Sr. Patricia Chappell has long been a leader. Now she’s being honored for it

Following the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 children were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell was asked to speak on behalf of the Catholic community at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. She is at the podium. (Provided photo)

Decades in nonviolence and anti-racism work has prepared Sr. Patricia Chappell for this tense moment in United States history, as her lifelong passions have become part of mainstream conversation in the country.

Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was the executive director of Pax Christi USA for eight years and president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference for five years. Now the co-coordinator of her community’s anti-racism team, she has long been involved in anti-racism work, helping religious communities confront the systemic racism within their congregations.

And right now, she’s especially hopeful that communities of women religious can move toward “being in right relationship with those who think and look differently than the majority of us,” she said.

As she’s attempted to right the injustices she saw around her, Chappell said she never thought the Leadership Conference of Women Religious noticed her ministries until they called to tell her she would be the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award, though the award ceremony has been postponed until next year because this year’s assembly will be virtual.

Though the honor came as a surprise to Chappell, her friends who spoke with Global Sisters Report said her tenacity, open-mindedness and dogged pursuit of justice make her a natural and effective leader.

Victoria Virgo-Christie*, an old family friend of Chappell’s, said the fact that she’s been “a consistent advocate for the underserved is what allows her to stand out.”

“She’s not willing to just stay comfortable,” she said.

By diving into those awkward conversations, Chappell, 67, “brings other members of the religious congregation into situations that they wouldn’t necessarily” choose to be in.

Chappell’s spirituality, as Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau said, is grounded in a God of liberation: “She wants all people to have the fullness of life as Jesus promised.”

Indeed, Chappell said she takes issue with how Catholic theology often responds to sorrow and adversity in this life by pointing to the salvation that awaits.

“You can’t tell me that I should be willing to suffer in this world and to anticipate that in the next world, I’m going to put on my long white robe and experience freedom,” she said. “Why can I not experience freedom and empowerment while I’m on this side of the world and not have to wait till I’m dead to experience that?”

Chappell has dedicated decades of her life’s work to embodying that desire to empower others while also advocating nonviolence and racial justice — work aimed to reform unjust institutions one painful conversation at a time.

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell, center, holds a Black Lives Matter sign at a rally with Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. (Provided photo)

A lifelong interest in social justice

Born Sept. 19, 1952, Chappell grew up in a tight-knit Black community in New Haven, Connecticut, where “it takes a village to raise a child” was a lived concept, she said.

“That greatly influenced who I am today, this sense of, you don’t live in a vacuum, but you live in relationship to others, being available to serve one another.”

The oldest of seven children, Chappell said her family’s home parish, St. Martin de Porres, was the center where social justice and community issues were raised, the source of her “cultural and spiritual development.”

It was also where she learned leadership, as her school and church regularly called upon youth to lead activities and encouraged “a sense of speaking up and speaking out,” which came naturally to her given her interest in local justice issues, she said.

While at St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Connecticut, she had the opportunity in the early 1970s to engage in youth ministry, particularly with Black Catholic youth.

The idea was to lift them up spiritually while emphasizing mission and service to others, Chappell said. For many, the youth group was their introduction to Catholic social teaching, connecting moral responsibility with their Catholicism.

“These youth were on fire,” she said. They became a voice that challenged the church: “These hymns are nice, but times are changing, and we’re starting to wear our Afros, and we’re now speaking about the contributions that we bring as Black youth. So, what about gospel choir?”

They also started to ask why nobody depicted in the church — Jesus, Mary, saints — looked like them, then asked adults to teach them more about the long history of Black Catholics.

Growing up, Chappell said she experienced discrimination whenever she left the “safety net” that was her neighborhood, Dixwell Avenue. Not being served in restaurants, being followed around in stores — “all that is certainly part of my history.”

In high school and college, Chappell was drawn to the Black Power movement, wearing her Afro and dashikis and joining student movements that, for example, called for more Black faculty members. The more she was educated, she said, the more she began to “understand how systems were set up to keep some people marginalized and oppressed” to the benefit of others.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/justice/religious-life/news/sr-patricia-chappell-has-long-been-leader-now-shes-being-honored-it

Japanese Sisters Contribute to Peace

Sr. toshie Nakashima engages students in a reflection on St. Julie Billiart’s spirit of peace-making.

By Sister Masako Miyake, SNDdeN

“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.”
Pope John Paul ii

In Japan, the ministries of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
(SNDdeN) are now mostly in the Hiroshima Diocese. In 1981,
during a visit to Hiroshima as a pilgrim, Pope John Paul II gave
his impressive Appeal for Peace to the world. Collaborating with the
Church in Japan, Sisters of Notre Dame are challenged to be peacemakers. With our co-workers, we are educating young people to be peacemakers. Although most of our students and staff are not Catholics or Christians, in all Notre Dame schools, we do have religious education classes, pray together, study the Gospel and the spirit of our foundress, St. Julie Billiart. Peace study is an essential part of religious education in our schools. We teach and encourage students to be peacemakers. In 1950, with the prayer for peace, Japanese and American Sisters opened Notre Dame Seishin Junior and Senior High School (NDSH) in Hiroshima. Today, this school has a six-year program of peace studies.

