Monday, August 1, 2011
It has been a while since I last wrote but there are reasons for that which I’ll explain. Life is a mystery and we’re called to live in that mystery … sometimes understanding bits and pieces of it and other times not at all.
After prayer, discernment, conversation with good friends and companions the call has come clear from the Spirit of Life. It is time to return to ‘home base’. I’ve been ‘in the field’ of Nicaragua for 3½ years now. I have been given the opportunity to learn much about myself, my Nicaraguan sisters and brothers and my God, and I’m grateful for the all of this. I have received a great deal and been able to share myself with many new friends. However, it is now time to return. I will fly back to Central America on July 28th in order to “despedirme” (say farewell), celebrate my time with my friends there and finish up some office matters. I will return to Michigan on the 10th of August and take up residence from whence I came, namely in Detroit with my CSJ Goldengate community. Though I have no immediate plans for future ministry involvement, I do look forward to volunteering time at the Centro de San Jose which my friend, Marie Benzing, csj, has established in the Hispanic sector of Detroit where tutoring and language skills assistance have been developed. I ask you to send a prayer my way as I transition. It is never easy to leave a setting that has been a part of your very being, but the journey of life is just that, a journey, and that implies movement and change from time to time.
I have recently enjoyed the most wonderful experience of our CSSJ Event which took place in St. Louis, Missouri, from July 9-13. It was energy and grace filled and found some 860 of us from all around the world sharing, dreaming, taking action, enjoying each other’s company and so much more. Our strong justice stance had to do with Human Trafficking, modern day enslavement. I encourage you to find out all you can about this evil and do whatever is in your heart to free persons from this bondage. If you wish to learn more about this terrible injustice you might want to check out our CSJ website, then go to "click here to read coverage from the National Catholic Reporter”.
Thanks for being open to learning more about the injustices our sisters and brothers suffer and more importantly how we can work against such evil.
I am considering continuing this blog communication. My friend, Ruth, who has so graciously posted and titled and placed photos etc. for “Sister Act 3” is encouraging me to continue with “Sister Act 4”!! We’ll see how it goes. I thank you for your interest in my writings from Nicaragua and your support over these past years.
If you are in the habit of sending donations for the Nicaraguan projects you might want to now consider sending such support to a local ‘good cause’:
St. Stephen - Mary, Mother of the Church Parish
4311 Central St.
Detroit, MI 44210-2785
Attn: Sr. Marie Benzing, CSJ - Centro de San Jose
Blessings as you continue your own personal journey in life.
Your grateful sister,
Monday, May 30, 2011
Hi there you blog followers!
I am remembering the Burma Shave jingles that appeared along the highways when I was a child. If you’re not at least 55 years old, you won’t know what I’m referring to! My original one is: “The rains have come…the heat is great… the mud and insects don’t abate!” Yes, we have now entered into the six months of rain which is our alternate season to six months of total dryness. In a strange twist, this time is referred to as WINTER. Now it has nothing to do with winter as you’ve probably gathered from my previous comments about the heat! Everything greens up immediately and that’s a good thing. Now if we just don’t have TOO much rain the farmers will be able to plant their beans and corn. We pray for a good planting and harvest. Pray with us, please.
"Ancient image of 'god' of cacao and information about cacao"
This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel north of Managua about 3 hours to the department of Matagalpa. I went with a friend and her fiancé and we had a delightful time. We checked out the Castillo de Cacao….The Chocolate Castle! It is designed like a small Middle Ages castle and the entire process of turning raw cacao beans into rich, delicious chocolate is carried out there. It’s in a lovely setting amidst the hills of this area and includes a museum of everything chocolate…candy bar wrappers, varieties from many countries and of course there are samples!
"Mural in Casa Materna with Foundresses in the Foreground"
The real reason to for the trip was to become more acquainted with the Casa Materna which for 20 years has been receiving pregnant women from the surrounding rural area, especially those who are ‘at risk’ be it because of age, difficult pregnancy or just because they are far away from a medical setting or midwife who will help with the delivery of their baby. They come in the final week or two of their pregnancy. Casa Materna was built to accommodate 20 women but there are currently 27, so some beds have to serve for two very pregnant women. The staff and volunteers do a great deal of teaching and preparation for birthing and also teach and help in the surrounding rural areas.
