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March/April 2011
Vol. 36, No. 2

Centenary: Maryknoll continues commitment to justice

As the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (in 2011) and the Maryknoll Sisters (in 2012) celebrate 100 years of life in mission, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns is reflecting on some of the specific expressions of Maryknoll's long term commitment to work for social justice and peace, for human promotion and liberation – and ultimately for the integrity of creation.

Because it is deeply rooted in the specific contexts where Maryknoll missioners live and work, this social justice ministry has often been focused on a particular country or part of the world:

In southern Africa, for example, Maryknoll Sister Janice McLaughlin, now president of the Maryknoll Sisters, served as press secretary to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in the late 1970s. Documenting the atrocities of Ian Smith's government before its collapse led to her arrest, imprisonment and deportation from Rhodesia, later to become independent Zimbabwe. After her deportation Sister Janice worked with the Washington Office on Africa to educate U.S. policy makers and advocate for U.S. policy toward Africa that would promote respect for human rights and self-determination.

Thirty years later, Maryknoll missioners, including Sister Janice, who had returned to Zimbabwe following independence, again brought the story of the Zimbabwean people's struggle for justice and basic human rights to the attention of international decision-makers. In the face of increasingly brutal actions by the government of Robert Mugabe, Maryknoll lay missioner Merwyn DeMello travelled more than once to Washington and New York. Working with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns he met with U.S. government and United Nations officials to encourage an appropriate U.S. response.

On the other side of the world, in El Salvador, following the brutal killings there of Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke and their two companions, Maryknoll played an active role in educating the U.S. public about the U.S. role in El Salvador's war and ending U.S. military aid to the Salvadoran government. Maryknoll worked with others to hold to account the perpetrators of the crime against the four U.S. churchwomen and of vicious human rights violations against the people of El Salvador.

Arriving in Cambodia in 1989, Maryknollers encountered the physical devastation of war. At that time, Cambodia had the world's highest percentage of mine amputees. One out of every 236 Cambodians had lost one or more limbs after stepping on a landmine. In addition to establishing the Wat Than Skills Training Program for Polio and Landmine Disabled People, Maryknoll brought its experience to global efforts for a treaty to ban landmines. Joining with Cambodians and the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, Maryknoll lay missioner Patty Curran participated in international meetings of nongovernmental organizations as they developed and implemented the campaign that resulted in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. On March 1, 1999 the treaty entered into force, but 39 countries including the U.S. have not yet ratified the treaty and many non-state armed groups still use landmines. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns continues to work particularly for U.S. ratification of the treaty.

Maryknoll missioners have accompanied the people of Sudan, primarily South Sudan, in many different communities and ministries since 1976. Their presence through the many years of war (1983-2005) between the North and the South gave the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns strong reason to support possible paths to peace. Through education in the U.S. and advocacy, especially with the U.S. Congress and with the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, Maryknoll promoted international support for the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and its full implementation.

Through a commitment to inculturation and an option for the poor, Maryknoll missioners continually search for new ways to be the Church in service of God's reign (from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers' reflection, "A New Springtime for Mission").

This search keeps them deeply immersed in struggles for human dignity, peace and ecological integrity at the margins of our world and propels them to advocate for social justice in places of power and to create spaces at decision-making tables for people from the margins to speak for themselves.

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