‘There is So Much Needed Here’

grenoughclassIt’s often said that a problem can’t be really solved unless it’s brought to God. Well, you’re helping us bring to God Myanmar’s “unacknowledged reality.”

Your support could prevent a further spike in HIV/AIDS cases here.

AIDS is a problem Myanmar’s churches have been late to take up because of a “lack of information, high stigma and discrimination,” says Sister Mary Grenough. Myanmar is among the top five Asian countries with the most severe AIDs epidemics.

It’s not just her, though. In Catholic parishes throughout Myanmar, Sister Mary is giving her AIDS prevention workshops to anyone who will listen. In the past, people here have been quiet on the topic. Now, churches and other groups here are realizing that compassion is what’s needed when someone close is dying of AIDS.

“Would you believe that in some places here, people who die of AIDS are still denied burial in a Christian cemetery,” she said, “and some priests are afraid to visit them to offer spiritual assistance for fear of contracting the virus?”

sistermaryandfriendSo far, Sister Mary has given workshops in Myitkyina, Mandalay, Yangon, Mawlamyine, Mindat, southern Chin state, and Lashio. That’s on top of the five dioceses that were reached last year.

AIDS patients also need wellness tools for self-healing, so Sister Mary also got together some AIDS caregivers in Myanmar for a workshop with Maryknoll Sister Eileen Brady. In East Timor, Sister Eileen teaches the Timorese how to heal from their own scars, endured during the country’s independence movement.

Being diagnosed with AIDS can be just as devastating. That’s why Sister Mary is heading the Myanmar Catholic HIV/AIDS Network, which helps separate AIDS fact from fiction. The group is preparing AIDS health care guidebooks that will help churches and other caregivers in Myanmar save lives.

After her AIDS pamphlets are translated into Burmese, Sister Mary hopes people here will finally be able to welcome those who are HIV-positive, not forsake them.

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.

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.

They Live Day to Day

cambodiainjury1What if your young daughter suffered an injury that could affect the rest of her life?

That’s what happened to Srey Mom Ngoun, who lives in a low-lying neighborhood of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Earlier this year, Srey Mom was playing and broke her arm. The area is dangerous enough. Each rainy season her home is surrounded by several feet of water, which explains why all the houses here are built on stilts.

Getting medical care in Cambodia isn’t easy. In Cambodia, health care for the poor isn’t supplied by the government. So when Srey Mom broke her arm, her family turned to a traditional healer. A week passed, but Srey Mom’s arm still hurt.

A broken arm can be a serious injury. If a broken limb isn’t treated properly, its negative effects can be permanent, especially if you’re a child.

“We have so many poor people here who don’t know how to access medical care,” said Sister Mary Little.  “Life here is so uncertain because the poor especially feel the effects of a slumping economy and rising food prices.”

Like many of their neighbors, Srey Mom’s parents raise morning glories that grow in the lake nearby. They’re a favorite vegetable in Cambodia.  The whole family gets up early to pick the morning glories so Srey Mom’s mother can sell them.

“They live day to day,” Sister Mary said.  “You survive on what you earn today.”

So when disaster strikes, families here need a helping hand. Srey Mom is one of them. Sister Mary discovered that Srey Mom wasn’t getting the right treatment for her arm, and she moved into action.

Sister Mary brought Srey Mom to get x-rays and a proper cast for the broken arm.  Srey Mom was grateful for something just as important: Sister Mary’s reassuring presence throughout.  “She was so afraid,” Sister Mary said of the girl.

Srey Mom’s arm is still not healed.  “She has trouble raising her arm and sometimes needs help getting dressed,” Sister Mary said.

Meanwhile, Srey Mom is doing exercises to improve the use of her arm.  Srey Mom’s faith in people’s goodwill and kindness has already grown immeasurably.


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.

A Calling That Saves Lives

kobetsinzimbabweSister Mary Frances Kobets, Kansas State’s newest Distinguished Alumna, teaches the wisdom of the land.

It isn’t just poverty that is destroying families in southeast Africa. A disease called AIDS wipe outs body and spirit, too. Sister Fran’s goal is to help heal people’s souls and also to nourish their bodies, too, and her skills in agriculture and economics did just that for a generation of young people left scarred by an epidemic of AIDS deaths.

Even while studying agricultural economics at Kansas State University, Sister Fran knew Africa was for her. She was one of the first two women to ever earn a bachelor’s degree from the program. This week, Kansas State is honoring Sister Fran with this year’s Distinguished Alumna Award.

“There were great professors and an opportunity to take subjects that were practical,” Sister Fran recalled of her Kansas years.  “I had the opportunity to work on farms in the summer periods, so that this city girl could be more relevant.”

On Friday, Sister Fran attended an awards banquet at Kansas State after sharing with students what people in Zimbabwe face. The country has been racked by high inflation and a declining economy that is making the poverty worse.

In the face of this, said Kansas State’s David Lambert, head of the agricultural economics department, “Sister Fran has combined her knowledge of agriculture with her calling to help people.”


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.”

He Loves Just the Same

catarinasantos2Two months after her son was born, Catarina Julian ran into Sister Barbara after Sunday Mass at San Andres Apostle Church.

Santos has a cleft lip, which means the two sides of his upper lip physically split at birth. Catarina talked with Sister Barbara about her son, and right then and there in rural Guatemala, Santos’ life was about to change.

