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Number 184 - May/June 2018
During May and June a number of special days help to focus our attention on issues of critical significance to our global community.
On 15 May, the 2018 observance of the International Day of Families has the theme ‘Families and Inclusive Societies’. The UN website encourages individuals and communities to explore the role of families and family policies in advancing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, especially in ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.’ Areas of special concern are ensuring equal justice for all family members, especially women, and addressing efforts at universal birth registration and legal identity for everyone.
One of the targets of SDG 16 is to ‘significantly reduce all forms of violence and [violence-]related death rates everywhere.’ Another is to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence against children. Many MMMs and AMMMs are involved in programmes that specifically address these issues.
Connected with this theme is the Global Day of Parents, marked on 1 June. Honouring parents throughout the world, the Day is an opportunity to appreciate all parents for ‘their selfless commitment to children and their lifelong sacrifice towards nurturing this relationship’. Its website emphasizes that the family has the primary responsibility for nurturing and protecting children. For full and harmonious personality development, children should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.
The feast of the Visitation on 31 May is of special significance for Medical Missionaries of Mary and MMM Associates. We follow Mary’s example in going out to bring support and assistance to another in a time of need. At the same time, the Gospel story relates how two women, overwhelmed with joy, put aside their concerns to give praise and thanks for the wonders that God has done (Lk 2: 39-56). Both about to become mothers for the first time, Elizabeth and Mary must have shared a great deal over their three months together.
Reflecting its importance, this is the day on which MMM Associates renew their covenants.
World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, ‘Without a healthy environment we cannot end poverty or build prosperity. We all have a role to play in protecting our only home: we can use [fewer] plastics, drive less, waste less food and teach each other to care.’
The World Environment Day website notes that ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ is this year’s theme. It urges governments, industry, communities, and individuals to explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic. It is polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health. The website gave the following facts about plastic pollution:
• Every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags. • Every year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, equal to a full garbage truck every minute. • In the lastdecade, we produced more plastic than in the whole last century. • Fifty percent of the plastic we use is single-use or disposable. • We buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute. • Plastic makes up 10%of all of the waste we generate.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in India, pointed out, ’If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily ... there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet.’
As the world witnesses the highest levels of displacement of people on record, World Refugee Day is marked on 20 June. A refugee is someone ‘who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster’. The United Nations (UN) website says that an unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world had been forced from their homes by conflict and persecution by the end of 2016. These included nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom were under the age of 18. There were also 10 million stateless people, denied a nationality. To put these figures into perspective, in 2016 the population of the Republic of Ireland was 4.76 million (Central Statistics Office).
The UN website states that 55% of refugees worldwide come from three countries: Syria (5.5 million), Afghanistan (2.5 million), and South Sudan (1.4 million). Of countries hosting displaced peoples, 56% are in the Middle East and Africa. Europe and the Americas have 33% of the total.
The problems faced by refugees are also linked to climate change, which is part of environmental change. Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and mudslides cause internal displacement and also force people to seek refuge in other countries. According to the UN, none of the existing international and regional refugee law instruments specifically addresses the plight of such people.
In addition, while the slow-onset effects of climate change largely cause internal displacement of peoples, the acceleration of drought and desertification, the salinization of ground water and soil, and rising sea levels, can contribute to the displacement of people across international frontiers.
In this newsletter, you can read about the perpetual professions of Sisters Odette and Perpetua. They were joyous occasions that also celebrated the cultures of each Sister. Jill Garrou, an MMM Associate, described what it means to be part of the family of MMM. Sister Geneviève uses Capacitar to bring healing and wholeness to people affected by conflict situations. She told us what gives her strength in this challenging ministry.
Thank you for your continued interest and support. As we celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we are reminded that we are members of one family. We remember you in prayer each day.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
‘Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see' (Mark Twain).
