I recently attended World Youth Day’s one day event in D.C. with my friend and Sister Kelly. For me going to participate in this day was about bringing a modern presence to what I correctly assumed would be a gathering of traditional Catholics. The moment which stands out to me most from that day was a woman Kelly and I met at the Vocation Coffee House.
The Vocation Coffee House gathered near the end of the day and all the religious attending World Youth Day had been invited to attend. The idea was to have a bunch of people present in case any young adults wished to talk about discernment or vocations. We ran into another Sister from our community and the three of us waited together for some who wanted people to talk. Eventually a young woman came by and mentioned to us that she had wanted to talk to some Sisters. Proudly our Sister Ivette announced that the three of us were all Sisters and very happy to answer any questions she might have. Unfortunately, she took one look at us and clammed up. After repeating that she had simply wanted to talk to a Sister she wandered away from us. At the time I suppose we shocked her too much in some way.
Later in the evening Kelly and I had a similar encounter with another young woman who was surprised to learn the women she had been chatting with were both Sisters. Kelly pointed to her sweater which boldly displays the title, “FUN NUN” in large letters. Kelly’s sweater and my ‘Mercy for Justice’ t-shirt notwithstanding the two of us just didn’t appear to be Sisters to those gathered at World Youth Day. These encounters mirror my daily experience – ‘You can’t be a nun,’ people say. I’m too young, have too many piercings in my ears, etc. It isn’t until people get to know me in the context of ministry that I am ‘visible’ as a young religious.
Kelly shared a similar thought after we left D.C. She said, “This weekend renewed within me the pressing need to share about Religious Life on social media in a particular way.” Perhaps this is a call to share our lives more. It is hard to ask ourselves, ‘What more can we do to share the gift our vocation’ when we are all doing so much already. Yet, we are still as surprising as unicorns. As I reflect on my encounters during that day I can only name my experience as one of radical presence in spite of my low visibility.
During our day we were asked to bless a boy and his father, met old and new friends, spent time with Sisters from all walks of life, and met curious young adults seeking a greater understanding of God’s love and call to mission. These moments of encounter were the highlights of my day and required me to be as authentic as I could be- both as myself and as Sister. I did my best to meet the unexpected, and it was a gift to be present and carry the gifts God has given me into the world. It was a great responsibility, and one I hope to grow into as I deepen my commitment to the life to which God has called me.