Networking is the new approach to mission

This story appears in the The Life feature series. View the full series.

Collaboration against trafficking. Speaking out on national issues. Sharing formation resources and promoting vocations.

In this month's installment of GSR's feature about the lives of women religious around the world, our panelists write about how they are networking within their communities and among congregations and how this collaboration enriches and supports their life and ministry. The Life asks:

How do you network within your congregation and across congregations?


Eden Panganiban (2) c.jpgEden Panganiban is a member of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit who has served in leadership positions since 1989.

Networking is the new approach to mission. This has been true for the last decade, at least. As membership of religious congregations decrease — in inverse proportion to the growing demands of mission — no community can effectively carry out its mission by itself. It needs others with whom to share resources and concerns. We experience this within our religious communities, among our institutions and across congregations.

A very relevant current issue is our common stand on the protection of our environment. Heeding the call of Pope Francis, "The Cry of Mother Earth is the Cry of the Poor," our congregation has reviewed our lifestyle, both within our religious communities and in our ministerial institutions. So our province in the Central and Northern Philippines articulated our resolve more eloquently at our last Provincial Chapter early in 2017:

That the Rosary Province commit to ban the use of plastic bags and bottled drinks in the Communities and Institutions, as our unified effort to reduce plastic-caused damage on the environment, animals, and humans.

Implementing this, every sister and every community is more conscientious in minimizing — if not altogether banning — the use of plastics from our households. Our schools have also been more strict in implementing this policy. Students have shifted from consuming bottled drinks to bringing their own drinking jugs from home. As a result, there is a reduced use of plastics on the campuses.

In conjunction with the local church, the school communities have joined the renewal of commitment to care for Mother Earth. Their motto was: #iEarth (I Engage, Act, Rise To Heal Mother Earth).

Across congregations, our sisters have engaged in networking in several ways. The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (ARMSP) provides such a venue. My sitting on the AMRSP board as co-chairperson has expanded and deepened my networking with various congregations, as we responded to national issues confronting the local church and the nation.

Other individual members and groups have their own networks for advocacy, mobilization for mass actions and other campaigns.

Our networking includes lay groups. Two of our larger institutions — a hospital and a 104-year old college — are managed by the laity and provide more opportunities for us to engage in partnership with the corporate world.

These new endeavors are enriching opportunities that affect our way of doing mission and that challenge us with new ways and new paradigms to respond more effectively to changing ways of doing mission.

They also lead us to seek new answers to new questions, as the Spirit presents them. More than connecting, networking is the new approach to mission.

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Susan Kidd is a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame and is currently the campus minister of the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. 

Religious life in Canada is changing, as are the church and the world. That's a good thing; for if we don't change, we die. That does not mean change is easy but it is important. How can I reach out beyond my own congregation to be with others who are also embracing change?

For many years, the Canadian Religious Conference sponsored inter-congregational weekends for people in initial formation and for formation personnel. Pooling resources meant the current "movers and shakers" in theology and spirituality could be provided. The Atlantic Canada group lasted the longest and met with the greatest regularity, and the Atlantic Formation Conference (AFC) was well regarded across Canada.

As demographics shifted, so did the weekends. People still came (the desire is rich!) and speakers became "facilitators." The 2012 gathering put forward a suggestion to change the focus to reflect changing realities and a desire to respond to current needs. How could we identify topics common to each congregation while allowing room for individual charisms to be nourished? In 2013, Religious in Atlantic Canada (RAC) was born.

Religious congregations also come together around topics of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, known to sisters as JPIC. The Religious in Atlantic Canada group includes some of that, with a different focus:

We come together to explore subjects that have greatest bearing on our common future as religious living in these times. We also work to build the capacity for leadership among the younger generations within religious life. Any who wish to support this exploration are most welcome to join the gathering and be part of the conversation.

A group in my congregation's English Canada region also meets annually. We are the younger sisters who began coming to religious life singly, without a class / band / ceremony. This Congregation of Notre Dame group is different from RAC. In our world of shifting boundaries and emerging realities, we need to network beyond our individual congregations, so I appreciate both groups. With my Notre Dame sisters, we share a vocabulary, an experience. Religious in Atlantic Canada stretches me while offering support as we attempt to name questions and look to what's emerging in a larger scene.

Let's find venues and opportunities to network around common causes, including the emerging face of religious life.

