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Bridging Cultures

Author: 
Eilis McCulloh, HM

During my novitiate, I have been able to continue my ministry with refugees through Migration & Refugee Services (MRS). For some time, a few sisters and I have talked about bringing a group of refugees to our motherhouse (Villa Maria) for a weekend. The idea finally came to fruition in January when I, along with other sisters and our retreat center welcomed a group of single moms and their children to the Villa. Each family had recently resettled in Cleveland, OH after spending years in refugee camps across Africa and Nepal. Resettling—starting life over again—in a new country is difficult. Adjusting to a new culture, speaking a different language, going to school, finding a job, maintaining a household…they are all new. At Villa Maria, we hoped to give each family time to just “be.”

I was eager to introduce the sisters to the families with whom I work. I was also eager to introduce the families to my home (the Villa Maria). More importantly, I wanted to better integrate the two and give each group the opportunity to interact. One girl asked if she could perform a traditional Bhutanese dance for everyone at the Villa. “Yes!” I thought. After she danced, one sister managed to pull everyone into a circle to do the hokey pokey. I looked all around the room…sisters, retreatants, and refugees—all from different backgrounds and age groups were laughing and dancing together. One dance bridged all differences.

I think I can sum up the gifts and learnings of the weekend with these words: partnership/building relationships, trust, welcoming, and joy.

Partnerships: Without the enthusiasm of VMESC (our retreat and spirituality center), the HM community, and MRS the weekend wouldn’t have happened. Many sisters helped with group activities for the kids and moms.

Trust: We all risked the unknown. In a last-minute planning meeting, we finally had to “let go” and trust that the weekend would work out and that it would be what everyone needed. Each family also risked the unknown and trusted us to bring them to a new place. Children trusted the adults as they learned to swim and overcome their fears.

Welcoming: The refugee committees and HM Community share the spirit of hospitality. We always welcome one more person for a meal, a cup of chai, quiet time, friendship, etc. Before they arrived at the Villa, sisters kept asking me, “Are they here yet? We can’t wait to meet them!” They welcomed each person with open arms and, by their presence, shared our charism.

Joy: I think joy is central to our lives as HM Sisters. We have fun together! The same was true for this weekend. Joy and laughter filled the weekend as they visited the farm (and even fed the sheep!), went swimming for the first time, played in the gym, and colored mandalas. For us, it colored our experiences of pulling scooters, bandaging cut fingers, drying tears, and sharing laughter.

It warms my heart each time a sister asks, “When are they coming back?” When seeing one of the children at the office last week, she told me, “I want to go back to your BIG house!” Strategically, we could say the weekend was a success. But, more importantly, the weekend was a success because we all shared in a new experience of building community and bearing witness to the movement of the Spirit, fulfillment of dreams, and contagious joy!