“Trailblazers in Habits” Viewing at Society

trailblazers in habits4_1_0_0“Trailblazers in Habits”, a 90-minute film documenting the pioneer work of Maryknoll Sisters, the first U.S.-based congregation of Catholic women religious dedicated to foreign mission, will be shown Friday, March 27, 2015, at 7 p.m. in the Asia Room at Maryknoll Society Mission Center, 55 Ryder Road, Ossining, NY.   Sisters featured in the film will be on hand to greet attenders and will answer questions following the showing.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free. Light refreshments will be served.

“Trailblazers in Habits” tells the story, in the Sisters’ own words, of the congregation’s work in education, healthcare, and the cause of social justice. A moving and absorbing chronicle that spans 100 years and several continents, the film celebrates the intelligence and tenacity, the love, compassion and generosity of these early feminists. The premiere coincides with the Maryknoll Sisters’ Centennial year.

Production of the film was almost entirely funded by donations from the thousands who attended Maryknoll schools around the world. Maryknollers wanted a way to tell the full story of the Sisters’ contributions to their communities, from the building of schools and hospitals around the world to helping lay the foundation of Hong Kong’s social welfare system.

By turns tragic and joyous, yet always inspirational, this insightful documentary by award-winning director Nancy Tong, is a revealing portrait of these courageous women and a timely testimony to the Sisters’ lifelong dedication to helping the disenfranchised.

For more information, please contact Sue Palmer, Communications Manager, at 914-941-7575, ext. 5687 or by e-mail at communications@mksisters.org

Dates:
Friday, March 27, 2015

AIDS: Hopes to eliminate disease by 2020

Much of the following article was published by the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on June 13.

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS), which took place in New York June 8-10, concluded with the adoption of a declaration that by 2015 seeks to double the number of people on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to 15 million, end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, halve tuberculosis-related deaths in people living with HIV, and increase preventive measures for the “most vulnerable populations.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a global commitment to eliminate AIDS by 2020. “That is our goal – zero new infections, zero stigma and zero AIDS-related deaths,” he said.

The three-day event, attended by heads of state, civil society groups, AIDS organizations and activists from more than 30 countries, coincided with the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS and was dominated by discussions on the importance of increasing access to treatment.

“This Declaration is strong, the targets are time-bound and set a clear and workable roadmap, not only for the next five years, but beyond,” said Joseph Deiss, president of the General Assembly in a statement. “UN member states have recognized that HIV is one of the most formidable challenges of our time and have demonstrated true leadership through this Declaration in their commitments to work towards a world without AIDS.”

The money to achieve these aims is still a major issue, but the document is vague on where it will come from – about US$10 billion is spent each year, and UNAIDS says another $6 billion will be required. Countries agreed to increase AIDS-related spending to reach between $22 billion and $24 billion in low- and middle-income countries by 2015.

During his talk at a session to launch the global plan to eliminate new HIV infections in babies, former U.S. President Bill Clinton discussed the importance of coordination among governmental agencies and other bodies, and the overhead costs in assisting HIV-positive people. He noted that many UN conferences have failed to achieve the goals they set for themselves, but hoped this time would be different.

Some nongovernmental organizations participating in the debate are skeptical. They see barriers to the level of appropriations for HIV and AIDS-related programs, given the budget deficit debate in the U.S. and other countries. They are also concerned about the impact of trade agreements now being negotiated between, for example, the European Union and India, on access to generics medicines and to newer cheaper medicines by millions of people dependent on them for survival. Furthermore, opposition to women- and girl-centered responses to HIV and AIDS and to even discussing the impact of AIDS on sex workers and other highly vulnerable populations leaves gaping holes in any strategy to get the AIDS pandemic under control.

Others were more optimistic. In its June 18 issue, the highly respected medical journal The Lancet wrote, “Last week saw the conclusion of a landmark event in the recent history of AIDS. The two turning points took place in New York. The visible one was a high-level meeting on AIDS, which brought 3,000 participants to the UN to review progress in defeating an epidemic 30 years into its devastating course. Ambitious new targets were agreed. Countries committed themselves to, by 2015: halving sexual transmission of HIV; halving HIV transmission among people who inject drugs; ensuring that no child will be born with HIV; getting 15 million people onto treatment; and halving deaths from tuberculosis among people living with AIDS.

“But the invisible turning point was the realization that simply strengthening the vertical program that is AIDS has to end. The new opportunity is integration. As one senior UNAIDS scientist put it: AIDS is not an exceptional disease; it is an exceptional opportunity. Part of the reason for a change in strategy is a matter of brutal reality. Investment in AIDS is in decline relative to other spheres of global health. But the incredible success of the AIDS movement also means that it is in a strong position to embrace—warmly and generously—other sectors of global health. AIDS can be the engine that broadens a front to defeat the diseases of poverty.”

