For as long as there have been Christians, women have been in the forefront when it comes to serving the body of Christ. In fact, according to the Gospels, it was a group of women – Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Susanna, as well as unnamed others – who financially supported Jesus’ ministry and cared for his needs.
In the generations that followed, many Christian women became exemplars of charity and faith. Fabiola built a hospital in Rome, cared for patients and later built a hospice for the poor. Helena, Constantine the Great’s mother, spent her wealth making donations to churches in order the help the poor. In the sixth century, Radegund, Queen of the Franks, provided shelter and food for the sick and often served as their nurse.
Religious life began in the second to third century, and most of the modern apostolic congregations arose after the Reformation. The greatest number of them were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today’s women religious are living the legacy of their foremothers. Impelled by the Gospel, these some 710,000 women care for the least of among us, ready to meet daunting problems with humility and fervor. Choosing a life of prayer, community and service, the sisters share their ideas, visions and unique charisms in order to share Christ’s love with the world.
They built enviable networks of schools and health care systems in the United States and have served the poor and the sick around the world. Catholic sisters have always met the needs of the times, as they do today.
Women religious are one of the most important networks in the fight against human trafficking, which has affected an estimated 2.5 million people, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
For millions of refugees fleeing violence and oppression in their homelands, Catholic sisters are a key part of their ability to build new lives in new lands.
In Africa, where the World Health Organization reports that HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases make up nearly a third of all illness, sisters serve as doctors and medical assistants, many with a particular focus on HIV/AIDS. Sisters run nursing schools to equip the next generation of medical professionals and orphanages for children who have lost their parents to disease.
So, why sisters?
Because their stories are the stories of the Holy Spirit at work. Because they have changed and continue to change our world. Because for millions of people around the globe, the sisters and their commitment to the gospel have been the tangible arms of the church.
Like Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Susanna and the others, today’s women religious have chosen a life of devotion to Christ. They have left behind homes and families, taking vows of poverty, obedience and chastity in order to fully live the Gospel. It is in recognition of this legacy that Global Sisters Report brings focused attention to their work and provides a platform for their voices.