Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Welcome to St Athanasius

Patty and Justine
Sr. Justine outside St Athanasius Convent
On August 1, 2014, eleven sisters at St Athanasius Convent in Brooklyn, New York became an even dozen as they welcomed Sr. Justine Senapati into their community and their hearts.  Sr. Justine, an Annecy sister from India, is the new Representative of the Congregations of St Joseph at the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization. 

Sr. Justine outside St Athanasius Convent
Justine and Betty
In early September, I came for my first on-site visit and it was obvious that Justine and the St Athanasius sisters were meant to be together.  The easy give and take, gentle teasing about Justine's preference for spicy food, and helpful advice has helped Justine make a smooth transition into her new position.  Whether it is a formal meal or just picking up breakfast, meaningful conversation occurs.  Justine noted that  coming from a large family and larger local communities in India, she really appreciates having other sisters around with whom to talk.  She has obviously picked up the rhythm of the house and fits right in.
Mass in the community chapel

Enjoying Indian food with the CSJ-UN-NGO staff, from left to right, Srs. Marianne, Justine and Barbara
She has met Indian nationals in the parish too who have welcomed her to their home for a meal and speak with her after Sunday mass.  The sisters keep introducing her to other people they know who have a national origin of India such as doctors and priests.  During my visit we went to an Indian Restaurant twice for lunch.

Sr Justine really enjoys this peaceful oasis in the middle of Brooklyn
Joining with the other sisters in cleaning up after a birthday celebration
St Athanasius is a very nice convent with a spacious community room, large kitchen with heavy duty appliances (with 12 that is needed), smaller parlors for visiting, a chapel, a small but lovely walled in outdoor space, and large dining room.  Justine has commented to me how important it is for her to be in touch with the earth, so having this small outdoor space in the middle of Brooklyn where she can see flowers and trees is very important.  

Justine's spacious bedroom
Justine has a large bedroom with an attached bathroom.  As I knocked on her bedroom door I could hear Indian music playing in the background.  The sisters at St Athanasius really appreciate what Justine shares about her native country, their customs, foods (she tones down the spices for the sisters), and her congregation.  As she was describing the number of younger sisters in India and how Justine is considered older in India, they were surprised.

Justine uses the subway like a pro
It is hard to imagine coming to another culture, speaking a different language, and really not knowing anyone very well.  How lucky Justine is to have such a welcoming group where she fits right in and can feel so at home.  There are so many values among the Sisters of St Joseph that cut across cultures.  One of the great things I get to experience in my position as Executive Director of the US Federation, is the "at-homeness" of being in so many different congregations across the globe.  I want to offer a special thanks to the Sisters of St Joseph of Brentwood who have welcomed Justine into their community life, as the Brentwood sisters at St Patrick Convent welcomed Griselda when she was the CSJ-UN-NGO Representative.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ongoing Efforts at the Border

I received this email from Sr. Ida this morning that I wanted to share with you.  Patty

I don't know how interested you might be in the "intertwineing" of our CSJ communities, but some facts might be helpful.   From July 7, to August 15, I was "housemother" to the sisters who came to El Paso to help in the refugee/immigrant shelters there and in Las Cruces, N.M.  serving thousands of refugees sent to El Paso by ICE (Immigrant Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security).  Many sisters living in El Paso were already serving in the shelters since the national emergency began in early June.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, desiring to make a contribution to assist in the emergency,  offered their house as a residence for any sisters who could come and help for a period of time, long or short.  It is a ten bedroom house that the congregation was considering selling. In July the last sister of the community had moved out; nevertheless, a number of circumstances, including the need for the house in this national emergency helped the Concordias decide to keep the house.

As there was no one of the Concordias able to be in the house at this time, knowing that my familiarity with El Paso  and the house, Sr. Marcia Allen, president of the Concordias accepted my offer to care for the house and the hospitality services needed until someone could be found from that community.   Through the goodness of  our province, I was able to go to El Paso on July 7, rent a car (which was invaluable in many, many ways) and "housemother" this beautiful, centrally located house which the Concordias had so generously offered.

