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In praise of... being a sister

On Monday evening I attended the official launch of a report by the Arise Foundation, revealing that nearly a quarter of the Catholic religious congregations in this country are battling modern slavery and trafficking. Individually, religious - and most especially sisters - have founded projects and work, often as volunteers, in frontline services; corporately, congregations have provided financial support, and, in several cases, properties which can be used as safe houses.

I sat through several presentations and a video, describing the work being carried out, whilst also lauding the contribution of sisters. We were reminded that this, for religious, is not about a career but about service, exemplified by the fact that the cumulative amount of time individuals have spent engaged in this struggle is - thus far - 643 years. By the very nature of their vowed commitment sisters are in this for the long haul; but quietly so - it was clear that publicity and prizes are accepted for the benefit of the cause, not the individual. We were reminded, too, that this is a natural service for us to engage in, as it is a modern expression of so many of our founding visions, charisms and choices made over the years. Whether our charism is to love the unloved, to heal those broken in body or spirit or to seek out the most vulnerable and marginalised, this work makes sense to religious - and especially to religious women.

At the end of all this my married colleague turned to me and said that everything she had heard made her really wish she could become a sister too! I knew exactly what she meant: listening to all the lovely things being said about us - our love, tenderness, commitment, capacity to inspire trust - made me feel, quite simply, very proud to be a sister. Or rather, very proud and overwhelmingly grateful to have been called to be one, and to share a vocation and spirit with all these amazing, feisty, faith-filled, dedicated and defiant women, whose hearts are wide and whose love is abundant. Being a religious sister is indeed a great thing to be. The challenge, of course, is to live and love and grow so that - wherever I am, whatever I'm engaged in - I too may live up to and radiate all these lovely things said about us.


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