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.
Are you ready to plan your own immersion experience? Find out about
upcoming trips at: http://www.friendsacrossborders.org/
Our Affiliate Global Vision helps us to see immigrants as brothers and sisters in need of our care and understanding. We are all members of families and cannot imagine the horror that families separated at the border are experiencing, the newest chapter in their migration tragedy.
The fate of Marco Antonio Munoz (find on https://www.washingtonpost.com), who was found dead in his cell after being forcibly separated from his 3 year old son at the US border tears at our hearts.
The Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns provides some concrete actions we can take. See Maryknollogc.org. We urge you to join the many organizations demonstrating in the streets, to advocate to the government officials for immediate compassionate immigration reform, to provide physical and emotional support to refugees in our communities, and to lift up our united voices in prayer in our churches for our detained sisters and brothers.
This is an invitation to continue in the spirit of “Buen Vivir”. (We miss you. How are you doing?) We can each share what we are doing personally globally, spiritually, and in action in this beautiful Maryknoll community.
Our sharing: Maimuna is a lively young girl living at St. Agnes Chipole Children’s Home, Tanzania. We met her in 2012 when she was an infant brought to the orphanage because she wasn’t expected to live. Since then, when visiting the children, we have been charmed by Maimuna’s sense of fun and spirit. She is always at the center of activities playing with the other kids her age, peeling peanuts, and carrying wood, a smile always on her face. She is just beginning elementary school with life ahead of her.
Rudy Cypser, an extraordinarily gifted visionary and longtime Maryknoll Affiliate, passed on to New Life in February. He was 94 years old and is survived by Betty, his wife for seventy years. Together they led extraordinary lives of service to others. They were passionate in promoting restorative justice policies in many prison systems throughout the world, and they directly impacted the lives of many in prisons.
Rudy understood complex problems on many levels and then developed effective approaches to improve human service systems. He and Betty conducted bible study groups in prisons for 30 years and also conducted Alternatives to Violence training for inmates for many years. Rudy, working together with others, spread the Alternatives to Violence program to sixty countries in the world. He was deeply motivated by compassion for others and by his Christian faith in the goodness of the human person.
Rudy and Betty traveled to 26 countries in Asia and Europe and studied prison systems in Canada on a quest to learn about restorative justice programs in those countries. Then they took on an advisory role with a Committee of the Catholic Bishops of New York State and were effective in assisting the bishops in bringing about improvements in New York prisons.
This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Campaign started by Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of Americans, alarmed at their government’s blindness to human need. As his Poor People marched, Dr. King paused to answer a plea for support from sanitation workers on strike in Memphis. There an assassin snatched his life on April 4th. Dr. King was assassinated before the March, but others took the lead. Now a new campaign continues his legacy.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.
Campaign Nonviolence, Sojourners Magazine, and Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation have all endorsed and joined with it.
*Abridged from Tom Hastings’ post at HastingsNonviolence.blogspot.com/2017/10/this-land-is-your-land.html. Tom H. Hastings teaches Conflict Resolution at Portland State University and directs Oregon Peace Institute’s program, PeaceVoice.
I traveled to North Dakota to join others in supporting a gentle man who tried to help everyone. For that, he was convicted of several crimes and will be heading to a North Dakota prison.
Michael Foster was born and raised in Texas, in an oil family. His crime in North Dakota was turning off the Keystone pipeline in a symbolic but real call to all of us to do what we can to stop global climate chaos.
That North Dakota valve turn was one of five similar actions last October—two women, three men, five valves on lines in Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, all done in resonance with the Break Free from Fossil Fuels campaign.
We see the consequences of paying no attention to our oil consumption: Harvey drowns Houston, fires rip through the West, every hurricane is more intense than it otherwise would be, droughts last longer, lakes are drying up, the seas are rising and surging, and, with fracking, even earthquakes are no longer a pure act of God. Most previously natural disasters are now unnatural disasters, made worse by our hand more than the hand of God or Mother Nature.
Members of the NE Ohio chapter live near Cleveland and meet monthly in members’ homes. A couple members have retired, but most of them are still helping people on a daily basis in their professions as therapists, a nurse/yoga instructor, and a lawyer. They were quick to advocate for immigrants and refugees, gun control and concern about shootings, and the poor and hungry.
Curt and Jan Alberti and Pam Cibik were in the recent massive March for Our Lives in Chicago. Pam insisted, “We’ve got to support the young people who are demanding safety and better gun control.”
