Twenty-nine participants, representing six chapters, came from New Orleans, Houston, North Texas, Northeast Florida, and Portland, Oregon. Also present were Maryknoll Affiliate Board member Father Russ Feldmeier, MM, and Executive Coordinator Bob Short.
Welcoming us, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans emphasized the missionary “going forth” of the Church and thanked Matt Rousso for his outstanding service to the Archdiocese.
Quoting Pope Francis, Matt Rousso told us, “The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this art of “Accompaniment.” (EG 169)
Matt Rousso’s opening talk on Accompaniment drew heavily on Pope Francis’ documents. Then in groups we shared our understanding of accompaniment.
Matt said that a day center for the homeless in New Orleans can be a mission when folks get to know the homeless while they provide them service. A poor elderly woman he met in Haiti told him they didn’t necessarily want our help but especially wanted to be known and loved.
An early morning Prayer Walk along the levy of Lake Ponchartrain where it adjoins the retreat grounds helped us start the day.
Saturday morning keynote speakers Jason and Felicia Gehrig, returned Maryknoll Lay Missioners, reflected on their seven years serving the Aymara in Bolivia. They gave birth to three children and went through three changes of governments during their time there. Listening to the people and their needs, they drew close to the people through all of these experiences. Jason workded with the people on installing a water delivery system which continues to this day, and Felicia heard of the need for libraries in the area and started them. Then participants related their experiences of accompanying people.
Jason Gerig emphasized, ”Accompaniment can be done anywhere. You don’t have to travel to do it!” He also asks his sons, “Have you befriended anyone who’s poor today?”
Manny Hotchkiss, Portland Oregon Chapter, reflected that a mission of accompaniment is a leveler. We are not coming in from a superior position to help, to do for, someone.
Bob Eilenfeldt of the North Texas Affiliate Chapter offered, “The old concept of mission for the youth groups he takes on Mission was to “do something.” Now we try to spend more time with the children they meet at the mission site and even go to the families’ homes. Bob also said, “Mission requires going outside one’s comfort zone when meeting people from other cultures.”
Ruth Kleeman, Houston Chapter, said that with accompaniment, “We are also recipients of mission.”
Bob Morgan told of his mission accompanying the Native Americans resisting the pipeline in North Dakota.
On Saturday afternoon we heard a panel of Fr. Russ Feldmeier, MM, who spoke on the Society’s commitment to collaborating with the Affiliates; Bob Short, on Affiliates throughout the country and overseas; and Fr. Gerry Kelly, MM, on Affiliate relationships and the Third Wave of Mission.
Saturday evening we enjoyed New Orleans-style gumbo, music, and singing. The umbrellas were moving to the beat of New Orleans music.
On Sunday morning Gerry Kelly explained the formation materials from the Third Wave Institute and provided the participants with copies of the materials. We finished with Mass, during which six people made their Covenant with Maryknoll Affiliates, with Russ Feldmeier administering the oath.
This conference reiterated that the Affiliates are an essential dimension of the ministry in the Southern area. We are working together in formation programs, exhibits, and leading short-term missions.
Matt summarized, again quoting Pope Francis, “Mission is seen as being from everywhere to everywhere.”
The Southern Regional Conference received coverage by the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ newspaper, the Clarion Herald. See Christine Bordelon’s excellent article and photos at http://clarionherald.info/clarion/index.php/news/latest-news/155-breaking-news/5962-maryknolls-missionaries-at-home-and-abroad).