Opportunities for immersion experiences abound for students during their spring breaks. Some travel to other countries. Others to unfamiliar places here in the U.S. Nowadays they call it service learning. Eyes are opened to another reality. Usually much more is received than given.
In mid-March, I had my own spring break immersion experience. As part of the preparation to launch the Global Sisters Report, I travelled to Berkeley, Calif., to make contacts, meet with the folks at the Jesuit School of Theology and learn more about their Women of Wisdom and Action Initiative. It was an immersion into a microcosm of the Global Sisters Report.
My eyes were opened to the global nature of sisterhood. In only a few days in Berkeley I met sisters from 15 different countries. One night over pizza six of us shared stories, all of us from different countries: Slovakia, Uruguay, Malaysia, Philippines, Portugal and the U.S. When I asked the young sisters from the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity about living in a multicultural community, they joyfully responded, “You should see what we eat for breakfast!” They were honest about the challenges of understanding different cultures, communication and just the daily bumping into one another that comes with community living. But they also reflected on how this experience had helped them in relating to others, especially in their ministries. I admired their witness of living a microcosm of what we all hope for our global world.
My eyes were opened to the diversity of the histories and developments of religious life that we will be exploring as part of Global Sisters Report. One congregation began in the United States and its members are primarily located here. Others began in the U.S. but have sent sisters to other countries and now have provinces there. These experiences are changing the way congregations think and act. One sister from India just finished serving on the general leadership team of a U.S. congregation. Several congregations originated in Europe and sent missionaries to the U.S. in the 1800s to either found new congregations or U.S. provinces. The congregation of one sister from Vietnam was founded in France and has no sisters ministering here in the U.S. The others I met from Vietnam belong to a diocesan congregation, an international congregation and a secular institute. Several sisters could be considered present-day missionaries to the U.S. Likewise, the lifespan of congregations varied: one tracing its history back to 1650 while another was founded in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1978 and was approved in 2000 as a new form of consecrated life with branches for women, men and married couples.
What touched me in the varied encounters was the commonality: a quest for God, deep faith, zeal for service, dedication to creatively building the reign of God, desire for the liberation of women and all people, and a sense of gratitude and joyfulness.
I was immersed in graced energy for the journey of Global Sisters Report that lies ahead! Indeed, eyes were opened. Much was received.
[Jan Cebula, OSF, is liaison to women religious in the United States for Global Sisters Report.]