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.
Then we were on our way to Catarina, San Marcos, to visit Sister-Doctors Jane Buellesbach and Mary Lou Daoust, MM, at their clinic where they see patients on Mondays. The rest of the week, they travel to 15 pueblos in rotation. They have a pharmacy and lab as well as a diabetic clinic which offers testing, treatment, and monitoring. While there, we also met a group of health promoters who were having a training session. They are educated by the sisters to diagnose through observation and treat common illnesses. They can dispense the basic medication the pharmacy provides.
Several of the outlying clinics are associated with fincas (large farms), where the workers, usually with several children, live in substandard housing and work under deplorable conditions, making about $7/day. Despite working long hours, they volunteer their time to staff the clinics one day a week. The sisters also have a vented woodstove project, as well as a water filtration project, where the families pay half and the Maryknoll Sisters pay the other half of the cost of home water filters. These projects help alleviate a variety of lung and parasite problems.
As with all mission trips, I discovered the connections that exist between all of us, and that even though we are many, we are one!
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.
Then we visited the mission site of our second guide, Maryknoll Affiliate Steve Barrett. in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city. There, street children who work in the marketplace from a young age are provided with onsite learning opportunities that complement rather than conflict with their necessary work time. This ecumenical effort offers fundamental educational opportunities as well as vocational training, within an incredibly holistic approach to becoming a fulfilled human.
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 a 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 cover age 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:
Carlos Miranda, the house president: ”Come visit us any time you want!”
Fredy Sánchez: ”We work with the good to make it the best.”
Isis Miranda: “We loved the Conference. The Affiliates are amazing.”
Lennie Sazo: “The doors of Caminando Por La Paz are open for everyone.”
Caminando offers ways for Affiliates to participate besides visiting. Extended homestays could be arranged for Affiliates who would like to help tutor the children after school. Some Affiliates have brought or sent games that are not language specific, such as Jenga or Legos, for use at the House. Caminando offers the opportunity to support and communicate with individual children through an annual sponsorship. Some Affiliate chapters help distribute the fair trade Family Coffee that Caminando sells to raise funds for the children’s educational programs while providing a living income to several families of coffee growers in Honduras. Donations of any size are gratefully accepted.
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.
The group often meets where several in the group volunteer—at the ContraSIDA site. ContraSIDA was founded by Maryknoll Sister Dr. Mary Annel (See the ContraSIDA story in this issue.) Irma said she misses Sr. Mary, who returned to Maryknoll in New York the previous week because of deteriorating health. Sr. Gloria Ardenio Agnes, MM, currently at ContraSIDA, may return to New York 2018. The Affiliates also miss Maryknoll Lay Missioner Joe Hastings, who had attended many of their meetings before he also returned to the US.
The Salvadoran Affiliates were happy to spend time with Lay Missioner Melissa Altman during this mission visit and hope to continue a close relationship with the Lay Missioners. They are learning more and more about Maryknoll and enjoy the No Tan Lejos del Horizonte, the Spanish language Maryknoll Affiliate newsletter. Their love and respect for the Maryknoll sisters, priests, and Lay Missioners brought them to the Maryknoll Affiliate group, but the spirituality and their passion for mission keep them coming.
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.
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.
In early November, I was overjoyed to be with many of you at the gathering so graciously hosted in Guatemala by our sister/brother Affiliates there. At that time, I shared the somewhat bittersweet news that the work of the Casa Materna would end December 31st. We are grateful that we have fulfilled our primary goal of providing services for rural mothers with high-risk pregnancies, reducing maternal death here in Nicaragua.
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.”
ICAN—International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons draws “attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences
of any use of nuclear weapons and [works] to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”—Nobel Prize Committee
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: What valuable learnings do I hope to leave with? In what ways would I like to see the theme “Buen Vivir” (Living in Harmony with All) become part of the commitment of the Affiliate Movement? What will be my own special contribution in this MAC 2017 assembly to strengthen the four Pillars (Community, Spirituality, Global Vision, Action) to the Maryknoll Affiliate Movement?
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.
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.
Like you, I am trying to make sense of Charlottesville and its aftermath. But after nearly a dozen years of stepping beyond my comfort zone to see the world from different angles, I recognize how disturbingly common it is for people to live in close proximity but very different worlds. I offer some insights that may help folks respond to this moment with greater consciousness of racial injustice.
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.
Members of the North Bay Affiliate Chapter, Nancy and Bob McFarland, Leslee Coady, Rich Younkin, and Marie Wren planned this event at St. Isabella’s parish in San Rafael, CA, to impart information and to inspire involvement and action. Presenters included a Rwandan refugee priest, Carolyn Trumble—a Maryknoll mission promoter, staff members of Catholic Charities, an immigration lawyer, and Maryknoll Affiliates.
Fr. Samuel, a priest at St. Isabella’s and a son of a Rwandan refugee, was born in a Ugandan refugee camp. He inspired the audience with stories about ministering as a priest to refugees in Uganda and emphasized that the most important thing to give refugees is hope, over and above any material or financial help.
Two speakers from Catholic Charities told of the legal help they offer to immigrants and of social services for a local community of immigrant youth who need help with reading skills. They also addressed the current issue of the executive order revoking DACA. They invited the audience to visit the local community center where youth are tutored.
An immigration attorney and member of the local Organizing Committee, emphasized the need to listen to the stories of immigrants and to determine their immediate needs. She told of immigrants whose cars were impounded because they did not have driver licenses. The Committee helped them.
Affiliate Bob McFarland spoke about his and his wife Nancy’s involvement with a Rapid Response team that observes and documents raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They also support families who may be left without a breadwinner because of the raids. Bob and Nancy are willing to take such a family into their home.
Some parishioners were interested in volunteering and will be invited to our next Affiliate meeting where we can explore their interests and where to use their skills. Although the evening addressed immigrants and refugees from other countries, we were keenly and sadly aware that there were many “refugees” from nearby Napa and Sonoma because of the devastating fires. Any of us could be refugees.