Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Daughters of Charity in Miami

by Sister Denise LaRock, D.C.

I am in Miami, Fla., for a few months to expand my Spanish language skills—hopefully by leaps and bounds so I can actually do ministry in Spanish. I have class in the morning and live with Daughters of Charity from the Caribe Province. Three Daughters of Charity are from Cuba and one is from Puerto Rico.

From left: Sor Iliana, Sor Elvira,
Sor Olga and Sor Adela
These four Daughters of Charity have been extremely welcoming and made me feel at home from the moment I arrived. They have been very supportive in my Spanish-only immersion experience. Whenever they introduce me to someone they make it clear why I am here and ask them to speak to me slowly in Spanish.

There are two houses of Daughters of Charity here in Miami. Where I am is the Ermita de la Caridad, also known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity. This is a place where many pilgrims come in time of need, suffering and celebration (several 50th anniversary blessings since I have been here!). The Sisters are here to minister to those who come in and out all day long, often with roses or sunflowers to offer to Blessed Mother. It is not unusual at mass (noon and 8 p.m. daily) to see people choked up with tears. It is a beautiful ministry of presence and prayer with the pilgrims that the Daughters of Charity offer here. There is exposition all day in the Eucharistic Chapel:

Another very interesting part about the daily masses are the intercessions and announcements. Before mass begins the intercessions, written in the book by the door, are prayed for with the congregation. Every day before communion there is the announcement regarding who can receive communion. We often see these announcements at weddings and First Communions and it often comes across in a negative way. It has taken more Spanish under my belt to understand the differences in the announcement here at the Ermita. They basically say come for communion if you receive communion each week at your church and if you don’t receive it each week we have a formation program etc. Sor Iliana directs the adult formation program. It is held for 18 weeks with one night for the English-speaking class and another for Spanish-speaking. This is the end of the 18-week program and those receiving the sacraments will do so at a regular parish. This month 13 people will receive the Sacraments of Initiation through the Ermita program and two couples will be married in the Church. Next month 90—yes 90!—will be received into full communion in the Church. How we say things and how we invite makes such a difference!

O.K., now the other house of Daughters of Charity in Miami! Actually, there are three houses at the other location, but only one is for housing. The Daughters of Charity here work with volunteers to collect food, clothing and medical items to send to Cuba. They have general permission from Cuba to send ship containers four times a year, but the specific permissions are harder. The other day was just the second shipment for this year. Two ship containers are packed up and each box must be specifically labeled with what is inside. A list of all items to go in the containers must be sent to Cuban authorities ahead of time to receive permission for the shipment. The ship containers are 40 feet long. One gets filled with non-perishable foods. One of the houses is used just to store the food until it is time to prepare the pallets and put them in the container. The third house is for the medical supplies. This does not include medicines. You can see from the photos the pallets are lifted into the container and then other items are squeezed in above the top of those. It was about 90 degrees and very high humidity the day the containers were being packed. The dedication of these volunteers to persevere in collecting and sending these items while also enduring the heat is very admirable.

The other day, I was the substitute teacher of the catechesis class in English and the topic was Catholic Social Teaching. The theme that runs through Catholic Social Teaching and the outreach from here in Miami is that we are very connected to one another, no matter how near or far we are from each other geographically. Christ told us to look out for our neighbor and to pray—not one in exclusion of the other. The recent double suicide bombing in Beirut and the horrendous attacks in Paris called me to be in solidarity with those in those cities. I was upset when it was days before I heard about Beirut and only then on Facebook. I have a friend in Beirut as well as Daughters of Charity and other members of our larger community there as in Paris. My “neighbors” in Beirut and Paris have faces, but I am challenged to care as much for those I have not met and will never meet who are just part of a group I hear or read about on the news.

It is known that the big chocolate companies in the U.S. get their cocoa beans from companies that use child slavery. Where is our outrage? Some of them have promised to discontinue in five to 10 years. Is this acceptable for the children of our neighbors whose children are taken and enslaved? What about the parents who try to protect their children by leaving their homeland to avoid abduction, ransom or rape of their children by coming to our border? How welcoming are we to our neighbors who suffer so greatly? Yet many of us don’t know their stories and our compassion is non-existent, or for some "combative" would be a better description of the attitude toward those fleeing their homelands. Take time to look at the Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. It is a summary, so to speak, of the teaching of Christ and the many documents through the years of the Church.

Christ, we come before you with grateful hearts for the many gifts and blessings we have received. May we remember You are the source of all these good things. Teach us to be ever more compassionate and merciful. May we be concerned about our neighbor not because of selfish motives, but out of true compassion and in unity as God’s creation. May we treasure that we are all God’s children and born to be treated with dignity and respect no matter the circumstances we arrive into or fall into because of sin in our lives. Bless us with Your mercy and love and may it be reflected to us by our neighbors. May I in turn be a reflection of Your infinite love and mercy all the days of my life.  Amen.