A delegate of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians recounts
On September 10, I arrived five hours late, in Rome, without my luggage and workbook, for my 1:00 p.m. appointment at the Generalate. All the inspectors and delegates from 97 countries on five continents were already here, 172 in all, including the Mother General and her Council. While I, who live only an hour's flight away, waited at the airport baggage belt to retrieve my suitcase, which had in fact never been placed there in the first place.
So began my first long day as a delegate to the XXIV General Chapter of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians Institute. The long days were then repeated for 36 days and 864 hours, from the official opening of the assembly on September 18 to October 24, with a few changes to the timetable and a special event, which was the presence of Pope Francis, who came on October 22.
I say delegate because I was elected by the Sisters of Sicily to represent them, along with two others, in the argumentative debate and in the search for strategies regarding our prophetic presence at this historical moment. Today, when the social crisis has brought with it a change in the scale of values, in the vision of life, in models of behavior.
In the Chapter room, leafing through the folder containing the logistics, lists and other practical material, at a first furtive glance at the timeline I said to myself, “this time is a chance for spiritual discernment, prayer, sharing, and especially intercultural encounters. And to grasp, even in times of silence and adoration to the ‘master of the house’, God who dwells within my desire to be in love”. I will not hide the fact that a pleasant feeling caressed my soul because I found myself in the condition to travel through the word synodality, which from criterion becomes concreteness.
The General Chapter, this great convocation called - last year and then postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic - by the Superior General Mother Yvonne Reungoat for the entire Institute, seems to me to be a precious time. A significantly important time of verification and orientation to search with the whole world, enclosed in a large hall, what the Lord wants to tell us and ask of us today.
I experienced those days listening, with a willing heart, to God's calls that are present in this fragile and precarious time of ours, a time broken by the unexpected pandemic that has accentuated the loneliness of all age groups. In particular, young people, whom I consider God's now and the essential part of the Salesian charism, have felt their freedom to live and decide by themselves about their daily lives undermined.
This great challenge, among others, in the intercultural confrontation, which emerged as an opportunity for growth in generativity. As a possibility of a response to the lack of meaning in life, to the loss of joy, to the obscuring of hope.
My day as a Chapter member had a homogeneous structure, except for the week of October 3-10, which was dedicated to the discernment for the election of the new Superior General and her Council, to the times of enlightenment and comparison with the icon of Mary at the Wedding at Cana. In addition, to the challenges that question religious life and touch the existence of young people whom today live diversified forms of poverty.
Thus, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with lunch and breaks, I felt inserted within a process of confrontation, openness and the Charism’s dynamism. In the dialogue with the multicultural assembly, I let myself be taken by the sapiential reading of reality and the decisions that increased the vitality of the Institute. With this in mind, I penetrated the theme of the Chapter, and “Do whatever he tells me. Generative Communities of Life in the Heart of Contemporaneity”.
While within, I chose my transversal words: to walk together. This made me breathe as a Church, as brotherly peoples, as a future land, as an apostolic spiritual family. In addition, it urged me to experience the Chapter as a Pentecostal event. It was exciting to feel that we were a living part of a religious family that represented various cultures with their concerns, sufferings, expectations, and explicit and unspoken questions of the socio-cultural contexts in which we live. There were more than eleven thousand Daughters of Mary Help of Christians present from 74 religious provinces.
Within this Chapter framework, the week dedicated to discernment and the invocation of the Spirit for the election of the new Superior General and the members of the Council took on fundamental importance. Another moment also involved the responsibility of each one of us, that being the hours dedicated to reasoning together to identify the guidelines for the sexennium 2021-2027. To this end, five intercultural commissions were organized, which in turn were divided into sub-commissions.
Because of the emotions felt during the days of discernment, aimed at the elections, I am writing a new blank page. Because I have entered into the process of deep listening and the sense of belonging to this great religious family. Therefore, the perspective through which I looked at the gesture of co-responsibility of the elections was that of the quality of animation and government of the Superior General and her Council. The gesture of writing a name contributed to the fruitfulness of the Institute in the coming years.
Thus, on October 5, an applause of 29 minutes and 59 seconds sealed the choice, at the first ballot, of the new Superior General, Mother Chiara Cazzuola (born 66 years ago in Campiglia Marittima, Tuscany), the tenth successor to the co-founder, Saint Mary Domenica Mazzarello.
I am writing only a few biographical notes so as not to forget when I find myself reading these pages in my old age. The newly elected entered the Institute at the age of 18 in Castelgandolfo and has been a Sister since 1975. She was first a teacher, then principal, coordinator of youth ministry and first superior of the Province of Emilia-Liguria-Tuscany. She has been Visiting Councilor for America and Europe since 2008 and Vicar General since 2014. Mother Chiara, after her election, told the Chapter assembly with emotion, humility and simplicity, about the qualities that characterize her. “It is a mission greater than me. I trust the Lord, the eternal Rock, and I entrust myself to Mary Help of Christians who I feel very present. She is the true Superior of the Institute, that is why I say yes and I thank you for your trust. I know that it will be a path that we will travel together”.
Mother General Emeritus, Sister Yvonne, welcomed her with an affectionate embrace and a bouquet of red roses. It was a very emotional day. As the vows were marked on the board, the emotion grew, and then tears of joy.
At the Chapter, I was very involved in the interactive cross-cultural exchange. I spent most of the hours of the days in the subcommittees. I define them as lively gyms of listening and sharing. In a word, places of synodality. We told each other about ourselves, looking at the contemporary world and inserting ourselves in the horizon of ongoing formation, of walking together and of the networked mission.
We spoke about our life experience and educational mission taking as our starting point the biblical phrase from the Gospel of St. John, “Do whatever he tells you” which became the watchword of the Chapter. It is one of the few words that Mary of Nazareth says in Sacred Scripture. The red thread, in fact, that has woven our experiences together was precisely the “presence” of Mary at the first of Jesus’ miracles.
I allowed myself to be asked about the lack of “wine” that today's context and our communities suffer from. In addition, how valuable it is to reflect on the quality of the presence of the Mother of Jesus, and consequently on my presence as a consecrated woman and educator in today's context.
The sign of the jars that the Lord evaluated to work the miracle fascinated me. Because he recognized them as indispensable and capable of accepting new content. So I feel called upon to be among people with an attentive and hopeful way of seeing things. A gaze that does not annul differences, but reconciles them. A gaze that wants to express openness in the unity of the Charism that enhances the richness of intergenerational, intercultural, interreligious and inter-congregational dialogue. Amidst this dialogue, I feel alive as a consecrated woman, as Church and as Salesian Family. I too am committed to witnessing in fidelity to my Jesus the demands of Gospel values and to listening to the cry of the young, the cries of the poor, the clamor of the despoiled land, in the concreteness of courageous choices for the mission on the web.
by Maria Trigila
Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, teacher at the Don Bosco High School in Palermo and at the service of migrants of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Catania.
The Salesian Sisters
The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as the Salesians of Don Bosco, are a female religious institute of pontifical right. They are known as educators and formators. The founder of the Congregation was Maria Domenica Mazzarello (1837 - 1881), today a saint, who met Don Giovanni Bosco in 1872.
At the beginning, there were 11 Sisters. Today, there are 11,225 in 97 nations on five continents. There are 3,251 in America, 446 in Africa, 4,650 in Europe, 2,858 in Asia and 20 in Oceania.