BUILDING COMMUNITY IN AN INTERCULTURAL WORLD
Council of Delegates meeting, Manila, Philippines, November 5th to 11th
Introductory talk by Sr Carmen Sammut
Sr. Carmen Sammut, msola, UISG President
It is my great pleasure this morning to welcome you all to this our delegates’ meeting. I want to extend a special thanks to all those who have worked here on the spot, to make this possible. I thank the executive secretary and all the staff of UISG who have worked tirelessly to make sure we can hold this meeting. I am grateful to all of you who came here from all the corners of the world.
For this coming week Manila, and this building here, will be for us the centre of the world, a holy place where God will meet us and speak to our hearts. Indeed we know that we are not alone, we have been promised the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone, we carry with us all the members of the UISG constellations. We carry with us all the members of our Institutes. It is in the name of religious apostolic life that we are here. It is good to think of our responsibility as we start this meeting. I want here to quote from a book called “The universe is a green dragon” by Brian Swimme, in which book this question is addressed to a youth : “Did you think that the universe went to twenty billion years of work to create you if there was not a particular function that you – and only you – could do ?” Yes, the earth, the world, the people to whom we are sent, those with whom we collaborate, those who we leave aside, the planet, the Creator, all are expecting something of us and we are the only ones who can make it happen.
A year and a half ago, in Rome, at the Ergiffe Hotel, we deepened the topic “Weaving global solidarity for life”. We all said that it was a great meeting. It is now time to see how this meeting has influenced our lives. Have we become better weavers of global solidarity in these last eighteen months? Indeed in my closing reflections of the Assembly last year I had imagined us all passing through a narrow door, into a garden, for a feast where the Lord had already convened his friends, those nearest to his heart, that is those we had spoken of during the whole week : men, women and children from all nations, religions and social conditions, living in precarious situations because of poverty, war, human trafficking, migration and you name it. We were told by the Lord not to be afraid of them and of being invited by them, but to listen to the music in their hearts, the presence of the Spirit singing their inviolable dignity. They invited us to be partners with them to create the future by putting their and our talents and resources together for the good of all and of the planet.
And I ended with the question: What role could the constellations play so that the UISG could be ever more faithful to its mission of global solidarity? We will be able to tell each other how we did this in our group work this afternoon. Indeed I am sure that we can be proud of the creative fidelity in which we have lived our call as religious women weaving global solidarity for life. .
At the central office in Rome a lot has been done to help weave global solidarity. Sr Pat Murray, our executive secretary will give an account of this work, which included meetings with the Vatican Dicasteries, webinars for formation of members worldwide, Canon Law initiatives and worldwide network, meeting with different constellations and Conferences of religious, whether in Rome and in other countries, taking part and partnering with different organisations.
As a follow-up of last year’s assembly, our theme this year is “Building community in an intercultural world”. Looking at world events, we can all recognize the importance of this topic. Indeed our world is becoming smaller and smaller, the digital world is changing our notions of space and time, of what relationships are and how and why we can meet people. It facilitates communication between us, making us less dependent on just our immediate neighbours to search for solutions and to act together for good. It is also easy to use by malevolent forces, such as for child pornography, child bullying, the sexual exploitation of minors. Recently there was at the Gregorian a World Congress for Child Dignity in the Digital World to which I was invited. It brought together different actors from NGOs, UN organisations, Churches, the internet world, to see how to ensure the dignity of the child in our world. You can find the entire Congress on the internet if you enter www.childdignity2017.org If you go to the opening session video, nearly at the very beginning, you can view the video with seven children talking about their experience. On Thursday 9th we will have a representative of the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors who will talk to us on Child protection. We cannot insist enough as to the need of good protocols for our congregations and for our Institutions – schools, centres for children, clinics etc. The future of our world depends on the way our children are treated today.
Besides the effect of the digital world, we have seen these last months and years an increased migration flow, because of poverty, political unrest and often tribal, ethnic and religious strife. In some countries the new political leaders and members of parliament are more inclined to the right, sometimes to the far right, wanting to preserve the original national ideal of their country. This is quite difficult in a world that has known such great migratory movements, and so they build walls and make visas more difficult to access, refuse to take in migrants and refugees. These and other vulnerable persons in our societies become victims of human trafficking and other unjust practices. In front of these enormous problems, we have not given up. We have the courage and perseverance to continue working in order “to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to liberate the captive” as Jesus has told us. And to be more effective, we are determined to do it together, together as religious, together with all persons of good will, whatever their origin or their religion.
However, we know that what happens outside our congregations, happens also inside. We are not immune to the forces that are driving mentalities everywhere. Sr Pat and myself together with two of our Canon Lawyers had a meeting at the Congregation for Consecrated Life recently to discuss how we can help congregations who are becoming smaller in Europe, America and Australia and who have younger members coming from Africa and Asia.
The added difficulties encountered sometimes have intercultural or multicultural connotations. However, even institutes with sisters coming from the same country can have difficulties in living interculturally. We find various ethnic and cultural groups in the same country, and sometimes it is more difficult to live together from one country, than from many. These difficulties often turn around money, power ethnic superiority… ; topics we are often ashamed to speak about and so remain unspoken and in the meantime there is much suffering and unevangelical behaviour.
I invite us to reflect on these quotes about community as we approach this very important topic and as we think of the intercultural community we want to form as members of the U.I.S.G.
“Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.”
“The process of really being with other people in a safe, supportive situation can actually change who we think we are. . . . And as we grow closer to the essence of who we are, we tend to take more responsibility for our neighbours and our planet.”
“The greatest challenge of community life is to create synthesis, embracing diversity in a unified whole, resolving differences with the healing spirit of love and dedication to the good of the whole.”
—Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson
“Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity.”
Building communities, especially intercultural communities requires constant hard work. We cannot take it for granted, just because we have been put together. We need time to get to know each other, to listen, speak and respond to the other, to allow for the differences to become gifts and not obstacles to our unity. All this takes a heart, a mind and a will that are deeply rooted in the mystery of a compassionate God. May we be in touch with this deepest treasure that we all have received, so that we may constantly build bridges and bring down walls. May all who see us exclaim : “See how they love each other.” (Tertullian)
I wish you all a fruitful and Spirit-filled meeting