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Number 177 - October 2017
From 1 September - 4 October, the Season of Creation, Christians around the world are praying and caring for creation. The first date marks World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and the last recalls the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, author of the 'Canticle of the Creatures'. The canticle contains praise of God for the sun, moon, stars, wind, water, fire, and earth; praise for those who forgive for the love of God; and praise for Sister Death.
Showing concern for creation in both Eastern and Western traditions, Pope Francis issued a joint statement with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, appealing ‘to all who occupy influential roles, to listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most from ecological imbalances’.
On 1 October we honour Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, with whom our MMM foundress had a special connection. In keeping with the theme of reverencing creation, Thérèse loved nature and often used its imagery to explain how the Divine Presence is everywhere, and how everything is connected in God's loving care. She wrote in her autobiography, ‘Jesus set before me the book of nature. I understand how all the flowers God has created are beautiful.’
The beauty of older people and their contributions to society are recognized on International Day for Older Persons, also on 1 October. According to its website, the theme for 2017 is ‘Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons in Society’. Measures are needed that enable their participation, such as health care, regular income, legal protection and access to financial services. Also necessary are technology, education (often about using the technology!), lifelong learning, and access to information. Barriers that exclude older persons must be overcome.
Since 1989, International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction on 13 October has called attention to how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reducing risks.
Of special concern to MMMs and AMMMs, women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die in disasters. According to the WHO, about 60% of preventable maternal deaths and 53% of preventable under-5 deaths occur in conflict and disaster settings. Other groups affected disproportionately include persons living with disabilities, older persons and indigenous people. While increased conflict and political instability are forcing more people to flee their homes than at any time since the Second World War, an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change also contributes to the migration challenge. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the majority of migrants, about 763 million, move within their own countries rather than abroad.
The importance of caring for our mental health is highlighted on World Mental Health Day on 10 October. The United Nations website points out that approximately one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Poor mental health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, compromised education, gender inequality, ill-health, violence and other global challenges. It impedes people's capacity to work productively, realize their potential and make a contribution to their community. Because the economic cost of mental health problems is vast, it seems obvious that a reasonable investment in mental health would make possible a better quality of life for individuals and society.
Last, but certainly not least, Disarmament Week takes place from 24 to 30 October. In its 15 – 21 September 2017 Weekly Summary, the World Council of Churches (WCC) noted that on 20 September 2017, a treaty to ban nuclear weapons was formally opened for signature at the United Nations in New York.
The WCC stated that this historic treaty, the text of which was adopted in July by two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, bans the manufacture, possession and use of nuclear weapons and provides pathways for their eventual elimination. It also requires the provision of aid to victims and environmental remediation.
On 11 July 2017, Public Radio International (PRI) said that none of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — took part in the negotiations or the vote. Even Japan, the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, boycotted the talks, as did most NATO countries.
Nevertheless, PRI noted the comments of Ray Acheson of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, who helped negotiate the treaty. ‘This treaty was really an initiative from states that don't have nuclear weapons, and that have rejected nuclear weapons as a potential source of security, to do something about the situation...[so] that we can actually have an impact on them in the future.’
According to PRI, ‘Within hours of its adoption, the United States, Britain and France rejected the treaty and said they have no intention of joining it.’ The UN ambassadors from the three countries were quoted as saying in a joint statement, ‘This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment. This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary.’
PRI continued, ‘Nuclear powers argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent against a nuclear attack and say they remain committed to the gradual approach to disarmament outlined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) [opened for signature in 1968]. The NPT seeks to prevent the spread of atomic weapons but also puts the onus on nuclear states to reduce their stockpiles. Impatience, however, is growing among many non-nuclear states over the slow pace of disarmament, as are worries that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the wrong hands.’
According to PRI, Acheson said there is ‘the assumption that the sole purpose of these weapons is never to be used. But we know a lot about human error and human misjudgement and mistakes.’
The Weekly Summary said the WCC called explicitly for a ban treaty at its 2013 Assembly. General Secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Tveit said, ‘We vowed there to live in ways that protect life and creation, not in fear, protected by nuclear weapons...Our moral imperative against nuclear weapons is clear and categorical.’
