Sister Birgit Weiler was born in Duisburg, Germany, in 1958 and entered our Community in 1978. She has spent more than 20 years living and working in Peru. Sister Birgit shares, “In Peru, I first worked in Arequipa and then for several years in Lima in parishes in poor peri-urban areas. Every day was and is for many families today a struggle for survival.” In Lima, she taught at the Jesuit University Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. She then returned to Germany, where she wrote a thesis on social justice and the environment for her doctoral degree in intercultural theology at the Goethe-University in Frankfurt. Sister worked as a volunteer in the female prison in Frankfurt, mainly with women from Latin America. In 2012, she received the “Erwin Kräutler” award from the Catholic Faculty of the University in Salzburg, Austria. The award recognizes her studies and doctoral thesis on intercultural studies on creation and the cosmos vision of indigenous people in Peru. Today, Sister Birgit works from Lima, Peru, as a theological adviser on issues of environmental justice, helping to generate criteria to guide the position and action of the Church in socio-environmental conflicts, especially in mining communities.
It’s hard not to be affected by the sincere show of forgiveness that the families of those killed at Mother Bethel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, offered to the person who took their loved one’s life. Their broken hearts became heart-wrenching for any of us who followed the tragic events of a mid-June evening and the days after. There was a very special grace in their sharing. In their deep loss and pain, they reached out to the one who caused their anguish…and they forgave him.
Similarly, we remember the Amish community of rural Pennsylvania, who, in an almost unbelievable expression of grace, forgave the man who lined up and killed their young children while they were attending school. Heart-broken themselves, they went to see the killer’s widow and offered forgiveness for what her husband had done to their girls and boys, their families, their community.
Grace. A gift given by a God who loves us and wants us to love, too. Grace. Expressed in often totally unexpected and surprising ways. The actions in Charleston, and those of several years ago in Pennsylvania, show us the best of humankind even in the most terrible of circumstances.
As World Communications Day is planned each year, the Pope usually issues a statement about it and its theme. Pope Francis did so for this year’s commemoration a few months ago. “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love” is the theme for World Communications Day 2015, celebrated on May 17. One of Pope Francis’ comments on it: “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.”
If we really were to take this message to heart, not only our relationships with our family members but also those in our social and business interactions would likely change. If, for just a few of the 24 hours in the day, we turned off our cell phones, put down our iPads, forgot about Facebook and ignored the temptation to Tweet, maybe we would have time to listen to “the other,” to really “be” with someone. We might find that they are hurting…feeling lonely or ignored. Perhaps they’ve been longing for the opportunity to tell us they admire us…or care. We’ll never know unless, even temporarily, we let our gadgets go.
Earth Day, first celebrated on April 22 in 1970 was started “to promote ecology and respect for the planet, as well as to encourage awareness of the growing problems of air, water and sea pollution.” It’s amazing how much personal and public growth there has been in the past 45 years toward these goals…and beyond them. Recycling, composting, an eco-friendly lifestyle, and more, are not only part of our everyday vocabularies, but also of our lives. Globally, we earnestly discuss issues of climate change and the ecological crisis and what we as responsible human beings can and should be doing about them.
As part of our current Community-wide Renewal process, Medical Mission Sisters have been exploring how to deepen our healing charism from the ecological perspective. At our Thirteenth General Chapter in 2009 (our highest decision-making meeting, held every six years), our Sisters said, “The Earth shows us that there is enough for all if each one uses only what is needed. The Earth has its own way to organize and heal itself if human beings stop exploiting it. Understanding ourselves more as part of the whole Earth community brings us to a spirit of kinship with all of life. This leads to living with deep gratitude in a mutual relationship of give and take, and to seeing the integral connection between respecting and caring for the community of life and our increased responsibility to manage resources well.”
The critical “ifs” of this statement and its focused call for us to grow in our understanding of being part of something much bigger, and more wonderful, than ourselves, remains a daily challenge for all.
Medical Mission Sisters mark April 17 each year, as “Anna Dengel Day.” On this day, now 35 years ago, Anna’s time on Earth was completed and she returned to God. But what a difference she made in her 88 years of life!
Even before she founded the Medical Mission Sisters in 1925 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Anna Dengel had spent four years among women and children in desperate need of health care in what was then North India, now Pakistan. She cared for thousands of them, professionally and lovingly, in an area in which the Muslim custom of purdahprevented their being cared for by men. In doing so, she picked up the mantle of another lay doctor, Agnes McLaren, whom she never met but who greatly influenced her life. Dr. McLaren, coincidentally (?), also died on April 17, in 1913.
Anna Dengel’s Medical Mission Sisters, now in their 90th year of service to the sick and poor, have reached out to millions of women, children and men in 43 nations on 5 continents over the years. In addition to offering needed professional health care and health education, the Sisters have trained thousands of local women and men–in Asia, Africa, North and Latin America–how to help their own people to experience the best possible health and at least a measure of wholeness in their lives.
Medical Mission Sisters also have recognized how essential justice is to healing…and how the health of our planet greatly affects the health of its people. We have worked hard, wherever we are in mission, to ensure that individuals are treated with dignity, respect, and as human beings created by God.
It all started with Anna Dengel and her vision of “being there” for others. We as a Community are grateful, indeed, for her courage, inspiration and desire to make a difference among those in need in our world.
Read more about Anna Dengel in a new booklet called “Anna Dengel, M.D., Founder of the Medical Mission Sisters — A Woman Called to Healing and Justice.” Request your free copy at: firstname.lastname@example.org
World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. Each year a theme is selected for the day to raise awareness of a special public health concern in our world. The theme for 2015 is “Safe Food: From Farm to Plate. Keep it Safe.”
Our immediate thought about this emphasis on “Food Safety” is probably in relation to the illnesses and deaths we know can and do come from spoiled or contaminated food. Almost 2,000,000 deaths can be attributed annually to them worldwide. The origins of over 200 diseases can be traced to food containing harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses and chemical substances.
With special attention to safety at every level of the growth, harvesting, transportation, storage and preparation of food, these diseases — and a great number of deaths — can be reduced. But what energies can/will we put into helping to change the life circumstances of the millions of people in our world who have only our “throwaway food” to eat?
The Easter season is a sacred time of the year. It is one in which we move from reliving and remembering the suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday to embracing the joy of the Resurrection, and the deep peace it brings. The roller-coaster ride of emotions experienced by Jesus’ disciples the week before Easter, the week we call “Holy,” are ours, too. From a Holy Thursday experience of love, community and service to others, to the agony and crucifixion on Good Friday, then the solemn “quiet”– almost emptiness — of Holy Saturday, we finally come to Easter. The sun rises on our services, the bells ring out like never before, we don our best light-colored clothing and rejoice! Alleluia! Death has been overcome by life — and we can’t contain our joy.