(Source: CD/Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, Vatican News)
On Tuesday, the US and British Ambassadors to the Vatican hosted an online event, ‘Women Religious on the Frontlines’, to highlight the selfless humanitarian efforts of sisters in every part of the world.
US Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich introduced the event, and noted that the purpose of the homage was to highlight the sacrifices of women religious.
“Many have made the ultimate sacrifice while caring for others… Let us preserve and honour their memory”, the ambassador noted.
In her opening remarks, British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, said that one discovery she made when becoming ambassador “is the great work done by religious orders around the world”.
In hospitals, tending to the sick, rescuing victims of human trafficking… women religious provide services in places and to people where there are no alternatives, Ambassador Axworthy said.
Women religious on the front lines amid pandemic
Sr Stan Terese Mario Mumuni spoke of her work in Ghana. In 2009 she opened an orphanage for children with birth defects who would otherwise have been killed.
The work that she and her sisters do is also recognized by the Muslim population, she said.
The pandemic caught them by surprise. All of a sudden one day the sisters were called to pick up the children they care for from the schools where they receive education. All of their support systems fell apart overnight due to COVID-19.
Now the sisters are trying to feed and support the children round the clock. Some are blind, others are deaf, others have spinal and other defects… and they continue to get calls from people who beg them to come and take in children who would otherwise be killed.
Sister Stan said that they rely completely on God’s Providence and marvel at what they are able to do with next to nothing.
Sr Imelda Poole, a Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, spoke of her work with victims of human trafficking in Albania.
The NGO she founded, called Mary Ward Loreto, addresses the root causes of human trafficking.
In her work with RENATE (Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation), she sees three shifts that have taken place since the lockdown began.
RENATE is now working 70-80% online, which includes counseling victims, she said. This, Sr Imelda said, is vital to people who have become victims to human trafficking.
The second major shift she cited is a massive increase of starvation and hunger, and the third is an explosion of children going online leading to an increase in sexual exploitation.
“Together we need to break the chains of the exploiters,” she said. “We call on the governments to ensure that law is implemented at this time”.
Her organization is also, therefore, in touch with law enforcement responsible for human trafficking crimes and encouraging them not to lower their guard in this area.
Helping women religious in need
A Comboni Sister working in Jerusalem, Sr Alicia Vacas, recounted the story of how her community in Bergamo was affected by the coronavirus.
She and other sisters who are nurses traveled there to help.
Sr Alicia said that about 45 sisters and staff out of a total of 55 or 60 sisters were sick with the virus. Their main concern, she said, was lack of protection.
This need was met by others religious communities, one as far away as Hong Kong, who sent material and protection. Even a contemplative community in Bergamo helped them.
As a Comboni Sister, Sr Alicia underlined it is part of their DNA to share the tragedies that others go through. Being able to communicate care, affection and gratitude to her older sisters was a blessing, she said.
She also spoke of what other Comboni sisters are doing to care for people in mission territories.
“They are bearing the burdens of their people”, she said. “They live witnessing to the love that God has for all his children”.
Sr Jolanda Kafka, President of the Union of Superiors General, closed the event saying that the examples the sisters recounted are touching, and have brought us to touch concrete reality and persons.
About 650,000 sisters are working at the grass roots providing sisterly and motherly care, she noted.
“This is what consecration means”, she said, “giving our lives and serving Him through humanity”.