Marianist lay woman works with Roma in Paris, France



entrance to the Roma camp; Cristian is wearing the baseball cap

Mary Harvan Gorgette is a Marianist lay woman living in Paris, France. She works as a  lay minister for social-justice and intercultural issues in a 5-parish area of the Diocese of Créteil. She coordinates a group that supports Roma families in the area.

Cristian spends most of his day on the road, in the southern suburbs of Paris, France. He rides his bike, stopping occasionally to pick up scrap metal and throw it in his makeshift trailer. Sometimes he loads up a larger appliance left curbside on trash day.

His trailer full, he pedals back to a small shantytown, located off an access road. In September 2010, five Romanian families built small homes around a central courtyard, using materials collected from trash bins. Cristian and Janina’s home has two rooms, a double bed for them and one for their three children. A concrete, wood-burning stove provides heat. A couple plastic chairs can be pulled out and covered with clean linens for visitors to the camp.

For cooking and washing, each family fills jerry cans from a roadside fire hydrant. Toilets are dug away from the camp. Janina and the other women cook on open fires in the courtyard.

A grassy field between the camp and the access road provides a workspace. There Cristian and other young men hammer the objects they have collected, separating the metal to be sold as scrap. The families survive this way because French law prohibits Romanian and Bulgarian citizens from working in any but a restricted number of fields, all requiring advanced degrees. It excludes the poorest Eastern Europeans from an otherwise open EU job market.

Many of the poorest belong to an ethnic group called Roma, long discriminated against in their home countries. There, they are excluded not only from the work force, but from schools, housing, and public services. This drives many to emigrate to the richer West. As Janina says, they live better off French trash: Romanians don’t throw much away.

Continue reading

LENT – 40 Days with the 40 Least

A powerful social justice Lenten program from Spain focuses on the 40 least economically developed countries. 40 Days with the 40 Least is a collaborative effort of the Marianist Family in Spain.  It has grown over the years and is now available in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. Just click on the calendar for each day`s resources.

This year`s theme is on health care. According to the web-site,

In the year 2000, in the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, eight ambitious “Millennium Development Goals” (MDG) were set to be accomplished by 2015.  Those goals committed the governments to establish policies that would favor the development of all peoples and “to free our fellow human beings… from the dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.”  Well, three of the eight MDG’s make direct reference to health.  Development and health go together inseparably.

Each day, we are invited to visit a different country through the first-hand experience of a person working on the ground. We learn about a specific social justice project that attempts to address the needs of health care. We learn about some of the issues faced in international development. We are called to respond in a small way with concrete actions of our own. And, we are invited to unite with our sisters and brothers through prayer.

Our online MLC, Our Lady of the Round Table, journeyed through the program together last year. I was humbled by my lack of geographical knowledge. I was introduced to countries that I hadn`t even heard of, countries that depend on our support and aid. I was inspired by the work that is being done quietly and effectively around the world. The stories were both heart-breaking, and heart-lifting. We cannot save the whole world, but maybe we can find one small place where we, too, can make a difference. And what better time to contemplate changing minds and hearts then in this season of Lent?

With much love and gratitude to our dear Marianist Family in Spain, who continues to make this valuable Lent resource available to us all….muchas gracias!

After Rome

Our work in Rome was satisfying, yet intense. When I arrived home the reality of catching up with family and work – and the physiological effects of jet lag and late nights – forced me to put aside the meeting notes and task lists. As I begin to review the work ahead of us, I have to remind myself that our objectives are for the next four years and not the next four days! We are still preparing reports and letters from our meeting. And, of course, they will need to be translated before distribution.

One of the objectives for both the MLC and the World Council is to better share the good works being done at the grass roots in our Marianist family. We will be exploring ways to improve our communications. We will try to encourage networking and sharing of resources and formation materials. We will help to promote projects and encourage collaborative support across the miles. While ideas are being formed into concrete strategies, the good works continue…

  • Here’s a follow-up to the November 4th blog post on the MLC Kenya Project. Our friends in Nairobi are continuing their work with the youth of Our Lady of Visitation parish. They provided a retreat for the young people at Komarock Shrine. It was a collaborative effort with our Marianist brothers. Ann Kihagi has created a wonderful Newsletter, full of photos, describing the day’s program.
  • The Society of Mary Province of the USA has posted online a series of reflections from some of our 5th International Meeting of MLC participants. An article on our meeting and more good news from the US Province can be read in the fall/winter 2009 issue of ALIVE magazine.
  • Susan Vogt (Regional Responsible for North America, Asia, Australia and Ireland) has written some study guide questions for our new document, “Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World”. The study guides are available in English, Spanish, and French.

