Northeast India,18 years of foundation

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sisters’ mission stories connect past to present

by Sister M. Bruno (Beiro), CSC

Sister Judith Hallock, left, and Sister Joann Halvelka, center, receive the vows of Sister Molli Gertrude Costa during her initial profession in 1987. Sister Joann moved from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Shillong, Meghalaya, in Northeast India a year later.

Editor’s note: In honor of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the women of Holy Cross, some of our sisters submitted personal reflections or stories about missions around the globe. The pieces offer unique glimpses into the Congregation’s history. This is the third article in the series.

Past: Remembering with gratitude the sisters who came and gave life

In the past, visions of disciples were rooted in the contexts of peoples. All sorts of disciples with all sorts of temperaments were called to live out this gift from the Father to Jesus and the Church. Visions were actualized.

Father Basil Anthony Moreau sent the Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters from France to India in 1852. They reached East Bengal in 1853 and Father Moreau planned for them to collaborate in ministries. In 1947, at the time of partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, the Holy Cross sisters’ ministries were in East Pakistan.

Present: The sisters who are ministering in India

In response to the request by the Holy Cross priests in India to establish the Holy Cross sisters in India, and in accordance with the sisters’ Area of Asia five-year ministry plan, it was decided to establish a local community in Shillong, India, in 1998. The community resided at Holy Cross Villa, in the vacation house they had purchased in 1933.

Sister M. Perpetua (Meyer), CSC, opened and directed a House of Studies in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) in 1993. Sisters from Bangladesh went there for perpetual profession preparation and formal education studies. They received experiences in community and ministry. For them it was a new culture, both in Holy Cross and in the Church. At that time, Sister Perpetua worked with the Montfort Sisters, aiding unwed pregnant girls and rag pickers of the city.

In 2006, the House of Studies moved to Meghalaya. There sisters pursued graduate and post-graduate studies and participated in vocation recruitment and other ministry with the Holy Cross priests and brothers in the newly established Northeast India District.

Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital, had long been a vacation place for visiting sisters. They would stay at the Holy Cross Villa vacation house, which Sister Marie Estelle (O’Brien), CSC, had purchased in 1933 for sisters ministering in the area. Sisters, in small groups, would enjoy the cool relief of a vacation for one month, walking the hills of Shillong.

We were so comfortable there. Never did we worry about unlocked doors or windows. We were among the Khasi people of Northeast India!

The house was vacant during the winter months and was rented out to different groups, including the Holy Cross priests, the Society of Christ Jesus, who administered the nearby Nazareth Hospital, and to the Sisters of Holy Cross and Marianites of Holy Cross.

Then in 1998, the Area Council decided to respond to the invitation of the Holy Cross priests and the direction of the Area five-year plan to establish a local community in Shillong. Sister Joann Havelka, CSC, a member of the Area Council under the leadership of Sister Joseph Mary (Hoess), CSC, decided to experiment to find out if sisters could live in Shillong during the cold months. Each room in the bungalow was outfitted with a fireplace, where charcoal loaded into lead buckets could be burned. But the sisters claimed that after October, the weather in the hills was much colder than that on the plains of Bengal.

Still, Sister Joann and two Bangladeshi Holy Cross sisters, Joya Rozario, CSC, and Salome Nanwar, CSC, had the courage to go. They left Dhaka by train for Sylhet District in Bangladesh to cross the border at Tamabil for Northeast India. They had no trouble with immigration, but once they were on the other side, they heard that the Dawki Bridge, which had to be crossed to take the trip up the hills, was under repair. With the strength that they had and the help of men from the local market, they crossed the river through no-man’s land carrying nine large bags and several shoulder bags each!

I remember the time that Joann and I, two hours up the hill from the Dawki Bridge, carrying trunks and bags of supplies for Shillong, came across a landslide, not uncommon in the hills. Nothing was to stop us. We asked several men, who were working to remove the stones and dirt off the road, to carry some of the larger trunks and bags while we carried the smaller ones. We spent the night in a government bungalow so that we would be "refreshed" in the morning to manage for the next possible landslide!

