Participation in a “Reverse Caravan” to Honduras

by Kathleen R. Neely, OSU

After receiving the invitation to the Interfaith Root Causes Pilgrimage to Honduras, March 18–25, 2019, I felt called to participate. The Leadership of my community—the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, fortunately affirmed my request. I became one of 75 delegates to walk for a week in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of this beautiful, but challenged, Central American country.

The pilgrimage was organized by Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity of Oakland, California, and included representatives from: Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR); Sisters of Mercy of the U.S. and South America; SHARE El Salvador of Berkeley, California; Central American Resource Center (CARECEN); Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., and others.

At customs, we were told to state the reason for our visit: “We are faith leaders invited by Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J. to learn about the root causes of migration.”

The coordinator of our delegation, Rev. Deborah Lee, executive director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, gave us questions to answer upon our return home: “How am I changed? What have I learned? How will this experience live on through me? What have I learned about the way I live that will have to change? What did we see that I did not know? How was my world turned upside down or broken open?” Before I began to respond to these questions, my sister, Martha, simply asked me, “How was your trip to Honduras?” As I answered my sister, Rev. Lee’s questions were also answered, I believe.

We were given much information to share, most of which can be found on the organizers’ websites. Sister Doris Regan, OP, wrote an excellent article about the experience in Global Sisters Report titled “Faith Leaders trek to Honduras.”

The following words are a humble attempt to share something of this experience with the readers of our blog.

We were divided into three groups. My group, San Pedro Sula, visited a settlement of 250 families. This community offered us what little seating they had as their children played around us, laughing and running—truly children in their own world.

This group of families is very well organized. The women are their leaders. They take the risk of speaking out to claim what is just for their families. One mother brought her son to us, who has hemophilia. She has to be careful that he does not cut himself because she has no way to buy medicine.

This community built their homes eight years ago above a garbage heap on land that had been abandoned for 40 years. They cleaned up the space and settled upon it because they had no other place to go. A man, while on the campaign trail for mayor, promised that they would have titles to this land. He became mayor but has given no titles. He presently favors the company who owns the high-rise building beside them; the company wants the land in order to expand their business. The community asked us if we could write a letter to the mayor supporting their request for titles. We wrote, signed and sent the letter.

These people work eleven hours a day for very little pay at jobs in agriculture, working in the field on other people’s land; as security guards for offices; in micro businesses; as domestic workers, or seamstresses in the “maquilas,” or sweat shops.

The words of one of the women stays with me: “No one here wants to leave. If we leave, we die.” Ten people have already been killed fighting for this land. “We don’t want to go on a caravan. Now we live with tension.” A man seated, unable to stand, added, “We have always lived according to the law, but now we answer only to the law of God, our God of life who wants us to live.”  Later in the day we heard the words of the national anthem of Honduras: “Hondurans will die, but we will die with honor.” Those words spoke so loudly to me.

We also visited a center for families called “Paso a Paso,” which translated means step by step.  We were met with the smiling faces of the women and children, and a beautiful tree in the center of their patio—their “Arbol de la Vida,” or tree of life—that they planted from a small branch many years ago. Hanging from its limbs were five colorful banners expressing the five pillars of their work: education, non-violence, caring for self and others, respecting nature and feminism. These five goals are based on the objectives of Pablo Ferrer, a Brazilian educator.

With these goals in mind, the families work toward healing trauma, overcoming anxiety and growing spiritually to thrive in their lives. They proudly showed us the lovely crafts made in their shop, which make beautiful gifts to share. They make much of their art, bags and coin purses from recyclable materials. The mothers even repair clothes in their workshop. All learn to cook and are closely monitored. A phrase I heard that impressed me greatly is that they teach resilience, so necessary in all of our lives! The directress said very casually, “The children go to school each day, then come here to be safe.”

There is another experience that I would like to share. On the bus, Padre Melo asked if we wouldn’t mind stopping to be with a group outside the Taiwan Embassy in Tegucigalpa. A young man from Honduras was asking for asylum there. His family and friends were gathered outside the embassy. We spoke individually to persons in the group simply to show our solidarity and support, and to promise our prayers. I spoke with a woman who thanked us wholeheartedly for sharing five minutes of our time! Presently, I do not know the outcome of his situation.

Recently, as I was participating in the Stations of the Cross in the parish where I live and work, I was reminded of walking with the people as we prayed the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Honduras. Up to seven or eight individuals took turns carrying the large wooden cross through the streets. The idea was easily understood that we all must help each other with the burdens and crosses that we are asked to carry. Each of us needs to ask ourselves, “In what ways are WE responsible for what is happening in our own country and in the countries of our sisters and brothers?” For we are surely ALL ONE GLOBAL FAMILY on this very small planet called Earth.

