Mary Reese in Panama

93 Year Old Sister Still on Mission

For a month, Sister Mary opened herself to the diversity of the amazing beauty of the land and peoples of Panama. Her Panamanian mission experience began at the Nueva Vida (New Life) Foundation, a residence for the ill and elderly founded by Sister Geraldine Brake, a great friend of Sister Mary’s. This Foundation was created to aid internally displaced people that resulted from the U.S. invasion in December 1989 (1089) in an attempt to replace the then Panamanian President Noriega. Currently, Sister Geraldine’s ministry at Nueva Vida is providing caring and compassionate pastoral accompaniment to the residents. She knew Sister Mary would be the perfect candidate to help lift the residents’ spirits with her kind and energetic personality. At 93 years old, Sister Mary is a faithful practitioner of Zumba and she shared this exercise with the residents and some staff at Nueva Vida. She also participated in the liturgies, assisted with the various activity programs, and accompanied residents as a chaperon on a field trip to the Old City of Panama.The next part of Sister Mary’s Panamanian adventure was to explore the Santa Fe Pastoral Center, which is located at the edge of a rainforest in the province of Darien that borders Colombia. Sister Mary embarked on a four hour bus ride which towards the end of the journey was bumpy with the potholes on the road.  Santa Fe Pastoral Center was for Sister Mary, a deep experience of the web of life from the diverse expression and forms of life in the rainforest, the organic farm, the herbal garden and the communities she met at the Center and town parish that was celebrating its patronal fiesta of St. Anthony de Padua.

The Pastoral Center was started 20 years ago, at around the time when the area was opening up to mainly landless farmers from more densely populated areas of Panama, in search of land that they could own and develop. Pioneering in a rainforest created separate and isolated communities. The Pastoral Center envisioned a gathering place for faith formation, alternative health education and practice, art and development oriented projects. The Center was meant to be an experience of community building, an experience of the unitive character of the web of life. With the Sisters’ deep interest in environmental and ecological issues, and the on-going research projects in Darien of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, they’ve become natural collaborators in the ministry of preserving the rainforest and its diversity that sustains life.

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, on the care of our common home, is a timely energy for the Maryknoll Sisters’ expanding insight into our “quantum entanglement” with all of God’s creation. The named factors gave impetus to the Sisters to create a learning program called the Web of Life, with the purpose of engaging the scientific knowledge and relationship with our home planet earth, that is uniquely present in this “land-bridge” called Panama.

The Web of Life Immersion Program is inclusive of the urban eco-system of Panama City where other Maryknoll Sisters minister. The Web of Life program has the following objectives:

  • to learn basic concepts and skills to deepen our relationship with the ecosystems through an experiential scientific study of the Web of Life in field trips and study in Panama City and the tropical forest of Darien;
  • to integrate our living faith with the wonders of creation through morning-evening prayer, ritual and reflection; and
  • to experience community within the whole community of life through shared daily activities.

Sister Mary’s trip to Panama as part of her Renewal was truly renewing for not only her, but all of our Sisters in Panama as well as the Panamanians she encountered. The expression of mission she easily shared was that of her presence, her faith, her appreciation of people and her gratitude for God’s life in everyone and in everything. Furthermore, she gained a deeper understanding of One Earth Community. Panama was in a way a gift to Sister Mary as she now shares her new experience of mission as a 93 year old missioner.


Panamanian Sancocho

Wish you could try a popular chicken soup in Panama that Sister Mary truly enjoyed? You can! See the recipe below.

1 roasting chicken, cut into pieces (or use 3-4 whole chicken breasts.)
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 lbs yucca root (Cassava), peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 cups chicken stock (from a box is fine)
salt and pepper


Rinse the chicken and pat dry.

In a small bowl, mix the salt, cilantro, oregano, garlic and olive oil.

Rub the mix all over the chicken and let it marinate for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, peel and chop the yucca and the onion. Set aside.

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Place the chicken in the pot, place a lid on it, and let it sweat for about 7 minutes.

Add the onion and the chicken stock.

Bring the soup to a boil and then let it simmer over medium low heat until the chicken is cooked through and soft.

Raise the heat to medium and add the yucca.

Bring the pot to a gentle simmer and cook until the yucca is cooked through (approximately 10 minutes.)

Serve with white rice on the side that is added into the soup when you are about to eat it.

Note: This soup keeps well frozen and only gets more flavorful with time.

O Inspiring God,
Companion on our journey,
we give thanks for Your inspiration throughout our lives!
We ask that you expand our caringness to include
the whole Earth Community,
and the good of the entire Cosmos.
We trust, O Compassionate Friend,
in your sustaining Love.
We believe that just as You inspire us
to offer this prayer, so You will bless us abundantly
to fulfill it through Jesus, our Hope and Peace. Amen!

– Sister Theresa Baldini M.M.


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