Chile experiences recounted - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Chile experiences recounted

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Matthew H. Clark, accompanied by Father John Mulligan, V.G., recently returned from a pastoral visit to the Sisters of Mercy mission in Santiago, Chile. This is the conclusion of his reflection on the trip; the first installment appeared in last week’s Catholic Courier Weekly editions.

When Father John Mulligan and I left for our trip to Chile to visit our Sisters of Mercy, I knew that it would be a pleasant and rewarding experience. It most certainly was that — and more.

The focal point of the experience for me was the day we gathered at a retreat center in Santiago to celebrate a double jubilee of religious life in the Sisters of Mercy: 60 years for Sister Janet Caufield and 50 years for Sister Jane Kenrick.

That day was a rich one because we could share the joy and the memories of two wonderful women who together have devoted 110 years to religious life and 80 years ministering among the people of Chile.

The day was special because all the Sisters of Mercy now in Chile were present for the occasion. There were the other three sisters from Rochester — Joanne Deck, Anne Marie Mathis and Theresa Rutty. Present also were all of our Chilean sisters — Maria In√©s Olgu√≠n Caro, L√≠a Gonz√°lez Sandoval, Lilian Silva Aparicio, Soledad Cantillana Calder√≥n (Soli) and Valeria Vincenc√≠o Catal√°n. In addition, we had Sisters Margaret Milne and Josephine (Josie) Twomey from Wellington, New Zealand, and Cork, Ireland, respectively.

Shortly after gathering, we celebrated the Eucharist. It was very peaceful, even contemplative. I preached the homily and invited the others to speak, if they wished. John spoke, and the two jubilarians added beautiful expressions of praise and gratitude to the Lord for the blessings of their lives, and to their family, friends and those present for their loving support.
After Mass, we had a turkey dinner and then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon, which featured an audio-visual salute to our jubilarians.

Through it all, our jubilarians — and all present — told the stories of the years. Some were hard stories like those from the Pinochet era, when some of our sisters were arrested for helping the oppressed, and many of their friends were deported or tortured or killed. There was no boasting that day. There was just the recounting of the serious risks these women and their companions took to extend the compassion of Christ to sisters and brothers in need.

There were funny stories, too. Some had to do with errors in Spanish that left those who made them red-faced with embarrassment. Others had to do with the comical side of cultural misunderstandings. Some were delightful stories of ordinary life that unfold wherever one may live.

Although we didn’t talk about it that day, one of the pleasures of the day for me was the presence of the Chilean women who are now professed Sisters of Mercy. I remember the days when the sisters were exploring the possibility of establishing a formation program for Chilean women. It was not an easy decision. How could the blending of two cultures be achieved? Would the sisters in Chile have the resources and skills necessary to engage in the delicate and demanding work of formation? Was it even fair to invite Chilean women to join a congregation whose leadership and a vast majority of its members were almost 5,000 miles north of them? But go ahead they did, and today one half of the Rochester group is Chilean. I think that fact is a remarkable tribute to the vision and courage of those who made the decision to do so.

The jubilee day was the only time we were all together. Joanne, Theresa and Marie Inés soon returned to Copiapó; Soli and Anne Marie had commitments that took them back to Pelequén.

Janet, Lilian and Josie hosted us at our home base at San Luis. They never used the Spanish expression “Mi casa es su casa,” but they acted in a way that left John and me feeling very much at home. Jane took us to her place at Vi√±a del Mar for an overnight stay. We spent an afternoon with a group of HIV/AIDS patients to whom she ministers. John and I sat around a table with the group and chatted with them while they worked on macram√© and cutting fleece for sweatpants and pullovers, which they sell to bring in some money. I remember being impressed — even moved — when one of the members told us why he participated in the group. He told me that it is the only place he could go where he could speak honestly about what was on his mind and where he was understood and accepted.

As I write these words, I think about the Lord being criticized for sitting at a table with the outcasts and the despised of his day. Jane does that day in and day out. I don’t know if she is criticized for that as the Lord was, but, I do know that she does so with a Christ-like compassion and humility.

Margaret, our friend from New Zealand, is a soft-spoken and very talented person who hosted John and me for a delightful day in Huamachuco, an area a few miles from San Luis. She is a nurse who does a lot of work in public health. Margaret also serves on the staff of a center that serves women by helping them to come to better spiritual and physical health.

The three of us talked our way through the hour-and-a-half walk to Huamachuco. We had a delightful lunch to which Margaret invited Fernando, one of her parish priests who has been ordained for seven years. Margaret thought it might be good for Fernando to chat with two older priests from another country. The conversation began well when, much to the surprise of all, Fernando asked John and me if we would share with him whatever advice we might have to offer about priesthood.

I’ll probably never know whether Fernando took anything from the conversation, but I am grateful to him for his stimulating question, and to John for sharing the insights he has garnered from years of priestly experience.
In the evening, Margaret invited friends from the neighborhood, including a remarkably talented brother and sister who, in voice and several instruments, offered us a concert of Chilean music.

All who dropped by were very pleased to tell John how much they appreciated the ministry of his brother Charlie when he served in that community. They remember Charlie as a generous and humble companion on their journey of faith.

Lía and Valeria had us to their home on our last day. Valeria is the most recently professed of the Chilean women and, after lunch, she showed us a video of her profession liturgy.
Lía, who was thinking about joining the congregation when I first met her, is now one of the three members of the coordinating team for the Chilean sisters. In the context of all that is happening now with the Sisters of Mercy, I found a special encouragement and a strong sign of hope in the home of these two good friends.

Our Sisters in Chile — all of the sisters of the newly formed Caribbean, Central America and South America group — face many challenges as they look to the future. But I am confident that they will do well. They are dedicated, gifted and have great faith in the Lord.

I close this brief account by conveying to you the gratitude, good wishes and prayers of the Sisters in Chile. They are ever mindful of, and grateful for, your loving support.

Peace to all.

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