Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Cost of Christmas

We can be real party poopers. On Christmas Eve a prominent retailer’s commercial proclaimed, “Today Christmas is over.” Now, with hundreds of my sisters serving people in Pauline Books & Media Centers and exhibits the world over, I’m not going to get cynical about retail. There is absolutely nothing shameful or even non-ministerial about selling. But if that’s the extent of our Christmas, then I guess midnight December 25 really is the end of the road.

Fortunately, despite the way many of us Christians live, Christianity has the antidote to such spiritual malnutrition. The liturgical calendar—for those Christians who follow one—serves up a feast of days and even weeks of holiday fare. Because Advent in the Catholic calendar lasted four full weeks this year, Christmas will last only two weeks. Almost every day of the octave, though, that is, the eight days following Christmas Day, ranks as a feast day, with music, lights, the Gloria, and whatever else prolongs in prayer and life our contemplation and celebration of the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. The awe expressed in the liturgy of the Word at Mass is palpable, as it highlights one or another aspect of this mystery. Yes, Christians, and especially Catholics, know how to party. I think it comes partly from our Jewish ancestry and partly from being an incarnational people bound for resurrection.

If we look closely at the Word, though, and even at the persons or events we commemorate, we see this week riddled with anguish and martyrdom: Stephen, the proto- (or first and model) martyr, John the Apostle and Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and Thomas Becket. In his homily Monday, Fr. Paul Aveni, one of our Boston chaplains, commented that in our day, “most would find it hard to bear the true cost of Christmas.” That cost, he remarked, is symbolized in the cross. The salvation definitively won in the paschal event of cross and resurrection is what gave Christmas meaning and purpose. He called our modern holiday “a sanitary celebration. That Baby was supposed to shake us up, to challenge us to fully follow him, so we can celebrate these eight days with truth.” Embracing such a sign of contradiction is the entrance fee.

That embrace was almost crushing for the scores of Catholics and other Christians who now mourn the violent deaths of their nearly 40 loved ones in Nigeria, victims of the Christmas Day terrorist bombing of two churches near Abuja, the capital. We haven’t heard yet from our sisters there, but undoubtedly they are intent on ministering from their book and media center in Abuja to those most affected in that area.

The question is not, “How do you determine who is most affected?” but, “How does it affect us?” These brothers and sisters of ours in humanity and faith have been targeted for destruction by militant anti-Christians. Nor is this an isolated case. In his insightful blog, All Things Catholic, Vatican based, NCR correspondent, John Allen, reported last week, “According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular NGO based in Germany, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious intolerance in the world are directed at Christians. A recent symposium organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe asserted that 200 million Christians are currently the victims of violence, oppression or harassment.”

What am I going to do about it?

This is the question Sr. Jane R. Livingston, FSP, asked herself a little over three years ago in the aftermath of a horrific attack on Catholics in the poverty stricken state of Orissa, India, south of Bengal. In telling me the story she said, “I asked, Why aren’t we in the U.S. doing something? Why is this not a priority for the U.S., the ‘champion of human rights?’” Her response was, I am the U.S.; I am not helpless. She then followed this realization with her powerful video, Orissa Burning, produced that Labor Day afternoon in Charleston, SC, with the help of a local video editor friend, plus photos from a priest-friend in Orissa. They uploaded it onto YouTube under her new brand channel, ProtectHumanRights.

Sr. Jane tried to get it exposure and notoriety, at least locally. She was told flat out by the secular media in Charleston, “If there’s no local connection, if the nun in the video, for instance, is not a member of your community, this is not news. Nobody is going to care.” In vain she countered, “If you’re withholding information, how will they know they should care?” It was an experience of what she had known in theory: the media determine what is news and what is not. I understand; I myself tried to bring it to the attention of a New York based Catholic periodical and didn’t even receive the courtesy of a reply.

Milan, though, did notice. After spotting it online, the organizers of the Sabaoth International Film Festival contacted her, asking to show it. Amnesty International would give a presentation. At her suggestion, they also included in the event representatives from Paoline, our publishing house there. But it was the UN that shed “enough world light” to get the gears of government turning. After viewing Orissa Burning, Pauline Cooperator Margie Skeels, who works at the UN, managed to get Franciscan International to make a presentation there. After a complicated process, the result was twofold: the European community, especially Britain, began to raise consciousness and funds, and the government of India opened an investigation, accepting the study of an independent group in India and implementing some of its recommendations.

