|In life there are some “Humpty-Dumpty issues” that, before they can be handled with honesty and integrity, must be pulled apart, mulled over, and “put together again.” This past Sunday Zoomers faced off with one of those issues when they met with invited guest, Sister Patricia Ralph SSJ. The intent was to talk about racism. “Sister Patty,” as she Is known to her friends, is a person of color who hails from Washington D C. and is well aware of what it is like to be a black sister who moves in a white society. Though our meeting topic wasn’t limited to racism, that issue was certainly a spinoff of Pope Francis’ counsels throughout Fratelli tutti. When speaking of any minority, for example, he points out that so much of the distrust against marginalized peoples is based on fear of the unknown. This is certainly true when we apply the same principle to the Black community. As Pope Francis clearly states: ”There is a problem when doubts and fears condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant…”`
This week Zoomers discussed another aspect of Pope Francis’ encyclical–the erroneous belief that digital technology alone can foster widespread understanding. It is delusional to believe that true interpersonal communication can exist in a cyber world of tweets and 150-word e-mails. Relationships cannot be built on shallow insights, and essential to all mutual encounters is the ability to listen. This precisely is why Zoomers invited Sister Patty to come to their meeting. They wanted an opportunity for mutual listening around a topic that is often hard to broach—racial relations. Though they merely touched the tip of a truly worthwhile discussion, the following exchange was honest and forthright: Is there any one experience that you found most painful in the Community? Yes. I rang the doorbell of one of our convents and the sister who answered it asked me if I was the cook! That assumption was very hurtful!
Why did you come to an all-white community when black communities exist?I felt that God was calling me to this specific community. Though there were other possibilities, I felt that God was asking me to be a Sister of Saint Joseph.
Have you found places in the Community where you were not accepted? There have been times in Community when I have felt a great sense of separation. Through the years, however, I have made many friends and have developed a great support system within the Congregation.
Why did you decide to stay in the Sisters of Saint Joseph? I know who I am and I know Whose I am. (God’s child). This made it possible to keep going when things in my life got difficult.
What do we need to know as we welcome other Sisters of color in the future?The most important thing is to listen!
When all is said and done, it is essential in an “I to we” culture that we listen with our hearts and open our minds to those who differ from us in belief, race, or ethnic background. Prejudice goes two ways and we have to maintain a prayerful balance. Not an easy mandate, but one that is essential for our growth as truly Christlike women in the Church of today. Note: See further comments