203 MMM E-newsletter March/April 2021

203 MMM E-newsletter March/April 2021

MMM Communications, Rosemount, Booterstown, Dublin. Ireland. Tel :353-1-2887180 Fax:353-1-2834626
To contact MMM Email: mmm@mmmworldwide.org

Number 203 - March/April 2021

Dear Friends,

One of the first occasions we celebrate in March is International Women’s Day on 8 March, highlighting women's social, economic, cultural and political achievements. The theme for 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge, and its website reminds us that ‘we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.' We can all choose to celebrate women's achievements.

The UN Women’s website points out that ‘women stand at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers and as some of the most exemplary and effective national leaders in combating the pandemic.'

Nevertheless, ‘in addition to persistent pre-existing social and systemic barriers to women’s participation and leadership, new barriers have emerged with COVID-19. Across the world women are facing increased domestic violence, unpaid care duties, unemployment and poverty.’ How can we challenge these realities?

The theme of World Water Day on 22 March is ‘Valuing Water’, including ‘the environmental, social and cultural values people place on water.’ The Food and Agriculture Organization notes: ‘In daily life, water can mean health, hygiene, dignity and productivity. In cultural, religious and spiritual places, water can mean a connection with creation or community.  In natural spaces, water can mean peace, harmony and preservation.’

The World Council of Churches newsletter on 17 February invited us to consider the meaning of ‘living water’ during Lent. Its Ecumenical Water Network provides theological reflections through its yearly ‘Seven Weeks for Water’ campaign.

One author of this year's reflections, Annika Harley of Creation Justice Ministry, USA, quotes Batahnii Wilson, an indigenous Navajo: ‘The water has a spirit, and when you start mixing chemicals in it, it kills that spirit. In Navajo tradition, water records your prayers, but only when it is living water with its spirit still present, not after being polluted with chemicals. So water pollution is not just an environmental crisis but also a spiritual one.’

Water problems facing North America are emphasized. Though it generally enjoys plentiful water resources, the continent's issues are similar to those of people around the globe:
  • ‘protecting underground sources of drinking water from contamination by agriculture and oil;
  • preventing depletion of groundwater by excessive agriculture withdrawals that threaten groundwater availability  for future generations;
  • struggling to prevent destruction of sacred waters to transport fossil fuels that should stay in the ground, as droughts induced by greenhouse gas emissions that afflict the West become more frequent and severe;
  • removing dams that unnecessarily destroy rivers and the creatures who depend upon them, while making modest contributions at best to local economies, and
  • the commodification of water to the point that speculators now trade in water futures on Wall Street.’  
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is marked on 25 March. In his message to the UN General Assembly last year, Secretary General António Guterres said:  ‘On this day we commit to confronting slavery’s legacy of racism together....The transatlantic slave trade seeded deep inequalities within societies, and economies prospered at a great human cost. The descendants of those who were enslaved continue to face enduring social and economic inequality, intolerance, prejudice, racism, and discrimination....

‘Today 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery. Children make up one quarter of these victims, while 71% of those enslaved are women....None of us will be truly free whilst these people suffer.’

Also on 25 March, the Church celebrates The Annunciation of the Lord, a special day for MMMs and Associates. It was a key inspiration for our foundress, Marie Martin.

Pope Francis offered a reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation in a homily in 2018. ‘The passage from Luke’s Gospel that we have heard tells us the decisive moment in history, the most revolutionary. It is a turbulent situation; everything changes; history turns upside down...God enters history and does so in God’s original style: a surprise. The God of surprises surprises us (again)....But it was in the middle of the night of Christmas that the biggest surprise of all arrived....[The Annunciation] and Christmas mean celebrating the “unprecedented things of God,” or rather, “the unprecedented God.”’

On 7 April we celebrate World Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘Building a fairer, healthier world’. COVID-19 has highlighted that some people are able to live healthier lives and have better access to health services than others - due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, work and age.

Factors such as low income, poor housing conditions, lack of education and employment opportunities, gender inequality, and unsafe environments lead to avoidable illness and premature death. The impact of COVID-19 has been harshest on communities that were already vulnerable and less likely to have access to health care. Our MMMs, Associates and staff have witnessed that these communities are especially likely to be negatively affected by measures used to contain the pandemic, including lockdown and travel restrictions.

