IPA Assembly 2007

Presentation Sisters from around the world gathered in Bangalore, India in November 2007 for the fifth International Presentation Association Assembly with the theme:

Listen … The Cry of the Earth … The Cry of the Poor …

The Sisters presented reflections and questions on their actions for justice and the group was led in prayer using themes, songs and prayers from the various cultures in which Presentation Sisters live and work around the globe.

Guest speakers included Medha Patker, an activist for the poorest of the poor, and Devinder Sharma, an award-winning journalist, writer and thinker whose books and articles offer a uniquely Indian perspective on global trade issues.

A group of disabled children were guests at the Assembly and shared their music and dance along with the celebration of Eucharist according to the Indian Rite.

IPA Assemblies are held every four years. The Assembly networks the various congregations of Presentation women around the world to foster unity and to enable collaboration for the sake of mission.

The 2007 Assembly was held from 14 to 21 November, culminating on the feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.

Read our daily reports from the Assembly below:

Day One

The Assembly began on the evening of November 13, with a reception hosted by the Sisters of the Union. The reception was an opportunity for the Sisters to meet one another and spend time together.

The Indian Province of the Union prepared the Opening Ritual on November 14. As Assembly participants arrived, they were welcomed with a garland and a bhindi. The ritual included prayer, dancing and the symbol of poornakumbham — the fullness of life.

In ritual and dance, participants were challenged to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of those made poor.

The highlight of the day was storytelling focusing on the history of IPA and the way in which the IPA members had carried out the IPA directions for mission during the four years since the last Assembly.

Day Two

The day opened with prayer led by the Sisters from Ireland.

Each day groups are sharing symbols which speak to their ministries and history. In the morning, Lismore and San Francisco shared their symbols. Later in the day, England and the Philippines also shared.

The focus for the second day of the Assembly was listening to the voices of the Sisters through the sharing of information gathered as part of the IPA Review. Paula Ringuette PBVM, Consultant for the Review, presented the responses and analysis of the questionnaires sent to each member of IPA. She also presented the findings of the interviews she conducted with the IPA Leaders and Justice Contacts.

Grace Redmond PBVM, Bursar for the Union, presented the results of the Finance Review.

The Sisters in the Working Group who monitored and guided the IPA Review presented the summary of the findings together with proposals and topics for conversation that came out of the review. These will be considered by the participants in the days ahead.

Prayer in the afternoon was led by the Sisters from Canada.

During the afternoon, participants engaged in conversations around the proposals and conversation topics.

Reflections from Participants on Day 2:

Mary Kealy, United States Province, Union of Presentation Sisters: “What an enriching and graced day! We started with a beautifully prepared reflective Prayer Ritual led by the Sisters from Ireland. Then the reports followed – each unique, thoroughly prepared and inspirationally presented. I learned so much and my pride and gratitude to God for the gift of being part of Presentation has magnified. It’s been a truly wonderful day! I re-echo with Paula that if Nano were here today she would be walking this journey with us.”

Maureen O’Connell, Nagle Community, Ireland: “It was fitting that the theme Listen for our morning gathering ritual set the mood for turning into the basic ingredients – the realities – which provided us with the insights and inspiration for our work during the coming days. Our challenge, put so well by Grace, is to keep in mind the Talisman of Gandhi: ‘Recall the face of the poorest and weakest person whom you have met and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to her… Will it restore her to control over her own life and destiny? Will it lead to freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.’”

Maureen Watson, Wagga Wagga, Australia: “After hearing reports from the IPA Review and Finance Committee, I am happily challenged at the possibilities which arise from these factual presentations. We had time for clarification, for initial reactions, and later shared a conversation about possible recommendations. We have now been introduced to the essence of the content of the Assembly. I am energized by the thought of the possibilities of the coming days.”

Day Three

The third day of the Assembly began with prayer led by the Sisters from the English Province. Victoria, Australia and Staten Island NY shared their symbols. Later in the day, Sisters from the Philippines led the Assembly in prayer and the Sisters from South Dakota and New Windsor shared the symbols of their congregations.