What ARE the root causes of the migrant caravans? The answer is a combination of things: economic factors; organized crime; the drug trade; misuse of economic aid from the USA to the Honduran military each year which is used to repress the people; and large companies, such as United Fruit and Dole, which gain much profit and pay little to their employees.

There is so much more I could say; I have a book of notes to share. For now, I simply wish to quote Pope Frances: “Let’s build bridges and not walls.”

 

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A Reflection on Cosmic Awareness

Space Galaxy Worship Background Image (1).jpg

By Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU

I saw a short video recently about a blind man sitting on the sidewalk with a tin cup and a sign that said, “I am blind, help me.” Needless to say, many people walked right on by him; a few put money in the cup. Then a woman stopped, took out a pen and wrote on the man’ sign. Shortly after she walked on. After that, many people walked up and put money in the man’s cup. The camera zoomed in on the sign– it now reads, “I am blind, help me see this beautiful day.”

This little video tells us about the importance of how we reframe an idea or message. I thought of this as we try to grapple with our chapter mandate: “promote cosmic awareness.” Just the idea or phase alone could overwhelm us and as we explore it more, we could almost shy away from it. Discovery, research, science and technology have expanded the concept for us. Knowing that the universe has been around for over 13 billion years is enough to blow my mind.

However, if we reframe cosmic awareness and begin with some basics of what we already know, I believe it can become an exciting concept to grapple with together, exploring the roots of a mystery, not something we scratch our heads about and don’t know where to begin but an unfolding of infinite, exciting knowledge and deeper understanding.

What helps me to get my arms around the concept is to begin to reflect on what I already know.

Beginning with the Genesis message, creation becomes the first act of salvation, the effortless activity of the one God, absolute transcendent God. The whole visible world came into being by a loving act of God. The productive power of the earth is not self -given, but given by God; for the procreative ability of humans comes from God. All life comes from God, for harmony of the cosmos is because of God’s divine love. Because of this, a special relationship is set up, a special blessing, to be made holy. This intimate relationship on God’s part never ceases. Harmony in creation is God’s blessing and goodness. Cosmos is about outer space and it is also about inner space. In inner space of oneness with our God and each other and the world, and self-—a phrase used to describe spirituality. We talk a lot about “my space, my time”—cosmic awareness is about our space and our time- a oneness we are called to embrace.

Harmony was expressed in the covenant relationship between God and God’s people; communally and individually. Many stories in the Old Testament talk about how the harmony was destroyed by humans and restored by God. The prophets as messengers had the task to help lead the people back to God who restores the harmony.

There are so many Psalms too that reflect a meaning of “cosmos”: When I
re-read the praise Psalms–65, 66, 67,68  they speak differently to me now. Ps. 136, the summary of Genesis and Exodus, most likely written before those two books and
Ps. 138,148, 149, 150 are all descriptions of the cosmos and praise for creation.

Ps. 150 has special meaning to me: When I was a postulant we had holy hour every Thursday, which was the time I mostly cried because I was homesick. But after private time of adoration, I was always thrilled when we sang Ps. 150 because it was not only upbeat, but because it moves us beyond the individual adoration to encompass all of God’s creation. “Praise God in the sanctuary, praise God in the mighty firmament for God’s mighty deeds; praise God according to God’s surpassing greatness. Praise God with trumpet sounds, with lute and harp, with tambourine and dancing, with strings, and loud clashing cymbals. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”

Saint Paul also invites me to reflect on cosmic awareness: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in Him, all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible-all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
–Col 1: 15-20

In the last counsel of Saint Angela Merici, she implores us to “live in harmony and union, long for it and embrace it; have no discord or ill will among you.”

And then we have something in our Ursuline Constitutions called the Ursuline Call that reflects cosmic awareness: Introduction: “All creation receives the call to holiness to “be glory to the only God.” The human person is privileged to respond voluntarily and to help all of creation answer the call. True Christian love is the ideal the Ursuline sisters strive for among themselves and with others in their response to the call to holiness. With all Christians they try to achieve in diverse ways perfect harmony in creation and among all persons in Christ.” (Ursuline Call)

As I share this reflection, perhaps the emphasis needs to be more on awareness than on “cosmic,” because we are so intimately bound with each other, God and others in all of creation. So, you see cosmic awareness is not new to us–we are just reframing it, so we can be aware of and see beautiful days and share with others,  just like what the blind man’s sign said.

