In his address to the Maryknoll Society Centennial Symposium in 2011*, Fr. Steven Judd, MM, reminded us of three traditional marks or traits that characterize Maryknoll Spirituality. They are affability, availability, and adaptability. When I read his comments on them recently, I said to myself, “Well, they’re pretty accurate.” If I were to describe Maryknollers, I might not use the same words, but the ideas are readily apparent to anyone who has been around the Maryknoll family. I began to realize that these three qualities are reflective of the Maryknoll people we encounter and love, and are also aspirational. They present for us real goals, lofty and achievable, that help define who we are.
In August 2014, I learned through Partners of the Americas (Oregon is Costa Rica’s Partner) about the JumpStart Program’s need for English teachers in Costa Rica. I had wanted to visit Costa Rica again, and this seemed like a good way to both volunteer and revisit the country.
Robert Guice, contact person for the Houston Affiliates, describes their chapter as “actively pursuing and supporting short term mission.”
This chapter is grateful for the presence of Fr. Gerry Kelly, MM, and for the Houston Maryknoll House where they hold their meetings. They are active supporters of Maryknoll, helping at mission fairs and at diocesan meetings. The Galveston-Houston Diocese strongly supports mission, having many sister parishes, short-term mission trips to the border regions, and great synergy with Affiliates. Many of the members are very active with the diocese and the Texas Mission Council. Since many of the Affiliates go to various mission sites, chapter meetings are planned when people are in town.
The heavens opened over San Salvador on May 22, 2015, during the evening of the beatification ceremony of Oscar Romero. Tens of thousands of people from every corner of the world, the majority campesinos from El Salvador, congregated for the vigil Mass. For the Salvadoran campesinos, this had been a mostly dry “rainy season,” and the pouring rain was a blessing. As the vigil Mass continued, I sought refuge from the curtains of water in the midst of the sea of people around me. Soon I made eye contact with an old lady who was standing under her umbrella. Most likely my look made her signal me to join her. Not too long after, another old lady who was trying to cover herself with a small piece of plastic came to stand with us; then a boy of about 12 years with a gentle look in his eyes also joined us.
In 2004, my wife, Katy, and I took a break from teaching and moved to Reno to do organizing work for the 2004 election. After the election, we returned to teaching and opened up a project-based middle school program with an existing Montessori school. Both experiences connected us to a great community of energetic locals who eventually helped us launch “Be the Change.”
In 2014, several Affiliates reported on their part in Campaign Nonviolence (CNV) in the Not So Far Afield, and the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns endorsed the Campaign. The CNV web site reports that over 100 actions are already planned to connect the dots between war, poverty, and climate change.
“We join with you in a global vision and option for the poor. We are not alone. We are in solidarity,” say the Phoenix Affiliates to the world and to other Affiliates.
In early March, the San Diego Chapter of Maryknoll Affiliates met in the home of Erin and Spencer Rickwa to remember Bob Metzger with stories, songs, and prayer. Bob, who had been attending our Affiliate meetings for a number of years, was found dead in his apartment this past December 31st.
Bob, a retired teacher, lived alone and loved to travel. He had been a Maryknoll Seminarian years ago and maintained contact with some of his former classmates. He especially loved to talk about his visits to Maryknoll and with Maryknollers.
Our gathering began with the prayer, “Teach me Lord,” by Fr. Joseph Veneroso, MM. Erin recalled Bob’s visit to Cochabamba and his difficulty in finding the Maryknoll Language School. Then Michele shared her collage of photos and words that reminded us of Bob, such as:
Listening to “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” we noted that he had been a calm and peaceful man, even to the end! Pat, Spencer, Jim, and Peggy talked of Bob as being in the next door room, or, better still, in our midst, as we heard the song: “I will not leave you comfortless, I will not leave you alone. I will come to you in the silence; Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
Margie read John O’Donohue’s poem, “For Death,” as well as various quotes on death, including the Irish Proverb, “May you get to heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you are dead.” Joe’s aunt had written a prayer on the occasion of his brother’s death. It ended with, “Oh sweet Jesus... that we be reunited together with you in heaven to live eternally united in your heart.”
We finished our meeting with the song: “I am the Bread of Life... And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up…” But the wake was not over until we toasted Bob with some brew before sharing a meal. May he rest in Peace in the arms of our Mother Mary!
