Monday, 02 May 2016 23:21

Finding Connections in Southeast Asia

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 Charlie Reilly – San Diego Chapter

Marta and I traveled for five weeks, visiting two daughters and their families in Bangkok and Laos and Maryknollers in five countries. We found that the Maryknoll mission and service in Southeast Asia is still going strong.  Our visit caused me to reflect on the presence and legacies of China and the United States in the region and to note its ties to Affiliates in San Diego today.

View from the Maryknoll House to the South China Sea

Hong Kong. The Maryknoll house in Stanley, Hong Kong, built about 80 years ago as a base for mission efforts in China, overlooks the South China Sea.  During our nights there, monsoonal winds buffeted the house. It withstood them, like the mission itself, changing as China and Church have changed. Today’s Maryknollers—priests, brothers, sisters, and lay people—have carved out some well thought out, strategic niches in areas like education and communications, adapting with the local church to political and ideological constraints, turning over initiatives to laypeople who share the vision and charism.  While we were there, Maryknollers were conducting a retreat for women religious superiors from different parts of the Chinese mainland.

 

We visited the Maryknoll Sisters’ School and Hospital, both now managed by laymen. Elderly folks were exercising, eating fresh produce from the “wet markets.” (The Chinese could outlive us all if they could control air pollution.) Outpatient services and a palliative care pavilion offering short-term, “hospice-like” stays serve the poor. Walking the streets of the Kowloon parish, we watched Father Bob Astorino, MM, chat and laugh with his former parishioners in the market.  Gazing up at huge apartment houses in this crowded city, he remarked, “Each window houses a family.”

Sister Maureen Corr, MM, (right) publisher of the English edition of the Hong
Kong diocesan newspaper, greets Marta at the Holy Spirit Study Centre.

With Bob Astorino and Peter Barry, MM, we visited the Holy Spirit Study Centre housed at the diocesan seminary. At the Centre, Chinese researchers and Maryknollers like Peter provide support and communications that bridge Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland. A quarterly journal, Tripod, helps track the complex relationships between Chinese government and the Catholic “registered and unregistered” churches. Bob Astorino, a founding member of the Union of Catholic Asian News (in 1979) explained that it serves as the hub of a network of Catholic media outlets throughout Asia. 

Thailand. Father Tom Dunleavy, MM, an Irish super-connector, has worked on immigration and refugee needs with Maryknoll and other programs in Cambodia, Viet Nam, Laos, and now Thailand, since 1980. Thailand has long received people fleeing persecution from surrounding countries who are housed in refugee camps there. As elsewhere in the world, many ethnic groups live spread across borders and suffer persecution as minorities. 

Both Laos and Cambodia are still plagued by unexploded ordinance and landmines – we listened to land mine
victim musicians playing traditional instruments and music outside monuments and temples. At the current
rate of clearing them, it will be 50 years before they’ll all be disarmed.

The US. Both Lao and Cambodia endured fierce US bombardments (authorized by neither the Congress nor the American people) during the secret side of the Viet Nam war. That war netted two Communist countries, an American defeat, and an enormous number of deaths.

San Diego. I was struck by unexpected long-distance links between Maryknoll folks.  Several years ago, Erin Rickwa, a San Diego Affiliate then volunteering with Catholic Charities, invited our chapter to welcome a newly arrived group of Karen—an ethnic group in various countries of Southeast Asia. From Myanmar (Burma), they had spent years in Thailand before receiving political refuge in San Diego.  We didn’t speak their languages, nor they ours.  Yet we had fun connecting at a picnic on Mission Bay. Affiliates Karen and Pat Reilly continued working with some of these new arrivals. 

Winners of an essay competition for immigrant youth in San Diego schools were two young Karen women from Myanmar. Having trekked with their families through jungles to enter Thailand and eventually arriving as refugees in San Diego, they will soon start college. More connections!  

Another key link in the chain is San Diego Chapter Coordinator Jim DeHarpporte.  Based on his many years working with CRS in Southeast Asia, he was the ideal person to orient us for our journey.  Amazingly, his son had studied and graduated from the International School of Bangkok where our daughter and son-in-law teach and three grandchildren now study! 

Tiny aluminum doves of peace crafted from American bomb remnants.
I’m told the country’s largest export is scrap metal! Despite this heavy
history, these peoples were most kind to us Americans. We were
forgivable. Could it be that Buddhists are better Christians than Christians?

Is this a small world? Sheer coincidence? Divine providence? Or what? Your choice! 

The story lines are straightforward. For example, Tom Dunleavy, a Maryknoll priest in Thailand whose mission is service, has been instrumental in sending refugees and immigrants on long, hard journeys for a better life—more than 8,000 miles to San Diego.  Some of these arriving refugees found compassion from Maryknoll Affiliates here.  Our mission, too, is service. 

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