March 28, 2012

Cross Borders and Welcome in the Stranger

Editor: 30 years of working with refugees have formed what Marilyn Lacey rsm calls her “ life stances” which she is sharing this week with staffs and students of Victorian and Western Australian Mercy schools, an outcome of the Dublin Mercy Youth Pilgrimage at which Marilyn presented in 2011.

Using anecdotes from life and stories from scripture, poetry, quotations, personal experiences, reflections and images of people and places (South Sudan and Haiti), Marilyn shared with Mercy staff on Monday, March 26 in a reflective and challenging presentation, on The Boundless Mercy of God, the three key “life stances” her work with African refugees has taught her and out of which she has developed what she calls a “Spirituality of Welcome”.

“We must be attentive to where God comes into our life” Marilyn told the more than 450 staff from 14 Mercy secondary schools, gathered in the gymnasium at Our Lady of Mercy College, Heidelberg for the Mercy Formation Day. “Our merciful God is always appearing but usually in disguise”. Given this is so, “when we expect to meet God in disguise we become more welcoming”. As a result, “great joy awaits us when we welcome strangers.”

How then do we recognise God’s presence? Says Marilyn we must “Contemplate – see others as God sees them; Wakeup – cross some borders by going beyond our comfort zones and Open up our hearts to surprises from the poor and marginalised. God is hiding among the poor.”

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Initially a teacher, then director of refugee services with Catholic Charities in San Jose, California, Marilyn is the founder and executive director of Mercy Beyond Borders (MBB) a Mercy ministry which partners in projects with displaced women and girls in ways that alleviate their extreme poverty. Why women and girls? “Because,” replies Marilyn,”research has proven that the single most powerful tool for lifting families up from destitution is the education of females.”

In South Sudan since 2008 and in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, MBB is working  to lift women and girls out of poverty through education, in supporting women’s entrepreneurial efforts and in improving maternal health.

Marilyn's presentation  was the principal gathering for Mercy school staffs during Mercy Formation week (March 22-29), aimed to strengthen appreciation and engagement with the spirit of Mercy and the contemporary expression of the Mercy charism.  Among other events for Marilyn this week are the gathering of those students who attended the Dublin Pilgrimage, meeting membersof Young Mercy Links, an initiative for young adults committed to mercy and justice, and visits to a number of  Mercy secondary schools to meet students.

Photographs courtesy of Casamento Photography

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