Saying 'yes' every day
In recent months, several MMMs have made their final commitments to God as Medical Missionaries of Mary. The ceremonies for Sisters Odette Nahayo and Perpetua Ndahetekela illustrated many aspects of our life and values, especially internationality and hospitality, and what it means to be part of the family of MMM. They were also a reminder of what it means to be part of mission 'at the heart of the Christian faith' (Pope Francis).
1. Sisters Jacinta Okechukwu, Josephine Ezior, and Patricia Lanigan were among those who witnessed the final profession of Sister Odette Nahayo in Rwanda on 2 April 2018. The following are some highlights from their description of that unique occasion.
‘It was a beautiful Easter Monday when Sister Odette Nahayo, our first Rwandese MMM, took another step in saying “yes” to God in the Congregation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. God blessed us with a sunny day in the middle of the rainy season. Rwanda, "the land of a thousand hills" welcomed MMMs who travelled from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to witness this celebration.
‘We began with Mass at Saint Peter’s Parish, Kimisagara in the Archdiocese of Kigali. The choir, in beautiful yellow robes, led the procession, followed by dancers in their distinctive Rwandan costumes. Then came the presiding priest, Father Denis Pam, Assistant Provincial of the Missionaries of Africa; eleven other priests from different congregations and dioceses, and the MMM Sisters.
'In another touch of internationality, the liturgy was in three languages: Kinyarwanda, French and English. Sister Angela Katalyeba, from Tanzania, speaking in Kinyarwanda, led us through the Mass. Sister Bernadette Fadegnon, from the Republic of Benin, sang the responsorial psalm in French. After the readings, the directress of temporary professed Sisters, Sister Jacquelline Nalubega, from Uganda, called Sister Odette forward. She sang “Here I am, Lord” as she walked to the altar, accompanied by her parents. When Father Pam asked Odette what she asked of God, she replied, “I ask for God’s spirit through following Christ in his healing service until death in the Congregation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary.”
'Sister Odette read her profession formula, which was accepted by our Area Leader for East/Central Africa, Sister Maria Gonzaga Namuyomba, also from Uganda. Odette then performed a Rwandese dance and sang her song of dedication to God. When she received her ring, all the finally professed MMMs moved to the altar, praying for Odette and affirming her oneness with them.
'Imbued with a sense of beauty and celebration' (MMM Const.) 'At the end of Mass, Sister Maria Gonzaga thanked Odette’s parents for instilling the initial seed of faith in their daughter. She encouraged Odette in her journey in MMM, reminding her that religious life has challenges but she should trust in God and remain faithful to her commitment. Sister Maria Gonzaga thanked the priests, religious and all those who came to celebrate with MMM. ‘The second part of the celebration began with a prayer and Sister Odette was ushered into the hall with a wonderful Rwandan dance. This was followed by more dances, poems and speeches, while we enjoyed a lovely meal. There were gifts from family and friends, including members of a prayer group to which Odette once belonged, and from the staff and AMMMs of Kirambi Community Health and Development Programme in Rwanda. Rwanda is blessed indeed with beautiful dances and hospitality.'
Later, her father thanked all present for rejoicing with them. We learned that he also was once a gifted dancer, performing for the king. Above all, he was grateful to God for being blessed with two daughters who are religious. Sister Odette thanked the people for their support and presence. The parish priest led the closing prayer, which brought the celebration to an end.
2. On the other side of the continent, Sister Celine Anikwem, MMM Area Leader for West Africa, received the vows of final commitment from Sister Perpetua Ndahetekela on 7 April 2018 in Angola. She described the ceremonies, which also involved relatives, friends, MMMs and AMMMs.
‘Perpetua's profession went very well. It was a beautiful and very happy occasion for her and her people as well as us MMMs and AMMMs. Members of her family came from her village to the mission where the ceremony was to take place. People set up small tents all over the compound and in the village near the mission house. We stayed at the Santisima Salvador Sisters' house.
'The ceremony began on Friday with the ritual killing of eleven cows, one each from families related to Perpetua. They gave them as gifts for the celebration.
