Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ prayer intention for religious sisters and consecrated women.
During this month of February, Pope Francis shares an intention close to our own hearts—namely he prays for us as he says: We pray for religious sisters and consecrated women; thanking them for their mission and their courage; may they continue to find new responses to the challenges of our times. We are quite aware of our own roles and contributions across our congregational history and often reflect upon what might be our own gift to the future. So, let us look beyond ourselves, to the broader picture of religious women throughout the Church. Let us consider this panorama of consecrated women through the lens of mission, courage in action and responses to the challenges of our time.
Thank them for their mission
The following quotations are taken from the Global Sisters Report.
“Our life as mission calls us to consider the quality of our whole lives, not just what we “do.” The way we are present to our own sisters in community is as much of the essence of ministry as whatever service we offer to this fractured world. ” Sister Brenda Peddigrew, Sister of Mercy
As members of the Congregation of Jesus, mission—the service of others experiencing hunger, thirst, nakedness, violence, injustice or sickness—lies at the very heart of our spirituality. Our mission is to “find God in all things” not only in holy places, but also in ordinary life, “to refer all to God”. Sister Mercy Shumbamhini, Congregation of Jesus
We may also consider the fact that mission could be so very challenging. American Sisters educated African Americans at a time when it was wrong, and in some places illegal to do so. Two such women are Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, a poor, Creole immigrant from Haiti and Saint Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia socialite and the richest heiress in America. While they seem so different, the two shared the same mission of battling racism, establishing the first orders to help African-American women enter the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis also calls on the Church to thank religious women for their courage. Let us consider the courage displayed by many consecrated women over time. Much of this information was gleaned from an article from the African Sisters Education Collaborative.
Many American women’s orders came to the United States fleeing tyranny in France, Ireland and Great Britain. Because of this, Sisters were fearless pioneers that carried out their service while taking on mobs, riots, war, disease, discrimination and so much more.
In the 1800s, Catholics in America faced many attacks, rooted in the anti-Catholic attitudes that British Protestants brought to the American colonies. Mobs burned down schools and other Catholic institutions. Priests and Sisters were attacked and even killed. Yet, by the mid-1800s, Catholicism was the largest religion in the United States but still faced attacks. One can consider some of the personalities among religious women who showed great courage.
Sister Blandina Segale, a Sister of Charity, travelled alone to the unexplored lands of the American frontier on dusty trails and railroads. She spent much of her life as a missionary serving in the Southwest among cowboys, rustlers, and land sharks.
The American Civil War is said to be the turning point of anti-Catholic attitudes. Much of this is owed to Catholic Sisters, who turned their convents into hospitals to care for sick and injured soldiers. Religious women took over disease-ridden public hospitals, caring for soldiers infected with cholera and other deadly diseases. American soldiers respected the discipline and fearless attitude of the Sisters.
Sister Maura Clarke, a Maryknoll Sister, served as a missionary in El Salvador, where a movement was underway to reform the country and there was a lot of political and religious unrest. She was ultimately killed there during the Cold War while fighting for a movement she strongly believed in.
Sister Dorothy Stang, of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND), was a missionary who was assassinated in the Amazon region of Brazil in 2005. She had lived in the country for nearly four decades and was known as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest. Sister Dorothy was outspoken in her efforts and often received death threats from loggers and land owners.
So we see that the Holy Father is justified in desiring to give thanks for the work of women religious while recognizing their courage in difficult times and circumstances. Finally, he asks that all pray for enlightenment for Sisters everywhere as they strive to find new responses to the challenges of our times. We again turn to the Global Sisters Report for some input.
“We are to persevere, to be patient and meek. To adopt a sense of humor and be ready for joy, to boldly make an impact on this world, and to have passion for the poor: These are virtues that enlighten us and make our lives holy—”whole”. Sister Thomas Limacher, Sister of the Holy Cross
“In his message to his order, St. Francis of Assisi speaks of beginning again, a call to continuous renewal, through daily practice of virtue, until we hit the mark. Every day is an opportunity to change, to be better. He told us that we must persevere in doing good. This is our mission going forward.” Sister Henrietta Eziashe, Franciscan Sisters of Glasgow
May these voices and examples coming to us from other places and other times inspire us to be and do all that Pope Francis and the Church dream for us to be, all that they need us to be.