The Joy of Mission

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Sr. Fidelis Marie, OSB and Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB, Missionary Benedictine Sisters. You have the opportunity to meet the Missionary Benedictine Sisters at their exhibit table at Mission Congress 2015, October 1-4, 2015 in Houston, TX. See http://www.mbsmissionaries.org/ for more information.

Two Different Paths, One Vocation

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Sr. Fidelis Marie, OSB, right, with another sister in Germany

Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB and Sr. Fidelis Marie, OSB are both preparing to make their final profession of vows with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in October 2015. Different journeys have led them to their decision to enter a missionary religious community. They have both recently returned from three months of exposure to the reality of mission that is an integral part of their community life as Missionary Benedictine Sisters with their community; Sr. Madeleine returned from three months in Brazil and Sr. Fidelis Marie returned from Germany.

Sr. Madeleine became a Catholic in college. While studying abroad, she was introduced to the Taize community in France where she experienced a spiritual awakening that touched her deeply. A silent retreat in Taize led her to a spiritual awakening as she became aware of deeply spiritual desires. She felt welcome among this community, attracted by their monastic life, the beauty found in their simplicity, their dedication to service, as well as their ecumenical and international representation. Her spiritual journey became clearer as she pursued graduate studies. With the help of a spiritual director she was able to discern her vocation. She experienced monastic life with a community of sisters, but was drawn to the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in 2008 because of their missionary commitment.

Sr. Fidelis Marie found that she was attracted to the whole lifestyle that the Missionary Benedictines pursued. Both Sr. Madeleine and Sr. Fidelis Marie emphasize that there were aspects of the Missionary Benedictines that were unique to this community and which drew them in: a community with an international witness, a blending of monasticism and mission, a charism to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know Christ, and an emphasis on joy and authenticity. The age and ethnic diversity particularly were attractive for Sr. Fidelis Marie.

Missionary Benedictine Sisters

Sr Madeleine Miller OSB

Sr Madeleine Miller, OSB, left, with a sister in Brazil.

Rooted in the Benedictine Spirituality, the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters was founded in 1885 especially in view of mission. As a monastic community, they follow Christ and serve wherever the Church is in need, at home or abroad. They strive to bring Christ to places where He is not yet known or where He is insufficiently known. Their lifestyle consists of living and working together in community, under a rule and a superior. The Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist form the core of their common prayer life. They wear the monastic habit as a sign of their commitment to Christ, His Church, and their Congregation. Taking monastic vows of Obedience, Stability, and Conversion of Life, they bind themselves to Christ as well as to one another in the community.

Mission Experiences

Sr. Fidelis Marie recently returned from a three-month experience in Dresden, Germany where she was exposed to a different mission reality. Observing how one of the sisters who worked with Caritas received refugees, she learned from them as she listened to their stories of why they were fleeing – refugees from Kosovo, Syria, and Lebanon – gave her a new perspective on the unity of Christians that shines through in spite of the denominational differences. She also was able to hear of the same sister’s work in the parish, helping to form lay catechists in an area in which only 4% of the population is Christian. The closeness of the community and the example of the sisters educating and teaching the faith impressed upon her the need to continue to minister to these parts of the world.

Sr. Madeleine served at a kindergarten in a slum in Brazil. One day a girl came to her classroom and simply stood and cried with no explanation. After several failed attempts to understand why she was crying, they realized that she was hungry. They served her a meal, which she sat and ate as if she had not had a meal in months. After a few more months at the school, being provided with proper meals and playing with the other children, the child grew and showed astonishing progress. Sr. Madeleine was touched by seeing this transformation, impressed by the impact that education can have in the lives of these children. “It is something that you cannot take away from them,” once they have been given an education, she says.

If We Aren’t There, Who Is?

Both sisters are deeply committed to mission which they say is still relevant to our world.

Sr. Fidelis Marie, second from left, with sisters in Germany.

Sr. Fidelis Marie, second from left, with sisters in Germany.

“The values of our society are still in conflict with the values of the Gospel,” says Sr. Madeleine. Furthermore, she says, “If we aren’t there, who is? Whose voices will children hear, if they do not hear the voice of missionaries telling them that God loves them?”

Sr. Fidelis Marie adds, “God calls everyone to be a missionary. If you are in love with the Lord, you can’t help but be a missionary.” Pope Francis has emphasized the call of every baptized person to “missionary discipleship,” she says, but it will look different depending on one’s particular vocation. “Mission can be a married woman teaching her children. Mission is a nun who never leaves the convent but prays for souls.” Each one has a responsibility to discover how he or she is particularly called to be missionary disciples.