For peace activists on the front line, it is true you can feel small, alone and ineffective. But still you demonstrate to bring issues to light. This makes authorities uncomfortable, and you may feel like well...we are just three people protesting. You will probably never know that maybe your action just prevented a massacre from going forward.
—Amos Gvirtz, Israeli peace activist, author
Photo by skip schiel © teeksaphoto.org
Amos Gvirtz is an unassuming Israeli man. A peace activist and pacifist, his personal moral choices have come at a cost, being labeled a “self hating Jew” shunned by family and community. Yet he leads tours for international humanitarian visitors and joins demonstrations in the Negev and in the West Bank to expose the atrocious human rights violations. He has had a long time to think over his position. I was excited to find out he was going to tour the US and Canada this April, and I made sure to bring him to speak in Rockford, Illinois.
Amos presented at Emmanuel Lutheran Church and at the mosque of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford. It was a teaching of a suppressed history, refreshingly free from political agenda. Amos gave clear answers to our questions. But he also commented on the nature of community, and he shared a message for all peace activists in our struggles to Think Globally and Act Locally. He said,
What was very special for me to see was this church that is so much about peace. Where peace is central to it. It was wonderful. And to see Muslims visit the church and Christians visit the mosque to be together is really peace itself. For me this was impressive.
After his presentation, we talked till late about the power of convictions, the polarization and militarization of identity groups, and the terrible consequences of letting loyalty take the place of moral judgment.
Next morning at the bus station we ran into a Rockford philanthropist who was a sponsor in the creation of Rockford›s Keeling Puri Peace Plaza in 2000. As a music educator who is also a peace activist, I performed music and led children›s activities at the Keeling Puri Peace Plaza on International Day of Peace since the first event 9/21/01 (imagine that time) thru 2010. But I challenged the absence of the Palestinian flag from the circle of flags representing those immigrant populations that have made Rockford their home in America. The peace plaza policy regarding displayed flags required “statehood.”
What could I say to Palestinian friends here? Same as world politics...you do not exist; you must wait and be patient. I was advised by Day of Peace event organizers that my selections of peace music should not carry an anti war message. At the time I was preparing the song, “Imagine,” by John Lennon, with a group of children.
In this chance encounter at the bus station—introducing the Israeli peace activist and the Rockford philanthropist, I asked if the UN’s recognition of Palestine as a state would mean the Palestinian flag could fly over the Peace Plaza. She said maybe this could be reconsidered. A new day...
In all our lives, but especially as we ponder where and how to invest our mission efforts, we face a discernment process. What is our role in God’s plan?
1. Read through the entire meeting plan.
2. Plan who will read the passages.
3. Determine which discussion questions to use at your meeting and who will lead the discussions.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think that I am following
Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right
Road though I may know
Nothing about it.
Therefore, will I trust you
Always though I may seem lost
And in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you
Are forever with me, and you will never leave me
To face my perils alone.
While still in Bolivia but having completed their work with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, the Halberg Weavers paused to discern what their next stop would be.
Discernment is one of those words we use often as missioners. It's a way of trying to be in touch with what really gives us life and paying attention to how God is present in that.
As we began 2014, we committed—as a family—to spending each Sunday afternoon during January examining our hopes and dreams for the next stage of our lives. Taking steps into the unknown future can be daunting for an individual, so we were well aware of how difficult it would be to meet the hopes of five people. However, our sharing of those hopes fell into place, like a harvest following a good growing season.
Think of a time you had to make a major decision. Were you able to set aside time to discuss your options? How many other people did your decision affect? Were these people part of the decision-making process? Did you consciously make prayer part of your discernment process? How long did you ponder your decision?
It was immediately clear that all five of us wanted to live closer to Grandma and Grandpa Halberg, which would mean leaving Bolivia and moving to Washington State. We were also in agreement that our last year in Bolivia would be lived to the full. For the kids, it meant one more school year with their Bolivian friends.
For Karen, it meant leaving her work responsibilities and focusing on "tending the hearth." And for me, it meant that I would continue my commitment to form a primarily Bolivian parish team.
And so our three children began a new school year: Jake in 1st grade, Emma in 5th, and Daniel in 8th. They had a great year. Besides their studies, they participated in traditional Bolivian dancing and learned to play traditional Bolivian instruments. They played basketball with friends and continued to form life-long ties that I'm sure will endure, wherever we live.