Faith in action:

Contact your member of Congress to urge the highest possible appropriations for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Response (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund in FY 2012.

Japan: Insecurity since March tsunami

A recent New York Times article described protests by survivors of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami, including a mother with a three-year-old child clad in a shirt reading “please let me play outside again.” Survivors gathered in the streets of Tokyo in mid-June to express their anger over the government’s handling of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown. While protesting is not a typical part of the Japanese culture of conformity, people are questioning whether the government can be trusted; in the ongoing uncertainty, many worry about their food and health.

japan_tsumniAccording to a Pew Research Center survey of 700 adults, 79 percent said Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s management of the crisis was poor. His public support has plunged, and he faces pressure to resign. Kan says he will do so once a renewable energy bill and a disaster assistance bill are passed. The executive branch of the government recently approved a bill to help the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco, the company that owns the Fukushima plant), compensate disaster victims. The bill must next be passed in parliament for official approval.

Since the disaster, Tepco has announced losses of $15 billion; its shares have fallen 91 percent. The government’s bailout plan would consist of contributions from other nuclear power operators and private contributors which Tepco would eventually have to repay. According to a June 28 Reuters report, “The proposal faces weeks of challenges, however, with both ruling party and opposition lawmakers intent on scuttling the legislation or demanding amendments in return for their support. Some critics have urged the government to allow a court-led bankruptcy and rehabilitation, which would wipe out the equity of shareholders.”

The massive tsunami, which struck one hour after the earthquake, hit the power plant, flooding the generators and destroying the outdoor fuel tanks of the emergency generators. This caused all power to be lost, so normal cooling systems stopped working, temperatures rose and water evaporated. When reactor temperatures exceeded 1,000 degrees Celsius, the reaction of water and zirconium createed hydrogen, which collected near the ceiling of reactor buildings, causing explosions. More than two months later, the heat, radiation and hydrogen have yet to be contained, according to a story by Jun Tateno, a professor at Chuo University specializing in nuclear energy.

Over 600 square kilometers of radiation has leaked from the plant. On May 31, a gas tank exploded and oil was reported to have poured into the ocean. On June 13 excessive levels of highly toxic strontium have been found in the seawater and groundwater near the plant’s number one and two reactors, according to the Wall Street Journal. Strontium accumulates in bone and bone marrow, causing bone cancer and leukemia. Six more workers may now have exceeded radiation exposure limit, bringing the total to eight, the government reported on June 13. Tepco predicts that the reactors will be brought under control by October at the earliest.

According to National Public Radio, Tepco has been continuously pumping water into the plant since the disaster hit in order to keep the reactors cool; at this point, the radioactive water could fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Several companies have been hired to build a water decontamination plant. The cleaning is expected to take a few months and afterwards, depending on the results, the water may be dumped back into the ocean.

According to reports, about 100,000 evacuees still sleep in gymnasiums. There are 1,670 children living within 12-20 miles of the Fukushima power plant, the emergency preparation zone. While the government recommends that pregnant women, children and people who require medical care not remain in this area, it has not mandated their evacuation.

Please pray for the well-being and recovery of those affected by this devastating event.

Remember When We Were One With Nature

Our ecological center is acting so a city in the Philippines has a future.

Fresh clean water to drink. Healthy clear air to breathe. Some things in life we take for granted. In the northern Philippines, people can’t be so sure.

The northern region of this island chain has the third-largest concentration of tribal peoples in the Philippines. It also has some of the dirtiest air. People in Baguio City, for example, complain of barren mountain ranges that used to be green with pine trees. The air is not the same, either. It’s filled with smog from the construction vehicles you can see all around.

Land developers here are building multitudes of new homes where the indigenous have made do for years.

ritualpic4a“I feel quite sad and disappointed that this area…could come to this sorry state,” said Sister Cathy, who grew up in the Philippines. She said the breathtaking vistas are mostly gone. She wonders if people have forgotten “their oneness with the land.”

In the face of this crisis, our ecological sanctuary is a big help. Recently, while cutting down some older trees to rebuild huts at our sanctuary damaged last year by Typhoon Juan, we saved a tree that has been living on our grounds for almost a century. We decided that the ailing environment needs the tree’s natural beauty and other benefits. It’s among the oldest trees in Baguio.

 

grabbingdirt2What’s more, the sanctuary will plant more trees this year than we did in previous years, says Sister Cathy, who directs the ecological center. She teaches Filipinos about ways they can save their environment. Schoolchildren go on field trips at the center, and adults take workshops on earth-friendly planting methods.

Before the sanctuary was about to cut down its older trees, “we held a ritual to honor the spirits in the life of the trees. It was solemn, truly respectful of the indwelling of the spirit and a profound recognition of God as the source of all.”

