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Showing posts from July, 2012

Retreats at Maryknoll Center in Eastbay Offer Unexpected Opportunity for community and silence

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Retreats at Maryknoll in San Lorenzo…


I have participated in many retreats at the Western Regional Center in San Lorenzo. The main reason for that I am on the staff and therefor I play a key role in planning and executing retreat weekends. Our retreats are always a team effort and no one person does everything alone, which is advantageous for several obvious reasons. One maybe not so obvious reason is the opportunity to grab a little retreat time when the other leader is facilitating a session. It is a chance to forget about leadership, dishwashing, and cooking and view the retreat through the eyes of a participant.

It is always amazing to me how quickly we bond to each other. The first night we start out with social time before dinner: a glass of wine or soda and a few snacks. During the winter, we build a fire in the fireplace, which adds tremendously to the sense of home. It is a great time to chat with people I know and get to know those I have just met.

Then we gather around a …

Laborers for the Harvest: Hope at Los Campeones

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Jesuit priest John Dear once said that he had received this advice before ordination: "The whole point is to make your life story fit into the life story of Jesus." That reflection consistently helps me approach both life and the Gospel. I was struck by this on our recent immersion to Guatemala. Specifically, in the moments of despair that some participants expressed at the seemingly insurmountable needs of many of the people that we met. It made some of us feel that whatever small part we could play in serving the poor, it would simply not be enough.

I was taken aback, then, when I read Matthew 9:35-38 a few weeks after returning. In it, Jesus is traveling from town to town, healing and teaching. Despite the good work that he was surely doing, he too becomes overwhelmed by the needs of the people: "At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd" (v. 36). Turning to h…

East African Mission Exposure Trip: Reflections a Year Later

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A year ago, I had the opportunity to go on a mission exposure trip with five other people. We visited Kenya and Tanzania over a three week period, traveling to city after city, seeing some of the projects that were being coordinated by Maryknoll and its partners.
Going into the trip, I thought I was prepared. I figured, I’m a student of Global African studies, I know plenty about the history and culture of the region as well as the socio and political realities. Growing up as the son of a man committed to mission, I’d seen the videos and the pictures, heard the stories, met some people.  But for the most part, I was wrong.

I knew that African countries and the current realities are complex, but I didn’t realize the degree to which they are. There are over 50 countries and thousands of different ethnics groups. So the pictures I had seen, the stories I had heard and the people I had met, represented the smallest fraction.

During and after my time in Kenya and Tanzania, I realized the …

Does God Hear the Cries of the Poor? Reflection from Guatemala

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(US teachers Kate and Rhae Nell at a home visit in Santa Ana. Photo by R. Poteet)

"I felt like a phony." This is what one of the participants in our recent Immersion to Guatemala for Catholic Educators said to me. We had made home visits in small groups to families in Santa Ana, an extremely poor neighborhood near Esquipulas. The people there live in single-room homes pieced together from corrugated metal.

The woman that said this described how, at the end of the visit, she led a blessing in which she began with the words, "Good and gracious God..." She felt like a phony, she explained, because inside she was wondering how God can be "good and gracious" when people live in such conditions. I think that every believer that has witnessed genuine suffering has at some point asked these questions. Does God really hear the cries of the poor? One answer, expressed by Maryknoll Promoter Matt Rousso on this experience, is this: "Maybe God hears the cries…

Did you know that many indigenous African languages do not have a word that is equivalent to the English word “stranger?”

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Ruth Picha, a spiritual director and leader of our monthly Taize gatherings at the Regional Center shares the following from a spiritual direction website:




Did you know that many indigenous African languages do not have a word that is equivalent to the English word “stranger?” Tanzanian professor Raymond Mosha explained, “In my native language I would say that I have not met you before. There would be no pejorative connotation as exists with ‘stranger.’” Mosha asked others if they knew an African word for stranger. People from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe confirmed “stranger” did not exist in their native tongue.


During the first conference of spiritual directors from the continent of Africa at Saint Augustine’s College in Johannesburg, South Africa, I witnessed that no one is alien. In God’s eyes, no one is a stranger. No one is an outsider or deviant; everyone is community.
Thousands of years ago, before the language of stranger a…

Why Are They So Poor in Guatemala: Asking the Tough Questions

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(Odel, director of Caminando por la Paz, explains the challenges facing his community in Guatemala City)

Last night, at a family gathering, I was discussing my recent experience in Guatemala. A friend asked, “Why are they so poor?” While this is a question that I am glad to discuss, I find that many of us are not prepared to accept some of the answers.

To give some background to my own encounter: In my work at Maryknoll, I am one of many tasked with helping US Catholics identify mission as central and definitive of our Christian identity. In our short-term immersion programs, we see an important step for people in entering into the world beyond their borders and forming relationships with their brothers and sisters from across the globe. Someone once asked me if we organize these programs for people to “identify the needs.” In a way, yes, but more fundamentally we go to first identify God in the stranger, and to feel compelled to participate more fully in God’s love for the world…