Joy of Religious Life 

Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB, with a student in Brazil.

Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB, with a student in Brazil.

In a culture that tends to avoid long-term commitments, the sisters’ joyful anticipation of their final profession of vows stands out. Rather than seeing their vows of obedience, stability and continual conversion as negative prohibitions, they emphasize that these vows are joyful expressions of freedom. Commitment to these vows, Sr. Fidelis Marie says, “gives you the freedom to give yourself completely.” Neither sister seems to see anything remarkable in this decision. Sr. Madeleine states that this is simply the natural “next step.” “No one expects to get married after a first date. It is a process, and discerning religious life is also a process.”

Do they know what comes next? “That is one of the joys of religious life,” Sr. Madeleine says, laughing.

Going forward, the sisters emphasize that they must be flexible, to discern with their community, and then to be open to where they are sent. They are inspired by the examples of their elder sisters, whose lives are a testament to what God can do when one is faithful and willing to be an instrument for his will.

The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.

USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).

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Staff Picks: Favorite Mission Books

We were inspired by World Book Day to think about some of the books that had an impact on us. We thought of books that were related to mission and missiology — directly or indirectly. What books would you add? Here are our Staff Picks:

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Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad by Janel Kragt Bakker

Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission Today by Stephan B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It by Robert Lupton

The Tradition of Catholic Prayer ed. by Christian Raab

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Prayer by Joyce Rupp

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery

Raising Gentle Men: Lives at the Orphanage Edge by Jay Sullivan

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux

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A Year Of Service, A Lifetime of Lessons

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Arielle Capurso, who served with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, a member organization of Catholic Volunteer Network.

A Year of Service, A Lifetime of Lessons

Arielle Capurso, volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

Arielle Capurso, volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

The year after graduating college is a time like no other in a person’s life. Much of senior year of college is spent agonizing over the transition from the structure of school to the independence of supporting oneself. Most pursue careers, some continue with graduate school, but a growing number are making a different choice- doing a year of service.

Arielle Capurso, now a twenty three-year-old native of Massachusetts and 2014 graduate of the Catholic University of America, had no intention of doing a year of service when she was preparing for her next step after college. Arielle, a Biology major, planned to get a job and work in order to save up for Physician Assistant school. At her alma mater there is a big culture of service, with annual events such as the “Long Term Service Fair” and an active Campus Ministry with ample service opportunities. Arielle herself served as a Student Minister on campus during her senior year, working with upperclassmen women in their residence halls. But she had still never seriously considered a year of service after graduation. Despite this, in the fall of her senior year, she decided to stop by the Long Term Service Fair just to get some information. She figured a year of service could at least be a good back up plan. She talked to Bill from the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers program, among other representatives, but still wasn’t seriously considering a year of service.

As senior year went on and planning intensified for the next steps after graduation, Arielle found herself more and more drawn to a year of service. She loved the community, fellowship, and prayer that were all part of her daily life as she served in Student Ministry, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she would love to have the chance to do ministry full-time for a year, rather than juggle it with the demands of being a student.

About the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

Arielle and her housemate making dinner for the community

Arielle and her housemate making dinner for the community

Arielle ultimately chose to apply to the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers because she liked all the aspects of their mission, their location in Denver, Colorado, and the variety of service sites. She also liked the small size of the co-ed program, which she is now a part of, with 4 men and 15 other women.

In her own words, Arielle explained that “CVV is centered around the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul which focuses on serving the poor and marginalized community and living in simplicity as an act of solidarity. It is through this service that volunteers may both give and receive, see the face of Christ in others and also be a witness to Christ by loving their neighbor. CVV lives out this spirituality through four main pillars: 1) Direct Service & Advocacy, 2) Reflection & Discussion, 3) Community, and 4) Spirituality & Prayer. Each service site volunteers work at promotes social justice and serves the marginalized in society –whether it be the homeless, the sick, those with developmental disabilities, or immigrants and refugees. Another aspect of the CVV community is simplicity, one of the five Vincentian virtues. Volunteers strive to live simply and in solidarity with those they serve by only receiving a small monthly stipend, a food budget, and trying to cut back on spending and extravagances.”

