Photo courtesy of the US to the Holy See

FEATURE: Women, Religious Sisters, Risking Lives on Frontlines … ‘Today We Are Here to Applaud Them’

An Event Organized by the US Embassy to the Holy See, With Ambassador, Sisters, and Vatican Officials

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We are here to applaud work of sisters on the frontlines…

This praise was expressed by US Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, who hosted and organized along with the Embassy, the event held there, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, to recall ‘Women on the Frontlines,’ their second annual symposium to demonstrate how governments, civil society, and individuals can more effectively meet their goals and objectives in fragile communities and regions by partnering with women religious working on the frontlines.

Those speaking were Sister Orla Treacy, of the Institute of Blessed Virgin Mary, working in South Sudan; Sister Crescencia Sun, of the Religieuses Notre Dame Des Missions (RNDM), working in India; and Sister Anne Falola, of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles (OLA).

Sister Orla Treacy, a 2019 U.S. Department of State International Woman of Courage honoree, was nominated for the award by Ambassador Gingrich in recognition of her work improving the lives of women and girls in Rumbek, South Sudan.

Sister Patricia Murray, Executive Secretary of the Union of International Superiors General (UISG) and Ambassador Gingrich gave opening remarks, and Phil Pullella, Senior Italy and Vatican Correspondent for Reuters, moderated. All three worked or work in conflict and post-conflict communities in the fields of education, healthcare, and development.

Father Henry Lemoncelli, representing the Holy See’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, gave the closing remarks.

Ambassador Gingrich praised that women religious are “critical partners” in ensuring peace and understanding” and “promote and advance education, health, and development, often in conflict zones and other dangerous parts of the world.”

Noting they are “vital,” “work tirelessly to promote human dignity and freedom” and often risk their lives, the Ambassador lamented that “too often their work is not recognized, or not appreciated.”

“Religious sisters are beacons of hope for millions of people around the world,” she underscored, especially “for those who otherwise would never have a voice.”

Reuters’ Vatican veteran, Phil Pullella, when moderating, applauded the sisters who had an impact on his own life.

“If it were not for the nuns at Our Lady of Pompeii in Greenwich Village, I would not be here. They did amazing work helping the immigrants, like me…”

Sister Orla began passing on the greetings from the children in South Sudan, relaying that they wished they could have come too. Elaborating on the difficulties of South Sudan, the religious sister appealed: “Despite all challenges and destruction, we have to keep hope alive.”

South Sudan, she lamented, is the most illiterate country, also noting that very low numbers go to school, especially girls.

‘In a country where 4.3 million should be in school, only 2.1 million actually go,’ she said. She also decried that increasing trend of forced marriage, noting that when one refused marriage, she was beaten and abused. This was not an isolated occasion, she implied.

Expressing the importance of educating these suffering people, she appealed: “our school [the boarding school she and her fellow sisters run] can never close, it is a refuge.”

Applauding the courage, she observes every day from the women of South Sudan, she noted that “as religious and educators we are in it for the long haul.”

“We believe in hope,” she said.

Sister Sun worked throughout India in the fields of healthcare, pastoral ministry, and social development. She lamented that when medicine arrives even when most of the costs are covered for shipping and transport, but made so expensive.

Sister Sun highlighted the beauty of St. Mother Teresa’s words, that not all of us can do great things, but that we can do great things with great love.

“I do what I do because there is no one else for them to go.”

Citing how malaria is so widespread, she lamented that the people “are so used to getting fever, that when they contract malaria, they don’t recognize the problem as such. They go get medicine, feel a little better, without treating the disease, and things get worse.”

In India, often there are snakebite victims, she added, observing that the expense of the anti-venom medicine is also a serious problem for the victims. She also lamented how many suffer malnutrition.

Sister Falola shared her personal experience advocating for women’s empowerment in Nigeria.

With the clashes in the country and the terrorism of Boko Haram, “so many forced to flee homes for basic necessities of life,” she said, underscoring how many internally displaced people there are as a result, especially in the northern cities.

“We went there to become their friends, to support and assist them.” In 2014, at the height of the crisis, we started going to the camps. In 2016, she explained how they started a school, to improve their quality of life, provide friendship and give life skills. They received different faiths, Christians and Muslims, for them to live together as brothers and sisters.

Some of the greatest issues, she said, included great numbers of refugees, families being separated, many falling into prostitution, and human trafficking. She lamented the great numbers of single mothers and widows and the lack of good schools.

“In the beginning, it was hard to smile,” she admitted.

Vatican official, Fr. Lemoncelli, gave a strong reaction to the sisters’ interventions.

“I think I can speak for everyone here when I say: wow and thank you!” he said, receiving a round of applause. He then went on to give them eight pieces of advice to help in mission.

However, before that, he reflected on his great personal appreciation for religious sisters for his whole life, which grew even further during his years at the Vatican.

“But my appreciation for religious sisters,” he said, “did not begin there, but rather in 1955, where I had Sr. Mary Ann.

“I have very fond memories of six of the eight teachers I had in school,” he joked.

“Sisters,” he continued, “are people who give themselves tirelessly.”

In his recommendations on how best to live out one’s mission, he stressed that all work with a mission, must be supported by a prayer, and only like this do we have success.

He also stressed that we are all called to be at peace with ourselves. “It is only when we have this, that we can offer that peace to others.” Moreover, we are called to be merciful and forgiving, even up to forgiving 77 times.

“Never tire of doing good,” he stated, reflecting: “we never finish our mission until we close our eyes in death, and even then, we can still have silent prayer.”

“Take care of yourselves!” he underscored, noting how important it is to have physical, psychological, and mental health, so we can do those things we are called to do.”

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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