How do you go about learning Spanish in New York City if you live in a parish where most parishioners speak only that language? The question led me to enroll in a solidly useful program sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York. It meets three hours each week, and though far from fluency, I now manage. Listening to the Spanish language news each morning on the radio has also helped. A third help for learning Spanish, though, is reading the Spanish language version of the Maryknoll magazine, Revista Maryknoll (www.maryknoll.com). I have been following it for several years, usually during my subway ride to America House. Published almost monthly, it contains brief stories about Maryknoll missioners and others who work among some of the poorest people of the world.
Since my work at America focuses on various aspects of social justice, however, the stories soon took on a more-than-language meaning for me, because some of the issues they cover are also ones I follow. A recent Revista Maryknoll article, for example, deals with AIDS in Zimbabwe. Having traveled there myself with Catholic Relief Services, I could resonate with the piece’s description of the devastating impact of the disease on every aspect of that country’s daily life. I had even visited the hospice featured in the article and had walked through one of Harare’s ever-expanding cemeteries.
Another frequent theme concerns the struggles of immigrants. A 1995 issue shows the 10-foot-high steel wall that now runs for many miles along the Mexican-U.S. border. The wall has led desperate Mexican and Central American immigrants to seek other crossing points into dangerous desert areas where hundreds have died of exposure. The bishop of Las Cruces, N.M., Ricardo Ramirez, is quoted as saying that the wall stands as “a symbol of exclusion, mistrust and isolation.” Now, with fears of terrorism heightened since Sept. 11, this sense of exclusion, mistrust and isolation has become more acute—not only on the southwestern border, but on all our borders.
Hunger is another source of suffering that the magazine often documents. One November number (I have kept all my back copies for periodic language review) shows on its cover a Bangladeshi adolescent—so emaciated that his arms and legs seem mere sticks, and the bones of his rib cage push out against their paper-thin covering of flesh. “What does this photo mean for us?” the cover caption asks, as a reminder that November—the month of Thanksgiving in the United States—is traditionally a time when we celebrate that holiday primarily by an overabundance of food. The editorial rightly describes the cover photo as shocking, chocante. It concludes by stressing that the world lacks a sense of human solidarity strong enough to lead us to an equitable division of resources that would, if shared, be enough for all.
Both editorially and in its brief but perceptive articles, much of Revista Maryknoll’s coverage documents not only the sufferings of poor and often exploited people, but also Gospel-based, grass-roots responses that can address it in healing and justice-oriented ways. Thus one of its more frequently used words is desafío, “challenge,” the kind that has stirred into action the many laypeople and religious (not just Maryknollers) whose work the magazine highlights.
Implicitly, the message is that hunger can be reduced and even eliminated. Just talk to the Rev. Dave Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, if you need to be convinced. And terrorism notwithstanding, immigrants deserve to be treated more justly than they are now. As for AIDS, if the rich countries of the world were willing to help more generously in ensuring a wider distribution of life-extending medications, the devastation of AIDS could be significantly lessened as the search continues for a vaccine. What is needed is the faith-based determination to let these and other similar challenges motivate us to take the kinds of steps that could lead to needed and lasting change.