Pakistani wife and mother,
Asia Bibi, confined to wretched
prison conditions and a death
sentence for speaking out
against Islam's attitudes toward
women in 2010. 
There have been some minor, but hopeful, improvements. People who stayed have begun to rebuild, and a new church in Orissa was just dedicated. Much remains to be done to build peace. Just last week, a popular Christian catechist/activist was killed, apparently because of his legal defense of the victims in the 2008 massacre, the third such leader killed there this year. In Pakistan over 2,500 police were present to protect Christian churches during the Christmas weekend. “Christians, who represent about 3% of the population, are particularly discriminated against and subjected to abuse and violence in Pakistan. As reported to Fides by official sources, over the past five years, nearly 5,000 people have been victims of attacks by fundamentalist groups in Pakistan: a quarter of the victims are Christians. (Agenzia Fides, Dec. 23, 2011).

No one seems to believe that matters will improve substantially anytime soon. The reason? Indifference. “If this were happening to any other religious community,” John Allen writes in last Friday’s All Things Catholic, “the outcry almost certainly would be deafening….In the Christian world, especially in the West, the basic response instead seems to be silence.

“Analysts of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have often speculated that one difficulty with Israeli policy is that Jews have a hard time thinking of themselves as a majority. Perhaps the equal-and-opposite problem on the Christian side is that we’re incapable of seeing ourselves as a minority, even when we are.”

In his even more detailed article of November 18, he draws attention to the deplorable ecclesial situation in Pakistan and Iraq, goading us into taking personal and communal responsibility as a nation and as a Church in this nation for addressing the problem:
“Whatever one makes of the rights and wrongs of the war, the fact is that American policy helped create a situation in which Iraq has lost two-thirds of its Christian population in just the last two decades.”

So what can we do?
1. Stay informed via the road less traveled, that is, through second or third tier news agencies. Missionary congregation web sites are very reliable. Two reputable independent news sources are the Union of Catholic Asian News and Fides News Agency (Agenzia Fides).
2. Bring it to church. The Church in Charleston got motivated. The rector of the Cathedral preached on it one Sunday and put the link to Orissa Burning in the bulletin. Especially if you’re on the parish staff, why not write a short prayer for Nigeria on the parish Web site or bulletin, or for Sunday’s General Intercessions? If you’re on staff or on the parish council, you could plan for a presentation about the issue, first to the staff, then to the parish. Let your creativity and love find a way.
3. Network even if you think people have no connections; you never can tell where one contact will lead. Pass this blog article on to those you know.
4. Pray. So that those you pray for may not remain a statistic, but become real to you, imagine the people who live through this. Put faces to them. Think of their families, their worries, and their faith. What if you had lost your family? What prayerful compassion would you want?
5. Listen to the cries of humanity. Don’t be afraid to ask God why he lets such things happen. “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed” (Mother Teresa). Ask God for mercy, protection, and opportunity to serve.
6. Parents and teachers: Introduce the issue, especially to high school and college students, without traumatizing younger students. Introduce the theme of the globality of the Church. They’re becoming aware of the world around them and want to use their energy and creativity to make a difference. Teach them about missionary activity. Two college students in Charleston, who frequent a young adult social/spiritual group at our PBM center, went to Orissa to educate children.  They now hold responsible positions in the diocese for youth ministry.
7. Write to your bishop and those who represent you in Congress. It’s not too late to ask them to act on behalf of those who suffer. Send them the links to John Allen’s articles.
“With deep sorrow I heard the news of the attacks that, once again this year on the day of Jesus’ birth, inflicted grief and suffering on some churches in Nigeria. I wish to manifest my sincere and affectionate nearness to the Christian community and to all those who were struck by this absurd gesture, and I encourage prayers to the Lord for the numerous victims....In this moment I want to strongly repeat once more: Violence is a way that only leads to suffering, destruction, and death; respect, reconciliation, and love are the only way to reach peace” (Benedict XVI, Angelus Message, Dec. 26, 2011).

