Last November I volunteered at the refugee center located within the grounds of the Diocese of El Paso. It is a good-sized room with its own kitchen and eating facility. The bishop of El Paso and seminarians reside nearby, and most volunteers stay in the seminarians’ sleeping quarters, where they are comfortable and have a regular bed unless there is a lack of space; then volunteers might sleep on a cot.
Volunteers learn how to perform a number of functions, then do what is requested as needed.
On our annual road trip, I met briefly with Heidi Cerneka, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, in El Paso.
Heidi said she was inspired to join the Lay Missioners while she was still in college and heard about the church women being martyred in El Salvador. Rather than being frightened, their dedication excited her. As a Lay Missioner, Heidi worked many years in Brazil with women in prisons, but at 50 years of age she decided to go to law school. Now she works for a nonprofit, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, as an immigration lawyer. Most of her work involves asylum cases. In this part of Texas only about 3% of asylum applicants are successful. She said that in other jurisdictions, e.g., parts of New York or Portland, Oregon, about 50% of asylum applicants are eventually granted asylum.
The Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy center needs volunteers and interns. Besides the obvious need for workers with legal expertise, Heidi specifically mentioned that social workers or counselors could interview clients. The organization’s website—Las-Americas.org—includes two pages requesting interns and volunteers and listing needs.
I asked Heidi her message for Affiliates. She emphasized, “Walls and detention centers are not the answer. Central America needs to be a place where people can stay if they want, with job opportunities, fair wages, and security. The US needs to be a place where people can come with fair immigration policies. … All the people that leave the government’s detention centers are now documented; they’re not undocumented or illegal!”
A little preparation can lead to a lively meeting.
In preparation for a chapter meeting just before Earth Day, Matt Rousso, New Orleans Chapter contact person, sent two questions to the members of the Gulf South New Orleans Area Chapter:
Since they’d been discussing and studying Laudato Si and Care for Creation, these questions resonated with the members. Sixteen people attended the meeting and everyone had something to say.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a local Rotary Club to install wood-burning stoves in two villages on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
My local Rotary Club in Westborough, Massachusetts, and Rotary clubs in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, received a grant from Rotary International to install the stoves.
I worked with another Rotarian from Massachusetts and a local technician from HELP International. HELP identified 100 families and provided the basic parts needed to install a stove. Each family agreed to not sell the stove and to purchase eleven cinder blocks which would act as the base for the stove. (Google “Onil stoves Guatemala” to see the stoves.)
The goal of the project was to change the practice of cooking with open fires on the floor, eliminating exposure to smoke and reducing health issues. Mayan families traditionally cook with open fires on the floor in rooms with little or no ventilation. Several health problems are associated with smoke exposure: acute respiratory disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and others.
With continued support from the grant, local health clinics will be monitored for health issues related to smoke exposure, and some families will be visited to measure air quality in the room where the stove was installed.
In four days, our group of ten Rotarians installed 100 stoves in homes and one larger wood-burning stove in a school. The Mayan families receiving the stoves are very poor—they live in two or three rooms and have none of the basic conveniences we take for granted. The taxi driver who drove us around to different houses told me he makes five dollars a day. In addition to reducing the Mayan family’s exposure to smoke, the stoves burn wood more efficiently, saving trees and money. The families were overjoyed to have the stoves, which will enable them to spend less for wood and hopefully more on food.
Patty Hinton, Vicki Simon, and the Hotchkisses talked about their connections to Maryknoll over lunch in May. The Hotchkisses were passing through Missouri on their way home to Portland, Oregon, from an Affiliate Board meeting at Maryknoll, NY. Patty Hinton is the Regional Coordinator for the large Midwest region that includes Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and other nearby states where there currently are no Affiliate chapters. She arranged for Vicki Simon to join us.
Vicki Simon is a returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner who served in Kenya. Since returning, Vicki is on the Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Board and has served in various Jesuit-related roles in the St. Louis area. She commented that the JustFaith program had been active for over 12 years at St. Francis Xavier “College” parish, St. Louis. Racism and white privilege are discussed in many area churches. She recently volunteered at a migrant refuge affiliated with the El Paso Annunciation House of Hospitality. Having studied Latin American culture and taught Spanish for nine years, she said, “I felt called to do something!” She plans to work at the border again in August.
