Healing Presence The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) TeenSTAR Revisted Germany Ministries North American Ministries
Meet Our Members Sister Maria Fernanda Ramirez Rivera (Mafe) A North East India Mission In Celebration of Sister Elaine Kohls Sister Elizabeth Vadakekara
Sister Barbara Ann Brigham believes very much in the importance of living in a non-violent way. To enable others to do so, she has become very active in the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Started in prisons in the United States in 1975, the Alternatives to Violence Project is dedicated to reducing the level of violence in our society. It introduces persons to ways of resolving conflict that do not resort to physical, mental or emotional retaliation as the only solution. AVP is an association of community-based groups and prison-based groups. They offer experiential workshops in conflict management, responses to violence and personal growth. The national organization provides support for the work of these local groups and keeps them updated on resources that have been proven to help others in especially stressful situations. Sister Barbara Ann, who is fluent in Spanish, began her AVP work when she was in mission in Peru. Today she is a trainer for the Alternatives to Violence project and conducts workshops with prison inmates; with a team at New Jerusalem Now, a residential recovery program founded by our Sister Margaret McKenna; and with residents of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, where Sister Barbara Ann lives. The workshops use the shared experience of participants, interactive exercises, games and role-plays to examine the ways in which we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behavior and violence. It helps participants learn to understand why they feel the way they do when confronted with these realities. An AVP workshop then teaches participants how to manage anger and fear; how to deal effectively with risk and danger; how to communicate well in difficult situations; how to understand why conflicts happen, and more. Sister Barbara Ann says, “Our society has so much violence in it, anything we can do to stop it is good.”
(March 1, 2013)
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Teaching teens to value human sexuality is one of hundreds of ways in which Medical Mission Sisters around the world try to be a healing presence to those in need today. In 1980, Sister-Doctor Miriam Paul (Hanna) Klaus, an obstetrician-gynecologist, launched a new program to educate young people about the value of sexual abstinence. She explains that TeenSTAR (“Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Responsibility”) was designed as “a counterweight to the prevalent contraceptive inundation approach to youth, in an effort to stem the tide of teen pregnancy and abortion.” Born in Vienna, Austria, Sister Miriam Paul entered the Medical Mission Sisters in 1957. After serving seven years in Pakistan and in what is now Bangladesh, she returned to the U.S. and began lecturing in the Billings Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP). After several years in St. Louis, in 1975, she became Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kansas. Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1978, she worked for two years as Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at George Washington University and practiced as an obstetrician/gynecologist. TeenSTAR places a high value on possessing fertility rather than either acknowledging it abstractly or isolating fertility from one’s self concept and from the body by the use or drugs or devices. The TeenSTAR program, which is funded by USAID’s President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in Uganda and Ethiopia for the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission, has led to increased self confidence among teen participants, enhanced their ability to resist pressure to engage in unwanted activities, especially sexual intercourse, and has led them to make their own decisions. TeenSTAR is now available in 27 countries on 5 continents. Nearly 56,000 students have graduated from TeenSTAR programs. Almost 140,000 members of communities have received information about HIV/AIDS and how to avoid transmission. Many have enrolled in TeenSTAR clubs whose function is mutual encouragement and outreach. “Most people put contraception and abstinence on the same line, but there is a huge difference in controlling behavior through respect versus isolating fertility,” says Sister. “Contraceptive programs have very limited effectiveness in that regard.” In conjunction with its program, TeenSTAR hosts parent meetings where the instructors explain what will be taught to the children. The program is careful to be sensitive to what parents have already chosen for themselves regarding family planning. In later 2012, a new Executive Director was named for TeenSTAR. Awarded by many groups for her work, Sister Miriam Paul will remain active in its many program components.