 

 

 

A letter to Angela Merici

By Sister Martha Buser OSU

st ursula gardenDear Mother, sister and friend, Angela Merici,

Your feast day was January 27 and I failed to write then. But here I am now, a tardy daughter, to thank you and to wish you a happy feast day

First, I am grateful to you for giving us a way of life. Slowly we realize you never founded an order of nuns nor wanted us to be teachers in a classroom. We did this latter for a long time very well. But actually, what you left us was much more; you taught us how to love in the world as followers, disciples of Jesus Christ.

Your time of the high Renaissance, was so like ours: scandals in the Church, terrible political strife, broken families, people fleeing terror from tyrants, finding no refuge.

You told us to be present where we were needed as you did. Would you go to the border where so many migrants and refugees are suffering? I can just see you there.

And probably at soup kitchens or under the bridges with the homeless. You and your Lover would be there as well.

And you probably weep with sexual abuse victims, especially those abused by priests. The Church in your days was in shambles, worse than now.

Through it all you remained faithful to your conviction that God was your Lover, the Lover of us all. So, you were hopeful, simple, composed, peaceful, happy. You knew who you were and who God is.

I’m certain you were present to those who mourned the loss of loved ones. You knew their grief first-hand since you lost your parents and your beloved sister. Later, she seemed to be part of your religious experience that planted the first seeds of your later gifts to the Church, a profound love for others.

As a result, you loved your daughters and loved them, each one engraved on your heart. True love acts that way, as you told us.

So, it’s clear that the legacy you left your daughters was about love and service. Louisville Ursulines, Sisters and Associates—your daughters, express your gift to all ages as a contemplative love for others and a resulting openness to serve the needs of others.

Dear sister and mother, happy feast day a little late. Help us to remember that you are always in our midst, joining us in prayer.

With love,
Your tardy daughter,
Martha

“Come, and you will see.”

come and see

By Sister Martha Buser, OSU

The call by Jesus to his first disciples has been our reading from the Gospel recently. Andrew and another friend approached Jesus and he asked them what they wanted.

“Teacher, where are you staying?”  “Come and see,” he replied.

What an open dialogue! Come and see.

On a Wednesday some of us went to distribute food and items with The Forgotten Louisville, an organization that sets up a space at one of the parking areas near the Ohio River. We arrived and opened our trunk as did many other people to give whatever items we could.

The people came. All kinds of people came: young and old, men and women and even children. Jesus seemed to say; “Come and see where I am staying.” I didn’t want Jesus to be staying there in the cold and dark, but He called to me: “Come and see where I am staying.”

An older woman came looking for shampoo. We gave her what we had and she received it as if we had given her gold. Many others came, receiving socks, toiletries, peanut butter crackers, a blanket, and even candy. Each person expressed gratitude profusely.

One man remains in my mind and heart. He told me he was a green beret who now lives near Mount Washington. It became clearer to me as he talked that he had mental issues. He took only crackers, thanked me, and then disappeared into the crowd. Jesus was staying with him, certainly.

Jesus gets around. I realized he lives next door to me where a Muslim family lives — a mother, father, and four beautiful young girls aged 11, 9, 7, and 5. At first, I struggled to say their names, but they called me Martha and showed me affection with grace and spontaneity. Their family life is beautiful as they pray and play. The parents are devout in their lives and prayers. Jesus stays with them.

During the Christmas season we read about Anna, who lived and prayed in the Jerusalem temple. In her old age she recognized Jesus when his parents presented him in the temple. In fact, two old people, Simeon as well as Anna, recognized him. They didn’t even need to ask where he was staying. He was staying with them. Sometimes older people feel useless and pushed aside. Not Anna and Simeon. They knew who they were and they knew who Jesus was. Old eyes are often wide open to reality.

I believe Jesus stays everywhere. We, of course, don’t always see him. But if we ask him and pay attention to his response, we’ll discover him and we’ll do what the disciples did: hang around him and get to know him in all the remarkable places he stays.

 

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher),
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah,” which is translated Christ.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas,” which is translated Peter.

JN 1:35-42

 

One Wild and Precious Life: A Reflection for the New Year

By Sister Sue Scharfenberger, OSU

Christmas Revolution

Recently I was reminded of one of my favorite poems of Mary Oliver where the last line says:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

When I heard this question, I heard it asked of me, of all of us, of women and men, of youth and aged: what did you do with your one wild and precious life? Or what are you doing?

So, I reflected on the prophet Micah, especially chapter 6,  and I ask, isn’t this the same question that Micah was struggling with and that Jesus was asking of his disciples (Matthew 25): What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The text of Micah 6:8 presents us with these words: Do what is good and right, practice justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.

Love tenderly. That is exactly what Pope Francis has encouraged us to do. He repeatedly uses the phrase: the revolution of tenderness.