"Cloth Banner in Casa Materna"
We were able to stay in their B and B for the night and it was delightful to be in a smaller, quieter pueblo and hear church bells ringing on Sunday morning and enjoy the view of mountains and hills. The people were delightful and we spent Sunday morning enjoying a typical Nica breakfast followed by a tour of the setting. Doña Chila who is a woman my age and is a partera (midwife) was our breakfast provider and tour guide. The women deliver in the hospital of Matagalpa so only in an extreme emergency would she actually deliver and baby, but she teaches and cooks and does a myriad of things. The project is an NGO and they struggle to have nourishing food each day for the women, but they manage somehow. An interesting fact is that a Michigan woman, Kitty Madden, is the director and has been for many years. Unfortunately, she was in Michigan when we visited!!
"Christy, Dona Chila (midwife), Jeanne in front of banner"
Some of the board members for Casa Materna are folks I know from Gesu Parish in Detroit and another is a cousin of a friend. I just ‘happened’ to encounter David, the cousin of friends I’ve met here, in the airport last November. He was returning after a board meeting and was behind me in line. He noted on my backpack ID that I had initials after my name. “Are you a Sister?” he asked. And so the conversation started and I Iearned that we had another connection. The world is so very, very small and we are all sisters and brothers in the midst of it. What a grace to live in this reality!
I shall bring this sharing to an end for this time. Until the next blog, thanks again for being interested and following my journey here in Nica land.
Love and gratitude,
Monday, April 25, 2011
Managua & Diriamba, Nicaragua
I’m beginning this posting before Holy Week and will finish it after Easter. Kari and I are going to Diriamba, a town south and with more elevation than Managua. The principle reasons for doing this are to have some space and time for retreat and to participate in the religious expression of the Nicaraguan folks as they celebrate the last three days of Lent. A lesser reason is get out of Managua and to have a cooler ambiance in which to relax. Hopefully, I will have some photos to accompany this blog that will give you an idea of Diriamba and the religious services.
Holy Week in Nicaragua is a ‘vacation week’. I suspect that at one time it was a way of freeing up the working folks so they could participate in the various religious ceremonies…just as in the States when we had Good Friday ‘off’ or at least from noon until 3:00pm. Here, there is no school and although Thursday and Friday are ‘free days’, many people take the whole week and travel to the beach or to be with relatives. Unfortunately, it’s a time of sorrow due to the many traffic accidents and drownings.
April 25, 2011
Well, I just returned from a delightful three days in a very welcoming pueblo and a stay with the Sisters of the Assumption at their retreat center. Kari and I experienced Holy Thursday with the San Sebastian Community which is the largest of the local churches. We returned there Friday evening in time for the traditional procession with the statue of the crucified Jesus in a coffin carried by various teams of men. see photos) This was preceded by the statue of St. John the Apostle and followed by the statue of the Sorrowful Mother. As you can see in the photo, it was quite a gathering of folks together with some young fellows portraying the centurions and little girls as angels. The devotion of the people is remarkable and the keeping of traditions is very important.
We experienced Good Friday in the parish church of San Caralampio. I had no idea about this fellow and had a dickens of a time even pronouncing his name! This is a smaller church and a very devout congregation. Saturday evening we stayed on the grounds of the retreat house and celebrated with the Sisters of the Assumption as we did also on Sunday morning.
All in all it was a very wonderful way to live the Triduum and Easter (La Pascua). The grounds are extensive and have tons of trees of many varieties and fruits and plants and flowers in abundance.
And now I’m off to Louisiana (Baton Rouge and New Orleans) for our annual Assembly and Mission Circle gathering which includes folks from California, New Mexico, Kansas and we Nicaraguans. I’ll only be gone for eight days but it will be a full and enjoyable time.
Thanks for staying connected and interested in this venture. If Oscar A. reads this new posting…please comment and send your e-mail address. I cannot respond to comments. They do not contain an address of the sender. I would like to be in contact with you.
Easter Season Blessings and Gratitude,
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Greetings from balmy, sunny Managua. I’ve been thinking of writing a summary of the various projects in which we are currently engaged here in the Mateare/Ciudad Sandino rural areas. Many of you pray for our people and a better life for them and some send donations to help the projects along. Both categories are greatly appreciated. So that you know where your efforts are directed, I’ll mention and explain the various endeavors. Some are directly funded by organizations, others use your donations and there are times when your donations help to ‘fill in the gaps’ of the formal projects which makes everything move along with less struggle.