In this e-newsletter, you can read how MMM Associates Joan Gagnon and Pat Adam experienced God’s love in their lives and reached out to others as bearers of peace and reconciliation. Sister Danielle Darbro recently participated in the MMM Heritage Experience. Her reflections expressed another aspect of our spirituality: our belief in the inter-connectness of all creation.
Thank you again for your interest and support, which make it possible to bring God’s healing to others. We pray for you each day and ask you to pray for us as well.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
'Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do' (Saint John XXIII).
MMM Associates are people who feel called to embrace the spirituality and mission of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Most continue their ordinary lifestyle and work, while some participate more directly in our ministries.
Joan Gagnon, from Mansfield, MA, USA, is an MMM Associate. Her aunt, Sister Anne Marie Hubbard, just happens to be an MMM, which may have had some influence on her decision! In our 2012 Yearbook, Joan wrote about her experience helping to build the business capacity of a group of women in Guatemala. She now writes about a more recent - and in some ways more exciting - trip to Mexico.
‘This past March, I volunteered at an eye clinic run by members of a Texas Rotary club in Guerrero in the State of Chihuahua. I was apprehensive about doing this because I am not in the medical field. However, this was my husband Jim’s second trip, and I thought it would be awesome to experience this journey with him. We volunteered for two of the fifteen non-medical professional slots.
‘The treatment center is located amidst apple orchards in the mountains, approximately 100 miles west of Chihuahua City. The Texas Rotarians, along with Rotarians from Mexico, have been putting on this eye clinic quarterly for almost thirty years. Fully equipped with surgical suites, examination rooms, and a waiting room, the Guerrero clinic provides eye and dental care to indigent people. Its five-day clinics are staffed by volunteers. It is extremely well organized at this point. Although the original planners are aging now, one of the first optometrists still works there at the age of 85.’
Not in the brochure! ‘I didn’t know before the trip that traveling to Mexico had been discouraged by the US State Department because of ransom kidnappings. That explained why on our three-hour travel from the airport to the clinic we were driven at very high speed. I was hanging on for dear life. Only this September I read that the safety tip about traveling in that area of Mexico is to drive very fast to get to one’s destination. I’m glad I didn’t know this before the trip! I have since been told that the local gangs actually protect the volunteers because they know we are helping their families.’
Reflecting on current realities ‘Last year, the USA Associates reflected on one of the MMM core values each month. During the time in Mexico, I got a clearer understanding about three of these values: compassion, communion, and commitment. I asked, “Just what is unconditional love? How do you know when you experience true compassion, union with God, and unconditional love?”
‘At the clinic I was first asked to work in the operating room where they removed cataracts, but I knew that I’d end up being a casualty and that wasn’t a good fit. So I was reassigned to pre-op. There my job was to put eye drops in the patients’ eyes, wash their faces with an antiseptic, give them a Tylenol PM, and have them wash their hands with a sanitizer. I worked alongside other volunteers from the local community, including high school students. They were amazing.
‘As I was washing one elderly gentleman’s face, a sudden rush of peace came over me. It kept happening as I washed each patient’s face. I had never experienced this feeling before. I mentioned it to one of my fellow volunteers, and she said she thought I had felt God’s presence. “Really?” I said. Then I started to think that maybe that feeling was unconditional love. Yes, I would have jumped in front of a bus to save each one of those patients.
‘My hope was to experience this feeling of peace and union with God every day. It doesn’t seem to happen automatically, though. I must consciously remember that special feeling of peace and bring it on demand. Being able to bottle it somehow would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
‘Jim and I have committed ourselves to volunteer at this clinic for as long as we are able.‘
Clinic results The results of the Spring 2017 Eye Clinic that Joan and Jim attended included the following: Municipalities supplying patients: 22 Patients seen: 1,056 Cataract surgeries: 202 Pterigium surgeries: 2 Yag laser (a treatment for cataracts): 24 Retina patients: 12 Glasses dispensed: 648
Some of the information about the clinic in this article was obtained from the website of the Guerrero Surgery & Education Center.
What a legacy!
In July 2017, another group of MMMs had the opportunity to participate in the Heritage Experience in Ireland (See January 2017 e-newsletter). They met many of our earliest Sisters, shared their stories, and visited some of the sites associated with our early history and spirituality. The aim was for all participants to have a deeper understanding of our MMM story and the development of our gift (charism) of healing.