In December, the first pre-aspirant arrived accompanied by her pastor, Father Harry D’Silva, CSC. She was from Mizoram. The first native Holy Cross priest, Holy Cross brother and Holy Cross sister were from families in the state of Mizoram, formerly known as the Lushai Hills.

Sister Joann served as supervisor at a school for the blind, a ministry she shared with future aspirants, and the local Society for the Welfare of Disabled. She taught the aspirants Scripture and assisted the student sisters with their lessons. The sisters visited villages where the Holy Cross priests ministered and spoke at the local hostels, often for vocation promotion. Sister Joann gave talks to seminarians and formation groups, even outside of India, any time she was invited. There was no end to the energy she possessed to do the needful and to share her gifts.

In 2000 she served as candidate directress and taught English to the men in the initial formation program at the Holy Cross priests’ home in Brookdene, Shillong. Sister M. Carmen (Davy), CSC, arrived to guide and tutor the student sisters and later became the assistant candidate directress and guided the aspirants and postulants.

Sister Joann saw opportunities to expand ministry in the area. She served on the Board of Trustees and as treasurer of the Society for the Welfare of Disabled, advised the Interdenominational Christian Women’s Forum in Shillong and started a local self-help group.

Sister M. Bruno (Beiro), CSC, arrived from Bangladesh in 2003 to relieve Sister Carmen, who was retiring to Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. As the community grew it adopted several ministries in the village and city. In the following years, a new mission was opened in the state of Tripura, where the sisters supervised a Boys Town project operated by the Holy Cross priests, offered pastoral ministry and taught in the parish school in Bodhjungnagar.

Four sisters left Shillong to begin a new mission in the village of Jatah in 2007. There, they taught in the village school, provided health education and offered pastoral care in the parish of Mawkynrew.

On February 19, 2012, Sister Joann left India for the last time. She had served well as guide and tutor for 15 years.

Future: Going forward with hope, embracing the future to give life

See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)

We carry on this witness of sharing God’s love and Spirit, and are seeing increased numbers and ministries. In 2014 we started a sponsored ministry at Barakathal, Tripura, and plans were drawn up for a school and pastoral ministry program. Working with the local people, we continue to answer God’s call for our mission by:
  • building communities of justice and love—by assisting right relationships among children, youth and adults of different cultures and religions, and educating children to justice;
  • eradicating material poverty—through high quality education, both formal and informal, which will help move children out of a cycle of poverty and equip them to be contributing citizens; and
  • ending discrimination—through education about injustice and corruption, and by encouraging education for life.

Practicing the virtue of hospitality

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

by Sister Margie Lavonis

Each of the Holy Cross congregations of sisters, brothers and priests, founded by Father Basil Moreau, is known for wonderful hospitality. People often comment on how welcoming they are. One tends to feel “at home” in their presence. In his book on Father Moreau, author Gary MacEoin says that members of the congregations of Holy Cross are the most hospitable people he has ever met.

We are called to be welcoming people. Hospitality is a vital component of Christian love. It gives flesh to what a loving person is about. Hospitable people accept and make others feel at home regardless of who they are or where they come from. They always have room for another person in their hearts and at the table of their lives. They make others feel wanted and cared for.

I have been thinking about this virtue a lot in light of the immigration controversy in our country. Each of us who follows Christ needs to examine how open to and accepting we are of people of other cultures and from other countries. Do we make the “stranger” welcome in our presence?

Hospitality is not limited to how welcoming we are to those different from us. It may be as simple as inviting someone to sit with us during lunch, or starting a conversation with someone we have never spoken to when we go to Mass. Smiling at strangers who pass by us on a street or in a store is also a gesture of hospitality.

Even simple experiences of hospitality can affect us deeply. Many years ago my parents and visited the Methodist church where my brother, who was working his way through college, directed the church choir. I still remember how warmly the church members, who recognized it was our first time there, welcomed us and immediately made us feel right at home. Had I not been a committed member to my own church, their loving spirit might have attracted me to return again.

