Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellowship (MELF)
Day One: Friday, August 23rd
Ten women from across the globe (Papua New Guinea, Australia, United States, Peru, and Ireland) arrived at Mindol Metta Karuna Reflection Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia on 23 August.
Welcomed by Mary Reynolds rsm CEO MIA (on video), Denise Coghlan rsm, Angela Reed rsm, Marietta Latonio, Colleen Swain and Nicole Christensen, each Fellow received a bag that was handmade by women in Cambodia containing a journal from the Mercy International Centre in Dublin, the “Little Book of Catherine of Dublin’, the “Unheard Truth” by Irene Khan, a bamboo pen, and their MELF materials for the next twelve months…
The Fellowship commenced by meeting the Mindol Metta Karuna Cambodian Team and the learning of a traditional Cambodian Dance, the Robam Preah Reach Trop. Followed by an afternoon Opening Ritual where all women gathered together for the first time and entered into the space with the contextualization of the theme “Journey to Reconciliation’.
Sr Angela Reed rsm detailed how “our time together will be dynamic and transformative, providing space for open dialogue and times of silence. A time for each one of you to reflect on your own place and call in the world...it is also an opportunity to form new friendships with other women from other diverse backgrounds and cultures. As women, and indeed women of Mercy, we can tap into our wisdom tradition and creative force and use it to fuel our specific purpose on the planet. We believe that through this Mercy Global Action Fellowship, the energy created by our communing and discernment will become amplified and the benefits we reap as individuals will be carried out as blessings to our loved ones, communities and thus the world.”
Fellows then presented symbols of their country of origin, placing them on our own “Tapestry of Justice”.
Sr Denise Coghlan then shared some of the many symbols of Cambodia and presented Fellows with their symbol of our week, a “Reconciliation Wheel”. Sr Denise and her team at Metta Karuna have embraced the theme of Reconciliation in their own lives. And Metta Karuna has been a precious space that has provided shelter, refuge and homecoming to so many. A space where mercy, practical action and strategic advocacy meet.
The day ended with a lovely Welcome Dinner at Metta Karuna Reflection Centre.
Day Two: Saturday August 24th
The day began like many other women across the world, gathered around the well. Our opening reflection this morning began with John’s gospel reading of the woman at the well and a reflection on the many ways that women bear the burden of carrying water, the distribution of water, and the impact this has on their lives. After listening to a song “The Silence and the Sorrows” we prayed for women around the world and all those suffering from the global water crisis. Concluding with an invitation by Angela Reed rsm for each Fellow to reflect deeply in these coming days on how we can best be live giving water to others.
Following our morning reflection we began with an ‘e-welcome’ from Dublin with words of encouragement, and a blessing from Sr Mary Reynolds, CEO of Mercy International Association.
Marietta Latonio, Facilitator of our time in Cambodia, then led the Fellows in a workshop on expectation setting. Fellows shared their expectations of the program including their gifts, their fears and concerns, their hopes and dreams, and their challenges. Learning about one another and themselves, Marietta introduced Fellows to the concept of ‘Ikigai’, or in Japanese, their reason for being. It is seen as the convergence of one’s passion, mission, vocation and profession --something the Fellow’s will be exploring and expanding over the course of the next year.
After lunch, Nicole Christensen, MELF Mentor, led the Fellows in an explanation of the ‘why’ behind leadership; why we are leaders and why we lead in a particular way. By leading the Fellows in an exercise on leadership and a series of questions related to Catherine McAuley, many Fellows could identify similarities between their lives and the life of Catherine McAuley. Fellows then were invited to engage in the film “In God Alone” detailing the life, works, and passion of Catherine McAuley and a deeper understanding of Mercy Charism. Nicole shared Joan Chittister’s definition of charism which “an ever changing, always rooted obsession for the coming reign of God, where the reign of God is needed most, one that develops from age to age then grows up in a new way in the next one. Charism is a living passion for whatever dimension of the life of Christ...peace, truth, healing, Mercy...is missing now. Here, in our time. Where we are”.
Further exploring the theme of Mercy and Leadership, Fellows were challenged to think critically about themselves as leaders and the ways in which they see themselves leading in their own communities. Most significantly, they explored how they wanted to be collective leaders for the Mercy World in the next twelve months and beyond.
