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What our faith asks of us is to look at the world with the consciousness that Jesus had, says Sister Rebecca Macugay.
Among the Ilocano in the northern part of the Philippines where I come from, we greet each other with “Adda kayo,” which literally translates to, “You are here.” It also means, “I acknowledge your presence.” When responded to with a yes, a nod, or a smile, the initial greeting would be followed by: “Naimbag met ta adda kayo.” “It is good that you are here.” The greeting speaks of appreciating, honoring, and valuing one another.
Acknowledging someone’s presence is essential to being fully present to that person. This mutual recognition of each other’s presence suggests the acceptance of one another and consequently, creates a feeling of belonging, of inclusion, of oneness and a well-being that is an experience of peace.
St. Paul speaks of the “blood of Christ … [which] has broken down the dividing wall … [and has created] one new humanity in the place of the two.” For the community at Ephesus, Paul calls to mind the importance of unity, of Jews and Gentiles becoming one, belonging to each other. This unity is marked by the peace of the risen Christ. Peace is the good news for a world where apparent divisions transpire.
In the Okavango region of northeast Namibia where I was in mission with other Maryknoll Sisters, layered conflicts that were tribal, political, and economic in nature were rife among the people. The vestiges of apartheid are still in evidence: alienation of land and other resources by the few rich and powerful; repression of dissenting voices and increased violations of human rights as well as diminishing deliveries of basic human needs. The raging HIV/AIDS pandemic also exacerbates the situation.
In the leadership development courses we offered to church communities, the scriptural text that consistently spoke volumes to the people was the greetings of shalom, and the gift of peace of the risen Christ. Greeting someone with “shalom” is act of recognizing another person, a wishing, and a blessing for a person’s well-being. Peace is an experience of comfort, of healing and reconciliation … for broken bodies and spirits from the stigma of HIV/AIDS, for the youth whose hope for education grows increasingly dim, for the mothers who continue to head households as their husbands migrate to the big towns and cities or the mines of South Africa. Peace is good news for one longing for wholeness. Peace accompanies hope.
Today our world hungers for belonging, acceptance, acknowledgement and validation. Currently so many people are displaced – be it from homes, jobs, churches, families, and from their own countries; estrangement from self and from others has become an unreflected norm of relating with one another and with our world. Fear of each other marks our experience. This makes the ongoing debate among political leaders on what makes for peace and security, not only here in the United States but in many parts of the world, of grave importance for us to ponder.
The assumption that “war against” people and systems of livelihoods and even systems of faith and belief that are not in accord with the Western perspective and worldview are deemed valid and above reproach. That assumption presumes acceptable the use of force and even violence over dialogue and diplomacy. Can such stances guarantee unity, peace, and security for life to flourish and for all to tread the paths of justice? Are not the democratic principles and practice of dialogue and diplomacy powerful energies to transform conflict into just relationships and peace
Our faith entices us to engage in all the deliberations, decisions, and debacles on those “acceptable” efforts toward peace-making and security. And how do we attend to each other in such situations when our voices have no place in the discourse that decides the nature and purpose of life? How do we shepherd each other in the paths of justice, in our communities and in our home, planet earth?
What our faith asks of us is to look at and relate with our world with the consciousness that Jesus had as related in the Gospel. He saw the large crowd of people, “like sheep without a shepherd.” He did not see a crowd with no resources nor did he categorize them as religious or not. Jesus was present to them because they were his sisters and brothers. They are, like him, children of an Abba who listens and is present.
Jesus sensed the hunger that they have for the Words of Life that he uttered. They were longing for the shepherding that he offered in his ministry of healing, in welcoming the outcast and his delight in finding the lost one, in celebrating the simple and profound gifts of creation, like the lilies of the fields and the children and the signs of the times.
Jesus models a consciousness of God’s peace – to share with others the sacred Presence of a God who gives well-being and wholeness of life. Jesus awakened in those who listened to him their own inner abundance, that they too might embody the shalom of God. And with much compassion and care, Jesus invites the crowd to sit down on the grass – to experience the peace and the security that comes with knowing that they belong to each other and most importantly, that they belong to the household of God.
Peace happens in life. It is does not exist because of policies and treaties. Peace is and it is a gift of a loving and shepherding God. Perhaps, Jesus would have greeted the crowd that followed him and his disciples with something akin to, “Adda kayo, naimbag ta adda kayo” — “You are here and it is good that you are here present.”
– Sister Rebecca Macugay, MM
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At 75 years young, Sister Peg Donovan isn't counting the years: in the near future, she hopes to be able to visit more families where they make their homes in northern Tanzania.
