.C., he was led to study the roots of Christian monasticism. In the conferences of John Cassian and the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers he found the expression of meditation that he had learned in the East. He realised that this way of prayer could help many people searching for a deeper spiritual experience and began sharing it through meditation groups, books, and retreats. He recommended two regular daily periods of meditation, integrated with the usual practices of Christian life.
In 1975 he opened the first Christian Meditation Centre at Ealing Abbey in London. In 1977 he was given permission to accept an invitation from the Archbishop of Montreal, Canada to found a monastic priory committed intentionally to the practice and teaching of Christian meditation. Laurence Freeman, a novice at Ealing, was to help in the foundation. While based in Montreal, John travelled widely, making friends worldwide, including the Dalai Lama. Sadly, he developed cancer and died in Montreal in 1982.
As John Main’s successor, Laurence Freeman continued his vision of restoring the contemplative dimension to the common life of the Church and of engaging in dialogue with the secular world and other religions.
Part of the web of life In 1991 the World Community for Christian Meditation was formed with Laurence as director. Based in London, the community is known as a ‘monastery without walls’, with groups in over 120 countries. These comprise small, weekly meditation groups that meet in homes, parishes, offices, hospitals, prisons, schools and colleges. Father Laurence and Doctor Barry White have introduced medical staff in Ireland to the practice of meditation. Members of a profession meant to bring healing to others, but increasingly affected by stress and burnout, have found it helpful.
Doctor Noel Keating has introduced meditation with children into 130 primary schools. So far 28,000 children have practiced it and teachers report that children are more alert and more caring for one another.
Sharing in the search Sister Noreen kindly described how her own attraction to this form of meditation developed.
‘The story began in 1976. Father John Main, OSB, came from Ealing Abbey in London with novice Laurence Freeman to give a week’s retreat. It was organised by Sister Maura Ramsbottom for MMMs in Drogheda. Laurence was occupied with pastoral care in the International Missionary Training Hospital.
‘At that time my interest was in charismatic prayer, which I really enjoyed as a group member, but during this retreat I felt the call to the twice daily mantra form of prayer. Later, during my time in Nigeria, charismatic prayer seemed more relevant for group prayer, but the mantra remained my personal option.
‘On my return from Nigeria I connected with Christian Meditation Ireland (CMI). I commenced a meditation group in Rosedale Residential Home in Kilmacow, County Kilkenny. The meetings were attended by staff, parishioners and a number of residents.
‘I am now based in our MMM Motherhouse. Our meetings are held on Thursday nights from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. Most participants are women and men from Drogheda, including our parish priest, Jim Carroll. Most meetings follow a similar pattern. Our attendees are encouraged to arrive by 7:20 so we can start promptly at 7:30. We play a music CD while everyone settles in their places. Members take turns reading the opening and closing prayers. We listen to a talk by John Main or Laurence Freeman, after which we pray together in complete silence for twenty-five minutes. A gong lets us know when time is up. This is followed by music and the final prayer. Members may wish to continue the silence a little longer and have a shared discussion. We then sit around the table for a cup of tea while we chat about other matters, coming events, retreats, etc.’
Responding to current needs ‘People who come regularly to the meetings frequently express their appreciation of how the practice of meditation has had a positive effect in their lives: being more aware of God’s unconditional love, not just for themselves, but for every person and every part of creation; an increased openness to self-awareness and the need for positive understanding in relationships; and the acceptance of the ups and downs of life in a more peaceful way. While encouraged to meditate twice a day, each member maintains the value of the support received from the group.
‘Other people are most welcome to join. While John Main recommended maranatha as the preferred mantra for Christians, he was open to those with other choices. A member of my group is headmistress of a multi-denominational primary school. They all meditate together daily and each child uses a mantra suitable to his/her own religion.
‘Parish newsletters may contain information to make contact with a meditation group. If not, check the Christian Meditation Ireland website: www.christianmeditation.ie. This contains the details for each meditation group in the country.’
MMMs and MMM Associates in many countries have integrated various forms of prayer into their ministries and relate similar experiences (See MMM December 2017 e-newsletter). In our world today, so broken by fear, distrust and conflict, may we be signs of hope and transformation as we continue to share our spirituality with others in 2018.
1Biography of John Main and information about Christian meditation was provided by Sr. Noreen and also obtained from Christian meditation websites.
