Sunday, February 13, 2011

After being away for a few months...


I've been away from blog writing for quite a while.  I got sick and was away from work for about 2 months, and, in addition, my computer died.  So, my recent process has been getting a new computer, learning windows 7, not quite getting back all my information, and having problems with some of my programs since they aren't compatible with windows 7.  So, it has been quite an adventure.

One thing that happened was the arrival of tons of snow a few weeks ago - and the rare adventure of seeing icicles form outside the house where I live.  I made a short video of the icicles, shown below:

I also managed to return to work, and really enjoyed being with others in a work environment.  I was even more happy being in my present environment as I realized what was going on in Egypt.  To see a group of people protest their leader, having no sense of who would be the next leader, and to do it peacefully, was an amazement.  The throngs of people who came and protested a government that was oppressive, in a manner that was mostly nondestructive was a phenomenon I do not remember experiencing before.

No one really knows the outcome which can encompass countries like the United States and many others, yet I have hope that these people can be freed of the things that restrained them.  It will not be easy nor will it be simple for them nor for the group which now has taken over the rule until there are some viable candidates.  All can hope and pray.  Life will still not be easy for quite a while, as people begin to understand the repercussions on each other's lives.  And we can only hope and pray that Egypt is safe for all who live there.  We certainly have reason to pray.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Patent Pools to help AIDS Victims


Until about three days ago, I had never heard the term: Patent Pools.  A student came to the library asking for help in finding articles about patent pools for antiretrovirals.  And, after a few clicks of the mouse and a look at the databases available, I directed her to a few articles to give her a head start on her paper.  However, what I had found in the introductory materials I had perused, was of compelling interest to me.  The best introduction to the topic, which I first saw on the UNITAID site is a brief animated video, which someone has now put on youtube, called: Life-saving HIV treatment - patent pool animation . Click on the link at left for the larger version, or start the video in the smaller version below.



UNITAID is a wonderful group which is trying to find creative ways to finance the fight in the poorer nations of the world to conquer the pandemics of HIV/AIDS, malaria and pneumonia.  Millions of people die each year of these diseases without any access to life-saving drugs.

Any of us who need to take pharmaceuticals in the US, even with a prescription plan, are aware of the expense of medicines, particularly new medicines, especially if the medicine is not covered by our insurance plan.  I am personally aware of part of the reason for the expense of medicines, for I worked in biochemical research when studying for my PhD, and I know the many hours we spent in the lab trying to prove our thesis.  This is certainly the life of the scientists in pharmaceutical labs, working long hours until a remedy for a disease is proven both effective and safe.  However, at this point, the company hiring the scientists wants a unique patent for this medicine in order to make money.  The rich can pay for the drug when needed, the poor cannot.  Rather than concentrate on expensive pharmaceuticals for many diseases, I would like, for the moment, to concentrate on those for HIV/AIDS, and, particularly, for those suffering in subSaharan Africa.

When I looked at some of the information about antiretroviral pharmaceuticals made by different companies, it was clear that any of the new drugs, which can treat the new more resistant forms of HIV, are under new patents, and, therefore, not capable of being acquired for improving the life of people in developing countries.  Further, if pregnant women give birth to children while they are not on an adequate antiretroviral combination of drugs (one antiretroviral does not appear to be enough to combat the aggressiveness of the AIDS retrovirus) , the great likelihood is that the newborn child will be born HIV positive, and most likely be motherless in a short time. Unfortunately, this is the story of many children who live in subSaharan Africa where some RSHM are serving some of the needs of these children.

If there were a way that many of us could put pressure on the large pharmaceutical companies which are making the new drugs to patent them in a patent pool - e.g. to work with other companies preparing the other ingredients in a life-saving new drug combination, and to share the details with a company willing to begin to make a less expensive generic form of the combination, then there could be a way to reduce the AIDS pandemic in subSaharan Africa and, hopefully, elsewhere.  Since the group willing to accept the patent pool (and the National Institute of Health is willing, though no companies have entered the pool yet), to create a pooled patent for all the companies involved, to ensure just payment for the companies originating the new drug or drug combination, and to ensure payment to the maker of the generic product, the cost of the new pharmaceutical could be reduced dramatically, since the patent pool would be doing all that patenting and payment monitoring for all the companies involved, rather than each company acting by themselves.

There have been patent pools since 1856, some good, some poor.  But many who wish to see patent pools work for HIV/AIDS treatment, have learned much from the mistakes of the past.  The Open Aids Journal has an article entitled: Towards a Patent Pool for HIV Medicines: The Background which gives a description of the needs on many levels to set up a patent pool that is just for all involved in pharmaceuticals distribution and use.

