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Thursday, 04 August 2011 02:38

Religious women gather in Rome

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Held every three years, the International Union of Superiors-General (IUSG) drew together 465 leaders from Europe, 67 from Asia, 102 from Africa, 157 from North and South America and 10 from Oceania.

Attending from Australia were Maree Marsh CSB, Marie Fitzgerald RSM, Annette Cunliffe RSC, Sue Millar PBVM, Faith Jones RSM, Nerida Jones RSM, Judith Lawson OP, Pat David OP, Regina O'Neill OP, Anne Derwin RSJ and Marie Duffy RSM.

The theme for the five day assembly held from 7-11 May was, "I know the fountain well which flows and runs even though it is night' from the writing of St John of the Cross.

"The quote reminded us of the mysticism and prophecy that are essential to the religious life," says Anne Derwin RSJ.

Other areas of focus were ways wealthier congregations could assist poorer ones and updates on world-wide activities to combat human trafficking. Pat Murray, a Loreto Sister from Ireland and executive director of the 'Solidarity with Southern Sudan' project, spoke about how 19 religious congregations, including both men and women, have for the past two years pooled resources to provide assistance in one of the most destitute locations on earth.

Later in the program, a group of leaders worked together on a declaration outlining their intentions to strengthen the Union of International Women Religious General Superiors to more quickly share common challenges and local needs.

There was also a diversity of rich sharing with the Australian delegates seated at tables with English speakers from all continents.

"The meeting of so many religious women from across the world - half in habits, half in ordinary dress - but all committed to living the Gospel in their own land was wonderful," says Anne.

"For some that living is in the midst of war, poverty, violence, fear and outright oppression of women. For some that living is in countries where Christians are such a small minority of the population. For some that living is in peaceful, affluent countries. All contexts in which we live pose challenges for living mystical and prophetic lives."

Anne added that she was impressed by the strength of the African women at the assembly and loved their liturgy of music, singing and dancing. She was also touched by the gentleness and grace of the Vietnamese women, and enjoyed the fact that the German women could sum up their discussion so succinctly compared to the many words and poetic ways of other cultures.

While disappointed that Pope Benedict's audience with the conference delegates was cancelled, Tim Fisher, Australia's Ambassador to the Holy See extended the hand of hospitality inviting the Australian Sisters to dinner.

"Sisters from other countries were very envious of our dinner invitation as no other Ambassador had done so," says Anne.

"The gesture was typical of Tim's warmth, generosity and interest in everyone. As well as enjoying great food, wine and company, Tim invited each of us to share about the current work of our congregations during the dinner and he thanked and affirmed the religious of Australia. He shared too his excitement about the canonisation of Mary MacKillop.

"We had also visited the Embassy before the conference started and were taken to coffee by the Embassy staff. So we were very spoilt!"