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.

Support ministries in Bangladesh

Monday, December 19, 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 Thecla Dinila Nokrek, CSC, provides medical attention and health classes to people in remote areas of Bangladesh—care that is crucial to their very existence. This and more than 40 other Ministry With the Poor projects are providing essential services around the world. People are depending on your kindness and charity to respond to their needs.

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, December 18, 2016

by Sister Shikha Laetitia 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 7:10-14, Romans 1:1-7 and Matthew 1:18-24
Jesus—what a wonderful gift for us from God! God loved us so much he sent his only Son as our Savior. Very soon we will be celebrating Christmas; the promised Messiah and the sign of God’s great love will be revealed.
Mary’s “yes” was a total surrender to God! She took a risk and courageously faced many challenges because of her trust in God. Joseph, being a just man, did as the angel of the Lord directed. He accepted Mary as his wife and the child in her womb as his own. Joseph and Mary cooperated with God’s plan; they modeled for us what it means to be faithful servants of God.
We Sisters of the Holy Cross also are called to participate in God’s mission, to share the love of Jesus with peoples of many nations and cultures. We are engaged in a study of our Constitution and Statutes and other documents to more deeply understand our identity, the signs of the time, the needs of the world and God’s will for us today. 
May the example of Mary and Joseph inspire us as we face challenges and take risks believing and trusting in Immanuel, God-with-us. 
Reflection questions
  • How do I discover the call of the Word of God in my life?
  • What risks am I willing to take to respond to the mission of God? 
  • How do I embrace a new direction, new promise and new revelation in my life?

A community effort: The journey to establish Lake View School

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The blessing of Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School in
Jinja, Uganda, was held in 1993. Left to right, Jennifer Bakibinga, deputy headmistress;
Sister Mary Louise Wahler, headmistress; and Father Andrew Isabirye.
Lake View’s pioneer class is in the background.

Sisters’ mission stories connect past to present

by Sister Mary Louise Wahler

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, which offer unique glimpses into the Congregation’s history, will appear before the close of the anniversary year in January 2017. The following is the second in the series.

When I left Uganda for Tiberias, Israel, in 1977, I thought I would never see it again. We came to Uganda in 1967 to help begin and administer Saint Maria Goretti Senior Secondary School in Fort Portal. In 1976 one of the Banyatereza Sisters—whom we sponsored at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana—returned to Uganda and became the new headmistress. That gave Sister M. Olivette (Whalen) the opportunity to ask me to go to Tiberias. After two years of service there, I was asked to begin formation ministry in the United States.

God had other plans, though. In 1979 both of my parents died within six months of each other, which left me in a very depressed state. It was only at the time of the Congregation’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1991 at Saint Mary’s that things changed drastically. Sister Patricia Gantz approached me and asked if I had ever thought about returning to Uganda. “Have I!” I responded. “Many, many times!”

“We need you,” Sister Pat pleaded. “We need someone to live in the novitiate community and to supervise the construction of our new novitiate building.”

I had no knowledge about building, but I knew how to hammer a nail. Community was and is my love.

Returning to Uganda and new ministries
Thus began a new adventure in my life. On January 1, 1992, I returned to my beloved Uganda and traveled to Jinja where we would start a new mission in East Africa. Can you imagine moving a total household of beds, cupboards, desks, chairs, refrigerator, stove, etc., on a small truck plus a pick-up truck only to arrive at the destination and discover that the rented house was not ready? We had no choice but to move in. Day by day we shifted furniture and people until all of us were happily settled in our new abode.

After settling, what else could I do? I volunteered to teach in two schools and helped with community and the plans for a new novitiate. Imagine Sister Pat and I, who knew nothing about construction, were responsible for designing a 12-bedroom formation house! Truly God was with us.

One evening when we were enjoying supper with our Holy Cross brothers at our parish, Father Robert Hesse, CSC, and Brother Paul Kasande, CSC, shared their dream to begin a secondary school for the poor in our village of Wanyange. There were three boarding schools in our area which catered to the wealthy, but what about our poor? As they talked, I got more and more excited. The next thing I knew they were asking me to be the headmistress. “I know nothing about beginning a school,” I said. They did not take “no” for an answer and assured me of their support.