The participants spent the day in conversation on the topics that form the content of the Assembly. These topics included the choice of an IPA global issue, how IPA could become financially self sustaining, strategic planning, and clarifying the roles of the Justice Contacts and the Leadership in IPA.

The day concluded with planning for the Field Experiences on the following day.

Reflections by Participants:

Catherine Cleary, New Windsor, USA: Filled with your Spirit, how will you grow? The IPA participants took the verse of the morning hymn to heart as they listened to one another’s reflections and each other’s hopes, excitement and challenges around the proposed next steps on IPA’s journey. Listening, reflecting, clarifying and discussing resulted in a deepening of the issues we need to address if IPA is to engage the global Presentation community of Sisters and Associates. Our day ended with three issues that must be addressed: 1) What is the global issue(s) IPA will focus on for the future? 2) How will we finance the IPA? 3) What role descriptions in IPA need to be clarified?”

Kaye Bryan, Wagga Wagga, Australia: “Today began for me at 6.30am with a shared directed meditation under a mango tree. Work began in earnest at 8.30am. It was a well conducted program that demanded concentration as we shared with individuals and our ‘home’ group thoughts and feelings on the content of the Assembly. Sharing in the general Assembly came later in the day. It was a day that asked of us honesty, openness and trust in one another. I felt proud to belong to a group with such integrity. Our final act was to choose our field experience for tomorrow. There is much to look forward to.”

Trinita Laffan, South East Province, Ireland: “At 6.30am the Assembly participants began today’s search for God through breaking Eucharistic bread together or through eco-meditation. At 8.30am a creative approach to reflecting on “Jesus our Gospel Model for Ministry” enabled us together to assemble a face of Jesus gazing in compassion at our world. Yesterday’s work continued. There was a freshness and an energy around multiple brief conversations on the key issues emerging. Sharing the fruits of these one-on-one conversations at a “visitor table”, at our “home table” and for the whole Assembly gave us a deep sense of the burning issues emerging. The day was contemplative as we took quiet time or song time to “listen to the voice of the earth and the voice of the poor” knowing that while “the voices are different, the song is the same”. Tomorrow’s speaker Medha Patkar and field experiences later among Bangalore’s most deprived (courtesy of NGOs) will hopefully lead us into a still deeper place of listening.”

Day Four

During day four the Assembly participants listened to prophets who called them to awaken the prophet within each of them. The day opened with prayer led by the Sisters from Australia and with the sharing of symbols from the Indian and Wagga Wagga communities.

The participants were then privileged to have as a speaker for the morning, Medha Patkar, activist and prophet. Medha tai (sister) as she is particularly known, has been fighting for the right to life and livelihood for those people who get nudged to the sidewalks of life in a nation’s search for growth and prosperity. She spoke passionately to the Assembly of the dreams, stories, struggles, and reconstructive work of the people “who have kept the world going and the rivers flowing”.

She reminded the participants that these people who are considered “marginalized” are at the centre of everything – they clean the latrines, do domestic work, keep factories going and have real knowledge about how to live life to the full. Their importance is not just ignored and they are not just neglected but they are exploited by the governments who act as agents for multicultural corporations instead of serving the people. Her words were challenging and contemplative. She urged the participants not just to listen but to live and to act!

In the afternoon and evening, the participants went in groups of eight to experience the prophetic work of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in the Bangalore area. Fatima Rodrigo, Annmary Andrews, Margaret Power and Gladys Solomon had done a great deal of work to organise the field experience with NGO projects such as a Dream School for child laborers, street children, school dropouts and children of migrant laborers; the impact of tourism in India on women and children; and rural women’s self-help groups.

Reflections by Participants:

Lois Green, Newfoundland: “Today we moved from our facilitated discussions to a ‘slice of life’ of India. Medha Patkar, one of the most passionate voices for justice that I have ever heard, called us to stand up and be counted in a real human chain, not a symbolic one. She spoke with authority of the evils of multi-nationalism and the erosion of democracy and how we can be seduced by both. Deep inside us we heard the voice of the voiceless! We also heard praise for Nano’s Daughters in India. The challenge – ‘Watch how you present yourself, Presentation women!’