 During my time at the wonderful, well cared-for house of the Concordias, we were able to house IHMs from Scranton, Pennsylvania; Sacred Hearts from Athens, Georgia; an Adrian Dominican from Key West, Florida; Fred and Pat Malcolm from Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sinsinawa Dominicans from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and CSJs from St. Louis.

 While I was in El Paso, phone calls were many and constant from those wanting to to know how they could be of help. Yesterday I received a call from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, wondering how they could offer a donation to assist with some of the expenses of caring for the refugees.  It was my joy to be able to direct their help to this effort which enables so many families and sisters and communities to respond to Jesus' call to  all of us to welcome the stranger.

If I can be of any help with further information, Patty, let me know.



P.S. Missy (Margaret Mary Ljungdahl) who was a long time resident at the house and is now working at the Concordia's center for long-term care, was able to be released for a bit of time. She doesn't know for how long.  She came last Monday night and I left Friday.  Marcia thinks they'll have someone temporary until January and then a community will come down.  I go back in a few weeks for an Annunciation House board meeting and will stay in the house for a few days again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Crisis at the Border from Sr. Sandy Straub, St Louis

S. Sandy  Straub’s Diary -Day 2 On the Border Saturday July 12,2014
Sr Sandy Straub is writing to us from the border where she is volunteering at Annunciation House (see their excellent video on our home page to learn what happens there)

Srs. Sandy and Ida

Off to the center we went, Pat and Fred and me.  Ida had many Housemothers chores to do!  And I mean many.  We are currently five here with 2 more coming tomorrow and S. Marsha Allen and companion on Tuesday. The center was very busy with single mothers and children.  They mainly came from El Salvador and Honduras. The center is very well organized with many bilingual church related volunteers.  Their spirit is contagious and welcoming.
 I happened to say to someone ..I was free to go.  Quickly, the response was, you are skilled,  blessed and sent!  I am remembering this as I walk the halls and meet the families.  I have the thought that I am giving the ministry of presence to whomever I meet.  Those thoughts ..sent by CSJ and friends, joyful companions, good place to come home to, bubbled up in my gratitude prayer this morning.
 Let me share some stories from today:

 I talked with a 20year old mom who came with her one month old baby girl, Victoria.  She is desperate to make something for her baby.  She said when she got to the Mexican border 30 people were clumped together to cross the river.  The water was waste high and filthy. She carried her baby, paid the Mexican and came over to be met by border patrol.  She was processed sent to El Paso.  None are told where they are going...I think that is for protection.  She is off to Houston by bus 12 hour ride to be with her sister.

 Another mother with her pre teen girl told a similar story. However when she arrived on our border they had her throw everything away.  She got to keep only her bible.  Unfortunately her daughter had a Guadalupe medal and chain in a bag and that was lost when they had to leave their belongings .  She teared up when she talked about leaving her very sick mother with her17 year old daughter.  She will go to New York by bus with very little.

  A happy story... Two young women brought craft things for the guests to make.  They spread it all out on the table and the mothers began to make cards and bracelets, using glitz and beads.  One woman said she had nothing and she wanted to make a pretty bracelet to look pretty for her husband who was meeting her at the plane.   And she looked radiantly happy and pretty when she left.
 I have never been hugged so much since Peru!!!!!!  So much more in one day to talk about , but I need to go.   Ida is a delight and what a model!

  Love Sandy

Crisis at the Border from Our Sisters in Los Angeles

US/Mexican Border
We have all heard of the plight of many women and children who are crossing the border in Texas, California and Arizona.  They are coming mostly from Central America.  During one of the retreats held in June, it was suggested for some of us to be “first responders."  Sr. Loraine Polacci  and Isabel Malloy, CSJA from San Francisco, have responded by volunteering for  the month of July to work with Catholic Community Services in Tucson and Nogales with their program of migrant  women and children.  We as a province also have sent a monetary donation to the Catholic Community Service in Tucson.