Being out with Sister Peg Donovan in a Jeep in the communities surrounding the VEMA Training Center is like being with a pop star. Catching sight of her Jeep the children run screaming from every home to cheer and receive a wave or a word from her as she drives by. Sr. Peg calls them her ‘peanut gallery.’
The VEMA Training Center provides vocational training for youth in tailoring and masonry; tutoring for children in preparation for and during primary and secondary schools educations; and pre-school classes for children 3-7 years of age. Health and development activities are held at the Center as well providing services that are not otherwise available. The name VEMA is taken from the Swahili words that describe the rural village-level program that Sister Peg began 15 years ago providing educational, development and health activities in the communities of Kalebezo.
Sister Peg presently lives with Susan Coopersmith, a former lay missioner who volunteers at VEMA and is like an assistant for Sister Peg in many administrative functions. She also serves as a project funding writer and computer teacher all rolled up in one. The training center is a development model of both integrated water gathering and storage methods and of the building and use of dry pit letrines. Young tailors and masons trained at the vocational school provide much needed services to neighboring communities including the uniforms of the schoolchildren and the solid well-constructed homes that have been built by the Center’s graduates.
Health activities at the Center offer classes in AIDS prevention to local youth; offers midwifery services at midwife ‘stations’ (which I visited) and have both a maternal/child clinic and conventional and complementary health services to those who come with moderate health issues. Women with high-risk pregnancies and anyone with difficult health issues are transported to local government health centers or local government hospitals as needed.
Sister Peg moves non-stop through her days even asking one of the students training as a tailor to repair a pre-schooler’s torn shirt. She is always on the go from 8 a.m. prayer with the children and staff at the Grotto of the African Mary, the Madonna on the grounds of the training center, to the time that the VEMA offices close late in the afternoon. Evening prayers and a bit of recreation end her long days. At 75 years young, Peg is not counting the years and hopes in the near future to be able to give less time to administration and more time to some special creative writing projects and home-visiting in the local communities.
– Sister Ann Hayden, MM
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Sr. Janice McLaughlin is president of the Maryknoll Sisters
It gives me great joy to welcome you to this Centennial event (Maryknoll on the Hill in Washington, D.C.) that has been organized and coordinated by our Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. This is a collaborative project of the whole Maryknoll family – Sisters, Fathers and Brothers, lay missioners and Affiliates.
Our Maryknoll founders took the Gospel mandate seriously when they established this mission movement 100 years ago. The Ascension is a mission feast. As we hear in today’s readings, we are called “to be witnesses of Christ…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:1-11). In the Gospel reading of Mark, Jesus commissions us: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (March 16:15).
The Gospel, Good News, is a message of hope, foretelling God’s Reign of peace, justice and love. This vision is so unlike the earthly kingdoms that we know where there is a reign of violence, corruption, greed, exploitation and oppression.
Forty-one years ago, the Synod of Bishops proclaimed that “action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world are a constitutive (essential or necessary) dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” Commenting on this document, Fr. Peter Henriot, SJ, states: “Therefore the promotion of justice is a necessary feature in the task of evangelization. There simply is no sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ if the commitment to justice is downplayed or eliminated” (Henriot, Peter, “Remembering Justice,” America, November 14, 2011, p. 14.).
Maryknoll has long seen this essential connection. That is why the Office for Global Concerns was established. This is how we are witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth!
This evening and tomorrow we will learn more about Maryknoll’s mission of justice and we will join that mission as we visit various government offices to bear witness to what we have seen, heard and touched in our global experience.
We will leave at each office a copy of a document that summarizes Maryknoll’s core values and priorities for U.S. foreign policy. These values and priorities are based on the Gospel, the Church’s social teaching and on our lived experience of the impact of these policies on people’s lives here in the United States and around the world.
In response to the suffering of those with HIV and AIDS, for example, the Office calls for full funding for the programs and medications to treat those affected, including thousands of children who have been orphaned by this disease.
We see environmental destruction on every continent and in every country in which we work. In response, the Office is deeply involved in United Nations’ efforts to gain international agreement on measures to halt climate change and to protect the planet.
As we witness the senseless and horrific death and destruction caused by war, the Office initiated a program of sustainable pathways to peace and inclusive security. Such pathways do not rely on weapons, torture or drone attacks but promote instead international cooperation, respect for diversity, conflict prevention and the creation of a just world order that provides enough for all. These are just some of the ways of bearing witness in today’s world to the God of peace, justice and love.
During this celebration, we wish to recognize, honor and thank the staff of the Office for Global Concerns who not only witness with their words to the Gospel message but with their actions and their very lives. Their total commitment to this mission is an inspiration and an example to us all.
Marie Dennis will be honored later in this program, but I want to take this opportunity to thank her for shaping the Office since its establishment in 1998 and providing the leadership that has made it effective, credible and respected. Even those who disagree with our analysis and conclusions do not doubt the reliability of our witness.
