Akron Interfaith Advocates: Melissa Altman
Friday night, we went to the Peter Maurin Center on South Main Street in Akron to attend a gathering organized by Ms. Kathryn Ress on behalf of the Akron Interfaith Immigration Advocates where we had a delicious Hispanic dinner and engaged in a community dialogue with Ms. Melissa Altman, who is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner working in El Salvador.
As its mission statement on its website tells us, the "Maryknoll Lay Missioners is a Catholic organization inspired by the mission of Jesus to live and work with poor communities in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, responding to basic needs and helping to create a more just and compassionate world."
In the course of the evening, Ms. Altman talked about the ministry that she and her husband, Mr. Peter Altman, have engaged in over the last five years. For the first couple of years, they lived in a semi-rural community outside of Cojutepeque where they organized education and recreation programs for youngsters. Then they moved with their two children to Zaragoza where she now serves at ACOMUJERZA which her bio describes as "a cooperative that gives women mostly mothers, an opportunity to earn a living by producing and selling clothing."
Ms. Altman went on to tell us that her husband, Peter, now works in a shelter called "Casa de la Misericordia" or "House of Mercy" where he provides pastoral care for migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons who cannot leave the building out of fear of gangs. Subsequently, they seek asylum in the United States, a legal process that Ms. Altman says takes three to eight months to be completed.
(for more about the Altmans and their meaningful work please see their biographies on the "Maryknoll Lay Missioners" website at https://www.mklm.org/who-we-are/our-people/missioners/melissa-altman/ and https://www.mklm.org/who-we-are/our-people/missioners/peter-altman/)
Many of the people in attendance were associated with Akron Interfaith Immigration Advocates who, as explained to us by Mr. Gerry Mullaney, administer to the needs of immigrants (both documented and undocumented) many of whom are experiencing trauma.
Among the attendees was Sister Catherine Walsh of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, who, along with Sister Sheila Maria Tobbe, OSU, and Ms. Mary Stevenson, Executive Director of the COAR Peace Mission knew quite a bit about Central America and its often grim conditions so we learned a lot as the evening went on.
This is not to say that everything was bleak; in fact it was said that even though there was a lot of corruption among the public officials, the people there, such as the women that Ms. Altman works with at the cooperative, are well-informed about current events and working very hard to create a better life for themselves and there exists a genuine sense of community.
Subsequently Ms. Altman testified about how rewarding it is to do the work that she and her husband engage in. What's more, she felt even more optimistic because so many people cared enough to turn out this evening to hear her story.