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Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Thursday, 30 March 2017

One heart in a divided world

Yesterday was a day of both unity and division. A week after the terrorist attack in London, a large, diverse group of people stood, walked and mourned together on Westminster Bridge, where it all began. Those who had been there - whether victims or those tending them - stood alongside bereaved relatives, faith groups, adults and children of all ages and backgrounds. The significance of this happening on a bridge - a place of connection, of bringing people together - on this day in particular, struck me forcefully. Because yesterday was the day when the letter triggering Article 50 was delivered, and the UK's confused, slow, likely to be painfully messy departure from the European Union officially began.

And I feel immense sadness. Brexit strikes at the heart of my lifelong identity, of who and what I am. Firstly, as the daughter of immigrants: with family roots and many relatives in Italy and some in France, I grew up knowing I belonged to Europe as much as to the little corner of south-west London where we lived. I have always felt part of something bigger and wider than this or that country. For me, cutting ourselves off the EU means being forced to cut myself off from a large part of myself.

But there is another identity; one which has also been with me since forever, but which I only started to discover twenty-three years ago: my being RSCJ. We are an international congregation. The Open Heart of Jesus is central to us; to our vocation, spirituality and mission. This Heart, opened when it was pierced, has remained open, enduringly, widely so, in welcome and acceptance. This is a Heart which is open to all: there are no border controls, because here there are no undesirables; no "them" and "us" or different levels of belonging; no nationalities, because all are citizens. And in this Heart I can call women from every corner of the world my sisters - and that includes those countries the UK is now inexorably seeking to divorce itself from.

Our spirit and motto are Cor unum et anima una in Corde Jesu... one heart and one mind in the Heart of Jesus. Both our 1815 and our 1982 Constitutions end with these words, and with the desire that, in and through the Society, the prayer of Jesus may be fulfilled: The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one (John 17: 22-23)

This spirit was forged in adversity, and against many tides and circumstances which could have caused splits into smaller, more local congregations. Throughout her life Sophie battled to maintain unity, to ensure our Cor Unum was more than just a few initials engraved on our profession crosses. Philippine, far away from the motherhouse, waiting months for letters to cross the Atlantic, somehow kept the American communities within a Society whose centre must have been a receding memory for the pioneers and an unknown entity for newer members. And now, two centuries later, in a world growing increasingly fragmented and polarised, we their heirs are called by last year's General Chapter to be and to act as one Body.

When we make our vows the Superior General, or her representative, accepts them on behalf of the whole Society, ending with the words: In the strength of his Spirit, together we will glorify his Heart. And that strength and that together are both a call and a promise, and something no referendum or visa restriction or political process can ever take away from any of us. In the strength of God's Spirit, we will continue to glorify his Heart - together.

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