An ongoing struggle
Human trafficking (HT) is ‘the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception with the aim of exploiting them’ (UNODC). Virtually every country in the world is affected, as a point of origin, transit and/or destination for victims. The challenge is to target the criminals who exploit desperate people and to protect and assist victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants. Many endure unimaginable hardships in seeking a better life. As Medical Missionaries of Mary, we officially took on working against human trafficking as a priority issue in 2003. MMMs in several countries are especially dedicated to combating this human rights violation.
In an overcrowded section of a large slum village in Nairobi, Kenya, Sister Mary O’Malley raises awareness about HT and assists victims, the majority of whom are trafficked within the country. Because prevention is critical, Mary and her staff reach as many of the public as possible, especially youth, through interactive awareness workshops. In 2017 they reached almost 5,000 adults and 23,000 children. Victims are assisted with counselling and medical services, as well as training, micro-finance, and support to finish education (MMM E-newsletter, Feb 2015). Lack of opportunities for education and employment make it easy for young people to fall victim to the ‘sweet talk’ of traffickers.
Pope Francis has made the fight against ‘this abhorrent plague’ a priority of his pontificate. When he visited Kenya in 2015, he highlighted the need for a wide involvement in dealing with trafficking and encouraged groups to collaborate. Mary is a founding member of Religious Against Human Trafficking (RAHT), under the auspices of the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya and their male counterparts, the Religious Superiors of Kenya; and a co-founder of Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART Kenya) with Radoslaw Malinowski. She helped to organize a forum on HT in Nairobi on 14 October 2017. Attendees were mainly from religious and Catholic Justice & Peace Commission (CJPC) groups. CJPC members have training on human rights issues, peace-building, education, etc.
A global challenge Archbishop Charles Balvo, Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan and Kenya, addressed the group, saying, ‘Your attendance at this conference is a sign of hope to many victims and many potential victims of human trafficking. I believe that the initiative of RAHT...is a beginning of a journey that will significantly contribute towards the elimination of one of the worst social plagues in our time.’
He continued, ‘Slavery might have been challenged in the past and made illegal...but the idea of enslaving and using others has returned in the form of human trafficking in our late modern society. [It] can be considered to be among the adverse consequences of globalization. Indeed, the opening of international boundaries, the intermeshing of cultures, as well as the dominance of the current economic model have made our globalized 21st century society an unforeseen yet convenient hunting ground for human traffickers....
‘When, in the year 2000, countries from around the world came together in Palermo, Italy, and signed a special protocol that made human trafficking a criminal endeavour, there was a ray of hope that the joint effort of member states would start its eradication....Passing an international law, having it ratified by states and publicly acknowledging that human trafficking is a crime was a good step – but it was only the first step. Sadly, the lack of appropriate training for law enforcement agencies to cope with the problem, as well as the indifference of some nation states and powerful lobbies regarding the issue made the ratification process of the Palermo Protocol irrelevant....The failure of the Palermo Protocol, nonetheless, motivated individuals from various countries, including coalitions of faith-based organizations, to put themselves at the forefront of an alliance against human trafficking.’
An age-old offence Providing a context for the development of trafficking, he pointed out that slavery was part of human history long before the birth of Christ. It was only in the late 18th century that slavery as an accepted institution began to be questioned. Saint Paul said: ‘All slaves “under the yoke” must have unqualified respect for their masters, so that the name of God and our teaching are not brought into disrepute. Slaves whose masters are believers are not to think any the less of them because they are brothers; on the contrary, they should serve them all the better, since those who have the benefit of their services are believers and dear to God’ (1 Tim 6: 1-2).
Archbishop Balvo said that abolitionists battled with powerful lobbies and state structures that were profiting enormously from the enslavement of peoples, as well as with general public opinion. Slowly the movement gained support, and in 1807, the United Kingdom banned the slave trade. Thirty years later it delegitimized the practice itself. In [the USA], slavery was officially abolished in 1863, in the midst of a brutal civil war, a major cause of which was the institution of slavery. Eventually slavery was outlawed everywhere, with Mauritania last to declare the trade illegal, in 2007.
Sadly, ‘for a long time, the Church did not play a significant role in the fight against slavery.’ Cardinal Charles Lavigerie and Saint Daniel Comboni were Catholic champions of antislavery but ‘there were Catholics before and during their lifetimes who were proponents of slavery. Religious orders and Catholic missions owned slaves or used them in the cultivation of their vast plantations....These are painful memories that will continue to haunt us Catholics for years to come.’