Sr Denise Coghlan then gathered Fellows for a detailed tour of the Mindol Metta Karuna Reflection Centre which included reflecting on sculptures depicting servant leadership, the the woman at the well, accompaniment of refugees, and multi-faith prayer space. The group attended evening mass at the local parish in Siem Reap and enjoyed dinner out.
Day Three: Sunday August 25th
This morning, Fellows woke up early to watch the sunrise at the ancient temples of Angkor Wat- including Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm Temple. Spanning across 400 acres, Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world. Fellows were able to take the time during the day on a guided tour of these temples to learn more about the rich history, diversity of religions and landscape that we have tread on over the course of the first three days.
While exploring the ‘thin places’ and the sacredness of the many temples, stories were also shared about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia--a topic that we will continue to explore and unpack throughout the course of the week.
In our afternoon session, Angela Reed rsm shared the core of the work of Mercy Global Action and spoke to the theme ‘speaking the silence’. Through it all we can view “Mercy [as] first an action, or more precisely a reaction to someone else’s suffering, now interiorised within oneself – a reaction to a suffering that has come to penetrate one’s own entrails and heart…this activity, this action is motivated only by that suffering”; and how “Mercy …[is] not something you do - it is something in you, accessed, revealed or cultivated through use, like a muscle”. Fellows explored this theme in their own lives, diving deeper into how they have experienced mercy and how they have shown mercy. They made a commitment to continue to be mercy in their own lives always seeking to speak the silence.
Sr Angela quoted Joan Chittister most recent publication entitled, “The Time is Now”; which states “The silence is deafening as the world waits for those on the edge of the crowd to speak up, to speak out”. This was articulated by a member of the group who wrote “the world awaits the ten Mercy women, on the edge of the crowd, to speak out”.
Day Four: Monday, August 26th
This morning, Fellows Amy Thomas and Theresia Tina rsm led the group in a reflection. Drawing on the theme of the day, ‘Journey to Reconciliation: Refugees and Forced Displacement’, their reflection focused on the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25 which highlights the significance of welcome. Fellows were asked to recall a time when they have welcomed strangers into their lives and in turn, how they have been welcomed.
Following this time of reflection, Sr Denise and members of her team in Cambodia led a panel on the theme of the day. The session began with exploring the different forms of displacement; including: refugees, asylum seekers, and those experiencing statelessness. A very moving segment of the panel was the sharing of stories by former refugees who had been displaced as a result of the Khmer rouge and the reign of Pol Pot in the 1970s. Experiences included stark conditions in prisons, having to completely abandon all possessions and walk for days with little food and water.
Fellows were then invited to reflect on the stories they heard from both their head and heart. Questions such as what touched them and how they were moved to respond to these issues.
Following our session on the stories of refugees and forced displacement fellows explored the international mechanisms that are in place to support refugees and asylum seekers and viewed in detail the the Global Compact on Migration and Refugees which was adopted by the United Nations in December 2018. Fellows discussed displacement in their own countries and shared insights and concerns about the mass displacement of people throughout the world.
After lunch, Angela Reed rsm introduced the Mercy Global Justice Advocacy Approach with a particular focus on experience and personal reflection. Groups were then invited to identify a collective identity and creatively present this to the group. This resulted in very creative skits, dancing, and lots of fun and laughter.
Day Five: Tuesday, August 27th
- Reflection by Anneke Kat and Jemima Welsh
Today, almost halfway through the MELF Programme, we have taken time to explore themes of gratitude.
We began our day by honouring both the gifts each of us hold, and the gift of mother nature. We gathered in a circle outside under the shade of a tree and guided by Anneke, each participant picked a gift of their head, their heart and their hands to share with the group. We wrote these gifts on sticky notes and placed them on the respective parts of our bodies, providing a visual stimulus for conversation. There was a great deal of laughter and questions as people learned more about each other. We discovered a range of unexpected creative skills, including candle making, singing, Gaelic Football, and international first aid.
Following this activity, we regathered in a circle, and began a guided meditation. The purpose of this time of stillness was to calm our minds and bodies in preparation for the sessions of the day. More particularly, it was a chance for us to honour the sounds, smells and feelings of the beautiful natural environment around us. We were lucky enough to have a sunny day with plenty of breeze, so the birds were in full swing!
