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The Burning Sun of South  Sudan

On January 12, 2019, five women who are part of a small NGO called CASS (Canadian Aid to South Sudan) founded by Jane Roy and Glen Pearson, left Toronto to spend two weeks with the people of South Sudan.  We visited the people who live in the north west state of this very new and struggling country.  This was my second trip to this area.  I was moved by how the people warmly welcomed us with song, drums and music. The children greeted us at the plane and asked us, over and over again, to take a “photo”.  CASS has been coming for many years and each year the welcome seems to get warmer.  What I have come to realize, is that they do not welcome us only because we are able to bring a little aid with us, as helpful as that is, but that they welcome us as friends.  They seemed so grateful that we have not forgotten them.  In some small way we are witnessing their reality and they ask us to let others know.  They do not want to be forgotten by the rest of world.

The beginning of this new country is still very fragile, but a new peace accord has been signed by the factions in the country.  We attended a peace rally which was historic.  It was a very hot afternoon, and we sat through many speeches that I did not understand because of language barriers.   But I could understand the hope people had for a better future.  I saw in their faces, heard it in their music and dance, and witnessed it in the many hundred who showed up for this rally.

South Sudan has a long way to travel to become a fully functioning country.  The people are tried of fighting, the young want to go to school, and these people want their country to develop and become a fully functioning democracy.  They know it will not be easy, but they want to try.  Because of that, I am richer because I have met so many of these people. I am grateful that I can bring their stories back to  our country.  Together we stand in solidarity for peace because it is a longing living in the hearts of all of us.  - Sister Joan Atkinson, CSJ



Weekly Pause &  Ponder

Part of what needs to be remembered within us and between us is the beauty of our oneness.  We have lived a dismemberment, a tearing apart of what belongs together, East and West, spirit and matter, the well-being of one nation and the well being of another, the masculine and the feminine, the one and the many.  And as we re-member, … we will recover ….

 - John Philip Newell



Early Saturday mornings tend to be my ‘sacred space’ after a busy week at work.  Recently, on a chilly Saturday morning, I cracked open a soft-boiled egg for breakfast. As I peeled back its shell and tough skin, poet Mary Oliver’s admonition, “make room to be astonished by the wonder of it all” surfaced in my mind.  In order to ‘make room’ I consciously peeled back the thin skin of my egg, ‘astonished by the wonder of skin.’  Skin, you may ask?  Yes, isn’t it amazing how everyday, ordinary things can be the gateway to the more sublime?  But I digress.

While I ate the egg, I scrolled through my emails and chose to check out Henri Nouwen’s daily reflection.  I was immediately drawn to its title, “Are You Home?” Well, yes, I thought, I am home.  However, the question Nouwen posed asked something far deeper.   He focused on one of society’s deep-seated ills – “worrying [which] means to be occupied and preoccupied with many things.”  Nouwen went on to point out how, in our highly technological and competitive world, many of us are “all over the place” but seldom at home.  He further reflected on how hard it is for many of us, “to avoid completely the forces that fill up our inner and outer space and disconnect us from our innermost selves, our fellow human beings, and our God.” Nouwen’s poignant closing sentence truly hit home (no pun intended), “One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there.”  (Henri Nouwen: Daily Meditation, January 26, 2019)

Home.  Where is ‘home’ for us earth dwellers?  There are many of us who feel like nomads on this earth.  Do we have a place where we are rooted, a place we call home? A place where we feel at home?  It seems to me both the question and the answer lie far deeper.  Are we at home even in our own skin?   Did you know that our skin is our body’s largest organ?  It is our body’s coat.  It protects us.  It helps us stay warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. Skin is tough and stretchy; perhaps that’s why we call some people thick-skinned.  Our skin keeps all our insides in. It is our home.  Then why do so many of us not feel comfortable or at home in our own skin?  This may well have something to do with our outer appearance, though the real challenges usually are not merely ‘skin-deep’.  How we feel in our own skin goes beyond our physical bodies, for true comfort with ourselves is a state of mind rather than what we look like.  We only really become truly at home in our own skin when we accept ourselves, warts and all. 