Future Doctor Serves as Role Model in Tanzania

Linda Simon was only 14 when one morning, three people knocked on the door of her family home near Arusha, Tanzania.

“I was told to get prepared for the journey to Arusha town, as they are going to take me to a nun who will take me to school. It was a miracle I wished to happen.”

Linda Simon (far l) calls our Emusoi Center "a miracle." Now she plans to go to medical school.
Linda Simon (far l) calls our Emusoi Center “a miracle.” Now she plans to go to medical school.

Linda Simon (far l) calls our Emusoi Center “a miracle.” Now she plans to go to medical school.

It could have been different. Many Maasai girls dread that knock on their front door. By Maasai custom, it’s the first time a girl learns of her future husband. An arranged marriage means potential income for the father. But to his daughter, an unfamiliar groom can generate fear and family discord.

Fortunately, Linda was spared the horrors of being married so young. Instead, that day Linda met Maryknoll Sister Mary Vertucci.

Sister Mary coordinates the Emusoi Center, a school she helped found in Arusha, Tanzania. Young Maasai girls like Linda go to Emusoi to get a basic education–and to become young women prepared to study for careers they can use back home. Linda said Emusoi has given her “confidence, happiness and courage.”

“At Emusoi, I met with Maasai girls with different dreams,” Linda said. “Mine has always been that one day, I want to be among the best medical doctors and surgeons in the world.”

Students see Sr. Mary Vertucci (r) as a mentor. Early marriage forces many Maasai girls to forego school.

Students see Sr. Mary Vertucci (r) as a mentor. Early marriage forces many Maasai girls to forego school.
Students see Sr. Mary Vertucci (r) as a mentor. Early marriage forces many Maasai girls to forego school.

Linda sees a need for physicians in the Maasai culture and in Tanzania. Unfortunately, however, Linda was the only student in her ward to pass the final exams that led her to where she is today. Having finished advanced studies in physics, chemistry and biology, Linda has her eyes on entering medical school this fall.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 113 million children around the world are prevented from going to school, and 60 percent of them are girls. The reality for many girls is that they’ll be married before they’re 18. In Tanzania, Sister Mary said, no more than 20 percent of primary school graduates continue with their education. The need for education in this part of the world is so great, she said, that more resources are needed.

“At this point, we have more requests from student applicants than we can handle, and we have to send girls away because we have no room or finances to take care of them.”

Before Emusoi, Linda worried that her family couldn’t afford to send her to school. She comes from an “economically poor family,” she said, and Tanzania is among the world’s poorest countries. In 1999, education spending here was under 5 percent of GDP.

“I decided to spend my holiday teaching my young (Maasai) sisters at Emusoi because I know the environment they were brought up in and the challenges they face that some can even complete their primary education without the basic reading and writing skills,” Linda said.

“I believe that my presence will make a difference in their life.”

A Lifetime Pledge, A Single Purpose

frstvows (3)They come from different countries and cultures. They’re far from family and friends.

Gloria Ardenio Agnes (l), Isabel da Costa Araujo (c), and HyunJung Kim (r) will join Maryknoll’s Catholic religious women who have one purpose—to make God’s love visible to all.

On Sunday, August 14, 2011, three young women came together in our 80-year-old chapel in New York. At half past ten in the morning, the women approached the altar to profess solemn religious vows for the first time. The special liturgy is rooted in ancient rites passed down to us as Maryknoll Sisters.

Sister Isabel da Costa Araujo is from East Timor, where poverty is rampant. Where did Isabel find inspiration to become a religious Sister?

“I saw the openness of Maryknoll Sisters to learn and discuss with local people about their real needs and create different programs to help the people to develop their capacity to build up their life.  Sister Susan Gubbins had become an interesting person in my journey to Maryknoll. She was my spiritual director ever since the Sisters arrived in East Timor in Aileu. Then I had an invitation from Sister Susan. She tickles me on the right side body and when I looked at her smiling face, she said, ‘Do you think about Maryknoll?’ And I said, ‘Do you think I can?’ She replied, ‘Yes, you can!’ She said, ‘Come and talk with me after (Mass).’ This was a first call resonate in my heart to become a Maryknoll Sister in 2004.”

Sister HyunJung Kim is from South Korea. In many places, people’s search for meaning can be disrupted in their day-to-day struggles. What’s going on in South Korea that inspired HyunJung to lead a Maryknoll life?

“When I was working with one of the Korea-region Maryknoll Sisters, I was inspired by her humble and joyful life-sharing with women who are survivors of violence such as sex abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking, and by her attitude to honoring her own vulnerability.”

Sister Gloria Ardenio Agnes is from the Philippines. She sees in the world unending war, discrimination of women and children, the abuse of our ecology, and increasing poverty. What does this week of first vows for Gloria really mean?

