Living closely with people from various cultural backgrounds is a reality that many women religious live on a daily basis. Day 3 of the UISG 2019 Plenary focused on the theme Sowers of Prophetic Hope by living interculturally. Sr Adriana Milmanda, a Missionary Servant of the Holy Spirit, broke open this theme from her own lived experienced and personal study. She explained that her interest in interculturality was sparked due to a “personal experience of joy, frustration, pain, and learning when I was sent to launch a new missionary presence in the Fiji Islands”. There, she said, she encountered 6 other cultures.
Sr Adriana explained that for many years the Church was concerned about the “inculturation” of the faith, the Gospel, the liturgy, and missionaries. This responded, she continued, “to an ecclesial context where the mission was predominantly one-directional: from the ‘evangelized’ countries to ‘non-evangelized’ countries or pagans”. This ad gentes approach is being replaced today with an inter-gentes approach, she said. The desire to inculturate “incorporates the challenges and opportunities of the new multidirectional context in the world and the Church”.
Women religious have also been on the forefront of living in multicultural contexts”. They therefore, “have a ‘treasure’ of lived experience of which we are not even aware”, Sr Adriana asserted. The seed of prophetic hope lurking in this experience lies in the transformation that must take place for a community to move from being simply multicultural (people of different cultures sharing space together) to being intercultural by creating a new culture:
“In this process, each community enriches itself with the values and lights brought by the other culture, but both also take on the challenges and face their respective shadows and blind spots…. This model of community interaction between cultures, on a level of symmetry and equality, is diametrically opposed to the assimilationist model that prevailed (and still survives?!!) in groups where minority or presumably underdeveloped, uncivilized cultures or ‘pagans’ had to adapt, conform, and assume the superior or majority culture while abandoning their own.”
Sr Adriana then presented three steps by which a community can move from merely co-existing with other cultures to living interculturally. The first is preparation which should include the awareness of the “traits and salient characteristics” of a specific culture. Creating “safe spaces” where members of the community can express their intercultural journey is the second step. These two steps, when accompanied by welcoming strategies that favor an encounter with different cultures, lead to an “intentional effort”, Sr Adriana said. Good communication and evaluating the intercultural journey help to sustain the desire to achieve intercultural living, she said. As people progress on the intercultural journey, their spirituality is affected. Thus, Sr Adriana called intercultural life a “spiritual path” for which there are “no recipes”:
“Interculturality challenges us to live with the paradoxes and the grays zones of the liminal spaces that open us to transformation and growth. This is precisely why intercultural life has the fragility and power of a ‘sign.’
Religious life can therefore be a sign of the “egalitarian Project of the Kingdom of God”, Sr Adriana continued, precisely because it contrasts the more common trend of colonialism. She recalled Peter’s conversion after receiving the vision in which he was challenged by God to “eat animals that, for him, were…impure, he ends up breaking a whole series of taboos…to state…the fact…that God shows no partiality”. This, she said, is:
“The good news of the Spirit…. The historical conjuncture in which we find ourselves today invites us to assume the multiculturalism of our communities, societies, and pastoral services as a possibility for conversion and transformation instead of seeing it as a problem to be solved”.
Sr Adriana concluded saying that religious life can sow prophetic hope in today’s world by creating intercultural communities.
“Interculturality will be a sign of prophetic hope for humanity, if our own experience of living together, valuing and giving a mutually transforming place to ‘difference,’ with the doors opening inwards, puts us on the path to go out to meet those who are different, marginalized, invisible, and exploited today”.
After participating in an exercise at their tables, and sharing conversation followed by quiet prayer time before the Eucharist, the Superiors General participated at Mass. Fr Federico Lombardi was the celebrant. In the afternoon, 4 sisters formed a panel and offered their reflections regarding how hope flourishes within different contexts.
The third day of the UISG 2019 Plenary concluded with the presence of Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect for the Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life….