Now to write my reports…..

Nairobi MLC- Youth Retreat, Nov.1/09

Nairobi MLC- Youth Retreat, Nov.1/09

MLC Kenya Project

I’m surrounded by unpacked suitcases and piles of unfinished reports. I’m leaving for Rome this week, yet I wanted to post this short blog before I go.

One of the issues that the International Team will be discussing in our Rome meeting is how to promote and support Marianist social projects around the world. My mind is filled with ideas. Maybe a web page that will list all of our projects with links to contact information, project descriptions and updates, newsletters, and concrete, practical ways to support each other both spiritually and materially? Maybe an online donation site will be possible? I look forward to discussing all the possibilities with both our team and the World Marianist Family Council.

Interacting with youths and children during a social activity. “They speak and we listen”

Interacting with youths and children during a social activity. “They speak and we listen”

Meanwhile, I have received the final proposal for the MLC Kenya project that I mentioned in a blog on September 23 titled Nairobi Faith in Action. It is a project to help at risk youth in Nairobi by nurturing them spiritually through small Christian communities, educating and forming them in vocational skills, and giving them opportunities for healthy social activities and leisure. The MLC in Kenya have accepted the proposal put forward by Ann Kihagi and Lorna Mueni Kilonzo. The next step will be acquiring donors and financial support. Please take some time to read the MLC Kenya Project Proposal. It is an inspiring document, written with compassionate charity and professionalism. Heart and mind are in balance in true Marianist fashion!

I will try to send news from Rome, with updates on our meetings. We count on your prayers. May the Spirit of Wisdom guide us all in our tasks!

Nairobi – Faith in Action

I’m still pondering about my time in Nairobi this past summer. Certain experiences defy words. Perhaps there is a fear that feeble attempts at descriptions will take away from the deep truths that are still being processed within the mind and heart? I wanted to write a ‘post- Nairobi’ post, but where to start? This morning, I received a wonderful email from one of my new friends, Ann Kihagi. She is a perfect example of that certain “something” that I find so humbling and inspiring in our Marianist sisters and brothers in Africa.

Ann works for an organization called BasicNeeds in Nairobi. The purpose of BasicNeeds is “That the basic needs of mentally ill people in Kenya are met and their basic rights are respected.” As is the situation in most parts of the world, poverty and mental illness often go hand in hand in Nairobi. Job training is offered as well as treatment to nurture and promote dignity and independence. For Ann, “My work with people with mental illnesses or epilepsy also gives me lots of joy when I see the levels of hope being restored by a touch of love and concern.”

Ann (center) at BasicNeeds

Ann (center) at BasicNeeds

In addition to her work with BasicNeeds, Ann is now working on a new initiative with Lorna Mueni Kilonzo – our past Regional Responsible for Africa. This is a collaborative project among the Marianist Lay Communities of Kenya to address the many needs of youth, especially in the target area of Makadara-Nairobi East. The project has a holistic approach of providing spiritual, educational, and vocational formation for children who are at risk due to the extreme poverty and violence of the area. Lorna is a dear friend of mine. She and I worked together on the past leadership team. We are also members of the cyber-MLC, “Our Lady of the Round Table”. Upon Lorna’s retirement from international work, she told me that she was going to spend more time working with youth. Little did I know the energy and work that was going into this project! Ann gave me a sneak preview into the draft proposal. Wow!

Anastacia Wangari is yet another “Magnificat” woman who gives her time and energy to attack the root cause of poverty. A mother of four, she worked at IMANI (Incentive from Marianists to Assist the Needy to be Independent). IMANI’s Maria House is a job-creation program for women. It teaches skills such as sewing, book-binding, weaving, and knitting. There is on-site child care for young mothers who are learning a trade. Anastacia also helped to found a small school for children who cannot afford the required tuition in the public school system.

Bro. Jack Ventura and Anastacia at IMANI

Bro. Jack Ventura and Anastacia at IMANI

These brief descriptions of the works being done by Ann, Lorna and Anastacia are but a small example of the generous spirit we experienced in Nairobi. And, the words are still insufficient to describe the tugging of mind and heart that is taking place as I continue to ponder it all. Our document, Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World, challenges us to bridge the gap between words and action. How do we incarnate the gospel of Jesus into a world so in need of justice, peace, hope and love? How are we, as Marianists, called to do this in our own place and time?