Think locally, act locally: We are all neighbors

The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception share food from a cooking demonstration using local foods in the Itoga, Akarakumo and Badagry areas of Nigeria. (Henrietta Eziashi)

This month — the last month of the 2018-2019 panel — our sisters give us an intimate peek into their own neighborhoods and neighbors as they responded to this question:

Are there meaningful interactions with others for you, personally, or for your community in your neighborhood? If yours is a changing neighborhood, how are you responding to the changes?

Global Sisters Report would like to thank this group of sisters who participated on the 2018-2019 panel, and we hope they will continue to write for us as columnists. We all wish them well.

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Mary Hanrahan is a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dublin, Ireland, who ministered in teaching and administration in inner-city Dublin with disadvantaged teenage girls. She has served in leadership team and currently is employed as chaplain in a prison for men convicted of violent crimes.

Being neighbor is about relationship, trust, being known and accepted, being there to share joys and sorrows. A few years ago, one of the sisters in our small community of three drowned tragically. Our house was too small to host a wake, but we brought her coffin to our driveway because we wanted to honor her relationship with our neighbors and their relationship with her.

Arriving there, we opened the hearse and slid out the coffin so the gathered children could touch the wood and leave their lighted lanterns. The lantern is one of our congregation's symbols, and when we arrived home on the night of the tragedy, one of our very poor neighbors had placed a handmade lantern on our doorstep.

We shared our grief and vulnerability with our neighbors and continue to be supported by their love and understanding. Sometimes it can be challenging at the end of a long workday to find a lonely neighbor in the kitchen being supported by the other sister with whom I share community. Yet this is what being a neighbor is about.

Our founder, Nano Nagle, spent her evenings traveling the lanes of 18th-century Cork. Carrying only a lantern, she sought out the poorest and neediest of her time. She was known as "friend to the poor" and in our modern-day parlance is called a "mystic in the marketplace."

One of my neighbors was recently an inmate in the prison where I work, and I gave daily updates to him on the inside and to his mother when I came home in the evening. Sadly, this has become the norm for me because of where I live and work. Yet I wouldn't trade places with anyone. My two neighborhoods have become home to me.

I can walk the neighborhood where I live without fear because I am accepted as a friend. I know the names of the children and their pets. I chat over the garden gate with the adults, and we share our lives. Our neighbor holds our spare house key and looks out for the house when we are away. The fact that her two sons are addicted to drugs does not impact on our trust because we know each one by name and accept each other for who we are.

When we seek for connection, we restore the world to wholeness. (Margaret Wheatley)

Sr. Letta Mosue poses with a neighbor in Tlhabane township, South Africa. She is a grandmother and a member of the Protestant church next to the convent. (Provided photo)

Letta Mosue belongs to the Congregation of St. Brigid from the Rustenburg Diocese, South Africa. She has been an educator, clinical psychologist and specialist in trauma counseling and ministered in university and police correctional services. Now in private practice, she works at an oncology clinic and is superior general of her congregation.

The convent where I am stationed is in a township of Tlhabane outside Rustenburg Town in the North West Province of South Africa. In all the years of its existence, since 1972, most parishioners never contributed anything toward the sisters stationed here. Instead, they expected things from us. Since we were working and earning good government salaries ourselves, we were self-sufficient and did not care; now, our sisters are more infirm and elderly.

For the past three years, we have been seeing drastic changes among parishioners, and we don't know what triggered it. It started when one of our Small Christian Communities requested a workshop. At the workshop, they promised to "adopt" the sisters. Twice a year, groceries and toiletries are delivered. A sodality gives us money. Last year, the parish surprised us by repainting our convent, which has never been repainted outside since it was built.

Their gestures have brought us much closer together. They have become approachable and caring. This year, when we hosted our "ABC" — Companions of St. Angela, the St. Brigid Sisters, and the Calvary Sisters — biannual meeting, I asked for food donations from some sodalities and the parish itself. The response was amazing. Everything we ate was donated. One man I know from another parish donated a sheep, and another young man donated 20 kilograms of chicken packs.

Not only has the attitude of parishioners changed toward the sisters, I have been even more surprised by the attitude of the non-Catholics around. When one of our sisters passed on in May 2017, the next-door neighbor came to bring her condolences when she heard that we were in mourning. When the neighbor died in 2019, we joined with others in support of her children.