Guided by Facilitator Marietta Latonio, we then took some time to write letters of gratitude to each other, and remembered the moments when we had been touched by the kindness or sharing of others in the group.
Colleen then introduced us to our first session on ‘Degradation of the Earth’. We discussed the role and activities of Mercy Global Action, particularly the team’s involvement in campaigning for the inclusion of ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’ as a human right in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Members of the group shared their experiences of water use and abuse in their own countries, and the effects that the scarcity, contamination or privatisation of water often has on poor or marginalised communities.
This issue can seem insurmountable and can lead to a great sense of fatigue. We were grateful for the opportunity to then take a step back, and be part of a “Mercy” tree planting ceremony in the grounds of Metta Karuna Reflection Centre. We worked in pairs to gather the soil, place the trees in the ground, and then water them. During this process, we were joined by staff from the Reflection Centre, who kindly shared with us their wisdom and knowledge of the garden.
Closing out this morning of deeper connection to the natural world, we engaged in a restorative nature walk, each going their own way and contemplating both the parts of their lives for which they were grateful, and then noticing the trees, plants and animals that make up the Reflection Centre grounds.
Thinking about the Degradation of Earth can be all-encompassing and disheartening. But taking the time to be present in nature and our connection to the land puts us in a stable frame of mind to begin tackling these bigger issues.
Day Six: Wednesday, August 28th
- Reflection by Carmen Rosa Ccallomamami rsm and Julia Morisi
This morning we set out early. We drove two hours into the countryside to work on a toilet building project in one of the villages outside of Siem Reap. We split into two groups and each worked with different families in the community. The work consisted of laying bricks around toilets near the houses. Mr. Ret from the Metta Karuna Center guided our project. Mr. Ret has been working in this village for years, and over time, he has developed deeply personal relationships with the people living there. Mr. Ret and Metta Karuna work with marginalized communities to provide access to clean water and sanitation—a central theme of MELF.
The people living in this village have more limited access to the kinds of necessities and amenities than people living in an urban setting might have, such as water. We witnessed the vitality of water accessibility, especially in rural areas and in times of drought. It is currently the rainy season in Cambodia, but this year, the rain has been infrequent in Cambodia. The effects of this were visible all around this village—the rice fields were dry, the drains along the road were empty, and the water level at the nearby dam was low.
A focus of MELF is women and women’s leadership, so we had special curiosity for the lives of women in the village. What is life like for these women? Considering their rural location, how easily can they access healthcare, education, and every day needs without easy and quick access to stores, schools, and hospitals? What are their economic opportunities like? These curiosities surfaced in our debrief of the day.
During our debrief, one of the members of our group shared a profound observation. She said that at first, the women of the household watched the work from inside. However, throughout the day, they eventually made their way out and joined us. Our group member suggested that this was perhaps because we as women played such a prominent role in work that is typically ascribed to men. We were grateful to have the opportunity to get out of the city, to meet new people, and explore one of our MELF themes through hands-on action.
Our reflection today was centered on our theme of the degradation of the earth. We explored this through a traditional symbol of Mercy—the comforting cup of tea. When Catherine McAuley fell ill, she recommended that her Sisters have a comforting cup of tea after she was gone. This gesture of care and hospitality has become a symbol connecting all Sisters of Mercy and Mercy affiliates around the world. During our reflection today, each person was served a cup of tea while listening to the story of Catherine McAuley’s act of hospitality. We then reflected on ways in which the earth shows hospitality to us each day. From the tea leaves and clean water in our mugs to the beautiful setting at Metta Karuna, the earth sustains us in countless ways, small and profound. Our final question was—how can we show the same care and hospitality back to the earth? We are hoping to explore this question further in this fellowship and in our research.
Day Seven: Thursday, August 29th
- Reflection by Anastasia Freeman and Tylia Barnes
The morning began with fellows gathered in a prayer honoring our ancestors by leaving a space in the circle, an American Indian practice in the United States. Honoring the importance of self-care in leadership, we shared in a ritual titled “Take What You Need”. Participants were invited to select a word that described an affirmation needed to be a successful leader. After sharing with a partner, fellows exchanged postcards that displayed an image from Cambodia and word of affirmation. Together we pledged our support and encouragement to one another for the duration of the fellowship. In honor of Buddhism, the primary faith tradition of Cambodia, we reflected on the more than human world by practicing a Metta-loving kindness meditation. This is where you reflect on and offer prayers and to first yourself, then a place you really love, next a plant you feel ambivalent about, then a creature with which you have difficulty and lastly you extend the prayer of to all of creation. This practice expands our field of compassion for all living things.