One of the most important things we can do as Affiliates is to stay connected—to our local communities, to Maryknoll Sisters, Fathers, Brothers, Lay Missioners and to other Affiliate chapters. It is through these connections that we experience the charism of Maryknoll. Proximity to Maryknoll in Ossining, New York, has allowed many of the Albany chapter members to form ongoing relationships with Maryknollers who reside there, but proximity is only one aspect of forming relationships.
At our May chapter meeting, the Albany Chapter Skyped with the Guatemala Chapter. This had been previously arranged via a series of emails to coordinate a common meeting time. Both groups were looking forward to this meeting to reconnect with Affiliates we had met at MAC 2017 or at other times. Laughter was shared together as we adjusted the cameras to focus on the Affiliates, not on the ceiling! We prayed together and wished the Guatemala Chapter a Happy 10th Anniversary by providing them with a cake and candles—which we enjoyed for them. We briefly shared what our chapters do throughout the year, acknowledging differences and commonalities. It was a joyful meeting and we plan on continuing this practice in the future.
Affiliate chapters often lend a hand when visiting Maryknoll missioners give a talk or say Mass in their area. They often hand out Maryknoll magazines and donation envelopes. Affiliates could use this as an opportunity to tell people about the Affiliates and to invite them to visit their chapter.
Knowing that they will be assisting visiting Maryknollers this summer, the Seattle Maryknoll Affiliate Chapter has drafted a handout which could be attached to the Affiliate brochure, or perhaps tucked into the Maryknoll magazines they will distribute. First they discussed and drafted a meaningful description of their chapter and designed it to match the dimensions of the Maryknoll Affiliates’ tri-fold brochure (about 3 ½” by 8 ½”). Before finalizing it, they asked the entire chapter to review the draft. Here is the April 18 draft of Seattle’s description:
Quo Vadis? Where Are You Going? ... The Next Step is a Board-supported program which a team of Maryknoll Affiliates designed to complement already existing immersion programs. It is a time for people returning from immersion experiences to consider how to integrate significant cross-cultural insights into their life choices.
Why might Quo Vadis be important for the Maryknoll Affiliate Movement? Quo Vadis:
The Las Vegas Maryknoll Affiliate Chapter formed 15 years ago after Los Angeles Affiliates Lee and Punch Fermin moved to Las Vegas. The group has now grown to ten people, including four nurses and a recently retired doctor. We were fortunate to gather over a casual dinner with Lee and Punch Fermin, Nicet Santos, and Evelyn Pua. Nicet explained, “Many of us knew about Maryknoll and the Sisters and Fathers from when we were growing up in the Philippines.”
This is a chapter of busy, mostly retired people. They gather to share their lives and support each other. Many of their other activities are spiritually oriented. Their dedication belies the Las Vegas nickname of Sin City.
With my highlighter in hand, I read the NSFA, marking things that especially interest me. I loved seeing the suggestion to use the Maryknoll Affiliate pillars of Spirituality, Community, Global Vision, and Action at meetings. Sr. Norie’s January article, “Norie—A Presence with Past Connections,” reminded me of an article I wrote for the February 1995 Not So Far Afield. At that time, I had given away 5,700 Presence cards by Sister Joan Metzner, MM. I was a casino floor supervisor (pit boss) at Harrah’s Casino and I gave them to any and all I thought to be receptive. I retired in 2002, but it is still my mission. I just had 2,000 more Presence cards laminated, bringing my total to around 17,000.
Hello, we twenty Affiliates of Capítulo Niño Jesús are former catechists of the Parish of the Child Jesus, where Maryknoll Fathers worked in the past. We meet the first Sunday of each month.
We are collaborating and helping in a couple of areas. A group of us collaborates at Casa Bartimeo, which is directed by the Maryknoll father, Kyungsu Son, MM. There they train the visually impaired in massage therapy through both theory classes and practice.* In other projects, we work with elders and with young people at the secondary level of Colegio Estatal.
* See the article, “Casa Bartimeo, A light of hope for the blind in Peru,” in the March 2017 issue of
Maryknoll Magazine. The above photo was reprinted from this article.
