Life together

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sister M. Francelia (Magee) pictured above in 1968,
and Sister M. Bruno (Beiro) shared in ministry
and friendship during their mission work in Bangladesh.

Sisters’ mission stories connect past to present

By Sister M. Bruno (Beiro)

Editors note: In honor of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the women of Holy Cross, some of our sisters submitted personal stories and reflections from their various missions around the globe. The pieces, which offer unique glimpses into the Congregation’s history, will appear in e-Connect before the close of the anniversary year in January 2017. The following is the first in the series.

Learning and building community
M. Francelia (Magee) and I were great friends and cared a great deal about one another. Francelia was elder in age and an experienced missionary who taught me many things during our ministry together from 1967 to 1981. I recall even asking her to teach me what to say when we went on home visitations and to village schools to instruct the teachers.

Our first mission together was in the parish in Jalchatra. At that time there was no place to stay so we lived in a leprosarium not far from the future parish center in former East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh, with the Marianites of Holy Cross until our convent was built. It was constructed of blocks fashioned from mud from the rice fields in the mission compound. In our work, we taught children whose families were living with leprosy, provided instruction at a local school and visited the villages of the parish.

I was never afraid when I was with Francelia. Four years into our mission together, the Bangladesh Liberation War erupted, with East Pakistan fighting for its independence from West Pakistan, which had enacted the gruesome Bangladesh genocide. During the conflict, we hid more than 90 Hindu women in the convent with us. When we ran out of water in the parish center we moved to one of the leprosarium wards, not far from the convent. This place was a better location, safer and with water. We were together in spirit those days, trying to keep everyone safe.

A worthy role model
Francelia’s hobby was reading mystery stories. We read by a kerosene lamp and she could be involved in a story deep into the night. Father Eugene E. Homrich, CSC, the pastor of Jalchatra Parish, also loved to read, so books were always available. Even so, several times I overheard the conversation:

“What are you reading?”

“Oh, I have nothing. I have started reading the phone directory!”

Creativity and commitment were among Sister Francelia’s many great gifts. She never had to speak about her gifts, but she surely gave witness to them. During the years we lived together in Jalchatra, then in East Pakistan’s Mymensingh District, then later in the nation of Bangladesh, we were able to manage anything. Francelia could improvise with ease when something was needed. By her dedication and her faithfulness in any undertaking we managed, and we were peaceful with one another and to all those who were with us in our efforts in Corpus Christi Parish.

She inspired others with her enthusiasm. When a silk making project to benefit the area’s poor got messy, she jumped in to take care of it. When she had a motorcycle for transportation and I had a bicycle, she’d tie our handlebars together. I remember laughing at the monkeys jumping in the trees as we sped along together from one village to another. She always felt sorry that I had to ride a bike while she had a motorcycle and wanted to give me the advantages that she possessed with a motor!

Religious and laity working together
I learned Bangla, the local language, which Sister Francelia already knew. We laughed at what we said with each other and with the people. Francelia was fun and easy to be with and also very sensitive to the suffering of others.

She was always highly motivated and taught the teachers in the village schools with an energy which we both knew was God’s. In those days we also visited all the homes in the area’s 72 villages and shared with the families whatever they had to offer us in terms of drink or food.

Before leaving early in the mornings for the villages, we would check with the two priests of the parish to see if anything important was needed in the places we were visiting. Sometimes an ill individual needed to be brought to the hospital— tied on the back of the motorcycle or to me on the bike—or sometimes there were problems in the school or within marriages that we needed to help sort out. We, priests and sisters, shared this practice and through it we accomplished much.

We worked together in everything. We had meetings together and conducted parish planning together. In a diversity of areas—distributing medicine, organizing accounts, canning beans, smoking bacon, running goat and chicken cooperatives, ministering to people who came to us at the mission—we shared our expertise with one another.

Every day we would go out, Francelia on a motorcycle on the main roads and I on a bike on the jungle roads. We would try to be home by night to pray together and share our experiences from the day. If we had trouble with the bike or motorcycle as we were coming or going, we would send someone for help. And a priest would come with a torch light through the jungle to guide us home. Before we left each morning we would tell them the routes we were taking that day. If we were not home by dark someone came to find us. Never did we have to worry…the care was always there for us.

Training benefits present, future
In Jalchatra, most families were part of a matrilineal tribe, which meant the women inherited family property and assets. This made it “easy” to do things with the women. As farmers they needed help doing ordinary things for the family. With them, we planned and began cooperative work. There was jungle land for “jhum,” or shifting cultivation, lowland for rice, and hilly land for growing fruit, mostly pineapple.

I had received training in community-based development and leadership education at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, and locally in Kotbari, Comilla. I also had learned the Paulo Freire method for problem solving, and I applied these tools as we worked with the community to create cooperatives. The group work encouraged the local women to find ways of helping themselves and one another. Through small projects they brought in income that helped their families manage a little better and allowed them to send their children to school every day.

Group by group we trained them. The late Father Charles Young, CSC, and Father Alex Rabanal, CSC, who at that time was a lay missionary from the Philippines, worked with the men on using new rice seeds that would produce greater yields on a smaller plot of land in a shorter time. The increased harvests allowed the men to save money in a growing local credit union. In time, the women joined the men’s training, accounting and cooperative management sessions. This gave husbands and wives the know-how to work together to stand on their own feet.

The first project that was done was braiding the available white jute, a specialty of the area. They sold the braided jute, which was used for making macramé objects, in Dhaka. Every time a member sold a ball of braided white jute, they would give a small amount of the earnings to their village general fund. Small amounts of money also were saved by sacrificing the common habit of chewing betel nut.

