Courtesy of US and British Embassies to the Holy See

FEATURE: Women Religious on Frontlines of COVID19 Pandemic, Honored by American & British Ambassadors to the Holy See

Ambassadors Gingrich & Axworthy Praise Nuns As ‘Lifeline’ & ‘Army’ for the Greater Good

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Women Religious on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic were honored by the American and British Ambassadors to the Holy See via a virtual symposium on June 23, 2020.

The event was followed via streaming on Zoom, but the Ambassadors and some of the participating religious sisters were present and socially distantly speaking at the headquarters of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in central Rome, just a few-minute walk from Vatican City.

Humble, Lifesaving Service

British Ambassador Sally Axworthy once again praised religious sisters’ invaluable contribution worldwide.

“One of the discoveries I have made since becoming Ambassador to the Holy See nearly four years ago,” Ambassador Axworthy reflected, “is how much great work is done by the religious orders around the world.”

“Whether running schools and hospitals, caring for the sick, rescuing victims of human trafficking, or supplying employment for the destitute,” she said, “the religious orders provide essential services either in places where there is little other provision or for people for whom there is little other support. They do that without blowing their own trumpet and often at great cost to themselves.”

“The 650,000 religious sisters are an army for the greater good,” the British diplomat said, underscoring: “We are here to celebrate their service, and hear some of their inspiring stories.”

US Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, recalled that this year marked the third Women Religious on the Frontlines Symposium their embassy held since 2017, noting each was organized in collaboration with the UISG, led by its President, Claretian Missionary Sr. Jolanda Kafka, and Executive Secretary, Sr. Patricia Murray of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The ‘Lifelines’ for Others

“Given everything that has happened in the world over the last several months,” the US Ambassador to the Holy See expressed, “our program could not have come at a more appropriate time. Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused vast global unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity, further challenging the work of women religious.”

In her remarks, Ambassador Gingrich acknowledged the particularly devastating effects of the pandemic on the Catholic Church.

“Countless priests and women religious have tragically lost their lives to this terrible virus. Here in Italy and around the world,” Ambassador Gingrich recalled, decrying “many faithful Catholic sisters have made the ultimate sacrifice while caring for others.”

“Despite harrowing losses,” she underscored, “Catholic sisters and faith-based organizations have continued their life-saving work.”

They have been at the forefront of the fight against the spread of COVID-19, she said, adding: “These faithful sisters and their orders are defined by an abiding sense of purpose and are dedicated to aiding those most in need.”

“They serve as lifelines for communities experiencing unprecedented hardships and as advocates for the oppressed,” Ambassador Gingrich said.

Sister Alicia Vacas, Provincial Superior of the Comboni Sisters in Jerusalem, joined the Ambassadors and those following from the Holy Land. Her congregation lost 10 sisters following their selfless help in assisting in Bergamo, Italy, an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She spoke about the difficulties women religious face internationally, such as inadequate medical care, and lack of supplies and protective gear. Regardless, she expressed the great collaborative spirit between congregations who, at these horrendous times, stand by each other.

Continuing to Do Whatever It Takes…

“These courageous women illustrate that even during a devastating pandemic, Catholic sisters work faithfully and tirelessly to support the most vulnerable among us,” Ambassador Gingrich said.

From Albania, Sister Imelda Poole of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, illustrated how religious sisters have been combatting human trafficking, and now, also a pandemic.

In 2009, the English native helped establish the anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization, the Mary Ward Loreto Foundation. She also is President of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation, which aims to combat human trafficking across more than 30 European countries.

From Ghana, Sister Stan Therese Mario Mumuni virtually discussed her sisters’ work to combat the horrific human-trafficking situation in the African nation.

Despite COVID-19 perils, Sister Mumuni, who founded the Marian Sisters of Eucharistic Love, who seek to protect and care for Ghanaian “spirit children” who are ritualistically murdered due to physical or mental disabilities, along with her congregation, continue to do whatever it takes to help these children.

Below one can read the full interventions of Ambassador Axworthy and Ambassador Gingrich published on their respective embassy websites, along with an editorial piece written by the American Ambassador.

One can also replay the entire symposium by clicking the link below:

To watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moTXPwvmBsY

**
British Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy’s Opening Remarks
Women Religious on the Frontlines Virtual Symposium
Rome, Italy
June 23, 2020

Ambassador Gingrich, Sister Jolanda, Sister Pat, dear friends,

Thank you, Ambassador Gingrich, for inviting me to co-host the symposium today and to the UISG for allowing us once again to take advantage of your hospitality! I am delighted to join Ambassador Gingrich in recognising the work of the sisters worldwide.

One of the discoveries I have made since becoming ambassador to the Holy See nearly four years ago is how much great work is done by the religious orders around the world.  Whether running schools and hospitals, caring for the sick, rescuing victims of human trafficking, or supplying employment for the destitute, the religious orders provide essential services either in places where there is little other provision, or for people for whom there is little other support. They do that without blowing their own trumpet and often at great cost to themselves.

We have with us today three sisters who represent the best of that tradition.

Governments try to address many of the same issues that the sisters do. The UK meets the target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid, which in 2019 amounted to €16.8 billion.  That spending goes on humanitarian aid, vaccinations, education, providing food and medical care, often working with the UN or with governments. I hope our efforts are complementary. The sisters’ operations are endlessly agile, spotting needs and responding to them. They are also resilient, staying in conflict zones for example, even when that is at risk to themselves.  We welcome their leadership. We recognize that they are uniquely well placed to build relationships of trust with those who have been exploited and abused.  We cannot always do the same things in the same way, but we can work together to end human trafficking, sexual abuse and violence against women, and to promote education for girls, to reduce poverty and to provide healthcare in the world’s poorest places.