I would hope that we, in the United States, this blessed country, can somehow get together to pressure pharmaceutical companies to be less greedy and selfish about their new antiviral medication, but rather, to join with other companies in the fight against the life-devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on whole populations, especially in developing countries.  I would love to hear from anyone who has ideas as to how we can network and invite companies to participate in new patent pools for the good of all those who suffer with HIV/AIDS and other pandemics with no resources to life-saving help.

Take some time to learn more about this topic (there is much material available even with simple Google searches). I believe that if we work together we can make a difference in the suffering of many people.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Allure of Purple Loosestrife

The beautiful purple flowers in the above photo are known as purple loosestrife.  This plant is not native to the United States, but seems to have arrived here with the early settlers - both on the boats that travelled from port to port, as well as on transported animals, and, as a herbal medicine.  It is present in nearly all of the United States, especially around lakes and marshland.  It certainly has come to Westchester County, and is prevalent around the Tarrytown lakes.

Since purple loosestrife adds an element of beauty to the landscape, the seeds have been collected and it has been transported to many areas of the country. And, even in the 1800's it was known to be a very hardy plant - so hardy that it has invasively taken over many wetlands, preventing the natural flora from propagating, and changing the whole environment and all creatures that are natural to it.  None of the wetlands that it has inhabited are the same, and, today, millions of dollars are spent each year to deter its growth and preserve some of the remaining flora and fauna.  Though beautiful, it is toxic.

I have only known about the invasive nature of purple loosestrife for the past year, even though I had seen it around the Tarrytown lakes and appreciated its beauty for many years. It is the kind of beauty I had looked forward to seeing each fall as it decorated the banks. It seems to me that there was much less of it last year, and, knowing it was toxic at that point, I was happy for the environment. I must admit, that I looked with delight at its beauty when I saw it again this year, but also realized, with horror, that it has returned with a vengeance - there is so much of it!  I wonder what plants and animals it has removed from our environment.

Loosestrife has also led me to some reflection on the allure of beauty.  There was a German song I learned in college called Die Lorelei.  It told the tale of a siren in a river who lured sailors in a river, so they forgot about steering their vessels, and found themselved doomed to destruction.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of alluring beauty.  If we see the 'loosestrife in our lives', do we want to transplant it?

So, I have asked myself: "What is the loosestrife in my life"?  What beauty draws me, at times, so forcefully that I forget what is productive and meaningful for myself and others?  How do I keep my focus on the one Beauty, that of the love of Jesus Christ for me, as the Beauty that I seek with my heart and my life?  Knowing the lure of the 'loostrife seeds' in this world, I know that there is a need for daily discernment and prayer, so that my focus is centered on Jesus.  And, the good news is that, with the help of Jesus, I do not need to have my life invaded and conquered by the allure of the 'loosestrife'.  I can look at the beautiful with respect, but claim the true and helpful beauty to be part of my life.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Horror of Human Trafficking

Let Us Eradicate Human Trafficking

One of the issues which the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary have tried to address in the past few years has been that of Human Trafficking.  This summer I read the book: The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today and it is a sad commentary on the amount of human trafficking which has been supported in the United States in this century.  There are three types of human trafficking and slavery in the US today:  Sex trafficking, labor trafficking and domestic house-slave trafficking.  Most of the sex trafficking is trafficking of women and children, and I have been horrified to realize that so many men, frequently wealthy, support this industry - through paying for pornographic videos of trafficked women, through "gentlemen's clubs", through massage parlors, etc.  I am aware that there have been efforts to educate law enforcement personnel to recognize incidents of trafficking in our neighborhoods, and to ensure that trafficked victims are not jailed for crimes such as prostitution, or illegal entry into our country, when, in fact, they have been essentially kidnapped and forced into performing these actions.

The RSHM have had some workshops on Human trafficking and have put some information on our website:

A Workshop: Human Trafficking: the Price We pay with input from trafficked persons

I personally cannot imagine what it would be like to be a sex slave, a labor slave or a domestic slave, with no control over my life and living in a constant state of torture with little opportunity to escape.  Yet, this is the state of trafficked persons, whom we often think of as being in other countries, but who live in large numbers in the U.S.  The RSHM belong to a few organizations to help stop the traffickers, such as the New York Anti-Trafficking Coalition on the East Coast and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking on the West Coast.  However, some recent statistics from the U.S. Department of State indicate that there is much work to be done to identify and prosecute traffickers and help those who have been trafficked.  The process is long and hard, and often freed trafficked persons are merely released with no help in order to regain their lives.  However, I was pleased to see anti-trafficking blogs, such as A Heart for Justice which gives some insightful suggestions for those who wish to help.