This is what Christmas costs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Present

I’ve been doing some unusual holiday shopping. I’ve been on the lookout for a few exceptionally insightful or beautiful expressions in word, song, and image about this season of heaven and earth. Something to give us pause. Something to give us hope. Something above the banal. Something that dodges both the polemical and the saccharin. The post this week contains some of what I found.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in the arts. No doubt there’s a lot out there I missed to at least equal what’s in here. My criterion was simple: If I came across something out of the ordinary and it spoke to me, I thought it just might strike a chord in you, too. You can bookmark any of them, so that they can whisper their message again during the year. That’s what makes the message perdure past the momentary “Awww” and brings about the difference in us that it did in the artists who gave it “flesh.”

If you’ve noticed my Facebook wall at any point this Advent, you might have seen the week-by-week “lighting” of this “wreath” that showed up outside PBM’s human resources office when the season began. Like one of Santa’s elves, somebody kept adding a flame and a quote undetected, despite my best efforts to ferret him or her out. Friends on Facebook commented on how beautiful it was. A “Keep It Simple Advent Wreath,” one called it; “a great idea for dorms,” suggested another.

When I ever discovered that Sr. Diane L. Kraus was our artist, I was dumbfounded. One of our co-workers had mentioned her name as a possibility. “Naw,” I declared, “it’s not her style.” As her co-novice (a sister she went through the novitiate with) I figured I knew that much. Oh my. Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth were just as rash. It’s a good thing for the world that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi believed that God lives outside the box. Sr. Diane and I laughed about it, but I wonder how many miracles I miss when I don’t allow myself to  discover something new in someone I know or allow another person to unearth hidden talent…or holiness. Do you ever wonder about that too?

Poetry and Photography
I have a Facebook friend in Belfast, poet and photographer Ann Murray. She has graciously allowed me to use her poetry in the past. Now she’s published a collection in a book entitled Travelling Light: A Book of Days, which is expected at Amazon in early January. (No, PBM didn’t publish it!) All proceeds from sales will go to charity: missions at home and abroad, the Legion of Mary, and others.

As if intoning a psalm, Ann’s “Advent Poem” gradates and blends the shades of Advent waiting and Christmas coming, much as they do in history, liturgy, and the human spirit:

Bless my soul, Lord,
At this time of waiting
And anticipation.

May your word be as benediction
As I prepare the way for
The sovereign child
The Prince of Peace
Whose throne is clay
Whose realm is
The tabernacle of
The human heart
That bids him stay.

Bless my soul, Lord,
At this time of waiting
For the promised one.

Let my creation be
A dwelling place fit for a king -
The Son of God most high
Who comes as light, as joy,
As flame-setter within…

Then, like the shepherds of long ago
I, too, will worship him.

“Someone just broke into God’s iPod.” The comments on YouTube following this moving music score of O Magnum Mysterium are as heartfelt as the work itself. Resist, oh, resist the temptation to slide through it. Let it sing to you.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

I pass over a lot of those well-intentioned essays about the real meaning of Christmas. Many of those I have perused are way too preachy for my tastes. “’Tis the Season To Be Jolly” on Dave Cooke’s blog, 100 Pedals, struck me differently. Dave can talk the talk, because clearly he’s walking the walk...or pedaling it. The Christmas season is not a joyful time for many people, but this is one person who has hopped off the bus and has gained his balance enough to beckon us to join him on his journey. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are all about journeys, too, that beckon us to a relationship in faith that can change our lives and the life of our world.

Finally, you really can’t toast the beauty of the season without its flavors and aromas. Apparently Sister Anne Flanagan, FSP, agrees with me, for on her Facebook wall she just posted…cookies! They’re not just any cookies, you know. They’re my sister’s, and nobody had better have a problem with this blog’s nepotism. I can smell Chicago’s convent kitchen all the way back East here in Boston! When he saw the photo, one of Sister Frances’s friends commented, “Is this a bakery or what? This is what children dream of :-)”

May we enter into Christmas with the senses and sense of children.

The season’s blessings on you and yours!

