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.