At a special liturgy hosted by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Sister Mary Henry, CCVI introduced National Migration Week on January 6, 2018:
“On behalf of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, I welcome you to the Chapel of the Incarnate Word. We gather today in our Motherhouse Chapel, the symbolic center of our international congregation, to celebrate National Migration Week, a week set aside by our Church in the United States to recognize that we are a country of immigrants, and to call attention to the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees and survivors of human trafficking.
Our founding Sisters came to Texas from France; the first three women that joined them were Texans of French, Mexican, and Polish families. Our Congregation was founded by immigrants, for immigrants.
Joining us today is the University of the Incarnate Word worshiping community. The University has its roots in the school our Sisters established in 1888 to educate young women. Responding to the needs of the times, The University has continued to grow in service and scope. Today, International students comprise 14% of the student body, and they represent over 70 countries. The University is ranked No. 1 nationally among faith-based universities in the conferring of bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics.
The issues and challenges facing our immigrant brothers and sisters are very real for us, and it is our duty as a community, and as a Church to bring them to the fore of our consciousness and our prayer.
Let us stand now and begin our prayer on this great Feast of the Epiphany when the whole world was introduced to the Incarnate Word.”
The Eucharistic celebration continued and after the Scripture readings, Sister Tere Maya, CCVI, the Coordinator of the Congregation shared these reflections:
“The Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, the pure experience of joy when we recognize God among us!
As I pondered on today’s readings: the star, the journey of the magi, the gifts… I could not help going back in time to my “Abuela’s nacimiento”- grandma’s nativity – that took almost one third of her living room. The smell of heno y musgo- (the moss and the hay)- the sheep, ducks, shepherds, streams, donkeys, chickens, pigs, wells, even lions and tigers in caged caves. Also, the three wise men, los tres reyes magos. You know, abuelaknew their names- Melchor, Gaspar y Baltazar, and also that they had a camel, a horse and an elephant. The three would appear suddenly on the other side of the living room, and every day they would move a little closer. I guess this was the equivalent of our advent calendar. Finally, magically, the vespers of the feast of the “Santos Reyes”, they would get off their horse, camel and elephant and we would find them kneeling before the baby Jesus in the manger. This was when abuela would give us “Rosca de Reyes” explaining to us, that like the Reyes Magos, we too needed to find the baby Jesus.
What strikes me in this memory of childhood is the movement. The wise men, los reyes magos, had to MOVE to find Jesus. Today’s Gospel is filled with movement: the wise men see the star and begin their journey; they make stops along the way, they ask for directions, they get lost, and then they see the star again, until they reach their destination- Jesus Incarnate, the incredible moment when they realize that God had decided to live among us. And I wonder about the movement in our own lives… What do we move away from? What do we move to? How willing are we to leave behind what keeps us from finding God? How willing are we to let go, because God is calling us to find the places of the Incarnation in the margins with the poor and the outcast?
The Church also invites us this week to recognize and honor the migrants in our midst- This is National Migration Week. For 50 years the US Bishops have called us to honor migrants in our midst. We are called to recognize: “the fact that each of our families have a migration story, some recent and others in the distant past. Regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another. … Unfortunately, in our contemporary culture we often fail to encounter migrants as persons, and instead look at them as unknown others, if we even notice them at all. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious or fearful of them. During this National Migration Week, let us all take the opportunity to engage migrants as community members, neighbors, and friends.” (USCCB, National Migration Week)
As we gather today as an Incarnate Word Family, also a family of immigrants. We are called to heed this call. How do we move to create a culture of hospitality and encounter in our heart, our communities, our ministries? We are invited to ponder on the plight of men and women and children, who have had to move- always because they had no other choice. The words of the Somali Refugee Poet, Warsan Shire, came to mind as I considered the “movement” God calls us to. She says “no one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark… You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land…”
Can we “move” to recognize that the stranger among us has moved and challenges us to recognize God among them. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Ephesians that: “that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” We are all one family in Christ. No borders, no walls, no “other”- coheirs of the same body. Can we move to embrace this call?
Our brothers and sisters are here. They moved from near and far, some have crossed borders, some just moved from other places in the country, from other neighborhoods, from abusive situations, from poverty. This week, we need to honor what moving has meant to the millions of people around the world – that have no choice. And we also need to pray for our own capacity to “move”- away from fear, and prejudice, away from all that keeps us from finding God Incarnate Among us!