Photo credits: Anne Flanagan, FSP; Conor Murray: cupola, Holy Sepulcher; Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Christmas Hope

My cousin Sarah teaches music history in St. Paul, MN, at the University of St. Thomas, which held its Christmas concert last week at a packed Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Since she also plays the French horn, she lent her talent to the event—no small achievement for a breast cancer survivor. Afterward, she e-mailed me: “When the men from all [five] choirs sang Ave Maria, and when the large choir sang Martin Lauridsen's arrangement of O Magnum Mysterium, I was moved to tears at witnessing the beauty of God's gift of MUSIC being shared—students singing with full hearts, open to ignite the hearts and minds and ears of listeners. I saw an old man listening with mouth open, eyes shut, tears streaming down his face. I was trying to keep it together, then saw my horn students in our section doing the same thing! We all took a ‘group eye-dabbing’ before putting horns up for the next piece. The birth of HOPE for the world is upon us!”

That’s exactly what the Daughters of St. Paul Choir experienced when the sisters sang and danced in eight different venues over the past two weeks. Echoing our tagline, Discover Hope, the theme of our Christmas cards, calendars, and concerts is “Our Christmas Hope,” a sentiment that shows no signs of wear, despite months of planning and promotion. My office is along the main walkway through our publishing house, and I just heard someone pass by still humming one of the final numbers of Sunday’s Boston show. Nor are the songs the only thing people walked away with. Person after person said how year after year, it marks the spirit of the season for them, inviting them into our own joyful celebration of the Good News.

Everywhere, those who’ve attended concerts through several years commented that this year’s performance was “the best ever.” A man in Alexandria, VA, thought that, because the singing and choreography were right on and so together, it was lip-synched. A woman wondered how we could top it next year. In Piscataway, NJ, a girl—maybe ten-years-old—shyly approached Sr. Tracey, who remembered her from last year. “I like this one the best of all,” she ventured, then walked away. She came back and added, “I have one more thing: you all sang the best I’ve ever heard you sing.” Sr. Tracey was touched, especially as she recognized what an effort it was for her to say it.

A New Jersey man in his early 80’s is very involved in the life of his parish, but feels he has to come to the concert every year to start off his Christmas season. In Cleveland, the sound engineers, who’ve worked the concert there for the past three years claim that it’s now part of their Christmas. They confided, “While you’re singing, we pick out two voices and harmonize them. Wow! Beautiful sounds come out of these ladies. It’s pure joy.” J. D. Goddard, a music reviewer for music zine Cleveland Classical, was more moderate, but considering it was not a classical event, he was just as  positive about their “exceptional” and “‘upbeat’ performance” that reflected “their strong religious convictions and faith.”

Romeo Marquis, the husband of Claudette, another cousin of mine, (He wrote the Pauline Faithways post of Sept. 7) gave me his evaluation of the Boston performance: “This is  a great event, not only because of the music, but because of your attitude toward each other.” A woman said to one sister, “I want to tell you I was expecting nothing. What I got was a huge shot of joy. It’s the way you poke fun at each other, and I kept feeling the joy filling my heart.” As a first-time guest, the aunt of one of our co-workers fretted over the prospect of being bored by a prim recital, followed by some tweedy reception: “I hope we don’t pray too long. My knees are hurting!”

If anyone expressed the mood, it was the kids. In Alexandria, where the concert was held in a church, the turning point for them was at “the costume change,” when the sisters put the gloves and scarves on for Silver Bells, Jingle Bells, and Winter Wonderland. “Twenty-five or thirty kids started crawling out of their pews, three or four of them at a time,” Sr. Tracey told me. “Their eyes were twinkling as they got closer and imitated our hand motions. One little girl positioned herself in the middle aisle, chin in hand, probably to have a balanced view of the whole thing.”

At the reception following each of the Boston gigs, I donned a Santa hat. Armed with a matching red stocking, a sign that read, “Stuff Santa’s Stocking!” and a bag of brochures, forms, and business cards, I mingled with guests, available for their questions about our life and mission. Several signed up for a notification about the annual concerts, or an e-mail about the weekly Pauline Faithways posting. Some dropped in a twenty or more; others dropped in a prayer intention or two. A little boy, maybe six years old, rushed up to me and announced, “I want a train like this!” and he pointed to the two boxcars he held in his hands.
Uh-oh, I thought, he thinks I’m the real deal. I guess the lack of beard and girth didn’t make a whole lot of difference.
“OK,” I played along, “Do you want to show me the details? We gotta make sure it’s the right one.”
“It has to have these kind of wheels,” and he carefully indicated the blue ones on either side of each.
“I’ll be sure to pass that on!” I smiled at mom, who smiled back apologetically and gently herded her boys toward the cookie table.