Currently, Arielle is serving primarily at the Stout Street Health Center, a clinic for the

Arielle and the Colorado Vincentian Volunteer community

Arielle and the Colorado Vincentian Volunteer community

homeless in Denver. Though her year of service has had its challenges, she has found it to be an invaluable experience. Reflecting on her service, Arielle said, “I think I always had a passion for helping people in need but this year has taught me so much more about how I can carry out that passion and what serving Christ in the marginalized, those in the shadows, really means. I am currently applying to nursing school. My time with CVV and at the clinic has helped me realize that in the future I want to serve the homeless and poor community as a nurse.” Arielle is not alone in her change in perspective, as many other members of her CVV community have also changed plans they had going into the year. Considering this, Arielle noted that “the twenty-something years are an awesome time, when you have the chance to be a little selfish…but also a little selfless. Take advantage of it.”

At the clinic, Arielle serves as a Health Operations Associate, welcoming clients and helping them schedule appointments and answering their questions. At first, this was a discouraging role. Arielle didn’t feel fulfilled in her service site as she didn’t have much opportunity for direct ministry with the clients. But after speaking with her supervisor and CVV staff, she had a renewed approach to her position. “I am the welcoming face to every homeless client that enters the clinic. A lot of them are sick, have been off their medications, haven’t slept the night before, and are used to being told “no” a lot and having to fight for the simplest things to stay alive. It’s easy for me to see Christ in those that greet me with a smile or strike up a conversation but not always for those who curse and yell at me when I’m just trying to calmly help them. But I’ve learned a lot. I cannot tell you how many of those angry, yelling clients later come back to me to personally apologize and make amends. In mission, you don’t just learn about society but you learn a lot about yourself, and where and how your faith fits in. To say it builds character is an understatement. You grow in your understanding of the world, your faith, your love for others, and so much more.”

Casting Light into the Darkness

Arielle’s biggest lesson from her year has been that “despite what common, secular society tells us we are truly all Brothers and Sisters in Christ and we must attempt to make this visible -to break down those divisions and injustices that put others in the shadows and unheard.” Thinking in terms of her science background, she reflected, “The size of shadows depends greatly upon light. All my physics lab experiments have taught me that the more the light is blocked out by an object, the bigger the shadow gets. In our daily life, we must try to bring light to those who have blocked out the light, the joy, the love of Christ, and make those shadows smaller. This can be done in the simplest of ways, even if you feel you may not be helping and your light is somewhat dim. And in serving God through bringing light to others, He will bring you light and grace in return.”

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The Values of the World, the Truth of the Gospel


“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP, Executive Director of Africa Faith and Justice Network.

 An Unexpected Call

Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP

Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP

Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP, grew up in Nigeria in a very large Catholic family. While teaching science and hoping to go to medical school, he received a postcard in the mail from his sister who was a nun. On the back of the postcard was an image of St. Dominic. He wrote back and forth with the Dominican Institute a few times before they invited him to come for an interview. He anxiously asked if he would be able to be a Dominican and also become a doctor. He jokes now about how they said yes, though they knew well that as soon as he started to learn theology and philosophy he would forget about becoming a doctor, which is exactly what happened.

Fr. Aniedi went home, resigned from his teaching position, and became a Dominican friar. Since joining the Dominicans, Fr. Aniedi has served as a campus minister, hospital chaplain, as well as in a parish, in the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees office at the USCCB, and now as the Executive Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

Order of St. Dominic

The Dominican Order was approved in 1216 by Pope Honorius III. St. Dominic wanted to form a group of well-educated men who knew theology to preach against heretics, particularly the Albigensian heresy. He decided that rather than living in a monastery, the world would become their monastery, sending men two by two to the big cities and universities to preach the Truth.

The Dominicans focus on Truth—“veritas”—and contemplation, both in praying and in studying the Gospel. Today, there are over 6,000 Dominicans worldwide, including male friars, nuns in monasteries, active sisters in the world, or laity.

Allowing God to Take Over

Fr. Aniedi, center, With children following Mass at an out station of  St. Stephen’s Church, Accra Ghana

Fr. Aniedi, center, with children after Mass at an out station of St. Stephen’s Church in Accra, Ghana

Fr. Aniedi recalls a story from when he was working in campus ministry at the University of Ife in Nigeria. A nun that he knew wrote and asked if he could help her brother who was attending the law school at the University of Ife, and had left the Church. Fr. Aniedi went to him over and over again, talking and trying to convince him to come back to the Church. But the young man kept arguing. One night, Fr. Aniedi left the young man’s dorm room and said, “Okay, God, I’ve done my best. If you don’t do your own, I’m out of here!” These heated discussions had been going on for months, and he did not know what else he could do.

