Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 26, 2005
Bless the lilies of the field
Four Guatemalan Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition supplement priests', parish work
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Four women religious along with several lay women work in the Chicam n Parish in Guatemala with Father Sergio Avila and me. These women are contributing in a major way to the life of the parish.
The sisters belong to a community unknown in Canada - Hermanas de San Jose de la Aparicion or the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. Their name is a reference to the angel visiting Joseph in a dream telling him that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and that she would bear a son to be named Jesus.
The sisters are professional, dedicated and involved in the parish. They are particularly involved in the fields of health and education. They are also active in the pastoral work of the parish.
With the vast number of communities that we deal with, there is much to do in training lay people for ministry. We visit each community on average six times a year. That means the priest is rarely present for Sunday liturgy in the communities.
Almost every day of the week, we are scheduled to go out to the communities and usually we visit at least two communities each time we go out. I have visited up to seven communities in five days. Once there we celebrate the Sacraments which include the Eucharist, Baptism, Reconciliation, Matrimony and sometimes the Anointing of the Sick.
A substantial part of the training of lay people for ministry is devoted to the sisters. Evenings and weekends are times when people can get together for workshops. However, Father Sergio leads the majority of workshops in the country, with important contributions by the sisters.
I'm not sure what we would do without the sisters. They are smart and well-trained women. They work for meagre salaries that leave them few options. They even parked their vehicle as they can't afford the cost of diesel.
So they stay at home a lot and live their lives around the ministry. They tell me their goal is "to impel life, faith, reconciliation and solidarity within the diversity of cultures, opting for the most excluded and marginalized in order to build up the reign of God.
Pebble in the pool
"In the area of catechesis," they explain, "we train the catechists in nearly 70 communities so that these catechists can train other people in taking on the ministry of catechists themselves."
The sisters also play a role in the formation of pastoral agents through workshops at both the parish and regional levels.
Another important ministry of the sisters is offering follow-up and accompaniment to small groups of families who meet weekly to pray and to hear and share God's Word. They also seek possible solutions to the needy, addressing their problems and necessities. They are present to the sick and elderly.
These activities have brought about an increased participation and better involvement of parishioners in the life of the parish. It has also united families, created greater solidarity and care for others. The sisters have also accompanied and contributed to training catechists in various communities.
Reflecting on the work of these sisters in Guatemala brought me back many years ago when several congregations of sisters played a huge role in the building up of the Church in northern Alberta where I lived. This they did by teaching children and young people, by working in hospitals as nurses, giving all they had by helping people and building up the Church.
A blessing to society
The sisters were and still are important life-givers, though they have decreased in numbers especially in countries like Canada. The call of women to religious life and ministry in the Church can only be a blessing to society and a great joy for these women, called as they are to serve God's people.
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