Click here to listen.
One of our Sunday chaplains in Boston named Sr. Anne “Sister O-Holy-Night.” That song was the best number of the whole performance, according to two young Boston women. The Saturday evening audience gave her a standing ovation, and Sr. Nancy, who carried the performance into the next selection almost sent everybody home, commenting, “You can’t beat that.” At the Staten Island Hilton dinner concert, Sara Boccieri the four-year-old granddaughter of our friends, Gene and JoAnn Boccieri, toggled between her parents’ table and her grandparents’, where I was sitting. After the first few lively songs, the tone of the concert became a little softer. Sara was perched on her grandfather’s knee when Sr. Anne began to sing O Holy Night. Sara froze, her eyes riveted on Sr. Anne. When she got to the words, “This is the night of the dear Savior’s birth,” Sara, without taking her eyes off the stage, made the Sign of the Cross and folded her little hands. Given Sr. Anne’s blue veil, she probably thought she was seeing the Virgin Mary! Whether she understood the words or not, it was obvious she was having a sacred moment. Of course, it lasted all of about ten seconds before she slid from her grandfather’s knee and scooted off toward her parents.

Was the possibility of a religious vocation awakened in any of them? In the banter and commentary between numbers, various sisters highlighted for the audience one or another aspect of our life. Sr. Tracey, for instance, is from Loreauville, LA, near Lafayette. She told how, as a seventeen-year-old “fashionista,” her highest aspirations had been “to get a really good job at the mall,” so she “could get a really good discount at Gap.” When she visited our Boston community for the first time and heard the sisters singing during Mass, she wondered if she could be part of that harmony for the rest of her life, not leaving behind who she was, but bringing it into the song of religious life. Maybe the answer of her life sparked that question in someone else.

A man in his 40’s was visiting a friend from out-of-state. He had heard for a few years about our music ministry from another friend and decided to take a cab to the concert from the airport on his way to his friend’s home. During our rendition of Angels Among Us tears rolled down his cheeks. After the concert he whispered that it was the song that had most clearly spoken to him. When we carry out our mission, there are times we can only guess at people’s stories, but the comforting thing for them and for us is that God knows and loves every detail and heals everything in his time.

He wasn’t the only one who followed Jesus’ call on impulse like Matthew, Andrew, James, and John. A woman in Boston was talking with her daughter in Kansas City. While she was wondering aloud when the Daughters’ concert might be, her daughter looked it up online. “Mom! It’s today at 3!” Still another woman said that—for reasons we’ll never know—she hadn’t been out of the house for months and felt that she was supposed to go to this. She was glad she did.

Not only did we pray for people who attend, but many others joined in those prayers. Just look at the Daughters of St. Paul Choir Facebook fanpage to get a sampling of what God heard on audiences’ behalf. As a representative of the development office, I participated in the Staten Island dinner concert at the Hilton. Since our own convent was filled with choir members, another visiting FSP and I stayed with the very hospitable Schoenstatt Sisters. They made a point of telling us that they were praying for the people we ministered to that night. “American Idol” may invite votes; we go for the prayers!

I think this is one reason God puts people in our path. At a rest stop between Philadelphia and Hartford, the sisters got something to drink. As they stood in line to pay, a woman turned to one of them and said hesitantly, “I want to let you know, my father passed away. I’ve started to doubt. What should I read? What should I do? What prayer should I say?” Realizing she didn’t know this woman’s story enough to pontificate with her even if she had wanted to, Sister still felt prompted to suggest Psalm 23. “Hear God saying to you, ‘I’m the Good Shepherd.’ Picture yourself in God’s arms. He’s carrying you. He wants to hold you and he’s also holding your father.” The woman began to cry. Then Sister added, “I promise you, we’ll pray for you.”