My work of creating a parish-based community agriculture project continued to solidify and expand. Our parish garden produced enough vegetables to support a full-time gardener who sells its produce twice a week at the church. The German foundation, Miserior, has become a partner in a full-time team that visits families and acts as a resource for nutrition and gardening advice. Funding for this project is necessary for its continuity. Significantly, this ecological work is now included in the parish vision, formally structured in the pastoral plan.
It is said, “Maryknoll Missioners go where they are needed but not wanted and move on when they are wanted but not needed.” Have you ever faced a transition, a time of moving on, when you could see that what you had achieved would survive and grow in the hands of others? Or conversely, did you ever need to make a change because a position was so frustrating it was not healthy for you? How did your previous experience influence your decision about what to do next? Did you seek out counsel while making the decision?
Our family lived the year of 2014 appreciating all the beautiful, enriching eccentricities and cultural celebrations/customs that make Bolivia and its people so special: the Carnaval parade in March; the trip Daniel and I made to southern Bolivia; watching Daniel's best friends playing on Cochabamba’s team in the national youth soccer tournament; all the parish activities for young children. So many threads of our life in Bolivia were weaving themselves together!
At the end of the school year, we began the process of packing up and sorting out the things we had collected over the years. Without the help of our Maryknoll friends, our neighbors, and our co-workers, it would have been overwhelming.
Casta and Alejandro made many trips in their little car, hauling fridge and stove and rabbits to new homes. One family from the store where we bought most of our groceries showed up unexpectedly on our last day with chicken dinners not only for us but also for all who were there helping out. We will forever remember how Bolivians know what to do in the moment, and offering everything, with no holding back for what may be needed the next day.
We are now in Washington State, still discerning our next steps. We are in the process of purchasing some farmland near the area where Karen grew up. I am excited about pulling together my mission work by engaging in the growing movement toward local food economies and sustainable, community-supported agriculture. The chance to return to farming offers so much towards our rooting ourselves in the fabric of this rural community.
Over our 20 years in mission, our family has enjoyed an amazing web of relationships. We are grateful for the love and support of so many friends and marvel at the grace of the life we have lived thus far. We are thankful for the support of all who have joined us in our journey, as well as for the awesome Mystery that bumped us together along the way.
Having read the Halberg Weaver family’s story, what will be your approach the next time your are faced with a life-changing decision?
Closing Prayer (in the style of your chapter):
God, if this is your will, help me.
If not, stop me.
Roger and Kitty Schiltz, partners in mission as in life, share stories of their time in Tanzania.
Roger: When we go to Tanzania for two or three months, we take books with us as part of our spiritual journey.
Two years ago, reading two Orbis books by Franciscan sister Ilia Delio—The Unbearable Wholeness of Being and The Emergent Christ—and being with the people in Tanzania, we remembered that we are stardust and co-creators with our God in this beautiful cosmos. This year we brought with us two books by Richard Rohr OSF: Eager to Love and Hope against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety. And we learn that God is love and God is in our DNA and in everything.
We hope these pictures of our time this year in Chipole, along with the readings, will give an idea of our journey.
Kitty and Sr. Tuzinde, in the 10-acre Field of Dreams, are elated by seeing trees 5, 10, and 20 feet tall after years of fires. Sunflowers grow between the trees.
To prevent fires and to compost the soil, Roger cultivates the ten acres by hoe each year.
Children call Sr. Tuzinde Mama Miti —mother of trees. She is pulling the earth toward love and sustainability.
Roger feels like he is sitting on top of the world in the Field of Dreams.
We do have a little fun out here in this spiritual dreamland where God’s DNA is in everything. St. Francis would say, looking up at the stars and at all the creatures, “If these are the creatures, what must the creator be like?”
Kitty: While staying at St. Agnes Abbey in Chipole, Tanzania, this year, I decided to spend time with the youngest orphans. Since the older orphans were at school and pre-school, five of the youngest spent their mornings waiting for their older siblings to come home and play with them.
Mama feeding uji to Rosie. Joni is watching.
These young ones were just waiting for me to come each morning. They would be sitting on the floor, not yet walking. I came at porridge time when they were enjoying a cup of warm uji.
What do you do with five little children who can’t talk or walk yet? By the time I had their diapers changed, they were wet again, so I did not concentrate on dry babies. I wore old clothes and changed when I went home.
Lighty and the soccer ball.