International Mother Earth Day (or Earth Day) on 22 April recognises that the Earth and its ecosystems provide its inhabitants with life and sustenance. According to its website, the day aims ‘to raise awareness that humans have a collective responsibility to promote harmony with nature and to balance the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations.'

On 4 April we celebrate the 84th anniversary of the foundation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. We might reflect on how challenging the congregation’s earliest days were for its first members. Our foundress was critically ill as she professed her first vows and en soon route to Ireland, while two of her companions remained in Nigeria to begin their novitiate. May their trust in God and their courage in that time of darkness and uncertainty be an inspiration for us as we discern our own way forward.

This year the great feast of Easter is also marked on 4 April. This is the highlight of the year for Christians, celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection. It brings us the Good News of the triumph of life over death – of hope over despair.
In this newsletter an MMM describes her experiences working as a hospital chaplain. We tell you about the special award given to one of our  Sisters by the UCD Medical Graduates’ Association. There are also two stories that describe how our MMMs cope with the seemingly incongruous properties of water in different parts of the globe.

Thank you again for your interest and support in so many ways. We remember you in prayer each day and wish you all the blessings of Easter. Please pray for us as well.

Sister Carol Breslin, MMM

‘How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.’ (George Washington Carver, American agricultural scientist and inventor. He promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion).


‘Remember in November’

Sister Dervilla O’Donnell movingly described her ministry of pastoral care in a hospital in Ireland. Her article originally appeared on the website of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference on 20 November 2020.

‘November: darkness falls earlier as the evenings get shorter; trees become naked as they continue to shed and let go of their beautiful, rustic-colour leaves.  Nature constantly reminds us of letting go, dying and death. The month of November: we traditionally remember our dead.

‘There is a sense of eeriness this year because of the restrictions imposed on us, as we try to manage living with the unseen, deadly virus, COVID-19. It feels relentless and perhaps daily we die a little, as we keep our distance, wear masks, and are cautious in how we relate with each other.

‘As a healthcare chaplain in Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Hospital in Drogheda, like all staff in the hospital, I wear a mask as I meet with patients and staff and the few family members who arrange with the hospital to be with their loved one at the end of life. I’ve learned in a different way the wisdom of “eyes are the windows to the soul”. I see fear, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness, anger, confusion, loneliness, relief, acceptance, humour - in patients’ eyes and hear it when they talk. I endeavour to respond with my eyes, presence, compassion, gentleness, kindness, and when appropriate, with prayer and blessing.

Compassion: entering the suffering of another
‘I recently met Michael, an elderly man who lived with dementia for a number of years and now he was semi-conscious, as he, like the autumn leaves, was letting go of this life. He received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. I met his daughter, Sheila, at his bedside during her designated time to be allowed into the hospital. Her mother briefly visited Michael a few days before, to say goodbye to her husband of over fifty years.

‘Before I left the room, I said to Michael, “Will we say the Hail Mary together?” I was not sure he would respond, but to our surprise, he nodded and I slowly started the Hail Mary. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed . . .” Michael began to mouth the prayer with us.  “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Michael bows his head at Jesus. “Holy Mary, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

‘Michael once more bows his head and prays with us: “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in thee.” Sheila has tears quietly running down her face and I know this silence is indeed a graced and blessed moment, filled with love and gratitude.

‘Michael died peacefully the next day. There was consolation in Michael’s remembering and participating in the simplicity of saying a Hail Mary, and Sheila witnessing and being present. The atmosphere in the hospital room was transformed and there was fulfilment of the line of the psalm: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18).

‘In your heart-a space for others to be’
‘It may not always feel like God is close to the broken-hearted in a hospital setting when, for example, a family’s equilibrium is rocked to its core by the diagnosis of an aggressive cancer in a young mother or father, or there is a sudden devastating road traffic accident, a stroke, a stillbirth. It is then that the words from our MMM Constitutions encourage me: “Understand what Jesus has done . . . Know how to be present. Know how to care, to share others’ joys and pains and to touch their wounds with a tender hand, at times to be silent, helpless” (MMM Constitutions 5.5).