This trafficking situation is so big, yet so hidden, that I feel almost powerless to fight it.  Yet, I know that conquering this evil can and must be done, even if in baby steps.  It is important to use the power of education to teach young men and women the value of respect for one another and to stop them from relying on naive decisions.  It is not easy, yet we can support one another in the battle.  The main players for the abolition of trafficking may be our politicians to turn their eyes to the problem, our pro-bono lawyers and social workers to help, and ourselves to nag our politicians to help our country be more proactive against traffickers.  And, if we have financial resources, we can help to sponsor those organizations which are trying to help trafficked victims to regain their lives and their dignity.  And all of us can pray.  These are great resources, and all of us can take a part dependent on our skill.  So, let's both use our skill and storm heaven for the conversion of traffickers and the protection of the trafficked persons. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ordinary for me is extraordinary for the destitute

I spent a week at Cormaria to enjoy our sisters who were working there, to take some new photographs for the Cormaria website, to help out if needed and to enjoy the beauty of the scenery.

This photo is only one of the beautiful views outside Cormaria, and I found myself thankful to God for this experience of being surrounded by beauty.  There were flowers, wild free-growing flowers in many places around the property, and views of Sag Harbor that were exquisite from sunrise to sunset, as well as on cloudy days and sunny days.  I loved the flowers so much that I did a youtube video.

As I was resetting one of the tables in the dining room at Cormaria, I looked at some simple things as a salt and pepper shaker and a sugar dispenser, and I realized how ordinary these things are for me in my everyday life.  And I thought of some of the destitute in sub-Saharan Africa, or people who are living in the tent cities in Haiti as a result of the earthquake.  The following are "ordinaries" for me, for example...


As I thought about these things, and other things I personally consider a normal, even essential part of my life, I could not imagine what it would be like to live without them - sleeping in a tent on the ground, unable to use electricity, being without shelter.

I am always incredibly grateful for the beauty that I have experienced and the beauty that surrounds me.  It is not so often that I remember gratitude for the ordinary.  So, I take this moment to thank God for these extraordinary things for the destitute which are ordinary for me - towels, a bed, an iron, a toilet, clean dishes and cooking and eating utensils, a wonderful bed and shelter.  And I realize, looking at news reports and documentaries, and hearing the experiences of some missionaries, how far the poor are from the UN millenium goals.  And then I reflect on the other experiences of some of our sisters who work with the poor - they are so often willing to offer a seat on their chairless floor, to greet them with a smile and to share the little they have.

I have so much to be grateful for, and so much to learn from the poor.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ordinary Time and a butterfly...

There are times when ordinary time can be extraordinary.  I had the opportunity to make an 8 day retreat at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania.  For many years, I have brought my camera with me when I make a retreat because the photographs bring back memories of the time I have spent on "vacation" with my God.  I took this photograph one day when I was walking down a lovely path - and I noticed the thistle flower.  Thistles are not terribly appealing in and of themselves, but I find the flowers very beautiful.  There were several tiny butterflies (or maybe they are moths) quickly flitting from one flower to another of the many wildflowers that were in this particular area.  Then, all of a sudden, this creature gently perched on the lovely purple flower - in fact, it perched long enough for me to look at it with wonder, and focus on it with the long-distance close-up lens.  I had no idea how clear the picture was until I saw it on the computer!

Somehow, the thistle reminds me of myself, as does the butterfly.  I can give the appearance of being prickly, or thinking of myself as unable to be reached by God in my prayer, and yet, the thistle flower reminds me that God has created me in his own image.  Not only that, but God has created all of us in his image.  The thistle flower would not be showing its beauty if it was not attached to its roots and to the rest of the plant.  So, by its flowering, it leaves itself open to a 'visitation'.  I did note that the butterfly landed on the flower and not the catchy part.  The flower left itself open to the freedom of the visitor, not to act as a trap or a nuissance.

The butterfly reminded me of myself. During my retreat I flitted from plant to plant, to trees and tree roots, to wheat fields, to the swimming pool, to a rolling green lawn, to a chapel, to my room, having a grand time with my friend Jesus. But in between the many flittings, I also remained in gentle, quiet, contemplation of Jesus who looked at me as I am, seeing all the beauty and the prickles, challenging me to be open to see myself in His eyes as well as to see those with whom I live and minister with in his eyes as well.  This led me to a big surprise.  What I saw was predominantly beauty; I recognized more gifts than faults.  And when I saw prickles, I also saw Jesus saying "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."  And I was included in this!