Students bring peace cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Senbazuru ~ Symbol of Peace

Students have opportunities to hear experiences of the atom bomb from graduates; Sr. Agnes Hirota, SNDdeN is among these witnesses. All students visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park “to remember Hiroshima.” Before their visit, they prayerfully make paper cranes. After sustaining serious injuries from the atom bomb, a girl named Sadako, as a prayer for her recovery, made 1,000 paper cranes (Senbazuru) before she died at age 12. Since then, other young people fulfill her desire and continue this practice with paper cranes which have become a symbol of peace. Every year, more than ten million Senbazuru are offered to the Peace Park. Students in our school join the Recycling Project of Senbazuru by creating mosaic arts with messages for peace and send them to Catholic Schools in Korea and the Philippines; to our Heritage Centre in Namur, Belgium as well as to a Junior High School in the Japan Disaster Zone

young people, as peace-makers of the satellite parish Higashi Hiroshima, and Sr. Masako Miyake, SNDdeN welcome the new Bishop of the Hiroshima Diocese, Bishop Manyo Maeda.

Challenge from the Disaster Zone

On March 11, 2011, the Great Eastern Earthquake and tsunami
devastated Japan with many deaths and heavy immediate and long-term economic and environmental damage. Official records list 15,882 deaths; 2,668 people are missing and 315,196 people are still taking refuge after two years. The tsunami caused destruction to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and released wide-spread radioactivity that has become a severe health hazard. Even now, the 100,000 people, evacuated from this area, live in fear and anxiety. People worry about the effects of radiation on their children. After World War II, Japan chose The Peace Constitution and economic development instead of strong military power. The choice resulted from an earnest desire never to send Japanese children to the battle field nor allow the children ever to starve again. Eventually, the priority for this goal changed to profitability and efficiency, strengthened by the progression of Globalism. With these trends, national policies promote more nuclear power plants, even though scientists predict new disasters, due to other earthquakes or tsunamis. All 50 functioning nuclear reactors in Japan, with some on the active fault, are at risk for more horrific accidents. Without a more secure environment, the people doubt survival for the next generation.

SNDdeN Collaborate with the Church

As Catholics, we are only 0.3% of the whole population. Yet, in 16
dioceses in Japan, we are united and challenged to respond to the call from the Disaster Zone. The Sendai Diocese (three disaster prefectures) organized the Support Center for victims and formed 9 bases. All dioceses send volunteers and raise money for the Support Center. Caritas Japan supports the Center financially. All Catholics, including bishops, priests, religious and lay people are serving together and sharing resources. At first, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Sisters sponsored a “Sisters’ Relay” to have Sisters from each Congregation join the volunteers for one week or more at the Support Center. During the second year, the women religious had a relay of prayer. Many Catholic schools collected donations and sent the students as volunteers. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan proclaimed: “Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately.” Many dioceses encouraged parishes to study more about nuclear power.

To help victims of natural and nuclear disasters and to change our
own life styles are constant challenges. Sisters in Japan are responding to the call. Each community decided on concrete targets in daily life to save electricity and live more simply. We sent Sister Mitsuko Shoji to the Sendai Support Center as a runner of Sisters’ Relay for a month and other Sisters joined with her in prayer. Notre Dame schools also sent volunteers. Sister Johanna Saiko Nakamura joined with ten students last summer in efforts to remove the debris. These experiences help the students to think about their own lives now and in the future.

Sisters in Higashi Hiroshima belong to a satellite Parish Church.
At a gathering to understand more about the plight of the victims,
a graduate of our school described her work mostly for children.
The local welfare commissioner, responsible for taking care of the
families from the Disaster Zone, shared her experiences. All attending the meeting, Christians, Buddhists and other denominations prayed the Rosary together. At the opening of the Year of Faith, the Bishops pointed out the current social situation in Japan. They asked Japanese Catholics to “share ideas with each other, and search for measures and expressions for New Evangelization with people inside and outside of the Church, while listening to the voices of suffering people.”

Indian nuns aid migrant laborers stranded on way home during lockdown

Mothers and children wait at Kaushambi Bus Terminal on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border to go to their villages in eastern India hundreds of kilometers away. (Jessy Joseph)

New Delhi — Sr. Sujata Jena could not sleep after seeing a picture of a young girl with a heavy load on her head in a WhatsApp message. “Her stained face, wet with tears, haunted me,” the member of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary told Global Sisters Report.

The photo was being circulated to illustrate the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who hit India’s highways following a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

As Jena saw on social media platforms pictures and videos from around India, the 38-year-old lawyer and nun set out to help migrants reach home. One video clip showed 10 workers crammed into a room in Kerala, a southwestern Indian state. The men said their employer had locked them up and that they desperately needed help to reach their villages in Odisha, more than 1,000 miles northeast.