Sister Danielle Darbro, now back in Choloma, Honduras, told us about her life in MMM and offered her reflections on this very special time.
‘It was a tremendous blessing to be invited to participate in the Heritage Experience. I was already scheduled to attend a meeting in Ireland when I received the invitation. To share a bit about me, I am from the United States and I entered MMM in 2010 in New York. After my first profession in Nigeria in 2014, I was assigned to Honduras, where I am currently serving. Our project, Casa Visitación, is located in Choloma, in the northern part of the country. My work includes teaching human rights to children and doing home visits to people who are ill or infirm.’
A profound experience ‘Our facilitators, Sisters Brenda Swan, Helen Spragg, and Dervilla O´Donnell, created a comprehensive itinerary that included connecting with many MMM Sisters and hearing their profound stories of the pioneering days of MMM. There were outings to various sites significant in our history. It was a joy to participate with my Sisters - Angela, Jacinta and Pauline. We were quite an international and intercultural group. Angela Katalyeba is from Tanzania; Jacinta Mahakwe is from Nigeria; Pauline Kongo is from Kenya; and I am from the USA. Our facilitators are from Ireland and England. It felt appropriate because we MMMs love "inter-culturation"!
‘While the whole experience was enriching, two places had a particular impact on me: Glendalough and Glenstal.
‘In Glendalough [glen of the two lakes], in the Wicklow Mountains, is the monastic settlement founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century. Sister Ann White kindly drove us there and we were immediately touched by the natural beauty of the mountains. Father Pat Murphy, SPS, led us through a reflective experience. He taught us about Celtic spiritual history and created a space for silence, prayer, and reflection as we walked along the nature paths. We moved among the old tombstones and medieval stone structures and the beauty of God´s creation spoke to us through the earth, breeze, lake and trees. There seemed to be a holy presence here, earthy and otherworldly. Glendalough felt like a meeting point between earth and heaven, human and divine.
‘We settled on a tranquil embankment and Father Murphy pointed out that we were directly across the lake from Saint Kevin´s Bed, a cleft in the rock where Saint Kevin spent much time in meditation. Under the protective trees and Saint Kevin´s prayers, Father Pat began to celebrate Mass and invited us all to participate. We shared hymns and readings, soaking in the singing in different voices and languages. Each person contributed to the homily. We felt privileged to share this experience on the Feast of Saint Benedict.
‘In this place of rich spiritual history, I had a sense that the Spirit of God that moved through these mountains and lakes was the same Spirit moving through Saint Kevin as he prayed in his rocky bed and moving through Mother Mary Martin as she discerned God´s will for a medical missionary congregation. This Spirit moved through each one of us as we took in the significance of Glendalough, seeking God´s will in our own lives and ministries today. The continuity of God's movement, ever present, ever certain, and always new, touched me deeply.’
Our Benedictine heritage ‘Glenstal Abbey, the monastery in County Limerick where Mother Mary and her first companions were introduced to Benedictine spirituality, also had special significance. MMM Associates Eamonn and Moira Brehony hosted us at their home nearby. Moira brought us to the abbey and Father Christopher Dillon, the subprior, gave us a special tour, focusing on the early days of Marie Martin and the group of like-minded women that gathered around her. It was wonderful to finally come to the place about which we had read so much.
I felt most moved by visiting the room where, in 1934, a radiator fell on Mother Mary’s foot. When I first read this story, I was intrigued that the doctor´s original plan was to amputate her foot, but it was feared she might not survive the surgery because of her heart condition. The decision was made to only amputate a couple of toes. While this must have been a dreadful experience for her, I could not help but think of how Mother Mary´s weak heart saved her foot! She must have thanked God. This story has always nudged me to consider how God can use even our weaknesses to accomplish great things!
‘The whole Heritage Tour was a huge blessing and a tremendous opportunity to become more rooted in MMM. I know that Jacinta, Pauline, and Angela (above) would agree! I can speak for all of us when I say we are deeply grateful for this experience. As a result, I feel a greater sense of responsibility and accountability as an MMM as I connect with people in ministry and my Sisters in community. My desire is to bring more of our healing charism into all that I do and contribute my part to the legacy we share as Medical Missionaries of Mary.’
'Listen with the ear of your heart' (St. Benedict).
