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Number 166 - August/September 2016
The International Day for Peace, marked each year on 21 September, is devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.
The United Nations website notes that the theme for World Peace Day for 2016 is ‘The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace’. Sustainability addresses the fundamental needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Challenges such as poverty, hunger, diminishing natural resources, water scarcity, social inequality, environmental degradation, disease, corruption, racism and xenophobia, threaten peace and create grounds for conflict. Sustainable development contributes to elimination of these causes of conflict and provides the foundation for a lasting peace. Peace reinforces the conditions for sustainable development and liberates the resources needed for societies to develop and prosper.
On 16 September 2016, the UN Secretary-General will mark the day in the Peace Garden at United Nations Headquarters by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell and observing a minute of silence. Women Nobel Peace Prize laureates and United Nations Messengers of Peace will be invited to participate. The United Nations Education Outreach Section will hold a global student video conference.
In our August-September newsletter, you can read how one MMM has reached out in peace and friendship to members of other faiths and has developed an understanding and appreciation of the beliefs that unite us. She has joined with them to pray for people caught up in situations of violence.
Another Medical Missionary of Mary celebrates fifty years of dedicated service to God and to others. Sister Marian Scena has spent thirty-three years in Tanzania. She told us what attracted her to MMM and what has sustained her on her journey.
We also tell you about the Saint Justin Society in Saint Vincent’s Parish, Sheffield, England, which is marking forty years helping projects overseas. The members organise fundraising events that parishioners enjoy supporting because they bring a real sense of community to the parish.
Thank you again for your interest and encouragement and for working with us to address so many of the current challenges to peace. We remember you in prayer each day. Please remember us as well, especially our Sisters in conflict-torn South Sudan.
Sister Carol Breslin, MMM
‘Have the courage to teach us [adults] that it is easier to build bridges than walls! You will be our accusers if we choose the life of walls, of enmity, of war’ (Pope Francis to youth at World Youth Day 2016, Kracow, Poland).
'Making a covenant of peace' (Ezek 34:25)
Sister Margaret Anne Meyer is from New York and joined MMM in 1956. She went to Ireland to study medicine and qualified as a doctor in 1964. She worked in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. Now back in the USA, at our house in City Island, New York, she is interested in ecumenical issues. She wrote about a special meeting she attended recently.
‘My interest in interfaith dialogue started when I was working at our MMM hospital in Makiungu, Tanzania. I saw what a good man Mohamed, our driver, was. He was also a Muslim imam (a leader in the Islamic faith). During Ramadan he would drive us for eight hours along difficult roads without taking a drop of water.
‘Once I had a severely ill patient with nephritis (kidney disease). He needed dialysis, which we did not have. He was Muslim and when I told him I could do no more, he started to cry. His young wife and child were standing nearby. The parish priest was also near and I asked the patient if he wanted to be blessed by the priest. He said 'yes'. Then I thought I had better tell Mohamed.
‘Mohamed said, “Do not worry, Sister. There is only one God.”
‘At that time I had a book in Swahili called Wana wa Abrahamu ([Christians and Muslims are both] children of Abraham) and I continued praying those interfaith prayers in Swahili for the Muslim patients. Mohamed approved of this.
‘Then in 2004, after our Eighth MMM Congregational Chapter, Sister Theresia Samti wrote a letter asking what we were doing in the interfaith area. At that time, I was interested in Moslem dialogue. I attended a session in Malcom Shabazz Mosque in Harlem in Manhattan. I was also just beginning to attend the Jewish Temple, Beth-El, on City Island. I had been told that the rabbi at the Temple was a mystic and that I should meet her. I have learned that Rabbi Shohama has great reverence for the Hebrew Scriptures, God living in His Words. Also, I am learning Hebrew: the first grade level of learning the aleph-bet and how to pronounce the words through sounding the letters.
'It was also at the Jewish Temple on City Island that I met Violet, a member of the congregation. She gave me her business card and asked me to visit her in her antique shop. This I did for about eight years, until she became very ill and died. I visited her in the hospital and was invited to speak at her wake.