Might there be something else to aid us with this process of being comfortable in our own skin? Over the years I have discovered that there is another way to help me be more comfortable in my own skin, another way of ‘being home’.  One of my all-time favourite scripture quotes is, “Make your home in me just as I do in you” (John 15:4). When we heed this invitation and make our home in Jesus, we will discover that the spiritual life is about becoming more at home in our own skin.  I remember the day a friend told me how someone she loved deeply made her feel at home in her own skin, and that it was one of the greatest gifts anyone had ever given her.  Being invited to make our home in God, and subsequently feeling more at ease with ourselves, is one of the greatest blessings we can receive.

Jesus himself knew about the importance of a connection to home, which led him to return to Nazareth from time to time.  His invitation to us to make our home in him, reminds me of the first time I heard someone say, “I need God with skin on.” All of us at times have a need for God with skin on, that is, God who is physically real and touchable. Physicality is important in any relationship and especially in our most important relationships.  In the hospital where I minister, for instance, I have witnessed the dramatic positive effects skin-to-skin contact, known as Kangaroo care, has on preemies and full-term babies.

Keeping this in mind, it makes me wonder if it is perhaps not too far fetched to think of Jesus as the ‘skin’ which holds us, the body of Christ, together.  Let us be astonished by the wonder of this – that God’s embrace enfolds us all.

- Sr. Magdalena Vogt, cps



Blessed and Poised for a Future Full of  Hope

Brescia University College in London, founded by the Ursuline Sisters of the Chatham Union in 1919, just one year after women received the right to vote federally in Canada, celebrated its centennial on January 27th, the feast of St. Angela Merici, the Sisters’ foundress. From its humble beginnings, Brescia grew and flourished throughout the decades until today, a century later, amid continued growth and development, it is time to pause and celebrate Brescia’s centennial. Brescia’s longevity and prominence are the result of dedicated, far-seeing women religious who believed that anything was possible.

The centennial festivities began with the Brescia Choir and Brescia Chapel Choir. Dr. Susan Mumm, Principal, welcomed the lively guests who crammed the St. James Auditorium to pay tribute to the Ursuline Sisters who “founded Brescia to educate women to respond with wisdom, justice and compassion in a changing world”. A special highlight was the presence of the Sisters who labored tirelessly throughout the decades to make Canada’s only women’s college the fine institution of learning for which it is known.  Although the Ursuline Sisters no longer work at Brescia, their presence and values are alive and evident in the daily life that exists on campus and indeed in the lives of the alumni, many of whom were present for the celebrations.

Fittingly, Bishop Ronald Fabbro, Bishop of the Diocese of London, presided at the centennial celebration of the Eucharist.  At the beginning of mass, the Ursuline Sisters, together with staff and student representatives, presented symbols representing gratitude and specific values of the Ursuline charism which have held fast in Brescia throughout the years. In his homily, Bishop Fabbro paid tribute to the Ursuline Sisters.  He noted the friendship that developed between Mother Clare and Bishop Michael Fallon who had issued a call to establish a university in London for women.  He praised the remarkable women who founded and staffed Brescia College over the decades.  They worked together through good times and often challenging situations to make the dream for a women’s college a reality.

The event included a celebratory mass; Art Exhibition & the unveiling of a painting of Ursuline Hall by Group of Seven artist, A.J. Casson. Following the conclusion of the Centennial Mass, a reception was held in the large St. James Living Room.  It was a joyous time for congratulations and renewing long time friendships and meeting present day staff and students. 

On display in the Beryl Ivey Library, was a remarkable centennial art exhibit. The exhibit titled, “Compassion and Right Relationship Lead to Justice and Peace”, reflected the values of Brescia now and into the future.  The Curatorial Statement explains, “The exhibit is created to engage the community and to invite dialogue as we celebrate Bold Women Leading Justice with Compassionate Voice.  We invite you to explore the interplay of wisdom, justice, and compassion, to consider Angela Merici – a woman for all times and to uphold the value of women’s education”. 

Today the college has 1,500 full and part-time students. The women who attend Brescia University College are blessed indeed and poised for a future full of hope!

 - Sr. Jean Moylan, csj




Weekly Pause &  Ponder

This is not a partisan debate; it is a human one. Clean air and water, and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is our moral obligation – if, admittedly, a daunting one.

Leonardo DiCaprio, addressing the UN, 2014

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Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.