Last November I volunteered at the refugee center located within the grounds of the Diocese of El Paso. It is a good-sized room with its own kitchen and eating facility. The bishop of El Paso and seminarians reside nearby, and most volunteers stay in the seminarians’ sleeping quarters, where they are comfortable and have a regular bed unless there is a lack of space; then volunteers might sleep on a cot.
Volunteers learn how to perform a number of functions, then do what is requested as needed.
Deepen our compassion, O God.
You are the judge, not us.
Our sister left behind home, family, culture, language
When she fled to protect her life,
her children, their future,
As greed and power ravaged her nation.
Our brother asked for refuge,
A refuge promised by the UN and the US,
But we welcomed him with detention,
Separation from loved ones.
Teach us to walk a mile in their sandals
And be moved to indignation and action.
Stretch our compassion, O God,
To embrace those
Who see this reality differently.
Move us beyond entrenched beliefs,
Inspire us to creative responses
And justice that restores relationships
And hope for all.
May those who knock at our door
Seeking refuge and hope,
Who are met with condemnation and walls
by this nation,
May they challenge us
To live our baptismal promise to the Gospel,
And may they judge us with compassion
when we fail.
Note: This prayer first appeared in the Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Voices of Compassion, Spring 2019. Reprinted with permission.
On our annual road trip, I met briefly with Heidi Cerneka, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, in El Paso.
Heidi said she was inspired to join the Lay Missioners while she was still in college and heard about the church women being martyred in El Salvador. Rather than being frightened, their dedication excited her. As a Lay Missioner, Heidi worked many years in Brazil with women in prisons, but at 50 years of age she decided to go to law school. Now she works for a nonprofit, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, as an immigration lawyer. Most of her work involves asylum cases. In this part of Texas only about 3% of asylum applicants are successful. She said that in other jurisdictions, e.g., parts of New York or Portland, Oregon, about 50% of asylum applicants are eventually granted asylum.
The Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy center needs volunteers and interns. Besides the obvious need for workers with legal expertise, Heidi specifically mentioned that social workers or counselors could interview clients. The organization’s website—Las-Americas.org—includes two pages requesting interns and volunteers and listing needs.
I asked Heidi her message for Affiliates. She emphasized, “Walls and detention centers are not the answer. Central America needs to be a place where people can stay if they want, with job opportunities, fair wages, and security. The US needs to be a place where people can come with fair immigration policies. … All the people that leave the government’s detention centers are now documented; they’re not undocumented or illegal!”
A little preparation can lead to a lively meeting.
In preparation for a chapter meeting just before Earth Day, Matt Rousso, New Orleans Chapter contact person, sent two questions to the members of the Gulf South New Orleans Area Chapter:
Since they’d been discussing and studying Laudato Si and Care for Creation, these questions resonated with the members. Sixteen people attended the meeting and everyone had something to say.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a local Rotary Club to install wood-burning stoves in two villages on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
My local Rotary Club in Westborough, Massachusetts, and Rotary clubs in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, received a grant from Rotary International to install the stoves.
I worked with another Rotarian from Massachusetts and a local technician from HELP International. HELP identified 100 families and provided the basic parts needed to install a stove. Each family agreed to not sell the stove and to purchase eleven cinder blocks which would act as the base for the stove. (Google “Onil stoves Guatemala” to see the stoves.)
The goal of the project was to change the practice of cooking with open fires on the floor, eliminating exposure to smoke and reducing health issues. Mayan families traditionally cook with open fires on the floor in rooms with little or no ventilation. Several health problems are associated with smoke exposure: acute respiratory disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and others.
With continued support from the grant, local health clinics will be monitored for health issues related to smoke exposure, and some families will be visited to measure air quality in the room where the stove was installed.
In four days, our group of ten Rotarians installed 100 stoves in homes and one larger wood-burning stove in a school. The Mayan families receiving the stoves are very poor—they live in two or three rooms and have none of the basic conveniences we take for granted. The taxi driver who drove us around to different houses told me he makes five dollars a day. In addition to reducing the Mayan family’s exposure to smoke, the stoves burn wood more efficiently, saving trees and money. The families were overjoyed to have the stoves, which will enable them to spend less for wood and hopefully more on food.
Patty Hinton, Vicki Simon, and the Hotchkisses talked about their connections to Maryknoll over lunch in May. The Hotchkisses were passing through Missouri on their way home to Portland, Oregon, from an Affiliate Board meeting at Maryknoll, NY. Patty Hinton is the Regional Coordinator for the large Midwest region that includes Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and other nearby states where there currently are no Affiliate chapters. She arranged for Vicki Simon to join us.