Weeks went by, and Fr. Aniedi did not visit or talk to the young man. Then one Sunday, Fr. Aniedi was on the altar saying the Introductory Rites for Mass, and the young man walked in. Fr. Aniedi was shocked and started stammering. He recounts now that he learned a valuable lesson from this experience, quoting Isaiah: “It is you, O Lord, who has accomplished what we have done.” He tells us that once he realized his limitations and handed it over to God, God took care of it. Fr. Aniedi states that this was a very humbling, but also an empowering experience: “A humbling one on the one hand, but it also gave me the power to realize that even in our own limitations, God can use us to accomplish great things.”

Evangelizing Culture

Fr. Aniedi emphasized the importance of mission: “Mission is very important, far more important than it has ever been.” He explains that because of technology, the whole world is becoming linked. We can now call or Skype someone around the world with just the touch of a button. This allows people to communicate, but as Fr. Aniedi explains, it also allows ideologies, especially stereotypes and biases, to transfer easily between people. Whole cultures are being shaped through this influence of technology, so it is the Church’s duty to minister to these communities worldwide. Fr. Aniedi uses Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi to explain the call to evangelize culture: “The purpose of mission is to evangelize culture. Why? Because culture shapes us. How we’re thinking, how we’re seeing, culture affects how and what we hear. Culture affects how and what we relate to.” For Fr. Aniedi, this means that we must be a constant witness and presence of the Gospel in our world. Mission does not only mean traveling to other parts of the globe, but also to simply live out the Gospel in your everyday life, inviting others to see the truth.

Continuing to Be a Presence

Fr. Aniedi at a press conference at Farragut Square, Washington, DC, on “Bring Back Our Girls."

Fr. Aniedi at a press conference in Farragut Square in Washington, DC, speaking on “Bring Back Our Girls.”

Fr. Aniedi is beginning his fourth year as Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, an organization that focuses on advocacy work for Africa and educating people on the truth. He explains that after all of his work between ministries, from being a campus minister, a hospital chaplain, working in a parish, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and now at the Africa Faith and Justice Network, he knows that he cannot solve every problem. As much as he wishes he could change the world, he knows that he can have an impact on small things, one at a time. He emphasizes the fact that he just needs to be a presence, someone who is there for others and accompanies them on their journey. He states that this is at the heart of mission work: “confronting the values of the world with the truth of the Gospel, over and over.”

The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.

USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).

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Married to the Mission

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Fr. Vincent Burke, SVD, a missionary priest with the Divine Word Missionaries.

Fr. Vince beginning his mission in Ghana.

Fr. Vince featured in a Divine Word Missionaries publication, beginning his mission in Ghana.

Born in 1933 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fr. Vincent Burke, SVD felt called to mission very early in life. He attributes his awareness to this call to “the culture of service” that was prevalent at the time. As a soldier in the army, his older brother, like so many other young men and women, was serving his country during World War II. This awareness of service struck a chord with young Vince while he was reading a magazine about the exciting work Maryknoll missionaries were doing in China in the early 1940s. He felt that mission service was something he could do. Only 11 years old at the time, he confided in Sister Edwina, his 8th grade teacher. She guided him to the nearby Divine Word Missionaries. As a result, he entered their high school in Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1947.

After high school, Vince was encouraged to continue studying with the Divine Word Missionaries. Their devotion was to the poor and undermined across the world. During his years in novitiate and junior college he was able to hear stories from many returning missionaries about the work they were doing. He heard about the only seminary for African Americans that the Society of the Divine Word had opened in St. Louis. He learned of their work in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King. He discovered their work in the Philippines where one of his favorite teachers had served. And he felt excited about the chance to join the Divine Word Missionaries and to become a missionary himself.

While studying at the Divine Word Seminary in Chicago, Vince was asked to indicate his top three choices for missionary service. First and second were the Southern United States and the Philippines. The third, however, was Ghana. On the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1961, Fr. Vince was called into the provincial office and given his mission assignment. “Father”, they said, “you are going to Ghana, West Africa.” And Fr. Vince recalls well his reaction: “I said, ‘Praise be Jesus Christ!’” His appointment to Ghana marked the beginning of 43 years of service to a country he soon fell in love with.

