Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sr. Judy Donohue, SCN, Professes First Vows

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Congratulations to Sr. Judy Donohue, SCN, who professed her first vows as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth on August 26, 2017.  Sisters, Associates, family and friends joined Judy for the liturgical celebration, which gave witness to God’s infinite love, in and around us.  We are grateful for Judy’s ‘yes’ to the call to religious life.  May she continue to be ‘impelled by the love of Christ’ as she continues her journey as a Sisters of Charity.  Congratulations Sr. Judy, SCN!  

Sr. Judy signs her vows along with SCN President Susan Gatz and Judy's witness Susann Gobber

Off to celebrate after a beautiful Mass!

Future of Charity members joined Judy for the celebration.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeds of Hope

By Sr. Paris Slapikas, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Paris

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Working with men and women who have experienced intimate partner violence and sexual assault is never easy.  Day in and day out our staff is entrusted with the responsibility of being present to people at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable, emotionally and physically.  Our responsibility to build trusting relationships, model love, offer support, share information and resources, explore coping strategies and develop safety plans is a great responsibility and it is indeed a great privilege.  But being present to another’s deep suffering comes at a cost.  Engaging authentically with each person and their situation and at the same time realizing that the needs of our community far outweigh our capacity is a burden that is deeply felt.  Our staff routinely fears for the safety of those we serve and have to cope with the unknown of what happened to the person after completing the call or transitioning out of our emergency shelter.  And yet, our staff keep on keeping on because the phones continue to ring and the shelter remains filled to capacity.
On August 4th a woman in our community was killed by her partner and one day later another woman killed her husband in order to survive a violent attack and extensive history of domestic violence.  I won’t disclose whether or not these women were served by our agency.  Either way, they are ours.  Every day we field calls and provide shelter to people just like them; men and women at risk for being killed by their partner, the person who is supposed to love, cherish and care for them.  
It is in these times especially that we must recognize seeds of hope even in the midst of extreme suffering and tragedy.  Perhaps it is simply acknowledging the courage it takes for a person to call and share their story, in the woman who thanks you for believing them, the one who can acknowledge it isn’t her fault, perhaps it is in the person who says they feel stronger and more confident in their plan or the one who feels safe in shelter.
I believe it is no coincidence that a former client chose this week, in the midst of our grieving for those whose lives are lost to intimate partner violence, to stop in and let us know she is doing well.  That she is safe, still working, has an apartment and has regained custody of her children.  In spite of the heartache and tears that sometimes accompany this work, it is the seeds of hope and the knowledge and belief that what we do makes a difference in the lives of so many people.  This hope is what brings our amazing Advocates back day in and day out.

This week marks the one year anniversary that our dear Sr. Paula and her great friend, Sr. Margaret were killed.   Many are devastated and outraged by the atrocity in Charlottesville that cost Heather her life and injured many others.  As we go forward wading through the tragedy and heartache that surround us may we be the seeds of hope for others and always be instruments of love and peace.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

400 years of Charity: Making God's love visible

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Initially Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

At the end of July, I traveled to Pedro Carbo, Ecuador, with the Sisters of Charity Seton Hill interprovincial charism experience.  Each year, Korean and American Sisters visit and volunteer at the Korean sisters’ mission, a clinic and school for kids with special needs.  This summer marked my fifth time accompanying the group as a Spanish interpreter.  At the end of the week, I led a retreat with SC discerner, Marylu, for school staff, clinic staff, and local parishioners.  The Sisters asked us to focus on the 400th anniversary of the charism of Charity.

Preparing the retreat was profoundly enriching for me.  As I delved more deeply into the roots of the charism to which I have vowed my life, my own understanding of my call deepened and expanded.  How did the charism of Charity come about?  And what does that mean today?

Our retreat group, celebrating 400 years of Charity
Four hundred years ago, in January of 1617, St. Vincent de Paul experienced a conversion moment that would drive the course of the rest of his life.  In the northern French town Folleville, he heard a confession at the bedside of a dying peasant who had lived a life of loneliness and pain.  Vincent’s heart moved within him as he received the man’s suffering. He realized that this man never, in his whole life, had experienced God’s powerful love for him through another person.  And he realized that many on the margins were equally spiritually abandoned.