Vicki Simon is a returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner who served in Kenya. Since returning, Vicki is on the Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Board and has served in various Jesuit-related roles in the St. Louis area. She commented that the JustFaith program had been active for over 12 years at St. Francis Xavier “College” parish, St. Louis. Racism and white privilege are discussed in many area churches. She recently volunteered at a migrant refuge affiliated with the El Paso Annunciation House of Hospitality. Having studied Latin American culture and taught Spanish for nine years, she said, “I felt called to do something!” She plans to work at the border again in August.
In mid-April, a female robin began constructing a nest on the flower trellis just outside our back door. Completed in a few days, the nest looked perfect. To the best of my knowledge, the robin had no access to YouTube or Building a Bird Nest for Dummies to help her with the construction. I spent the next four weeks observing Robi (naming creativity not being my strong suit) several times each day. Though Robi never gave any indication she wanted to become a Maryknoll Affiliate, what I observed over those weeks was an inspiration to me.
Day and night, she spent ninety percent of her time maintaining the nest, often through long periods of cold and rain. Then the eggs came and her motherly resolve grew stronger. Robi was acutely vigilant, as birds need to be, but in time she came to trust and allowed me to get very close to the nest. On each visit I carried on a conversation, essentially the same one every time. Many would say that’s all we humans ever do anyway. I also assured her that I’d do my best to protect her from the neighborhood cat that frequently visited our yard. Robi appeared attentive and receptive but never uttered a peep in return. Even so, I convinced myself that we had become friends.
Then, on the morning of the eleventh day of incubation, a day or two before the eggs were ready to hatch, I opened the back door to ask Robi how her night had been, but she was gone. In her place, inches from the nest, was a squirrel rotating a blue egg, the last one of the clutch, in its front claws – just as squirrels do with an acorn before biting into it.
I couldn’t begin to process all this. How must Robi feel!? Was she distraught, defeated, filled with revenge? Do birds feel, think, have a hidden belief-system or life philosophy to help them deal with such terrible losses? Did she stamp her tiny claws and ask, ‘Why me?!’ Did she just accept it as one of nature’s inevitable cruelties? I wondered too if on some instinctual level birds have a built-in moral code about murder and ornithological injustices; or, perhaps a batch of existential questions around sin, redemption, and an afterlife. Admittedly, these are almost assuredly the entirely wrong questions emerging from a small, inchoate human mind. I had to check myself. Were all these queries and projections simply yet another example of anthropomorphic excess that we humans apply to so much else in the cosmos, including God?
Yet, I couldn’t let go of the possibility that there must be a lesson in this for me. Robi, like everything in nature except us humans, never left the confines (and freedom) of life’s natural rhythms. She knew in a different, non-cerebral way without needing to ask either existential questions or the tedious ones that often consume our lives. She knew in a different way—perhaps much like the monk who, after forty years of searching for ‘the answers,’ came around the bend on a mountain trail one early spring morning, saw a peach tree in full bloom, and proclaimed to himself, “Now I understand!”
Last week a robin built a new nest; this time on the door ledge of the porch outside the entrance door of our house. Squirrels could never get to this one. I have to believe it’s Robi. We’ve resumed our conversation.
The Affiliate Hospitality Initiative core group—Patty Hinton, Roxanne Hughes-Wheatland, Manny Hotchkiss, and Bob Short—are compiling a list of Affiliate households that are available to offer hospitality to Maryknollers traveling for work or pleasure. Once the list is completed, we will post the number of potential hosts by geographic area (e.g., Boston, Saint Louis, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, etc.) but no names or addresses. Maryknollers, including Affiliates, requesting hospitality in a given area would contact Bob Short, who will assess the request. If an Affiliate host is available, Bob will have the host contact the interested Maryknoller.
Hospitality Data Gathering – If you are interested in participating, please respond to HospitalityForm. Don’t forget to fill out the anti-robot code box. When completed, hit SUBMIT.
One of the most important things we can do as Affiliates is to stay connected—to our local communities, to Maryknoll Sisters, Fathers, Brothers, Lay Missioners and to other Affiliate chapters. It is through these connections that we experience the charism of Maryknoll. Proximity to Maryknoll in Ossining, New York, has allowed many of the Albany chapter members to form ongoing relationships with Maryknollers who reside there, but proximity is only one aspect of forming relationships.
At our May chapter meeting, the Albany Chapter Skyped with the Guatemala Chapter. This had been previously arranged via a series of emails to coordinate a common meeting time. Both groups were looking forward to this meeting to reconnect with Affiliates we had met at MAC 2017 or at other times. Laughter was shared together as we adjusted the cameras to focus on the Affiliates, not on the ceiling! We prayed together and wished the Guatemala Chapter a Happy 10th Anniversary by providing them with a cake and candles—which we enjoyed for them. We briefly shared what our chapters do throughout the year, acknowledging differences and commonalities. It was a joyful meeting and we plan on continuing this practice in the future.
