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.”

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.

Say a Prayer for South Sudan

Ask the average person in South Sudan why there’s so much tension there right now, and you’ll get a variety of responses: tribalism, corruption, ethnic conflict, and military abuse of power.

Recently, though, young people there got a chance to work out their fears, and the outcome was surprising. They found ways to solve everyday conflict on their own, with coaching from a Maryknoll Sister.

southsudan2011“Their stories were incredible,” said Sister Janice McLaughlin, who spent part of July and August in the new east African nation formed this summer. She gave peace-building workshops among college students who shared their concerns for the future.

Everyone Sister Janice met had lost members of their family in the 20-year Sudanese civil war. With wounds still fresh from the conflict, forgetting can only happen through disarmament and reconciliation, she says. A few areas of territory remain contested, and fighting still goes on. About two million people are reported to have lost their lives in the conflict.

Yet the country’s future was decided by the people themselves. In a referendum earlier this year, the Sudanese people voted for independence from the north. The result is the new Republic of South Sudan, which officially became a separate nation in July. You can send your own prayer for the new nation right from our website.

“It is critical to provide skills training and employment possibilities for former fighters so they have means of making a living and contributing to rebuilding the nation,” Sister Janice said in a published interview.

Over half of all people in the new country are younger than 18. They may have faint memories of the Maryknoll Sisters who have served in Sudan since the 1970s. This summer,  Sister Janice, a former missioner in Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, helped build a nation as part of marking her fifty years as a Maryknoll Sister in 2011.

Sister Janice entered Maryknoll fifty years ago this summer, right in the middle of the Maryknoll century. Indeed, the Maryknoll movement is 100 years old this year, and the Maryknoll Sisters begin celebrating their Centennial in only a few months.

For young people in South Sudan, the future can be just as bright–if they believe in the goodness in themselves. Sister Janice said most young people she met have never looked back and realized how much they had overcome in their lives and how strong they were.

Said Sister Janice: “These young people had known nothing but war, and they are hungry for peace.”

Holding Memory, Living Fully

peaceprevailsIn prayer we hold close those devastated by the loss of loved ones in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania, in war and violence everywhere.

God of our life,

You gather us close in this time of memory. Eleven years ago, an ordinary plane ride and an everyday morning at work became altered by unimaginable violence and destruction.  Our lives changed forever.

You came into that moment, holding our tears, numbness, grief, anguish and death. Unexpectedly, You were present in all who ran up the stairs to save others, who helped us scatter to safety, who seized our hand as we stumbled toward shelter, who wiped away tears and ash and who fought to thwart an attack on the U.S. Capitol. No one was a stranger.

With your closeness today, we are able to look back. We see your blessings in the easing of our suffering and in the building of these memorials. We recognize You by our side and yearn to live fully into a future of abundant life for all. We know your unfailing challenge to live peace, not hatred and war.

Oh, God of our life, with your faithful love, help us re-dedicate ourselves and our nation to healing and peace. Give us courage to open our hearts to cherish your gifts among all peoples. Guide us, as one world family, into a lasting peace and a genuine love and understanding of one another. Be with us always as we live fully into your Reign. We pray this in the name of Christ. Amen. Amen. Amen.

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.


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.”


‘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.

Emusoi Center Fills a Thirst for Knowledge

Maasai girls who study at our school in Tanzania share their struggle.

At a Maasai boma recently, Naha Shuaka told the Prince of Wales that the world should know about her struggle to get an education. Maasai custom ties girls to the land and to early marriages. Instead, Naha managed to become a student at the Emusoi Centre, a Maryknoll Sisters school that’s giving hope to girls like her.

emusoigraduation2 Students and staff from the school greeted the visiting Prince and his wife inside a traditional Maasai boma, or homestead.Tanzania celebrated 50 years of independence in 2011, and the school joined in to call attention to the needs of people in the region.

Drought is overtaking much of Tanzania, and pastoral herders are feeling the effects. Every day, women trek up to 20 kilometers as they carry 20-litre containers of water on their backs. The east African nation is a major presence for Maryknoll Sisters.

emusoistudentAt the Maasai village, Prince Charles also met Sister Mary Vertucci, who brought Naha and other students to meet the Prince.  She heads the Emusoi school, which welcomes Maasai girls like Naha who are determined to get an education. Naha is in her last year of diploma studies in banking and finance.

Two years ago, the British government funded a book written by Naha and other students at Emusoi to get the word out about education’s benefits. The young authors wrote their book, Emusoi: Maasai Girls Tell Their Stories, to raise awareness of their struggle to go to school.

On their visit to Tanzania, the Prince and Duchess are touring projects funded by Great Britain’s Department for International Development.

During their time with the royal couple, the Emusoi students sang and sat in a small hut with the Prince and the Duchess. Then Sister Mary described the place of learning that is Emusoi.  Naha was one of two students who told their stories. Many girls resort to running away from their families so they can go to school.

The students then presented the visiting royalty with copies of their book.

The Emusoi Centre, named after a Maasai word that means “discovery,” helps girls break from the strict traditions of their Maasai families and begin basic studies. The school is so popular that girls have had to be turned away for lack of enough space.

Of the 35 girls at Emusoi who will enter secondary school in January, only 10 are sponsored so far. So that the rest can continue their studies, Emusoi hopes to raise at least $1,000 for each of the others.

‘It Just Breaks My Heart’

Winter is approaching in northern Japan. Millions who lost their homes in the March tsunami now have another worry: radiation that’s been spewing from their damaged nuclear plant. The health risks aren’t stopping Sister Kathleen Reiley. She fears what will happen if she doesn’t volunteer.

Sr. Kathleen Reiley ministers among Japanese children with long-term illnesses.

“I work with children with cancer and it just breaks my heart to think how many more children are threatened with getting cancer because of this accident,” says the Maryknoll Sister who is based south of the where an earthquake caused the massive tsunami here only months ago.

Because of the widespread radiation, officials near the Fukushima nuclear plant have discouraged visitors from entering the area. In this month’s Maryknoll Sisters blog post from Japan, read why Sister Kathleen is volunteering in the region anyway.

Those most at risk from the contaminated soil are people under 40 years of age, though anyone can breathe the dangerous air. Families here are concerned for their small children. Children with cancer make up the special ministry of Sister Kathleen, a counselor who is prepared to take on Japan’s latest victims.


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.