These are goals that we have in common.  The 650,000 religious sisters are an army for the greater good. We are here to celebrate their service and hear some of their inspiring stories.

Sally Axworthy
British Ambassador to the Holy See

**

Ambassador Callista Gingrich, published on the website of American Embassy to the Holy See:

Ambassador Gingrich’s Opening Remarks
Women Religious on the Frontlines Virtual Symposium

Rome, Italy

June 23, 2020

Good morning and welcome.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the British Embassy to the Holy See are delighted to co-host today’s symposium – Women Religious on the Frontlines.

I’d like to thank Ambassador Sally Axworthy for her partnership in making this program possible.

This is, in fact, the third Women Religious on the Frontlines Symposium our embassy has held since 2018.

All of these programs have been organized in cooperation with the International Union of Superiors General, led by Executive Secretary, Sister Pat Murray, and President, Sister Jolanda Kafka.

Thank you, sisters for hosting us at UISG this morning, and for your continued friendship and collaboration.

Our meeting today, by necessity, is virtual. However, our objective remains the same — to highlight the humanitarian efforts of women religious, who selflessly serve on the frontlines of conflict zones and other vulnerable places around the world.

Today, we want to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted their lives and their work.

Tragically, this pandemic has caused vast unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity — further challenging the work of women religious.

We are grateful to be joined today by three remarkable sisters who will speak about the pandemic’s impact on their organizations, and the communities they serve.

Sister Stan Therese Mario Mumuni joins us from Ghana, where she is the founder of the Marian Sisters for Eucharistic Love, protecting and caring for Ghanaian “spirit children,” who are ritualistically murdered due to physical or mental disabilities.

Sister Imelda Poole joins us from Tirana, Albania. A native of Great Britain, Sister Imelda helped establish Mary Ward Loreto in 2009, an anti-trafficking NGO in Albania.

She is also the President of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation, which works to eradicate human trafficking across 27 countries in Europe.

And finally, Sister Alicia Vacas joins us from Jerusalem, where she is the Provincial Superior of the Comboni Sisters.

Sister Alicia recently returned from Bergamo, where she provided health care at the epicenter of the COVID 19 pandemic in Italy.

I’d also like to thank Sister Jolanda Kafka, the President of UISG, for joining us today to offer closing remarks.

Before I turn this over to Ambassador Axworthy, I want to take a moment to recognize and honor the tremendous sacrifices made by women religious during this pandemic.

Here in Italy, and around the world, many faithful sisters have made the ultimate sacrifice while caring for others.

As we continue our work together, let us preserve and honor their memory.

Thank you.

Op-Ed, of Ambassador Callista Gingrich, published on the website of American Embassy to the Holy See:

Published June 23, 2020

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the British Embassy to the Holy See on June 23 co-hosted “Women Religious on the Frontlines,” a symposium highlighting the humanitarian efforts of Catholic sisters who selflessly serve on the front lines of conflict zones and other vulnerable places around the world.

This was the third Women Religious on the Frontlines symposium our embassy has held since 2017. All of these programs have been organized in collaboration with the International Union of Superiors General, which is led by Sr. Pat Murray of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, its executive secretary, and Claretian Missionary Sr. Jolanda Kafka, its president.
Given everything that has happened in the world over the last several months, our program could not have come at a more appropriate time. Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused vast global unemployment, poverty and food insecurity, further challenging the work of women religious.

The effects of the pandemic on the Catholic Church have been particularly damaging. Countless priests and women religious have tragically lost their lives to this terrible virus. Here in Italy and around the world, many faithful Catholic sisters have made the ultimate sacrifice while caring for others.

Despite harrowing losses, Catholic sisters and faith-based organizations have continued their life-saving work. They have been at the forefront of the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
These faithful sisters and their orders are defined by an abiding sense of purpose and are dedicated to aiding those most in need. They serve as lifelines for communities experiencing unprecedented hardships and as advocates for the oppressed.

We were grateful to be joined at our symposium by three remarkable sisters who spoke about the pandemic’s impact on their organizations and the communities they serve.
Sr. Stan Therese Mario Mumuni joined us from Ghana, where she is the founder of the Marian Sisters of Eucharistic Love, protecting and caring for Ghanaian “spirit children,” who are ritualistically murdered due to physical or mental disabilities.

Despite facing great and unexpected challenges resulting from the pandemic, Mumuni and her congregation continue to risk their lives to help these children. She spoke about how her sisters are working to combat the horrific human-trafficking situation in Ghana, where children are sold to fishing boats for as little as $5.

Sr. Imelda Poole of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary joined us from Tirana, Albania. A native of Great Britain, Poole helped establish the Mary Ward Loreto Foundation in 2009, an anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization in Albania. She is also the president of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE), which works to combat human trafficking across 31 countries in Europe.

Poole revealed that 70% to 80% of RENATE’s work has now moved online. She described in great detail why those most impacted by the pandemic are now even more vulnerable to human trafficking and urged governments to take more legal action to combat this evil scourge.
Comboni Sr. Alicia Vacas speaks during “Women Religious on the Frontlines,” a June 23 online symposium about how women religious are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS screenshot/Facebook video)

And finally, Sr. Alicia Vacas joined us from Jerusalem, where she is the provincial superior of the Comboni Sisters. Vacas recently provided health care at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bergamo, Italy, where her congregation lost 10 sisters.

Vacas described the challenges faced by women religious not just in Italy, but around the world, including a lack of supplies, medical care, and protective equipment. And yet, Vacas conveyed that a wonderful spirit of collaboration exists between congregations who support each other while caring for those in need.

These courageous women illustrate that even during a devastating pandemic, Catholic sisters work faithfully and tirelessly to support the most vulnerable among us.

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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, at times from the papal flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio, Sky, and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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