Opening prayer: Loving God, our holy mother Angela urges us, wherever we are, “to spread peace and concord.” (Fifth Counsel). We ask you for the understanding and the courage we need to reach out in a spirit of peace to all your children, our brothers and sisters. Give us strength and patience so that your kingdom of peace may grow through us.
Leader: Associates and Sisters Day 2018 called us to “Explore Personal Growth in the Spirit of Angela Merici.” This session focuses on “Moving toward Peace and Concord in a Culture of Encounter.”
Reader 1: We listen to the words of our Holy Father Francis: “The Church must step outside of itself . . . to the outskirts of existence.” It must “be ready for encounter.” And why is this? “Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others … with our faith we must create a ‘culture of encounter,’ a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith. They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. [We go] out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position.” (Pope Francis, Address of the Holy Father on the Vigil of Pentecost with Ecclesial Movements, 5/8/13)
Reader 2: Global Sisters Report, an online publication, tells stories of women religious all over the world. (Note: Our MSJ Ursuline Sister Michele Morek is GSR’s liaison to women religious and organizations in North America.) In a recent GSR story, six sisters shared life experiences that led them into an appreciation of other religions. For example:
- Sister Thomas from Switzerland told about her strict Catholic father, a baker, who always spoke with
great respect and admiration about his Protestant customers.
- Mercy Sister Marilyn wrote about a malnourished refugee who released a turtle rather than keep it to make soup. He told her that his Buddhist faith had taught him that all life should flourish.
- Nigerian Sister Clarence served as headmistress of a school that welcomed children and teachers of different cultures and religions. She was touched when a pregnant teacher (not Catholic), struggling in labor, came to pray at the Grotto of Our Lady of Nigeria . . . and was grateful for the delivery of a healthy baby. (You can find these and other stories via Google: GSR ecumenism)
Leader: Take time to discuss these questions at your table or with the entire group.
- Can you remember and share an experience in which you were blessed by the goodness, or the faith, of a person (or persons) belonging to another faith community, Christian or non-Christian?
- Do you find yourself interested in knowing more about the beliefs of persons whose beliefs/cultures are different from your own? How might we do this?
- Do you see the United States as a Christian country? What does this mean to you in relation to our fellow citizens, our neighbors, who belong to faith communities that are not Christian?
Reader 3: The beautiful feast of the Epiphany celebrates the coming of wise men from the East – the first non-Jews to visit the newborn Jesus. Brother Alois, prior of the ecumenical community of Taizé, writes:
“Christmas sets before us a humble event that took place one day in Bethlehem. Epiphany shows us that this event has a universal and even a cosmic dimension. The Wise Men are guided by a star and represent all peoples, all cultures. . . . In coming to earth, Jesus manifested God’s love for all people, for all nations . . . . God welcomes all of us, just as we are . . . .”
Leader: As a people who walk in the light, we pray for our needs and for the needs of the whole world.
All: Good and gracious God, you love all nations and peoples of the earth, and you sent Jesus for all of us. Show us how to extend our love to others, especially those who appear to be different from us. Give us the courage to advocate on behalf of inclusion, and to lift up those who are regarded as insignificant. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the light of all nations. (From Celebration)
A Vietnamese Madonna
Leader: We Ursuline Sisters and Associates of Mount Saint Joseph have been blessed by the presence among us of our young sisters from Vietnam. From them we’ve learned about the Vietnamese culture, about being Christian/Catholic in a communist country, living with a heritage of persecution, and struggling to spread the faith and to minister to the poor of many Vietnamese ethnic groups. We have also learned about the Vietnamese devotion to Mary, the Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of La Vang. As with most devotions to Mary, there is a story.
Reader 4: Catholicism was brought to Vietnam by a Dominican priest in 1593. By 1640 Catholics were being persecuted . . . the Emperor made the practice of the faith punishable by death . . . and eventually there were more than 100,000 martyrs. During the great persecution of 1797, many Catholics sought refuge in the rainforest of La Vang in central Vietnam. They were frightened, and some very ill. The small community gathered every night at the foot of a tree to pray the Rosary. One night, in the branches of the tree, a lady appeared, dressed in the traditional Vietnamese dress, holding an infant in her arms. The people believed that the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus had come to help them. They said that the lady comforted them and told them to boil the leaves (called la vang) from the tree for medicine to cure their illnesses. Many people began to come to La Vang to pray and to be healed. After the persecution, a church was built at La Vang. It was destroyed in 1972 (during the Vietnam War), and rebuilt as the Basilica of Our Lady of La Vang. Today Our Lady of La Vang continues to be an inspiration for Vietnamese people in Vietnam and throughout the world. In the United States, at least 15 churches are named for her. And a shrine of Our Lady of La Vang has been built in Louisville at St. John Vianney, a Vietnamese parish. Her feast is celebrated November 22.
Leader: Consider these questions in your group:
- As you read this story, did anything surprise you?
- What questions came to your mind?
Prayer to Our Lady of La Vang (all): Mother Mary, Our Lady, present us to Jesus, Our Savior. Mother Mary, lead all souls to Jesus, our Dear Lord who alone redeems and saves. Dear Jesus, free us from the bondage of sin and govern us with Your Love. Amen
Blessed Lady of La Vang, be my mother and comfort me, especially in times of trial and unhappiness. Enter my heart and stay with me wherever I may go. Grant that one day, through you, I may find rest and peace in my Father’s house. Amen
(For more about Vietnamese culture and Our Lady of La Vang, check Our Lady of La Vang | MaryPages and many other websites.)