Fr. Vince (center) with some of his students.

Fr. Vince (center) with some of his students.

The missionary work in Ghana imposed certain requirements. Because his main ministry would be to teach English as a second language, Fr. Vince began by obtaining a degree in English Literature from Catholic University, with a minor in Linguistics from Georgetown University. At age 30, after acquiring his teaching certificate which affirmed that he was qualified to teach English, Geography, and German, and 19 years after he first felt called to be a missionary, Fr. Vince arrived in Ghana.

Fr. Vince’s first assignment was at St. Peter’s Secondary School. He was involved with the Ghana Education Service for the next 33 years, where he rose through the ranks as the superintendent, director, and eventually, became the headmaster of schools.

Bringing a Broader Vision

Fr. Vince in 1987, by the chapel cornerstone in Ghana.

Fr. Vince in 1987, by the chapel cornerstone in Ghana.

Having served as a missionary for over 43 years, Fr. Vince has a wealth of wisdom toshare. He is convinced of the necessity of delving deeply into the culture where one is serving. Fr. Vince says,Missionaries bring a broader vision to the people they live with and minister to. We first learn the language of the people, along with their culture and cultural signals, and finally minister the Gospel of Christ to them within their own language and context.”

A Student Becomes a Bishop

In 1966, Fr. Vince taught English classes to students at the junior seminary. One of his fondest memories is that of a very bright student who, nevertheless, fell asleep in his class. “His name was Charles. I still remember what happened. I took a blackboard eraser, threw it at him, and said ‘Charles, wake up!’” Fr. Vince goes on to recount, “He woke up alright; so much so that he decided to become a priest! After his ordination, he was sent to Rome to study, and then he came back and he was made bishop of our very diocese!” 30 years after throwing that blackboard eraser at Charles, the provincial of the Divine Word Missionaries in Ghana had a favor to ask of Fr. Vince. He was asked to hand over the school to the new bishop. “So here I am, 30 years later, handing over the keys to the guy I threw the eraser at… a moment in my life, I tell you.”

Closing Words from a Life of Mission

Fr. Vince (center) with students in 1992.

Fr. Vince (center) with parishioners in 1992.

Fr. Vince left Ghana in 2009, after retiring from teaching at the newly established Catholic University of Ghana. He now spends his time visiting parishes and schools to talk about mission. It is clear that Ghana is still where his heart is. Reflecting on his time there, he likened his relationship with Ghana to a marriage. Having learned the language and immersed himself in the culture for so many years, he had done just what a spouse does in order to better love their husband or wife. Fr. Vince married Ghana, for the sake of Jesus and the Church.

The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.

USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).

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Finding God in the Darkest Corners

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Sr. Irene Baquiran, MQHM, a missionary sister from the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

Called to Help the Lost and Forgotten

Sr. Irene, (seated, bottom left), with the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries and His Eminence, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of the Philippines.

Sr. Irene, (seated, bottom left), with the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries and His Eminence, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of the Philippines.

Sister Irene Baquirin, MQHM, of the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries is a member of a community of Sisters in Cebu, Philippines that have dedicated their lives to rescuing women and young girls from prostitution. Four to five times each week, the Sisters go out to the night clubs and bars, dressed in civilian clothing. Speaking with the girls undercover, the Sisters tell them about the educational and housing resources that the Sisters can offer them. Sister Irene explains that these girls are usually minors, some sold into prostitution by their own families in order to raise money. They do not know any other world.

Sr. Irene’s calling comes from a deep sense of the urgent need for a Christ-centered response to the grave problem of human trafficking in the Philippines. When asked why she felt called to be a missionary, Sr. Irene’s answer is simple: “We are inspired to do it because no one takes care of them.” She adds, “This is not normal, and it touched my heart. They are only little girls. They’re only kids.” They are innocent, and they have become part of this hidden world in which they are forced to trade their childhood in an attempt to escape extreme poverty.

Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries

The logo of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

The logo of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries were founded in 1996 and dedicate themselves to imitating Mary’s virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The organization was formally established by His Eminence, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu, in 2000.

They have established a center in Cebu for the women and young girls that they rescue. It is called the Home of Love, and here they care for the women and girls in a way that allows them to realize their own dignity and worth. They currently have around 50 women and children under their care. One of the most important resources that they offer is education. They send the girls to school, and even home school those who are embarrassed to go to a normal school. They also teach the girls basic life skills such as cooking, baking, and sewing. These skills enable the girls to leave the center one day and be able to make a life for themselves without prostitution, giving them hope for a better future.

