Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Women missionary martyrs and other witnesses

I have read in reports on the Synod of the Amazon that there are many women, especially women religious, who have a major role in evangelization and the life of the church in the region. To adapt an image, women hold up at least half the church.

Today, looking at my calendar of witnesses, I noted that on this date five religious women were martyred.

On October 23, 1992, Sisters Kathleen McGuire, Shirley Kolmer, and Agnes Mueller, U.S. missionaries in Liberia, Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood of Christ, were killed in the Gardnerville section of Monrovia, Liberia. Three days before, two other members of their congregation were killed, Sisters Barbara Ann Muttra and Mary Joel Kolmer. Despite the violence, they had decided to stay with their people. This struck home for me when I first heard of the valiant presence of these women since the two Kolmer cousins had a relative in the parish where I was serving.

On October 23, 1994, Sisters Esther Paniagua and Caridad María Alvarez, Spanish Augustinian Missionaries, were killed in the Bab-el-Ued section of Algiers, Algeria. They were beatified last year with other martyrs of Algeria, including the more famous Trappist monks of Tibhurine.

They are just a few of many women missionary martyrs including Sister Dorothy Stang, martyred in the Amazon on February 12, 2005, who show us the powerful love and mercy of God. There are also the four women martyred in El Salvador in December, 1980; Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. 

Another less known woman, Annalena Tonelli, an Italian lay missionary in Kenya and Somalia, was killed in Somalia on October 5, 2003. She worked for those at the margins, “the poor, the suffering, the abandoned, the unloved,” working with those suffering from tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, working against Female genital mutilation, as well as advocating for Somali refugees in Kenya (for which she was expelled from Kenya). She was killed in the hospital where she served the poor and marginalized.

These and many women left their homes and stayed, even when violence surrounded them. Though many were not martyred, they gave their lives in ways that continue to astound me.

I am blessed to have met and worked with some of them. While researching the role of the church in Suchitoto, El Salvador, I heard one Salvadoran women speak of the witness of five US sisters in her area who visited their communities in a war zone. "They came and took away our fear."

Such is the witness of women in the missions and in our world. They remind us, in the words of Annalena Tonelli:

“[Those] who count for nothing in the eyes of the world, but so much in the eyes of God . . . have need of us, and we must be with them and for them, and it doesn’t matter at all if our action is like a drop of water in the ocean. Jesus Christ did not speak about results. He only spoke about loving each other, about washing each other’s feet, of forgiving each other always.”

A 1992 photo of four of the sisters who worked in Suchitoto, before the San Salvador cathedral,
in a celebration of the ceasefire that ended the Salvadoran civil war.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Mission Sunday - Iowa, Honduras, Bolivia, the Amazon, and the world

Today is Mission Sunday in the Extraordinary Month of Mission that Pope Francis called for to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Maximum Illud, an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV on the missions.

Today is also the end of the week of mission in the deanery of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. About fifty members of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María went on mission to the parish of Corquín, Copán, more than an hour away from Dulce Nombre. They spent the week – without money and without cellphone – visiting homes in scattered villages throughout that parish.

Missionaries of the Dulce Nombre parish
I had a less gruelling mission – visiting our sister parish, Saint Thomas Aquinas, in Ames, Iowa, and a visit to the Iowa City Catholic Worker.

At Thursday Night Liturgy at St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames
We prepared our missionaries with four sessions. At one of them, our pastor had asked me to share some thoughts on the letter of Pope Benedict XV.

The letter does respond to the situation of the early twentieth century, but there were several points that clearly redirected the sense of mission. One that I particularly appreciated the call to separate missionary activity from nationalism of any sort.

Part of the problem of missionaries has often been that they have come with the invaders – Franciscans and others came to the Americas with the conquistadors. I wonder if sometimes the native peoples identified them with the mother country and not with our real mother country – the Reign of God. A few like the Dominican priest and bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, were exceptions.

But Pope Benedict XV advised missionaries to avoid nationalism. He noted that
“…such a situation could easily give rise to the conviction that the Christian religion is the national religion of some foreign people and that anyone converted to it is abandoning his loyalty to his own people and submitting to the pretensions and domination of a foreign power.”

And so, “it is not our vocation to expand the frontiers of human empires, but those of Christ, nor to add any citizens to countries here below but to our fatherland above.“

Pope Benedict XV goes on to characterize the missionary as humble, obedient, chaste, and a person of prayer. Meeting the unbeliever,
“...his bearing toward them is neither scornful nor fastidious; his treatment of them is neither harsh nor rough. Instead, he makes use of all the arts of Christian kindness to attract them to himself, so that he may eventually lead them into the arms of Christ, into the embrace of the Good Shepherd.”