‘The leaves fall from the trees; the winds howl; frost cements the ground; and we are reminded of our dead. Maybe we even have thoughts of our own mortality in these very uncertain times. We grieve for people we loved, the letting go of plans, for family members who could not travel for funerals. We resonate with the bareness of nature and yet our resurrection hope is to “remember in the winter/far beneath the bitter snows/lies the seed that with the sun’s love /in the spring, becomes the rose” ("The Rose", Amanda McBroom).’

‘"Journeying is precisely the art of looking toward the horizon, thinking where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue of the journey, which is sometimes difficult. . . .There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall . . . but always think of this: Don’t be afraid of failures. Don’t be afraid of falling" (Pope Francis).

In early February 2021, Dervilla said, ‘The scene in the hospital now is so much different from last November. [It is] heartbreaking for families and staff are exhausted.’


Congratulations in Order!

We were very pleased recently to learn that Sister Doctor Marian Scena, MMM, was to receive the Distinguished Graduate Award from the University College Dublin (UCD) Medical Graduates' Association (MGA). Along with two other graduates, Marian was originally to be given the award in 2020 at her 45th class reunion. She had planned to visit Ireland during her home leave from Tanzania. The presentations were postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions and Marian also postponed her home visit - a big disappointment for her as for so many others.  Just before Christmas 2020 the MGA came up with the idea of having a virtual webinar series to make the awards in lieu of the usual Gala celebration.  

The online event for Marian’s presentation took place on the evening of 25 February 2021. UCD School of Medicine Marketing and Communication Manager Jane Curtin said  that ‘traditionally, award recipients are chosen:
  • in recognition of their lifelong achievements to medical education, research and/or clinical practice
  • in appreciation of their drive, leadership, commitment and desire to make a difference in society at home and abroad
  • to celebrate the success and contribution of our most distinguished alumni worldwide.’
A member of the School of Medicine Class of 1975, after qualification Marian spent several years training in Ireland before assignment to Tanzania, where she has spent the past 37 years.  She worked in hospital medicine in Dareda, Kabanga, and Makiungu and for the past 14 years has been based at Faraja Centre Community-Based Health Care (CBHC) in Singida.

Faraja Centre was established to reach the most vulnerable people in Singida Region by providing HIV/AIDS-related services. As experience grew, Sisters and staff saw the need to provide palliative care, especially end-of-life care, for all who needed it, not just those living with HIV/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.

A collaborative approach
Following discussions with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare the Faraja Hospice and Palliative Care Programme began in August 2012 as part of Faraja Centre. Marian is the programme doctor and coordinator.  (See MMM website: Our Work: Special Issues: The Marginalized)

As the number of patients increased, volunteer palliative care health workers (PCHWs) were trained  and the programme was officially registered. In early 2021, there are 34 PCHWs providing services. In addition to visiting patients and looking for new ones, they visit the community and give health education, especially about palliative care. Awareness-raising is critical in addressing fears about end-of-life issues.

In November 2020, the 63 patients under care who finished their earthly journey and went to God in the past year were remembered at a ceremony in which family members, Faraja staff and PCHWs participated.

At the end of 2020, the first year of a three-year Misean Cara project was completed. This included awareness raising and advocacy about palliative care for local government leaders, some religious leaders, and health care personnel in the eight wards of Singida Municipality not yet covered.

Continuing amid the challenges
The Catholic Diocese of Singida and Singida Municipality now have a functioning, high quality palliative care team that provides home-based hospice and palliative care to the people of the municipality. It is educating the wider community about chronic and life-threatening illnesses, especially cancer; about what can be done to treat them; how family members can be involved and especially how to obtain quality and appropriate end-of-life care. While the local hospital provides oral morphine, Sister Marian emphasized that the programme is greatly dependent on outside support; she spends much of her home leave encouraging contributions from friends and family.