This afternoon, we visited seven different sites in groups of eight. I heard from women who were survivors of horrendous marital situations and who were now helping others in similar situations. Donna Fernandez and Medhu Bhushan, their leaders in the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council, were as passionate as Medha. It was a difficult, challenging and gifted day. I am humbled before these women who are to Bangalore and India what Nano was to Cork.”

Inez Fernandez, Union, working in Zambia: “The gathering ritual of the day brought memories of those Sisters who landed in Orlim, Goa, fifty years ago. I remember them by sending energies of love and appreciation. Another great lady visited us today, Medha Patkar, a true daughter of India. She left me astounded with what she said. Her life is a challenge; she’s a Nano of my day. Through her I hear various calls:

  • To be creative in my ministry, in my strategies when working with people
  • The need to live among those made poor, so that I know the difference
  • To be with people in their struggle
  • To be with people in their human justice
  • To pledge for truth
  • To disobey laws for justice
  • To be nature/people friendly in my work for development
  • To listen, but then what…

My field visit took me to meet two younger women of passion for our environment, working for environmental justice and support; standing and walking with those made poor, as they struggle with globalization and sustainability; doing advocacy, research and training to care for our environment; monitoring groups who deal with environmental issues; caring for our water sources and forests. As I reflect, I feel encouraged and empowered to find daughters of Nano in Bangalore city.”

Day Five

The fifth day of the Assembly began with prayer under the trees prepared by the Sisters from Africa.

In the morning the Sisters from Fargo and from Queensland shared their Congregations’ symbols. Some time was then spent reflecting on the learnings from the previous day’s field experiences and sharing those in the whole group.

After the morning tea break Devinder Sharma, an Indian journalist, writer, thinker, and agricultural scientist, spoke to the group about the politics of food and agriculture. He spoke about the scourge of hunger, the displacement of people caused by the migrations of farmers from rural to urban areas, the suicide of Indian farmers and the global agricultural and trade policies and practices that keep so many people hungry.

In the afternoon prayer was led by the Sisters from Latin America. Sisters from Western Australia and the United States Province of the Union shared their symbols.

The participants were given an opportunity for journaling and dialogue on the difference that their experience in India and at the IPA Assembly will make in their lives.

The participants unanimously affirmed their commitment to IPA and its mission in a simple ritual.

At 5.00pm the participants celebrated a Eucharist in the form of an Indian liturgy. This was followed by a cultural performance presented by the National Biblical Catechetical Liturgical Centre.

Reflections by Participants:

Mary Bruggy, Lismore, Australia: “The young dancers who shared their talents at the Mass were later joined by others who delighted us with a fest of Biblical stories and Indian culture. Each day of the Assembly has been a unique and rich experience and it’s a privilege to be here!”

Pam Chiesa, San Francisco, USA: “I was very moved by the African Sunrise morning prayer. As we sat beneath sun-dappled trees and blessed the earth, I looked around the circle at all Nano’s daughters from around the world and felt a profound intersection of past, present and future Presentation dreams. We do, indeed, walk one!”

Selma George, Peru, Latin America: “The gathering ritual of the day led us to remember our ancestors and our interdependence and inter-connectedness to the earth and all of creation. Stories are powerful means to keep alive the values and relationship in every human community. As I gather the stories of today, what comes to my mind is ‘the Quilt Weaver’.

We need new stories for our time
Even new story tellers.
We need new myths, magic and mystery
We need to find new spaces for our imaginations
Gathering subjugated-knowledge, seeking ancient wisdom, listening to the many voices from the margins, speaking, listening to the many more unspoken
Remembering our roots
Knowing our wisdoms
Written on the barks of trees
Woven on the insides of our skins
Searching for the river beneath the river
Of paths yet to be found
Of ancient ways; of new ways,
Of forgotten and future ways
Listening to the earth.
Listening to woman as she weaves into her quilt worlds of wisdom, creating new meanings, new metaphors, keeping children warm, making the depths of old wisdoms visible.
Listening to the song of the wind
Listening for the stories – stop listening and
weave into the fabric of life.

