May 9, 2016, San Fernando, Pampanga, the Philippines – Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, Director of Formation for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, shared some key moments in late March and early April with Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Philippines, members of the Congregation’s Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter.
The Remedies Chapter recently celebrated the 50-year Jubilee of its founding. The Adrian Dominican Congregation helped with the formation of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Remedies, and, in November 2011, the Remedies Congregation merged with the Adrian Dominican Congregation.
Sister Lorraine had the opportunity to accompany the Remedies Chapter during some key moments: a Holy Week retreat at the Provincial House in San Fernando; the Easter Triduum, a three-day Liturgy that spans the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday service, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. In addition, Sister Lorraine was present for the final profession of vows of Sisters Salvacion Valenzuela, OP, and Alma Zapanta, OP. She also had the opportunity to take part in another key moment in the Philippines: the closing of the school year and graduations.
“The highlight of the Philippines trip for me was getting to know our Sisters,” Sister Lorraine said, noting that they had all gathered together for the Holy Week retreat. “I was very struck by our Sisters’ commitment to the poor and their immersion with the poor, and their awareness and involvement in issues affecting the people.”
Sister Lorraine noted the poverty that she saw in the Philippines, and the way that people live in corrugated tin houses and in polluted areas. But, after praying to see the situation through Jesus’ eyes, she said, she also saw the hope, joy, and energy of the people. “In the midst of some real poverty and chaos, I noticed all the lovely human interactions. …I thought, ‘What a drive for life!” In spite of the hardship that they faced daily, she said, the people “worked so hard in such heat and difficult conditions to survive, and I was really quite impressed by their enterprising nature and their energy.”
In spite of their work with people in poverty – and their efforts to bring relief to those suffering from natural disasters, such as the recent typhoon that struck in 2014 – Sister Lorraine saw joy in the Remedies Sisters as well. “I was struck by how much they enjoy life,” she said. “They laugh easily and have fun easily – and there’s a real gift in that.”
The Remedies Sisters share that joy with the people around them. Sister Lorraine noted the large crowds of people from the greater community who came to celebrate the final profession of Sisters Salvacion and Alma. “It was a huge celebration, with many guests, many friends, seminarians, family – just lots of people there, joyously celebrating. It felt like a real community celebration in the broad sense of community.”
Some of the cultural experiences also impressed Sister Lorraine. For example, after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the people maintain the tradition of visiting seven churches. Sister Lorraine was impressed by the number of people who participated in this custom – and by the traffic, which limited to five the number of churches they could visit in five hours. “At every church we went to, there were hundreds and hundreds of people. It was the strength of their faith – how much that devotion meant to the people.”
Sister Lorraine was also impressed by the family values that shone through the four graduation ceremonies she attended – each different. “The parents actually go on stage with the graduate,” she said, and each graduating class sings a particular song that captures their class spirit.
Finally, Sister Lorraine came away from the experience with a greater appreciation for the Asian culture of the Philippines. She had believed that the Filipinos had adopted some of the Hispanic heritage. While the Spanish conquerors gave them Spanish last names, she said, they never took on that culture. “They took on the Catholic faith, because that fit, but they never took on the culture,” she said, adding that the Filipino culture is truly Asian.
Sister Carol Weber, OP, left, participates in a round table discussion with President Barack Obama and other community leaders in Flint. Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press
May 6, 2016, Flint, Michigan – After months of helping the people on the North Side of Flint to deal with the crisis of contaminated water, Sister Carol Weber, OP, came away from a May 4, 2016, round table meeting with President Barack Obama with renewed hope for the children she serves. She was one of a group of community members chosen to meet with the President during his visit to Flint.
Sister Carol and Sister Judy Blake, CSJ, co-founders and co-directors of St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, have been working since 2000 with the people of Flint, serving the needs of the people through such programs as employment preparation, a sewing co-op that provides women with a livelihood, and a food pantry.
Since the water crisis has begun, the Center has also become a bottled water distribution center. The Center also now offers a support and nutrition program for pregnant women and the mothers of small children, helping them to prepare nutritious meals to offset the effects of the lead in their children’s systems.
During the meeting with President Obama, Sister Carol said, she shared the concerns of the parents and grandparents of Flint. “First of all, they feel guilty because they were using the contaminated water for two years – making formula with it, cooking with it,” she said. She noted President Obama’s empathy and his words of encouragement: “We can either choose to recognize [the crisis] for what it is or go into despair.”
“I found him extremely understanding, extremely intelligent, genuine, and very, very much in a listening mode,” Sister Carol recalled. He listened to the concerns of each of the community leaders represented at the table – from two college students and a pastor from a neighboring church to a leader from the Hispanic community; and a representative of the plumbers’ union who asked that local people be hired to fix the pipes.
Also attending the meeting was Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who had tested the children of Flint, discovered the high levels of lead in their systems, and made the water crisis known publicly. Dr. Hanna-Attisha had pointed out that the children’s nutrition was already compromised by poverty; the lead in their systems added yet another disadvantage.
Still, Sister Carol found hope in President Obama’s assurance that the children of Flint will be okay. He gave the message that the children “are not going to be totally disabled and they are going to be okay – but we have to intercede” by making sure that the children eat healthy food, according to the recommendations. “I felt that this was the hope that we needed, but somebody in leadership had to say this clearly. I felt really that this was the beginning of change.”
She also spoke of the sense of support that she received from the meeting. “He talked about being behind us, being with us, but he said, ‘I can’t do it. You’re the people in the field who are really working.’ He was offering us not so much financial support but backing us in what we’re trying to do with our clients.”
Sister Carol was also impressed and moved by the many ways that President Obama demonstrated his desire to meet with and support the leaders at the table. He met them in Flint’s poorest neighborhood, in the poorest high school, bypassing the area in the high school library roped off by the Secret Service to greet each community leader with a handshake or hug; sending away the representatives of the press so he could meet privately with the leaders; and staying 15 minutes past the allotted time to continue the discussion.
She was especially moved by his parting words. “When he hugged me and thanked me for what I did in Flint, he said, ‘I want to thank your Order for all they do.’”