Some people turn their heads at the sight of a child with a cleft lip. “Clefted” kids have trouble speaking and eating. Many are told not to come to school or play with other children because of their disfigured faces. They are lovable just the same.

Who would sustain a growing baby if not his own mom? For Santos, it’s been a long road to recovery. He’s not even 2, and he’s had five trips to the hospital to correct his cleft lip.

Santos is not alone. More children are born with cleft lips in developing countries. In places like Guatemala, indigenous women often lack proper nutrients during pregnancy.

“Through education, their diet improves somewhat,” Sister Barbara said, “but is limited because of a lack of availability and poverty.”

San Andres Apostle parish has been especially hard hit. When the church pastor baptized several children with cleft lips, all within only a few months, Sister Barbara knew that something had to be done.

The good news is that cleft lips and other birth defects can be prevented. In basic education classes for rural women here, Sister Barbara suggests the best foods to eat when a baby is on the way. She recommends foods high in folic acid: leafy green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and asparagus.

In a place like Guatemala where nearly everyone struggles to have enough food to eat, we can make a difference.


‘This is a Terrible Scenario”

At Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Ilemela, Tanzania, outside the town of Mwanza, children are taught that water is so precious that the school is capturing rain drops from the heavens.


A lack of rain is making Tanzania’s food shortage worse. Recently, the government had to curtail food exports, and 185,000 people had be rescued from acute hunger through government food aid. Sister Celeste Derr’s students are learning from the crisis.

“We are trying to teach the children that water is an important resource needed by all God’s people,” said Sister Celeste, who founded the Montessori school in March as a project of the parish and the neighborhood. Already, the school has 65 students. Families have so little here that they have to pay their children’s tuition in flour. The school then uses the flour to feed the children a single cup of porridge every morning.

Students are also learning to protect the earth’s resources through conservation, thanks to a holding tank, built to collect precious rainwater by funds contributed by people outside Tanzania.

The world economic crisis is definitely affecting daily life in Tanzania as well. As it becomes harder for Tanzanians to produce enough food for themselves, Sister Celeste is seeing more students arrive at school having had nothing to eat at home.

“With an average of six to eight children in a family, I often wonder if a child here ever experiences a full stomach,” Sister Celeste said. “In recent weeks, much of the corn crop has been shipped to Kenya, where corn can be sold at a higher price for more profit and sugar has been transported to Uganda for the same reason,” she explained. Both corn and sugar are staples in Tanzania.

Sacred Heart of Jesus School isn’t an ordinary institute of learning, either. It was founded to benefit the parish’s orphans, HIV + children, and other three- to six-year-olds, who come from situations where there are special concerns.  All families help with expenses on a sliding scale, but Sister Celeste still sees many in the town struggling just to get by.

The area is also seeing increased violence and stealing as economic resources disappear. People are desperate to steal precious food supplies like corn, beans, rice and things like mattresses and cooking pots to re-sell in order to have some cash.

“This is a terrible scenario yet overall one can see the reason for the vicious circle which is becoming more and more prevalent,” Sister Celeste said.

Help Is On The Way For Myanmar’s Sick

aidsinmyanmarWorld AIDS Day may already have passed, yet the efforts of Maryknoll Sisters who care for AIDS patients live on. In Myanmar’s remote mountains, AIDS victims and their families make up the ministry of Sister Mary Grenough.

Late last year, Sister Mary was busy conducting a health workshop in the Myanmar city of Mandalay. Being able to travel throughout Myanmar is key.

Sister Mary’s program, made possible by the contributions of Maryknoll donors and sponsors, enable people on the ground to get life-saving information into the hands of AIDS patients and caregivers, especially those in the remote areas of Myanmar’s mountains, where doing so can be a challenge.

“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.

Many Burmese people even refuse to read materials about HIV/AIDS for fear that others might think they have the disease. Discrimination keeps people from getting tested.

Sister Mary started the Myanmar Catholic HIV/AIDS Network to forge a connection among the country’s many AIDS patients. But reaching the country’s churches and social organizations with facts about AIDS can be hard if they’re not used to welcoming people with the disease. The group is slowly (but surely) changing Myanmar’s timeworn attitudes.

In fact, Sister Mary, a trained nurse from Kentucky, just hired someone to help with the network’s latest effort: starting support groups for AIDS patients in Yangon’s Catholic community. Elizabeth was hired for the job as a “part-time volunteer” because she is uniquely qualified for the work. Elizabeth is HIV-positive.

Elizabeth’s husband died three years after they were married. He had AIDS and then passed it on to Elizabeth, who’s left with supporting a 12-year-old son. Meanwhile, Sister Mary’s group can only pay Elizabeth for two days of work per week, for which she’ll be paid less than $70 a month.

“We hope Elizabeth can help us to start support groups in the Yangon catholic community,” said Sister Mary. “She has excellent experiential knowledge of what it means to be HIV-positive and knows people and groups.”

Sister Mary is seeking your help so Myanmar’s AIDS victims can get the support they need. “People can’t even afford transportation to come to a meeting, food to serve during the meeting, and funds to start their own group activities, some of which would be income-generating projects.”

Learn what else Maryknoll Sisters are doing to help AIDS victims through Maryknoll’s Office for Global Concerns and find more reasons to support our work, both financially and in prayer.