That evening Sister Pat and I talked about it, and she said, “Mary Lou, you always need a challenge. Go for it.” The rest is history!

Mobilizing community support to build and staff Lake View
Our brothers mobilized the villagers to each donate 100 Uganda shillings (about 10 cents in U.S. currency) and to contribute in-kind labor. Thus, one classroom and an office were ready for February 1992 when the school officially opened. The walls were brick with no plaster; the floor was hard core (a type of stone) and dirt. There were no windows or doors—just holes in the wall! I placed the school under the protection of Brother André Bessette and even put his medal in the foundation of the classroom.

When we had entrance interviews I told the students, “Look over there. That will be your school, Lake View Senior Secondary School”—even though the walls were not finished, nor any roof in sight. People believed in us, and 55 children joined together for our first class of Senior One.

What about teachers? I was told that people would help, so I began begging. The Catholic teachers in the parish met, and some volunteered to assist, even though they also were teaching in other schools. I managed to convince some of my own sisters, like Sisters Pat and Mary Alice Bowler, to help out. Sister Pat knew English, so teaching English was easy for her, but can you imagine Sister Mary Alice, a laboratory expert, teaching agriculture?

I knew nothing about administering a new school. How do you set up a budget? What would be the expenses? All I knew was that the only money we would receive was from the school fees of the students. The consoling thing was that the Holy Cross men would take care of the construction of classrooms; all I had to do was to administer it. They were true to their word, even though it was tiring continuously building year after year until we had sufficient classrooms.

I made friends with administrators of other secondary schools in the area who taught me so much. Parents and students had no idea how ignorant I was! My joy was to work with such dedicated teachers who were willing to help as much as they could. I told them, “I cannot pay you very much, but you can be assured that you will be paid on time. I ask you to be willing to ‘walk the extra mile’ even though I cannot pay you extra.” They did it!

Continuing the Holy Cross tradition of excellence in education
At the end of four years when the 36 students sat for the national examinations, I was told that Lake View was ranked 50th in the whole country. “There must be a mistake,” I responded. I never even dreamed that the students would be able to complete four years, and here they were among the best in the country, and among the best schools in the country.

How the school has expanded: from 55 day students then to over 800 boys and girls today, including day, boarding and Higher School. It is a joy to meet former students and parents who still ask, “How is our school?” It is not “my” school, but God’s, Brother Andre’s and theirs!

Support ministries in Peru

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sister Noylí Margot Ríos Manzo, CSC, left, and Manuela Roman, a Holy Cross associate,
display a head of lettuce grown in the bio garden.

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.

Learning to forgive their shortcomings was essential to the participants in a bio garden program led by Sister Noylí Margot Ríos Manzo, CSC. The inexperienced women who participated in the pilot group worked together as a community to raise food for their families while building right relationships with each other.

Thank you for your prayerful and generous financial support that helps us continue to nourish the lives of the poor. Donate now.

Learn more about about Sister Noylí Margot Ríos Manzo, CSC and the others involved in the bio garden project on our website.

Advent reflection

Sunday, December 11, 2016

by Sister Rita Godhino, 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 35:1-6a, 10, James 5:7-10 and Matthew 11:2-11

In the first reading Isaiah calls all of creation to rejoice.  He tells us, “fear not,” for our Lord comes to save us.  The Savior is very near our doors.  He holds love for each of us, every single one.  God will open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf.  The lame will leap and those who cannot speak will sing.  Water will spring up in the desert.
This week St. James tells us to be patient and to pray.  Salvation will be fulfilled in the coming reign of God.  As we observe our world today, we find signs of God’s work among us.  We help to prepare the way for God’s Kingdom by our own words and deeds. 

Rejoice while waiting for Jesus’ coming.  Let us make ready our hearts.  God calls us out of our deserts and wants to enliven us, to be present to us, to give us energy in our daily living. Let us recognize these lights of hope, the lights of holiness. 

This Advent, let us consider how we will allow the light of hope to break forth in our lives.  Let us always be hope-filled people, people with grateful hearts.  May we be alert to events for rejoicing and be earnest in building an environment where God feels welcome and at home.

Reflection question
What will I do today to make my home welcoming to Jesus?

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 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?