Saturday, 10th October is World Mental Health Day. This comes at a time when our daily lives have been changed and challenged irrevocably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much has been shared and written about its impact, and that of the restrictions and safeguards that have become part of our lives over the last 6-8 months. There are some who avidly reject the use of the term ‘the new normal’ to describe life-changing experiences during this period, as they reiterate nothing was normal before this marker, and certainly we cannot call life in this expression ‘normal’ now in these times.
With the launch of the Encyclical Fratelli tutti by Pope Frances on October 4th, this document can open possibilities for us individually and together, to find ways in which our increased awareness and sensibilities resulting from individual and societal loss of all kinds, can be the impetus to tap into an emerging universal aspiration toward fraternity and social friendship.
Being present to one another
The pope’s call to “break down walls,” said Ireland’s Loreto Sister, Sr. Patricia Murray International Union of Superior Generals (UISG’s) executive secretary, resonates with sisters who in their daily ministries work with all types of communities and try to find common humanity between people.
It is up to sisters and others within the church, Murray said, to heed Francis’ call to build bridges — “bridges of dialogue, bridges of encounter.”
Sr. Patricia goes on to say is that such bridges are particularly needed in a world of growing economic and power imbalances:
Though the global climate crisis is making more people aware of humanity sharing a common metaphoric sea or ocean, “some are in yachts and some are barely clinging on”. ~ Sr. Patricia Murray, UISG’s Executive Secretary.
In the Global Sisters Report (GSR) article by Chris Herlinger entitled: International sisters say ‘Fratelli Tutti’ affirms their daily direct ministries Sr. Patricia Murray says that in stressing the bonds connecting all of humanity, the pope is affirming many of the directions Catholic sisters are now taking in their ministries.
In her August 2019 address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Murray noted that “being truly present to one another, being open to a mutual encounter with the other who comes as a stranger, is a prophetic act in today’s divisive contexts.”
Calling the encyclical a demanding text, Murray, said, “This encyclical really demands reading and reflecting [on] again and again,” but that people will find in it a core based on seeing, judging and acting.
“We have to touch the suffering, we have to draw near, drawn into the vulnerability of the other”, Murray said of one emphasis in the letter.
In her remarks, Sr. Jolanda Kafka, UISG’s president noted the centrality of the parable of the “Good Samaritan” in the pope’s encyclical. By using that example, Francis is asking believers to look into a mirror and acknowledge the common experience of being vulnerable and wounded. But at the same time, the pope sees common hope.
“Every human being has the potential to be a good Samaritan,” ~ Sr. Jolanda Kafta, UISG’s President.
A UISG board member, Sr. Aurora Torres, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Marie Reparatrice said that: “This is a whole program” – “a project of life”.
In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan. Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside. The parable shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbours, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good. ~ Pope Francis, (Fratelli tutti, #67).
The release of the encyclical is also a moment for sisters to ask probing questions of ministry.
“How am I being a sister to others?” she asked.
Let us pray:
O Lord our God,
for all whose lives are in turmoil through the effects of mental illness
Hear our prayer and pour out your peace.
Lord Jesus help us to trust you
even when we are going through the most trying times of our lives;
to know that you are there with us and that your faithfulness is just.
God of all comfort and strength,
soothe us when we are hurt;
calm us when we are afraid;
hold us when we are alone;
support us when we are tired;
lead us through the valley of the shadow
to the place where we can, at last, come home.
See also HERE