Without consciously planning to, most of the articles in this issue mention ways to strengthen chapters and the Affiliate Movement. You could solidify your chapter by having a Covenant renewal, as was done by Misioneras Hispanas Santa Maria in North Carolina. To help recruit new members, Seattle will distribute information about their chapter when they help at Maryknoll events. Sharing your meeting minutes with your regional coordinator, the Executive coordinator, and the NSFA will keep you and them in the loop. Individually you can strengthen your connection with other Affiliates by responding to the Question of the Month. Hosting a regional conference would allow you to meet and be inspired by Affiliates outside your chapter. Bringing a Quo Vadis presentation to your area would also introduce you to new people and deepen your dedication to mission.
Chapters and Affiliates can be animated by working together on a project such as serving at the Border, as described by Roger Schiltz. The Las Vegas Chapter picks local nonprofits to support financially or with a special event. Las Vegas also suggests using Skype to connect with another chapter. Inviting visitors, as Northeastern Florida does, can enliven your chapter meetings.
Articles in this issue:
Promoting Maryknoll and Your Chapter – We encourage your chapter to customize and utilize a handout about your chapter...
Why Quo Vadis? – "Why might Quo Vadis be important for the Maryknoll Affiliate Movement?'—Bill Murphy
Maryknoll Leads Them to Action – "We try to take the positive from each group we meet.”—Punch Fermin
One Woman’s Missions – "On December 3rd, I took my Vow of Nonviolence* at Carmel of Reno for the 31st straight year."—Ellie Hays
Greetings from Peru – "A group of us collaborates at Casa Bartimeo, which is directed by Maryknoll Father Kyungsu Son, MM."—Hugo Castro Campos
Covenant Continues – "...these women were walking in the footsteps of the 'Tar Heel Apostle'—Father Thomas Price."—Gail Kelley
A Special Visitor from Tanzania – "Do you know how many houses that could buy where I live?”—Sister Mariana Clemence
Water, Water, Everywhere? – "I have been thinking a lot about how blessed I am to have such easy access to clean water..."—Matt Rousso
Border Volunteers from Kirkland, WA – "What a beautiful experience we had working together cleaning the filthy toilets and washing towels and clothes."—Roger Schiltz
Learn more about your Maryknoll Affiliate Board and Executive Coordinator in these articles:
And be sure to enjoy the Features in this issue:
If you are more comfortable reading the Not So Far Afield in its print form, you may download a pdf of the May/June issue.
Affiliate chapters often lend a hand when visiting Maryknoll missioners give a talk or say Mass in their area. They often hand out Maryknoll magazines and donation envelopes. Affiliates could use this as an opportunity to tell people about the Affiliates and to invite them to visit their chapter.
Knowing that they will be assisting visiting Maryknollers this summer, the Seattle Maryknoll Affiliate Chapter has drafted a handout which could be attached to the Affiliate brochure, or perhaps tucked into the Maryknoll magazines they will distribute. First they discussed and drafted a meaningful description of their chapter and designed it to match the dimensions of the Maryknoll Affiliates’ tri-fold brochure (about 3 ½” by 8 ½”). Before finalizing it, they asked the entire chapter to review the draft. Here is the April 18 draft of Seattle’s description:
Quo Vadis? Where Are You Going? ... The Next Step is a Board-supported program which a team of Maryknoll Affiliates designed to complement already existing immersion programs. It is a time for people returning from immersion experiences to consider how to integrate significant cross-cultural insights into their life choices.
Why might Quo Vadis be important for the Maryknoll Affiliate Movement? Quo Vadis:
The Las Vegas Maryknoll Affiliate Chapter formed 15 years ago after Los Angeles Affiliates Lee and Punch Fermin moved to Las Vegas. The group has now grown to ten people, including four nurses and a recently retired doctor. We were fortunate to gather over a casual dinner with Lee and Punch Fermin, Nicet Santos, and Evelyn Pua. Nicet explained, “Many of us knew about Maryknoll and the Sisters and Fathers from when we were growing up in the Philippines.”
This is a chapter of busy, mostly retired people. They gather to share their lives and support each other. Many of their other activities are spiritually oriented. Their dedication belies the Las Vegas nickname of Sin City.
You can make your RCs* very happy just by adding their email address to your Chapter distribution list. Then they will automatically receive the notices and notes of your Chapter gatherings. RCs want to know how they can help you and connect your chapter to others with similar interests. If you have a change in membership or contact person, let them know.
* RC = Maryknoll Affiliate Regional Coordinator. Find your Regional Coordinator’s name and email