Chile changes are bittersweet - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Chile changes are bittersweet

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Clark recently returned from a pastoral visit to the Sisters of Mercy mission in Santiago, Chile. This is the first installment of his reflections on that trip.

It was a great joy to spend the week of Jan. 15-22 with our Sisters of Mercy who serve in Chile. Father John Mulligan and I left Rochester on Monday and on this Sunday evening returned after six joy-filled days with our sisters.
I have been visiting our Mercy friends in Chile every three or four years since my first visit there in January of 1981. You have supported these wonderful women and their work for over 40 years through our annual Diocesan Missions Collection and other private initiatives. I have always judged it important to visit our sisters on a regular basis to underline your and my support for them and to share with you some of their experiences.

Mindful of that purpose, I want to begin my account of this trip by offering a brief summary of some very significant developments within the Mercy family in North and South America. I cannot do justice to the wonderful experience John and I had in Chile without first writing about these developments.

It’s a complicated story, but I would like to note two of its main elements. I do so because this unfolding story of adaptation and change within the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas will have a lasting impact not only on the sisters themselves, but on all of us in this local church who enjoy their friendship and who have been enriched for so long by their presence and ministry among us.

One of those main elements is the effort being made by all of the regional communities of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas to work together in order to adjust to changing circumstances and make the institute as strong and vibrant as possible. To that end, all of the regional communities in the institute belong to one of several planning groups. Our Rochester regional community has been working with the regional communities of Erie and Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Philippines, which for years has been part of Buffalo.

The process has advanced to the point that by Jan. 1, 2008, the five regional communities will form a new entity to be called the New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community (NyPPaW, for short), whose primary administrative office will be headquartered in Buffalo. There will be one president who, with her council, will lead what were once five distinct regional communities.
The presence of Sisters of Mercy and Mercy ministries within the Rochester Diocese — including, of course, the retirement community of sisters at the Blossom Road motherhouse — will continue, as will their mission.

The second major element directly involves our Sisters of Mercy in Chile. They, too, have been involved in a planning group. That group, a vast and complex one, consists of Sisters of Mercy now working in eight countries of the Caribbean, Central America and South America. It is known by the acronym CCASA and represents the countries of Belize, Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Argentina and Chile. Serving in those eight countries are approximately 110 Sisters of Mercy from North and South America.

The particular reconfiguration issues affecting the sisters in these eight countries (with two languages) will delay the formation of a new community well beyond the timeline for other regions in the institute. This reality prompted the sisters’ institute chapter in 2005 to consider how countries that previously have been a part of regional communities — as Chile has been a part of Rochester — would relate when those regional communities form new communities, for example, as Rochester becomes part of New York, Pennsylvania and Pacific West.

Until CCASA completes its reconfiguration work, the sisters in the eight countries it comprises are under the authority of the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. For our sisters in Chile, this change occurred officially on July 1, 2006. On Mercy Day of the same year, Sister Gaye Moorhead, president of the Rochester Regional Community, and Sister Janet Korn, who was among the founders of the Chile mission, participated in Chile with our sisters in a ceremony that commemorated this dramatic change in official relationships.

As I noted above, this is a complex matter with implications both for the Sisters of Mercy and for all of us who are part of this local church. Let me mention two practical efforts of these developments.

1) When institute-wide financial planning is established, the regional communities (and the communities that succeed them) have agreed to provide the budget of the countries of CCASA based on current practice through June 30, 2009.

2) As of June 1, 2006, Sisters of Mercy living and ministering in the CCASA community exercise their membership through that community, as dual membership is not possible. That is to say that the Rochester Sisters of Mercy serving in Chile no longer belong to the Rochester Regional Community but to CCASA. They nevertheless remain members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Given all of the above, our official diocesan connection with Sisters of Mercy in Chile will change within a few years. That prospect is a bittersweet one: bitter, because treasured relationships that have so richly blessed our local church will no longer exist as they once did; sweet, because our sisters of today, just as did our sisters over 40 years ago, have the vision and the courage to change with changing times so that they could better serve the Lord and his holy people.

This year, we have been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the presence and ministry in this region of the Sisters of Mercy, who arrived here 11 years before our diocese was established. The contributions they have made and will continue to make to our local church are of incalculable value. I know I can say with confidence that we will all stand with them through this period of transition, offering our support as a sign of our gratitude for all they have done for us for 150 years.

Next week: The story of our trip to Chile.

Peace to all.

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