‘On Saturday, the day of the profession, the weather was beautiful and the ceremonies were held outside. Don Dionisio, the bishop who said the Mass, is a native of Mungua, in Cunene Province, the same village as Perpetua. He was well known to the people and they were happy to see him.
‘Many people came from places such as Lubango, Chiulo, Kuamato, Luanda, Ondjiva, etc. There were traditional rulers, government officials and others in attendance. My favourite were the villagers in their traditional attire; it was so colourful. They danced traditional dances and enjoyed celebrating one of their own. The love they have for one another was very obvious and they enjoyed every bit of the occasion. Our MMM Associates also came in great numbers and were really happy to celebrate with us.
‘I received Perpetua’s vows in Portuguese and found it a humbling experience. The bishop gave the homily in their local language. From what I understood, he congratulated Perpetua on her profession and encouraged her to be a good missionary and to be Christ-like in whatever she does. He told her that the journey gets more serious from this stage onward and she must stay close to God if she is to succeed.
‘There was a variety of gifts from the farms for the offertory and women brought them up to the altar in baskets.
Continuing the celebration ‘Afterwards there was a main reception but each family also contributed to the meal. So we went from one tent to the other to eat food prepared by each family. It is a tradition in their area that before a girl is married such a ceremony is performed to wish her good luck and protection in her new home. ‘There was local brewed drink for everyone in the village. As part of the tradition, Perpetua was given a gift of this and a basin of corn meal from the families. We were accompanied round the village and tents by a group of youth chanting their local songs. It was a very solemn and touching ceremony.
‘On Sunday, we visited Chiulo, MMM's first mission in Angola. I felt like kissing the ground in that place that I had heard so much about. The hospital is doing well and had lots of inpatients when we visited. An Italian group had helped to renovate many of the buildings in the compound. The school of nursing is also doing well but because it was Sunday, we did not meet the students. We had tea and coffee in the convent and prayed in our former chapel.
'I was happy to have stepped on that historic soil.’
'Your people will be my people' (Ruth 1: 16 NRSV).
Our lives as Medical Missionaries of Mary have being greatly enriched by the commitment of dedicated MMM Associates (AMMMs), people who feel called to live out in an official way the charism (gift) of healing that MMM has received. Associates continue to live their own unique calls, life choices and commitments as part of the missionary thrust of the whole Church. AMMMs can now be found in fifteen countries around the globe. Each MMM Area continues to develop its Associate Programme with different ways of expressing not only the healing charism but also how an AMMM will be in contact and related to a local MMM ministry and/or community. Some have the opportunity to work with us overseas.
At the national meeting in the USA in September 2018, AMMM Jill Garrou and Meg Leadford, her friend and friend of MMM, were missioned to Uganda. They flew there later that same day to join our Sisters for two weeks. This was a time of transition for our MMMs in Uganda as they prepared to hand over our programmes in Makondo and Kitovu and begin new ministries. Jill shared her reflections about the experience.
‘When I was born I became a daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, cousin - a member of a family. New roles emerged as I grew older, becoming a sister‐in-law, aunt, wife, daughter‐in‐law, mother, mother‐in‐law and grandmother. I experienced being part of a wider family.
‘In 2012 I began life with a new family by becoming an Associate of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Having met the MMM Sisters in Uganda, I felt immediately welcomed into their lives and desired to share my life with them.
Hospitality - a core value ‘Going through the orientation process I was captivated by one of the articles in the MMM Constitutions: “Wherever you are, whatever you do, let there be in your heart a space for others to be, so that, unafraid, they may experience themselves as loved and so be healed.” When living with that as a goal I found that my definition of family expanded beyond biological relationships to include friends and strangers. I was learning to relate to people as Jesus taught us: to be sister, mother, caregiver, friend - to become intimate, vulnerable, emptied and filled at the same time.
