· Female solidarity ·
Solidarity is written in the feminine: 70 per cent of volunteer work in the world is done by women. In our Latin American and Caribbean cultures, in the most popular and simple milieux, it often happens that one sees women, close at hand, supporting each other: from sharing a little food to helping take care of children. Perhaps we are more sensitive to this solidarity because of the situation of invisibility and marginalization in which we lived in society for many years.
Over the years, in my service as President of the CLAR (Latin American and Caribbean Conference of Men and Women Religious), I have had the privilege of guiding many women who, since their consecration in religious life, have been building the Kingdom beginning with solidarity and the care of the common house.
In Latin America, especially since the Second Vatican Council and from its reception at the Conference of Medellín, women’s consecrated life has questioned itself in its deepest roots and has been involved with generosity and passion in the movement of the Spirit who leads it to seek ways of incarnation and to reinterpret its charisms starting from the Gospel and the founding charism, as well as from the signs of the times.
This living process has attracted women religious who arrive from the United States, Ireland, France and Canada to live their charisms with Gospel radicalism in union with the women’s Congregations originating in Latin America and the Caribbean. I believe there is no religious congregation which has not asked itself where to go, how to respond or what direction to take. Many answers to these questions arose but, on the basis of their charisms, they have all sought to follow up this favourable moment (kairòs) of the Spirit. This is why we can speak of the consecrated life as a single body which responds to the Spirit in its charismatic diversity.
Women, women religious, are present in the most isolated places in Amazonia, in small and simple communities they share the climate, the work and the poverty of the people whom they guide and help. They are very happy women who recount their experiences with true joy and sometimes in tears. They are women who live in areas at risk, who have had to take in families, entire communities, caring for these people’s lives and often risking their own lives. They travel along the rivers in canoes, stay on in places from which everyone wants to escape, because they want to be there, to guide and to assist.
These are women who, starting with education, look after the hearts of children and young people, helping them to be aware that they are citizens, and of the fact that, by virtue of small, daily and constant sacrifices, we can make a difference. These women teach at the large universities and in the poorest corners, but from the same theological perspective, moved by compassion and solidarity. They are women who accompany migrants on their way, who, together with other women, cook, prepare and go to meet the needs of those on the journeys of death, on the “beasts”, in other words the trains that ply the direct routes north. They are Samaritan women who have moved to junctions in order to meet the needs of those journeying. Beside the Patronas [bosses] de Amatlán there is a religious community which gives guidance: and in a shelter for migrants the women religious take in 60 or 70 or more people every day, giving them a roof over their heads where, like Mary of Guadalupe “they show them all their love”, offering them food and somewhere to stay but above all attentively listening to their stories and their dreams.
These women welcome the deported, as in Nogales in the north of Mexico, treating those injured in the desert, those with blisters from walking and above all hearts pierced by desperation at not having realized their dreams and for having had to leave their families.
They are women who work hard in support of human rights, in processes of justice and peace and of the integrity of creation, who, like Sr Norma, call into question policies on migration, who make their voices heard and open up spaces where it is still hard to enter, both in society and in the Church herself. Many of them are present in the United Nations where, day after day they plead the cause of the poor and the care of creation. During a peace march in Mexico in which all Mexican families were invited to participate, when the people saw the women religious taking part in it they said, “Sisters, with you we feel brave enough to come out”.
They are women whose communities are located in neighbourhoods where human trafficking and prostitution are blatant, communities with wide open doors in order tolisten, to orientate and to care for the ecology of the spirit, so devastated by social and personal sin. At no. 22 Calle de Bogotá there is a community fitted into a neighbourhood frequented by prostitutes. Together with its members I walked through the streets to greet the women who work there, who told me always to look them in the eye because in this way they feel they are being treated as people.
These are women who have had no biological children but have many children of the soul, who watch over their dreams, who are both mothers and sisters.
They are women to seek to teach how to create spaces for life, who know how to sow and help others to do so, who look after pieces of land, who plant flowers, who embellish the environment and the spaces that they touch, who recycle, use again and generate harmony. Pope Francis has said so: it is women who put harmony into life.
Many of these women visit prisons, listen to the inmates, go and see their families, pray with them and help them to take paths of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Female consecrated life is striving to create networks against human trafficking, networks of justice and pace, networks to encourage care for Amazonia; to gather in intercongregational communities, helping people hit by earthquakes, like the intercongregational communities in Haiti, or by inexplicable fires, like the only recently founded communities in Chile; women who do not stop because there are fewer of them than previously or because they are older than previously but who seek creatively their strength in communion and in inter-relations, trusting in the wonders that the Spirit works when he unites us, when we act on the basis of communion.
I believe that changes are being generated which are transforming the world: because “many small people in many small places who do small things, can change the world”.
Mercedes Leticia Casas Sánchez
St. Peter’s Square
April 19, 2019
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