Sister Margie returns to Africa to give renewing retreats

GREENVILLE—Franciscan Sister Margie Hosch spent two months this spring offering rest and spiritual nourishment to women religious who work under some of the harshest conditions imaginable.

For the sixth year in a row, she traveled to Zambia in southern Africa to give retreats for religious sisters in the Diocese of Solwezi who serve the poorest of the poor in the landlocked country.

She and fellow retreat leader Mary Catherine Harris met with a group of Comboni Missionary Sisters serving in Lusaka, the capital city, and Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi working in remote, rural locations.

The retreats include prayer and song, time for sharing personal stories, writing poetry and reflecting on religious life, Sister Margie said.

The sisters told stories that were often hard to hear. One group worked at a medical clinic that had no water for five days. Others nurse in hospitals where most of the patients are already dying when they finally arrive.

A village where the Franciscan Sisters work is so poor that women and children live in houses made of grass and cardboard boxes.

Poverty is part of the sisters’ daily experience. Two of the Comboni Sisters live in a one room home where they sleep on mats, rely on candles for light and use a bucket of water heated by the sun for bathing.

“We’re there to relieve the fatigue the sisters have when they come,” Sister Margie said. “Every day for them is dealing with poverty and crisis situations. Part of what we do is help them learn how to deal with that daily walk. We help them find what gives them the passion to do that work day in and day out, with never a reprieve.”

The first retreat with eight Comboni Sisters took place during Holy Week. Sister Margie attended Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses that lasted for more than four hours, with more than 1,000 people. Five couples were married and more than 30 babies baptized on Easter Sunday.

The trip included visits to schools, farms and other projects run by different communities of women religious. During a visit with the Poor Clare Sisters, Sister Margie experienced an emotional reunion with an elderly widow named Mafunasi, whom she met on a trip in 2012.

“They had invited her and didn’t tell us, and when she saw me she wrapped her arms around me and wouldn’t let go,” Sister Margie said. “I really felt the sacrament of presence in that moment.”

Sister Margie said she doesn’t know if she will make another trip to Zambia, but she hopes her retreats leave the sisters with some lasting joy and hope to help them in their work. She also wants to continue raising funds for multiple projects there, including building wells for villages that don’t have access to clean water and helping send children to school.

“The purpose of our whole life as Jesus gave it to us is to take up the cross and follow his footsteps,” she said. “I hope I was able to help the sisters recognize that, to encourage them and let them know how much they are loved.”

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