We will discover then that moving brings freedom. When we move, we are lighter, less bound, we think clearly. Perhaps that is why when the Wise Men first “noticed the star” rising they decided to move. I hope that like the wise men, like the shepherds, of the Christmas story- we learn to recognize the “stars” – the signs of the times – that call us to move.
I hope we become wise in our noticing. Because if we can notice, and move, only then we will find the most precious Christmas Gift: The Gift of Joy. This was the experience of the Wise Men.
Some gospel translations say that when they saw that star “they were overwhelmed with joy”- imagine, not just being happy, or content, or even joyful— but being “overwhelmed” with joy.
What does that look like in our lives? When was the last time you were simply “overwhelmed with joy”? Where do we find this kind of joy – perfect, complete- overwhelming?
The magi are teaching us a lesson: first we must notice, then we must move, and when we find Jesus Incarnate we need to offer our gifts. When we find Jesus, we need to bow, prostrate ourselves. Because to find true joy we must go beyond ourselves, we must give ourselves completely to others; we must strive to serve the common humanity that binds us all- stranger and friend.
I pray for our Congregation, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, for all our ministries, for each our sisters, collaborators, associates.
I pray that because this 2018 is a very special year because we celebrate our General Chapter. I pray we may strive for this gift of perfect, overwhelming joy, for the gift of seeking, finding and serving our God. Our awesome God who chose to live among us- in the stranger, the outcast, the saddened, the one who needs us.
I pray that all the Church, all of us gathered today- to remember, the journey of the wise men from the East, to remember, los “Tres Reyes Magos”- that we like them…. Learn to notice, to move and to offer our gifts.
Sisters, friends, may the Joy of this day be yours, may you find Jesus, and may you bow to offer the gifts you have received. May this be the witness of our lives. Praise the Incarnate Word. Forever, Amen.”
These were the General Intercessions:
PRAYER FOR NATIONAL MIGRATION WEEK
Good and gracious God, We pray for all people who are migrating particularly those who are forced from their homes or separated from their families because of threats of violence and persecution. We ask that you protect and keep them safe. Although we come from different countries, and have our origins in different cultures, we were all created by you, and are made in your image, and therefore we all share an inalienable dignity that is deserving of respect. Lord, we ask that you give us the strength to defend those who are marginalized, to give aid to those in need, to come to the defense of those who are poor or vulnerable, and to welcome those who are on the move into our homes and into our hearts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Various Sisters shared the General Intercessions revealing the immigrant nature of the Congregation:
For Pope Francis, … that our loving God may gift him with deep wisdom as he calls the Church to struggle against the evil of human trafficking.
Sr. Brigid Marie Clarke, who came to San Antonio in 1956. Over 800 young women came to the United States from Ireland to serve in the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.
For all Bishops and leaders in the Church, … that they be encouraged by our prayers and support to lead God’s people in building a culture that respects the human dignity of all migrants.
Sr. Michele O’Brien, whose grandparents came from Poland to Panna Maria, TX, and from Ireland to the Dallas area.
For policy makers in our nation, … that God grant them the wisdom to enact laws that provide greater protection for all migrant populations.
Sr. Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, whose great-grandfather came from Moravia at the age of 13, to Fayetteville, TX.
For immigrants and refugees who have come to American and continue to make our nation strong, … that God bring them peace and all else they need to build a life of prosperity and happiness.
Sr. Margaret Snyder, whose family came from Germany and Ireland in the late 1700’s and settled in Missouri, via Rhode Island and Kentucky.
For all people of faith, for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, … that we will work together to bring God’s light and love to the world.
Sr. Chris Stavinoha, whose family came from Poland and Czechoslovakia and settled in Poth, TX.
For the community gathered here, … that we may in every place and every way faithfully welcome and support those in need.
Sr. Ramona Lopez, whose family came from Piedras Niegras, Mexico, to San Angelo, TX
For all who are suffering in body, mind, or spirit, for all the poor, for all children separated from their family due to circumstance or death, … that God will provide relief, and protection.
Sr. Germaine Corbin, whose family came from France to Louisiana.
The Eucharist continued helping all to pray in solidarity with God’s family around the world.
For more resources on celebrating National Migration Week click HERE.
This article was originally published on the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation blog here.
Picture of stained glass window of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fleeing into Egypt in the Chapel of the Incarnate Word.