(February 1, 2013)
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Caring for the poor and vulnerable in Germany is just one of the many ways that Medical Mission Sisters and our Associates try to be a healing presence today. Medical Mission Sisters have been in mission in Germany for over 50 years. A vibrant group, with half their members below age 50, our Sisters in Germany serve in Berlin, Bottrop, Essen and Frankfurt as doctors, pastoral counselors, hospital chaplains, social workers, theologians, and therapists. They are joined in mission by committed Associate members who together with them minister to the sick and dying, elderly persons, children, the homeless, those with disabilities, women who are trafficked and imprisoned, recovering addicts, and people who are seeking a deeper spirituality in their lives. They also participate in many activities that promote peace, social justice, and interreligious dialogue. Living in an economically deprived area of the eastern sector of Berlin, our Sisters come face-to-face with signs of growing poverty and need. Working with those with disabilities, Sister Monika Ballani is the head of the pastoral care department for disabled persons in the Archdiocese of Berlin. With a similar ministry focus, Sister Thekla Schonfeld teaches at a school for children with special needs. Helping those in precarious living situations, poverty or other crises, Sisters Michaela Banks and Angelika Kollacks run a women’s counseling center. These Sisters also share their healing presence with those with addiction problems and with those who are former victims or victimizers of concentration camps now looking for inner peace. In Bottrop, both Medical Mission Sisters and Associates accompany and support people who are acutely or chronically ill, are suffering from chronic pain, are dying, grieving or have other needs for counseling or pastoral care. To help women and men cope with the growing isolation felt in elderly households, our Sisters and Associates in Bottrop try to create a culture of care in the local parishes and communities by establishing groups of volunteers to visit sick and housebound people and by supporting volunteers of the local hospice group. Our Sisters in Essen also give special attention to the needs of the elderly. In this, they encounter real poverty in material, mental, and emotional resources. Theirs is a unique contribution, as they explore the realities of aging and how best to help others respect the dignity of people in their elder years. When she moved to the Essen community, Sister Maria Hohenadl took on the role of counselor and case manager in a Catholic care organization. Part of this position consists of visiting elderly and homebound people, eliciting their needs and finding ways to meet them. As a member of several parish communities, Sister Mechthild Driesch continues to try to make the Church present in people’s lives. She helped start a home visiting service for those needing care composed of fellow parishioners. Medical Mission Sisters in Frankfurt live their mission of healing presence through the medical and psychotherapeutic care of those who are homeless, addicted to substances, and victims of violence. They also accompany people searching for God and meaningful spirituality in their lives. At the Center for Spirituality in Frankfurt, our Sisters work together with a Franciscan priest and explore creative ways to express and share faith and deepen spiritual life. A local community of our Sisters, right next to the meditation center, supports their many programs and efforts. Medical Mission Sisters and Associates throughout Germany come together often for prayer, liturgy and focused reflective sessions in which they share their experiences in mission. They also are very involved in sharing their life and work with interested women in “Come and See” weekends and in the on-going Integration of new Canonical and Associate members of the Community.
(January 15, 2013)
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Focusing on the needs of the poor and those easily overlooked or forgotten in North America is just one of the many ways that Medical Mission Sisters and our Associates try to be a healing presence today. Our 119 Medical Mission Sisters and 41 Associates in North America begin a new year of healing mission by responding to the special needs of the poor, isolated, underserved or those in need of a special healing presence in a country often considered the richest and most powerful in the world. As all members of our Community, our Sisters serving in the United States and Mexico believe justice is integral to healing. They work and pray for the day when all will be treated with the care and concern they deserve as human beings and as children of God. Women and their needs are a special focus of ministry in North America. Whether these women are victims of domestic violence or trafficking, newer immigrants looking for work, in prison or in transition from incarceration, homeless, uninsured, seeking greater knowledge and leadership skills, or struggling to make a good life for their families, Medical Mission Sisters reach out to them as part of hands-on and in-person programs. Some of these programs have been developed by us. Others we have joined as co-workers with others for justice. Several of our Sisters teach English as a Second Language to adult learners. Often these students come early in the morning, before their minimum-wage jobs, to learn language skills that will help them to better support those in their care and eventually gain citizenship. Other immigration issues–safe housing, good health care, educational opportunities, income-generating projects–also receive the attention, and action, of our North American members. Two of our Sisters in the US work on Native American Reservations, providing needed health care services. One is a surgeon, the other a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Other Sisters continue to offer holistic health services, especially among those who are poor and living with almost unbearable stress. Our Sisters offer counseling, religious education and spiritual direction in several areas. Wherever possible, the Community’s love of liturgy and attention to its importance in our lives are shared with others. So, too, is our respect for and collaboration with persons of all faiths for peace and justice in our world. Taking time to talk with the lonely in parish settings and in our Philadelphia Thrift Shop involves several MMS. We also are pleased to be present to those in assisted living and nursing care facilities, including some of our own members. Other Sisters share their communications and artistic talents and teach interested persons how to identify and develop them in their own lives. Praying for those who share their special intentions with us is very important to all North American MMS and Associates and a special ministry of our elder Sisters.
