This is surely a day to do as the prophet Isaiah tells us: ‘…raise our voices in praise and song’. It is the day when we celebrate with our 7 Sisters a time of jubilee. For the past 50 years Marie, Eileen, Teresa, Julie and the three Marys have followed in the footsteps of Christ himself bearing the Good News to the ends of the earth. The journey may have led them to be there for the suffering people in post-war Korea, or to move as educators among thousands of young Chinese people in Hong Kong. It drew some to face into mountains, valleys or ‘barriadas’ of Peru or to take the giant step from the U.S.A. to the rural villages of Pakistan. And always they had the same goal in mind: to witness to and to learn from the people the spirit of the Beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the grieving. Blessed are the peace makers. Blessed are those who struggle for justice’. Today we give thanks to God for the great things done in our 7 jubilarians.
Recently I read somewhere that for God our human history is as a building site – a place where God continues creation in and through us. Each of us is on a journey through history in the time that’s given to us. With you today I’d like to travel through time in history that was given to this group so that we can get a glimpse of how they were involved as missionaries during some turbulent years in the last century.
When I look back on the last 50 years, the period when our jubilarians were immersed in the Columban missionary life, I’m struck by the energy that flowed through those years and burst forth in our world. To name but a few instances: we had the first stirrings of the feminist movement, the Vietnam war and protests were raging, peace movements were gaining ground across the world, the Beatles brought changes to the social and cultural spheres, and a surge for liberation was shaking institutions worldwide.
At Church level we lived through the second Vatican Council and the seismic changes that took place in the Church around the world as a result of the opening of windows and setting the Spirit free. Mission became wider and deeper as we were invited to open our eyes again and see what we were about. Many of you will have seen the RTE program a couple of months ago that traced a 100 years of the history of mission from this country. You’ll have noticed the changes that were taking place: Security and certainty were shaken; we were invited to relate in a new way to our world and to the whole universe. Our jubilarians were vitally present through most of those years as women who were committed to making the Kingdom of God’s love, justice and peace a reality wherever they were on mission: north, south, east or west.
Those years of the 60s, 70s, and maybe the 80s were robust, challenging and colourful. So many things were possible. As missionaries we were reaching to the ends of the earth and dealing with the real issues of people from China to Peru. But our sisters would have experienced not only the upside of the times but also the downside. Not everyone was rejoicing in this time of change and questioning. There were many differences of opinion and some opted to travel on by different roads. As some companions decided to leave the congregation there would have been some sadness and loneliness. And there was another aspect: the big surge of vocations of the 50s and 60s was no longer happening so cut-backs and new choices had to be made. From places of leadership this group of 7 would have been involved in serious decision-making as the missionary course was being set for the new millennium and beyond.
And meanwhile, huge changes had been taking place in the countries where our sisters were on mission, changes that affected the social, economic, political and religious scenes. The needs of local people were different; there were advances, set-backs and new challenges. The missionary was now responding in new and different ways, but always the grounding of the response was the same: to proclaim to all the people in the world through word and deed that they are children of our loving Father. People may be travelling on different roads to God, but we journey on, respecting the other and letting our eyes be open to the meaning of the Scriptures.
Advancing years take their toll and our jubilarians are no longer young. Not all can continue to be on mission overseas. Health and wellbeing are not what they were. Over the years their faith has, in the words of St. Peter, been tested as ‘gold in a furnace’. But through it all Teresa and Julie, Marie and Eileen, and Mary, Mary and Mary have been Faith-full. We pray that their fidelity will guide them onwards toward the celebration of the many-faceted diamond in 10 years’ time. And may your families and friends enjoy this time of jubilee with you, especially today here in Magheramore.