Even our cats get meals from next door! If they see our gate open late at night, our neighbors from the Protestant church next door come to make us aware that we forgot to close and lock our gate. The owner of the Spar Supermarket has become a close friend. If we have visitors and we take them to the store for their needs, we come away with donated cakes and drinks to welcome them. The proprietor also donates when we have funerals or other celebrations. On April 27, I attended the wedding of his daughter.

We have become a community that supports and cares for one another regardless of our church affiliation. We are truly neighborly!

The Catholic church in Tlhabane township and the 1972 house where the Congregation of St. Brigid sisters live, painted the same color recently by a neighbor (Letta Mosue)
The parish treasurer, left, and the chairperson of the parish church, right, who included the sisters' house in the church-painting job. The children are twins he and his wife adopted when they were abandoned at the hospital. (Letta Mosue)

Kathie Shea belongs to the Medical Missionaries of Mary. She ministered in her community's finance in the United States, Ireland and Africa and worked with the Association of Sisters of Kenya. Now in her community's mission development office in Chicago, she is her community's business administrator for Brazil, Honduras and the United States.

There are several meanings of "neighborhood": an area where people live close together, or interact with one another, or where they have friendly relations.

My congregation came to the United States (Boston) in 1951 with the hope of attracting young women to join our missionary endeavors and to raise funds for our work overseas. Twenty years later, we came to an area of Chicago called West Lawn, which was a melting pot for many nationalities. Our first neighbors were primarily Irish and Irish Americans. Over the years, some old friends have moved away, and we have welcomed new neighbors, primarily Mexican American or from Latin America. Our parish liturgies are more often than not bilingual, and our parish priests call somewhere else "home."

A big change, indeed, but what I have learned — and, of course, always knew at one level (everything in life has something to teach us): I am more aware than ever that kindness does not have a particular face, come from a specific geographical area or speak a certain language. Kind actions, being generous or helpful, come from deep within.

A few years ago, our home was broken into. We were shocked, stunned and disappointed, asking ourselves, "Why us?" But with this invasion came an outpouring of kindness: Strangers became neighbors, friends with a name, knocking on our door and saying, "Lo siento, Hermana (I am sorry, Sister). Take my phone number, and if you need me, call me." Messages were left on the cars parked on our street that such a home invasion was not acceptable!

This past winter, as usual, we again experienced the kindness and neighborliness of some of the men in our lives. "Señor" next door more often than not assists with heavy winter shoveling or pushing our car into the garage. (Our back alley can be a challenge.) Jesse lent us rock salt, and Ignacio shoveled until my arms were sore watching.

West Lawn in Chicago, a "melting pot" neighborhood (Kathie Shea)

There is little we can do in return, but we greet, we engage, we laugh together and we listen to their challenges. Today, we were told about a 15th birthday party (Quinceañera). "Are you coming, Hermana?"

And so we keep the Rule of St. Benedict in mind: "Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else. … [Never] turn away when someone needs your love."

And after winter comes spring, new life and new neighbors to call amigos!

For we are "rooted and founded in love!"

Thomas Limacher is a Sister of the Holy Cross of Menzingen, Switzerland. She ministered in South Africa during apartheid and later worked at the Swiss pilgrim place of St. Brother Klaus, a famous shrine and pilgrim destination. She now does development work in Missions Procure, an intercongregational organization that supports the projects of her sisters worldwide.

With an average age of 82, we Holy Cross Sisters in Menzingen own a retirement home, with a special care facility for elderly sisters, and the motherhouse. The latter is being renovated and will house (in only a quarter of the old building) a small remnant of about 14 members of today's community: the provincial councillors and a handful of sisters who look after the place, still doing chores according to their abilities.

Sr. Thomas Linmacher holds Bethlehem Nuguse. (Provided photo)

You could think that "dying out" is no life. Mistaken, really mistaken! If there is any catastrophe in the world, my bedridden and infirm fellow sisters pray and plead to God for help. Offering their daily aches and pains for the people in big trouble: That is their mission!

Although Menzingen is a small mountain village, we have visitors from all over the world. For three years, we hosted a reception camp for about 300 asylum-seekers. Many men, women, youngsters and children went through our place: Menzingen was like a world village. People from the area became involved, helping to shelter, feed and welcome those thousands of refugees.

A group of my fellow sisters, as old as they are, mingled with the newcomers. They tried with hand and heart to help wherever they could. They involved themselves in teaching German, going for walks with those who were physically able, showing them how to post their application forms, helping to get some drinks or a bus ticket, explaining the Swiss customs around use of the public toilets, and of course, sharing our beautiful surroundings with them.

