WE SHOULD BE AS SHINING LAMPS . . .
As seen on the video clip to the left, (click on image), thirty nine sisters of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea gathered in Goroka, PNG on the weekend of May 29, 30 and 31. The theme of the gathering was ‘Shining Lamps’ and it brought together sisters from across our Institute who were 65 years of age at the time of the gathering and under. A second gathering, which will bring together 65 sisters, will be held in Adelaide on the first weekend of July.
In general terms the aim of these gatherings is for these sisters to explore together how they can continue to help our Institute respond to the demands of its mission and to nurture communion among its members into the future.
Angela Reed rsm, shares the experience of the Goroka Gathering.
The majority of us arrived on Thursday May 28 and were warmly greeted by our PNG sisters who met us at the airport and greeted us with a welcome banner. Any initial apprehension quickly dissipated as we began to share our common Mercy life.
The formal meeting was preceded by a day touring Goroka. The group was exposed to the many works of Mercy in Goroka – this was ably facilitated by Cathy Jambet, our tour director! We visited many sites around the town such as the university and the Melanesian Institute. In our travels the impact of the many sisters who had ministered previously in PNG was very evident. We recognise today that we stand on the shoulders of these valiant women. The group also visited the current ministries the sisters are involved in. The ministry works of HIV/AIDS victims, sewing classes, prison visitation and programmes to name but a few. The esteem our sisters are held in was tangible throughout Goroka.
Lunch on Friday was spent at Coolock House where we were treated to wonderful views of the Goroka Highlands and once again were overwhelmed with PNG hospitality. The afternoon was spent at the Mercy Works centre where the visiting sisters were treated to a concert which was provided by the Blind Boys band from Mount Sion – we were able to jive along with the locals. It was suggested that we may become known as the ‘dancing nuns’ rather than the ‘walking nuns’. Many of the visiting sisters spent their money at the stall which had merchandise created by those who participate in the programmes run by Mercy Works. On Friday evening the entire group gathered for dinner and there was a great sense of excitement and anticipation about the days ahead.
The venue provided an environment conducive to open dialogue and opportunities to recreate together and the formal process of our gathering began on Saturday morning. The opening ritual was led by our PNG sisters. This welcome ritual really set the tone for the following days. Skilfully facilitated by Josephite sisters Anne Derwin and Susan Pollard, opportunities were given to share our insights into the present and envision a future in relation to the life of ISMAPNG.
Institute Leader Sr Berneice Loch participated in the gathering and one of the highlights for her was the aspect of diversity that emerged. She observed that the diversity among the group took many forms, some being:
• Many different experiences of the living of Religious Life;
• Cultural diversity arising from our coming together from many different congregations through our process of reconfiguring;
• Cultural diversity at a much more significant level among the PNG sisters, coming as
they do from a diversity of peoples within PNG and then the diversity added by bringing the
Australian sisters into the gathering, that group too being quite diverse;
• Diversity of professional experiences and backgrounds and of ministry involvement;
• Diversity of theological and liturgical background and experiences.
Berneice further reflected that we, as a society and as an Institute, have developed in our ways of encountering diversity. As a society we have come to understand that diversity, even at the biological level, is the source of creativity and holds all the possibility of the new and creative springing up amongst us. So instead of minimising and dismissing difference, the challenge is to see and treasure it while also giving thanks for what we recognise as common to us all.
At the conclusion of the time together, all present wished to share some of the experience and have done so through the preparation and production of the above video, for which we are grateful to Ann-Maree O’Beirne rsm, also one of the participants of the gathering.
All the sisters who attended this gathering expressed gratitude and joy at the opportunity to be part of this cross-cultural experience that enlivened us and gave us a great sense of belonging to the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea.