MYRTLE BEACH—Women religious met together on a beautiful fall weekend on the coast to contemplate the role of mercy in their ministries and their daily lives.
“The Face of Mercy” was the theme of the 12th annual Collaboration for Ministry Initiative Conference held at the Marriott Grande Dunes Resort.
More than 70 women religious from around the country and as far away as Guam and Australia took part in the event, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Foundations of Cleveland and South Carolina.
Like many other events this year, the conference focused on the meaning of mercy because of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which concludes on Nov. 20.
The keynote speaker for the weekend was Sister Ray Maria McNamara of Belmont, N.C., who serves as formation and training coordinator for lay staff of the Sisters of Mercy, South Central Community at the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
She regularly lectures on Christian spirituality, religious life and ecology around the U.S. and in Ireland, and has authored two books on the links between Christianity and ecology.
Over two days of talks and prayer sessions, Sister Ray Maria asked the sisters to consider the overwhelming power of God’s mercy and how they can learn to be the face of that mercy to the people they serve.
She reminded the sisters that the ultimate example of love and mercy was God sending his son to take on human life and experience human suffering. She said there is enormous power in reflecting on God’s reaching down in love to save humanity through the gift of His son. By staying focused on Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, she said women religious can learn that self-giving is at the center of every one of their ministries and of the vows they took when they first entered religious life.
“When we give outward in mercy we come into our true selves,” she said. “God took on human suffering, and we are called to that same self-transcendence. It is never about us or what our ministry is. It is always about the other, about the selfless gift of ourselves.”
She reminded the women that while self-giving is important, they also must remember that none of their work will succeed unless they also take time for rest, retreat and prayer.
“We must take time to rest and replenish — that is critical,” she said. “We need to realize that God needs us and we need a time for prayer. Our longing for God is only here because God longs for us. God longs to be with you and to hear your prayer. How available are we for God in the midst of the crazy business of this world?”
The sisters spent time reflecting on Scripture, especially the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. Sister Ray Maria said the samaritan was an example of the “other” in Jewish society of Jesus’ time, part of a group of people that was shunned by the establishment. Despite that, he showed a true example of love and service to the injured man on the side of the road. She encouraged the women to consider the “contemplative presence of the other,” because those who are marginalized by mainstream culture often offer the purest examples of God’s love.
“Mercy is about drawing near the other,” she said. “By showing mercy, we are drawn near to allow the other person who needs our help to tell us what we need. In our own ministries, how well do we listen and then respond? How close do we let God get to us and then how close to we get to the people we serve? Often the people we serve can help mold us and fashion our hearts into the hearts of God.”
The women also took part in breakout sessions on Oct. 29, which included discussions about current issues some of them deal with in ministry, including human trafficking, poverty and other social justice issues.
There was time for light-hearted fun as well. In what has become an annual tradition, the sisters enjoyed an ice cream social and a night of bingo, games of skill, and dancing to Motown hits.
Sister Colie Stokes of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur appreciated the chance to learn more about mercy and how to carry on the meaning of the Jubilee Year even after it ends.
“It was an inspirational time and just wonderful to be together,” she said. “It’s always a blessing to share time with other sisters.”
“This weekend has been a wonderful chance for me to rethink some things, to think about what we’re asked to do each day and reflect on what I’m called to do,” said Daughters of Charity Sister Catherine Marie Lowe. “I’ve had important time to reflect and prayer on what the Year of Mercy is truly calling me to do.”
On Oct. 29, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone met with the sisters to discuss ongoing developments in the diocese and listen to their concerns. He also celebrated Mass for them and received the Leadership in Diversity award from the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
Top photo: Sister of Mercy Erencia Saipwirick of Guam (left) and Daughters of Charity Sister Iliana Aponte, who serves at the St. Cyprian Outreach Center in Georgetown, respond to a speaker’s point during the Collaboration for Ministry conference.