(January 1, 2013)
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Sister Maria Fernanda Ramirez Rivera (Mafe) is one of 600 Medical Mission Sisters and Associates trying to be present to others in the spirit of Jesus the Healer today. Born in Popayan, Colombia, Sister Maria Fernanda Ramirez Rivera (Mafe) studied medicine, then worked in a remote jungle between Colombia and Ecuador. “Working as a general physician in the zone of armed conflict in Colombia, I spent most of the time caring for children who were victims of war and those who were forced to take part in this conflict as child soldiers. These children of war helped me to discover my religious vocation. I think their cry awakened in me the call for a more radical commitment to the Gospel.” Sister made First Vows as a Medical Mission Sister in 2007 in Peru. On March 9, she will make her Final Vows in our Community. Currently Sister Mafe is a member of our Callao community in Peru. During her pre-candidacy, she worked as a volunteer in the hospital Dos de Mayo, a hospital for people with few economic resources, which helped her get to know the Peruvian pediatric approach. During this time she came to explore possibilities of mission in Pachacutec, a town in Lima’s desert along the coast.
She says, “One day, a young mother came to my office with a child with severe disabilities. I was touched to know there were no options for going to any rehab because of the lack of appropriate means of transportation, the great distance to hospitals and the lack of money. During the weeks that followed, many other mothers came with children with disabilities. I felt we should do something for them. We found support from two NGOs and started with 10 children in September 2008.” Sister Mafe continues, “We offered physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, educational support, psychological help, social worker services and pediatric care. Gradually more and more came.” Sister also worked in a project for women with HIV and AIDS. In addition to her medical service, Sister Mafe is active in inter-congregational collaboration both in reflection groups and in mission itself. She participated in disaster relief work after the earthquake in Pisco, Peru, and the earthquake in Haiti. Sister reflects, “The whole experience left me with the great satisfaction of having been there and having contributed from my being as a Medical Mission Sister, the commitment to try to make others know better the reality of these brothers and sisters (in Haiti), the desire to keep on supporting concrete projects of trustworthy organizations – and the treasure of the many people I came to know, with whom I could share the mission, to whom I could give my time, my gifts, my love, share a hug, a prayer, a word.” We congratulate and pray for Sister Mafe as she takes her Life Vows as a Medical Mission Sister!
(March 1, 2013)
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Our 16 Sisters in North East India are among almost 600 Medical Mission Sisters trying to be present to others in the spirit of Jesus the Healer today. In the northeast corner of the nation of India, Medical Mission Sisters reach out in a special way to many persons who have long lacked the opportunities for good health care, education and life-supporting livelihoods. Malaria is very common in most of the towns and villages in which our Sisters serve. So, too, are poverty, illiteracy and exploitation of women. An active advocate for the empowerment of women as valuable agents of change, Sister Alex Illimoottil has been working with the North East Diocesan Forum in Kohima to help women become more aware of the realities that are part of their lives, and to organize them into groups that can address these issues. Leadership training is an important part of her ministry. “We aim to ensure women equal status in all spheres of life,” she says. Sister Alex is also very involved in the informal education of school-age children who do not have access to any other form of education. Other Medical Mission Sisters in Kohima offer special programs for teen-age boys and reach out to those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Sister Rose Kayathinkara has been honored by the government for having “the best cooperative in North East India.” She founded the Mendipathar Multipurpose Cooperative Society two decades ago and has seen many women gain knowledge, confidence and incomes to help support themselves and their families. Another of our Sisters spends her time caring for the sick in the interior villages that have long gone without health care. In Rajabala, Medical Mission Sisters try to live an eco-friendly life and care for the Earth through organic farming. Sister Nirmala Chirackapurayidam also trains local health personnel in basic health care and health education, and holds life and justice awareness classes for the youth. Our Community members living in Chumekedima are neighbors to migrant peoples who are poor and marginalized in many ways. They live in great poverty and most cannot read or write. With these limitations, they have found it difficult to change their lives. We reach out to them, offering health care, feeding programs, nutrition classes, informal education, literacy training, and support to obtain safe housing. In this and all of our ministries in North East India, our Sisters try to be present in a healing way, helping women, children and men who have been denied the basics of life to come to experience what being a human being can and should mean.
