The Trump administration slashed the “cap” on the number of refugees accepted into the US in fiscal year 2019 to 30,000, and has admitted just 18,051 as of May 31, 2019.* The Pew Research Center says, “the United States plans to admit a maximum of 18,000 refugees in fiscal year 2020, down from a cap of 30,000 in the one that ended Sept. 30, 2019, under a new refugee admissions ceiling set by the Trump administration.”
Affiliate Gail Kelley responds to refugees differently. She wrote for Maryknoll magazine in 2016 about “Seeing the Face of Christ” in refugees and now gives an update on the progress of one refugee family. Quoting from the 2016 article: “The Refugee Resettlement Ministry (RRM) at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, my parish in Raleigh, NC, … which was initiated in 1986, has assisted in resettling 33 families.” Gail says the Semahoro family is typical of their experience.
Gail Kelley greets the Semahoros in the airport.
Bashir Semahoro, a Congolese native, arrived with his family in Raleigh in October 2013. “We were cattle ranchers in the Congo when we were attacked by another indigenous tribe,” he said. “My parents were killed, my wife raped, and one of my children lost. My wife, three daughters, my brother, and I escaped with nothing but the clothes on our backs. It took us four months to walk to Ethiopia, where we were placed in a refugee camp operated by the United Nations.”
Gail wrote, “The members of our RRM have indeed seen the face of Christ in the strangers we have welcomed. They have inspired us with their unshakable faith, their unquenchable desire to be free in spite of persecution and imprisonment, their family values, their joy in simplicity, and their determination to become full and productive Americans. As a Maryknoll Affiliate, I am proud to be part of this ministry to vulnerable people from whom I learn so much.”
Gail Kelley, surrounded by the Semahoro family, developed a long-term friendship with them during their years in Raleigh.
Update: Gail keeps in contact with the family and sends this update: The Semahoro Family now lives in Austin, Texas, have a mortgage on a home, and are speaking fluent English. Both parents have full-time jobs. Aline, their oldest daughter, is attending community college on a scholarship to study nursing.
The Refugee Resettlement Ministry in Raleigh has since settled two families from the Congo and a Muslim family from Afghanistan. It now looks forward, at the end of 2019, to settling its 36th family.
If you are interested in Refugee Resettlement, initial or ongoing, go to: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr and click on State Program Directory for the voluntary agencies in your area.
*Note: Read more about the US reductions of legally vetted refugees at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/us/politics/trump-refugees.html.
My week in an all-Maryknoll contemplative retreat, held at the Lake House of Prayer in Mwanza, Tanzania, was special and very beneficial. The view of Lake Victoria was conducive to silent prayer and refreshment. Members of each of the four Maryknoll entities participated, coming from the US, Japan, Kenya, and Tanzania.
In September, While the stage was being set for the October Amazon Synod in Rome, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathy Bond, who has been serving in Brazil for decades, attended the Convergence of International Women: We are Medicine conference in Peru. She asked several attendees what their message would be for the Amazon Synod. These are two of her reports:
Miliwanga Wurrben, a traditional healer and elder, represents a remote area in Northern Territory, Australia.
Sweet Medicine Nation from Oregon, of Chickasaw lineage and of multicultural heritage, said if invited to the Amazon Synod, she would speak for “all of those who have no voice ... the trees, the water, and the animals.”
To learn more about the issues the indigenous peoples face in the Americas and elsewhere, search on “indigenous” on https://maryknollogc.org/.
On MKMAC.org, I read that Nancy Sylvester, IHM, will be the keynote speaker at MAC 2020 next June. Not being well-read in theology or contemplation, I had not heard of her before, and I wanted to get a feel for what wisdom she will be offering to Maryknoll Affiliates. Following the link to https://iccdinstitute.org, I explored her website, finally landing on the Resources page. There I found lists of Downloads, Readings, Poetry and Art, and Talks. Spinning the proverbial wheel of fortune, my pointer landed on her essay, “Finding Our Balance in the Political Landscape,” written in 2017.
We gathered in solidarity with the immigrant children being held in detention at the US border, and in support of a Catholic Day of Action in El Paso, October 12. A small group of Catholics, including Maryknoll Affiliates, gathered in front of the Cathedral of St. Mary in Portland that same Saturday. Our actions were inspired by the three national “Catholic Day of Action” events held on July 18 in Washington, DC, September 4 in New Jersey, and October 12 in El Paso. The Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, at https://maryknollogc.org/calendar/el-paso-catholic-day-action-immigrant-children explained why:
We launched the campaign after we were shocked by images in a recent Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s report showing immigrant and refugee children detained in cages, separated from family members, and living in unsanitary, unhealthy conditions.
When we arrived in Green Valley, AZ, this year, my husband Bob wanted to work with the migrants in some way. Little did we know that a floodgate-full of opportunities would flow to us.