On February 18, 2019, 13 of the 15 members of the Maryknoll Affiliate Chapter Misioneras Hispanas Santa Maria, founded in 2011, gathered together. They renewed their Covenant to be missionaries in the spirit of the Maryknoll Mission Movement: to bring Christ’s words and love to where it is not known, especially to the poor and unempowered, while living a life of simplicity, spirituality, global vision, community and action. They are unique among the 36 Affiliate Chapters in the United States in that their membership is comprised of all Latina women, working within a Parish structure. Their mission is the evangelization of Hispanic people living in the fourteen trailer parks around the Wilmington Area.
Melita Angel and Gloria Tan, the present and past coordinators, worked with Norma Rivera, the Basilica of St. Mary’s coordinator of Spanish Ministries, to define this unaddressed need. Father Chesco Garcia, the Parochial Vicar of the Basilica of St. Mary’s, blessed the women before their Covenant was received and accepted by Gail Kelley, representing the Maryknoll Affiliates’ local Regional Coordinator and the Executive Coordinator.
Gail pointed out that these women were walking in the footsteps of the “Tar Heel Apostle”—Father Thomas Price. Father Price, the first North Carolinian ordained to the priesthood, was born in Wilmington. Eventually becoming the Co-Founder of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, he is being proposed for canonization and is represented by the Raleigh Diocese.
The Northeast Florida Affiliate Chapter was blessed to have Sister Mariana Clemence from Tanzania speak at the April meeting. She is a Franciscan Sister of St. Bernadette, and a parish in St. Augustine, Florida sponsored her trip to the US. Sister Mariana said the order has 220 active Sisters and almost 50 more women are preparing to join them.
Sister spoke of the many ways the Sisters reach out to the poor and needy in Tanzania, in the spirit of both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bernadette. These include educational and medical work, as well as caring for orphans, lepers, and refugees. The Sisters don’t wait for poor people to come to them for help but travel to the smaller villages to “find them in their environment.” She noted that the many African dialects make communication difficult and impressed us with her command of English, her third language.
Sister Mariana helps unemployed youths and single mothers become self-employed and works on projects to provide reliable and clean water, the lack of which leads to water-borne diseases.
As Affiliate Brian Schoonover drove Sister Mariana to our meeting, she asked him the cost of the minivan that they were riding in. When he told her that it was a $30,000 car when new, she gasped and said, “Do you know how many houses that could buy where I live?”
We were all reminded of how much we have and how our lives are very different from those of the people whom Sister Mariana serves. But despite the poverty that Sister confronts daily, her smile never left her face. As we listened to her, we shared a wonderful bag of cashews that she had brought from Tanzania. We also enjoyed seeing her wear a Flagler College sweatshirt over her habit, a gift to her from Brian, her “chauffeur.” Affiliate Shelby Miller concluded that “Sister is a warm, generous, and joyful woman, firm in her faith and vocation.” Our understanding of life in Tanzania was enhanced by Sister’s open sharing with us.
Wilton, a young unschooled boy, lives across the road from our community garden in the back corner of barrio Santa Ana in the town of Esquipulas, Guatemala. Wilton stays with his mother and father in a very simple two room house—it has only a single light bulb hanging in the front room and one water faucet, which seldom gives water, attached to a make-shift sink. Because of drought during most of the year, the municipality does not receive enough water from its source for all the inhabitants of Esquipulas, especially those who live on the outskirts. Wilton also has a 19-year-old sister, Wendy, who lives in an adjacent structure with her 2-year-old baby.
During a recent mission immersion program in Santa Ana, I was working in the garden with eight of our seminarians from St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, LA, along with Don Chencho, our gardener, and his young helper, Pablo. Several years ago we had to hand-dig a well in our garden because we could only get a little water from the nearby stream where women come daily to wash clothes. In the midst of the morning work, Wilton walked up to me shyly and handed me a folded piece of paper, saying it was de mi papa. I opened the paper and read the scribbled Spanish note, having to decipher some of the words which were badly misspelled. The letter was a heartfelt plea for help!
“Dear brother Mateo and the other brothers. I make a cordial greeting in the name of Señor Jesús and our mother, always virgin María. The objective of the present (note) is to beg a favor that if you can give us water because my wife and children are dying of thirst because there is no water. Jesus says in his word that the one who gives a glass of water to these little ones makes it with me. Signed: Catalino Vasquez, husband of Josefina Hernandez.”