Gleanings from our field visit emerged as a pool of shared experiences and from there a pool of shared meaning, which I carry home with conviction and courage, with passion and strong faith in the power of women to make a difference, to transform lives and living communities.

Mr Devinder Sharma, a journalist and an agricultural scientist, shared his wisdom, knowledge and his pioneering efforts in exposing the plight of the Indian farmers. He challenged us to look critically at our developmental systems, treaties and conventions.

Nano was alive and present with us and with great joy we welcomed the unanimous affirmation of our strong belief in the mission of IPA and its future.

The Catechetical and Liturgical Centre brought light and joy to us by the beautiful dances they performed and the meaningful Indian rite liturgy.”

Day Six

Day six began with prayer led by the Sisters from the United States of America. The Sisters from Latin America shared their symbol.

The task of the day was to listen to the desires of our own hearts and the wisdom of one another in deciding the directions that need to come forth from this Assembly.

In the afternoon, the Sisters from Papua New Guinea led the Assembly in prayer. They then presented their country’s symbol, as did Zambia.

A number of participants were missioned to do preparatory work or synthesizing work for tomorrow.

Reflections by Participants:

Maria Lazzaro, Victoria, Australia: “Our prayer this morning, led by our Sisters from the North American Conference, opened our hearts for the work of this day. The stories included in the prayer brought to our attention the impact of unjust trade practices on the lives of people in many parts of the globe. We owned our own betrayal of those people in the ways we have failed to create and live in just community the entire human family. As we moved into reflection and conversations with one another, we engaged in deep listening, hearing our passion and heart’s call for the earth and its people. Many voices, one song!”

Dorothy Scesny, New Windsor, United States: “A magnificent sunrise and the melody of a variety of singing birds were the backdrop for this morning’s call to worship. The mystical chant VANDHANA “Praise you Lord, I worship you Lord.” This chant prepared our hearts to hear the word and break the Bread at morning liturgy. The Sisters from the Conference shared morning prayer which called us to hear and respond to the cry of those in need. This prayer was the perfect introduction to our talk of the morning: Do we affirm the need to choose and act upon a single global issue for all members of IPA? The decision was unanimous so we set ourselves to the task of discerning the issue. The process entailed the simple method of sitting in a circle and prayerfully listening to each other. This listening circle was a powerful experience of the “holy” among us.

The afternoon flowed out of the prayerful atmosphere of the listening circle as we continued to seek out our response to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor. My heart rejoices deep within me, for I have seen and touched the face of Nano in each Sister here!”

Suzanne Takes, Bolivia, Latin America: “The gathering prayer this morning set the tone for today as we listened to the voices of those made poor by unjust structures and excessive wealth.
The APLA group while presenting their symbols compared the process of the weaving of the basket by the Guarani women in Bolivia to the spiral effect of the Latin American women’s groups, APLA and IPA uniting in solidarity and making their voices heard.

Our sharing about our hopes for the Assembly outcome was encouraging as we heard different voices with the same message of mutuality and reverence for all peoples and mother earth. During the Listening Circle we heard and pondered our collective wisdom, the Spirit’s wisdom that will lead us to take our next steps together.”

Day Seven

Day seven began with prayer led by the Sisters from New Zealand.

The task of the Assembly was to continue to work on forming the directions to come from the Assembly. This work was done in the whole group as well as in the smaller groups of Leaders, Justice Contacts and Members.

By the end of the day, significant agreement was reached on the Directions for Mission, the IPA global issue, and the call to commitment to IPA Members, Justice Contacts and IPA Leaders.

In the afternoon we prayed with and for the Sisters from Pakistan who were unable to obtain visas to come to India for the Assembly.

At the end of the day Miriam Martin (Newfoundland) was formally thanked for writing the theme song for the Assembly, a song which she added to as the Assembly progressed. Miriam was also part of the Liturgy group for Assembly rituals.