‘I am learning that some will become family rather unexpectedly! The people of Kitovu Hospital Mobile, founded in Masaka, Uganda by the MMMs, have become for me - family! I miss them, think about them, pray for them, and often find myself homesick for them! I was able to return to Masaka in September 2017, accompanied by a dear friend, Meg. Because we are both hospice nurses, we desired to work with Sister Maura Lynch* at Kitovu Hospital during a VVF clinic and also to participate in palliative care home visits with Kitovu Mobile. It became for us an extraordinary adventure!
‘The MMM Sisters and staff welcomed us into their family and allowed us to serve the women in the clinic and share in the MMM charism of the healing love of God.
‘And what did we do? We cleaned hospital rooms, painted women’s toenails, and poured loved on babies and children! We laughed and told stories with the local women and blew bubbles and gave out stickers to the little ones.
Our special concern: fostering family life ‘We met MMM Associate Charles Matovu, director of Kitovu Mobile. He is a strong witness of God’s love and care for the people of Masaka. He and his family “adopted” me and gave me the name Namatovu. I belong to their family! We accompanied Rose and Jackie, Kitovu Mobile nurses, on palliative care home visits, meeting people suffering from cancer, AIDS, heart disease and malnutrition. During every visit those in their care received medicines, food, education and love. We were welcomed into their homes as family.
‘We visited the outstation clinics, the community co-ops developed by MMM, and the farm school, which provides education for vulnerable children, enabling them to learn the skills to become self‐sufficient. When visiting the clinic and homes, we were greeted with the words: “You are welcome.” They were not said as though saying “Thank you; you are welcome”, but rather carried the intimate feeling of: “You are so welcome here. Come in and be part of this family.”
‘Being an MMM Associate has greatly enriched my life and enlarged my family! My life is becoming “an extraordinary adventure, a ‘yes’ uttered in faith in response to God’s call” (MMM Const.). I am so very grateful to be part of the MMM/AMMM family!’
[*Sadly Sister Maura Lynch died unexpectedly in December. RIP]
Working for human wholeness
‘You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt’ (Lev 19:34 NRSV). Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe, based in Tanzania, is a Capacitar International trainer. Used mainly in areas of conflicts, Capacitar enables people traumatized by violence and displacement to heal themselves and their families and communities. Geneviève told us about her recent travels in countries in East and Central Africa.
‘My journey with Capacitar began in Rwanda in 2006. With the blessing of MMM, I readily accepted the invitation of Dr. Patricia Cane, PhD, to be a Capacitar International Trainer for East/Central and West Africa. I felt that Capacitar’s vision was in line with our charism ‘to follow Christ who went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38), healing all who were oppressed. I believe that many of those whom Jesus healed were people traumatised by the Roman occupation and the resulting poverty and sense of alienation. They were disturbed by the demons of oppression, division, injustice, and greed. These affected them in body-mind-spirit. This is not unlike what we see in so many countries today.
‘In a world desperate for healing and peace, Capacitar uses a popular education method to empower persons and communities to heal from stress and trauma and transform their lives, bringing hope and promoting non-violence and peace. This method is particularly valuable where trauma is collective and resources are scarce.
‘Born in Belgium during WWII, I still remember the pain and hardships endured by our family as we returned home to the devastated French Ardennes in mid-1945. These memories led me to MMM, whose charism is to heal, liberate and bring hope. They also help me to understand how people feel in conflict areas. In the past six months, I gave workshops in five countries
The path to healing ‘In the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I mentored the Capacitar team of trainers. There I met Bruno (not his real name), a university student, artist and peace activist, who was recently arrested with several other activists. He told me, “While in prison, our spirits were free. We were helped by the finger-holds, emotional freedom tapping (EFT), and Tai Chi that we learned from Capacitar.”
‘Since 2013 the North Kivu Capacitar team has reached out to over 5,000 persons from different communities and organisations, and to 12,440 children in many schools of Goma, Minova and Rutshuru. They accompany youth, called demobilisés, who have left military and rebel groups. Capacitar is really helping their reinsertion process. The trainers are now bringing these young people to local schools to teach other children. They say proudly, “We are no longer called 'demob' but ‘Capacitar Youth!’.”