The morning after one concert, a friend called ahead to a restaurant to pay for both the sisters’ breakfast and lunch for the road, his customary gift each year. He has heavy crosses to carry and seems to appreciate the hope that the music ministry offers him. “People give when they’re touched by our mission,” Sr. Margaret Timothy said. “He never wants thanks. He says, ‘This is my thank-you to you.’”

Click here to listen and order
If you would like to be notified about next year’s concerts, or you know someone who wants to financially sponsor a concert near you, e-mail me at As you sing the carols and songs of the season, make it a prayer for those who need the hope of Good News in their world.
Click here to hear and order
Angels Among Us and
O Holy Night.

Photo credits: Ann R. Heady, FSP, Phivan Ngoc Nguyen

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Flying" South

Sr. Maria Elizabeth Borobia is seated at right.
In September and October, Pauline Faithways ran a series of articles on what we’ve taken to calling the “redesigning of America.” (See Sept. 28, Oct. 5, and Oct. 12.) This is a new project of the Daughters of St. Paul answering Pope John Paul’s summons to the Church in the American Hemisphere to begin thinking of ourselves, North and South, as a single continent, so as to facilitate the Church’s new evangelization in a more collaborative way. Our superior general, Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, has led the entire congregation in all 54 nations and territories where we’re located “to renew ourselves and reconfigure our communities as necessary, so as to respond to the evangelization and media needs” of those we’re called to serve, as the blog post of Oct. 5 put it.

That article also introduced readers to the four sisters from Latin America who have generously committed three years of their lives to outreach among Spanish and Portuguese speaking Hispanics here—over 43% of U.S. Catholics and growing. I thought you might like to know what the Spanish speaking contingent’s been up to.

L to R: Sr. Lily, Sr. Marta Yolanda,
Sr. Horencia, and Sr. Elizabeth Marie
In September Sr. Hortencia (Mexico) and Sr. Marta Yolanda (Argentina) left Boston with Sr. Maria Elizabeth Borobia to take up residence in Miami for further study and the first steps in this mission. Sr. Elizabeth told me this morning that they all spent the first six weeks in Miami getting acclimated and concluding their initial planning. This process included an intensive course on the cultural, political, and ecclesial ambiente in which U.S. Hispanics live, a theological survey of those models of the Church that correspond best to their reality in relation to the rest of the Church, and a study of the Church in the southeast region of the U.S. Our two newcomers are continuing to study English via the Internet. The process is “challenging but progressing,” Sr. Elizabeth said.

Sr. Marta Yolanda explains. “For me everything is a great challenge—going out, leaving behind, beginning anew, and facing a different culture. It’s not a matter of learning for the sake of learning ‘things,’ but rather of [acquiring] a great personal wealth where charity is in the midst of it all.” 
Sr. Marta Yolanda on the air with Fr. Mike Harrington,
a Pauline in the Institute of Jesus the Priest and director
of Boston's office of Outreach and Cultural Diversity

A missionary dynamo, she describes the balancing act that this love requires: “I—we—need the exercise of emptying ourselves in order to be filled. I need to make a space interiorly in order to learn; that is, to make a space without losing what I am. Only my prayer and my relationship with Jesus can sustain me and give light in order to open me up to others and discover the beauty that this country has.”

In addition to what she gathers from her formal studies, Sr. Hortencia hopes to “learn the values of the culture of the USA, for example, openness to the multicultural reality, an ability to work hard, and solidarity [expressed through] generosity.”

Sr. Hortencia serves at a book
and media display.

Sr. Elizabeth commented that they’re already implementing those studies by plunging into the Pauline mission. Their twofold aim: first, to become known and make the outreach project known and second, to provide initial formation in faith and spirituality to people through workshops and conferences and through the distribution of Pauline media materials. This weekend they’re driving to the diocese of Venice, four hours from Miami, to hold a book and media display at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church after the Sunday Masses, plus a similar one on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many people who don’t attend weekly Mass wouldn’t miss “Mama’s” feast day to save their lives! It’s a great opportunity to reach those who are, practically speaking, “unchurched.” Since the end of October, the sisters have held nine such displays. While they’re at St. Maximilian’s, the sisters will meet with the pastoral staff to plan a Bible mission in Spanish and English for next year. Depending on the module adopted by the staff, the mission will provide a longer or shorter opportunity for parishioners to become more familiar with Scripture as well as with lectio divina, a time-honored way of praying with Scripture.