Loraine and Isabel volunteered and received the following response from Tucson:

Your Sisters are needed!    I was at a meeting today with Bishop in the lead, the Mayor and 20 plus others from agencies, MX Council, and so on. One thing came up, that the Border Patrol is mostly men…and so they don’t have enough women to take on the “womanly” care of the children that is needed – relationship wise.  Welcome to the Sisters!

From Loraine:

…Dear Theresa, Isabel and I arrived safely in Tucson Sat. afternoon.  Judy Bourg, SSND is staying overnight as well.  She works with the migrant center in Douglas, and once a month does the "water drop" at strategic migrant areas.  This morning Isabel went with her.  I am staying with Michelle Humke to sort out what we both know.  Michelle says there is a meeting at CSS tomorrow about the sheltering in Tucson around the 4th.

…Yesterday we went to Nogales to a Red Cross training.  Volunteers will assist unaccompanied youth make phone calls to family--in their home country or their relative who will accept them here---  Great training with very good guidelines to protect the volunteer as well as the youth. 

 …Last night we went to the catholic social services training.  Volunteers will accompany women, their children and pregnant women who have been dropped at the greyhound bus station, to get to the right bus. Also house overnight those whose bus does not leave until the next day.

It feels good to finally have something concrete to do.  We are going to the bus station today for some more training. 

 I am so grateful for your prayers and support. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

Crisis at the Border- Update from Sr. Judy Stephens- Concordia

 Mural painted by visitor to Columban Fathers house.  S. Esther
Pineda is seated
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas organized a trip to El Paso in early July to learn firsthand the reality of the situation at the border now.  The group included seven women:  a laywoman from Topeka, KS, a CSJ from Wichita, KS, and five CSJ’s from Concordia.

The week spent in El Paso was a powerful one.  Our visits to Annunciation House, Opportunity Center, the Farmworkers Center, the Columban Fathers and Pius X parish brought us into the
Detention Center for children in east El Paso.  We spent the
afternoon there with 35 children, ages 5 - 15
midst of the crisis of unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  We were able to spend time with children in the detention centers through a program organized by Pius X parish and immigration officials.  It was a heart-breaking but meaningful experience that we will not forget. 

The situation at the El Paso/ Juarez border is very fluid.  When ICE [Immigration & Customs Enforcement] has processed children who have been picked up by the Border Patrol and needs assistance providing for the children, they contact agencies willing to care for them until family members claim them or they are moved to Detention Centers.  These children are placed in process for deportation, unless they can prove before the immigration judge (which may be years from now) that they are refugees in need of asylum. For a while El Paso was overwhelmed with plane loads of children and was in dire need of volunteers.  When we left El Paso on July 8, the situation was improving.  Ruben Garcia from Annunciation House has been the contact person for ICE in this process. 
This group from Pius X parish in El Paso works with children from

Our convent at 1837 Grandview Ave. has been opened for volunteers.  Sister Ida Berresheim from Carondelet, St. Louis has generously offered to be there and coordinate activities.  She is currently on the board for Annunciation House and works closely with Ruben Garcia.

If you have interest in volunteering in El Paso, please contact S. Ida at 314-630-0210.  The phone number at the convent is 915-532-7452. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Meeting the President of ECOSOC

Thursday was the day for us to go into New York City and meet with the Austrian ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Martin Sadjik, who is the president of ECOSOC (The Economic and Social Caouncil).  We began the day with rain, fog and a bus delayed by 1½ hours because of mechanical problems.  Everyone was in good spirits while we waited for the bus, and Griselda, who had organized everything, adjusted the time schedule with the help of friends.