‘I have also met with Venerable Tenzin Pelyang, a Buddhist nun, who is originally Jewish and American. I went with her to an exhibition of Himalayan art in Manhattan. I saw a beautiful painting, like an icon, of Sarasvati, a Hindu goddess (also a Tibetan deity) of wisdom. I found myself praying to her and also feeling an increase of love for the Blessed Mother. I believe they are connected in some way.'
A special meeting ‘On 15 June, I met Venerable Tenzin, Rabbi Shohama Weiner, and Rabbi David Markus (photo left) in Rabbi Shohama's home in New Rochelle, New York. Mr. Mathew Ginden, a journalist who had previously interviewed Rabbi David, asked him if the four of us could be interviewed by Skype to explain how a Catholic Sister and Buddhist nun could feel so welcomed to pray together in our Jewish temple in City Island, Temple Beth-El.
‘ALEPH (Alliance for Jewish Renewal) is a trans-denominational approach to Judaism that welcomes all. It reflects in Judaism much that Pope Francis teaches about renewing the Earth, making a temple of the Earth.
‘Mr. Ginden had prepared a set of questions which included: How did we choose our vocations? What led us to pray in the temple? Were we friends with each other? What was our experience of worshiping in the temple with the rabbis and Jewish people? He also asked the rabbis for their reactions. Rabbi Shohama said I helped increase her faith. This we all agreed: that our faith was increased in the love and goodness of God.
‘On the night of the interview I went to the synagogue for an outdoor prayer service, led by Rabbi Eva Sax-Bolder, to honor the victims of the massacre in Orlando, Florida. The Methodist Church provided the candles. Some of my Temple friends asked me who the people were who attended the service. I think it was most of the Methodist Church on the Island!
‘Some of the people who attended the service were gay. They got special hugs that night from many of us. We all prayed for love and respect for every human being and for an end to violence.'
Our common humanity ‘In 2012, I attended an interfaith mission conference. The priests who addressed us said, “Go to other religions to pray. Do not think of theology and who is right or wrong, but pray to God together and seek what unites you and go from there.”
‘This is what I am trying to do. I feel vastly enriched in my own faith and have a deeper understanding of where other people are coming from.’
‘Called to pray and to celebrate the liturgy among peoples of different national and religious traditions and beliefs, we shall search with them for the seeds of the Word which lie hidden in their cultures, and thus we shall be mutually enriched’ (MMM Constitutions).
Credit for photos in Temple Beth-El and at the memorial service: Bob Berent. Memorial service photos also appeared in The Island Current, July/August 2016.
Celebrating 40 years: Saint Justin Society
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of one of MMM's long-standing supporters, Saint Justin Society in Saint Vincent’s Parish, in Crookes, Sheffield, UK. Founded in 1976, fund-raising for various projects is one way in which the parish ‘looks beyond its own confines to the world outside’.
Members raise awareness and money throughout the year and most of the help is for developing countries. The society specifies that the money be used where the need is greatest, which allows our Sisters to be flexible about allocating donations and to utilize them to maximum effect.
Sister Teresa Hogan, now based in Drogheda, has vivid recollections of the support given by the Saint Justin Society to our projects in and near the Turkana Desert. She wrote about some of them.
‘I first came to know of Saint Justin's Society in 1985 when I arrived in Lokitaung, Northern Turkana, Kenya. Sister Rosetta Furlong was already working in that mission, a semi-desert area where people survived on their goats and camels. Every day we saw so many hungry and malnourished people, especially children and older women. It was truly an answer to prayer when, through the generosity of Saint Justin's, we were able to buy food: maize, beans, cooking oil and powdered milk.
'Life is harsh in that arid area but when people had food they were so happy, and of course there was less sickness, too. Saint Justin's continued to support us in Lokitaung until 1988, when a decision had to be made that MMM withdraw due to our diminishing numbers.
‘Once on our way home to Ireland for leave, Rosetta and I decided to visit Ms. Imelda Brown in Sheffield (Upperthorpe). She was then secretary of the society. It was lovely to meet Imelda and to personally convey our gratitude to all our co-workers for the generous support we received.