In my meeting with our parish missionaries, I noted how they were going to different places not to impose our way of being a parish but to help open spaces for God to work.

As I look at the Synod of the Amazon, I see a part of the Church struggling to be a Church in place, not a church which is tied to any foreign nation or culture. I believe that some of the opposition comes from trying to hold onto a European/North American cultural expression of the faith – without noting that the Church in those places took much from the local culture in the early centuries of the Church.

What is important is to be open to the presence of Christ Jesus who was born into a particular culture and political situation but who transcends these. Christ and his message can find echoes and reception in many cultures. We should live in hope – and not in fear.

This afternoon, I had a few hours between Mass and dinner with some friends and so decided to spend time at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Student Center, here in Ames. I decided to visit the room dedicated to the Dulce Nombre de María parish, acknowledging our sister relationship, and also the room dedicated to “Cigar Box Ray.”

I entered the room and immediately saw the display in honor of Father Ray Herman, a graduate of Iowa State University, a priest of the Dubuque archdiocese, and a missionary to Bolivia. Reading one plaque I realized that today is the anniversary of his martyrdom in Morochata, near Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I wrote about him a few years ago here. He lived among the poor, responded to their needs, and died after getting a hospital built. And he did it with great austerity. His body was brought back to be buried in Iowa. His personal belongs fit into a cigar box.

I am far from that but he and many other missionaries, such as Blessed Stanley Rother and Blessed Tulio Marruzo, ofm, inspire me and encourage me to deepen my commitment to mission.

And so, today is a special mission Sunday for me, a time to recommit myself to the mission we all have as missionary disciples. For, as Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel/Evangelii Gaudium (120):
"In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19)."

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Message to St. Thomas from Dulce Nombre

This weekend, October 12-13, I spoke at the end of all the Masses at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, bringing greetings from our parish of Dulce Nombre de María in Honduras. Here are the notes for my remarks.

My name is John Donaghy, Juancito to the people I work with in the Honduran parish of Dulce Nombre de María, the sister parish of St. Thomas.

I have been in Honduras since 2007 and was ordained a deacon in 2016. It is opportune that I am with you here in October, the extraordinary month of mission.

This Sunday fifty parishioners will be going on a week-long mission to another parish in the diocese, without money and without cell phone, which Is probably harder. I am on mission to you, but without the austerity of my fellow parishioners.

I bring you greetings from our parish and, like the Samaritan leper, I want to share our thanks for your continuing prayers and solidarity.

We live in the second poorest country in the Americas, with 68% poverty, and 44% extreme poverty – “a land beaten down by corruption, impunity, drug-trafficking, and intense poverty,” as our pastor, Padre German Navarro, writes.

The parish has a strong sense of mission – with more than forty rural villages, which our pastor, visits at least once every two months.

Much of the parish’s pastoral work is done by the people. Every weekend Padre German has at least five Masses, but the other communities have celebrations of the Word, led by delegates of the Word. Where these is a Communion minister they have Communion. There are 28 in the parish.

Several villages have youth groups, but almost all have religious education, led by catechists from their village. In August we celebrated almost 200 confirmations in three different locations in the parish.

Your generosity helps us subsidize the costs of forming these leaders.

The area is poor without easy access to education and decent health care. The partial scholarships provided for about 100 middle and high school students helps, but the needs are great. This year one initiative has been an English class for 19 grade school kids in the village where I live – with your help.

The pickup bought with your donation helps us provide lower cost transportation for medical patients and emergencies. A Kansas-city based project brings medical brigades twice a year (and I try to accompany them).

We have our share of other social ills – farmers who get little for their crops, corruption and misuse of funds, rising costs of living, clinics without medicine, heat and drought, deforestation and contamination of water sources, among others. The coffee project which STA helped start is growing stronger. (Drink more El Zapote coffee!)

In the parish our village-based social ministry seeks to respond, by visiting the sick, collecting aid for the sick, the poor, and medical emergencies. About sixteen villages also participated this past month in planting trees around the communities’ water sources.

There is much more to share with you in terms of the pastoral work of our parishioners, as well as their needs. STA has helped in some very generous ways to help our formation of leaders, as well as to respond to needs. Thank you.

If you want to know more, I will be sharing here at STA at 7 pm on Monday night. But I also want to share our pastor’s invitation for you to come and see, “a land soaked with sorrow and tears, but also with tenacious sweat; marked by the footprints of death but also with the firm footsteps of Christ crucified and risen,” I can assure you that you will find a people who will welcome you with the love that casts out fear.