Sr. Griselda introduces Austrian
Ambassador Sadjik
The sun greeted us in New York City where we met with the president of ECOSOC  who spoke with us about the post-2015 UN agenda.  He began by noting that the economic divide between the developed and developing countries is narrowing while the economic divide between the wealthy and the poor in developed countries is widening. This economic inequity is one issue which cries out to be addressed.  He then went on to say that with the 2015 deadline to reach the Millennium Development Goals fast approaching, the UN is looking to the next steps.  An open committee has gathered priorities for the following 15 years, which embrace many needs not addressed by the MDG’s.  These include such things as urban development, life-long education and energy from sustainable sources, as well as many of the issues addressed in the MDG’s.  The areas of concern looking to 2030 will be 15 or 16 and articulated in what will be called Sustainable Development Goals and include many concerns left out of the Millennium Development Goals. 
Sr. Patty presents the Statement to the

After the talk by the Austrian ambassador, Patty Johnson presented the Statement of the Congregations of St. Joseph at the UN on Engagement in Action for Systemic Change with a view to sustainable development and gave Mr. Sadjik a copy.   Following this, during lunch, many of the group took advantage of his presence
Sr. Susan, Australia, speaks about
issues in East Timor
for informal conversation with him.  

On Tour at the U N
In the evening there was a little time to
walk around and explore New York
Later in the afternoon we had the opportunity for a guided tour of the United Nations, where we learned once again about the history and the work of the UN, while visiting the chambers where much of the work is done.  After the day of rich experiences we returned tired but happy to our Brentwood “home,” ready for some rest as we prepared for our last day together.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

From Contemplation to Action

Sr. Mimose from Haiti lights the candle
Sr. Griselda shows us the weaving
we have put together over the days
Wednesday morning was a time for the JPIC group to reflect on what they had heard and how their   Gathered around symbols which reflected the process of weaving a fabric from threads of different qualities and colors, Gloria Philip and Griselda Martinez Morales reflected on the great wealth of our diversity, which is both a challenge and a blessing.  After joining in a song from the Saint-Vallier community which was a call to be one, the group was invited to enter into their hearts while moving around the symbols   This was followed by an hour of silent reflection followed by a time of sharing what each held in her heart.
in silence. Then those gathered were led in a dance of weaving, hand to hand and eye to eye.
hearts were speaking.

Gathered around the computer from left
to right are Srs Rita (Argentina), Sr Jeannette
(Algeria), Sr Marie Pierre (Haiti) and Sr.
Graziella (Italy)
Sr. Jeannette from Algeria addresses
the group
In the afternoon, the group, gathered in language groups, addressed the question of what they as a  Every group had its own individual process and focus, with great variety in ideas while some suggestions were common to several groups.  Among the needs that were articulated were:  communication both within the group and with a broader public, a co-ordinating group to organize and carry the work forward, a kind of structure that would lead to action, greater collaboration and formation for our sisters in justice issues.  One table raised a question regarding how those gathered understood the concept of “working together.”  Does it mean collaborating on a single project, strategizing, developing documents and addressing together a single issue?  Or does it mean each one working in her own way, in her own context on a single topic the group has identified?
group needed to be for the life of the world.

These questions and insights will be brought to the table on Friday, when the threads will be drawn together and plans for the work of JPIC will be drawn up.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sister Margaret Mayce Presents on UN Dynamics

Dominican Sister Margaret Mayce, OP, presenting "Core Values" of Religious communities and NGOs, many at the UN (Monday, April 28th, Morning Session).

Day Three: Sharing words

Common English words which arose this morning from a meaningful time of sharing. The larger the word, the more common.

Words of the day in its entirety.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29th update: Estrategias y Conversaciones

Pictures from a day of learning, brainstorming and considering the work forward together.

Perspectives on UN Advocacy Tools

Afternoon questions for small discussion groups (gathered into common language groups):

Question #1:
  • Quels sont les domaines que les Soeurs de St Joseph devraient aborder ?
  • ¿Cuáles son los asuntos que las Hermanas de San José deberían abordar?
  • What issues do Sisters of St. Joseph have a special voice for?

Question #2:
  • Auxquels domaines ou problemes avons nous accès pour avoir l’information ou avoir une meilleure perspective?
  • ¿A cuáles asuntos o problemas tenemos acceso especial en cuanto a la información o para tener una mejor perspectiva?
  • What issues or problems do we have special access to information or a privileged perspective on?

