Kathy Ress, Pam Cibik, and Gerry Mullaney – Northeast Ohio Chapter
This is a story of three friends and a journey. The friends are Kathy, Pam and Gerry. The journey begins in 2003 and continues—it spans four continents and 9 countries. The backdrop is Maryknoll. Who were these friends when we embarked? Who are we now? What happened in between? Where are we now?
Kathy, Pam, and Gerry knew each other for some years before the journey. We shared traditional Catholic, Christian roots. We shared professional identities as mental health clinicians. We were good people who cared for our families and provided service to our clients in American society.
Then we encountered Maryknoll. Kathy had a head start as the sister of Judy, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, who served in Chile. Kathy and Judy hosted us on a visit to Chile over the new year in 2004. There, we learned some important history—including the darkness in our Church’s history of complicity in the abuses of colonialism and in our country’s foreign policy which provided comfort to Augusto Pinochet with his abuses of human rights in the 1970s and 1980s. We saw light as well in the challenging and healing posture of Maryknoll.
Following this adventure in Chile, we became intrigued with Maryknoll. We began a series of Friends Across Borders visits—to Tanzania in 2007, to Cambodia in 2010, and to Bolivia in 2012. These were not the mission trips of “doing for others” that family and friends expected. We enjoyed a richer experience of walking with sisters and brothers of different cultures and sharing and learning.
We colored and played with the street boys of Mwanza, Tanzania. We experienced the exuberant music and an African blessing extended through the outstretched hands of the entire Sunday Mass congregation. We witnessed Liz Mach’s loving and healing touch for her fistula girls at Bugando Hospital.
In contrast to Tanzania, in Cambodia was the quiet serenity of Hindu and Buddhist history and culture. We learned of darkness again—the cruelties of Tuol Sleng prison and the killing fields during the Khmer Rouge terror. Again Maryknoll showed us light in the work of Father Charlie Dittmeier, who is bringing the previously unserved and rejected hearing-impaired population into connection with Cambodian society. Father Kevin Conroy is establishing psychological healing in a country in so much need of these services.
Bolivia provided an opportunity for contact with the indigenous—the Aymara and Quechua—and their gifts of welcome with blankets full of food, woven goods, and dance. The personal encounters provided deeper meaning: the old man on the shore of Lake Titicaca expressing his happiness that we visited his village to be with him; the prisoner in Cochabamba showing his appreciation for our attendance at Easter Mass with the community of prisoners.
Beginning in 2014, our journey continued with travels to Latin America with the assistance of two other organizations—GATE (Global Awareness Through Experience), and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. These stops included Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, and the United States border with Mexico. Again, we were witnesses to darkness—the decades- long genocide in Guatemala with US government complicity, the cruelty of the Cuban embargo, and the ongoing suffering of Mexican migrants who seek a share of God’s gifts across their border with the United States despite US “keep out” efforts. Again, there was light—the Saints—Stanley Rother in Guatemala and Oscar Romero of El Salvador—the migrant outreach of the interfaith border ministry in Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico, the universal education and health care in Cuba. Most of all, again, the brightest light was that provided by the people who welcomed us and appreciated our witness to them and their experience.
So here we are now—what are we to make of all of this? Our world is bigger and more complicated than was our experience before the journey. It is filled with pain and darkness, both past and present. It is also filled with light. We—Kathy, Pam, and Gerry—agree that the most memorable and meaningful light has been our encounters and connections with our fellow human beings—indeed our sisters and brothers—across different cultures and life experiences who share our humanity—who live and love and suffer as we do—and who can appreciate and share with us as I hope we do with them. In this journey, the spiritual connection among the three of us has deepened as well. We continue this journey through the establishing of a Maryknoll Affiliate chapter in Northeast Ohio.
Finally, as we found God present in these cultures and people, in their struggles, in their gifts to us, and in the loving and healing works of saints, we can conclude that God is bigger and better than we imagined, bigger and better than the darkness and pain of life. We are challenged to live believing this. We are challenged to contest walls and to continue living lives of encountering and connecting with all of our sisters and brothers.
*This article was first published in Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Voices of Compassion as “A Memorable Journey,“ p. 22, Volume 18, Issue 1.
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