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Dinknesh Amanuel is a member of the Maids of the Poor, a secular institute in Ethiopia. She teaches Patristics and is executive secretary for the Conference of Major Religious Superiors (CMRS) in Ethiopia.

One of the challenges we religious face in promoting vocations and doing other ministries is that sometimes we communicate very little. Communication is the best way to address any issue and look for solutions. As consecrated women we need to communicate, cooperate and work together in order to be effective in our apostolate and life.

We as the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in Ethiopia try to work together, especially in the field of vocation promotion and initial formation. We have a group of sisters from various congregations for this ministry. Their main activity is to help the youth learn how to discern about their future life. The sisters give them a common understanding of vocation and teach about the love of God and preciousness of the vocation. Working in collaboration with parish priests and the pastoral coordinators of different dioceses, they create links between congregations, dioceses and parishes. Their main aim is to create awareness of a vocation as a gift of God, to help young people make proper decisions for their future, and to have love and concern for their own life and the church at large. This group is effective because the members always try to work in collaboration with the bishops and parish priests.

Networking is one of the best ways to promote vocations and other activities in the church. It makes people work together to seek the common goal. We need to work, pray and grow together. 

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María de Lourdes López Munguía is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary from Mexico who now lives in Chile. She is a psychologist and entered religious life in 2001 

Our foundress, Mary of the Passion, dreamt about us as an international family, so from the beginning our community has been a huge network.

Since I entered religious life, I have learned to work with sisters from other countries and cultures; I also believe that our congregation has been learning to work with other people and organizations throughout the world.

I realize that this is an experience that deeply transforms what I am and my relationship with God. For example, in the Province of Cuba-Mexico-Nicaragua, sisters have begun to work on collaboration with the Franciscan brothers in the shelter La 72 for the migrant people in Tabasco. This has been an experience of collaboration with our own Franciscan family, and it's a blessing every time they share their experiences. I feel so connected and often find myself praying for them.

Within our own institute, we have started a space of collaboration and reflection with sisters in different provinces who are working on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC). This effort began as a dream of two sisters (one Canadian, one French).

Now we sisters from different provinces are collaborating in this dream of making our world more human and divine. For now, it is only a dream, but it is very beautiful to see how our dreams connect around the world. In the sharing of each sister, from her own reality, I discover the spark of God. Beyond our strengths and limitations, I feel God's presence in these struggles and dreams. We try, with this small group, to reflect, to share experiences, and to take some steps towards a more effective way to serve God's people.

Here in Santiago, I began collaborating with the Hogar de Cristo, accompanying women victims of domestic violence. I recognize that teamwork is always a challenge, but its richness transforms the heart. Working with these women needs to be a multidisciplinary approach; I can listen to them as a psychologist, but they need also other professionals who are willing to believe in them.

My heart is touched by the great heart of God that opens me to unsuspected ways and allows me to dream. Perhaps adding my small portion of yeast and waiting for God's hands to knead, heat and ferment the dough will make it a beautiful loaf of bread to share.

That is why I believe that working in networks is also a spiritual way to strip myself. Perhaps to join together with other people and organizations to dream the dream of God, who will make us like the ants in "Lentamente," a song by Rosa Zárate:

Slowly the ants
open beneath the ground
House, protection, shelter,
A different society.

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Florence Nwaonuma is a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She has served as president of the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious.

Networking or collaboration is working together with others. In my work with victims of human trafficking, I had wonderful networking experiences with sisters in my religious congregation as well as with sisters from other religious congregations both inside and outside of my country. But here I will focus on my networking experiences with sisters in Nigeria.

The issue we worked on was providing support, care and services for girls and women who were victims of trafficking. When a victim would come home, the sisters in Lagos received her through collaboration with immigration officials, who would hand her over to them. The sisters then send the woman to us in Benin City. The networking has been very effective, for several reasons.

It is important to note that the sisters in the network are professionals in their own disciplines. In a way we had inter-disciplinary or inter-professional collaboration among us. The sisters brought their expertise and experiences into the network. Besides that, we were very effective because we understood our goals — and because there was adequate communication among all of us involved in the process. The focus of our networking was on the women on whose behalf we networked and not on the "egos" of the sisters.

Another factor that helped us achieve success was the provision of training programs for women religious in the country prior to our networking. The training helped the sisters who knew nothing about human trafficking to become acquainted with the issues involved. Such "capacity building" helped us to avoid conflicts and dilemmas which could occur in inter-professional collaboration of this sort.

