November 15, 2018, Toronto, Ontario – Amidst 12,000 delegates from diverse world religions and spiritual beliefs, six women representing the Adrian Dominican Sisters took in the message of inclusion and peace of the Seventh Parliament of the World’s Religions, November 1-7, 2018, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Sister Susan Van Baalen, OP, Associate Joan Ebbitt, and Pastoral Minister Cathy Rafferty were chosen by lot to attend the Parliament as a gift from the Adrian Domincian Congregation. Also attending were Adrian Dominican Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.
Sister Esther saw the Parliament as an opportunity for participants to “deepen our understanding of global issues, transcend old barriers, and create loving pathways to inclusive peace, justice and love.”
Sister Patricia said the experience “was the chance of a lifetime.” Now marking its 125th anniversary, the Parliament of the World’s Religions has only been convened seven times since the first was held in Chicago in 1893. The theme, “The Promise of Inclusion and the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change,” articulated the purpose of the Parliament. Delegates represented about 200 faith traditions and spiritual beliefs from 80 countries.
The event began with an opening ceremony. Each of the other days focused on a particular theme in various plenary sessions and assemblies: Indigenous Peoples; women’s dignity; understanding and climate action; justice, peace, and reconciliation; and the next generation. The closing ceremony was November 7.
Sister Kathleen noted the strenuous schedule of the Parliament, and the multiple options for different events – for all groups of people, from children to scholars and activists – at each moment, even during plenary sessions. Typically, she said, she would eat breakfast, attend the plenary session – from 9:00 a.m. until noon – and then attend three or four breakout sessions before meeting others in the group for dinner. The dinner was followed by another plenary session, lasting sometimes until 11:00 p.m.
“You would have to send 50 people to get everything covered,” Cathy noted.
For the delegation from the Adrian Dominican Congregation, the Parliament was an eye-opener. Sister Patricia took the opportunity to attend programs and listen to a variety of speakers and people she met along the way. She encountered Wiccans and female Buddhist monks, listened to a presentation by a man who had physically transitioned from being a female, and spoke to two college women.
“The biggest surprise was the mass of diversity we have among us on so many levels – language, food, clothing, religion – and at the same time we’re trying to become one,” Sister Patricia said.
Joan was struck by the many presentations she attended and the encounters she had with others: a documentary on the experiences of three people who suffered through the U.S. immigration process; a panel of high school juniors and seniors who advocated for effective sexual education; and an elderly woman from Afghanistan who spoke of the constant violence and distrust in her country and the need for women to speak out. Joan said the woman’s message was that “when women are included, we’ll probably have peace. Women are wise and they must speak – and these women will change the world.”
Sister Susan said she loved the richness of diversity – both religious and cultural, along with the opportunity to “engage in rituals and serious dialogue with our indigenous North American brothers and sisters, and to participate with Hindus and Buddhists in their rituals. The inclusion of the fine arts reinforced the place of music, drama, poetry, and dance in the appropriate expression of religious beliefs.”
She added that she was struck by the inclusiveness of the more than 7,000 people there. “It was clear that those present were committed to making a better world through cooperation on issues as vast as climate control and world peace,” Sister Susan said.
The participants were also impressed by the qualities of the individual people they encountered. Joan takes hope in people like Vandana Shiva, an activist from India who has worked hard to heal Earth and was active as a member of the consciousness leaders during the 2009 Paris Climate Accord Summit, and in the many women recently elected to the U.S. Congress. “I think there’s great hope in that women are coming forth – they’re not standing down, Joan said.
People who stayed the course through dark and dreary moments impressed Sister Esther. She gave the example of Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician whose daughters were killed when an Israeli tank attacked their home in Gaza. He founded The Daughters for Life Foundation, a Canadian-based charity to educate Middle Eastern girls.
Likewise, Sister Esther recalled Sakena Yacoobi, a woman from Afghanistan, who is Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning for women and girls. She continues her commitment to educating girls, in spite of seeing some of the girls murdered and schools bombed. “I saw example after example of people living lives of compassion and love,” Sister Esther said.
“Everyone who spoke came from such a deep whole-heartedness,” Sister Esther added. “Whether they were working for the United Nations or nonprofits, there was such a whole-heartedness about following through what you say is important to you and believing that who you are and what you do and how you are in this world truly makes a difference.”
Cathy was impressed by her realization that the “vast issues and problems” of the world have a profound impact on individual lives. She gave the example of boarding schools of the past, in both the United States and Canada, in which Native American children were forced to conform to standard U.S. languages and culture and lost their own.
“We have a lot of head knowledge, but we haven’t brought it to our hearts,” Sister Kathleen said. In the case of climate change and its impact on the environment and the future of Earth, “we know the urgency, but we don’t have the will [to take action to protect Earth]. We haven’t brought it down to the heart as much as we need to, to have conversion.”
The Adrian Dominican participants came away from the Parliament with messages that they would like to bring to the rest of the world.
