Women religious working “on the front lines,” exposed to the coronavirus yet continuing to care for abandoned children, working to alleviate poverty, providing health care and helping victims of human trafficking are not “super women,” said Comboni Sr Alicia Vacas.
Instead, they are women with great faith, compassion, generosity and determination, she said, “but also very vulnerable women, sometimes exhausted, most of the time powerless because they are burdened with the brokenness of their people.”
“What I love most about them is that they are resilient mothers; they really believe that life is stronger than death,” Sr Alicia told an online symposium on 23rd June.
The symposium, ‘Women Religious on the Frontlines’, was sponsored by the US and British embassies to the Holy See and focused on how the Covid-19 pandemic was impacting the sisters and the communities where they minister.
Sr Alicia, a nurse and the Jerusalem-based Middle East provincial superior of the Comboni Sisters, volunteered with other sisters to go to Bergamo, Italy, in early March to care for the mostly elderly sisters living in the order’s convent there.
Forty-five of the convent’s 60 residents tested positive for the coronavirus and, eventually 10 died. Most of the staff was infected as well, Sr Alicia said, so the house was in “chaos,” without anyone to nurse the sick, cook, clean or do laundry.
And because the convent was not officially a nursing home, she said, when she arrived, they had no personal protective equipment. But other communities of sisters – from different orders and from as far away as Hong Kong – sent masks and gowns and gloves, “making this a wonderful experience of sharing.”
Picture: Callista Gingrich, the US ambassador to the Holy See, poses for a photo with Claretian Missionary Sr Jolanda Kafka, president of the International Union of Superiors General, and Sally Axworthy, the British ambassador to the Holy See, on 23rd June 2020, in Rome before the online symposium, ‘Women Religious on the Frontlines’. (CNS photo/courtesy of the US Embassy to the Holy See).