A lively occasion
At the virtual event Sister Marian was asked about her medical school experiences and training and how these prepared her for life as an MMM doctor. Speaking from Singida, she said she had thoroughly enjoyed those early years and found that she had received a good grounding in the basics of medicine. Her enthusiasm in learning from others was evident, as was her willingness to learn on the job! What was also evident was her deep faith and commitment to God. She spoke about the reluctance of medical personnel to admit when a cure is not possible. It is then difficult to discuss appropriate support and pain relief for patients and their families. While she feels helpless in some situations, Marian says God has given her skills and she helps when and however she can. After many years in clinical medicine Sister Marian now finds it a privilege to be with people on their final journey home to everlasting life.

Members of the alumni association, MMMs and others were able to see the presentation of the award live on several platforms. It is available with the link: https://www.ucd.ie/medicine/alumni/medicalgraduatesassociation/ucdmgadistinguishedgraduateawardevent/ or the SoM YouTube channel (please see https://www.youtube.com/user/UCDMedicine)


Digging Deep for Water

Finding clean water in an area subject to flooding is one of the challenges facing the MMM mission in Torugbene, Delta State, Nigeria. Torugbene Creek is one of many creeks and inlets that form the delta of the mighty Niger River as it empties into the sea in the south of the country. The area is low-lying and marshy, with some reclaimed land. Fishing is the main occupation and means of livelihood for the local people. They face many environmental problems such as chemical pollution of the water from the oil industry and regular flooding during the rainy season.

Life in Torugbene is tough. Four MMMs came to this area five years ago and first set about discovering the needs of the local people (See MMM E-newsletters Nov. 2015 and Jan. 2017). Soon after they arrived they did a survey and talked with all the local groups to become aware of their priorities in dealing with some of their issues.   

Beginning with the basics
A main concern was the lack of adequate health facilities. The Sisters began offering primary health care services out of a makeshift clinic. Although it is difficult to get accurate statistics, Sister Ifeoma Ifedi, the programme primary health care (PHC) coordinator, says that about eighty percent of the people who come for treatment suffer from water-related illnesses or from illnesses due to poor sanitation. Among these are diarrhoea, worm infestations, amoebiasis, dysentery, rashes and other skin conditions. Typhoid, malaria and anaemia are also common.

A major life-threatening problem in the creeks area is inaccessibility to potable water. The same water is used everything - for fishing, bathing, washing, drinking and cooking. Water provides the main means of transportation and waste disposal.

Addressing the causes
Alongside the clinic work has gone an education project on the need to embrace and care for the local environment and water. Everything takes time! The Sisters knew that to make a lasting effect the attitudes and the habits of the local people had to change. This has meant many hours of dialogue with the local community.  It is slow and painstaking work but a good foundation has been made.  Each decision comes after extensive conversation with local leaders, the chairman and his cabinet, the king of Torugbene and community groups (men, women and youth).  

Sister Ifeoma explained how MMM, in collaboration with the local Catholic Church, area residents and others, is committed to improving the quality of water in Torugbene. In 2017, with the help of the European Union, three solar power water tanks were installed in the market area. The MMM programme's plans for 2021 to 2026 include working towards the construction of two boreholes to provide clean water. The sites for these are under discussion and should be decided soon. Again, the local community is involved. Although their income level is low, they will contribute what they can financially and provide the work force.  

Good news!
After several years of providing basis health services in a tin-roofed shed, the Sisters were excited to tell us that the project for the construction of the Mary Martin PHC Clinic in Torugbene is almost complete.

At the heart of the missionary activities of MMM is service that ensures the common good and the holistic healing of humanity. We wish the Sisters well as they embark on this new phase to bring healing and environmental awareness to the people of Torugbene.

‘Water, water everywhere...' (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge)

World Water Day reminds us of the need for all life to have access to clean water. At the same time, recent events in Central America reminded us of the power of water to cause devastation. An article by the BBC on 29 November 2020, titled 'Hurricanes leave Hondurans homeless and destitute', said that ‘Honduras is one of the countries in Central America to be hit not by one but two hurricanes this month.

‘Eta arrived in Nicaragua on 3 November as a category four hurricane and ripped through Honduras and Guatemala on its path north. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Iota made landfall just 15 miles (24 km) south of where Eta had hit. The torrential rain brought by the almost back-to-back hurricanes caused deadly landslides, flash flooding and destruction.’