Vincent’s mission materialized: to bring divine love to all.  The mission overcame him with beautiful urgency. He knew he must spend every day of his life trying to make sure that no one would go without the love of God.  He felt especially urged to the margins, to those people who were poor, excluded, and oppressed. He felt called to enter into relationship with them and to align his worldview with theirs.  He felt called to make love visible through service.

Vincent said, “…Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.”  This mission tugs at my heartstrings.  I am called to make God’s love visible, concrete, tangible.  In my encounters, do I embody love?  Do I feel the same urgency that Vincent felt?

August of 1617 brought the second part of Vincent’s conversion.  This month 400 hundred years ago in Chatillon-les-Dombes, France, he became aware of a peasant family who was dying of hunger.  He preached an impassioned sermon begging for action on behalf of the family.  The whole town responded with great generosity, and the family had enough food for a few days.  Vincent was touched by the outpouring, but he was also troubled.  What would happen when the food ran out?

Vincent had an epiphany that became central to the charism.  In order to make a sustaining impact, we must organize.  Over the next years, Vincent recruited other priests, sisters, and laypeople to help in his mission of love.  They tackled the major social injustices of their day, responding to needs for healthcare, education, and more.  Vincent also became an advocate for systemic change.  Throughout his life, he maintained relationships with people of influence, making them aware of important issues and urging their support.  Late in life, he served on an advisory council for the Queen, where he kept the needs of the poor before her and fought for just legislation.

Our charism insists that God’s love must be made manifest through action, and that must happen on an individual as well as a societal level.  For those not familiar with our charism, common definitions of the word “charity” could be problematic.  The thrust of our energy is not one-sided aid, welfare, or relief.  We are urged by the love of Christ to make that love evident through service and seeking justice.

Racial justice activist Dr. Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  In the wake of the horrific display of hate in Charlottesville, that succinct but powerful phrase is a call to those of us who claim to live the charism of Charity – and to all Christians.

Charity may begin at home, but it must not stay there.  We experience the marvelous love of God in our lives, and it compels us to act.  Where there is hatred, we cannot be silent bystanders; we must sow love.  Our lives must make clear the love of Christ.  In our daily encounters and in our social and political engagement, do we make divine love visible?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of another charity tradition, said, “Do small things with great love.”  Yes, AND:  Do big things with great love, too.  These times need the fire of Charity.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Poem Prayer for Moving Forward

By Victoria Hood, SC Federation Candidate

      Click HERE to learn more about Victoria

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Life is a constant, moving forward

And so we thank You, Lord

For every day and every opportunity

To reach out to all our brothers and sisters

In charity, love, joy and prayer

So that all may lead elevated lives.

When reaching out to each other

Presents us with various challenges

I ask that You grant us

Confidence, faith, strength and courage

To meet each one with open minds, hearts and wills

And that You remind us

That we never reach out or meet a challenge alone.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How Free Cell reflects that God is always giving us another chance and another chance!

By Sr. Judy Donohue, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

On July 26, I finished up my vow prep retreat at the Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO.

artwork at the
Mercy Retreat Center
While there I met several people on retreat, and at mass. I noticed how meeting the two Mercy Sister Canonical novices for lunch, Kelly and Moira boosted my spirit. It was so nice seeing other women in the Novitiate. We shared the joys and challenges of being in formation.

some of my coloring
During my retreat, I met with my spiritual director each day. It was freeing to share everything that was on my heart and to share with her my fears, hopes, dreams and feelings.  She was a comforting listening ear.  I walked the Labyrinth each day reflecting on the changing of directions and my own experience of changing feelings and paths. I did some colored pencil coloring, walking and quiet prayer in the chapel.  In reflecting on God’s goodness to me to have come this far, I looked at what a grace the vows have been.  Obedience reminds me to ask for help when I need it.  I am not in this alone. Poverty reminds me to be a good steward of all I have been given.  Chastity reminds me to treat each person with respect for we are all trying to do our best. I am grateful for my vocation and the time everyone has put into making me the person I am today.

