Kitty sent her reflection as she and Roger were preparing to leave for Africa to attend the graduation of one of the children they have been helping with school since they were Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Tanzania.
Harmony seems like a stretch in these days of super egos and partisanship, but I saw it develop and flourish over the four days of the MAC 2017 in Guatemala. The deepest feeling I have about the conference is oneness. It wasn’t an invasion of North Americans telling Central Americans; it was complete sharing. The celebration of Mayan spirituality brought us together as a sharing in the cosmos. We arrived as individuals and left as one.
All the ceremonies/liturgies, group work and celebrations brought us together. Language was not a problem—there were words spoken in Spanish translated into English and English into Spanish but no need to translate the smiles and good will of all. Singing, dancing, walking, eating together blossomed into a unity of purpose and engendered a new Maryknoll Affiliate essence. At 25 years, we are still beginning.
I had the good fortune to travel with three other Affiliates—Susan Porrovecchio, Jim Comes, and Gerry Mullaney—on our post-MAC tour to the Coatepeque region of Guatemala.
First, we spent time with Sister-Doctor Dee Smith, MM, and saw her tremendous accomplishments—finding and treating those diagnosed with HIV in and around Coatepeque. Most of those infected live in extreme poverty and also must deal with the stigma of this disease and rejection by their families. With a caring and dedicated staff, Sr. Dee has developed an outreach program to educate not only those in schools, but also families dealing with an infected family member.
Sr. Dee began the Santa Maria center in 2004, where attention is given to improving not only physical but also emotional care. They provide counseling, spiritual support, nutrition education, and physiotherapy as those inected continue their anti-retroviral treatment. Part of their holistic approach is to encourage the families to establish gardens with vegetables and healing herbs, as nutrition is key to strengthening immune systems. The center needs two new exercise bikes to help counter the various degrees of paralysis the disease can cause.
CONTRASIDA* was the mission of Maria Recinos and Irma Ventura de Ábrego years before they began attending the Maryknoll Affiliate gatherings. Dr. Mary Annel, MM, founded the CONTRASIDA Center in the 1990s in one of the poorer districts of San Salvador, El Salvador. Sr. Gloria Ardenio Agnes, MM, is now the only Maryknoll sister at the CONTRASIDA Center, but several other of the Salvadoran Maryknoll Affiliates also volunteer there. Affiliates and CONTRASIDA volunteers Norma Araujo de Orellana and Luis are in the photo. Affiliate Irma, not pictured, said she had worked with Sr. Mary (who only recently returned to the US due to illness) at CONTRASIDA for 13 years.
Sister. Mary initially wanted to elevate the dignity of the AIDS patients, to prepare them to die, but now the center prepares the patients to live fully. Their 170 patients range in age from 2 to 74 years. After receiving retrovirals, one patient has now survived 22 years.
Following MAC 2017, 11 of us journeyed via the Pan American Highway into the western mountains of Guatemala. Our trip took us first to the beautiful volcanic area of Lake Atitlan and the towns around the lake, where one of our guides, Sr. Bernice Kita, MM, spent many years in pastoral ministry. We traveled by water taxi from San Antonio Palopó across the lake to the town of Santiago Atitlan, where we saw the location of Fr. Stanley Rother’s martyrdom, and, perhaps more poignantly, the massacre of many indigenous peoples with whom he lived in solidarity. This was a prayerful and meditative time for all of us. Because of her close association with Fr. Stan, Sr. Bernice made this experience come alive for us.
Montana had two feet of snow on the ground when I left home for this much anticipated adventure. Flying into Guatemala early in the morning, as the sun was rising over the mountains, was an awesome sight I will never forget. I was not prepared for the city hustle and bustle of Guatemala City. But Verbo Encarnado Retreat House was out of the city, in a very beautiful tropical setting, a paradise for the senses, and warm.
In all the church and health conferences I have attended, never have I had a better conference experience anywhere! Rosa Beatriz and the whole organizing committee were amazing. Our every need was attended to. Many times we were challenged to think how we felt about our mission as Maryknoll Affiliates and how we perceived the future. We had many opportunities to meet with and share ideas with the attendees. It was encouraging to see how the Guatemala Affiliates included many young people and their families. The unique character of Maryknoll—embracing and being open to different cultures and walking with the people—was wonderfully present throughout the gathering. The poet and Mayan spiritual guide, Daniel Caño’s presentation was worth the price of admission!
I took the post conference Mission Trip I for its health care focus. We were av small group of four Affiliates, our driver, and our guide, two very kind and thoughtful men who showed us the hill country. They introduced us to the indigenous people who shared their stories and welcomed us so graciously into their homes. It was very evident that the Maryknoll Sisters we met— Dee, Jane, and Mary Lou—had empowered the local people, who in turn were giving voice and ministering to the needs and concerns of others, walking with them and advocating for them.
Many people who attended MAC 2017 visited Caminando Por la Paz in Zone 18 of Guatemala City. Caminando is an example of one possible future for Affiliates in mission. The Caminando was formed by Fr. Tom Goekler, MM, along with several young men who came with him from Honduras. After his untimely death a few years ago, Ron Covey and the Houston Affiliates took a bigger role in providing support and a connection with Maryknoll in the US.