I wandered with the resurrected Jesus in my prayer.  What a great friend!  But, as the apostles and Thomas, I saw his wounds from which he did not flinch.  And Jesus saw my woundedness and I felt ashamed.  But there was no shame in the eyes of Jesus.  I believe he was reminding me that His wounds are His, and my wounds are mine.  His whole being seemed to proclaim that He loves me with all of my woundedness just as I am - and He loves my trying to know and love him better, as well as to love and know others better just as He does.  The woundedness is not an issue upon which His eyes focus, but rather on my prayer, which stems from our RSHM constitutions and a George Harrison long-ago song..."My sweet Lord, I really want to know you...I really want to go with you" 

And I found Jesus to be a true and faithful friend as I wandered through the mystery of the road to Emmaus and found that I recognized Him in the beauty around me, and the entire spirit of the retreatants at Wernersville.  In fact, I found that rather than walking where I had planned, I got lost on the property and travelled to find more unexpected beauty - wildflowers which popped up around the base of a tree which had been chopped down. What could have appeared to be death or destruction was a promise of life to come!  And it came as I allowed myself to enjoy the loveliness of the road I had not planned to travel.

Somehow, as a result of this retreat, I am more aware of Jesus' friendship than ever before.   I also began to recognize the ways in which Jesus never barged in or intruded into my life, but, rather, He has always approached with freedom, inviting my freedom to welcome Him.  And His main expectations seem to be to call me His friend, to recognize my gifts, and to help me to see with His vision.  Sometimes it is to see the large picture of the beauty around me, and sometimes it is to use the closer lens of the eyes of my heart.  I pray that I may learn more and more to use Jesus' lens to view the world and all of creation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reflections on the Feast of Pentecost and the Gift of the Spirit

I have looked forward to the Feast of Pentecost since these tiny white flowers appeared on our lawn a few weeks ago.  I am not sure what they are, or how they grew on the lawn, for none of my community planted them, but they seemed a lovely surprise.  I searched the web and I think they are called Star of Bethlehem.  They evidently grow from a bulb (probably planted by a local squirrel), but our local ravenous deer ate them the next day, so I couldn't check the roots.  If they are Star of Bethlehem, they are evidently a quickly propagating wildflower.  And, isn't that just like the Holy Spirit!  The Spirit comes to me, most frequently, by surprise!  And I hope, the effects of the Spirit with me and with others in the world propagates very rapidly (and doesn't have a fattened deer to whisk away the good effects).

The Spirit, of course, entered my life through the gift of the sacraments and through the gift of my religious profession.  I am aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our community room when we pray together each morning.  As we share our prayer and reflections, it is so clear that each person receives the gifts she needs in a different way as we reflect on the liturgy of the day together.  And this is a source of great nourishment for each of us in community together.

I certainly know this Person of the Trinity through Scripture and Liturgy, but also through the wonder and awe I experience in creation.  When I took this photograph I had not seen a rainbow for very man years.  I was on an 8 day silent retreat, and was filled with cosmic wonder and awe at the beauty of the sky, the inner reverence I experienced, and the reality that I was not alone in the enjoyment of this silent exquisite sky event. It was a delightful way to know and feel the presence of the Spirit in the "great outdoors" as all was transformed for a few minutes.

Another quiet Spirit experience for me is having the time to look at the the utter simplicity of a daisy.  When I looked closely at my picture for the first time, I noticed that there was a small insect on one of the left petals, and that the petals were not "perfectly spaced".  Yet I experienced it as beautiful.  Somehow, I realized I was being reminded that simplicity in this very complex world is very important, that neither I nor anyone else is perfect, and that all of us can be beautiful just as we are.  But to recognized that on an every day basis really requires the gifts of the Spirit in great abundance.  It is so easy to become annoyed with petty things, to criticize the imperfect in others and to lose compassion for all.  How different the world would be if all of us remembered the simple daisy.

When I was collecting my thoughts to write this blog entry, I looked at some photographs I had taken at our General Chapter in Rome a few years ago.  I had entitled this photograph: :Active Listening:"  I have experienced Active Listening and have attempted it.  This type of listening means listening to the other person without thinking about what I want to say while she is talking - i.e. not interrupting her communication by focussing on my thoughts, but rather giving my total attention to her.  It is far simpler than agreeing or disagreeing.  It is non-judgmental listening.  I believe that is how the Holy Spirit listens to each one of us - really listens.  The Spirit hears our delight, our groaning, our intercessions, our hopes.  I have been listened to in this way in some personal relationships, and it is a very life-giving experience.  And, I believe that is the way the Spirit is with each of us.  Of course, it helps if we take time to listen actively to the Spirit as well.

This experience can take the form of gratitude for great joy, comfort in the time of great trial, hope for the future, compassion for the marginalized, being fascinated with God.  It can be sudden with a big Ah-Ah; or it can be as silent as the flutter of a butterfly's wings.  For the Spirit knows when we need a WOW! or a pervasive gentle silence.

This is what I celebrate today.  HAPPY PENTECOST!

I put together a video of my reflections on the gift of the Spirit on our RSHM web site at:

If you have 4 minutes, find a quiet spot and view it with or without the accompanying music.  May the Spirit speak to you in whatever way you need God's presence!