‘My next assignment was to Kitale, where I worked in the Kitale AIDS Programme (KAP), which Saint Justin's generously supported from 1992 to 2008. We were able to help many people to start income generating activities and to assist thousands of orphaned children to get an education. While there I corresponded with Ms. Theresa Finnigan, who succeeded Imelda. Theresa's letters described many innovative ways for fund-raising.
‘One of the first donations we received in Kitale from Saint Justin's enabled a young woman, Lucy, to study to become a social worker. Lucy was not an orphan but the family were poor and she was a bright and serious student. After she qualified we employed her for KAP. Lucy stayed with us until the programme ended. She was very committed to her work and had a great heart for the poor. She was also very shrewd and was often able to advise us not-so-wise foreigners in making decisions.
‘While the members of Saint Justin’s enjoy their fund-raising activities, there is a lot of hard work involved. I can assure them it is very worthwhile. Many children they supported to attend school are now self-reliant young adults. They are women and men of integrity who are helping to build up their country.’
Mukuru and Eldoret
In recent years, funding from the group has supported our missions in Mukuru and Eldoret, also in Kenya. Mukuru Health Centre is located in Mukuru kwa Njenga, an informal settlement in Nairobi. It provides basic health care in a slum area with well over 600,000 people. Many people live there because it is near the industries.
There is severe overcrowding, with a population density of 50,000 per square mile. Housing is poor with little ventilation; six people may live in a room of twelve square metres for sleeping, cooking, hygiene, and dining. There are no roads, proper garbage collection, or solid waste disposal facilities. Fires break out easily in the slum because of the materials used to construct the simple homes. The area often floods because of poor drainage.
The health centre began in response to a request to provide vaccination services. Mothers had to walk long distances so their children could be protected from life-threatening diseases. Sisters Breege Breslin and Phil Sheerin (MMM Congregational Leader at the time) visited two sites and saw that Mukuru was much the poorer. Sister Andrea Kelly, who worked with Nairobi Hospice, later began home visiting and palliative care in the area.
Because of the generosity of donors like Saint Justin Society, services now include: basic diagnosis and treatment; maternal and child health; nutrition education and support for malnourished children; cervical cancer screening; care for people living with HIV/AIDS (voluntary counselling and testing; prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV), social services; TB management; home-based care; assistance for children living with disabilities; and a school health programme.
Saint Justin Society has also assisted Saint Mary’s Medical Centre in Eldoret. We mainly provide health services for ten settlements in Kapsoya and Chepkoilel. These emerged in 1993 following tribal clashes and include slums with many squatters and petty traders. Basic services are provided at the dispensary, while a comprehensive HIV/AIDS programme includes support for orphans, vulnerable children, and caregivers.
In the past two years the medical centre staff organized a workshop to train forty-eight community health workers at Kapsoya Catholic Church in Eldoret. It was based on the concept that most health problems are preventable and manageable at local level. Addressing health problems promotes general well-being by interrupting the cycle of poverty and ill-health that affects many households. Health workers can facilitate change, encouraging positive behaviours and social change initiatives.
Touching many lives MMMs also used funds from the society to train a catechist; to provide clean water and treat malaria in Tanzania; to buy essential drugs in Uganda; and to treat chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy, in Rwanda.
Congratulations to the Saint Justin Society for forty years of hard work and dedication. Thank you for helping to bring healing and health to so many.
'You shall hallow the fiftieth year' (Lev 25:10).
In July 1966, Sister Marian Scena professed her first vows as a Medical Missionary of Mary in Winchester, MA, USA. Her journey since then has brought her to healing ministries on three continents. The following recounts some of that story and includes a few of Marian’s reflections as she celebrates fifty years of commitment and service.
Sister Marian was born in Stamford, Connecticut, USA, in 1945 and her family later moved to Denver, Colorado. As a teenager, she worked for several summers as a volunteer at a local hospital and for a short time as a catechist on a migrant workers’ mission team.