I’ve also noticed at night before I go to bed, when I played free cell on my IPad that I could play again and again and again until I get it right. This helps me understand that God allows us to keep learning lessons until we get it right.  This realization helps me to be patient with myself when I want to know everything now. I have to wait like everyone else.  God’s love is more patient than mine. God is able to take me where God wants me to go. I have enjoyed the ride. Keep me in prayer for I will be making my vows in 24 days on August 26!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Saying Goodbye to the Border

By Whitney Schieltz, SC Federation Affiliate

      Click HERE to learn more about Whitney

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Almost two years ago I moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to El Paso, Texas, to experience life in community and life on the margins as an Affiliate with the Sisters of Charity.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to the move.  I had never imagined myself living in the Southwest, and my complete lack of Spanish made me feel like a fish out of water.  This feeling was amplified when I began joining the Sisters in ministry at the Proyecto Santo Niño clinic, a day program for special needs children and their families in Anapra, Mexico.  I had no idea how I would be able to contribute without the language or any experience with special needs children.

Fast forward to now. 

When we pull up to the clinic in the morning, I am greeted by children running out to the car and calling, “Whitney,” “Winnie,” “Wendy,” or some other variation of my name (which does not translate well in Spanish).  In broken but much improved Spanish, I ask them how they are and what they want to play that day.  Many times I end up being a tiburón or zombi chasing them around the playground.  Other times we color together, or they want me to read them a book (in Spanish of course), which usually requires them helping me pronounce every third word.  And sometimes I’m lucky enough to have some of the girls give me a makeover, complete with a fancy up-do and thick makeup.  To my pleasant surprise, there are a lot of things you can do with children without speaking their language!

Next month I will move back to Cincinnati to become a Novice; and as my time on the border comes to an end, I reflect on my experiences here with awe and gratitude.  I have learned so much about love, about patience, about service, and about myself.  The children have reminded me how to enjoy the little things in life, they’ve shown me how to love indiscriminately, and they’ve taught me that I am capable of more than I often think I am.  There have been many encounters that have contributed to my growth over these past two years, but the children of Proyecto Santo Niño have definitely made one of the deepest imprints on my heart.  Although it will be difficult to say goodbye to the border, I am thankful for the time that I’ve had here, and I look forward to the road ahead.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Charity Moving Forward

Over the weekend several members of the Future of Charity group joined about 50 other Sisters from the SC Federation to participate in the 2017 Charity Moving Forward gathering.  Taking place every two to three years, Charity Moving Forward (formerly known as 1970s and Beyond) is for Sisters in the SC Federation who entered between 1970 and present day as well as for those women who are currently in initial formation or serious discernment.  Gatherings offer the opportunity to meet each other, to network and build relationships, to reflect upon and discuss important themes, and to dream about the future of religious life together.

This year the gathering was hosted by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill on their motherhouse grounds in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  The theme was "Our Charity Charism within a Living Cosmology;" and guiding the group in prayer, reflection, and conversation was Maureen Wild, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, Canada.

Future of Charity members and wisdom figures who attended
the 2017 Charity Moving Forward gathering.

We thank the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill for their wonderful hospitality, the members of the planning committee for their work in preparing the gathering, our presenter for sharing her knowledge and passion with us, and all the Sisters who participated for helping to make a fun, engaging, and memorable weekend!

Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Vocation of Location and the Presents of Presence

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Andrea

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

I grew up with several family members who were Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.  The one that was a regular part of my life as long as I can remember was my dad’s sister, my Aunt Jane. We became very close as I grew up, and I visited her in person whenever I came home from South Carolina. She was bedridden the last several years of her life and I phoned her every Sunday I could while I was away. Known in community as Sr. Mary Joseph, she was a brilliant woman who wanted to be a medical missionary. She was told by the superior at the time of her entrance (around 1940) that as soon as the Vatican granted permission she would be allowed to study medicine and pursue her call. That never happened for her and she spent her life teaching high school science instead. That was a great disappointment to her, and it took her whole life to come to peace with it, and to recognize the grace it provided. I was the lucky recipient of the wisdom her life had taught her. As I entered into discernment about religious life, she shared a nugget with me that I find guiding my life especially now.

Aunt Jane, or Sr. Mary Joseph
She had had a bad spell and thought that she surely was going home to God, but she rebounded and was rather disappointed to find herself back among the living. She said to me, “I wonder why God doesn’t want me yet. He has taken so many others, but not me.” The she told me that she spent a great deal of her life thinking that God had a big job for her to do, and anxious that she couldn’t figure out what it was. She finally came to understand that she would probably never know what that purpose was, but that it wasn’t a big thing like she had thought. It could have been something very small, something so small that she wouldn’t even think it was important. It could have been something as simple as a smile or a kind word to someone who desperately needed to be acknowledged and treated with kindness. That little gesture might have changed the course of their day, or maybe even their life. It could have rippled out beyond that person and affected untold others. She came to peace that whatever it was was not hers to know, and to trust that by putting herself at God’s service, God had used her for good.

