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
September 27, 2018, Grapevine, Texas – Sister Lois Paha, OP, Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, accompanied some 50 Hispanic Catholic delegates from her diocese to a September 20-23, 2018, national gathering of about 3,000 delegates, leaders, and representatives of national organizations.
The Fifth National Encuentro (gathering) of Hispanic/Latino Ministry was at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, focusing on the theme “Discípulos Misionerios: Testigos del Amor de Dios” (“Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love”). Years in the planning stages, V Encuentro aimed to discover ways that the Catholic Church can be more responsive to the needs of Hispanic Catholics and to empower and encourage the Hispanic Catholics to be more involved in the Church’s work of evangelization.
Nationwide, Hispanic Catholics still face a number of challenges, Sister Lois said. “I think for some of them, language is still a barrier, and being accepted by [people of] other cultures,” she said. “In serving one another in their Spanish-speaking ministries, they are accepted, but to break some of the barriers of the enculturation and the multi-cultural reality is a challenge.”
Sister Lois explained the goal of the program. “One of the efforts of this Encuentro was to identify young people, listen to their call and try to reach out” to meet those needs through such avenues as faith formation, support of the family, and leadership development.
One of the highlights of V Encuentro was a dinner attended by young Hispanic Catholics, ages 18 to 35, with about 130 bishops. Sister Lois noted that about 700 delegates were in that age range – about one-third of the delegates, and they were able to offer their thoughts as young people.
“My hopes were that the delegates would be able to see not just what’s good for Tucson but for the whole Church and how we, as a border diocese, can respond to the needs of our local community,” Sister Lois said. “My goal to energize the delegates was definitely met. As we talked with them and they went out to the breakout sessions, they saw the bigger picture of a lot of dioceses across the United States.”
Sister Lois noted that participants at V Encuentro showed their solidarity with people around the world by participating in the Helping Hands program of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “In two lunch-time periods on Friday and Saturday, we were able to fill 20,000 bags of food for the people of Burkina Faso,” she said. Participation in this project helped participants to see the basic needs of people around the world.
V Encuentro was the culmination of years of preparation, beginning in 2014 with preliminary planning and formation and training of episcopal regional teams and leadership and diocesan and parish teams in subsequent years.
In Tucson, the first step was to set up a diocesan team, which included staff members in the Pastoral Services Department, as well as the Vocations Vicar, the Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, and leaders from various areas of the diocese. “They went through several steps, at the parish and diocesan level,” Sister Lois said. Because of the large area of the Diocese of Tucson, the diocesan gathering was held in Yuma and in Tucson – and in both locations, Bishop Gerald Kicanas celebrated Mass, greeted delegates, and showed his support for the process, she said.
The Diocese of Tucson is fortunate to have had two bishops support the ministry to the Hispanic/Latino community. The process began under the leadership of Bishop Kicanas, and upon his retirement, Bishop Edward Weisenburger has continued to support the national process and the commitment to the people of the diocese.
Delegates from Tucson then participated in a gathering of Region 13, which included 413 delegates and 12 bishops from the 10 dioceses in the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah. Those who participated in the process at all three levels – parish, diocesan, and regional – were qualified to be the Diocese of Tucson’s delegates to the national Encuentro.
Sister Lois is optimistic about the future. “We made a good choice in the delegation from Tucson and we see that they are willing to pick up the call,” she said. “Our next step is to decide how to implement what we heard” from the working document that will come out of V Encuentro, “not to go too fast, but to go fast enough, and also to inform the other parishes of the diocese so it doesn’t get isolated only into Hispanic or Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. We have at least one Mass in Spanish in all of our 78 parishes.”
Sister Lois said the Hispanic population in the Diocese of Tucson – and throughout the country – is mixed, with some being new immigrants or second-generation in the United States and others who have been in this country for a long time, third- or fourth-generation. But in general, the Hispanic Catholics want the Church to be a part of their lives. “They have some roots and they want the Church to be part of their reality and not just something outside of their reality,” she said. “They want the Church to be their companion, their strong support and strength” – and, for their part, to be involved in the life of that Church.
Feature photo: Among those representing the Diocese of Tucson at V Encuentro were, back, from left, Deacon Lauro Teran, delegate; Sister Lois Paha, OP, Director of Pastoral Services; Ofelia James, Pastoral Services/Formation Program Coordinator; and Joe Perdreauville, Pastoral Services/Associate Director; and front, from left, Oakford Dominican Sister Gladys Echenique, OP, Coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, and Lupita Teran, delegate.