She wrote that while growing up, ‘I dreamed of being a missionary and sharing my faith with those who hadn’t had the same opportunities I had as an American teenager in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I began to ask God what plans God had for me. It gradually became clearer: to be a missionary, to have a profession in the health services, maybe as a doctor, and maybe (a bigger maybe!) as a Sister. I wondered if it was possible to combine these three things in one vocation. Then I read about the Medical Missionaries of Mary and realized that it just might be.’
Following a call Marian joined MMM in September 1963. It was a journey of two thousand miles from Denver to Winchester, MA, near Boston, and she had not met any MMMs. On arrival she thought, ‘I am going to spend my life here and I have never even met these women. I laughed because I knew I was making the right decision for me.’
She grew to love the silence and obscurity of the postulancy and novitiate, the first stages of life as a Medical Missionary of Mary. After her first profession, she was asked to stay in Winchester to help out for two years. Then in September 1968, she traveled to our Motherhouse in Drogheda, Ireland and soon started medical studies at University College Dublin. Before her final year in medical school she gained valuable experience by spending three months at our hospital in Dareda, Tanzania. After qualifying as a doctor in June 1975, Marian completed a one-year internship in the International Missionary Training Hospital (IMTH), run by MMM in Drogheda. Another year of training in obstetrics and paediatrics followed.
In those days, MMM doctors were considered ready for the missions after this training. Marian was delighted to be assigned to Tanzania, but unexpectedly developed an illness that took nearly a year and a half to diagnose. This was a difficult time of great soul searching. She participated in doing surveys of various medical facilities during that interval and her training proved very useful. Happily, the cause of her illness was found and in late 1979 she was on her way to Dareda Hospital as a qualified doctor. It was a very busy place, where eight Sisters ‘worked hard, prayed hard and entered into life fully’. She was to spend almost five years there and also served in local MMM leadership.
Adapting to answer other needs Marian worked for a year in Kabanga Hospital, also in Tanzania, before being assigned to Chicago, USA for three years in vocation ministry. She was also able to assist as a volunteer in Saint Basil’s Clinic. At that stage the issue of HIV/AIDS had gained prominence and Marian was involved for several months in services for people living with AIDS.
In 1989 she was able to return to Tanzania, this time to Makiungu, where she was to spend the next fourteen years. She served as medical officer and doctor-in-charge and was also appointed NGO representative on the Singida District Health Board.
Since April 2006, Marian has been based at Faraja Centre in Singida. Faraja Centre Community-Based Health Care (CBHC) aims to reach the most vulnerable people in Singida Region by providing services for those affected by HIV/AIDS. These include voluntary counseling and testing; awareness-raising about HIV, malaria, and malnutrition; income-generating activities; providing school fees; and a large home-based care programme. Marian has been medical officer and an AIDS counsellor at the centre.
As their experience grew, the centre staff saw the need for palliative care, especially end-of-life care, for all who needed it, not just those living with AIDS. A needs assessment showed that people with chronic and terminal illnesses in Singida Municipality had no access to basic treatment, including relief for severe pain.
After discussions with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Faraja Centre Palliative Care Programme was begun in August 2012. It embraces ten of the sixteen Wards in Singida Municipality, including Singida town, with a population of approximately 200,000. Holistic services embrace physical, psychological, spiritual, and social needs. Marian is currently the project coordinator for the Faraja Palliative Care Programme.
At a time of Jubilee Reflecting on the past fifty years, Marian wrote, ‘I am very grateful to God for my vocation and to all my MMM Sisters and friends and family who have encouraged and supported me. As MMMs, we are meant to be contemplatives in a very active life and that has been my life. Without a deep foundation in prayer, I do not think I would have survived and grown.
‘I am very happy to be ministering in hospice and palliative care. We have been able to help many patients to know we love them and that God loves them; to die pain-free with their family at home. At seventy-one years of age I have no desire to retire from this needed and fulfilling ministry. As Mother Mary said when all seemed impossible, “If God wants the work, God will show the way.” God has shown me the way!’
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