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Mission Congress 2010
Sr. Janice offers insights from 40 years of mission in Africa

Sister Janice at the Mission Congress with the Rev. Michael Montoya, MJ, USCMA executive director, and Teresita Gonzalez, president of the USCMA board of directors.

Sister Janice McLaughlin, MM, presented one of the keynote addresses at the 2010 Mission Congress Oct. 28–31 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her talk, titled “Turned Upside Down: Lessons from the Margins,” was drawn from 40 years of experience as a missioner in South Africa.

“The Shona people of Zimbabwe, where I’ve lived and worked for the greater part of my life, have many names for God,” said Sister Janice to the 400 delegates of the Mission Congress. “My favorite is Chipindijure — the One Who Turns Things Upside Down… This, I believe, is the gift and challenge of the mission vocation—to be uprooted from the familiar, the comfortable, from what we grew up knowing and believing; to be separated from our families, our culture, food, language, and even familiar forms of prayer; to be uprooted as well from our assumptions, prejudices and deeply held views. In other words, to be transformed into new people… to enter into our adopted home with openness, humility, and a willingness to learn.”

Sister Janice spoke of issues that missioners encounter every day in their work, “issues that cry out for hope and healing.”

  • Crimes against the environment: “…It’s important to recognize that the environmental movement did not begin in North America or Europe. In fact, indigenous cultures have a long tradition of living in harmony with creation and acting as guardians of the Earth… Saving the planet is not just a physical question or a geographic issue but is also a question of ethics and values with deep theological implications.”)
  • From Sister Janice's talk:
    A portrait of the global reality

    • One in every six people on the planet live in South Asia, one of the most heavily populated areas in the word. This includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
    • One in every five people in the world speaks Mandarin.
    • Brazil has the world’s largest Catholic population
    • Seoul, Korea, is the second largest metropolitan area in the world with a population of 23 million.
    • One million persons migrate each day from rural to urban communities worldwide. The number of mega-cities is growing and with them comes crimes, disease, and inhumane living conditions.
    • In the United States, Hispanics constitute 14 percent of the U.S. population of 308 million. Approximately 1 million new immigrants enter the U.S. annually from various countries.
    • Overall, minorities now constitute slightly over a third of the U.S. population; in four states, minorities are the majority: Hawaii (75 percent), New Mexico (58 percent), California (57 percent), and Texas (52 percent), as they are in the District of Columbia (68 percent).

    Sources: National Public Radio, New York Times, MacNeil Lehrer News Report

    Crimes against women and children (human trafficking): “As many as 1 million people, the majority being women and children, are trafficked annually across international borders; approximately 20,000 of these come to the United States, usually for sexual exploitation… The eradication of this modern-day slavery will require a world-wide education movement and action across borders.”
  • Crimes against the common good (poverty and inequality): “One billion people go to bed hungry on our planet each day, and a child dies of starvation every six seconds… As Christians, we are called to put the common good first and to act in solidarity with one another. In other words, the recognition of our humanity obliges us to take action to create a more just and equal world.”

Sister Janice is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She began her ministry in Africa at age 25, serving first in Kenya, then Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In 1977, she served in what was then Rhodesia as press secretary of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace until she was arrested and deported for documenting the government’s war crimes. After Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Sister Janice was invited by their government to work in the president’s office, where she helped to build schools for former refugees and war veterans and to develop a new system of education.

“From the slums of Nairobi, to a prison cell in war-torn Rhodesia and refugee camps deep in the forests of Mozambique, God kept opening my eyes to recognize God’s presence in the courageous, suffering people that I met wherever I went,” said Sister Janice in her presentation. “I continue to be turned upside down as I re-enter the U.S. society with its consumerism, militarism and polarized political debate.”

Sister Janice left Africa in December 2008 after being elected as president of the Maryknoll Sisters. Her six-year term in congregational leadership began in January 2009. The Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic currently have 515 sisters ministering in 26 countries.

In speaking of the “new face of mission,” Sister Janice acknowledged the increasing role of laity. “Maryknoll has become a large family,” noted Sister Janice in her presentation to the Mission Congress. “In addition to the Maryknoll Sisters, priests and brothers, we have two branches of lay members. The Maryknoll lay missioners celebrated their 35th anniversary this year and have sent more than 600 men, women and children to overseas mission… The Maryknoll affiliates mark their 20th anniversary next year. The affiliate movement is the fastest growing branch of Maryknoll with more than 900 members, the majority of them in the United States.”

In October 2009, Sister Janice published a book that draws from her experiences in Africa. “Ostriches, Dung Beetles and Other Spiritual Masters: A Book of Wisdom from the Wild,” earned an award from the Catholic Press Association. Published by Orbis Books. READ REVIEW

Sister Janice was also elected to the board of the United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) at its annual meeting during the Mission Congress. Maryknoll Sisters were among the founding members of the USCMA. The USCMA is among the sponsors and supporters of the Mission Congress, which meets every five years.

Links to web sites

United States Catholic Mission Association

Mission Congress

Maryknoll: The U.S. Catholic Mission Movement

Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic