Amid UISG plenary’s first phase, leaders share stories of loss and hope

From left: Sr. Pat McDermott; Sr. Margo Ritchie; Sr. Alice Drajea; and Sr. Marie Antoinette Saadé (Courtesy of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada; International Union of Superiors General)
From left: Sr. Pat McDermott; Sr. Margo Ritchie; Sr. Alice Drajea; and Sr. Marie Antoinette Saadé (Courtesy of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada; International Union of Superiors General)

The International Union of Superiors General continues the first phase of its plenary assembly with an online meeting on April 4. The initial online meeting was held March 14, attended by 465 leaders. The session was recorded, enabling participants to follow on their own preferred time and language. The in-person meetings are in Rome May 2-6 and the final phase is an online session on July 11.

Sr. Jolanta Kafka, president of UISG, opened the March 14 meeting citing Pope Francis on the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 17, 2015. “Synodality — a dynamic of dialogue with the world and humanity is one of the most important processes in the life of the church and today we are called to put it into action as a sign of the times,” she said. “In the midst of so much bad news that we are receiving in recent months, this news is one of the most beautiful news that you and I have personally received.”

She described a “double movement” in synodality that is, “on one hand a linear movement; and on the other, a circular and communitarian movement.” She also cited Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, that we are called to treat all persons with infinite dignity, that is with “Samaritan care towards the other whom we recognize as my brother and sister.”

She then asked three challenging questions for the groups to ponder:

  • How are we contributing to the synodal process?
  • How do we encourage synodal listening?
  • How do we foster common discernment in the church at large?

Reflections from the participants included the following:

“We see vulnerability as a source of hope and truth.”

“Not having answers [in this time of vulnerability] … we are like Mary Magdalene at the tomb … and have to ‘turn ourselves around’ to see the risen Jesus in our midst.”

“How do we hold grief and loss while dreaming a new future?”

“As women in the church, we want to contribute our voice, but always have a nagging question … will it make a difference?”

“Our modeling vulnerability not having answers, and telling the truth about our vulnerability is a source of hope and freedom. We are a church that lives without answers. … This is a stance different from ‘being in charge. … Now we need one another and all charisms.”

Prior to the meeting on March 14, Patrizia Morgante, UISG communications officer, engaged individual leaders in a series of video interviews to explore the theme of “Embracing Vulnerability on the Synodal Journey.”

Below are summaries of four interviews: Sr. Pat McDermott, Mercy Sisters of the Americas; Sr. Margo Ritchie, Sisters of St Joseph of Canada; Sr. Alice Drajea, Sisters of the Sacred Heart, South Sudan and Sr. Marie Antoinette Saadé, Congregation of Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family in Lebanon. As I listened to the interviews, I was touched by the sisters’ openness and humility. 


Sr. Pat McDermott (Courtesy of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas)

Pat McDermott, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, which includes the continental United States, Caribbean, Central and South America, and Guam and the Philippines
(Courtesy of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas)

Sr. Pat McDermott spoke about the vulnerability of heart that, through COVID-19, connected her and all of us with the world in unusual ways. All people everywhere, together, experienced the tragedies of death, illness, isolation, fear and uncertainty and at the same time, for others there was the advantage of new ways of connecting with one another through the technology of the internet. She noted that this will be a lasting impact even as we eventually move out of the pandemic.

She also spoke about how vulnerability needs to be welcomed with tenderness, with ourselves and one another and how such relating is a witness of God’s presence and our interdependence. As a leader of a large congregation, vulnerability was touched in her as she listened to the stories of personal sadness and the loss, and, when at times the congregation learned of 130 sisters’ deaths in one year; notices coming only by email. “It is daunting — over and over to hold a sense of loss.”

She spoke of the sadness at the inequities of so many people who did not have the resources or capacities to cope with the sufferings and isolation they were feeling. Recognizing this and being unable to “fix or even make sense of it all brought a deep sense of vulnerability for the sisters” because the Mercy charism of responding to the needs of the poor, sick and uneducated was calling out. But “we were locked up to be safe,” isolated from the ones that needed care. As I listened to her, I could feel the anguish of that isolation.

In spite of the restrictions, McDermott told how her sisters in the Philippines and South America did all they could to share the few resources they had with those in need. Mercy leadership at the generalate level also responded by setting aside significant funds for giving sponsored ministries extra assistance and by initiating a creative project in which individual sisters in many places could request $1,000 to assist families they knew were in need. (The Sisters of Mercy partnered with other organizations on a pilot project, Sisters on the Frontlines, which then grew into a larger effort.) McDermott noted that it was “symbolic” assistance, one way of responding to the sisters’ desire to welcome the sufferin