March 19, 2006

Missioning Ceremony at St Mary's Handsworth

Monday February 6th was a truly blessed and memorable day. The warm Mercy welcome and the presence of so many sisters who had travelled miles by road and train to offer their support and encouragement for us as we embark on our new mission to Addo South Africa filled us with a deep sense of gratitude and affirmation.

Cemetery at Handsworth Convent

The Missioning Ceremony was steeped in symbolism and history. Beginning in the sacred ground of the cemetery connected us to the many Mercy women who have walked the journey before us in Catherine's footsteps. From here we walked to the courtyard to hear one of Catherine's letters where she reminded us that "We have one solid comfort amidst this little tripping about; our hearts can always be in the same place, centred in God for whom alone we go forward or stay back". Hearing our names being called and receiving a message from Catherine had deep significance for each of us.

Cemetery at Handsworth

The culmination of our Ritual took us to the beautiful chapel where we heard a challenging reading entitled "As one beggar to another" calling each one of us to be "wholly gift and gift to be shared and, who thus approaches evangelisation as a beggar telling another beggar where both can find something to eat”. Our Scripture reading from Luke 10; 1-5— the sending out of the seventy two with the words "I will be with you always” gave us great comfort and this was made tangible by the affirmation of so many sisters gathered in the chapel, and we know this is what will sustain us in the months ahead.

In the courtyard

Three symbols were presented to us, a Mercy candle, The Mercy Cross which was with Sheila in Zimbabwe and is now returning to Africa, a picture of Catherine, each symbol strengthening the links between home and our new mission in Addo.

Our final prayer invites us all as one Mercy Family in asking God's blessing on this new mission. Thank you all for praying it with us each day.

Our sincere thanks to Philomena and the Leadership team for preparing such an inspiring and meaningful ceremony. Our thanks to each sister who made the journey to Handsworth and to each sister back home in Communities. Finally, thanks to the sisters in Handsworth who welcomed us so graciously.


Breda, Martha & Mary

Love and prayers

Mary, Breda and Martha

Sister Philomena’s Reflection at The Missioning Ceremony

While Catherine was arranging for the foundation here at Handsworth, a bishop is reported to have said:

The Order of Mercy must prosper. All its members are willing to travel hundreds of miles to aid, counsel, and support each other, and this is their established practice. It cannot fail, while such affectionate interest is manifested.

True to form and tradition, we have travelled hundreds of miles to gather today - to celebrate our own foundation and to mission Mary, Martha and Breda who will undertake this foundation on our behalf.

In Catherine’s day, a foundation was a major event involving not only extensive preparation but days of travel. In fact it was much a feat of organization that Catherine once said:

I think the name of another foundation would make me sick !

Then added light-heartedly:

but the Sisters say I would get up again.

And she did.

For different reasons, our new foundation has been and is a major event. We hear that in Addo, South Africa “a sense of joyful expectancy is in the air.” I hope that is our experience too – a sense of excitement and adventure, of something new happening.

The mission story had a tentative start – a statement from a Cluster Meeting that could so easily have been lost. Wafting on the gentle breeze rather than the mighty wind? Bishop Coleman must have sensed the same gentle breeze and in October 2004 wrote:

I was told of your discernment to possibly have Sisters working in our country… I will be happy to be in dialogue with you about the possibility for our diocese.

A quick and serene move from the vastness of “our country” to the intimacy of “our diocese”.

When we accepted the invitation and confirmed we were ready, the Bishop’s response answered the challenge set at the Cluster Meeting to go to the poorest parts of our world:

We are looking forward with joy to the coming of the Sisters to Addo where their ministry to the disadvantaged of the area is sorely needed. I commend you for being willing to take on this ministry which, like all worthwhile endeavours, will not always be easy.

Two years prior to our Chapter we chose the theme MERCY: LOOKING BEYOND OUR HORIZON.

How prophetic that was to prove. How we have been surprised by the Spirit.

Today we are praying very specially for Martha, Breda and Mary – to mission them to go to some of the most disadvantaged people of our world, to a new place in our story. We are promising them our prayer, our support, our interest.

It is also an opportunity for us to reflect on our own call to mission and to allow the readings to help us do that.

With Catherine and our ancestors in Mercy we share in the dance of life. We have our own part, our own steps - sometimes alone, sometimes in partnership. But we do not own the dance. We have not designed it. The God of the Dance has been there before us and will be there after us. So we need not be anxious about its continuance. This is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to join the dance.

Jesus calls us all to discipleship, to be missionaries. How we respond is the daily challenge. Today we are invited to consider:

What it means to be called “whole and entire” to mission;
What are the limitations of a partial response?
What happens to the message if I become possessive of it and think only I can deliver it?
What does it mean to leave myself open to the presence of God in the other? What might I learn?

And very particularly for us, what is new about our horizon, my horizon? Where is it now? What is in my view and vision now that was not there before Chapter?

(I am not even going to consider the possibility that the horizon has not shifted!!)

These questions are not in conflict with the joy of today. Rather they could enhance it; for the answers could fill us with new energy for our present ministry and new vision for other possibilities, even for new partners in another dance.

You will know, I am sure, the song on the tape “I cannot dance, O Lord, unless you lead me.” Let us allow the Lord of the Dance to lead us through the various rhythms that come our way in life and let us continue to step out with confidence.

Reprinted with permission from Mercy Union Newsletter, issue 95.
Messages to Sister Philomena Bowers rsm Congregational Leader Great Britain Union

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