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Monday, June 11, 2012

My epistle to the Maryknoll Sisters

Dear Maryknoll Sisters,

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to reign in your hearts!

Since 1973, I have personally known and worked with you individually, in groups (as with that stellar bunch that was in Korea with me during the 1970s and 1980s) and, of course, as a Congregation, headquartered right across the street from the Fathers & Brothers in Ossining, N.Y.

This current crisis between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious affords me a wonderful opportunity to state publicly what I have long felt and seldom expressed: you are far and away the greatest living representatives of gospel values I have ever encountered.

On this, the Centenary of your founding, it is appropriate to recall how the first Maryknoll Sisters quickly dispelled the doubts and reservations about American women being too weak to endure the hardships of overseas missions. Indeed, our co-founder, Bishop James A Walsh, M.M., quickly conceded our mission work would never succeed until Maryknoll Sisters went overseas as missioners in their own right.

You have more than proven yourselves worthy disciples and missioners in our first mission of China since the 1920s, operating orphanages, medical clinics, sanitariums for Hansen's disease patients, and homes for the elderly poor. When war broke out you went into prison or exile with the people. In the States, you accompanied the Japanese Americans into the internment camps. During the Korean war, you disappeared with many other prisoners on the infamous Death March.

Following Vatican II, you eschewed your distinctive Maryknoll religious habit to remove an artificial barrier between you and the people you are sent to serve: the poor, the oppressed, the marginated, those who "hunger and thirst for justice." You surrendered ecclesial symbolism for approachability and solidarity with ordinary people, just as Jesus did. Knowing first hand the plight of women in a "man's world", you instinctively gravitated toward helping women overcome violence, discrimination, illiteracy, unemployment and health issues.

So great was your identification with the oppressed, that in El Salvador your deaths, among the hundreds of thousands slain, helped awaken the world and especially the people of the United States to the brutality and injustice of our foreign policy in Central America. With this came the dismissive disdain from powerful people in our government.

Through all this, I have known you to be women of deep faith and great joy, welcoming to all, open to differing viewpoints and respectful of diversity. These are the very things that got Jesus into trouble with the religious leaders of his time. So I suppose it is sad but hardly surprising that your actions on behalf of justice and the true gospel of Christ would attract the disapproval of powerful men in our Church today.

Yet, what marks a truly Christian community is not the absence of conflict or controversy, but rather how these are resolved. I have no doubt the bishops acted out of love for Christ and his Church, even as your lives attest to that very same love.

I am happy to number myself among the People of God who will be praying and fasting in the days, months and years ahead that the spirit of wisdom, discernment, knowledge, counsel and understanding might infuse your upcoming dialogue and discussions with the Vatican and that, in all humility, all Christians live out Christ's words: "By this shall all know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." (John 13:35)

In Christ I remain,

Joseph, your brother

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Joe...thanks for expressing the sentimens of many of us.
    Now get the ELB to come officially in support of the sisters as their leadership meets these days with the three horsemen in Rome.