A dream coming true: Mobilizing African sisters for systemic change

Global Sisters Report
by Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN

eucharia-m-2015I was received into the novitiate on April 1, “April Fools’ Day,” despite my disapproval of the date. In her effort to ease my discontent, my postulate director told us of a saint she considers a fool for Christ, Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan who became a martyr of charity for volunteering to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz, a World War II Nazi concentration and death camp. Although this story did not assuage the poor choice of a date for the novitiate reception, it left a lasting impression on me. The story enlarged my mind about other ways of serving humanity. Kolbe’s love of God in the other, his recognition of the dignity and worth of the person, and his giving up his life choices and opportunities for the other were indeed inspiring.

Everyone is born with worth and dignity, choices and opportunities. Unfortunately, some individuals enlarge their own choices and opportunities at the expense of others by creating unjust systems and structures. This deprivation of the humanity of others became clearer to me as a provincial of my religious community some years ago. Part of my job was to listen to sisters’ stories, conduct intake interviews for young women wishing to enter a religious community, seek employment for sisters after qualification, and set up new ministries and projects. In the process of doing these tasks, I came face to face with the reality of life for ordinary Nigerians. I witnessed the threats to the dignity of the human person and the pervasiveness of structural injustice that has eroded the peoples’ choices and opportunities.

I had no solution to propose during my term as provincial, as neither my social nor my religious formation had prepared me to handle structural and systemic issues. Nevertheless, I was convinced that systemic injustice stands in the way of sustained progress of the people; progress that could come about through the sisters’ services.

In my desire for sustainable change and being conscious that my social and religious formation had not adequately prepared me to tackle structural injustice beyond prayer and service, I started thinking of building my capacity in this area so I could pass this on to other sisters. After my leadership ministry, I enrolled in a social work program, concentrating on social justice and social change. Concentrating on how I myself could engage as well as mobilize other sisters for systemic change, I also studied development and public policy in relation to Africa.

One of the greatest gifts I received was having the privilege of being employed at NETWORK where I studied the intersection of faith and politics as well as practical ways of working toward structural change from the standpoint of Catholic social tradition. Witnessing NETWORK’s influence on shaping public policies and its effort to ensure that U.S. policies have a human face, I came to the conclusion that sisters acting on behalf of justice by exerting political influence must complement their provision of services for people in need. As a result, I became more convinced that African sisters, like their counterparts in the U.S., could become a formidable force for change if they are mobilized for collective action on behalf of justice on the African continent. This idea took form for me thorough my year at NETWORK.

It was like a dream come true when, at the end of my time in NETWORK, AFJN invited me to coordinate its women empowerment project, designed to empower African sisters for collective action on behalf of justice so that they in turn will mobilize other women. Working with AFJN interests me because we hold a common belief that African sisters could be a formidable force for change by giving their leadership in providing critical and essential services– education, healthcare, pastoral and social services– to families, mostly women and children. As individuals and groups, sisters represent a unique social diversity that is essential for ending poverty, protecting human rights and building a fair society. In fact, most Africans, especially women, can attribute their education and standing in society to the sisters’ educational ministries.

To harness African sisters’ enormous potential to work for a more just society and to engage in action for justice requires rallying their political will in this direction. So from April through the month of June this year, while I was visiting Nigeria, AFJN sponsored my travelling around the country to speak with some leaders of women’s religious communities, both individually and in groups, to ascertain their willingness to address systemic injustice. AFJN also sponsored a one-day sisters’ forum on “Just Governance and the Common Good: Religious Vocation and Faithful Citizenship.” More than 50 sisters from over 23 congregations gathered to discuss Nigeria’s socio-political reality, the intersection of faith and politics, and the possibility of expanding the sisters’ mission of service to include working for systemic change.

At the end of these meetings with the sisters, most especially the one-day sisters’ forum, I was pleasantly surprised at the sisters’ level of awareness of systemic injustice and its negative impact on the people, as well as their recognition of the need for something more than providing service to the victims. I was also astonished at the excitement with which the sisters kept referencing Pope Francis’s challenge to religious during the celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life in 2015 to “wake up the world.” It was very revealing.

The sisters affirmed their having been brought together, not as a congregation, but as Nigerian Catholic sisters to discuss this issue of great concern. Their vibrancy and eagerness to work together for change showed their understanding of the power of associational relationships and networking. Despite fear of being misunderstood by church leaders and ordinary Nigerians, the sisters showed an enthusiastic desire to raise their voices and hands against the sorry situation of Nigerian women and children. They demonstrated readiness and determination to engage the endemic systemic structures in the nation.

