Women Religious in the New Evangelization (Part 2)

Superior-general of the Religious of Mary Immaculate on Vocations and Formation

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, AUG. 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Religious congregations are responding to Benedict XVI’s call to adapt their work and lifestyle to the challenges of the new evangelization.

Among those preparing for this are the Religious of Mary Immaculate, known also as those of “Domestic Service” because of the work they do with young girls who work at simple tasks.

ZENIT interviewed Sister Daría Fernández Ramos a short time after she was elected superior-general in a Chapter which has given her the mandate to lead the religious family founded by Saint Vicenta Maria in 1876.

Here is Part 2 of that interview

ZENIT: The New Evangelization has an emphasis on Europe. How can this pastoral activity be carried out in the Old World?

Sister Fernández: The path seems ever more difficult. When I think of Europe, in which there are so many Saints and where Christianity has been lived with so much fervor, it reminds me of the disciples of Emmaus who on facing the difficulty and failure of their ideals, fled. We know that it is more difficult to believe, to be a disciple of Jesus when one has been disenchanted. I think the only way to carry out pastoral activity is that which the Master carried out with those disciples, to go out to meet people, to be interested in their situation, to listen and to help them find the meaning of what they are living, illuminating it with the Word and expressing it in the Eucharist.

ZENIT: Does the methodology have to improve, perhaps?

Sister Fernández: I think there are several challenges. One regards the agents of evangelization themselves. Today witness is fundamental, we must be seen as convinced persons, and to manifest this in the way we live our faith, the way we live what we say, how it is seen in our works, how we combine our being with our doing. It must be truly seen that God is the center of our life, Jesus is our point of reference and Mary the woman we look at. Another challenge is fraternity; we sisters and the laity must be seen as united and committed in this task of offering people a home, a formation, a job. They are in need of meeting persons who believe in them, who rely on them. The third challenge is to let them be themselves and point them to transcendence, no matter what their religion, so that they discover that they have eternal aims.

ZENIT: How do you, who work in other continents, think that you can enrich evangelization in Europe?

Sister Fernández: I have just returned from Brazil; I lived there for several years and I see there the freshness, the desire to live, to discover new meanings to live, and to discover it in Jesus. Given my previous work, I have also been in Africa, Asia and even Cuba, and I have seen faith giving meaning to people. Faith is a gift that must be cultivated, which it isn’t easy to discover unless one lets go of one’s criteria, of the desire for the leading role that the world has today.

ZENIT: How is your Congregation developing at present?

Sister Fernández: We are a simple, not very large Congregation. We have 1,200 Sisters of 28 nationalities and we carry out our mission in 122 Houses in 21 countries of four continents, as we are not in Oceania. In addition to the Sisters, we have a group of 460 committed lay people in the Vicenta Maria (Molavim) Lay Movement, who live the charism as lay people in the world. We share with them spirituality and mission. In addition we have many volunteers, helpers, teachers, who support us in our mission, and this is a response to Vatican II, which discovered the mission of the laity. I feel proud of the Congregation because in the chapter of 1986 we lived this call and responded with this phrase: “We assume this collaboration joyfully, as a way of sharing the mission.” A year later, Christifideles Laici came out. The Spirit was already urging us to share the mission.

ZENIT: Do you have requests for new foundations?

Sister Fernández: We have many. We are looking at the possibility of founding in Africa, in Burkina Faso, in Mali; we also need to found in Brazil, especially in the North, in the Amazon area, to protect those young girls from exploitation. A center has just been opened in the Philippines. There are requests from bishops who would like foundations in America, in India, in Europe, but at present we cannot respond to all.

ZENIT: Are you promoting some causes of beatification?

Sister Fernández: Our founder Saint Vicenta María opened the way; she was canonized in 1975 by Paul VI. In this connection, we have opened the process of Sister Stella Iglesias Hidalgo, a Spaniard from Asturias, who was born near Covadonga on April 12, 1899. She was a daughter of a numerous family, she had to go out to work and, on coming into contact with the congregation, she asked to be admitted. She spent her life in Andalusia. All remember her for her love of the Eucharist and great apostolic zeal. She lived in silence and went unnoticed. She died on November 24, 1982, and it was her young girls, those she had helped, who began to visit her tomb. Then they requested that a prayer be written to ask for favors, so we can say that it was her own girls who initiated her cause. We hope that some of the graces that they say they have received through her, will serve as miracle for her cause.

ZENIT: And in other countries?

Sister Fernández: Then, jumping to another continent we have Sister María Peña de la Crúz, “A young girl for young girls,” as we call her today. She went to live in our house in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and discovered her vocation during spiritual exercises and dedicated herself completely to the apostolate, with great love for the Eucharist and the cross. She had great apostolic zeal for the young girls, especially the neediest, who at that time were young black girls. We also have one of Japanese origin; although we have not initiated her process, it is said she was very holy according to those who knew her. There are many lay young girls who have given witness of having lived their Christian life with great selflessness and radicalism. Among them is Dora del Hoyo, and many others who have been real apostles in families.

ZENIT: What message would you like to send to the religious of the congregation that read ZENIT, given the challenges of the New Evangelization?

Sister Fernández: That it is the moment to go forward with their “eyes fixed on Jesus.” To contemplate how he worked, how he loved, how he served. If we want the New Evangelization to reach the people of today, I don’t think we will be able to do it if we don’t keep in mind what Saint Vicenta María reminded us: “to contemplate Jesus when He went on the roads of Galilee.” And today Galilee is the whole world and, on these roads, it is only from Jesus, and counting on Him and supported by Him, who is always faithful, that we will be able to walk together, with our lay brethren, at the service of young people.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Part 1: http://www.zenit.org/article-35298?l=english

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