“Our missionary vocation is essentially a work of great expectations and lively hope.” These words of our founder Mother Mary Joseph, spoken in 1949, were sent to us by the Eden community for this General Assembly. They have a special relevance, I believe, to the work that we will be doing during these two weeks as we explore the meaning of our missionary vocation for today’s world. What are our great expectations? What is our hope?
As we gather together, 146 delegates and 6 official participants, who come from 18 countries, including the United States and work in 24 countries (including the USA), we reflect this global world in which we are living.
We meet at a time of many crises in this global village. Unless we are walking through life with our eyes closed, the signs of death and destruction are everywhere: melting ice caps, extreme weather; struggles over resources; migration of peoples from violence and climate change on a scale never seen before and the resulting trafficking and enslavement of people; water shortages and hunger on every continent; wars in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, between Palestinians and Israelis; radical jihadist movements in northern Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Iraq. Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The list is long and could go on.
In the midst of so many problems, so much violence and destruction – what is our hope? What are our expectations? What is our role? We are rooted in the life and mission of Jesus; in the Gospel vision of a new heaven and a new earth; of a world turned upside down in the prophetic words of Mary’s Magnificat. We ourselves have been stretched, transformed, turned upside down by our relationships with the poor and marginalized people with whom we live and work. Yes, we have acquired the smell of the sheep!
We are also rooted in a vision that is still unfolding – an evolutionary consciousness informed by recent scientific discoveries. This vision liberates us from a dualistic mentality and opens us to the lure of the cosmic Christ; a God of the future who invites us to be co-creators of a new world order.
We face many challenges, both within and without, some of which have been named in the reports of the CLT and the Treasurer. We have the opportunity to make decisions at this Assembly that will enable us to reshape or re-position ourselves for the future.
We will hear more about what this may entail from Ilia Delio, our keynote speaker, and from our Advisory Board. There will be briefings from the pre-gathering of newer members and from the vocation and integration circles as well as others that you may wish to convene.
The 23 proposals that have been submitted will form the basis for our discussion and may lead us to new insights and fresh discoveries. We will begin with some visioning about the world we wish to co-create together with partners who share our vision. “Behold I am doing something new. Can you not see it,” we are asked in Isaiah 43. Isaiah goes on to say: “I am opening up a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
May our deliberations open our eyes to the new that has been emerging during our futuring workshops, leading to IAC (our 2011 Inter-Assembly Conference), and then our Centennial year, the induction of MMJ into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and during these months of preparation for our Assembly. Are not these experiences the opening in the wilderness? Have we not been drinking from the rivers of an awakening consciousness in the desert of today’s compelling questions?
On September 15, we will recall Mollie’s resolve – her commitment to mission in 1910, when she did not yet know how this would unfold and where it would lead her. This gathering gives us the opportunity to recommitment ourselves to our mission charism, without knowing fully what it will mean in the future and where it will lead us. Mollie’s times are not our times. Can we discern together what her commitment means for us today and into the next millenium?
I am holding a Makonde carving from Tanzania, a tree of life representing the inter-relationships among the human family; as well as our unity with our earth family, one with all that is – ostriches, dung beetles, baobab trees, the stars, the planets, and all things. It also represents our union with one another, our sisters in Maryknoll as well as with our partners in mission, who are represented by the official participants at this Assembly. May it remind us of the world that God created and continues to create together with us. May it symbolize our common desire to be sisters and brothers to one another, co-creating the future that will respect all life. In the words of the Earth Charter: “Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life….”
Let us be prepared to embrace the dawn, however dark the night. In the words of Maya Angelou, renowned author and poet laureate who died earlier this year:
I, the Rock, I, the River, I, the Tree…
Lift up your faces,
You have a piercing need for this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes
Upon this day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
May we give birth to the dream at this Assembly, one in mind and spirit, energized by Mollie’s vision, ready to embrace the dawn.
With these few words, I declare this 17th General Assembly officially opened.
— Sister Janice McLaughlin, MM