Our facilitator Marietta invited us into a space to connect with ourselves through writing in stream of consciousness running writing, without lifting our pen off the page. This allowed us to connect with how we felt currently and how to process our experiences.
After prayer, Nicole challenged fellows to examine leadership through the lens of Catherine McAuley’s style. We were prompted to draw parallels that helped us understand vulnerability in leadership as Catherine felt in her day. Prompted by the theme “Who Do You Say I Am?” The exercise was a powerful demonstration of how common vulnerability is in leadership. This empowered MELF fellows to be more confident on their journeys. In sharing we determined that Catherine shared many of the same fears, uncertainty of outcomes and unpredictability as she led the Sisters of Mercy. The module ended with fellows sharing leadership style insights with one another.
Upon graduation from the fellowship, each participant will present a final research project on an issue. Sr Angela led a discussion titled, I Am a Woman Who Knows About... We discussed how to question a problem and to critically reflect on what isn’t being said as well as what is the dominant narrative. We looked at issues from a global perspective examining the local and global manifestation of the issue. We were asked to consider how our issue is problematized. Lastly, we discussed the more practical aspects of the project.
We were also taken to the Disarmament Room at Metta Karuna where Sr Denise and Mr. Ret took us through the story of how they were able to ban landmines and convince over 13o countries to sign a peace agreement which led to their team being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Listening to this story of Mercy in action was such a source of hope and inspiration for the team and was a real highlight of the day.
The day ended with a visit to Kampong Khleang Fishing Village. The guide shared information about lifestyle and present struggle with minimum water levels at the current time. The rainy season has not produced enough water to provide adequate food supply for many families living in the village. It was eye opening to see the simplicity of their lifestyle. The village was on the Tonle Sap lake complete with a primary school, local market and Pagoda.
After a full day of engagement, we enjoyed dinner at the Red Tomato near the famous Pub Street.
Day Eight: Friday, 30th August
- Reflection by Siobhan Golden and Edith Maclaren
Today, we left early for an overnight trip to Battambang, a city about three hours from Siem Reap. We were extremely fortunate to be accompanied by Sr. Denise and some of her team who survived the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot Regime. On the bus, each of them took turns to generously share their experiences and knowledge with us, of the chilling periods of their lives. Their smiles, openness and kindness have touched us all and are a true characterisation of the Cambodian people and their welcoming nature.
Our first stop along the way was Trapenge Thmore Dam, where Sok Eng (from Sr. Denise’s team) and her family worked during the Khmer Rouge. This was a place of consolation, tenderness, embedded in years of conflict and history. We carried out our morning ritual and reflection here.
As we are coming to the end of our week, it seemed very fitting for us to base our ritual and reflection on Hope and Reconciliation. This week has faithfully been a journey to Reconciliation for us all. We brought with us a small reconciliation wheel to place in the center of our ritual and white flowers. The white flowers symbolised Humility, Purity and Hope. Edith cited Pope John Paul II and his awareness of peace. Siobhan then invited the group to take a petal from each of the flowers and stand over the dam. With the hope of honouring the people, the land and the culture of Cambodia, we asked each person to silently reflect on this week in Cambodia; what they have learned, what they have enjoyed, and any special intention that they might have. In their own time, each person dropped their petal into the water. The drifting petals represented the passing of time. Siobhan closed the reflection by reading an Irish blessing of Deep Peace.
We continued our journey to Battambang, making our next stop at the Cambodian Peace Museum. This provided us with in depth knowledge of the cycles of peace and violence in Cambodia throughout history. There were four window panes which depicted the same location during four periods of history; the calm, the destruction, the chaos, the recovery. The colours in the windows were beautiful, made with true artistic integrity. The museum also honoured the advocates that worked to find this place of Reconciliation in Cambodia. A photo in the museum read “with great suffering comes great compassion” and this has been evident to us all here. Although, we have been exposed to the deep trauma among the people, we are always greeted with smiles and open-heartedness.
