Sisters Challenging Me To Think More!

by | Jul 28, 2021 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

If you went to Catholic school…

You have lots of memories. But all our memories are not the same! The memories may be very mixed – nostalgic for some, yet painful for others. Chances are they vary according to what decade or era you went to Catholic school.

The Catholic schools I went to over half a century ago (!) were different from those of today. In my day they were all staffed by nuns. Some were fun, others were dreaded. I suspect the same could be said of those who attended Catholic schools staffed primarily by dedicated laypeople.

No matter what era or even whether we went to a Catholic school, I suspect the teachers we remember most favorably were the ones who taught us to think.

A recent article in the National Catholic Reporter about Catholic nuns today challenged me to think: Frontline sisters say job is to empower the vulnerable, not to speak for them.

The article presents some highlights from an international webinar organized by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). The organization represents about 600,000 sisters and nuns from 80 countries worldwide. The webinar focused on Advocacy.

Here are some thought starters they wrestled with. They seem quite important in our efforts for efforts to change.

What “voice of the poor” means

Kenyan Sister Denatus Lili, former designate to United Nations’ special commission for Africa and Vice Coordinator of Religious Against Human Trafficking, said,

“We have been called by the Holy Father to stand with the marginalized, not to be their voice, but to build their capacity to voice their own concerns,” Lili said, saying she believes the role of women religious is “not being mouthpieces for the vulnerable, but allowing the vulnerable to state their issues.”

She believes simply “dishing out money and food is not the solution, but empowering individuals to voice their own needs” is what makes the difference and is what can change communities.

Australian Sister Angela Reed, Head of Mercy Global Action, which works with victims of human trafficking, said she believes advocacy means giving a voice back to “those who are silenced,” and making an effort “to rectify injustice.”

Advocacy requires encounter

Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director for Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, has been described as Pope Francis’s “favorite nun” due to her work with migrants along the US-Mexico border.

Speaking from personal experience from her work along the border, Pimentel said she believes advocacy is linked to encounter, and that it’s not possible to advocate for a person or group without getting to know them and taking the time to listen to their needs and concerns.

“I encourage you to get close to people, listen to them, find out where you are needed,” she said, because “it is only when we allow ourselves to get close enough to see… it is only then that we will see.”

Pimentel said that when she sees the faces of the men, women, and children she meets “whose faces bear the scars of abuse,” it inspires her “to do more.”

“I make sure the world notices the people who are struggling in our midst, the people I encounter every day. When I speak, I want to make sure the world notices them,” she said.

Members of the various branches of the Vincentian Family and especially the SVDP and its long tradition of visiting the voiceless in their homes certainly put flesh on these words.

What challenges me

  • I must broaden my definition of advocacy to include empowerment.
  • Given my age and health, encounter means paying more attention to the stories of those who have found their voice.