He commented, ‘As slavery was a source of enormous wealth for amoral individuals then, so it is true for human trafficking today....It took the action of a small yet convinced group of people to rally their contemporaries to bring an end to the slave trade. Today, it is our time to do the same against human trafficking....'
A prophetic role ‘In Kenya, Sister Lea Ackermann started a project assisting victims in the 1990s. Sister Mary O’Malley ran awareness campaigns in slums in the early 2000's and continues the good fight to this day. These are individuals who have adopted a prophetic stance to end the problem of trafficking in persons in this country.’
He continued, ‘This individual zeal needs to be transformed into a more collective effort. Religious institutes such as the Missionaries of Africa, the Daughters of Charity, the Missionary Society of Saint Patrick, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, the Comboni Missionary Sisters, the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and others, have officially taken the fight against human trafficking as a congregational commitment....
‘Ending human trafficking is not a task that should be left in the hands of the police and the government alone....It belongs to all religious congregations and to every member of the faithful. The struggle is a concrete and visible implementation of the social teaching of the Church.
‘The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World states that: “whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men [and women] are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons – all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury” (GS 27).
Local and international initiatives Archbishop Balvo said, ‘It is my hope that the more than 200 religious institutes and societies established here in Kenya will continually engage with each other in creating awareness campaigns, in supporting victims of human trafficking, whether directly or indirectly, and in lobbying for the better implementation of the pertinent legislation in Kenya.’
He added, ‘Several of the drivers of vulnerability [to trafficking] have worsened, in particular armed conflicts that provoke enormous humanitarian emergencies and forced migration, and the refugee crisis, both of which have exacerbated the dramatic situation faced by people, especially women and children.‘
He called attention to partnerships that strengthen collective action among governments, academic institutions, the media, civil society and the private sector....Among them are the Santa Marta Group, an international alliance of police chiefs and bishops, which promotes coordination between law enforcement and faith-based organizations; Talitha Kum, which coordinates networks of Catholic Sisters in 70 countries; the South Asia movement of religious against trafficking; and Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation, bringing together the work of religious women in 27 countries.
Archbishop Balvo quoted William Wilberforce, an Anglican layman and an icon of the abolitionist movement, who said, ‘You might choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’
Why do we stay?
‘May [God] support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.’
On 9 December we were stunned to receive an e-mail from our MMM Congregational Secretariat: ‘It is with great sadness that I bring you news of the unexpected death of Sr. Maura Lynch. She died at 11:35 pm (Uganda Time) in Kampala Hospital [Nsambya]. Srs. Maria Jose da Silva, Natalia Mashalo, Christine Nanyombi and Christine Natweta and three doctors from Kitovu Hospital were with her.’
After an initial good recovery following surgery for a broken hip, on 7 December Maura suddenly developed complications. She was re-admitted to hospital but did not recover. On 12 December, MMMs and Associates, family and friends around the world gathered to mourn our loss and celebrate her life as she was laid to rest in Butende Monastery, alongside Ugandan MMMs Sisters Catharina Nakintu and Benedicta Nannyondo.
‘I have my mission.’ Maura was born in County Cork, Ireland and joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1956. Her first assignment after qualifying as a doctor was to Angola in 1967, where she was to spend fourteen of the next twenty years, mainly as medical director of the hospital at Chiulo. She was in the country during the Angolan war for independence, which was followed by a civil war beginning in 1975. The hospital was the only one functioning in the area and MMMs and staff treated members on all sides of the conflict. Afterwards, the Sisters regaled listeners with stories of travelling over bombed-out bridges to reach distant outstations and diving for cover when they were spotted from planes overhead.
Maura obtained her fellowship in surgery in 1985, and after returning briefly to Angola, set off for her next assignment, this time to Kitovu, Uganda in 1987. En route she stopped in Anua, Nigeria to gain experience in the repair of obstetrical fistula – a preventable condition still suffered by far too many women after childbirth. In Kitovu, she gradually established a centre for training in the prevention and treatment of fistula and over the years the programme received international recognition.
In late 2017, still active in her eightieth year, Maura was deeply involved in her work. She organized fistula repair camps with training for medical professionals and was in touch with donors – while travelling around the world to receive awards.
At the same time she was busy with plans to celebrate fifty years since her first arrival in Africa. Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe, on a visit to Kitovu after providing Capacitar sessions in South Sudan, accompanied Maura to Kampala to order the cakes for the festivities.