Scholarships – small amounts of money to facilitate four university students ($25.00/month for transportation and food) and five high schoolers and two primary school students ($25.00/month for transportation). This current year we’ve added a family that has to spend $2.00/day just to get their two little ones to school each day and a young woman who neither hears nor speaks but who has worked very hard to complete secondary school and has now entered university level studies. Her mother deserves a great deal of credit as she’s been determined that her daughter with different capabilities will have a future. There are many more seeking help but this is all we can handle right now.
Family Life Improvement:
Latrines - more sanitary ‘outhouses’ that can be kept cleaner with hopes for advancing an even more ‘user friendly’ version.
Cement and Iron Tanks to Retain Rain Water - round cylinders constructed by our own people to catch and store the water from the heavy rains for use during the six dry months of the year.
Laundry Sinks - concrete structures for washing clothes, fitted with a tube so that the used water will be directed underwater to irrigate plants in the area and keep mosquito/fly reproduction down due to pooled water under the sinks. Before the women were using a stone on which to wash their clothes.
Improved Stoves for Cooking - the concrete wood burning stoves located inside the houses are being fitted with a chimney and simple flue so that the smoke is directed outside of the home thus creating a healthier atmosphere inside the home.
Family Vegetable Gardens – assisting families in planning, executing and harvesting vegetables according to organic principles in order to improve meal menus.
Pregnant Cows – helping women purchase a pregnant cow which multiplies the animals and produces milk and cheese for nourishment and for selling.
Set of Chickens – helping families purchase five chickens, one rooster and screening for a pen, which will provide eggs, meat and a larger group of chickens.
Energy Plots - assisting farmers in establishing “small forests” of trees by means of reforestation, so that these trees can be used for future use…fuel for cooking, for the making of saleable carbon, construction etc.
Water Projects – assisting communities in working toward safer drinking water and more water availability for irrigating gardens, maintaining animals, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes etc.
Clean Up Campaigns – part of the wonderful work of our Ecology Brigades to preserve our environment and teach ecological modes of living and working.
We also help out with emergency situations by working with the community in a collaborative way to meet the need. My home parish helped one community repair their well and replace their tubing and we’re working on other water projects, as water is the basic and first need for all.
Hopefully, this helps to explain a bit of what we do in Cantera. This is just one aspect but probably the easiest to grasp and mostly takes place in the rural areas.
There is a lot of accompaniment and development of personal qualities for leadership and community organizing, as well as workshops on topics of gender, development, spirituality and evaluation. Work with youth of the city is also a priority. There is a whole area of Cantera in Ciudad Sandino, once a refugee town, where we have a pre-school and many youth development opportunities as well as a library where youth can come and study using the textbooks that are available. A well developed network of natural medicine is also an important aspect of Cantera.
Hopefully, this helps to make your efforts more tangible and explain how Cantera works using the principles of Popular Education and self-determination.
I thought I’d end by mentioning one of my many joys here in Nicaragua…the children. Just this morning as I was sweeping and cleaning the road and trench in front of our house, I became aware of a little lst. grade neighbor girl standing beside me. She was all ready to leave for school …. scrubbed, shampooed, pressed and fresh looking and just wanted a hug and a few words before picking up her backpack and heading off … a great way to start my day! What joy have you had today in the midst of personal concerns and global problems? Don’t miss the joy!
Until the next time….blessings and gratitude. Thanks for all you are and do.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
It’s about time for me to check in once again. Actually, I’m overdue! Hopefully, those of you who are still in the grip of winter weather are finding some hopeful signs of a warmer future. Here we are still experiencing the more pleasant time of the year but each afternoon I’m reminded of the heat to come as it gets warmer each day. I’ll not complain!!
Recently, one of the sisters of my congregation visited us for a week in preparation for bringing a group of high school students to Nicaragua next February. I thought it might be interesting for you to hear the observations of a person who was experiencing a very different reality for the first time. Her perceptions are very typical of the folks who come to such a land as ours.