(February 1, 2013)
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Sister Elaine Kohls is one of 600 Medical Mission Sisters in 17 nations trying to be present to others in the spirit of Jesus the Healer.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sister Elaine joined the Medical Mission Sisters in 1955 at the age 18. After college, her first overseas assignment was to Ghana, where she spent nearly 15 years in administration at Holy Family Hospital, Berekum, and Holy Family Hospital, Techiman. When she returned to the U.S. in 1983, Sister earned her Master’s Degree in International Development at Iowa State University, where she was recognized for high scholarship. In 1984, she took on the administration of Attat Hospital in Attat, Ethiopia. At that time, Attat Hospital’s service area included 1.5 million people, with one physician for every 250,000 people. The hospital initiated programs for immunization, clean water, and integrated development. In 1991, it won the World Health Organization award for health education in Primary Health Care. Sister Elaine became the Manager of St. Luke Catholic Hospital and College of Nursing in Wolisso, Ethiopia, when it opened in 2001. “I need to be here in this place at this time, to be with people in their struggle,” said Sister Elaine. “To be Christ bearers with all that can entail, and to let them be Christ bearers in turn, to us and to those they live and work among.” Ensuring safe and clean water has been an important part of Sister Elaine’s ministry. At the Lower Damakase Spring near Wolisso, a group of development workers from Canada, along with local Christian and Muslim leaders and Sister Elaine, worked together to ensure a safe water supply for the community. There are now 52 safe water sites which have been developed by the public health department over the years. The hospital is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the sites. The communities are involved in the construction, which accounts for about 15 % of the total cost for hand dug wells and springs. On January 1, 2013, Sister Thianesmary, of the Indian Daughters of Mary Immaculate, assumed the role of General Manager of St. Luke’s Catholic Hospital and College of Nursing and Midwifery from Sister Elaine. The weeks ahead will be special times of transition for both Sisters.
(January 15, 2013)
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Sister Elizabeth Vadakekara is one of 600 Medical Mission Sisters and Associates who faithfully live our mission of healing presence today. Born in Kerala, India, Sister Elizabeth Vadakekara entered the Medical Mission Sisters in 1965. She made her First Vows in 1968 and attended the Christian Medical College in Punjab. She chose to be a general practitioner, and served as a junior doctor at our Kurji Holy Family Hospital in Patna, and at our Holy Family Hospital in Mandar. “My interest has always been connected to community-based interventions,” she says. Her first overseas mission was to Holy Family Hospital in Bongao, the Philippines, where she practiced as a physician for five years. “We were available 24 hours, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year,” she recalls. “Interaction with the tribal people energized me, and sustained my commitment to be for the people without counting the cost.” When Sister Elizabeth returned to India, her focus was on developing community health programs in different villages with a vision of self-supported programs for the people and by the people. To help with this ministry she earned a Post Graduate Diploma in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from King’s College in London. In 2004, Sister Elizabeth began serving a six-year term as our Sector Coordinator for Asia. A member of the Kerala Conference of Major Superiors’ Action Committee for Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation, she coordinated many aspects of outreach to tsunami victims, including those of our own Community. She also was involved with the Thrani Center for Crisis Control, and represented the center to the government’s health department when needed. In addition, she served as a consultant to persons with HIV/AIDS. Sister Elizabeth was elected our Assistant Society Coordinator in 2010 and now lives in our international headquarters in London. In her many expressions of mission, she participates in a wide variety of public health, justice and religious life conferences worldwide. With Society Coordinator Sister Agnes Lanfermann, Sister Elizabeth provides support and leadership to our almost 600 Sisters in mission on six continents. In Advent, Sister shared her personal reflection on what she believes is at the heart of the season and also at the heart of the Medical Mission Sisters’ life: “to let go of all that does not contribute to our being a healing presence of Christ in the community of life.”
(January 1, 2013)
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The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)
North American Ministries
Meet Our Members
Sister Maria Fernanda Ramirez Rivera (Mafe)
A North East India Mission
In Celebration of Sister Elaine Kohls
Sister Elizabeth Vadakekara