Question #3:
  • Quelles sont les personnes cles dans notre pays? Qui sont les partenaires cles avec lesquelles nous devrions travailler?
  • ¿Quiénes son las personas claves en nuestros países? ¿Quiénes son los mejores colaboradores con que deberíamos trabajar?
  • Who are the key people in our countries? Who are the key partners we should work with?

Question #4:
  • Comment abordons nous les domaines ou problemes en termes des “Droits de l’homme”?
  • ¿Cómo podemos abordar estos asuntos o problemas en términos de “derechos humanos”
  • How do we talk about these issues or problems in terms of “human rights”?

Question #5:
  • Cooment pouvons-utiliser les instruments des Nations Unies, comme l’EPU (Examen Periodic Universel), les Rapporteurs Speciaux, le Conseil de Droits de l’Homme?
  • ¿Cómo podemos utilizar las herramientas de la ONU, por ejemplo: Los relatores especiales, el Consejo de Derechos Humanos?
  • How can we use these UN tools, like UPR, Special Rapporteur, Human Rights Council?

Responses from the groups:

Marissa (Argentina): Tragic and terrible. At first we had anxiety, a number of difficulties with the website, we couldn’t get it to work nor was it very user friendly. So we need to verbalize and express what happened for each one of us and what we understood. We thought we all understood the same but then realized we each had a different understanding. So we needed Griselda to be with us to give some concrete examples. So she explained how the mechanism of the UN works together in terms of how things are done. [Griselda takes over as the airline called about her lost suitcase].

Sr. Nilva (Brasil): After that tragic, comic experience, we did discover some of the tools available on that website. We discovered where the recommendations were located, who made them, which were accepted and rejected. We talked about the process at the grassroots level and how to move up to the higher levels and how to work with that process, then how to go back to the grassroots. It became concrete for us because Nilva was able to look at what was happening in her country and she found a summary of recommendations, those accepted and rejected, and what happened. So from there it was easier to see how to move from the standpoint of advocacy and lobbying at different levels. Where those embassies in terms of ours in relationship to other NGOs and through all the other Federations of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Everything is interconnected and we almost achieved it.

Sr. Anita (India): We spoke about our problems in India. 75% percentage of population lives in countryside and depends upon agriculture. We mostly do the natural process of agriculture. We don’t know from where these multinational corporations came from and the GMOs (genetically modified organisms). We don’t need any companies help or additions. These companies and the GMOs they appear in Indian countryside and everything has changed. They took control of our own seeds, the farmers and the land. We actually keep the seeds after the harvesting is over. But now we cannot keep anything with us because of these companies and genetically-modified seeds. Due to this company, all in Southern and Northern parts of India we have lost many fruit products and even farmers are committing suicide. It still continues and we say no to it. Still multi-national companies are strong. It was proposed to modify, genetically, a vegetable called prinja. We, the students, the farmers, the church leaders, almost the whole nation, were protesting against it, and we want none of it. We don’t know how long it will be. And the farmer says, “We don’t want any GMOs in India.”

The second thing, being a large country, full of rivers and natural resources, we actually do not utilize them carefully. But the companies buy our waters and deprive us from drinking water and utilizing them freely. We never had this kind of problem of only being able to get drinking water from purchasing it. The nuclear power plants and thermal plants - we actually do not need all these things, but in the name of development, the lands of the poor people are grabbed, there comes deforestation, they pollute the waters, everything is disturbed. ...

But as we Sisters of St. Joseph can join the global sisters, the NGOs which are really interested, same like us, and the signature campaign in the local, national and international levels. We can also cooperate with the press and doing a lot of paperwork, to inform everyone to know that what we are really going through and what we are really doing. I think our group believed that development doesn’t mean having everything, but we should live in communion with nature, fellow human beings, without having any racial, gender bias or caste and giving good health to everyone and eradication of poverty and everything that does good to human beings and nature.