Kathy Ress participated the Ecumenical Advocacy Day in Washington DC—co-sponsored by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns—that addressed both immigration and gun control. (Watch for her article, “Advocacy for Immigrants,” in the next issue.) She participates in a local group that succeeded after eight months and thousands of dollars in legal and other fees, in having one man released from ICE detention. Her parish is discerning being a sanctuary church.
The Affiliates of Santa Maria in Wilmington, NC, are currently involved in many activities. We prepare lunches for needy people who have no homes and we work together to help families in need by dispensing basic necessties. At the same time, we continue taking Communion to the Hispanics we find in the New Hanover Hospital. Here in Wilmington, we pray the rosary before Mass and attend the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament once a month. Blessings from all of our Chapter.
Gail Kelley adds that she has been invited to attend all the Wilmington Chapter meetings and made it to a recent meeting. She explains that Gloria Tan was the Chapter Coordinator for many years and attended an Affiliate conference with her. Since Gail accompanied the Spanish-speaking Wilmington Chapter during their first orientation, Gloria asked her to give a review orientation, which will happen soon, because only three of their current active membership participated in the first orientation.
Maryknoll Affiliate groups and Parish entities have been asking what it means to do mission in the modern day. Much has been said in recent years at Affiliate gatherings about the Third Wave, agreeing that we are in a new age of mission. There was a time when mission was the special domain of those in religious life. Bishop James E. Walsh of the North American Mission Society, better known as Maryknoll, once said, “To be a missioner is to go where you are needed but not wanted and to stay until you are wanted but not needed.” Pope Francis has called upon the church to begin a new chapter in evangelization; writing in Evangeli Gaudium, he reiterates the basic reality that we are all called to mission by virtue of our baptism. Thus, we must continue to go where we are needed—at home or abroad; perhaps wanted, perhaps not.
There are as many ways of doing mission as there are baptized individuals.
How do we do this? I believe the answer is personal and that many people are doing mission and not realizing it! My prime example of this is those who volunteer in our local parishes, working in the food pantries, teaching CCD, etc. If that’s not mission, nothing is.
Participants brought their personal symbols of balance to illustrate the Northeast Regional Meeting’s theme. Holding the Maryknoll Affiliate meeting on Earth Day, April 21, provided an extra dimension, as did welcoming several members of the newest Affiliate Chapter from Springfield, MA. Over 50 people attended, including the Affiliate Board, with 15 chapters represented.
After an opening song and prayer for the Earth, Sr. Norie Mojada, MM, presented a brief review of Theory U from the Presencing Institute (www.presencing.org/#/aboutus/theory-u). About 25,000 people, including some Affiliates, had studied Theory U in an on-line course in 2015, and the Maryknoll Sisters are using the concept to aid in evolving their community. Theory U is a process which helps users open their mind, heart, and will to accept new input and let the future emerge.
Quoting Liz Sweeney, SSJ, who wrote on a model for communal discernment through contemplative dialogue (Summer 2014 LCWR Occasional Papers – see https://lcwr.org/item/summer-2014-discernment), Sr. Norie stressed the importance of contemplation and contemplative dialog to help us stay open to input from others and to listen with our hearts.
In small groups we examined and shared our individual spirituality as Affiliates. Many mentioned their connection with the earth and all its creatures, social activism, and an appreciation for an evolutionary consciousness. We discussed what each of us saw as Maryknoll spirituality: including global vision, care for creation, respect for other faith traditions, and especially hospitality.
In discussing their chapter’s balance of the four pillars, Affiliates said their chapter provides a community, nurturing them in ways their parish community does not. The Affiliate pillar of Global Vision was also very important. Every group emphasized Spirituality, but there was a lot of discussion about Action. Affiliates are very active, but chapters don’t usually have a project they all work on. Several groups thought that if their chapter had one project that they all worked on, it would help unify and animate their chapter.
After saying Mass, Fr. Russ Feldmeier, MM, helped us close the day, praying for several who would soon have operations and sending our blessings to all those we carry in our hearts.
In early January 2013, I toured the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest in the US (capacity 1,575 detainees), with a group of people interested in visiting detainees who have no family or friends in the area. The NW Detention Center, a for-profit facility, is located in the industrial area of Tacoma, WA, without any public transportation or services. It is operated by GEO Group (NYSE symbol GEO) under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the Department of Homeland Security.
A not-for-profit organization, Advocates for Immigrant in Detention Northwest (www.aidnw.org), located in Tacoma, trains volunteer visitors and assigns a detainee whom they visit frequently until the detainee is released or deported. Other not-for-profit organizations also have programs for visiting detainees at NW Detention Center.
