The Jubilee celebration for twenty-five years of presence in Cuba at the service of evangelization has been very atypical for the Siervas Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The arrival of the Covid-19 on the island last March forced them to rethly the planned. Driven by the Trinitarian spirituality that defines them (the Creator Father, the Redeemer Son and the Sanctifying Holy Spirit), they decided to adjust their missionary charism, characterized by the proclamation of the Gospel, and to make it present in spaces where it has not arrived, its knowledge is insufficient or, simply, where it will be needed to collaborate in what is already being done.
A bit of history
The Congregation Sisters Missionaries Siervas of the Holy Spirit was founded in Steyl, Holland on 8 December 1889, by St Arnoldo Janssen and blessed Maria Elena Stolenwerk and Josefa Stenmans. Today it brings together three thousand sisters, which are distributed in fifty countries on all continents. As religious, they live in international and multicultural communities, which seek to be visible signs of the Church’s unity and diversity in her mission to proclaim the gospel.
Upon their arrival in Cuba on March 22, 1996, the sisters founded a house in the village of Nicaro, Holguin, where they still remain. Later, they opened community in Niquero and Bartolomé Masó-Yara, in the dioceses of Bayamo-Manzanillo and Holguin, respectively. Seeing the need to found in Havana, they closed the community of Masó and settled in the Havana archdiocese in 2015, in the municipality Arroyo Naranjo, where they found a social reality that demanded more concrete and risky actions. The characteristic of the sisters’ missionary service is to work together with the Fathers of the Divine Word (verbite fathers), because they share the spirituality and charism of the same founder.
Since their arrival in The Habanero territory, the nuns have set out to respond from the service of their charism to the pastoral needs of the archdiocese. Hence, in the permanent mission of accompanying catechesis and leading from their spirituality vocational and family pastoral care, they began to attend, together with the Verbite fathers, a dining room in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (work in which they have been kept working throughout this stage of pandemic).
Many faces and one heart
Just at the beginning of the Jubilee year for the twenty-five years of presence in Cuba, Palabra Nueva spoke with Chilean sister Miriam Pérez (SSpS), who has been in our country since December 22, 1997. Days after our conversation, the reality of the world and the island changed in the presence of the Covid-19.
As Sister Miriam told us, her founder’s dream was for sisters to reach every corner of the world and form multicultural communities, in the midst of societies with a very different culture.
“One of the demands of the community is that when we arrive in the country where we will missionary, we speak their language. If we don’t master it, we have to study it and learn it. But it is not enough to master the language, it is important to know the culture of the country, the customs, how it is spoken, what connotation certain expressions have. That means the newcomer needs a year or maybe two to get a little more into the pastoral care of the mission.”
Once where they settle, how do they get involved with the diocese’s goals?
“Of course our charism conforms to the needs of the diocese. For example, the single presence of the sisters in Nicaro already said a lot, for there they knew nothing of religious life. We worked according to people’s demand, from what we were observing in their behaviors. It was like discovering from the mission site where and how to respond. I remember the then Bishop of Holguin, Archbishop Hector Luis Peña, saying to us, ‘Sisters, and your presence here says a lot.’
“Then we went to Niquero. Settling there was like a sign of God’s presence in the midst of a secluded village. Our arrival coincided with the appointment of the diocese; what we did there was fine because any action was necessary. The passage of Hurricane Denis through the area made us more engage with the community in a general, Catholic or non-Catholic sense, and at the same time feel it, through us, more identified with the Church. Already in Havana, we assume more concrete realities from our social commitment.”
Jubilee year in the midst of the pandemic
After a first meeting, we contacted The Hna again. Miriam to learn about Covid’s time community mission.
How has the community lived its charism and spirituality in this time of pandemic and, coincidentally, Jubilee celebration?
“Internally, we are s spent more time praying in community, creating a prayer of thanksgiving for the twenty-five years, and seeking to pray it every day. We intend to end the pandemic, and to this we add to this the intentions that people ask of us, for the sick of Christian communities, for our relatives who are far from us, for our congregation that has had to suspend the Chapter General after being all organized. We enjoy some movies together, share readings and stay informed of what’s going on.”
To what extent does living in the midst of the people, in the current circumstances of the country, share gaps and difficulties, help them in fulfilling their mission or not?
“With our presence and closeness, we accompany people with charitable actions. This has been a Jubilee Year of Thanksgiving, for we have experienced love for others especially in the midst of this very complex situation. From the dining rooms we attend in Niquero, together with Caritas, we have helped a group of people in need every month. In Havana, on Tuesdays and Fridays, with the Fathers of the Divine Word, we cook and offer food in a dining room in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (work in which we have kept working throughout this stage of pandemic; it was only one day and we add another).
“For Father’s Day, we gave twenty-five of them a small coffee bag and a sacred heart stamp. In August, we went for a walk and gave a snack to people in need. In addition, we gave a packed soap to twenty-five families and this same number of children were located, in vulnerable conditions, who were given a module containing soft drinks, biscuits, yogurt… In the East, twenty-five others were given a backpack; it was not easy, but little by little it was achieved.
“We are also doing the ‘telephone pastoral care’; that is, we call people who need to be heard and accompanied, whether they are older and alive alone or because they are sick.”
They have also been actively seen on social media. Has it been an initiative of these times or something they already had and continued?
“We created a WhatsApp group, ‘Lay Oremos’, with people from the parish of Saint Lucia, the Holy Calvary and the Sacred Heart to pray for the reality of the world and for the intentions of those who belong to the group. We share the Sunday reflections of the dioceses of Havana and Bayamo-Manzanillo.
“In mid-March this year we made a video on the occasion of our Jubilee Year and shared it on social media with a brief historical overview of our presence as a congregation in Cuba, the process we have done so far in the places and apostolates we have.
“To the Group of Young Missionaries of the Holy Trinity (JMST), as the summer mission we carry out each year is not possible, we ask you to live your missionary spirit in the parishes, and to the extent you have been able, you have done so. With them we try to stay in touch and in communion through WhatsApp. The communities of Nicaro and Niquero, already in phase three, have sought to maintain pastoral care with the care that is required.”
It means this has been a time of creativity…
“Everything I’ve shared with you before, we’ve done inspired by the biblical text where Jesus says, ‘Everything you do to my brother, you’re doing it to me.’ We are also motivated by the words left to us by our founding father: ‘Be known, loved and glorified God One and Triune, the omnipotence of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the love of the Holy Spirit.’ This is what we wanted to reflect with our presence and with the charitable works we have done. What is received is more than enough: a smile, gratitude, trust, love… In this way, we have adjusted our charism and spirituality to a Jubilee Year accompanied by a pandemic, being creative in a time of crisis for the world. We will continue to let the Holy Spirit guide us on this mission here in Cuba. ‘O Holy Spirit, what gift do you want to offer the world through us?'”
One last question, how does the congregation, present in so many parts of the world, live this time of pandemic?
“With the interest of knowing how our life and mission is being affected around the world by Covid-19, the Congregation decided to create an internal e-newsletter for the duration of the pandemic. This initiative promotes solidarity throughout the community and shares information about what sisters do on the five continents where we are present. From Cuba, we have shared the experiences lived in our three communities, also the reality of the Church and society as a whole.” Ω