As Sr. Tracy and I discerned the elements of religious life we wanted to incorporate into community living in Visitation House (the local house we started after first profession of vows), this wisdom of Aunt Jane’s translated into a sort of “vocation of location.” We wanted to live in a neighborhood in need where we know we won’t likely be able to make dramatic changes, but hope that our loving presence might make a difference. As sisters Annie Klapheke and Louise Lears joined us, we were provided with an opportunity to do just that. Two other sisters in the community had made it their special project to find us a suitable home and successfully persuaded a local developer to purchase a large old Victorian that he would rent to us.

Visitation House community (from left to right):
Annie, Louise, Tracy, and Andrea
We had no idea just how needy our new home in East Price Hill really would be. We have seen children waging rock-throwing campaigns at passing motorists and pedestrians, alcoholics passed out on the sidewalk and addicts barely able to stay on their feet. We often hear violent domestic disputes and street gangs fighting, and frequent gunshots against the backdrop of sirens. Though the description sounds pretty awful, there are some wonderful things as well and we are happy to be here. We may not be able to fix all the problems at this urban margin, but we are beginning to see ways to honor this vocation of location.

If you read Annie’s last blog, you already know about the woman she called “Sharon.” As I started to hand her a few dollars for food, I knew it was one of the opportunities that we were hoping for, and sat down next to her. As I listened to the horrible story of her life, I ached with her need and my helplessness. All I could do was just be there. At one point she turned her head away from me and said, “You make me cry.” I had heard a lot to cry about and wondered what I could be doing to compare and asked her why. She said, “’Cause you look at me like you care.” I told her I did care and how hard it was to see her in such pain. I told her that I believe that we are all sisters and brothers so when one of us is hurting, we all hurt. She asked for a hug and then headed down the street to get her “stuff” with a promise that she would return to the rehab center the next day.

I hope Sharon felt God’s embrace when I hugged her. I know I did, and though I was worried for her I marveled at the deep-down joy I felt at being granted the supreme privilege of seeing Sharon through God’s eyes and being God’s arms to hold her at a moment when that meant more to her than the money she got from me. What a gift!

As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that the “presents of presence” are just as generously showered on the giver as they are on the receiver, and many memories of those graced occasions came to me.

Sr. Kateri (on the left)
One of the most vivid memories was of a day not too long ago that I would describe as a pretty bad day for me. I had been with my cousin, Sr. Kateri as she received the news that she had terminal cancer. After staying with her a few hours, she was ready for a rest and I went downtown to work. I stopped to get something to eat and was met at the front door by a guy selling the publication produced by the Homeless Coalition to help people try to earn a little income. My heart was already broken wide open and I think I was still a little dazed at what was happening, so when he said, “Hey, little sister, will you help me out and buy a paper?” I didn’t think I had the energy to stop and talk with him. But I did, and am now convinced that God put him there just for me. His name is Andre; he only has a few teeth left, and obviously suffers from very poor health. But that man knows his Bible, and he was soon preaching about God’s love and saying things I really needed to hear. He likes to ask theological questions, and we had a great conversation sharing our favorite passages affirming the breadth and depth of God’s unfathomable, ever faithful, ever present love. Then Andre asked my sign, but before I could answer, he said, “Don’t tell me! I know! You’re an Aries!” I smiled in acknowledgement as he proceeded to tell me all about myself with pretty amazing accuracy. “You’ve got a tongue of fire hovering your head and your spirit is a fiery one! That passion gets you into trouble sometimes but you’re learning how to tame it without putting it out. Yah, you get it little sister! Amen!”

receiving the presents of being present
When I told him I didn’t have any cash for a paper, he said he’d take a sandwich from the shop instead. I took his order (three bean and cheese burritos and a quart of 2% milk). He had found someone else to preach to when I came out with his lunch, so I set it down next to him and gave him a quick hug. As I walked away towards my car, he hollered out in his big booming voice, “You sure are sweet, child of God!” I was grinning from ear to ear, knowing I had just a chat with God. In being intentional about being present to this homeless man, reduced to begging people for help, I had received the present of knowing God was right there with me and was strengthened for what lie ahead.

