That they may be one (Jn 17.11)
In June, the fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Dublin. Thousands of people from many nations are expected to participate in liturgies, cultural events, and other activities, centring on the daily celebration of the Eucharist. The theme of the Congress is: “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another”.
The MMM core value that we focus on this month is Communion. In our documents it says: “We yearn for union with God and others and seek to be reconnected to the faith we have received, so that through us the world will believe. True communion with God begins with right relationships with God and creation. As Medical Missionaries of Mary, ‘in the depth of your being, seek God who has already found you. United in God’s love, communion with your Sisters [and brothers] begins’.” This is a value that influences our relationship with the wider community.
The meaning of this value is shown in the following stories. A young woman, Sister Chiagoziem, has chosen to commit herself to God for her whole life as a Medical Missionary of Mary. Sister Brigid Corrigan, one of two MMMs who recently received MBEs for services to international health, tells of women who inspire her with their willingness to forgive. Mary Coffey, a physician and an Associate member of MMM, writes of an experiece that challenges us to examine how we live the communion for which Jesus prayed.
We are sending this newsletter just after Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit of God, who remains with us forever. May we listen to the Spirit speaking in the people and events in our world today.
“I gave up my position of professor in the University of Strasbourg, my literary work and my organ playing in order to be a medical doctor in Equatorial Africa. I had read about the physical miseries of the [people] … from missionaries and the more I thought about it the stranger it seemed to me that we … trouble ourselves so little about the great humanitarian task which offers itself to us in far off lands.” Albert Schweitzer
The extraordinary adventure of MMM
Sister Kay Lawlor is our Area Leader for East/Central Africa. She describes an event that expresses communion with God and others as Sister Chiagoziem Omwuzuruike made her Final Profession in Nairobi, Kenya.
“For days the rain had been pouring down and yet today, 5 May, the sun shone brightly: truly a sign of God’s blessing. Twenty-six MMMs were together at Hekima College to witness and celebrate the occasion.
“Sister Chiagoziem, from Nigeria, is a second year medical student at the University of Nairobi Medical School. Because of her schedule she won’t be able to join the other MMMs who will be making their Final Profession in Nigeria in June. It could have been a lonely time but her own family, the MMM family in East/Central Africa Area, and her friends at the Medical School made it a very special day. Her younger sister, Amarachi, and her cousin, Father Augustine, came from Nigeria to be with her.
“As the MMMs began to gather outside the College chapel, there were many shouts and hugs. Some Sisters hadn’t seen each other in a long time and some had never met before. We were from Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Ireland, and America, all working in the six countries of the Area. There is a special energy when MMMs come together.
“At 10:00 a.m. the procession began. Young girls from Guadalupe parish, where our House of Studies is located, led the way, their dancing expressing the joy of the event. The choir, also from the parish, was led by Thomas Nyawir, one of our newest MMM Associates. The MMMs came next with Amarachi. They were followed by priests from the various Congregations and Societies in Nairobi. Chiagoziem had invited Father John Roche, SPS to be the main celebrant.
“The ceremony was elegant in its simplicity and very meaningful. Sister Evelyn Akhalumenyo was the MC and made certain that everyone understood what was happening. When the presiding Sister confirmed that Chiagoziem was ‘one of us in the Congregation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, sharing all things in common, rooted and founded in love, called to heal and be healed’, the assembled guests responded with loud applause. The sign of peace followed.
“After the ceremony we all gathered in the hall at Hekima College Institute of Peace and International Relations for a meal and celebration. We enjoyed singing, dancing, cake-cutting, and great conversation. In another sign of participation in the day, Chiagoziem’s family had sent a souvenir for each person who attended. This was truly a day of reconnecting, communion, and great joy.”
The faith we have received
Doctor Mary Coffey, AMMM, is a physician working in general practice in Ireland. She spent 2.5 years as a volunteer in our MMM hospital in Makiungu, Tanzania. She returns to East Africa frequently for holidays. An experience there spoke to her about the gospel meaning of communion.
“A friend and I were in Singida, the big local town, with Sister Marian Scena. We got word that there was a lady in the government hospital who needed transport to Makiungu. She was coming home to die with AIDS. Her name was Fatuma.
“Fatuma walked to the car with great difficulty as her legs crumbled beneath her. There was no space for her to lie down and I helped to support her. She had severe diarrhoea and was parched with thirst. She drank from my water bottle.
“She was coming home but she had no immediate family and was to stay with a cousin. We stopped outside the mud house with a tin roof. Everyone got out except Fatuma. She sat alone in the car. Word had been sent ahead to the family to expect her. They had gone away and locked the door.
“There was a shed to the side of the house and we helped her in there. Neigbours brought some sacking, which they laid on the earth floor. She had a little bundle of rags tied together that I helped to settle under her head because she was too breathless to lie flat.
“Meanwhile word had been sent for the cousin to get home quickly and he arrived looking shamefaced. He and his family were afraid and felt ill-equipped to take on the task. From the hospital we got what was needed to keep Fatuma comfortable and the community health workers were informed.
“I woke the next morning wondering if she had died. I kept the precious water bottle for a couple of years and then I lost it, but not the memory.
“As we proclaim the One who had nowhere to lay His head, are we credible witnesses? Fatuma compels me to ask if my lifestyle really does proclaim the communion and solidarity that I profess. Kneeling in the dust is symbolic of communion but is it reflected in the rest of my life? Do the pieces of the jigsaw fit together?”
No greater love
Sister Brigid Corrigan is a physician who worked for many years in Tanzania in the care of people living with HIV. Presently involved in this ministry in Uganda, she reflects on what she has learned from courageous women affected by the virus.
“Just as we try to live our values and share them, we are liberated by recognizing them lived out in others. When I reflect on the meaning of communion I think immediately of the many women I met while caring for those affected by HIV. One I particularly remember is Betty. Whenever I look at this photo of Betty and her husband, Peter, I see the enormous compassion in her eyes. The tenderness with which she is able to look on the world belies her painful story.
“Peter left Betty when she found she was living with HIV. Although Peter did not have a test to discover his own HIV status, he refused to see her and went away with other women. Betty searched for him for several years. Hearing that he was very sick she went again to find him and brought him home. Betty poured out her love and healing on him. She brought him to us for treatment. Betty was one of our first clients to bring HIV treatment back to her village. This was in spite of the stigma she experienced when other people in the village found out what the medicine was for. Betty cared for Peter until he died about a year later.
“So many women have done the same, despite their initial anger and sadness, when those they love unconditionally are in pain. They show forth ‘the compassion of Christ, who came to heal and liberate’*, and show us how to live.
“Betty is only one of many women who have been infected with HIV by their partners. Very often they do not understand at first the nature of the illnesses they are experiencing. One woman’s partner handed her a note that advised her to have a HIV test, just as he was leaving her for someone else. These are courageous women who have remained faithful, caring for those who have infected them. As widows they are often left to care for their children alone. They experience discrimination and blame from their neighbours. Most have not remarried after the death of their partner.
“All too often there is a double standard in which infidelity by men is tolerated, even presumed, while women are expected to be faithful. My experience is that until there is genuine gender equality, with respect and empowerment for women, our prevention programmes will not work. Equality is needed to bring about right relationships with God and creation.”
* MMM Constitutions