Catholic Sisters in Nigeria and in Africa have always been an integral part of the social fabric in their various societies. They have shown their leadership potential and proven that they can become formidable agents of change through their efficiency in providing services. Enabling them to expand their leadership in society into the socio-political arena in their various communities will go a long way toward dismantling structures that hurt the people the sisters serve. The sisters’ engagement with the structures of injustice, as well as their service provision, is indeed their mission of “bringing life in full” that is at the heart of religious life. It also restores their right to participate in shaping the affairs of their society.

[Eucharia Madueke is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in the Nigerian Province with expertise in social analysis, grassroots mobilization and organization. She coordinates women project of the African Faith and Justice Network.]

Archbishop of Detroit says special ‘Mass of Pardon’ for the sins of the diocese

The Tablet
usaArchbishop Vigneron said the purpose of the Mass was to receive pardon and prepare the Church for evangelisation

Archbishop of Detroit says special ‘Mass of Pardon’ for the sins of the diocese
A Mass for the sins and transgressions of the Archdiocese of Detroit was held last week, recalling instances in the Catholic Church’s history when it failed to live up to God’s calling, namely neglect of the poor, failing to protect children from abuse and failing to combat racism.

In attendance were Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron and Detroit Auxiliary Bishops Michael Byrnes, Arturo Cepeda and Donald Hanchon, who solemnly processed down the nave of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament while the congregation stood silent calling to mind their own part in the transgressions.
The four men lay prostrate before the altar, humbling themselves before God, and in view of the flock they are called to shepherd.

The “litany of pardon” included:
• “For ignoring the word of God, living and effective, and hiding behind policies and procedures.”
• “For our failures to take to heart the Lord’s condemnation of those who scandalise ‘the little ones,’ and for failing to protect children from sexual abuse.”
• “For all the times we have not welcomed others to our parishes, especially for the times we have refused to allow African-American Catholics into our parish communities.”

Each invocation was answered with “Kyrie eleison” — “Lord have mercy”.

The ‘Mass for Pardon’ on 7 October at the cathedral is a step on the archdiocese’s path to “unleash the Gospel”, Archbishop Vigneron explained, saying how the Mass was a necessary step on the road to becoming a “band of joyful missionary disciples”. “We have been summoned by Pope Francis to do what it takes to be a band of joyful missionary disciples,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “And that is what tonight is about. We have been summoned in a very particular way.”

Before a packed cathedral, Archbishop Vigneron addressed in his homily the necessity for the Mass for Pardon, linking repentance as an inseparable part of the Gospel message. “Repent and believe in the good news, this is an inseparable prayer”, Archbishop Vigneron said. “In this computer age, you may call it a binary prayer. The two is really one. As we share in the mission of Jesus Christ, we can never siphon these truths.

“We can never proclaim the good news without calling for repentance. And we can never call for repentance without the invitation of the good news. That’s what tonight is about.”
Archbishop Vigneron said the Mass wasn’t a time for Catholics to beat themselves up for past transgressions or forget that sin has occurred within the church.

Rather, the purpose of asking for and receiving pardon is to prepare the Church to become the group of evangelisers God is calling it to be.

“We’re repenting so that we can receive the good news and share the good news,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “To be a band of joyful missionary disciples, we must first be evangelized. And to be evangelized, we must first repent.”

During the buildup to the “Mass for Pardon,” Archbishop Vigneron related how a reporter asked him what he most anticipated. The archbishop admitted he was taken aback by the question at first, but then replied he most anticipated Jesus being present in the cathedral in the form of the Blessed Sacrament.

“I most anticipate what will happen when I receive your gifts of bread and wine and are prepared and placed on the altar, when the Holy Spirit comes down upon them and takes the form of the body and blood of Christ,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I anticipate offering the Holy Sacrament, because here, through the Holy Spirit, our true high priest is present.
“Present in his body, present in his blood. Offered with the sins we have confessed and will still confess again. To offer our prayers, with His one self, to the Father,” he continued. “So I tell you, I know, I am certain, that our sins are expiated, because we have a high priest who has risen from the dead and pleads for us at the right hand of the Father.”

Archbishop Vigneron concluded his homily with a summart of what the Mass for Pardon — and indeed reconciliation itself — is all about: not an erasing or forgetting of sin, but the transformation that is offered through the healing power of faith in Jesus Christ.
“It’s about transforming those faults in our sins, the wounds we bear that bear death, and transforming those wounds into new sources of life,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “That’s what pardon is in the kingdom of God. It’s not about forgetting, it’s about transformation. Transforming our lives though Jesus Christ, now and forever.”