The young men and women of Caminando continue to provide local children tutoring and breakfast and lunch, a safe place to gather, wholesome community activities, and coverage of some school fees. They participate in the Guatemala Affiliate Chapter and helped plan the Conference. The Maryknoll Affiliates/Catholic Workers at Caminando Por La Paz send their greetings:
Cecibel Flores and Irma Ventura de Ábrego joined the post-MAC Conference Mission Visit No. 4 in El Salvador. The fledgling Salvadoran Affiliate group had sent Cecibel and Maria Recinos as representatives to MAC 2017. Fr. Jack Northrup, MM, who tries to attend Affiliate meetings, joined the tour at AcoMujerza, the mission site of Melissa Altman, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. Fr. Jack, with whom Cecibel works visiting the sick in hospitals, invited her to an Affiliate meeting three or four years ago. Now Cecibel is the contact person for the Affiliate group. Irma said about six or seven people typically attend their monthly Affiliate gatherings. A Maryknoll sister or priest sometimes provides the program for the Affiliate meeting.
At the MAC 2017 in Guatemala, we walked slowly, slowly, counter-clockwise around the fire, praying and being with all of nature in the cosmos. Daniel Caño, a Mayan philosopher, poet, and spiritual leader, led the prayer thanking all of nature in the cosmos. We prayed in the circle and discussed the magic in our spiritual being in a circle. Circles are everywhere, in space, math, bubbles. Even honeybees dance in a circle to communicate.
In Honeybee Democracy, Tom Seeley researched the question, “How do honeybees select a new home?” Honeybees naturally swarm. Swarming is the way honeybees reproduce. The queen and two-thirds of the bees in the hive leave the hive and congregate on a branch, the eave of a house, or a fence post, while the rest of the bees remain in the original hive. These bees will make their own new queen from a fertilized egg left by the departed old queen.
The nights here in Matagalpa grow longer as we await the coming of the Light. I write from the Casa Materna, a project I have helped to nurture and one that has so lovingly nurtured me…for over 27 years. It is an appropriate moment to thank all of the Maryknoll Affiliates who have been a bright light for us both spiritually and financially.
I am remembering the warm invitation I received from Mary Ann Jackman in 1985 to “come and work with me and my people in Nicaragua.” Though she did not live to see the Casa that would bear her name and welcome so many mothers, we feel her presence here with us daily.
The Nobel committee awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN—International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”
Maryknoll and Pax Christi International were integral members of the ICAN campaign to achieve the Nuclear Ban Treaty, and their efforts continue toward ratification in each signing nation and entry into force.
It had been very discouraging that our efforts brought so little awareness, especially here in the US. Then we awoke on October 7th to the Nobel Peace Prize. As part of the campaign, my email has been happily flooded with congratulations and encouragement from our campaigners all over the world.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was opened for signatures on September 20th. There need to be 50 ratifications for it to enter into force. Three states have ratified to date—the Vatican was first. In spite of pressure from the US, we expect the treaty to be in effect within two years and to serve as a moral benchmark. (Editor: The US has not signed or ratified.)
Although the nuclear states try to discount this accomplishment, I see it as a part of a new expression of empowerment by the nonnuclear and less powerful states and by a new generation of activists working from the ground up and giving priority to reducing the humanitarian effects of war and violence. The Land Mine Treaty and the Treaty on Cluster Munitions were the first steps in this movement.
Note: To learn more about the negotiations at the United Nations to adopt a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons leading toward their total elimination, read Sister Elizabeth Zwareva, MM’s report in the July-August 2017 issue of NewsNotes at http://maryknollogc.org/article/un-nuclear-ban-treaty-negotiations.
In early November, around 100 Affiliates and friends will be attending MAC 2017, our international Maryknoll Affiliate Conference, in Guatemala. The MAC Coordinating Committee tells us,
The assembly cup is full. We welcome Maryknoll Affiliates who will live the harmony
between people and Mother Earth inspired by the theme of Buen Vivir.
The Coordinating Committee asked for responses to these questions:
One person shared the thought, “Living in harmony with all challenges us to remember that the Blessing that awaits us is often outside our comfort zone!”
Read more of the thoughtful and inspiring responses they received (in English and Spanish), in the No Tan Lejos del Horizon Special MAC Edition and plan to hear a full report on our first truly international MAC in the next issue of NSFA.
Are you concerned about climate change but don’t know where to start? Here’s a path forward. For cleaner air, more jobs, and involvement for all, think 1-2-3 and prioritize!
By taking even some of the steps below, we can make progress toward our top priorities!
Kevin collaborated regularly with the Seattle Affiliates from 2011-2015 and currently with the Affiliates in Chicago, where he now works. This a reprint of Kevin Foy’s blog:, “5 Things Christian Mission Teaches Me About Confronting Racism,“ posted on August 18, 2017.
Reflecting on testimony from residents of Charlottesville following the recent racist demonstrations, I am struck by a major disconnect. While many white residents are quick to say, “This is not us,” their black neighbors point out that racism is indeed very much a part of Charlottesville: African-Americans are the targets of 80 percent of traffic stops, despite making up only 20 percent of the local population. The same white residents who showed up to protest racism also regularly reject their appeals for reforms in education, employment, and housing policies that disproportionately harm people of color.
A cluster of San Diego Affiliates joined several hundred people at the USD Peace and Justice Auditorium October 6 & 7 to reflect on this topic.
Maria Stephan of the Institute for Peace gave a splendid opening talk on “The Nonviolent Option: The Power of Active Nonviolence.” She reminded us of the many under-reported examples of effective social change through nonviolent movements around the world in recent years. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana gave the closing talk, “Christian Nonviolence and Just Peace.” He heads the Vatican’s Human Development office, which includes the Justice and Peace outreach initiative encouraged by Pope Francis. This event follows up on a Vatican session held a year ago, also organized by Maryknoll and Pax Christi co-president Marie Dennis. Sandwiched between the two public talks was an all-day seminar for some 15 Catholic theologians and peace activists with an equal number of military officers, most of them faculty members (or retired from) teaching ethics at Army, Navy, and Air Force academies. Fr. Bill Headley and I participated in the whole event.