VANCOUVER — Four Missionaries of Charity are now a recognizable presence in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Dressed in bright white saris edged with three blue borders (signifying devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary) and a crucifix pinned on their left shoulders, the sandal-clad sisters are creating a small sensation after arriving at the former Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement convent on Cordova Street.
On the morning of Sept. 5, the feast of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, a passerby peered in the open doors of St. Paul's Church next door to the convent where Archbishop Michael Miller was preparing to celebrate Mass and welcome the sisters.
After learning that the service was for sisters who were taking over from the Franciscans, the man said he was "sure they will be just great around here once they get to know us."
"We loved those Franciscan ladies and their sandwiches, so it's the end of an era," he noted, "but we are happy these little nuns are helping take their place."
This summer, after 85 years of combatting poverty and homelessness, the Atonement Sisters relinquished their ministry due to declining vocations. Wishing to maintain the presence of consecrated women in the area, the archbishop asked the Missionaries of Charity to relocate to their convent.
The missionaries set about praying and discerning and asking permission from their superiors to make the move.
"We are happy to be serving the needy in the poorest areas," said Sister Rochelle, one of the missionaries.
The order arrived in 1988, when Mother Teresa visited Vancouver and established a convent.
Mother Teresa, said the archbishop, always clarified to her sisters that "'We are not social workers; we are first and foremost contemplatives.'
"Like your foundress, you devote your energies first of all to prayer. Your presence here is a presence above all of prayer rooted in faith."