Everything is so different! … There’s very little personal space! … There are people selling everything, everywhere. … There’s a lot of physical openness (the outside and the inside are one!) … There is plastic everywhere, in every form … There’s constant noise. … The people are very warm and receptive … It’s hard to orient yourself. … Kids are kids no matter where you are on this planet. … There are lots of smiles. … We can live with less. … We’re really not entitled to anything …
These observations give us much to ponder as we begin Lent and try to be open to life in whatever form it presents itself….through each person - no matter the diversity, through nature, through insights and inspirations etc.
One of our sisters is working with our program, “St. Joseph, Worker” located in New Orleans, LA which invites volunteers to participate for a year in various social work activities. In her recent blog Jackie proposed uniting with others in doing Random Acts of Kindness – “being attentive to new life and goodness” during the Lenten Season. Maybe you’d be interested in joining in this venture. I’ve started and hope to see it through until Easter. If you’re interested in learning more about the St. Joseph, Worker program, the link can be found on our website: www.csjoseph.org which also includes the ‘Sister Act 3’ link.
Life here goes on with very little improvement for the poor of the land. We’re in the dry season so at least there aren’t experiencing the problems which come with the intense rains. Every now and then there’s a ray of hope and so one hangs onto those moments. Of course, the children are always a symbol of hope. So I’ll include a photo of our children as a reminder that we all need to hope but also work toward a better future for all.
What Random Act of Kindness did you have the opportunity to perform today?
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Reporting in from the land of lakes and volcanoes … and periodic ‘shakes’ – we’ve had two just lately!
I arrived back in Managua on Wednesday the 19th after a rather protracted time in the States where I visited my family and many friends, made my annual retreat of 6 days, had far too many medical matters checked out, participated in our congregational visitation by the Vatican appointed visitors and among other matters, ate too much!! The last week was spent in Chicago where I was privileged to participate in the First Profession of a member of our congregation. All winter clothing, and there were many items, were left in Chicago and sometime between now and next winter they will find their way back to ‘base camp’ in Detroit.
I thought you’d appreciate a bit of sunshine and warmth and balmy breezes, so I’m including those in this blog. Hopefully, you can feel them. I’ll include photos to jog your memory of warmer climes.
We’ve been into planning sessions because we are beginning the year anew here in Nicaragua. It’s comparable to September in the States. The children will return to classes in mid-February if not sooner - private schools start at the beginning of the month. I’m sure the parents are ready to have their little and big students get back into routine and the neighbors are, too.
While I was home my sister-in-law gave me a newspaper clipping about a project being planned by a young man, Erick, from my home town of Flint. Now Flint suffers from a less than great reputation, but good things/people do emanate from there. This lad is a student at Carmen-Ainsworth High School, the school my nieces and nephews attended many years ago. Erick’s a swimmer, as were my nieces and nephews, so in more than one way, I was interested in this young man’s project. It seems Erick became aware of the water crisis present in our world and so he decided to do something about it. He decided to link his swimming to a water project that provides safe drinking water for impoverished areas. On December 30th he swam 10 miles in his high school pool which is equivalent to 704 laps. It took him 6 hours and 8 minutes to accomplish the feat. He had asked friends, family and anybody who’d respond to sponsor him. He raised $15,095.00 for water.org. I wrote him a letter of encouragement before hand and told him of my gratitude for his interest in water projects and his efforts. I explained my experience in Nicaragua and that I had experienced the great need for water projects. Recently I received a response written after the fact. In his communication of gratitude, Erick said, “God used a variety of people in a variety of ways…through prayers, encouragement and financial support. What an amazing thing that God used so many people to spread His love (through availability of water, the basic requirement for life … my words!) around the world.”
They calculate that $25.00 will provide one person with clean water for life. So, one creative teen was able to raise enough money to accomplish this for over 600 persons. We can each make a difference in our school, family, neighborhood, world by using our talents, skills, creativity, connections, etc. It might be through encouragement of another, prayer support, donation of money or resources or whatever. We can each do something to make a difference. What might you have done recently to accomplish a difference? Credit yourself and share it with another. Perhaps the other person will be inspired to creatively make a difference, too.
I will be back with you before long. I’m grateful for all of you who take time to follow and read, Sister Act 3. Many have told me of your interest and I’ve connected with other folks because of your connecting. Blessings on your new year…gosh we’re already into the second month. How time flies when we’re thinking of others and making a difference in the lives of others.
Love and Peace,