Sister Patricia has a greater sense of the need to listen and to “establish ongoing trust and respect for others. … I would like to bring people to a sense of respectful tolerance and appreciation for the other.”
Joan said the message she brings to others is the need to “pay attention to the suffering people and the suffering world. … My greatest learning was to recognize even more how much the Earth and the people are suffering and how we seem to have slipped backward.”
Sister Esther expressed the idea of going to the deeper message of our spiritual traditions. “If we do, we will be able to build a human community,” she said. “On the surface we’re different, but not in the depths. If we could go to that place, we might survive as a species and help our planet to thrive and flourish.”
Waiting at the Windsor Station for the train to Toronto are, from left, Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP; Associate Joan Ebbitt; and Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Susan Van Baalen, OP. Photos by Cathy Rafferty
August 31, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – When students begin the academic year at Dominican high schools, some will have much to say about the Dominican heritage. More than 100 students representing 19 schools left the 20th Annual Dominican High Schools Preaching Conference in Adrian with a greater understanding of the Order of Preachers – and with specific action plans for expanding their classmates’ awareness of the Dominican family and spirituality.
The 2018 conference was in late June at Siena Heights University in Adrian included many events and activities that made tangible the spirit of the Dominican order.
“The conference is a wonderful place to learn how you can involve yourselves and your schools more in the Dominican faith,” said Lucia Wileman, a student at Rosary High School in Aurora, Illinois.
Her classmate, Abby Homer, added, “I can’t wait to bring this knowledge back to my school.” Rosary High School is sponsored by the Springfield Dominican Sisters.
Sister Mary Soher, OP, an Adrian Dominican Sister and Director of the Conference called the event a wonderful success, thanks to the quality of the presenters, welcoming hospitality at the Siena Heights University and Adrian Dominican Motherhouse campuses.
Along with Adrian Dominican Sisters, sponsoring Dominican congregations and provinces were Dominican Sisters of Amityville, New York; Caldwell, New Jersey; Houston, Texas; Mission San Jose, California; Peace in Columbus, Ohio; Racine, Wisconsin; Sinsinawa, Wisconsin; Sparkill, New York; Springfield, Illinois; and the Friars from the Province of St. Albert the Great.
The young preachers first learned about some of the better-known Dominican saints from Patrick Spedale, campus minister at St. Pius X High School in Houston, Texas, who portrayed St. Dominic; Sister Nancy Murray, OP, Adrian, as St. Catherine of Siena, a 13th Century mystic, reformer, and Doctor of the Church; and Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, Adrian, as St. Antonio Montesinos, noted for speaking out on behalf of the indigenous people of Hispaniola who were exploited by the Spanish conquistadors. Brother Joseph Kilikevice, OP, of the St. Albert the Great Province, spoke on the interfaith mission of the Order.
Throughout the conference, students learned various ways to preach the Word of God, in addition to the more traditional preaching at the pulpit. “Dominican life isn’t just about words,” noted Madison Schomer, a student of Rosary High School. “Your actions are really the game changers.”
During the session on Preaching the Signs of the Times, the students learned about various social justice issues, including immigration, interconnectedness of life on Earth, women’s pay equity, and justice issues.
Representatives of various branches of the Dominican family were on hand to introduce the students to the diversity of Dominicans – Associates, Dominican Laity, Friars, Sisters, and Nuns.
Students also had the opportunity to spend time with Adrian Dominican Sisters and meet their Sister prayer partners during a social.
A part of one day of the conference was spent in preaching through action as participants served local charities.
Finally, Sister Barbara Schwarz, OP, Amityville, former President of the Dominican Institute for the Arts (DIA), gave a keynote address on Preaching through the Arts. Participants experienced preaching through specific arts during breakout sessions that included liturgical dance, preaching, and visual arts.
During the closing banquet, Sister Mary recalled the history of the Dominican High Schools Preaching Conference. Sister Gina Fleming, OP, Amityville, who started the National College Preaching in Action Conference in 2002 for Dominican colleges and universities, received the Sister Pat Brady Award for her involvement in spreading the Dominican charism to young people.
During the closing Commissioning Mass, Dominican high school students took their place as young Dominicans, preparing to deepen the Dominican heritage in their classmates back home through specific action plans.
“You opened your hearts and minds to the presentations and to each other,” Sister Mary told the young Dominican preachers. “You took seriously the invitation to contemplate and then act. You generously shared your gift of yourself to every person around you. … Each of you opened yourself to the grace of God. And that’s all that God asks.”
The fruits of the conference and of the young preachers’ learning will be seen in the coming school year, as the students enact their plans to deepen the Dominican heritage at their high schools.
Feature photo (top): Students from a Dominican high school present an action plan for bringing the Dominican spirit to the school this year.
Clockwise from left: Students practice their preaching skills during a Liturgical Preaching workshop presented by Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP. High school preachers participate in a rosary procession through Holy Rosary Chapel. Sister Aneesah McNamee, OP, demonstrates the art of folding paper cranes.