Mercy urges us to be with and for the poor and distressed, working for social justice and well being, seeking to bring rich and poor together in mutual love and service.
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In response to this call, Mercy Cashel sought new horizons at the Chapter of 1979. A decision was taken to send sisters to a developing country, and four sisters, Breda Allen, Catarina Ryan, Esther Murphy and Ella Noonan set out for Brazil on December the 11th 1982.
The sisters spent the first three months in Brazil with the Louis sisters in central Brazil, their kindness and hospitality eased the pain of separation. Struggling in language school in Brasilia where they mixed with thirty-six missionaries from twelve different countries occupied their time from March until July. There followed a six-month experience of seeing the Church in action in the largest city in South America, Sao Paulo, where they joined the Maryknoll fathers in their programme for new missionaries. With Sr Regina Kelly, then leader of the Cashel Mercies, they made their decision to work in the North East of Brazil among a socially, economically and politically deprived people.
CAPTION: (Campina Grande)
The sisters moved to Campina Grande in the State of Paraiba in February 1984. In order to become more familiar with the language, culture and religious ways of the people, the Bishop, Dom Luiz Gongaza Fernandez asked each of the sisters to spend three months in different Brazilian communities inserted among the poor. It was a worthwhile experience and made the joy all the greater when on May the 13th 1984, they formed the first Mercy community in Brazil. They chose to live in closeness to the poor, in a small house on the edge of the city, in the barrio of 'Liberdade' situated in the parish of Nostra Senhora das Gracias.
They were welcomed to become part of the parish team and met fortnightly to discuss and evaluate pastoral work and to plan a programme for action. It was an excellent leaning experience. The two year diocesan policy of decentralisation of parishes, formation of Basic Christian communities, solidarity with the suffering poor, commitment to youth was their point of reference those early years of coping with change to a new culture.
Vision for a new Church
Mercy Ireland, the first coming together of the various dioceses in Ireland became a reality for us with the arrival of Gabrielle Kieran from the diocese of Killaloe. Soon afterwards Martina Bourke and Delia O Connor joined the group. After they finished language school, one of the dreams of the pioneers was realised - the opening of a second house. On January the 4th 1988, Catarina, Breda and Gabrielle moved further out on the edge of the city, to Cathanguiera, still within the same parish, and so continued to work on the parish team. In the parish there were seventeen basic Christian communities and the sisters were closely involved with ten of these. It was a fulfilling yet demanding task including work on the area of catechesis, liturgy, Bible reflection, literacy, political formation and pastoral care of the child.
Like all religious communities, there were changes of personnel as time went on; some sisters returned to Ireland, others came to take their place. In July 1990, Geraldine McGoohan joined the group. She was followed by Mary Connaughton and Agnes Coll who arrived in July 1991. It was time to start on the missionary road again since Diocesan policy of the Brazilian Church was that a community should remain about six or seven years in an area and then move on. After reflection, it was decided to work in a rural area, in a village called Juazeirinho situated in a semi arid area of Paraiba. On February the 25th 1993, Ella, Agnes, Geraldine, Mary and Delia moved there. They experienced, with the people, the difficulties of living in a drought stricken area. They continued working within the parish structures, but also became involved with educational and health programmes
In July 1993, Miriam Brennan joined the group and having completed language school, went to live in Catenguira. In July 1994, Luarena McCormack joined Breda and Miriam there. Next to come was Kathleen McGarrigle who arrived in January 1995 and became part of the community in Juazeirinho.
When we began our mission in 1983, our stated policy was to work within Parish and Diocesan structures. However changes were coming about in the Church. There was a move away from the Basic Christian communities and back to the centralization of the parish. The Church's option for the poor became less evident. All this led the sisters to reflect on their role as Mercy in Brazil and to consider alternative ways of mission to be close to the marginalised. Chapter decisions too led us to work in greater closeness with women who are doubly discriminated against. It was in the light of this reflection that Caterina and Gabrielle began in a new area, in the city of Joao Pessoa. In February 1996 they moved there and began working with women's groups, reflecting on the Bible and with people who are HIV positive.
The sisters from various congregations, who live among the poor, continue to meet together to search for the best ways to remain faithful to the Gospel challenge. They reflect on and study eco feminist theology. They also celebrate together at the high points of the Church calendar.
CAPTION: (Sunrise Brazil)
Another important feature of our experience in Brazil is the participation in the Latin American and Caribbean Mercy conferences. In February 1990, Breda and Gabrielle attended the conference in Lima, Peru, a first link up with Mercy sisters working in several countries in South America. A Mercy bond deepens as we reflect together on questions relating to women, multiculturalism and globalisation. In 1996 Ella represented Mercy Brazil attending the First International Mercy Justice Conference held in Dublin, while Gabrielle attended the conference in Johannesburg in 2001. There is a very real sense of belonging to a worldwide network of Mercy sisters working for justice and the dignity of women.