Receiving the presents of being present is as easy as practicing the vocation of location. Do it wherever you are in whatever way you can. It may not seem like anything earthshaking or significant, but it can mean the world to someone in need. And you will receive the greatest gifts of all!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mininka Mininka Waye So Dawaw

By S. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Canonical Novice

      Click HERE to learn more about Romina

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Intisan and her sister enjoy the view of the Ohio River.
Intisan finally stood up from her chair and walked over in the direction of the area where her younger sister, Fatuma and I were waiting. We were at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Sharonville, Ohio and Intisan just finished her third attempt at the knowledge test to obtain a driving permit. She has always been an achiever having received numerous awards and praises year after year from the school she and her siblings attended for six years in the refugee camp in Ethiopia. It was no different during their last four years before coming to the United States. They lived in Adis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, where Intisan excelled in her work as a computer teacher. As a model student and a high achiever, it was a huge disappointment and a cloud over her head to experience failure on her first two tries at this test. I tried to console her by telling her how many native English speakers fail several times before finally obtaining their permit. She is still learning English and has only been in the States for over a month. Intisan welcomed my attempts at trying to cheer her up but knowing how much her family depended on her to succeed at this next step weighed her spirits down. It was difficult to tell if she was successful this time. As she walked towards the officer at the counter, her eyes met ours and a smile slowly formed across her lips. She nodded to let us know that she did it. She passed.

Intisan is the oldest daughter of Osman and Nima. She and her family are Somali refugees who recently arrived in the US this year. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio in Cincinnati had a difficult time finding a house large enough to accommodate the 11 members of their family on short notice. The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati had several houses on the mother house grounds and one of them was empty at the time of the family’s arrival. After some back and forth to make arrangements, the leadership of our congregation was able to offer as temporary living space the house next to the novitiate house where I live until more permanent housing could be found. And just like that, Intisan’s family and the Sisters of Charity became neighbors.

Somali tea and sweets for the afternoon.
Pretty soon, afternoon tea and sampling a variety of “sweets” and delicious Somali food became a regular occurrence between myself and our new neighbors. I readily took to tea with cardamom and Somali sweets such as shushumow, balbalow, dorsho, and kashato. On my birthday, they were my special guests and I cooked them Filipino noodles called pancit with careful efforts to use halal chicken - meat prepared in a manner that adheres to Islamic law as prescribed in the Koran. Sharing food was always a delightful experience. But even more beautiful were the conversations that occurred during these sit-down meals. Breaking bread was the bridge to breaking open the stories and experiences we carried with us. They told me how worried they were about coming to America with very little money and with such a large family. The parents, Osman and Nima, are in their mid-forties and their nine children who were able to come including Intisan, range in age from 24 years old to the youngest who is eight. Two older sons are still in Somalia. Occupied by his worries about how he and his family will manage, Osman was happily surprised by the help and assistance they received shortly after arriving. IOM (International Organization for Migration) was at the Washington D.C. airport to meet them and Catholic Charities was in Cincinnati ready to receive them. Shortly after landing in Cincinnati, they were welcomed into their temporary home and met the Sisters of Charity. Osman’s initial worries and stresses began to fade.

Intisan who acts as the main translator for the family, echoed her father’s sentiments. “I was worried. Our case worker said there wasn’t any house [sic]. What do we do now? Where will we go? Oh my God, we were worried. My father was very worried.” She laughed as she recalled how they all felt a month earlier and how relieved they are now that it has all worked out.

As a birthday gift, Intisan's sister artfully designed
beautiful henna tattoo on my arms and hands.
Nima, Intisan’s mother, has strength and resilience belied by her easy smile. She has borne 11 children and her life has been far from easy. Her lack of English does not keep her from sharing the long, difficult journey her family experienced and the losses she endured. She talks about wanting her children to lead a different life than the one she has lived. Nima witnessed violence and lost loved ones. “It was hard. I experienced difficulties. I only want for my children to be educated and to be hard workers and to have a good life in the future. I am sure they will do more things. My dream became true. I can expect now to have a new life in America.” Despite the many trials, she remains animated and precocious. She is hysterical when she tries her hand at an English word to tell a joke or join in the conversation. One time, one of the sisters took four of the family members to shop for some clothes. Nima went with them and she eagerly showed me her bargains once she got home. There was a beautiful purse, a couple of dresses and finally, a leopard print pair of underwear that was way bigger than her size. The box showed it was an XXXL and there was at least one other box of the same. While not very successfully containing my amusement, I tried to ask her why in the world she would pick such huge underwear. Without waiting for her daughters to translate, she pointed and emphatically said in English, “Picture (of the model on the box)-- small!” We all laughed heartily at her explanation. That is true. Why would they have a picture of a model wearing a small underwear if that’s not what’s inside the box? She continued explaining what she would do with these pairs of underwear that were so huge, they could fit her and at least one of her daughters at the same time. She made the motion of using a sewing machine, “SIN-ger!” This woman definitely knows how to make lemonade out of lemons or better yet, several underwears out of one.