Geneviève continued, ‘I was also in South Sudan. In Rumbek, I gave workshops to the students and teachers in the Loreto Sisters’ school. In Wau, I trained leaders from six parishes hosting thousands of displaced people and gave some sessions on stress management to the Comboni and MMM Sisters. At the Good Shepherd Pastoral Peace Centre near Juba, I gave workshops to the staff and to a group of twenty-eight soldiers.
‘Since 2011 in South Sudan, local people and missionaries who received basic Capacitar training have introduced the Capacitar practices in their teachers’ training programmes, in parishes, in camps of internally displaced people, in prisons, women’s and youth groups, etc. Beneficiaries often expressed relief from physical symptoms, depression, painful intrusive memories and nightmares. They are able to better manage their fears and anger. In Rumbek a culture of revenge between clans prevails. Following leadership and Capacitar training, a group of women resolved to say: “No to revenge.” They are making great efforts to make this a reality.
‘Present to the peoples of today’ (MMM Const.) ‘In my last two visits to Uganda, I gave several workshops. In Kampala I worked with urban refugees from Sudan, Darfur, Abyei, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, DRC, and Burundi. I gave sessions in Kiryandongo to refugees from South Sudan, and in Gulu to youth leaders and to the academic and support staff of the new Sacred Heart University of Gulu. In Masaka, I gave workshops to youth recovering from drugs, to street children and carers, and to the staff of Kitovu Mobile, who continue to embody the MMM charism.
‘In Gulu I met Samuel (not his real name), formerly abducted by the LRA, who had participated in training I gave in 2011. The Capacitar practices helped him to recover from trauma and now he is a very active youth leader.
‘In Nairobi, Kenya, I gave a Capacitar retreat to women from the Catholic international community. In Tanzania, I had a lively workshop with postulants from MMM and from the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. They were from six countries.
‘Sent to be among people of different cultures’ (MMM Const.) ‘So far, requests for Capacitar training have brought me to eleven countries across sub-Saharan Africa. I am now used to travel! Flying between countries gives me some precious time just to be and to quietly meditate. Inland travel is interesting. It may involve a long bus journey with the “Divine Coach” in northern Uganda, a flight with a local airline or on a World Food Program plane in South Sudan, or a ride on the back of a boda-boda (motor bicycle) to and from a refugee camp. These journeys help me to discover the uniqueness of each region and get in touch with people and the reality of their lives.
‘I am grateful to all who pray for our safe journeys. Thérèse of Lisieux remains my faithful travel manager!
‘There are challenges in obtaining visas or permission to enter a refugee settlement, in keeping informed on security issues, observing safety measures and communicating effectively. It is also challenging to simultaneously use English, French or Swahili, to work with local language translators for Arabic, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Acholi, Luganda, Sangho, etc., and to constantly adapt the teaching materials to the needs of various groups.
Food for the journey ‘I draw inspiration from the life of Marie Martin, our foundress. During WWI, she saw the need for healing and went in faith as a nurse to Malta, France and England, and later to Nigeria. Her response was always Christ-like, compassionate, fully human and professional. Later, in the same way, her MMM Sisters had the same spirit. They remained present with the people in Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda during times of war, and continue to do so in areas of unrest around the world.
‘It is encouraging that so many in conflict areas find Capacitar very helpful. They pass on the message to people in other countries - hence the new requests. Human rights defenders find Capacitar practices useful to deal with their own stress. They teach and use the practices with their families, colleagues and beneficiaries, some of whom are female and male victims of conflict-related sexual violence.
‘I always meet wonderful people who give me energy. Some have suffered abuse, torture, and imprisonment. Others have left their loved ones, their homes, and their countries. Capacitar helps them to feel better, to recover hope, meaning and dignity. In DRC, some told me that as their wounds healed, they found “their true mission in life: healing their society”. These are the Capacitar “multipliers”, reaching out to tens of thousands of suffering people in areas that are often very insecure. Their stories are very touching. They are saints!‘
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