Preparing for paths that are new In 2017 our work as Medical Missionaries of Mary in Uganda was entering a new phase. Bearing in mind our current realities, we were letting go of long-established ministries, including the ones in which Maura was involved, and beginning new ones. Maura was very much in agreement, and there were plans for her to hand over the fistula work to Sister Doctor Florence Nalubega, of the Daughters of Mary, who had specialized in obstetrics and gynaecology and was on the Kitovu Maternity Unit. Still, letting go can be difficult, and the challenge, as for many of us, was in the implementation.
As a member of our East Central Africa (ECA) Area Team, Sister Maria José was very involved in the discussions for handing over our projects at Kitovu and others for which we were responsible. In the meantime, MMMs had been searching for a house to rent in the capital, Kampala, to establish a base there. With time and other constraints, the process was slow, but finally a house was found and the lease began on 16 November.
Shortly afterwards, Maura fell while getting out of a vehicle. She had broken her hip, necessitating emergency surgery. Determined to mark her fifty years in Africa, Maura chose to have the operation in Uganda. There was a good hospital in Kampala, with qualified staff, some of them her former students! More importantly, she discussed her wishes with her MMM Sisters and they were willing to take on the arrangements necessary, especially following the surgery.
‘I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.’ Concerned about her care, the ECA Team requested that Maura not go back to Kitovu after surgery but instead go to Kampala, close to the doctors that had operated on her. While Maura was willing to stay in the new MMM house, it meant that her time at Kitovu was at an end.
Maria José later reflected that despite this great loss, Maura felt happy about being part of the way forward for MMM. Her surgery went well and Maria José wrote that ‘she was joyful in her recovery and started moving with the help of a walking aid. She kept her sense of humour and kept everybody busy around her! To help her feel at home we brought over most of her personal belongings from Walungi (Kitovu).
‘Maura brought a special meaning to our new house. She felt that because of her fragility we had rushed into taking it, though it was rented before her accident. Still, it was as if this was the reason we were here, looking after our own Sister, receiving another MMM. There were only a few of us but we were carrying on the work to which we were called. While we are strong we can think everything moves because of us, but it is in the fragility of human nature that one can feel that God is in charge of our lives.’
‘I shall do good; I shall do [God’s] work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place.’ ‘It was a privilege for me to learn from and to nurse Maura. One day I told her that I never thought she could be such an easy patient. She turned to me and said, “Maria José, God does his work through us. I have been converted. This is my condition and I am completely dependent on God’s will from now on.” It was a blessing that she was at home with herself and with us taking care of her.’
Support came from all corners. Sister Natalia Mashalo, a nurse, was involved in her care. MMM students Christine Nanyombi and Christine Natweta helped when they could, as did other MMMs and friends. Maura attracted a network of people who wanted to help and offer their comfort. With so little energy her main effort was directed towards her celebration in Africa, which was to be on 9 December. She talked to many people about it and made sure she invited them to come.
Suddenly, on 7 December, Maura developed a high fever and was re-admitted to the hospital. Despite every effort at treatment she became gradually weaker. At the end of the very day on which she was to celebrate her golden jubilee in Africa, surrounded by friends and by MMMs from Brazil, Tanzania, and Uganda, ‘she went to God’s arms with deep peace.’
Maria José reflected, ‘Her life was a great witness to me of her courage. Her willingness to be treated and cared for in Uganda, and at the end to die in Africa, was a wonderful expression of love and the spirit of what missionary life is about. Maura was present in times of joy and of challenge, as well as in the programme she developed for women affected by fistula. She gave her life, body and soul for the poor of Uganda. I thank Maura for offering this gift to MMM.'
Sister Ursula Sharpe spent seventeen years in community with Maura in Kitovu. She wrote: ‘I do believe that God rewarded Maura for all the long days and nights she spent in theatre saving lives. I never heard her complain no matter how many times she was called. One Sunday I had an anaphylactic reaction from a jigger. Sister Ita Barry called Maura, who gave treatment immediately. Only for her I would have died. She was a brilliant and caring doctor and surgeon.’
Ursula had spoken to Maura only a few days before she died. She sounded good, but perhaps with an intimation of what was to come, instead of discussing her plans for the next training camp, Maura said sadly, ‘I’m winding down. The wind has stopped. I’m going home.’
(Quotes in italics are from John Cardinal Newman)
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