It started with the Santa Cruz Valley Border Issues Fair and Common Ground on the Border conference in Sahuarita, AZ. About 300 people from many faith traditions attended, many of them local but others from all over the US and even as far away as Italy. The program introduction stated, “The Borderlands is the perfect place to explore the arts, touch the culture, and have deeper conversations about the complicated issues that collide here.”
First we went on a field trip, hiking through the desert. I found it challenging, and it had to be difficult for the two men and one teenager we honored that day—they must have run out of food and water. We honored each one with poetry and songs as we came upon the crosses where their remains had been discovered. Three thousand bodies have been discovered in the Tucson area since the year 2000.
The end of July, I traveled with the group, Heartland for Human Justice, to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Over 100 from St. Louis joined us. All of us wanted to emphasize that the current situation for immigrants entering our country lacks common decency. Children are separated from their parents and placed in an inadequate shelter, where food and medical care are sorely lacking. Our 10-hour bus ride to and from Fort Sill was little inconvenience compared to what those on the border are having to deal with!
By coincidence, Affiliates Renate Schneider, from Haiti and Chicago, and Mary Gill and Patrick Denevan, from Oaxaca and Portland, were all in Portland, Oregon, on family visits at the same time recently. When we gathered and enjoyed a stimulating conversation about the challenges of life in our various communities, I was reminded of the quote, “Wherever two or three are gathered...”
Renate has worked many years in Haiti, both at the University she founded and through Haitian Connection (HatianConnection.org) building houses and working with women in Jeremie. Mary and Pat had both been Maryknollers, then raised a family that includes an adopted mixed-race daughter. They were founders of the Portland Maryknoll Affiliates, becoming Maryknoll Lay Missioners in their retirement, then finally staying in Oaxaca in their second “retirement.” They live in an ecological adobe home and demonstration farmlet and work with the local indigenous people.
Renate said that in Haiti every meeting, even government gatherings, begins with a prayer, so we did, too. We prayed for our leaders and all ethnic groups, to remember we are brothers and sisters, all children of God. Renate told us Haitians are fervently Christian but also accept voodoo as an overlay to their faith. They believe in the power of voodoo and the people frequently see spirits. Mary Gill commented that she and the Oaxacans also sense spirits. She told of a neighbor who hiked to a cave in a nearby mountain where he saw a woman all dressed in white: the Madonna?
Haitians are proud of their history as early adopters of democracy. It seems they all know their history. They are well aware that they are a beautiful people and cannot be made to feel inferior. If an outsider makes an unknowing negative remark, they try not to take it personally. They stand tall and straight even when they’re not carrying heavy loads on their heads. We shared that all our communities experience racism based on skin color. Pat said that at AA meetings in Oaxaca, many men had commented that their dark skin color made them feel inferior. Since most people in Haiti have fairly dark skin, this form of racism may not be as common there as in the US and Mexico.
Daily life in Haiti has its challenges. Intermittent electricity may make it difficult to keep cell phones and computers charged. Renate may stock the refrigerator with food only to find that the electricity will be off and then have to share the food with her neighbors rather than let it spoil. The University has an electrical generator, but then someone had to remember to have gasoline to run it on hand. In order to have water in her house, she needs to be sure the water tank on the roof gets filled.
Working with therapists and mental health professionals, Renate related how many of the Haitian’s emotional ills express themselves in pains in their bodies. The Denevans see the same phenomenon in the indigenous people of Oaxaca.
Renate was shocked by the obvious homelessness in the US.
In Haiti, people’s families take them in even if they have to sleep 20 to a room.
Political unrest in Haiti which has been in the news has caused a decrease in tourism and disrupted daily life. One hotel which had employed over 200 people was down to 20 local employees. The effects of unemployment cascade through the society because each working person might support 10 others. Airlines canceling flights at the last minute because of the unrest also created problems for travelers, workers, or volunteers coming to the island. Corruption in political and government offices is widespread and occurs at all levels.
We agreed that it is difficult to change a culture that seems to accept corruption, or bullying, or discrimination, but, each in our own way, we must live out our Christian values.
The following report is condensed from Pat Bader’s minutes of the October 12 Seattle Chapter meeting.
To begin the meeting, Al Drinkwine read his poem entitled, “An Earthly Letter to Our Heavenly Father,” his response when a priest suggested that he write a letter to God.
Discussion: We explored, “Why do we attend the monthly Affiliate meetings?” using the Four Affiliate Pillars as a starting point. Some comments:
Spirituality binds us together as a group.
Community: We are nurtured by our community and by the support we all receive from connecting at the monthly meetings.
Global Vision: The Not So Far Afield newsletters keep us in contact with Affiliate activities worldwide.
Action: We volunteer together locally and internationally.
