On the weekend on which this edition of the Catholic Courier is published, I will be leaving for Brazil to visit our Sisters of St. Joseph who minister there.
The prospect fills me with excitement because all of the visits I have made to them and to our Sisters of Mercy who serve in Chile have been deeply inspiring. There is something very moving to me in witnessing the faith proclaimed and practiced — made incarnate — in circumstances very different from the ones in which I have spent my life.
Such an experience is a great education in the faith and an important reminder that through our baptism we are bound together in a communion of faith and charity with sisters and brothers all over the world. That communion includes people of all colors and ethnic origins. It embraces circumstances of every economic and social class. It comprises saints and sinners and all who are a bit of each.
To encounter such diversity is itself enriching and challenging. It stimulates the imagination: I like the way they do this. I wonder how I might bring this value home and share it in our culture?
It challenges our presuppositions and assumptions: I always thought that this or that was necessary to get my work done. They seem to get along quite well without something I thought was almost essential.
Such diversity tends to open those who experience it to further questions, ones that lead to a reflection on what we hold deeply in common. It is a wonderful experience to talk with the people of those places about what friendship with Christ means to them, how they understand and live out their call to service in the name of the Lord, how their experience of community strengthens them. Inevitably, I walk away from such conversations more aware than ever of the deep common yearning of the human spirit for purpose, for love, for God.
Very often in my conversations in Brazil and Chile, our Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of St. Joseph and the people express their gratitude to you for your faithful support for them for 40 years and more. They most surely appreciate your financial support through our annual Diocesan Missions Collection. But they also are grateful for your support in prayers. They have a very real sense of spiritual bonding with you.
I have always been deeply grateful to those who established these relationships begun in the mid-1960s and continuing still. It was a new challenge, and not an easy one. But our sisters of both congregations responded with characteristic courage and generosity, and you did the same.
These wonderful women have extended the life of our local church far beyond our borders and brought home the gift to us of awareness of the larger church — something that is essential to the life and health of any diocese.
On my first visit to our sisters in January 1981 and in early subsequent visits, I went to both countries every three years for a total of 10 days. In later years, after conversations with both groups, we began a pattern of 10-day visits to Brazil one year, to Chile the next and then a year off. That has proved to be a format that works for them. It certainly does for me.
I look forward to providing you with an account of this experience in upcoming issues of the Catholic Courier.
Peace to all.