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The courage for encounter

Like very many others, I have followed the daily world media reports on the recent fourteen day journey of Greta Thunberg the sixteen year old Climate Activist from Sweden as she took on the gruelling challenge of sailing to New York for the UN Climate Action Summit in September.  I have been mesmerised by someone so young courageously taking up the challenge of actually living what she espouses, regardless of the personal cost, the frequent detractors and the sheer effort of it all.  All of this for something greater than herself – the survival of the entire planet.  The courage for encounter.

This comes at a time when the critical humanitarian and environmental issues that assail us can easily paralyse us into inaction.  We look for leadership, inspiration and reassurance, as well as some confirmation that what we do and how we are inspired to act together with others, is significant.

Speaking at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in Scottsdale, Arizona on 14th August 2019, Sr. Pat Murray gave voice and recognition to a lived reality that we encounter every day of our lives.

“Being truly present to one another, being open to mutual encounter with the other who comes as a stranger, is a prophetic action in today’s divisive contexts”.

“The responses needed today are often not found in the big initiatives of the past but instead are like tiny mustard seeds: a word of hope, a listening heart, a compassionate presence, a healing glance.  This mysticism of encounter happens everywhere”, 

“We have seen this mysticism in action in our communities at sick beds, on city streets with homeless people, on the borders with  separated families, in refugee camps, in hospitals and parishes with people who are struggling – in fact, wherever we are”. 

It is no surprise then, that for the past few weeks the phrase that has been a recurring one for me is ‘Not Words, but Deeds’.

Nano Nagle was a social activist of her time (in 18th Century Penal Ireland) whose legacy is vibrant, dynamic and alive today wherever there are Presentation People.  She is described in  ‘Nano Nagle: The Life and the Legacy’   as follows:

“Nano Nagle’s life was unusual for a woman of her rank living in Penal Ireland.  Certainly, other Catholic women were known for being generous benefactors to the poor, and for attending to the education needs of their tenants.  [..] But Nano Nagle occupied a curious space […] everything about her life suggests an independent spirit, and a fearlessness”.

I was also reminded of what Dr. Lorna Gold (Trocaire) said about Nano, during her keynote address at our North East Province Justice Day in 2018:

“The final message I take from Nano’s story is the courage she had to follow her mission, regardless of where that might lead. […] Today, more than ever before, we need people like Nano.  We need people of courage who are prepared, if necessary, to ‘spend themselves’ for love of the poor and of the planet.  This, to me is what it means to carry her lantern in the dark and treacherous times of the 21st century”.

Nano We Salute You


For every time
Your weary feet
Made crossings of these cobbled streets
In cold and rain
In danger’s teeth
From South to North
From North to South
By day, by night,
By faint and waning lantern light
We salute you Nano!
We salute you!

Woman of faith, of courage
And of love
God’s Great News from heav’n above
Streamed on our world
And beyond!

We salute you!
Venerable Nano Nagle
We salute you!

~ Mary T. O’Brien, pbvm

(This is an extract from the full composition ‘Venerable Nano We Salute You’ by Sr. Mary T. O’Brien, pbvm (April 2018), presented as part of the Twilight Walk  during our Congregational Gathering (CG2018) through the laneways of Cork City on an April evening. See CG2018 for full version).

Note: Sr. Pat Murray, (IBVM) is the Executive Director of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG).  See link to extracts from her address  HERE

 “Not words, but deeds.” (This is the Nagle family motto).


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