“My incoming first profession is very significant to me. It will be a public profession and witnessing of the other option of life in the midst of globalization. It might be an hour ceremony and yet a lifetime commitment. My first profession will define my identity and tell me where I belong and at the same time asking me to be a more responsible member.”

Mollie Speaks To Us Today

On the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we as Maryknoll Sisters continued in prayer to observe the 100th anniversary of our founder Mother Mary Joseph Rogers’ resolve to give herself to this work of Catholic mission.

In celebrating this resolve of Mollie’s, we enter into our pre-centennial times. We can imagine all that was going on among Maryknoll’s key people in these days a hundred years ago. Five days before Mollie’s resolve on September 15, 1910, Fathers Walsh and Price had met in Montreal and made their own commitments to this work of mission.

Joy spreads through the heritage of Mother Mary Joseph.

Joy spreads through the heritage of Mother Mary Joseph
Joy spreads through the heritage of Mother Mary Joseph

We often talk, however, of how very different times are today from the days when Maryknoll was being founded. For one thing, we imagine things back then as having more clarity. In our troubled world and Church of today we often feel confused and frustrated, needing to seek our way anew.

Yet there is something about Mollie Rogers in our lives that does not change. As we saw during the vigil last evening, Mollie maintains a power to convoke us and bond us in an extraordinary way. We in turn invoke her presence among us, symbolized by the chair of leadership.

Hopefully, we will all spend some time with Mollie in the coming days, perhaps placing our cares and concerns in her hands in the basket beside her chair.

Several things came together in prayer this week. Wednesday is the day when many Maryknoll Sisters spend time in adoration here in the chapel. It is also the opening day of the 100 days of prayer for community decisions suggested by Sister Rose Corde McCormick.

Centennial Garden of Gratitude and Promise

Our new Centennial Garden is a sight to see! It’s finally ready to be dedicated on the property of our misson center in New York. You’re invited to watch a webcast of the the dedication ceremony live at 3 p.m. on June 2.

centennialgardenThe garden celebrates the people everywhere around the world who have made our mission work possible.

The design of the garden recognizess our presence and efforts in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and North America.

The garden consists of a series of meditation areas and other features. One area is wheelchair-accessible.

DSC00039A key element of the garden is an ancient stone found on our land many years ago.  It has been placed in the garden to mark the memory of one hundred years of Maryknoll Sisters going to the world in mission, and as a symbol of Christ’s promise of fullness of life for the entire Earth community, for which Maryknoll Sisters, together with our partners in mission, stand ready to serve as the future unfurls.

Our partners in mission include all those with whom we have worked to bring Good News to the poor:  the people with whom we have worked, the benefactors who have held us in prayer and granted us generous financial support, our family and friends.

We have not journeyed alone.

 

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Opening a Window to a Silent World

Deaf Catholics connect with our ministry in China.

It can seem like a prison, a world filled with faces where lips move without sound. Now, multiply that by a lifetime and you start to sense the world of the hearing-impaired. At a church in China, we’re helping deaf people really become part of the community as Catholics.

It’s all happening at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Macau, where the assistant pastor and some parishioners volunteered to learn sign language with Maryknoll Sister Arlene Trant. It took them four weeks. Their devotion is lasting far longer.

“From that time on, there have been about a dozen people with normal hearing who sit with our deaf group and sign the Mass prayers together with us,” Sister Arlene said.

Every week at Mass, she joins about 20 deaf people who use sign language to say the prayers. Lectors who are deaf “read” the Scripture readings with special hand gestures, which make up a language that more and more in the parish can understand

arlenetrant1Students at St. Teresa”s School in Macau, China, practice their English with Sr. Arlene, who is a teacher there.

“It continually amazes me how warmly our deaf Catholic group has been welcomed into the parish,” said Sister Arlene, who began a Sunday school class for deaf people this year. In addition, the church holds a monthly Mass for the deaf on Saturday night. Sister Arlene is hoping to attract more young Catholics who are deaf.

A “special honor” took place on May 1, when deaf people helped celebrate the parish’s feast day for St. Joseph the Worker. At the Mass, the pastor invited a small group of deaf Catholics to stand at the altar and pray the Lord’s Prayer in sign language.

Macau Bishop José Lai Hung-Seng and more than 10 priests celebrated the anniversary Mass at the church. Only around five percent of the population here are Catholic.

This year’s feast came on the day the parish was founded 11 years ago in a working-class area of Macau, an island territory in the South China Sea. Among those attending was Sister Anastasia Lindawati, a Maryknoll missioner serving her first assignment in nearby Hong Kong.

“I was moved when the four deaf persons prayed the Our Father in sign language in front of the altar,” said Sister Anastasia.