MMM Associate Patricia Adam lives in Peabody, MA, USA. She described how she was led to know and share our MMM gift of healing after a literally life-changing experience. She became an Associate in 2016.
‘In 2014, after eleven mission trips to the Dominican Republic, I contracted dengue fever and nearly lost my life. One year later, after a full recovery in which God provided healing and strength, I began to search for mission trips in the USA. I was heeding my doctor’s recommendation to avoid travel where dengue was present. My computer search connected me to a photo of a Medical Missionary of Mary, Sister Bernie Kenny in Clinchco, Virginia. She stood in front of the first Health Wagon, in which medical attention could be brought to those living in the mountains of Appalachia. Truth-be-told, I had never heard of MMM and I had never before traveled to Appalachia. However, a couple of e-mails later, as I felt I was being was “re-purposed” and placed my complete trust in God, I boarded a plane in July for Clinchco!
‘As a respiratory therapist who had worked for many years with chronic lung disease patients, I was looking forward to volunteering in any capacity for the three-day-weekend medical clinic on the Wise County Fairgrounds, organized by Remote Area Medical (RAM). I met MMM Associates (AMMMs) Ann Hook and Kathy Velakkakan in the Tri-city Airport and we drove to Sister Bernie’s house for a relaxing evening before orientation and the full days of volunteering.
'I was completely amazed at the comprehensiveness of the RAM clinic, in which full dental, vision, and medical services were provided at no cost to more than 3,000 persons in one weekend, with an approximate medical value of more than two million dollars! The days were long and physically exhausting, but extraordinarily energizing. I toiled alongside of a team of 1,100 volunteer doctors, nurses, medical students, and non-medical personnel, some of whom had traveled a great distance.
‘My primary function was to serve as an escort, walking patients from triage to the various clinic areas set up on the grounds. This provided a wonderful opportunity for conversation between me and the patient. Most were intrigued by my “northern accent" and could not believe that someone from Boston would come to help! I gained an understanding of the burdens of life in living in the mountains. I heard countless stories of being unemployed and uninsured, of ill health, mental illness, substance abuse, housing issues, and the inability to provide necessities for their families. As I recognized each person as a brother or sister in Christ, my heart ached, especially that first night, as I realized my love for them.
‘My time spent with Sister Bernie Kenny and Associates Ann and Kathy was delightful! I experienced amazing Benedictine hospitality through these three women, as we got to know each other over a very busy weekend. They are truly the reason I decided to become an AMMM. I will always remember their devotion and care for me.’
An ongoing search ‘I returned to Clinchco in 2016, again for RAM and also the new Family Preservation Program. Sister Bernie developed this program and offered it as an AMMM “service opportunity” to befriend those in the community who are in need and known to Sister Bernie. Having limited time, I managed to carve out some days in which I could be involved. I spent five days repairing a home in Clintwood with a youth group from Wisconsin. This program was wonderful. I established friendships with three individuals living in Appalachia: a middle-aged man who spent years in the Virginia prison system for a crime he did not commit; the elderly woman living alone in the home we repaired; and the family caring for an ill elderly member and a son with Down syndrome. Ann Hook and her friend Margaret Marosco also participated in the Family Preservation Program.
‘In January of 2016, I began a lunch at my parish for those who are marginalized or weak in our community. Each Friday a team of volunteers serves homemade soup, sandwiches, dessert and beverages. As our numbers increased, and as trusting friendships developed, we heard stories of being homeless, mentally ill, suffering from addictions, loneliness, hunger, and poverty. The needs are tremendous and we now are in full outreach, as we offer life and social activities in multiple forms beyond our lunch program. These include a full clothing and toiletry distribution center, rides to court and detoxification and medical appointments, assistance with obtaining housing and insurance, résumé writing and employment searches, food for weekends, haircuts, Bible discussion, thrift shop vouchers, holiday gatherings and burial assistance.
'As I reflect upon this beautiful ministry of love, serving each person with great care, kindness and compassion, I am reminded of the words of Mother Mary Martin: “We must love together as the Holy Family, loving one another, taking on each other’s burdens.” Allowing God to heal others through us is what I believe to be the purpose of life. Lives have and will continue to be transformed, as we offer the best gift of all, the gift of self in His love.’
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