UISG Plenary brings over 700 Superiors General together
By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp
"Welcome! Ben venute! Bien venidas!" These were the opening words spoken by Sr Jolanda Kafka, President of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). The more than 500 Superiors General present in Rome, and the over 200 connected online, responded with a wave of their hands.
Sr Jolanda then invited all the women religious present to extend their hands in a large hug. This gesture represented not only the measure used for social distancing, but also a reminder that those present truly embrace the world in those they serve who often represent the most vulnerable in society.
Sr Jolanda also reminded the Sisters that the work lying ahead during the week is rooted “in the light of Christ, our hope”. Thus, the work done in this “assembly” will reach the larger “assembly” of the Church.
God does wonders…
After lifting their voices in song singing the Plenary theme song, the sisters spent a few moments in guided prayer.
Then the Sisters lifted up their voices in many languages in one prayer, the “Our Father”, asking for this grace.
‘Religious life will rise again’
To explore the first aspect of the Plenary theme, Dr Ted Dunn led those present in an exploration of the dynamics of transformation.
“Embracing our vulnerability,” he said, “is part and parcel of the inner and interpersonal work of transformation.”
He reminded the Superiors General present that religious life has already gone through many “lifecycle changes since the time of Jesus.” It is rooted in his Person, and this history, that “death never has the last words… Religious life will rise again.”
This resurrection awaits “religious communities [who] are now at a graced crossroads, a threshold between what was and what is yet to come.” In conclusion, Dr Dunn reminded the women religious present that:
‘I learned to leave myself in God’s hands’
The afternoon session was dedicated to hearing the personal testimonies of three women religious.
Addressing the experience of vulnerability due to the Covid pandemic, Sr Carmen Mora Sena, Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Anne, shared that she carries out her service of leadership “from the perspective of vulnerability, convinced that this is the type of leadership that religious life needs today.”
When Covid hit, she said, “we were afraid to turn on the computer and find more obituaries of sisters who had died”, even young members. It also presented challenges to how the sisters in her congregation managed their various activities in health care and education, brought a halt to long-awaited projects, and even impeded the renewal of vows of several in temporary profession.
All this brought her to train herself “to live with uncertainty,” to learn “to accept not being able to have everything ‘under control,’ to accept and support reality as it came, to leave myself in God’s hands.”
Christianity, the religion of vulnerability
“There is no other way of being Christian than to be vulnerable,” exclaimed Sr. Anne Falola, a missionary sister of Our Lady of Apostles, as she began her testimony.
As a missionary from Africa to Latin America, she began to realize that her vulnerability was also her strength. The very paradigms she brought with her as an African helped her navigate her experiences in her mission field.
“Living the kenosis of Christ,” places women religious in positions of vulnerability, she said. Sr Anne proposed the episode of Jesus meeting the Woman as an episode in which:
'Clinging to the cross'
Lebanese-born Sr Siham Zgheib, superior of a community of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, spoke virtually to the UISG Plenary assembly from Aleppo, Syria. She shared the journey of her community in the face of years of armed conflict.
“Faced with the danger of being kidnapped, raped, tortured, forced to wear a veil, my one and only concern was not to weaken and deny my faith,” Sr Siham said.
She began to find sustenance by “clinging to the Cross and drawing strength from its vulnerability. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament sustained my faith at a time when violence prevented me from seeing the light of the Lord’s presence.”
Each time her community is asked if they wish to leave Aleppo, their response echoes their own Foundress: “In the time of darkness, we will not change a decision we have made in the light.”