“Are you not under my protection?” The words that Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to Juan Diego seemed to be directed to Sisters of Charity, Associates and Companions in the U.S. and in Guatemala as they met on her feast day, December 12, 2020, for their first-ever Congregation-wide Zoom meeting.
Planned by Sisters Sheila Brosnan and Claire Regan on the theme, “Advent: Waiting Deepens Our Commitment,” the meeting combined prayerful words, music and images with Scriptural reflection and small and large group sharing.
The energy was palpable as one smiling face after another appeared on the screen, and for a moment, virtual presence triumphed over pandemic restrictions. In her welcome to this historic gathering, Sr. Donna Dodge acknowledged “the suffering and isolation which COVID has inflicted upon all,” but in spite of it, invited to “use this time together to celebrate each other and thank our God for the many gifts that are ours.”
“What call are we hearing during this season of a global pandemic?” asked Sr. Donna. “How can we best respond in Charity to promote justice? What new partnerships are being called forth at this time? What structures can we put in the service of Charity through our Boards, institutions, investments, prayers, and actions?”
Reflecting on the story of the angel’s message to Mary at the Annunciation, Sr. Claire Regan reminded all, “God has ways of breaking into the routines in our lives. God sends tidings that can overcome our fear…, that can name us anew with a message of mission….”
A photo montage meditation by Elena Miranda offered images of water, both scarce and abundant, food lines, hospital rooms and other scenes of the pandemic, along with reminders of the many courageous people who are giving of themselves to those in need.
Breakout groups then explored two questions: “How, for whom, and for what are we waiting?” and “What message has Jesus entrusted to us? How can the story of St. Juan Diego inspire us and call us to action today in a world so in need of healing and compassion?”
One group’s responses mirrored others: “As fragile humans we need to strengthen our faith; deepen spirit of compassion and empathy; in a community, we see the needs of our neighbors; encourage others with a spirit of gratitude; keep going and take the Gospel with us; persist and persevere, take courage, nothing must frighten us; God doesn’t give up on us; healthcare providers are advancing the kingdom of God; pay attention to the new signs of the times — what would Vincent do?”
In a reflection on the Virgin of Guadalupe, sent as preparation for the meeting, Luciano Laynez, Coordinator of Associates in Guatemala and financial officer of the Barbara Ford Peacebuilding Center, called for trust in God and deep listening to the needs of a world that is “losing its spiritual wealth.” Mary chose to appear to a poor indigenous campesino, looking like him and dressed in symbols meaningful to his culture. “We are not alone in seeking solutions to the world’s problems,” he wrote. “As with Mary and Juan Diego, God goes within us. God goes with us.”
On behalf of all, Sr. Donna thanked Sisters Claire, Sheila and Virginia Searing and Associates Luciano Laynez and Christina Clohessy for their assistance and planning; Associate Lisa Shay for her technological coordination that allowed approximately 120 (even the “technologically frightened”!) to participate; and Gladys Teos who provided seamless simultaneous translation.
As the words and images of the Magnificat closed this historic gathering, participants left with a deeper sense of the truth expressed earlier by Sr. Donna: “Our mission to be Charity Rising unites us across ages and cultures as Sisters, Associates and Companions on a singular path, one we call Mission.”
– Regina Bechtle, SC