Their efforts grew, and in time the women bought sewing machines with foot pedals. The savings they gained by sewing their own clothes allowed them to rent plots of land together to grow pineapples. When they had built up enough savings, they purchased cement and other materials to build latrine slabs and houses, and eventually bought tin roofs for their homes.

Working in community, we accomplished many good things, bound together in Christ and in friendship.

Advent reflection

Sunday, December 4, 2016

by Sister Taposi Gomes, CSC

Jesus is the light of the world, the lighthouse for travelers. We are enlightened by Jesus and have a new direction to follow him, reflecting his light to all peoples.

Scripture passages referenced in this reflection are Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-9 and Matthew 3:1-12

Today’s Gospel provides an opportunity to reflect and evaluate our lives as Christian believers: to clean our hearts, to reconnect with those who are lost in our lives and to forgive those who hurt us.

St. Matthew points to several aspects John the Baptist’s life. First, John the Baptist calls us to reflect and evaluate our daily lives and turn to God. Secondly, we are to imitate his simple lifestyle and activities. Thirdly, we can study his response to Pharisees and Sadducees for their actions and false preaching. Finally, we see the humility of John the Baptist who said, “someone is coming soon who is far greater that I am, so much greater that I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

The life of John the Baptist was so simple, natural and deeply connected with God’s creation. His life was eloquent, his words were moving. People found meaning in life through him; they recognized their faults and misdeeds, confessed to him and received baptism.

John challenges us to conversion—to begin a new journey, from secure to insecure, but with full confidence in God’s promises and providence. It is an invitation to see, to change our lives, to evaluate our lives. John invites us to live a life of sharing, justice, respect and dignity.  

Reflection questions 
Are we ready to follow as John the Baptist invites us?
How do we introduce Jesus to others?
Are we humble enough to present Jesus, or we do introduce ourselves through our works, words?

Support the Ministry With the Poor fund

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

During this holiday season, we're sharing stories of sisters who are ministering with good deeds, kindness, charity and generosity thanks to your support for our Ministry With the Poor fund.

Sister Kathleen Weber, CSC, is able to offer five families adult day care at Holy Cross Hospital Medical Adult Day Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. The care is available at reduced fees through the Robert J. Grossman Scholarship Fund. This care means the world to those with loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s or physical disabilities. At the day center participants can enjoy supervised socialization and the caregivers get a bit of well-deserved respite.

What a kind and helpful thing to do! Thank you for your prayerful and generous financial support that helps us continue to nourish the lives of the poor. Donate now.

Advent reflection

Sunday, November 27, 2016

by Sister Minoti Rozario, CSC

Jesus is the light of the world, the lighthouse for travelers. We are enlightened by Jesus and have a new direction to follow him, reflecting his light to all peoples.

Scripture passages referenced in this reflection are Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44.
Today’s readings call us to put on the armor of light and be messengers of righteousness. In responding to this call we need to transform our lives from those of violence to love, from war to peace, from wrongdoing to justice. Many years ago Isaiah dreamed, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks."

Yet the Missionaries of Charity were killed in Yemen and an Indian priest was abducted and crucified by ISIS on Good Friday. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have lost so many people through migration. In Paris, 130 people were killed in an attack by ISIS. Bangladesh has witnessed many tragedies: social activists, bloggers and people of good mind and heart cut down; wisdom figures killed by terrorists; and the persistence of child labor, human trafficking and rape of women. Corruption occurs everywhere.

God always wants to be in relationship with us. But we make the poor choices and we hurt one another. We damage our own relationship with God. In Advent, the Church calls us to wake up, to respond to God’s coming into our lives. The people in Noah’s time forgot; the people in Jesus’ time were busy about other things. How am I responding to God’s coming today?

Reflection questions
Do I take positive initiatives as an individual member of society?
How do I nourish relationships?
Where can I bring light into the darkness?

Insights for Advent

Saturday, November 26, 2016

by Sister Angela Golapi Palma, CSC, General Leadership Team Member

Jesus is the light of the world, the lighthouse for travelers. We are enlightened by Jesus and have a new direction to follow him, reflecting his light to all peoples.

As I thought about Advent this year, many meaningful images came to mind as I considered the current times in our world. Among these images are our Congregation’s 175th anniversary celebration of the founding of the women of Holy Cross and the Church’s celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis, in his welcome to participants at World Youth Day in Poland, said, “Mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone.” To that I would add, “Mercy walks extra miles.” 

It is not an option for us to be merciful; rather, it is a condition of being a person of faith, because we continuously receive mercy from our merciful God. We are fortunate when we have opportunities to show mercy, and we do not have to go far for those opportunities to arise. We can act mercifully in our home, to our neighbors, and beyond—to the homeless, hungry, refugees, migrants and many others who are coming to our doors. It is up to us to choose to have that youthful heart of mercy of which Pope Francis spoke.

 St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us to be courageous to show mercy and change situations, to make our world a common home of peace with transformational hearts and actions. Such acts of mercy would be wonderful gifts to Jesus in this 175th anniversary year and Year of Mercy.

I am grateful to the sisters who prepared this year’s Advent reflections; Sisters Minoti Rozario, CSC, Taposi Gomes, CSC, Rita Godhino, CSC, Shikha Laetitia Gomes, CSC, and Shagorica Maria Gomes, CSC.  Each Sunday from now until Christmas we will be sharing a reflection with you here on the blog. May their words help motivate us to act from a merciful heart.


Thursday, November 24, 2016