Sisters Yvette Arnold (Congregational Secretary), Ellen Kelly (Congregational Leader), Agnes-Claire Koh and Grace Chiong (Singapore), Sandamali Wathegedara and Sadhani Walmillage (Sri Lanka), Josita Corera (Congregational Leadership Team)
After 5 months of being in the programme, dare we say interculturality – sharing life with others from different culture is the essence of our experience? We are a cohort of 33 women religious from 25 Countries and 23 Congregations. What a variety of uniqueness, diversity and richness of cultures and personalities, yet we are all the same – God’s created beings, sharing this same experience of formation training together here in Rome.
It was quite a journey to move from just facing each other’s differences to what was emphasized by Sr Lynn Levo, CSJ, in her Human Development and Sexuality sessions. She stressed that the way to wholesome relating of self and others is through mutual respect, accepting differences, inclusiveness and to foster the ‘both/and’ attitude and perspective. To rub shoulders with the others while working together on small group tasks and big projects like Cultural Day really brought our differences to the fore and put what Sr Lynn taught to the test.
Fortunately, we had monthly Integration Days, meeting with our Spiritual Directors and small group sharing to help us along. However, it would have been a richer programme if growth assessments were also implemented to have hands on experience of feedback, evaluation and assessments after we have finished with our respective assigned leadership roles whether as small group or big group leaders.
We had a wonderful 8-day retreat in the Ad Gentes Centro, up in Nemi, run by the SVD (Society of the Divine Word) fathers. We enjoyed the cool mountain air, the scenery of Lake Nemi and its spectacular sunset, the flora and fauna of the place and space to walk in the property. What really made a difference was that the liturgy was tailored to suit the theme of each day and where we were in our Spiritual journey. We greatly appreciated the respective sharing by both the priests and the religious sisters after each day’s Gospel reading. It was an occasion to balance our feminine and masculine energy within us, that we are both created and honoured by God.
The resource personnel who presented their talks to us, religious women and men were specialist in their field. Most of their inputs were rich, relevant and thought provoking as they presented from perspectives that stretched our minds and touched our hearts. What was most impressive was that we could ‘catch’ their love for God, their passion for Formation as their mission and their generosity in sharing whatever they know with us.
A special session was organised for us to visit the International Novitiate at the Generalate of the Servants of the Holy Spirit Sisters. The Novice Directress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Order of St Ursuline shared on their learnings in managing the International Novitiate. Their sharings broadened our perspective on shared resources and interculturality in the International Novitiate. They also shared that past Novices had given good reviews on their experiences of living in an International Novitiate. With the lack of formators and small number of vocations around most parts of the world, that seemed to be the way forward in initial formation.
Coming from Asia and living in Rome was another intercultural experience. We braved the cold as we travelled early every day to UISG and Angelicum for our classes. Now we suffer the heat as Rome gets hotter in June. We learnt what it was like to run after Roman trams and public buses to get to our destinations. We cultivated our palette for pizzas, pastas and potatoes while sometimes thinking of curry, chillies and rice. We navigated through Italian Masses and by and by learnt how to respond in Italian as well. We even mastered some basic Italian words and phrases to get by. We understood better what it meant that ‘when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do.’
Aside from going for classes, we included as part of our learnings to ‘roam’ Rome. We experienced how pilgrims felt when we visited well-known Basilicas, Churches and other Holy Sites. We also became tourists when we visited historical sites and delighted in seeking out the best gelato in Rome.
‘Gratitude is the memory of the heart.’ So we thank UISG for reviving this Formation Course after a lapse of 10 years. We thank our Congregation for sending us to this course. And we thank Rome -San Giovanni Eudes’ Community for hosting us. Together with the community members, we are 9 comprising of 6 nationalities. It was challenging at first due to a lack of common language and different cultures, yet eventually we could relate through the language of the heart and focus on our sameness, family members of St John Eudes and St Mary Euphrasia. That ultimately, is what interculturality is all about. Grazie Mille!