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Adapting Well to “Nupela Pasin” – renewing consecration and commitment to those in need.

An atmosphere of joy was present at the Conference of Women Religious of Port Moresby, held at the Caritas Technical Secondary School in East Boroko on Saturday 21st November.

The gathering of the Religious Sisters was a time of sharing and reflection of how they were all coping with the ‘Nupela Pasin’ in place. It also had the presence of Fr Alfred Maravilla, Councillor for the Missions of the Salesian Congregation.

Year 2020 was described as being a painful time of “drought” since the COVID 19 lockdown came into effect immediately after the Lenten Recollection in March, forcing many of the usual programs of the year to be suspended.

Being the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary this was the focus of the Opening Prayer with Reading the traditional story of Mary offering herself to God as a little girl – that consecration lived out in such a total openness to God’s plan for her life. Images and songs challenged all to follow where Mama Maria has shown the way.

The day’s agenda did not include the usual Christmas “party” but Fr Alfred Maravilla SDB facilitated a reflection: “Stay Awake and Keep Watch!” growing out of the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Mt 25:1-13). Having reflected on the text to better understand its meaning and what it is saying here and now, they moved on to listen to the voice of God speaking to them now. In conversation with the Lord each one took time to be open to God’s will. How can I better live the spirituality of watchfulness? What are the challenges faced by consecrated women in Port Moresby? In the presence of God, the Sisters were attentive to the desires stirred up and feelings evoked by the Word of God. To what action is this Scripture text inviting me? us?

With other events scheduled at the same time, some communities sent one or two representatives to attend, who could take back to their communities something to share of the day’s experiences. There was sharing in pairs or simply a walk among the flowering trees and the masses of smiling sunflowers. Then there was very animated sharing in the large group of 35 Sisters. Concerns included the urgency for the seeds of consecrated life, brought by foreign missionaries, having been planted in rich Melanesian soil, to be watered by tropical rains and nurtured by the warm sun, and come to full flower.

What this means in practice is that vocations must always be carefully discerned – not wholesale, vigorous recruitment. And that qualified and consistent “accompaniment” be provided at all stages of formation. It seems to be common for school leavers who do not receive an “offer” to respond enthusiastically to an invitation to religious life, however, after education and training and some experience in ministry, interest in consecrated life evaporates and the idea grows that, having given some time to God, now one can follow an alternative agenda. And so truly life-long commitment to consecrated life is rare in some places. One Sister said simply: we were concerned with quantity in the past; now we must focus on quality. This echoed the earlier gospel reflection that Sisters are called to be stewards of a precious charism and mission and they must prepare well those who will come after them.

Announcements and updating followed with special attention to moving forward with policies on right relationships in Ministry with Sr Ancy John SCSA speaking of the new protocols following the CBC AGM. Related to this was a video clip “5 Take Aways” from the recent report from the Vatican which gives hope that accountability and transparency will be more common in future in cases of sexual misconduct.

Another policy which is needed to guide initial and ongoing formation of consecrated women and men is on social media and some spoke about the challenges they face. The need for contracts with the dioceses and a just living wage for pastoral sisters was again raised. The benefits of discussing roles and responsibilities before commencing work in a diocese is appreciated but in practice this is not happening. That so-called “retired” Sisters are not appreciated but instead resort to “marketing” to sustain themselves is of great concern. That administration, maintenance of property, travel, health, education and formation costs are not provided by some dioceses for their Diocesan Congregation is another concern. These agenda items have been put forward to the CBC AGM by the Federation of Religious but there is still much work to be done.

“Confession” was not on the day’s agenda due to the uncertainty of COVID 19 but, by popular demand, it was added! While the program ran a little over time no one seemed to worry and the refreshments, generously provided by each community, became a festive occasion with some songs fitting to the occasion around the beautiful outdoor tables under the shade trees – the sunflowers in mass array and each table decorated with its own spray of flowers, special courtesy of the Caritas Sisters who generously hosted the day.

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