Several of the North Bay Affiliates had been on mission in southeast Asia. Now their mission not so far afield is helping a Haitian refugee family in California. Last November, the NSFA told about Bob and Nancy McFarland being willing to open their home to a refugee family.
Nancy and Bob had begun to work with a rapid response team to help undocumented immigrants. One family who fled Haiti for their safety had traveled through many countries before reaching California. They learned that this family of four—a father, his wife who was 9 months pregnant, and their 2- and 4-year-old children—was sleeping on half of the living room floor of someone else’s apartment. Even though the McFarlands had health concerns and would soon be traveling to the 2017 MAC in Guatemala, they had a spare bedroom and could not refuse to help.
The McFarlands’ cautious “Yes” was echoed throughout the community. They were gratified when 17 of their associates immediately volunteered to help materially and with transportation. The father, Jean, spoke to another faith community that collected $1,800 to help the family pay expenses. Another Affiliate gave a car he could no longer use to the family. Now Jean has passed his written driver’s test but not yet the actual driving test allowing him to use the car he’s been given.
The family is applying for asylum because of the violence they experienced which forced them to flee Haiti. Although lawyers volunteered some of their time, the asylum application will still cost about $5,000. Affiliates transported and accompanied the family to the immigration hearing, carrying the 25 pounds of paper applications for the 4 refugees.
“A healthy baby was born to the family and it was like a real Christmas story. Jesus was a refugee,” Nancy reminisced.
The community has come together to support the family of five. That evening during our pot luck dinner, Bob took a phone call and made a quick exit to drive Jean to his new job.
Helping the refugees has reinvigorated this Affiliate chapter. Their presentation last fall about immigration issues at a local parish has attracted several new members. They have connected with other organizations who are also concerned about immigrants and refugees. These Affiliates remember their immigrant roots and eagerly share their love, time, and energy.
The Korea Affiliates held their monthly meeting on April 7, 2018, at the Maryknoll Sisters’ residence in Seoul. Fifteen members, including two newcomers, spent the afternoon sharing on their personal lives and actions since the last meeting a month ago. Russ Feldmeier attended and presided at Mass.
The questions below were used as a framework for the sharing:
They had a wide-ranging discussion. One person talked about the need to listen to the people we serve. He works with youth at Sogang University, a Jesuit University in Seoul, and facilitates pilgrimages and other programs. Others spoke of the value of the Maryknoll family and the way Maryknoll missioners in Korea influenced them. In general, they talked about the value of the Affiliate chapter where we can all meet and which helps us to grow. Since this was right after Easter, they talked about the Paschal Mystery of new life even through suffering.
The hot issue for the day was the #MeToo movement, which has had a powerful impact in Korea recently. It has been an opportunity for Koreans to deal with the patriarchal aspect of Korean society, and a number of the Affiliates shared on the impact it has been having on their own lives and on the society at large.
There was a great deal of energy at the meeting, and the sharing was rich.
A friend asked Bertha, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Tanzania for many years, how Tanzanians interpret the Good Samaritan story. Seeing her answer as relevant to all in mission, she shares her thoughts with us.
It is an immense challenge for missioners to respond appropriately to cultures that we don’t fully understand or appreciate. This challenge is acute for short-term missioners but affects all. I was particularly sensitive to the priests who had served in Tanzania for decades but who had derived their understanding of the culture from men.
This question evoked many memories for me. The interpretation that to Tanzanians, “my neighbor is whoever helps me,” rather than “whoever needs help,” is understandable. Colonial experience impressed on Tanzanians the self-image of helplessness, neediness, and dependence on foreigners. Though they spontaneously reach out to each other without even thinking about it, there’s a difference between how Tanzanians relate to each other and how they view themselves in relation to the rest of the world.
My Good Samaritan story: Just after an RCIA class focusing on the Good Samaritan parable, my class and I encountered an old woman passed out in a drunken stupor on the street outside the church. Having just pondered the parable, we couldn’t rightly just pass by. Because everyone else knew the woman and her history, passersby just laughed and went on their way. The Tanzanian catechist offered no solution to the situation. So, several of my young adult students stayed with her while I walked the five blocks to my home to get my car. On my return, the students lifted the lady into my car. I drove to the trail that led up to her home and the students carried her up the steep hill to her home.
I don’t recall that we discussed this encounter during our next class, but I still distinctly remember the event. Had I not been the class facilitator, I fear I would have joined the passersby and gone on home without intervening. I still worry that by getting my car, I again taught that Tanzanians are dependent on outside help, that they are excused from helping.
What do you think a missioner should do in this situation?