Sr. Joan (Canada): We had a very good discussion with US issues, Australian issues and Canadian issues. Our first step is that we have to try to - I think at the beginning we are trying to struggle to get to one or two issues we can agree on. So we sought some help as we had different understandings at the table about the task we were to engage in. We liked the human rights framework to do an analysis of just about any issue we had identified and recognizing different capacities on the home front to analyze issues. So then we talked about the importance of building networks and gave some examples that were successful. And, then talked about how important it was to find vehicles to share our work as a CSJ justice committee. Again, recognize perhaps we need to find resources to get a savvy young person to help us share our work in different countries, perhaps more effectively using the website and other vehicles of social media. We talked about issues from human trafficking, immigration, resource extraction, the economy, poverty and we can’t take them all on so we didn’t quite get far enough to find those vehicles other than we like the framework.

Sr. Jeanette (Chad/Algeria): Here it is - we were talking together, for us this was a new discovery, this UPR (Universal Periodic Review, a tool at the UN). We mentioned that in order to use an instrument or mechanism we need to know it better. This for us involves information communication and follow-up. We also spoke about education around this new mechanism. So in order to discovery the situation and needs we have to discern and don’t know always how to do that. Because governments are always going to say or show something that is good for them, they are always going to show that good side (as the Sister was saying about GMOs). We also talked about the work at the grassroots level. They also gave an example from Madagascar of how the lands are taken out from under them for purposes of mining. So the question came up that whenever these situations arise should we go to the government or should we go to the NGO. We said that because we are at the grassroots level we need to bring the voices of the grassroots community. For us it’s very helpful to know more about the NGO so that at the NGO we’ll be able to participate in more advocacy and lobbying. We also spoke about the importance about building up that network, especially as Sisters of St. Joseph. Would anyone like to add anything?

Sr. Mimose (Haiti): From the beginning we had talked about this new mechanism - UPR - and it is something new for us. This will help us to become more informed about the treaties that our government has signed. And we are trying to carry out how we can better help the people and become better informed and organized.

Sr. Graziella (Italy): Our table was very small, a few people. We were immediately aware of the lack of knowledge that we had. And so the first thing we had to do was to increase our knowledge and understanding of what we were about. It was very interesting and important for us to know our reality through the documents that come to us through the UN. And we tried to see how we can insert ourselves into the larger reality. Our justice & peace group in Italy is just beginning, it is just a seed, just beginning to take shape. In order to really move and do more and have a wider influence, we need to begin to raise our own awareness and teaching other people the same thing. So that we will be able to move together with the Sisters and then to move with the laypeople we are working with. The second aspect is organization. ... So first of all we need a linker amongst ourselves, asking our Sisters in other countries to begin collaboration in other countries where they find themselves. Then we really need to come to know the reality, analyze it, and then move towards action. Working in each place, with other groups, who are working on these things as well. Up to this time we have worked on those themes and issues that have been raised in other international meetings. They are interpretative creation, violence against women, and immigration for us. We continue to work on these same topics. That’s it - grazie.

Sr. Sue (Canada): Well, Ken was taking notes for us but he wouldn’t speak for us. I have a few threads, so others can add. We started talking about the UPR process and we focused on the dialogues that can be created back in our home country. So we like the idea of using the process to create attention in the media or have grassroots dialogue about the issue and raise awareness that way to in order to create momentum for change. We talked about our strength as religious orders, from our perspective, in our ability to mobilize the grassroots, to stir awareness and dialogue, and the special role we can play in political advocacy, first because our congregations have built up a lot of credibility, based upon the history of our work in school systems, healthcare, or other areas. Also, politicians see us as a group that comes to talk about issues without a personal agenda. We talked about immigration and migrant workers, the hypocrisy of globalization (products, consumer goods, money can cross borders freely, but not people). We made links here with what is happening in each of our countries so we may know where we might collaborate with each other, where what is happening in Haiti might be something I want to bring to my government. We also made links to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers. That’s an area where no country who actually receives migrant workers has signed on to it, only countries that send migrant workers have signed on to it. So that’s an area where many of us here have work to do with our own governments before anything can happen at the UN.