Photojournalist Encarni Pindado travelled to San Pedro Sula, the country’s second city and industrial centre, to survey the damage and speak to some of those affected. Our Sisters in Choloma live in this area.  Mr. Pindado commented, ‘For many in Honduras, the impact caused by the storms will push them from poverty into extreme poverty.

‘Official figures suggest more than 150,000 people have been left homeless due to the damage caused by the two storms. Entire families are camping out wherever they can, even if it means sleeping rough by the side of a motorway. Many are developing health problems ranging from simple colds to skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Mosquito-borne dengue and Covid are also on the rise.

‘According to the health ministry in Cortés region, some people are refusing to be tested for COVID for fear of being stigmatised if they test positive and being pushed out of the shelters where they have sought refuge.’

Already at risk
Our other MMMs and Associates in Honduras were witnesses to the suffering caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota.  Sister Margaret  Nakafu wrote, ‘In Siguatepeque the Comite de Emergencia Municipal (CODEM) and fire fighters evacuated 300 persons from 120 homes after their barrios were flooded. Later CODEM found that 56 of the houses were destroyed; 64 could be repaired. Family members were separated from each other, with children dispersed amongst the community, posing additional risks for them.

'The people live in places vulnerable to natural disasters including flooding, with substandard housing materials that are not hurricane resistant. Unrelenting rains softened timber and mud-brick houses, making them fall. Houses with strong foundations were flooded partly because they were along rivers or in wetlands. Housing in barrios is mainly in 1- or 2-room houses with considerable overcrowding. Overcrowding poses an additional risk of COVID-19 transmission, for which numbers have been rising.’

A shared response
MMMs joined with government, NGOs and other stakeholders such as the Red Cross, in providing emergency supplies of food, clothing, beds, water, face masks, trauma counselling, sanitation, etc. During their visits they realized that two families had badly damaged houses; two days later these houses fell and the Sisters facilitated moving the families to safer places.

The combination of the post-hurricane clean-up, reconstruction and the continuing health emergency due to COVID-19 far exceed the capacity of the government to address. The development office in the Siguatepeque municipality has limited funding available and is focusing on rebuilding and repairing public infrastructure. So community members in Siguatepeque are being mobilised and MMMs are helping with rebuilding and repair for marginalized families as part of a wider MMM response.

Sister Margaret was already involved in a number of ministries in Siguatepeque. She works with parish priest Danial Ponce and local volunteers in the care of the elderly and infirm. Elderly persons are often the main carers for their grandchildren. The parish team is also concerned with local environment issues, such as deforestation, burning of farmland leading to wildfires, community sanitation, access to clean water, and supporting local people with land rights. These activities are done with the local government, church, NGOs, legal departments and water companies.

A small beginning
MMM and the pastoral ministry team reached out to people affected by the devastation of the hurricanes. They registered thirty-five families whose houses were damaged or destroyed. Among these, fifteen houses need to be rebuilt. A project supported by Misean Cara will provide for the rebuilding of houses for four families assessed to be most vulnerable. Two are headed by elderly persons and two are single female-headed, all with dependents. They include children with special needs. Their family members are currently dispersed amongst relatives and the local community. They need to live together in safe houses. They will be assisted with obtaining their land rights and title deeds. Securing a land title is a very complex process and family conflicts related to land ownership and distribution are common.

The new houses will be built on land parcels where there is less risk of flooding. Community members have given building materials such as local stone and will help with labour on the sites. Two independent builders with a reputation of integrity have been recommended. Three houses already have building permission; the other is progressing with a deed for the donated land. The direct beneficiaries will be ninety-five people.

An ongoing situation
Margaret said, ‘Affected persons will continue to receive pyscho-social support to deal with the impact of the hurricanes. This project will support our border work in Honduras as we tackle people's emergency needs and continue to support local community members. Social mobilization of the community is the first step in development to recover from conflicts and disasters. It allows people to think and understand their situation and encourages their capacity to address their own needs.’

Sister Margaret concluded, ‘We hope that the impact of this mobilisation will be in the rebuilding or rehabilitation of other homes in the area.’

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