They’ve made a point of approaching Catholic and interdenominational book stores in the Miami area and beyond. They’ve dropped in on more than a dozen shops in the past six weeks, including parish book stores, to show Pauline titles and to take managers’ orders. They’ve shown our titles to personnel in 25 Latino parishes, as well as in predominantly English speaking parishes that also minister to Hispanic. Finally they’ve already participated in three large-scale vocational events, sponsored by various groups. All in all, tens of thousands have already been reached through their efforts of the past six weeks. Our Sunday Visitor published an article last Friday highlighting some of the Church’s initiatives with Latinos, including those of the Daughters both in Miami and in Boston.

Besides bursting with energy, motivation, and creativity, these are women in love. Sr. Hortencia wants “the Word who becomes image, song, and reach many people and give them reason to hope in their dreams and struggles.”  Sr. Marta Yolanda’s Christmas wish list includes her desires that “St. Paul, that great saint who is little known, may be loved and liked, that people may come to love the Word more, that youth may discover the beauty of our life as consecrated [women], and that our books become bridges between them and us.” If Santa’s smart, he won’t tackle this one alone.

In the midst of their activity, the sisters are well aware of the goal held out by paragraph 13 in the Lineamenta, the workbook preparing for next year’s international synod of bishops on the new evangelization: “Migrants must not simply be evangelized but be trained themselves to be evangelizing agents.” Because their initiatives are oriented toward educating people both by selling media products and offering formative experiences, the sisters are laying the groundwork for future “train the trainer”  programs that they intend to design as they become more familiar with the needs and interests of parishes. Their current methodology allows people to absorb the word now with a view to sharing it with others. Pastors, councils, and Hispanic ministers have already indicated to the sisters individuals who could intern with what they learn once a program is in place to do this. 

A generous grant from the Raskob Foundation for Catholic
Activities supplied a new van for those trips. It wasn't
going anywhere, though, until it was blessed--inside and out!
One organization is opening the door to this future for them through collaboration on the diocesan level. SEPI is the Southeast Pastoral Institute, a certificate program in leadership and faith formation for adults in Hispanic ministries, sponsored by the bishops of the southeastern United States. After SEPI’s October Regional Encounter for Hispanic Ministry in St. Augustine, directors invited the sisters to join their on-the-road team of facilitators in spirituality. SEPI pays for transportation, and hospitality is provided by the host diocese. The three sisters already have sessions scheduled in Tampa and Colombia, SC, for February 2012.

Given the collaborative nature of the mission, it was therefore natural that our Miami community of eight wanted to bring their archbishop, Thomas Wenski, up-to-date with their projects and to hear whatever ideas he might have. They invited him for dinner, but he surprised them last week by inviting them over to his place instead. What was intriguing to the community was how, in the course of the conversation, he was able to integrate the Latino project with his interest in Pauline as a whole, especially with our digital publishing, with its e-books and apps. Yet another not-too-distant innovation for outreach among Latinos.

This kind of integration with Pauline Books & Media is already evident in the way they’re working with the PBM Center on 107th Ave. Last Saturday, literally hundreds of people of every ethnic background in Miami gathered for the annual, kids’ “Birthday Party for Jesus.” Sr. Emmanuel took 300 photos for families who wanted to dress up like the figures in the Christmas story. Now the sisters are organizing a Christmas novena for every evening between Dec. 16 and 24. They’re personally knocking on neighborhood doors to invite everyone to this prayerful, social event.

Sr. Hortencia is a person who watches, listens and thinks. She describes herself as “uncomplicated, generous, and willing to serve,” and offers us a glimpse of what she hopes to give and receive through her experience. It’s almost a prayer—one we can all make for her and for ourselves:
“I hope to have an attitude of interior freedom, and total self-giving, in order to welcome everyone without distinction and in order to be inserted in a culture and live through the same experience as other immigrants; in other words, to live in solidarity. In one way or another, we are all ‘pilgrims,’ because as believers, we are all on the journey. We have another permanent home in God.”