A Saving Grace

There is one particular story that is close to Sister Irene’s heart. The very first woman they helped turn her life around was Melissa. Only 18 years old, she decided to accept the Sisters’ invitation and to leave her work on the streets. “The saddest part of Melissa’s story was that she was sold by her own mother. The family lived in extreme poverty, and one way for Melissa’s mother to feed her children was to have one less mouth to feed.” After some time, Melissa ran away, but continued to live on the streets. She joined some other girls that said they knew a way they could make money. Another community involved in work similar to the outreach ministry of MQHM attempted to help Melissa, but they were unable to offer her the resources she needed, and she ended up back on the streets. Finally, she found the MQHM Sisters in 2005, and told them she wanted to go with them.

Two days after Melissa was rescued, her body became bloated. Sister Irene rushed her to the hospital and discovered that Melissa was in critical condition. She needed an immediate operation, but they had no way to pay for it. As they tried to find sources to pay, the hospital and the doctors volunteered to perform the operation for free. The operation was done successfully, and Melissa fully recovered. She was eventually able to leave the center and make a completely different life for herself. Now Melissa stands as a living witness to the instrumental work that is done by the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

His Will Be Done

Sister Irene and her community are truly acting in a way that follows Christ’s Will. They allow the Lord to work through them as they reach out to the outcasts of society and those most vulnerable. However, Sister Irene acknowledges that it is not always easy: “This is tough work. So sometimes we’re afraid…” But, she quickly adds that she finds strength in knowing that it is not her work, but God’s. Nothing they are doing is for themselves, but rather it is all for God.

Sister Irene states that they have to work with God. “He gives us 50 percent, and we have to give the other 50 percent”. But together, we can make “100 percent for peace, and glory, and honor.” It is through Christ’s Love that they have been able to help so many girls. They hope that others may hear their stories and be moved to share their gifts and talents to also help these beautiful women and girls. 

Looking Forward

The Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, whose pink habits are "the color of joy."

The Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, whose pink habits are “the color of joy.”

Most of the future plans for the Sisters involve expansion: expanding housing opportunities to benefit more women and children, and expanding the educational resources they can offer. Sister Irene explained that their center was located in the area that was hit by a super typhoon and an earthquake last year. The building has been damaged so badly that they have had to shut it down to rebuild. They are currently trying to raise money to rebuild so that the girls still have a safe home. In the meantime, the Sisters are spread out among communities around the region. They are hoping to have the building completed by the summer.

Although they are rebuilding their current center, the community is constantly growing, and the real goal is to expand the center. Sister Irene said that they hope to find a used building in which they can hold 500 women and children. Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries have become witnesses of Christ’s love in Cebu, a love which continues to expand and grow.

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Healing the Body and the Soul

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM, a missionary in Uganda.

Finding a Call

Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM

Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM

Sr. Margaret Anne felt called to be a sister early in life, in the fourth grade. But by the time she reached high school, she had different plans for herself: she wanted to become a nurse and to have a family. However, in her junior year of high school, a group of Sisters from the Medical Missionaries of Mary visited her religion class. The Sisters showed a video called, “The Visitation,” explaining their particular charism of caring for African women in childbirth and how they saw the charism as closely linked with the experience of Mary caring for an expectant Elizabeth in the Gospels. Impressed by their simplicity and their joy, which seemed to radiate from them like an inner glow, Margaret Anne felt moved but not yet ready.

The Sisters had left her with a folder and a packet of information. On the front of the folder was a beautiful image of a Sister caring for a leprosy patient with the words: “Heal the sick and tell them the Kingdom of God has come unto you.” To this day she vividly remembers keeping the folder for a year, poring over the materials many times while struggling with her decision. With the quiet support of her mother, a year later, Margaret Anne decided that she would join the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

The Medical Missionaries of Mary

The logo of the Medical Missionaries of Mary

The logo of the Medical Missionaries of Mary

The Medical Missionaries of Mary were founded in 1937 under remarkable circumstances. An Irishwoman named Marie Martin, after experiences helping the sick in Malta and in Nigeria, decided that she wanted to found a medical congregation of Sisters to help women in childbirth. At that time, it was against canon law for women in religious life to practice obstetrics and surgery. She began to let others know of her wish to change this rule, and along the way met another woman, Anna Dengel, who also wanted to found a medical congregation of Sisters. Marie Martin and Anna Dengel worked through various bishops from around the world to petition Rome to change canon law and to allow the women to train Sisters to be medical missionaries.

