August 16, 2022

The MGA Emerging Leaders Fellowship 2022-2023 has commenced in Cambodia for our 2nd Cohort of Fellows

Day One: Friday, 19th August 2022

The MGA Emerging Leaders Fellowship 2022-2023 began at Mindol Metta Karuna Reflection Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia on the 19th of August 2022. Our second cohort of ten women travelled from the Philippines, Italy, Ireland, United States, Kenya, New Zealand, and Australia to commence their leadership journeys and further their passion for Mercy and Justice. 


We began our immersion with a welcome lunch hosted by Denise Coghlan, rsm and the Metta Karuna Cambodian Team who are staff of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cambodia. Following introductions, the Fellows were taught local history and useful Khmer phrases to use during their time in Cambodia. From the Metta Karuna Team, each Fellow received a handmade angel carved out of wood and a tote bag made by local Cambodian women. The Fellows also received a journal, Catherine McAuley quote cards, and a bookmark of Catherine’s Suscipe from Mercy International Centre, as well as the “Unheard Truth” human rights book by Irene Khan. 


In the afternoon, our Opening Ritual took place where we entered into a space of reflection and sharing, contextualising our theme for the week of ‘Peace and Reconciliation’. Angela Reed, rsm welcomed the Fellows and recalled that it is no coincidence that each Fellow is a participant in the programme: “You have been selected for the programme because you are already recognised as Women of Mercy and Justice and leaders in your own particular places and spaces”. Angela continued by setting out the hopes for our time together: “That you will grow and develop in your spirituality, your sense of justice, in your knowledge and understanding, as well as enable you to shine through sharing your own unique gifts and talents”. Each of the Fellows were then invited to share a symbol from their home countries and place it in the centrepiece while sharing their hopes for the programme.  


Our evening session was led by Marietta Latonio, MELF Facilitator, and focused on setting out the expectations for the immersion and opening up a space for sharing hopes, dreams, challenges, and anxieties. It also allowed the Fellows to get to know one another better. Marietta informed the Fellows that they would each be leading opening prayer in pairs on different days throughout the immersion. 


Our evening concluded with a group dinner with traditional Khmer food.


Day Two: Saturday, 20th August 2022

Our second day commenced with a walking tour of Metta Karuna Reflection Centre led by Denise Coghlan, rsm. Denise began by explaining that in Khmer ‘Metta’ means ‘Mercy’ and ‘Karuna’ means ‘Loving-Kindness’. Through the many sculptures, pottery, and advocacy posters around the centre, she highlighted the impacts of landmines and cluster bombs in Cambodia, patterns and flows of migrants and refugees around the world, and the importance of merciful leadership. She invited the Fellows to reflect, pray, read, and discuss at each of the symbols. We ended our tour in the chapel, a welcome space for Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and all people with a desire to seek deeper meaning in their lives. 


Following this, the group returned to our ‘outdoor classroom’ and were invited to watch the film “In God Alone” detailing the life, works, and passion of Catherine McAuley. Tylia Barnes, MELF Mentor, led the fellows in a discussion on what it means to be a leader in mercy and encouraged reflection on the relevance of Catherine’s story today. She challenged the Fellows on the importance of showing vulnerability as a leader and leading with dignity. Following this, the Fellows were invited to review their MELF applications and reflect on how their goals, expectations and lives have changed since writing their applications. Most of the participants applied to be MELF Fellows in 2019, however, their programme commencement had been delayed due to the pandemic. In connection to this, Marietta Latonio discussed the importance of finding one’s passion in their vocation and profession. She introduced the concept of ‘Ikigai’, or in Japanese, ‘reason for being’. The Fellows’ were invited to explore their lives and develop their own ‘Ikigais’.


After lunch, we gathered in the Arrupe room at Metta Karuna with Sr Denise and a colleague from Myanmar. The Arrupe room at Metta Karuna is a space dedicated to Fr Pedro Arrupe who founded JRS. Here, Sr Denise led a discussion and prayer for those in countries in a state of crisis around the world including Ukraine, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. Our featured speaker then shared their experience of growing up in Myanmar and witnessing the military coup in February 2021. We learned of the growing solidarity across all age groups and ethnic groups in favour of freedom for the people of Myanmar. This presentation was both challenging and inspiring as we were called to act with courage in the face of adversity and tackle systems of oppression.

We concluded our evening with mass and dinner at the local parish in Siem Reap.

Day Three: Sunday, 21st August 2022

We started our day early to venture to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat at 5am. Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and is the largest religious monument in the world. Travelling by Tuk Tuk, we were joined by a local tour guide who shared the rich history of the famous World Heritage Site which spans 400 acres. The preservation of Angkor Wat over the years has been linked to the reconciliation process in Cambodia - a theme central to the learnings of our immersion. We also visited the sacred temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm. Each temple depicted distinct inscriptions and scenes of daily life during the Angkor Era in Cambodia.


Day Four: Monday, 22nd August 2022

Day Four began around 5:30am. The purpose of the day was to travel the approximately four-hour bus trip to Preah Vihear. The MELF group was accompanied by the MELF Team and significant community members from the Metta Karuna Center. Prayer was led by Michelle Gorman rsm and Magdalene Masau rsm where we invited God’s blessing and the presence of our ancestors, especially our foundress, Catherine McAuley. We reflected on quotes by Catherine and did pair sharing. 


Upon arriving at Preah Vihear, we attended a tree-blessing and ordination ceremony which consisted of prayers chanted by Buddhist monks and followed by a ceremonial dressing of a central tree with a saffron-colored flag to protect it from logging. Fr. Jub, SJ, a friend of Metta Karuna, is beginning a program called Harmony in the Forest where he plans to restore the forest destroyed over the past eight years by commercialization in the area. The MELF Fellows assisted Fr. Jub, the Buddhist monks, and local leaders in planting a number of trees, after which we enjoyed local food and a tour of the new parish house. The whole project is envisioned to be a center for earth harmony and community organization and leadership. 


At the end of our visit, we again visited the central tree beside which Fr. Jub planted soil from Assisi. He sent us off with a blessing and gratitude for our visit. Eventually Fr. Jub hopes to build a church on the property which he will dedicate to St. Francis of Assisi. 


Before we departed, the Fellows and our team took the opportunity to process the learnings, emotions, and insights of the past four days since we began our immersion in Cambodia. Our vulnerable sharing is leading us to greater bonding and experiences of gratitude for this program and for each other. Back on the bus, we ended our visit with a Mercy Examen led by Sr. Denise. We reflected on memories of the day, places, incidents, and people. It was important to remember this with the eyes of God. We were invited to see ways and places where we received Mercy and also to reflect on areas in our lives where we might need reconciliation, for example, ‘are there ways I feel superior to other people or groups?’. 


The journey home was filled with much conversation and maybe a few naps. Even though this is the rainy season in Cambodia, the sun came out and shone intermittently through the white fluffy clouds, illuminating the great variety of trees and crops in this green and beautiful country. After dinner, we were able to rest and prepare for the surprises of tomorrow!


Reflection by: Michelle Gorman rsm and Magdalene Masau rsm


Read Part Two of the MELF Cambodia Immersion
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