Following our visit to the Cambodian Peace Museum we journeyed to Wat Samrong Knong located in Battambang. The temple itself is very large, however, our destination was the Stupa of the Well of Shadows. The Well of Shadows is often referenced in Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and is a stupa to memorialize those that lost their lives on the Killing Fields, in this instance, primarily women and children.
We were met at the Well of Shadows by the Bishop of Battambang, Bishop Enrique ‘Kike’ Figaredo, and many members of his parish. (Bishop Kike was also on the team for the International Team to Ban Landmines with Sr Denise and many others we encountered during the week). It was here that we also made history at this beautiful memorial. We were honored to have members of his parish perform traditional Cambodian Dances, ones of blessings and peace, the first time it was ever done at this site. This was a remarkable highlight of many as a culmination of our time in Cambodia.
Dinner followed in the evening hosted by Bishop Kike at a social enterprise that he assisted in setting up called the “Lonely Tree Cafe”. This cafe strives to create a welcoming environment inspired by ‘Laudato Si’ and projects supported cover a wide range of humanitarian aid including education, support for people with disabilities, healthcare and preservation of Cambodian cultural heritage. Bishop Kike gifted all of us with a symbol of ‘Mercy Global Action’, a giraffe, made by women in Battambang. Why the giraffe? It has one of the biggest hearts; it has the ability to see far, a quality of wisdom; and in the wild the giraffe leads gently. We will continue to lead gently with wisdom and compassionate hearts during the course of the next year and beyond the Fellowship.
Day Nine: Saturday August 31st
The day began early as we made our journey back to Metta Karuna in Siem Reap. Today was our final day together before we all travel back to our home country on Sunday.
Upon arriving back to Metta Karuna, we completed an evaluation of the week with our facilitator Marietta Latonio. Reviewing our gifts, fears and concerns, hopes and dreams, and challenges from our first day and seeing where we stand together now.
Following our processing session, we had a lunch-time discussion with Dr Emma Leslie. Emma is an Australian–Cambodian who has worked on conflict transformation and peacebuilding throughout Asia since 1993. Since moving to Cambodia in 1997, Emma worked with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Working Group for Weapons Reduction in Cambodia and supported a number of Cambodia peace initiatives – the latest being the launch of Cambodia Peace Museum. In 2005 she launched a Master’s Programme for the Asia region in Applied Conflict Transformation Studies. Emma shared what it means to do work in the area of conflict and peace transformation and how to be leaders in this area. It is not an easy road and takes incremental time. We must experience the issues with those rendered marginalized, but we must also be strong in ourselves, so that we can meet others with peace and ease.
After lunch we gathered for our Closing Ritual. We replicated our centerpiece from our first day together with spiral of shawls, our reconciliation wheels, symbols of our country, and a Mercy cross in the center. We can look at it all now and see how far we have come and have changed in just a week of being together. It is evident that we are stronger together and that once we leave we will strengthen our Mercy Global Presence. We reviewed a slideshow of our week together, discussed moments where we have received Mercy and times when we have been called to Mercy, gave thanks and prayed for our world, creation and people. Ending our ritual each of us were called to choose our favorite shawl from the centerpiece. Then following a reading on Catherine McAuley’s life on the ‘Tender Shawl of Mercy’, we each offered our shawl to another Mercy Leader, commissioning ourselves as leaders throughout the Mercy World. In the words of Mary Sullivan rsm “To share one’s shawl is to reach out, side by side, and embrace the shoulders and life and needs of another”. The symbol of this commissioning is ‘deeply personal and can be seen as the giving of that which is our own, and a small gesture of kindness, devotion, and change coming to our world’.
After our closing ritual we attended mass in the city of Siem Reap followed by a Farewell Dinner; which proved to be a joyous celebration of new friendships, laughter, gratitude, and solidarity.
Day Ten: Sunday, September 1st
This morning we all gathered in the Mindol Metta Karuna dining hall for the final time. A time to share one last meal together and say “see you later”!
Following our final breakfast together we all parted ways, unified as Mercy leaders in justice and advocacy, as we set out across the globe.
Messages to: Colleen Cloonan Swain - Leadership Development and Advocacy Associate, MIA-MGA