Osman and his children work on the garden they started
next to their temporary house.
Osman, the patriarch, is an excellent gardener, baker, and a man of more skills than I am aware of. His children affectionately call him “abba” and he displays the gentlest, kindest manner towards them. He always greets me with a handshake or a hug whenever I come over. Each time I visit, he tells me that I and the sisters are his family and how grateful he is for us. He taught me how to say “mesenith” (thank you), “ada mudan” (you’re welcome) and other Somali and Arabic words that I still need to memorize. Osman has many stories about his life in Somalia and Ethiopia including knowing Italian and Indian nuns that taught him and gave him candy after school. They wore black and brown habits and the little children called them “Sor.” He says the Sisters of Charity look a little different but their actions of helping are the same.

However, my favorite story that Osman shared was very telling of this gentle man’s character. Back at the Ethiopian refugee camp, a foreigner visited and watched him make bread and cookies in a clay oven. This small business provided a livelihood for Osman and his family in the refugee camp. The foreigner was from the Netherlands but spoke Somali. He took pictures of Osman doing his work and offered to help by giving him money to grow his business. Before agreeing to accept the offer, Osman had a very important question for the man. “You want to help me? Yes? Do you eat what I eat? Yes? That was a test because if he wants to help me, I should be able to help him too and share what I have with him. When he said yes, I prepared a meal and we ate together. (Only) then I could [sic] accept his help.” The dignity and integrity of this family shines through despite the difficult situations they have experienced. He reiterates this same principle of mutuality in talking about being in America, “My biggest dream has come true. So my family and I need to help others too and help the country I live in now. Whatever they need from me, I will (do my best to) help them.”
Sisters of Charity break the fast with Intisan's family on one
of the initial days of Ramadan this year.
While enjoying our conversation and tea on one of our many afternoons shared together, Intisan accidentally tipped over and spilled her drink. I reached out to help her stop the liquid from flowing and in the process might have expressed a little disappointment at her losing most of the drink she was enjoying so much. She responded to me and said, “It’s okay, Romina. It’s ker.” Puzzled, I looked at her waiting for more explanation about ker. She continued, “You cannot be sad about it. Allah gives and Allah can take away. Even when bad things happen, or you lose something, it is blessed, still good. It is ker.” I smiled as I recalled my own understanding of spiritual indifference and letting go. I later used “ker” to help Intisan see that failing the driving test could just be a possible learning experience. She smiled and appreciated the comment. Indeed, there is so much that this family and I share in common. Osman affirmed this, “Muslims and Christians, we are very similar. It is Love. Our religion says love each other.... welcoming [sic]... happiness. (Points) Look, there’s Muslim or there’s Christian... we don’t say that. We don’t discriminate. Peace and love (is what we teach), your (religion does) too. We love each other. Our God didn’t say hate each other but love each other. Many, many things is [sic] similar. I don’t see many differences. We also believe Ysa - Jesus, the prophets.  Jesus says don’t hate each other. Love each other. Also for Catholics, you welcome each other. When someone is sinning, forgive. Love your enemies too.”