Extending hospitality is not just a “nice” thing to do. It is integral to what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ.
Perhaps we can take some prayer time to reflect on how well, or not so well, we have exercised this important virtue. Whom we welcome into the circle of our lives? Remember Jesus told us that when we welcome anyone we are welcoming him.

Celebrate St. André Bessette

Saturday, January 7, 2017

St. André Bessette was canonized in 2010, becoming the Congregation of Holy Cross’ first saint. Although many ordos and calendars list St. André’s feast day as January 6, the anniversary of his death, the Holy Cross community observes St. André’s feast day on January 7, because the Vatican and many nations observe the feast of Epiphany on January 6. This is true of many places where Holy Cross communities live and minister, and, therefore, Holy Cross congregations have received permission to permanently transfer this feast to January 7.

So, celebrate the life of St. André in January (the month named for Janus, the Roman god of doors, gates and passageways). Let us always remember to open our doors to welcome others in Jesus’ name just as Brother André, a porter and doorkeeper, let Christ’s light shine through him to all he encountered.

Lord our God, friend of the lowly, you gave your servant, St. André Bessette, a great devotion to St. Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted. Through his intercession help us to follow his example of prayer and love and so come to share with him in your glory.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

St. André Bessette, pray for us.

A prayer for the new year

Sunday, January 1, 2017

May Mary help us discover the face of Jesus, Prince of Peace. May she support and accompany us in this new year; May she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace! So be it!

— Pope John Paul II

Advent Reflection

Sunday, December 25, 2016

by Sister Shagorica Maria 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 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-6 and John 1:1-18
There is something mysterious and reality-affirming in that Christmas has stayed alive for 2,000 years. God took on eyes and ears, hands and feet like human beings. Jesus felt hunger and tears, joy and pain, love and gratitude, like human beings. He also knew that human beings need redemption. The prophet Isaiah said, “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.”

When we examine ourselves, let us remember that whatever we are to each other will radiate more brightly when we are actively present to one another. The shepherds had come in haste, realizing that the Prince was lying in a manger—so simple, yet the Lord Almighty; so adorable whom they had seen with their own eyes, yet the Messiah. When they returned back, they glorified him.

Christmas is a reminder of the kindness and love of God for all humanity. Mary, the mother of God, pondered all in her heart. She reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives, leading us to renewal and new birth in Christ, as we share the message of Jesus in the world.
Reflection questions
  • The shepherds glorified the newborn King. How do we glorify Christ today? 
  • How do we proclaim the message of Jesus today?

Christmas celebrates more than a baby

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

by Sister Margie Lavonis, CSC

There is a hymn that I’ve sung in choir entitled, “From the Cradle to the Cross.” To me the words express the real meaning of the Feast of the Incarnation, or Christmas, as we call it.

So often during this season we focus on a sweet, helpless little baby and often forget his great mission, the reason he became a human being. The little child in swaddling clothes changed the world forever.

The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to bring justice and love to the world and commissioned us to do likewise. We don’t merely celebrate a child. We celebrate a savior who fed the hungry, healed the sick, set captives free, and so on. This is the true meaning of Christmas.

When the parties are over, cards sent and gifts given, we continue to celebrate “Emmanuel, God with us.” The babe in the cradle began his journey to the cross and in doing so showed us how much God loves us. He rose from the dead and calls us to reveal this love to all. In a sense we are called to give birth to Jesus in the world, to “incarnate” him.

As we celebrate this mystery of the Incarnation, let us take some time to reflect on how we have or have not given birth to our God, who is love, during this past year.

God’s word challenges us—incarnating God in the world must become a habit for us as Christians. It is not reserved for special times of the year. The poor always need food and clothes. Homeless centers always need people to help with meals. Nursing homes are filled with people who appreciate visits year-round. Friends like to hear from us at other times too. The spirit of kindness and generosity must flow from our baptismal call to love.

God waits every day to be given birth in our world. We are God’s body. God becomes flesh in us and in our daily actions. During this beautiful season, let us reflect on how we will continue to give birth to the God of peace and love, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.