Marie Martin waited fourteen years, patiently trusting in Divine Providence, in spite of some detractors who referred to her as “Mad Marie Martin.” Her dream came to fruition on February 11, 1936, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when Pope Pius XI changed the rule. One year later, in 1937, the congregation was officially recognized by the Church. The missionaries began to work in Africa, with a special mission to help poor women through their pregnancies.

Friendship in Mission

“Uganda was my first mission,” says Sr. Margaret Anne fondly, “I think people usually love their first mission.” It was there that she had an encounter with a woman who has been part of her life ever since. When she was still a young Sister, she met a middle class woman, who had three sons who had fallen ill and were near death. Sr. Margaret Anne arrived on the scene just in time, and referred them to a specialist that no one else had thought of. Because of her quick thinking and correct diagnosis, they all recovered their health. The mother, whose name was Flavia, responded to this by inviting Sr. Margaret Anne to her house for a lovely dinner where they truly became friends. Astonishingly, Flavia told all her friends she was glad her children had become sick because if they had not fallen ill, she never would have met Sr. Margaret Anne. Still evidently moved by the sincerity and depth of feeling in this statement, Sr. Margaret Anne remembers, “I nearly fell off my chair. I couldn’t believe she could say that and I really felt she was sincere.”

Unfortunately, her time in Uganda was abruptly ended when the United States ended the coffee trade. Political unrest made the situation volatile for missionaries, and the bishop and the United States government asked her to leave. Sr. Margaret Anne went to Tanzania for the next eleven years. Because of the political situation, she was forced to leave quickly without saying goodbye, which made the hasty farewell quite painful for Sr. Margaret Anne.

Eleven years later, when Sr. Margaret Anne finally was able to return to Uganda, one of Flavia’s sons had died of HIV/AIDS. Sr. Margaret Anne accompanied Flavia in her pain, which was more excruciating due to the shame associated with AIDS at that time. “She couldn’t accept that he had died of AIDS. She said that it was an unknown illness.” Still, in her suffering, Sr. Margaret Anne says, “I felt very close to that woman.”

In Ugandan funerals, a particular kind of tree bark is used to bury the body. Through a very extensive and physically demanding process, they transform the tree bark into a burial cloth. Flavia once gave Sr. Margaret Anne a wallet made out of this tree bark. “I want to be buried with the wallet that she gave me,” says Sr. Margaret Anne. “Flavia will come with me to the grave.”

Love is Purified by Loving

Sr. Margaret Anne planning a mission education lesson with Kate and Billy

Sr. Margaret Anne planning a mission education lesson with Kate and Billy

Sr. Margaret Anne acknowledges that it could be very easy for missionary Sisters to become discouraged. Mission is difficult, demographics show that fewer women are choosing this way of life, and her congregation does not shy away from some of the most challenging situations. In fact, the Medical Missionaries of Mary were among the first missionaries to go into Rwanda and offer medical assistance after the 1994 Genocide.

But the work that they do is urgent and saves lives. Furthermore, it is clear that for Sr. Margaret Anne, the way that she and the missionaries carry out this medical work is vital and unique. The internationality of her community, with 120 African Sisters, is something that they try to live authentically, helping each other to be their truest and best selves before God and each other. In the face of challenges, Sr. Margaret Anne says, “I think you just try to be faithful.” She remembers the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Love is purified by loving.”

Waiting with Gratitude 

Sr. Margaret Anne teaches mission education at a Catholic school in New Jersey.

Sr. Margaret Anne teaches mission education at a Catholic school in New Jersey.

These days, Sr. Margaret Anne is living this faithfulness through mission education at various Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of New York. Due to macular degeneration, she has to re-evaluate on a yearly basis whether or not she can drive to and from the mission education programs. She resides in the Bronx where she is “available for obedience,” though she clarifies that these days, obedience in consecrated life means that she also discerns with the community where she ought to go, rather than simply following orders. In the meantime, she waits with joy and enjoys the opportunity to instill a love for mission in Catholic schools. “I am convinced that God wants you to be happy, that he leads you to happiness,” she says. “And I am very happy. I am grateful for everything.”

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