I found an old soccer ball, and we learned to roll it to one another; but mostly I sang songs and held them on my lap. It became so natural to be with them each morning. Most of them were lively, and I picked them up and made them giggle. When I sang they would smile and move to the rhythm of the songs—except for one of them.
Kitty singing to Joni, Rosie, Lighty, and Omega. Antony has crawled off somehwere.
My challenge was to get that one to smile. Lighty was her name, shortened from Lightness. One of the first things I noticed about her was that she was not at all like her name.
She did not smile and she was chubby, not interested in moving or walking even though she was two years old. The ball was the one thing she really liked, so we played ball. Lighty began to smile and respond to the rhythm of the songs, to attempt to go after the ball. Finally, when I urged her to hold my hands and try to walk, she smiled up at me and tried. I felt joyful; now I miss the babies and wonder how they’re doing.
Kitty and Lighty and ball. Joni and Antony in background.
After my volunteer assignment in San José, Costa Rica, I traveled by bus to visit Kitty Madden, a Maryknoll Affiliate in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. She has lived there for 29 years, putting her heart and soul into serving the needs of high-risk pregnant women. Casa Materna, established in 1991 as the very first maternal care center in Nicaragua, offers food, shelter, education, medical care, transportation and support for high-risk pregnant women from rural areas for one to two weeks before and after childbirth.
I had met Kitty Madden at a Maryknoll Conference and become a Friend of the Casa Materna. Later she traveled to Portland, and visited my Solo group and Portland Affiliates. During her last visit, over lunch I learned of the new developments at the Casa. I thought it would be wonderful to actually see for myself the operation of this wonderful Maternity Home.
Kitty greeted me warmly at the local bus station and installed me in the Casita, a very comfortable hotel across the street from Casa Materna. The $15 per day cost goes directly to support the Casa. Soon we were welcomed by the staff and pregnant women at the Casa. Charming murals, brightly painted interior spaces, and wonderful rocking chairs, made for a very friendly atmosphere. After a lunch of rice and beans, I joined Kitty at a meeting with the staff, who were planning an outreach program—additional education and training that women have requested. The follow-up and outreach programs are becoming a more important part of the mission of the Casa Materna as the number of Casa Maternas has increased; now over 100 are located in every department in the country.
The next day we walked with the women up some very steep hills to the hotel gardens for calming exercises led by Kitty Madden. Then we were treated to some fruit punch and flan at the hotel. I learned the women’s ages, how many children they already have, their due dates, and the reason for their stay at the the Casa. They ranged in age from 17 to 42; this would be first child to eighth; and they were expecting that very day or week, or were overdue.
I had a chance to ask them questions and they asked me about my children. Our second walk a few days later was also very enjoyable and just as calming. The sense of calm, the companionship of the women, and the dedication of the staff are what impressed me the most. I met the whole Casa Materna staff when I joined them at the end of their monthly meeting, just in time for their fun fundraising raffle (to raise money for their 13th month salary – their bonus), and I was certainly impressed by their desire to serve the women in Matagalpa with high-risk pregnancies.
While I was in Matagalpa, several women went to the regional hospital to deliver their babies or for appointments in the new ambulance that was purchased a few years ago. Marvin, one of two Casa drivers, was taking a women for an appointment in the ambulance and gave me a ride as well, dropping me off at the bus station when I had to leave Matagalpa.
Beth Begley, a very active Affiliate, exemplifies the partnering of Affiliates with other organizations. As a Pax Christi International UN Team member, she recently wrote, “Pax Christi International’s Vibrant Presence at the UN,” for the Pax Christi Winter 2014 newsletter: https://paxchristiusa1.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/winter2014newsletterweb.pdf. The article discussed the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review.”
When asked what value she sees in partnering, Beth commented: “What I’m seeing are ever more converging and interwoven networks. Maryknoll Global Concerns is a member organization of Pax Christi International and there is a collaborative group in DC of Pax Christi International–USA, the DC Maryknoll Office, Sisters of Mercy, Columbans, and more who work together to inform and to help shape US policy. At the UN, committees of NGOs collaborate as well. I hope in our upcoming survey of ourselves as Affiliates, we will explore our various involvements and passions. This seems to be very much a sign of our times as we evolve...I have often thought, ‘How can we collaborate in terms of organizational structure and relationships?’ I think now that it is a matter of staying loose and flexible enough to respond to the opportunities and the challenges as they appear. What is your experience and your hope?”