Now as the camp has moved into another village, we still are left with families from Eritrea, Syria, Iraq and other countries. They try very hard to adapt to the Swiss way of living. Most important is learning our language. If you only are able to communicate in Arabic, Kurdish or Tigrinya, how will you speak with your neighbor, how will you ask for milk at our small dairy?

Here, my fellow sisters do great work. In visiting the families or inviting them to the retirement home, they are first-class teachers. I am proud of them. The newcomers not only learn words and expressions in German, but they have somebody who cares for them. Lost in a foreign land and far from their familiar surroundings, they have listeners who back home enrich their own community members with stories from their students.

I personally love "my" Nuguse family, especially with Bethlehem and newborn Feden.

Henrietta Eziashi belongs to the Franciscan Sisters of Glasgow, Scotland. After ministering in teaching and educational administration, she served two terms as provincial superior in Nigeria. Later, she was elected a member of the central leadership team of her congregation. She does pastoral work in Lagos, Nigeria, and development work for her province.

Presently, our society in Nigeria is very insecure, faced with challenges of increased kidnappings, robberies, rapes, murder, suicide and poverty. Some people migrating from more distressed areas to new environments still need help making a living. The constant attacks by the dreaded Fulani herdsmen have led to the creation of camps for displaced people, children particularly.

The sisters of my congregation, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, have had varied, interesting, but challenging, experiences in our interactions with people in our neighborhoods. These experiences vary from community to community depending on the area. Although our mission has remained constant, it is important to constantly shift our focus to meet the needs of changing neighborhoods.

Sr. Angela Adegbola is helped to pack up the monthly supply of food the sisters provide for families in Nigeria. (Henrietta Eziashi)

Our community in Badagry (on the southwest coast of Nigeria) is having a meaningful and challenging interaction with families in our neighborhood. Our sisters here used to have the custom of giving the children a treat periodically, especially during the Christmas season. But having observed that the children are malnourished and some families are living in poverty, we had to shift to a more meaningful activity that would have more impact on the survival of the people in our neighborhood.

We began to visit families in the Itoga, Akarakumo and Badagry areas, meeting with them and sharing in their lives. Besides providing a monthly supply of food items for the very poor families, we now educate the parents on how to cook locally available food for their children older than 6 months to reduce child malnutrition.

To advocate for the welfare of the people, we are also making visits to local government authorities, to the traditional chiefs and to the association of landlords. The number of people we manage to help may be few compared to the number of people needing daily attention in our large neighborhood, but we believe that little drops of water will make an ocean someday!

Clarence Uzogara is a member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Born in Nigeria and raised in Ghana, she has ministered in both countries, teaching science and other subjects and serving as school bursar and administrator. She is studying educational administration in graduate school at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

Little Success and her mother went to visit her mother's family, a few kilometers away from her home in Delta on Dec. 13, 2018. She was really excited because her mother had promised to buy her a new dress and shoes for Christmas; little did she know her mother planned to kill her.

The mother hired a motorbike to drive them to an unknown destination, where the mother drew her knife, just like Abraham, to slay her own daughter. Luckily, the motorbike driver was suspicious when the mother told him to leave as quickly as possible, and he called some men to help him. They wrestled the knife out of the woman's hands; otherwise, Success would have been among the forgotten dead!

When the men arrived on the scene, the poor girl was already bleeding profusely from deep cuts on her throat and other parts of her body. Success was rushed to the hospital, and as her name implies, she emerged successful. No one knows what her mum's reasons were.

Today, Success has a new life, thanks to a philanthropist working with our school. After her discharge from the hospital, she received a scholarship. I had the opportunity of interviewing Success for admission into our renowned boarding institution for young girls.

The process of journeying with her since the beginning of this year has been spiritually and psychologically enriching. Her beautiful smiles, spirit of hard work, compassionate disposition, and most of all, this 14-year-old girl's forgiving spirit leave me in awe each time I meet her in counseling sessions or in the hallways.

Success, right, poses with a friend after her recent first holy Communion (Clarence Uzogara)

Success has really adapted to the new environment her ordeal — now a blessing — brought her: She has made new friends, and through the help of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus sisters, she has received the sacrament of baptism and holy Communion. Success says she has forgiven her mum and prays for her every day, praying that God will also forgive.

Personally, I find this very challenging, but maybe that is why Jesus said if we do not accept the kingdom of God like little children, we cannot enter therein. I can only keep reflecting: What is our little community turning into? God alone knows. I do know this was a life-transforming experience for me and for someone I have come to cherish as much as any of my other students.

Read more in Global Sisters Report's The Life series.

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