As the lockdown confined her to her convent in the Odisha capital of Bhubaneswar, Jena on May 17 joined a social media network that helps the stranded migrants.

By June 24, more than 300 migrants, including the 10, stranded in southern Indian states reached their native villages in states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal in eastern India, thanks to Jena’s efforts.

Jena is among hundreds of Catholic nuns who are on the front lines as the church reaches out to migrant laborers affected by the initial 21-day lockdown Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed on India’s 1.3 billion people from midnight of March 25 with only four hours’ notice.

The lockdown, considered the world’s largest and toughest attempt to contain the pandemic, has been extended five times with varying degrees of relaxation until July 31.

The lockdown suddenly rendered jobless millions of migrant laborers in cities.

“As they lost the job, they had no place to stay, no income and no security,” says Salesian Fr. Joe Mannath, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India, the association of men and women religious major superiors in the country.

As the lockdown halted India’s public transport system, migrant laborers in cities swarmed highways and roads within a few days. Most walked and some cycled to their native villages, hundreds of miles away.

Mannath says the fear of starvation and contracting the coronavirus led to a “chaotic exodus” of workers from cities.

Church groups are among those trying to help these workers.

On June 6, Caritas India, the Indian bishops’ aid agency, informed a webinar that the church reached more than 11 million people during the lockdown period, including many migrant workers.

Mannath, who coordinates India’s more than 130,000 religious, including nearly 100,000 women, claims the bulk of that service was carried out by the religious.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/indian-nuns-aid-migrant-laborers-stranded-way-home-during-lockdown

Coronavirus comes to a migrant tent city at US border

A child hugs a volunteer teacher at a camp for asylum seekers on Dec. 8, 2019 in the Mexican border town of Matamoros. Credit: John Moore/Getty

More than 1,500 people live in a tent city without running water or adequate sanitation at the border of Texas and Mexico, while they apply for asylum in the U.S. Coronavirus has arrived in the camp, a religious sister has said, which should call attention to the condition in which asylum seekers are living.

“These families are living in donated tents at the mercy of extreme weather. Here, the temperatures can rise above 100 degrees, and when it rains, the downpours knock down their only refuge and leave them in mud pits,”Sr. Norma Pimentel wrote in a July 5 op-ed for the Washington Post.

“Imagine living in such uncertainty, where even such basics as running water and a place to shower are nonexistent; where you have to depend on outside organizations for food, which you have to cook over a campfire. Like the prisons and nursing homes that have been breeding grounds for the virus in the United States, the camp is crowded with people who for now are not going anywhere.”

Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas.

“Do not ignore the suffering occurring here,” she urged, explaining that the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, has more than 1,500 men, women, and children, in a make-shift tent city, as they wait for their applications for admittance to the United States to be processed.

The camp has been in existence since last summer, after the federal government initiated the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which allow U.S. officials to return undocumented migrants to Mexico pending adjudication of their claims for asylum.

Addressing the situation is more, not less urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said, noting that the camp recorded its first positive case last week.

That the camp has remained free of coronavirus for so long was, she said, was “remarkable” and a testament to the dedication of volunteers working to serve the people enduring emotional and practical hardship.

While the one patient in the camp, a woman from the interior of Mexico, was quickly isolated and removed to a nearby medical center run by Doctors Without Borders, Pimentel said that the conditions make the camp a potential outbreak waiting to happen, and that because of the pandemic, the camp has become less safe.

Because of the pandemic, volunteer activity in the camp is limited to a small number, who are able to provide assistance with nourishment and some health care needs, Pimentel wrote.

“All this makes it even harder to keep the camps safe from the cartels and gangsters who continue to prey on these largely defenseless asylum seekers.”

The camp’s existence, said Pimentel, was the unnecessary consequence of the government’s asylum protocols, which itself fail to “address people with dignity.”

“We should not have people forced to wait for asylum — trying to find safety for themselves and their families — while camped outside in the elements for months at a time. It is contrary to our laws and the dictates of humanity.”
 
Pimentel said that “the story of these asylum seekers has faded from the front pages of U.S. newspapers and from television screens but the cruel and unfair situation continues.”

“It is time that we put an end to it, and to end the MPP policy. Until that happens, we will continue to help those who are defenseless, whose only real ‘crime’ is trying to seek protection for themselves and their families.”

The Trump administration has made several changes to asylum and immigration policy over the past 18 months, all of which have come under sustained criticism from the bishops of the United States.

In September 2019, after the Trump administration announced a rule limiting asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in those countries passed through on their way to the U.S, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a strong critique of the change.

Vásquez said the rule “jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity” and “undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need.”

In November 2019, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency signed a joint statement on the Trump administration’s changes to asylum policy.

Administration policy “undermines U.S. moral leadership in protecting vulnerable populations and risks further destabilizing the region,” they said.

“To preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, we cannot turn our back on families and individuals in desperate need of help.”

“In light of the Gospel, let us always remember we are invited to embrace the foreigner and to take care of this human person.”

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/snddenjpic.org/17086