Sister Aurea Dias (Zambia) was formally thanked for designing and printing the Assembly logo and the Sisters from Ballygriffin were thanked for composing the Assembly prayer.

Sharon Altendorf (Fargo) who completes two terms as the IPA NGO Representative at the United Nations was formally thanked for her committed, capable, and ground breaking work as IPA’s first NGO Representative.

Marlette Black (Queensland) was thanked for the work she has done in her role as IPA Networker.

A cultural program was presented to the participants before dinner. The program was presented by differently abled children.

Reflections by Participants:

Maris Stella Korb, Fargo, USA: “This was the day for decision-making and bringing closure to the business at hand! Thanks to excellent facilitators, the agenda moved far more rapidly than anticipated. This was especially true in the work of the Justice Contacts. The most difficult but necessary task of the Assembly was to identify a specific, concrete, workable goal on which IPA would focus for the next four years. The goal would have to be an issue around which IPA could both rally support and achieve results. Within a maximum of one short hour, approximately twenty Justice Contacts, facilitated by Marlette Black, spelled out a goal that not only won unanimous acceptance by all the participants, but also held promise of total Assembly acceptance! It was truly an amazing moment! From my perspective it was yet another testimony to the attentive listening, careful discerning and concentrated energy that has permeated this Assembly throughout the past week.”

Peta Anne Molloy, Queensland, Australia: “The day began with prayer led by the New Zealand Sisters. Their theme, Women in Full Flight, led us to reflect on the responses women, including Mary, have made to God’s call to reach out to the poor. In the discussion session, I was impressed by the depth of passion and commitment as Sisters expressed a range of opinions. Throughout the day, there was a respectful listening to the different viewpoints. Renee’s gentle facilitation kept us focused, as did her sense of humor. The small writing groups drew together what we had been saying. I was amazed and delighted at how the various statements showed a continuity; the Spirit is here! Our prayer in solidarity with the Pakistan Sisters had an added significance; they are so close in the adjacent country but they were unable to join us.”

Mary Rossiter, Northern Province, Ireland: “Long day. Many words but less than expected. Facilitation gentle yet firm, respecting the flow – the heart of the matter. White cards raised – instruments of communication, respectful of difference. The power of the spirit as her presence is felt in the shifting (changing) so as to make secure the statements put forward setting the way forward together. As a first timer at such an event, I am continuously stretched by the hard work, dedication and commitment of all here. It has been a long day, serious but lots of laughter too. Although tired, physically and mentally, it is a state of Happy Tired as we progress together into Presentation Day.”

Day Eight

The final day of the Assembly began with a Eucharistic celebration to celebrate Presentation Day. This was the first time in the 230 year history of Presentation Sisters that a group of Presentation Sisters from around the world gathered to celebrate their Feast Day.

The Assembly joyfully celebrated Mary’s belief in God’s promise that the lowly, those on the edges, those made poor would be raised up. With dancing, singing and rituals from many different cultures, the Eucharist was a celebration of our communion and our rich diversity.

Assembly participants made final decisions about our Mission Direction, the IPA Glorbal Issue, and the commitments we are invited to make.

We declared:

Conscious of our identity as Presentation women, we listen deeply to the cry of the earth heard most loudly in the cry of those made poor and are moved to attend with urgency to the woundedness of our global community.

In these critical times, it is imperative that we find ways to ensure that human dignity is everywhere upheld and honoured and that we name, challenge, and seek to change the systems and lifestyles in which we are complicit and which contribute to the present extremes of wealth and poverty and the degradation of the earth. Therefore, we will address the root causes of poverty, especially by confronting personal and corporate greed which exploit earth, her peoples, and the whole community of life.

Assembly participants spent some time discussing how they could communicate to their Sisters, Associates, and co-workers the passion for IPA and its mission that they had experienced at the Assembly.