As part of our network activities, we had time to meet and discuss our work. For instance, we had cases of women who came back but decided to stay in Lagos rather than in Benin City. We looked into what was involved, and the sisters in Lagos had to add the extra job of full reintegration to their work.

On a final note, the major reason our networking was a huge success is due to our formation as religious. Our prayer life and commitment propelled us, and networking helped us to achieve social change for the victims.

Sarah Puls (3) c.jpgSarah Puls was a social worker before becoming a Sister of the Good Samaritan in Australia. She currently works with asylum seekers and refugees as a caseworker. 

When the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) became aware of the growing and unmet need of refugees and people seeking asylum who were living in the western parts of Sydney, there were religious congregations — including my own — who were ready and willing to work in partnership to respond to that need. What I appreciate most when I look at the evolution of the Arrupe Project is the way that these partnerships allow each person, congregation and group to offer what they have, and that together these things allow for the building up of the whole. In the Arrupe Project, we have been blessed by the wisdom and knowledge of a Sister of Charity who shares her experience and passion as a volunteer coordinator, and we are generously gifted by being welcomed into the heart of the Sisters of Mercy in Parramatta who provided a home for the ministry and surround it with support and care. And these inter-congregational partnerships are just part of the many networks of lay people, professional people and people of good will from diverse communities that sustain the ministry.

Working with Jesuit Refugee Service* we are held by the charism and context of our Jesuit context, and we all live with an acute awareness of our call to "accompany, serve and advocate" alongside our JRS colleagues around the world.

As a Sister of the Good Samaritan, part of the Benedictine family, and as sister professed in the last decade, I've found that one of the joys of being engaged with inter-congregational ministries is the way that it allows me to come to know and love the spirit of different traditions — and also to come to a deeper appreciation of my own "Good Sam" spirit and tradition.

I recognize that being a sister called to imitate the compassion of the "kind Samaritan," I feel a deep sense of being called to meet people in their pain and their brokenness, to allow myself to be moved with compassion, and to respond from there to help them to come to a place of healing. I hope that the spirit of the Good Samaritan way of life, the teachings of St. Benedict, and the support of my daily lived reality of prayer and the seeking of God in community, shape the way that I interact with all those I meet. 

SrTerryAbraham (2) c.jpgTeresita Abraham is a Presentation Sister from India living in rural Zambia. She developed the Garden of Oneness, a sanctuary of peace and harmony where she lives and works.

We are one global community ... the Household of God. This is the heart of networking. For the past 30 years, 12 congregations of Presentation women across the world have joined our spiritual, material and human resources to network together and with others, so that we can speak and act in partnership with others for global justice. Our justice network, under our "umbrella body" the International Presentation Association (IPA), enables the voices at the margins to be heard in places of power and influence. The justice work of the International Presentation Association is facilitated by our non-governmental organization (NGO) status at the United Nations. Here we network with a number of NGOs who share our vision.

As a congregation, we set up a solidarity fund to which each unit of the congregation was invited to contribute as they were able. This fund now responds to the cry of the Earth and the poor in different parts of the world. In collaboration with 20 other congregations we also set up a social financing bank, Clan Credo, initiated by Sr. Magdalene Fogarty in 1996. With a value of 80 million euros, it has helped over 800 projects in Ireland and beyond.

Each year on Poverty Eradication Day (October 17), each sister and our partners in mission are invited to fast and make that contribution to a common fund. This money has been used to support projects in the neediest parts of the world where our sisters are in mission. We also respond to natural calamities like drought, floods, tsunami or earthquake through fund raising and/or presence.

Global education immersion experiences have connected staff and students from schools in Ireland, England, India, Pakistan, United States, Latin America and Africa, to widen horizons, expand vision and deepen commitment to be a citizen of the world. Our Garden of Oneness is a visible expression of our networking among the global Presentation family, the local community, and the Sisters of St. Joseph La Grange. We exchange personnel to minister across the boundaries of the nations to share gifts and resources.

So network!

Use every letter you write
Every conversation you have
Every meeting you attend
To express your fundamental beliefs and dreams
Affirm to others the vision of the world you want
Network through thought
Network through action
Network through love
Network through the spirit
You are the center of a network.
- Dr. Robert Muller, former assistant secretary-general at the United Nations

*An earlier version of this story misidentified the organization.

Read more in The Life series here.