Revolution is that about-face that we are called to when confronted with corruption, violence, or depression. And tenderness has nothing to do with weakness or softness. Rather,  a revolution of tenderness calls us to action with compassion, with clarity. It is visible and  decisive.

What might this revolution of tenderness look like for us?

Maybe we could put up welcome signs on our borders instead of fences. Perhaps our budget for defense could be transferred to education, or health care, or feeding the poor. Perhaps a smile on the faces of security personnel at the airport rather than the abrupt patting down.

So tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The story of the “last judgment” as some prefer to call Matthew 25 is almost all too familiar. Yes, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the immigrant stranger.

But I grappled with the part of that gospel that says as long as you do it to one of these you do it to me. Perhaps there is another message underlying this gospel: Do it for me, not the me of Nazareth, not the me who died, but the me, the “Cosmic Christ”; the one who is a part of us, the one in whom we are. We cannot give bread to the Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot visit the imprisoned Jesus of Nazareth.

Rather, I believe that Jesus is trying to bring home to us that we are all one in this Cuerpo de Cristo, in this Body of Christ, in this Cosmic lover, the lover of us all. Because if we can understand that feeding and clothing and giving shelter to another is feeding and clothing and giving shelter to this greater community of which we are all a part, then we are all better, made whole, when all can eat, when all have a place to live and work and be cared for so as to care for the other. We are invited into a consciousness of the greater circle of life, a cosmic awareness of our oneness in the universe.

What a revolution!!

It can be very exhausting and frustrating when we contemplate the enormous needs of the poor, the abandoned, those caught in the web of war or genocide or trafficking.

But if our focus, our understanding embraces the connection, the Great Connector, then we realize that whatever we do is for the good of all. And the whole becomes holy, or rather holy becomes us. The totality of who we are is in the cosmic Christ.

So, the question comes back to us: what will you do with your one wild and precious life?  And it is the question for all of us. It is in becoming aware that whether we serve at the soup kitchen, defend the lives of the immigrant stranger, care for the unborn, or the sick and dying, whatever we do for the “least, the poorest, the most abandoned” among us, we are doing it for the Christ, building up the Body of the Cosmic Christ, sharing intimately in the love connection that holds together the universe. A revolution of tenderness!!

So, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

A Prayer for Peace this Christmas

PEACE

I treasure the experience of hanging ornaments on my Christmas tree each year. I have a couple of nostalgic ornaments from our family tree of many years ago – a plastic icicle and an angel standing on a glittery grey plastic bell.

There are the cute ones I made (sometimes with Mom) out of matchsticks, yarn or pipe cleaners, peanuts or soldier clothespins…then there are the fancier ones made of silver, ceramics, pottery, or pressed tin. Most of these are gifts from friends or persons I ministered to or with over the years.

I have a memento ornament from each of the places I have visited—China, Peru, Germany, Israel, Italy and Australia—and Hawaii too! There are also an abundance of angels and nativity scenes among my collection. I love them all because of the memories of family, friends and faith.

Dove ornamentThe one that caught my attention this year is a white ceramic dove in flight with the word “peace” emblazoned on its breast. This ornament held my attention and moved me to reflect on the promise of peace proclaimed at Jesus’ birth. It also reminded me of the lack of peace in many places in our world and in our own country.

I invite each of us to pray, to implore of our good giver of peace, Jesus Christ, to help us individually and as a nation to find ways to make peace and be peace in every corner of our existence.

Wishing you a blessed Merry Christmas,
Sister Ruth Ann Haunz, OSU

The Unexpected Love of Our Mother Jesus

By Sister Martha Buser, OSU

Unexpected Love

Mothers often enjoy talking to their babies while they bathe them. A friend once told me about the time her baby looked at her while she was washing the baby’s feet in a way that was true recognition.

She said to the baby, “Hi there. Yes, I’m the one who takes care of you, cleans and feeds you and loves you no matter what.” She said that she then realized that’s exactly what God says to her, too.

Saint Angela Merici told us to find our first refuge at the feet of Jesus. We almost always picture ourselves at the foot of the Cross, but maybe we’re missing something here. Julian of Norwich liked to speak of Mother Jesus.

Perhaps from the Crib, He looks at us and says what the mother said to her baby as she washed its feet. “Hi, there. You wash my feet, but I also wash your feet. I want you to realize that I love you, wash you with my love and feed you with my Eucharist and am always with you. Do not be afraid for I will always love you no matter what.”

Christmas holds the promise of the Cross and Resurrection. Like Mary Magdalene, we anticipate being at the feet of the Risen Christ, knowing his love no matter what, especially in these troubled times.

“Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­and this is where His Maternity starts. And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. 

Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.” 

— “Revelations of Divine Love” by Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416)