The final ritual called us to be women of the light and included the planting of a mango tree inthe beautiful grounds of the Ecumenical Christian Centre with a sign that says:

“We declare our responsibility
to the greater community of life
and to the future generations.”
Earth Charter
International Presentation Association 2007

The Assembly concluded with a multicultural event – a joyful celebration of the cultural diversity of the Assembly participants.

Reflections by Participants:

Sheila Quonoey, Wagga, Australia: “Being in India for Presentation Day was a wonderful experience. Greeting each other, receiving a floral emblem, celebration Eucharist in a rich and colourful way. Reaching our decisions, satisfying all voices felt great – a deep sense of union.”

Ruth Coleman, New Zealand: “The day began with resounding greetings of ‘Happy Feast Day’, ‘Happy Presentation Day’ and I felt a great surge of joy swelling up in me as for the first time this global group of Presentation women celebrated Presentation Day together. This joy continued through the liturgy especially during the sharing of our founding stories and Nanos of today. A huge sense of pride when ‘courage’ (seemingly unanimous) resounded through the chapel. This sense of courage and the challenges that lie ahead was further reinforced with the acceptance of the goals and the final commitment of ‘Light’ to carry us on our way culminating in the planting of the tree left one feeling elated and thankful for this wonderful experience though I know this just the beginning calling one to ‘go one pace beyond’.”

Julianna Purcell, South East Province, Ireland: “Greeting everyone for Presentation Day had such a rich flavour that the essence of our international reality will linger with each of us long into our future at home. Our gathering for Mass in such a beautifully prepared sacred space followed simple things like each of choosing a flower to take in with us took on a whole new meaning when we were invited to share our prayer with one other person next to us, our flowers representing our prayer were gathered and taken up in the offertory procession and after Mass used to decorate our Assembly Hall connecting our Mass to the rest of the day.

Moving to the rhythm of the Magnificat with such simple and significant gestures is another tangible way that the experience of the Assembly can be spread by each of us in our time and place. Each of our culture’s formal expression in our celebrating Eucharist together and like all rich nourishment needs to be held in our hearts and pondered on into the future.

Formalizing the work of the Assembly was also a very significant moment. Experiencing this for the first time was profound and humbling, reaching into the part of me, that I hope will give rise to action; the naming that first step for me in my own environment and carrying it through until it becomes a global reality.”

Anna Manyonga, Zimbabwe: Presentation Day was a fitting climax and end to the IPA Assembly. I send positive energy to all the Presentation women, Associates, and co-workers on this our special day. It has been a wonderful experience here at Bangalore in India where the day was celebrated by Presentation women from all over the world. The tone of the day for me was set by the joyful celebration of the Eucharist that marked that start of the day. The words from the hymn by Liam Lawton which we used for the meditation song after communion expresses it accurately for me: ‘There’s a time to be grateful for moments so blessed.’ Indeed this has been a blessed moment, a blessed day. In the spirit of such a joyful celebration we went into the session where under the guidance of Nano and Mary, our mother, and under the gentle direction of Renee, the facilitator, we formalized our directions for IPA Assembly 2007. The closing ritual could not have been any better. The ritual of lights and the planting of the mango tree were so symbolic. It spoke to me of the life of IPA and the planting of IPA decisions in our hearts. Then the multicultural event was so joyful. It was great to experience such talent among us. We had great fun and really enjoyed ourselves. It was such a great honor for me to be one of the MCs. Then the evening meal was so delicious as befitting such an important day for us.

All I can say is as the morning reflection said, this was such a blessed day for the international Presentation family. One of the Sisters asked me if I missed the Sisters at home and my response to her was ‘I wish they could all be here to experience this blessed day’.”

Joy Peterson, Dubuque, USA: “‘We proclaim that there is an unquenchable fire shining within each person… that it cannot be contained.’ As we celebrated the Presentation Day liturgy, approved the Assembly goals, and prayed the closing ritual these lines summarized for me what I was feeling and sensing in the gathering. The closing day sends us forth to celebrate our heritage and live our commitments to confront injustice through our IPA mission. The beautiful fire lamps we each carried from the Assembly wonderfully reflected the passion and enthusiasm we garnered from these days.”