At the Gathering in Solidarity at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, hundreds gathered with the Sisters of Providence to support advancing human rights for all people on Saturday, Jan. 21.
Sisters Tracey Horan and Joni Luna, women who are in formation with the Congregation, were coordinators of the event, which included song, prayer and personal reflections.
Sister Tracey welcomed the group, “To each and every one of you – thank you for your presence and what it means in this moment. Thank you for “praying with your feet,” for using your presence as a witness for those who you hold dear. Take a look around … Each of you is here – Sisters of Providence, students of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, local residents, parents, children, sisters, brothers … because you believe in the dignity that you see in those around you.”
Referencing that this gathering coincides with the event in Washington, D.C., and other sister events around the country, and the world, she said,
- “Together with these multitudes, we commit to advancing human rights for all people and practicing empathy to build understanding across differences.
- Together with these multitudes, we are here to send a positive message about civil society, mutual respect, human rights, and the democratic process.
- Together with these multitudes, we proclaim that women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.”
Sister Tracey then read Nancy Williams poem, “Blessed Are” which laments the blessedness depicted in our media today. Williams offers the Gospel’s way of turning this thinking upside down. Williams writes,
“Jesus, politically incorrect,
Went up a mountain and gave this law:
Blessed are you poor, and you who have the spirit of the poor,
You are making heaven happen.
Blessed are you who weep, when death erases your bright love,
You will find surprises in my blessing.
Blessed are you gentle ones, cruelty is not your way.
I have a land awaiting you.
Blessed are you, whipped by inequity, made to feel hopeless,
You will dine on justice.
Blessed are you who bleed with other people’s pain,
You will receive my mercy.
Blessed are you whose hearts are clean, you see beauty all around you,
You will see me fully later.
Blessed are you who work for peace, you have the innocence of children,
And I will always call you mine.
Blessed are you, ridiculed because of us, resisting all injustice,
My kingdom is already yours.”
After reading the poem, Sister Tracey invited everyone to sing “Canticle of the Turning”, which was printed in the event’s program.
Speaking up for justice
Several sisters spoke about their personal experiences witnessing injustice through their ministries. Sister Rita Clare Gerardot shared about her death row ministry and her prayer for the individuals in prison and their families, and the victims and their families. She also shared about her experience peacefully demonstrating at the The School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), located in Fort Benning, Ga. It is a U.S. Army combat training school.
Sister Ann Casper (as Mother Theodore Guerin), spoke about the intolerance for Catholics in the 1800s that she experienced. She also addressed her dismay at the bondage of human trafficking, immigrant detention centers, for-profit prisons and a scene she witnessed in New Orleans where people were selling slaves in the marketplace.
People of the light
Sister Jan Craven shared personal experiences of witnessing injustice and participating to advance human rights, from her childhood into adulthood. She encouraged the group to “walk in the light” in the same spirit as Mother Theodore did.” She referenced John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Sister Jan ended with, “In the months ahead, promise yourselves that you will do everything possible to stay in the light … to walk in the light … to raise your light high for others to see … for our world needs our light now more than ever. Let us never forget that … we are people of the light.”
Postulant Emily TeKolste reminded the group to contact their representatives and offered a list of resources (to come) to help us continue the dialogue and advance human rights for all people into the future. She also reminded folks that a petition signed by participants will be sent to state and federal representatives that talked about Saturday’s Woods gathering in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington and those forced to the margins of our society. She closed her talk with this Franciscan blessing:
May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
so that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor. Amen.
What more can I do?
Former General Superior Sister Nancy Nolan read a prayer, What More Can I Do, by an unknown author, which touched many in the crowd:
I will do more than belong – I will participate.
I will do more than care – I will help.
I will do more than believe – I will trust
I will do more than dream – I will work.
I will do more than teach – I will inspire.
I will do more than earn – I will enrich.
I will do more than give – I will serve.
I will do more than live – I will grow.
I will do more than be friendly – I will be a friend.
I will do more than talk – I will listen.
I will do more.
All are welcome!
As a next step, General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski then addressed the group as a colorful new banner was unveiled outside the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
She said, “We are a people who need signs and symbols. So as a Congregation we have decided to install this banner as a sign, as a promise really to all who come here that you will be welcomed and reverenced for who you are. When we say ‘All are welcome,’ we will try to welcome the whole of you, your ideas, your beliefs and values, your hopes and fears. We hope this will be a small contribution to creating a more just and hope-filled world.”