Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Border Experience

Three Federation novices and four Sisters of St. Joseph embark on a life-changing journey

FROM LEFT: Sisters Kristine Fernandez, Judy Stephens, Jean McKinney, Mary Alice Collar,
Betty Suther, Ann Ashwood and Christina Brodie drove from Concordia, Kansas to El Paso, Texas
to learn about life, ministries, and charities along the border.

This April, four Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and three Federation novices left Concordia to go to El Paso, Texas, to visit our house at Grandview and experience the border and immigration issues first hand. We asked them to tell us how that trip impacted their views. You can find the novices’ stories on this page.

The Border Experience is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as a part of their commitment to Gospel living and nonviolence, which includes standing in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.

Participants stayed at the Sisters’ Grandview Convent in El Paso, Texas. Sisters Missy Ljungdahl and Donna Otter live there and help organize the experience while in El Paso. Sisters Christina Brodie, Judy Stephens, Ann Ashwood and Betty Suther staffed the experience. 

The trip offers a wide variety of experiences, depending on each visit. On this current expedition, participants spent time with Father Peter Hindes, 95, a Carmelite, and Sister Betty Campbell RSM in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Both have ministered extensively south of the border and were able to share their insights on immigration, poverty and injustice in the area.

The novices and Sisters also were able to speak with Sister Rita, a Sister of the Holy Spirit in San Antonio, who taught them about the Catalina Sewing Cooperative in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The co-op has been around for 29 years and helps the local women have a ‘micro business’ to support their kids.

Catalina also has a school to help the children with homework and has received 20 computers to help the children with computer skills.

The program has evolved over many years and is ministered through some Dominican and Adrian Dominicans, Franciscan Sisters among many others.

This is a wonderful ministry which helps the women become independent in taking care of their families.
Other stops included both religion-based and secular organizations that provide relief, legal advice, housing and other services on the border.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have been offering some sort of Border Experience since 1996.

Novices' Experience

Jean McKinney (Boston)

Federation novice Jean McKinney (Boston):

For my reflection on our border experience I will reflect on EL PASO.

EASTER: What an appropriate day to start! Throughout the trip there were many Easter moments.
LAND:  The Land where you stand makes a difference in how you live your life: long lines every day! You must face the unknown to go to work or visit family or friends. These simple tasks could take minutes or hours depending on what is happening at the border crossing into the USA.
POVERTY: Poverty exists on both sides of the border; in Colonias, people live on land where they have no utilities and no access to water. But as poor as they are, the people there have PRIDE in their homes.  And in the little space they have, they have carved out space for PRAYER to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
ABUNDANCE:  What amazed me was the abundance of love all around, shown by all who serve and all being served! Although I could not understand what was being said, I could feel the love.
SADNESS: Seeing all the suffering that people must live with every day, and recognizing the  sinfulness of the United States in sealing the borders — this sadness has moved me deeply! I will, however, SAVOR every moment spent at the border.
OPENNESS: The beauty of the open country now offers a very different perspective:A somber image of migrants on foot, walking hopefully, desperately — trying to reach the safety of the United States.

Federation novice Kristine Fernandez (Toronto): 
Kristine Fernandez (Toronto)

El Paso was an emotional roller coaster. I went from heartbreak to hope and joy all on the same day. It was heartbreaking to see and learn about how we treat migrant workers, refugees, people detained at the border. Amidst all this heartbreak we also encountered beacons of hope.  People who are working tirelessly and for no economic gain to stand up for and stand up with those who are being ill-treated.

Why is an abused woman who arrives at the U.S. border asking for asylum transported like a criminal in handcuffs and leg shackles to a federal  jail?

Why does a migrant worker get paid only 70 cents to fill a big tub of chili peppers?

Why does my heart break when I think of these people?
Mary Alice Collar (St. Louis)

Why does your heart not break when you hear about these people?

Federation novice Mary Alice Collar (St. Louis):

I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity to go to El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, to witness the tragedies happening at the border as well as meet so many dedicated people ministering to the many needs of the migrants/refugees fleeing horrific violence.

Each day I was filled with a multitude of emotions from deep sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness to hopefulness.

I would look into the eyes of frightened 4 and 5 year olds taken from their parents to a strange place (detention center.) Then I saw many volunteers at RICO ministries trying to infuse as much love as humanly possible into the children’s eyes.

I am proud of the southern border Bishops’ statement .

[This story originally appeared in The Messenger, a publication of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia]

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

International News via Our Rochester Sisters

SSJ Brazil Associates Forming
The spirit and mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Rochester is growing in Brazil. The first SSJ Associate commitment ceremony is expected to take place on Sunday, April 29 at Jesus of Nazareth in Jardim Curitiba, Goiania. Leadership Team members Sisters Marilyn Pray and Mary Ann Mayer will attend the ceremony as they will be in Brazil for their annual visit.  

Over the past year, Sisters Jean Bellini, Joana Dalva Alves Mendes, Maria José Monteiro de Oliveira and Maureen Finn have met regularly with a group of 18 lay men and women for prayer and
Our Potential Associates in Goiania
sharing of the SSJ spirit, spirituality and mission. The men and women have also spent time with the other Sisters missioned in Brazil. Most recently, the group took part in a day-long retreat to reflect on discerning their call to becoming Associates. The gathering was held in February on the Tuesday of Carnival, a national holiday in Brazil, and included a festive celebration.

It is not yet known how many of the 18 will decide to officially make the two-year commitment as an Associate. The Sisters in Brazil ask that you please keep these men and women in your prayers.

A Visit to Peru

From February 19-21, Sister Joana Dalva Alves Mendes had the opportunity to represent the Congregation (our Sisters from the Brazilian region) at the meeting of the leaders of SSJs who serve in Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting took place in Chincha, Peru and 15 sisters from 12 different congregations were present. As a result of their reflection they came up with the following possibilities or proposals:
  • To have common space/opportunity for initial and on-going formation: common novitiate, final vow preparation, sabbatical time (20-30 years of vows)
  • Intercongregational initiatives: common mission in places at the margins (in situations or places where others are not serving) for short or prolonged times
  • To open ourselves to the possibility of integrating with lay people who share our charism so that they can be protagonists also in our quest to incarnate the Gospel in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • To improve communication among ourselves making use of the means of communication available
  • To hold periodic meetings (every two years) with the leaders of the congregations present in Latin America
Aside from the meeting proposals, Sister Joana also wanted to share some of the personal reaction she had to the trip.

Reflection by Sister Joana Dalva Alves Mendes
My first opportunity to go to Chincha, Peru was in 2007 when the city, along with its surrounding areas, was devastated by an earthquake. I offered to help there, but discovered that my passport had expired. It was then that Sister Anne Marvin and our dear Suzana (Sister Sue Wills) went to Chincha and spent a year with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Pembroke.
Now, 11 years later, I had the opportunity to go there with another goal, but with the possibility of being in the place where Anne and Suzana lived such remarkable experiences. The opportunity for socializing and sharing experiences with Sisters of Saint Joseph from six countries was remarkable, but above all, I was moved by what remained of the marks of reality, still very precarious. Certainly Anne would have been better able to notice what improved, having been there in the time of chaos. But the appearance that remains, for someone, like me, who had the first contact more than a decade after the earthquake, is that very little has been done and there is much to rebuild.