Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Burkina Faso and London

Guest blog by Sister Maxyne Schneider, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who is currently visiting missioning Sisters in Africa.

Sometimes gifts come in unexpected ways. A coup d'etat in Burkina Faso, two interlocking plane tickets with no easy or affordable rescheduling, and a network of sisters that spans the world. A week spent with the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions was both refreshment and further preparation.

Plans were for me to Join Sr. Linda Wilk and her mission colleague from Sheltering Wings in the capital of Burkina Faso on September 24, 2015. A Sheltering Wings board member from St. Louis was to go over at about the same time. We would be there together.

On September 16 a coup led by the elite military Presidential Guard overturned, at least temporarily, the interim government established in a coup a little less than one year earlier. Both air and land borders were closed. A curfew was put into effect. The U.S. Embassy issued an alert to US citizens traveling to Burkina Faso or already in the country. As the days went on it appeared that the situation might settled with the help of mediators from among other West African nations, but on the day on which I needed to make my travel decision, the situation worsened again. Once more the Embassy issued warnings. I made the decision not to go into Burkina Faso at this time. More importantly, though, Linda and Ruth were safe and in good contact with other missionaries there and had support from the Embassy.

How would I manage in London until my flight to Nairobi? Pat Smith and the remarkable network of sisters around the globe answered that. Pat emailed Sr. Margaret Doherty, RNDM, a sister with whom she had studied in Chicago, living now at her home base in London. "Yes, of course we can offer her hospitality, " was the instant response to Pat's request.

In this photo, taken in the London borough of Harrow in the backyard of the two houses of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, Pat Smith's good friend, Margaret Doherty, is on the far left. The group includes former and current missionaries and members of the provincial leadership for England and Ireland.

Being with the RNDM community was an especially good preparation for being with Pat. The  love for their many missions was apparent in animated conversation. Some among them had served in Kenya and knew Pat. One had worked in the catechetical program with former member Sue Landry.   Those who were "retired" from full-time ministry abroad let me know that it could be hard to leave a beloved mission.


In just two days in Nairobi with Pat I am experiencing, not just Pat's love for her ministries of 42 years here, but also the deep appreciation that colleagues, former retreatants, lay ministers and congregational leaders have for her. I have found myself, not at all surprised, but deeply moved by the clear affection and gratitude being expressed at every place we visit to say goodbye. I think, too, of the many, many more lives that have been affected in turn by those with whom she has worked directly.

Fr. Leo, SJ, a colleague of Pat at their retreat center in Nairobi, bids farewell.

On Tuesday the superior of the retreat center run by the Sacramentine Sisters spoke poignantly at the dinner they had for Pat. She said that while all of them felt sadness at the goodbye, they should have joy that Pat had been placed with them as part of their journey. She added that their young sisters in formation as well as their elders and those in between had been enriched by Pat's work with them. This was just one of several similar encounters of the first two days.

Farewell lunch with the Sacramentine Sisters where Pat has given many retreats.
When Pope Francis visits Kenya later this month, his immediate support staff will stay here.

Nairobi has made many first impressions on me in a short time. For one thing, there are so many religious and their "community of communities" is vibrant. Today at Mass at the small chapel of the Kiltegan Fathers, filled to capacity, religious and laity in an array of dress, Africans and those from abroad, prayed and sang with a liveliness that seemed remarkable to me. Just a week or so ago there was a celebration for the Year of Consecrated Life here. Over 1000 religious from 250 congregations across Kenya joined together for a few days of prayer, input and celebration. Those speaking of the experience had palpable enthusiasm.

At Our Lady of the Missions in Nairobi the sisters show us a statue of Mary
that Mary Southard, CSJ created for their centenary.
Walking to and from Mass today was in itself an experience, as surfaces are uneven (truth be told, traits of a mountain goat would be helpful) and traffic is heavy and unpredictably unruly. A pushcart with a load of sugarcane or bamboo was in the same lane with trucks and cars. Crossing streets is not for the faint of heart. Yesterday we saw goats in the streets. Today we visited a marketplace with surely hundreds of stalls selling every imaginable type of new or used item. All this was all quite different from any picture that I had in my mind for the capital city of Kenya! (A sister who had ministered in parts of Latin America said that the picture is very similar there.)

Pat, along with her friend and colleague, Sr. Julie, SSND,
and I enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Ngong Hills,
which overlook the Masai area seen in the background.

Today, Wednesday,  we will go to Kisii, the site where Srs. Cecilia James and Mary Bernadette became our first African missionaries. We will visit the places in that area where our other sisters followed. Pat  used the word "pilgrimage" to describe what we would be doing as we prepared for this time. And so it is.

More later when we next encounter an Internet connection and wi-fi.

Sister Maxyne

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