Chapter roles: After three summers of coordinating Affiliates to help the Maryknoll priests during their weekend mission appeals at parishes, Carolyn Creighton has handed on the job to Janet Quillian. Carolyn is also stepping down as Chapter Coordinator, to be replaced by Kitty Schiltz, who was nominated and unanimously approved.
Presentation: Al and Jerrie Drinkwine gave an enthusiastic and informative presentation on their 8-day trip to Cuba in April to “Support the Cuban People.” They received friendly welcomes everywhere and stayed at B&Bs to experience local hospitality and culture. The 1950s vintage vehicles are a favorite mode of transportation for tourists. The already fragile economy had collapsed further after the Russians withdrew from Cuba in 1990.
Though geographically dispersed, twelve dedicated folks have carved a few hours out of their busy schedules to read and talk about nonviolence this October. Half are Affiliates, and half are their friends who want to expand their thinking and nonviolent tools. Besides reading the very practical book, Personal Nonviolence, by Gerard Vanderhaar, and using on-line readings and video from JustFaith’s “Cultivating Nonviolence” module, they participate in weekly conference calls to share their insights and questions.
Campaign Nonviolence, Pace e Bene’s international campaign that works for a new culture of nonviolence free from war, poverty, racism, and environmental destruction, reported more than 3,000 actions during the September 2019 Week of Actions, including several events in Oregon (https://paceebene.org/blog/2019/9/22/2019-action-week-in-review).
In October, Robert Ellsberg of Orbis Books, featured several books on Gandhi and offered free shipping. Maryknoll Affiliates also receive a generous discount from Orbis. Some Affiliate chapters, for example in New Orleans, read inspiring books and focus their meetings on discussing them.
A pilgrimage in the desert. The desert should not be a death sentence, but the government knows the southwestern border is dangerous for migrants—and wants it that way. Some 8,000 people attempting to enter the United States have died in this region since the 1990s.
We invite you to the always engaging and often transformative international Maryknoll Affiliate Conference. It will be held June 25-28, 2020, at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison, NY – 17 miles north of the Maryknoll Center in Ossining. The theme is: Witnessing Love in the Interim Time. $350 covers tuition and room & board (a $20 reduction from the previous MAC!). Travel grants will be available as in past years.
The MAC 2020 Planning Committee has made great advances in designing the theme, content, and flow of this 3½ day event. The Keynote speaker is Nancy Sylvester, IHM, very sought after in the conference world, and most of the workshop facilitators have already been confirmed. We are also planning a first-time, unique segment to include young adults (18- to 39-year-olds).
A MAC website is being constructed; we anticipate that it should be ready in mid-September. It will provide an online registration form, travel grant application, schedule, and information you’ll need to know about the conference. Please mark the date and plan to be with Affiliates and other members of the Maryknoll family from throughout our global home.
On May 23, the North Bay Chapter hosted Vicki Simon, returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner to Kenya, to speak about her recent experience at the US – Mexico border.
Vicki spent two weeks volunteering in El Paso, Texas, at an Annunciation shelter in a La Quinta Inn. She told how she prepared for that experience by taking a Jesuit-sponsored five-day border immersion trip called The Encuentro Project. In addition, she took a Just Matters study module on migration, which brought home to her that migration is very extensive around the world even though we experience it mainly on the US - Mexico border.
We were captivated by her description of how the shelters are completely run and staffed by volunteers, how those two weeks were physically and emotionally demanding. She explained that between 50 and 120 asylum seekers would be referred to the shelter each day by ICE after having been processed as they came across the border. Generally, they were one parent and one or more children. When they arrived hungry, dirty, and often sick, they would be offered clean clothes, showers, meals , beds, and medical help. They would stay just long enough to have the volunteers contact their sponsor, who would buy a plane, bus or train ticket for them, and then the volunteers would accompany them to the airport or bus/train station. They were given provisions for the journey and a placard that said they didn’t speak English and asked for help finding their connections.
A couple years ago, my husband, David, and I were contacted by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Sam Stanton and his wife Cecelia Espinosa, to see if we could help her with a church date in northern Santa Barbara County while he covered a church farther south. We had a wonderful visit with Cecelia while offering not only bed and board, but also transportation to a couple different Masses.
We saw that Affiliates could be helpful to the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in their promotional efforts, and the Hospitality Initiative suggested to Ted Miles, current Executive Director of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, that we may be able to offer Maryknoll Lay Missioners a place to sleep, possibly local transportation, and support at the churches where they are speaking. In late July, Ted shared the list of 2019 dates on which Lay Missioners will speak at churches to raise awareness and funds for all their mission needs. Offering this hospitality not only expresses our charism of welcoming, but it is a local short-term volunteer opportunity—a way to be of service to the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in their missionary efforts.
Please check the list of 2019 Church Dates and see if a Maryknoll Lay Missioner will be speaking near your home. Your hospitality will not only help further their efforts; you’ll probably make a lasting connection with a fellow missioner.