Thanks to Fr. Bava for celebrating this Mass and for making the Church and hall of Holy Redeemer Parish available for this event. It is very fitting that the Office has found its new home in this welcoming parish.
As we celebrate 100 years of bearing witness to the Good News, let us be encouraged and strengthened by these words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa:
“All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend the kingdom of shalom – peace and wholeness – of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, and of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us…. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled” (Tutu, Desmond, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time. Rider, Johannesburg, 2004, p. 128.).
– Sister Janice McLaughlin, MM
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Add three more dioceses getting support from an AIDS task force staffed by Sister Mary Grenough (far r.). When her support group met at one parish, 13 members knew each other but didn't know they were HIV-positive.
These past months Myanmar has hit the world news in many ways. Are we hopeful of the needed changes? I am always hopeful, and am experiencing an opening up of communications and open discussion of political issues.
My work with the Myanmar Catholic HIV/AIDS Network keeps me busy – and happy, at least to see the increasing opportunities we have to share vital information and get materials translated which are accepted by the bishops and which give real information.
Since July, our team has given HIVAIDS training workshops in three more dioceses (Pathein, Ayerwaddy Division), Mawlamyine (Mon State) and Mandalay, in addition to workshops with youth groups on five occasions. We also are in the process of starting what we think is Myanmar’s second Catholic parish-based HIVAIDS support group. In the first meeting, 13 HIV-positive people in the parish came. They knew each other but didn’t know they were HIV-positive. They were very happy to be able to share openly with each other.
The photo shows another Sister Mary who is happy to start an HIV/AIDS ministry in her parish. In the center is Hey Mar, a 35-year-old positive widow who is a part-time volunteer with us. Her husband died of AIDS three years after their marriage. She is a good mother to her 13-year-old son, who doesn’t have AIDS. She just finished her Distance Education chemistry degree and has learned to live positively – not easy here!
“We need support groups here because the discrimination based on ignorance, fear, and negative judgment of those who are HIV-positive is so strong,” Sister Mary said.
I am still fine, happy and healthy here in Myanmar. We never attempt to convert, but there is so much mutual growth in our interactions in this pervasive Buddhist/animist culture – and mostly pre-Vatican II Catholicism.
Later this year I hope to see many of you when I return to the United States from mid-July through October to participate in Maryknoll renewal programs, family visits, and who knows what else.
– Sister Mary Grenough, MM
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North Carolina has the first Hispanic chapter of the Maryknoll Affiliates in the continental United States. That's where Sister Mary Ellen Kempken took her ministry recently.
In light of our Maryknoll Sisters Centennial this year, I was invited by two Maryknoll Affiliate chapters to represent the Congregation in planting a tree in honor of Father Thomas Frederick Price in Wilmington, N.C.
Civic organizations were planting trees in honor of historic figures of this city, which was the birthplace of Maryknoll co-founder Father Thomas Frederick Price. I joined the Maryknoll Affiliates on January 26 for a blessing and prayer as we planted the tree in honor of Fr. Price. We then continued down the street to join groups planting four other trees. All of the tree planters then proceeded to a reception with Mayor Bill Saffo of Wilmington at the historic Bellamy Mansion. The Mayor shared with me his warm wishes and hopes for the canonization of their native son, Father Price.
I am grateful to Gaye Hieb and all the members of the Father Price Maryknoll Affiliate chapter and the Comunidad Misionera de Santa Maria Maryknoll Affiliate chapter, both of Wilmington, for their wonderful hospitality during the three days I spent as their guest. In addition to the tree planting ceremonies, I was privileged to have a wonderful opportunity to speak with a small group of Hispanic youth from St. Mary Parish as well as with the Comunidad Misionera, the first Hispanic Affiliate chapter in the continental United States
In Wilmington, N.C., Sr. Mary Ellen Kempken helps plant a tree in honor of a Maryknoll co-founder who was born there.
With varying Latino backgrounds, all were very interested in our Sisters’ ministry and experiences in Bolivia. The Father Price Chapter of the Maryknoll Affiliates
focuses on ministry to people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to a luncheon meeting which allowed me to share experiences in Bolivia
with chapter members, I was able to visit several of the clients they serve and learn more of the reality they face. It was clear that questions around immigration and the provision of health care to the neediest
among us here in the U.S. are among the most important domestic issues for the upcoming elections.
It was inspiring to see that our Maryknoll Affiliate chapters in Wilmington are, in true Maryknoll fashion, not waiting for the political debates to conclude but are stepping in to do all they can to respond toneeds of people forgotten among us. They are truly a blessing for Wilmington and for Maryknoll!
– Sister Mary Ellen Kempken, MM
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