Intisan and her family stayed with us for only a little over a month. In early May, Catholic Charities let us know that they finally found permanent housing for the family. I still regularly visit them at least once a week but we mutually miss the accessibility of being right next door to each other especially at four o’clock in the afternoon when it’s time for tea. A relative has recently gifted them with a car to use and Intisan is learning to drive and aiming to take the actual driving test soon. She knows what a help it would be to have at least one member of the family be able to operate a vehicle. Recently, four members of the family have also started working their first US jobs.
Colorful and delicious Somali rice to celebrate Eid al-Fitr
Photo courtesy of S. Tracy Kemme, SC

           On June 26, several of my sisters and I went to the family’s new home to join in their celebration of
Eid al-Fitr - the feast marking the end of Ramadan, the month-long religious practice of fasting and prayer for Muslims. We were greeted with warm hugs, smiles and more food than we can ever eat in a week. “Our family,” as the sisters are now accustomed to calling them, made us the feast of all feasts. On their special religious holiday, they prepared colorful rice, scrumptious chicken, a beautiful salad, and loads of sweets. As always, more stories were shared around the table. Our tummies were filled to the brim but our hearts even more as Osman and Nima both said to us in Somali, “Mininka mininka waye so dawaw.” Intisan translated for her parents, “Our home is your home. You are welcome here anytime.” Indeed, we are no longer strangers, not even just neighbors. Their family and their home have become our home. And we, the sisters, have become theirs.

Reference: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27324224

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Tragic Gap

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

This past weekend, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and their Associates spent four days together in a communal retreat.  This sacred time of reflection was facilitated by Sr. Janet Mock, CSJ, who led us into thinking and praying deeply about our vows of poverty, obedience and chaste celibacy.  During our day of reflection on the vow of obedience, Sr. Janet challenged us to consider our call to stand in the ‘tragic gap’, a phrase coined by Parker Palmer, an author and activist for social change.  Sr. Janet offered us these words of Palmer for reflection:

“I think it’s pretty obvious to a lot of people that we live in very broken times; we live in times with lots and lots of gaps between the difficult realities of life and what we know to be possible humanly.  We know that we live in a world at war.  We also know that it is possible to live in peace…everyone would have their own example of what I’ve come to call these tragic gaps… One of the most important capacities [a person] can have is the capacity to stand in the tragic gap… It is not easy to live in this middle ground, in the space between what is and what could be…Standing in the tragic gap can be a heart-breaking experience.  But instead of breaking into pieces the heart can be broken open into larger capacity, new possibilities and more life-giving responses to the struggles of our times.”  (“Standing in the Tragic Gap, Parker J. Palmer).

In the days following our community retreat, some of my Sisters and I found ourselves standing in the tragic gap. 

Saturday afternoon, Sister Andrea was out watering the flowers in our yard when a disheveled-looking woman, I’ll give her the alias Sharon, approached asking for help.  She had recently come out of drug rehab and was now back on the streets and hungry.  Andrea took the time to sit on the front steps with Sharon and offer a compassionate listening ear.  They ended the conversation with an agreement that Sharon would return on Monday and Andrea would drive her to a rehab center. 

Monday came, and no sight of Sharon.

Tuesday evening there was a knock at the door.  Sharon was back, and lamenting the fact that she had not returned the previous day.  She had now been on the street for 7 days.  Myself and two other sisters from my community made her a sandwich and sat with her on our front porch.  Sharon admitted that she had used drugs earlier that day, but was desperate to get back into rehab.  We spent the next 45-60 minutes calling every homeless shelter and rehab center in city.  We repeatedly received automated recordings or responses of “no room available”.  There we sat in the tragic gap, between a woman reaching out for help, and nowhere to go.

It quickly became clear that Sharon may be in need of medical care as she was coming off her drug use.  We made the decision to take her to the hospital.  After a few hours in the ER, and several conversations with the nurse and social worker, we left Sharon in the capable hands of the ER staff and headed for home.  We called the hospital the next morning and were told that Sharon had been deemed medically stable, had been discharged, and they could offer us no other information.  With each passing day, I half expect to see Sharon reappear on our doorstep, but as of now, nothing.

I wish I had a happy ending to this story.  I wish I could say that standing in the tragic gap resulted in the closing of that tense space and brought Sharon the healing she needed.  But this is the reality of the tragic gap – even when we choose to remain there, most often the gap remains too. 

So what difference does it make?

Perhaps the gap was not changed, but I was.  When I hear news stories of addicts and overdoses, I will hear with compassion rather than judgment, bringing to mind Sharon’s face.  I will more strongly advocate for resources for emergency shelters…or better yet, resources for programs that aim to break the cycle of poverty and addiction. 

And I hope that Sharon was changed.  I hope that, for at least a few hours, she knew and felt that she was worthy of love and care, despite poor decisions and past mistakes. 

What tragic gaps do you see in the world around you?  Where are you standing?