Sister Pat Murray from the UISG was the key speaker for Good Friday. She began her presentation by drawing our attention to the generative power of image. An image always has generative potential. This insight was experienced by all participants when she projected an image on the screen of the new world that is now emerging, a world where the presence of religious men and women is declining in the global north, while increasing dramatically in the global south. We are now living a new and exciting reality.
She warned us against the dangers, signalled by Pope Francis, of seeing ourselves as the ‘guardians of empty symbols’. There is much to reflect upon in that statement. So much of what we struggle with in today’s Church can often be about symbols that have lost their ‘generative power’.
Throughout the day, Sister Pat, led us through a series of reflections based on the following themes from the recent encyclicals by Pope Francis and also the document on The Year of Consecrated Life:
- Fire, Cloud and Breeze
We are all on a journey, one that is often undertaken in the ‘unknown lands’ where we discover ‘little glimpses of a new story’. This journey can be very disturbing but it invites us, as Pope Francis has said, ‘into the thick of things where everything is at stake’.
We are familiar with the groups of migrants travelling across the wastelands of the world. They travel in caravans, groups of people walking together, as people have done throughout the centuries. It is the great flux of humanity that we are witnessing today in the mass migrations that feature on our evening news.
Where are we in the caravan? In the past we were at the front. Now, it seems, our places is at the back or in the middle. We are invited to let go of our desire ‘to lead’, and instead, be comfortable ‘at the back of the caravan’, among the people, putting, as Sr Pat said, ‘our meagre resources into play’.
More than once, Sister Pat recalled an insight from the previous day that we no longer ‘have’ a mission, we ‘are’ mission. At the back of the caravan (or in the middle), we are a presence. The question we discern is where and with whom.
In the aftenoon Sister Pat moved to a reflection on Where are the New Calls Emerging. She focused primarily on two:
- The Call to go Inward
- The Call to Frontier Living
Religious now more than ever are called to accept their liminal place in society, their ‘non-place’. The new place is one where they are no longer the best teachers, the best nurses, the most insight experts, the most effective managers. In the process of secularisation (understood in its strict and original sense) is one where other people of faith can carry out these roles.
We are caled instead to making choices ‘to be among the peopl’. We no longer meant to be ‘subsitutes for the State’, or a cheap labour resource for the Church. We are now meant to be ‘in the middle of’, as a mystical presence.
This is the call to ‘frontier living’. We are challenged to be with the refugees, not at a distance, but among them. Sister Pat instanced examples of Sisters who have gone to Lambadusa. She also recalled the witness of Sister Caroline in Sysria, recently nominated for an internation award by the UISG. She noted that the Bishop of Lampadusa had specifically asked religoius to come, not to do the work of the NGOs, but to ‘be a presence’.
We are called now to be with the victims of human trafficking, the victims of war, the day-labourers in the agribusiness complexes, to be embedded with the migrating peoples.
Echoing Laudato Si, Sister Pat challenged the Chapter to be join the ‘caravans of people’ protecting our common home. We are invited to celebrate the mystery that God is ever-present and that life is worth living because Jesus is with us.
She concluded by saying, quoting Pope Francis, that:
We are heirs to those who had the courage to dream