August 28, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Neighbors in an abandoned area of Detroit, people evicted from their ancestral lands and living in a “squatters’ community” in a desert area of the Dominican Republic, and the homeless population in the State of Washington. People in these situations were able to overcome their desperate circumstances, form community, and improve their lives with the help of individual Adrian Dominican Sisters.
| VIEW A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE PRESENTATION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE |
The Sisters who ministered with the people to form these communities shared what they learned during an educational forum that was designed to help others in the Congregation to help create resiliency in their own communities. One of four Enactments of General Chapter 2016 commits the Congregation to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and integrity.”
Although resilient communities can be defined in a number of ways, the Adrian Dominican Sisters have adopted this working definition: “one that has a long-range sustainable vision that emerges from the community through an inclusive, collaborative process that engages diverse grassroots leaders and persons who have traditionally been marginalized; creates partnerships built on trust; seeks equity and justice; draws on spiritual wisdom and is healing; and reflects a concern for future generations, living within Earth’s regenerative capacity (i.e., ‘one-planet thinking’). These elements combine to promote the well-being and vitality of the community and its ability to address ongoing stressors from crises or disasters and sustain itself into the future.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Leadership Council designated 2018 as a year of study about resilient communities. Resiliency in our Midst, held on August 22 at Weber Retreat & Conference Center, brought forward the personal experiences of Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Judy Byron, OP.
While the ministries they spoke of differ, the three Sisters also spoke of ways that they specifically fit the Congregation’s working definition of resilient communities. Many of these communities fit a number of aspects of the definition, but below are highlights.
In their ministry, Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Renee Richie, OP, waked with and fostered the leadership abilities of the local women living with their families in a cluster of houses – essentially a “squatter’s community” at the crossroads of Cruce de Arroyo Honda in the Dominican Republic. “We told them we couldn’t lead the meetings because our Spanish wasn’t good,” Sister Maurine said. They role-played with the women so that they could manage an upcoming meeting – and helped them to build up their confidence. “About a dozen women emerged as leaders.”
Once the women came to understand that God did not want them to be poor, they worked together to meet the community needs that they themselves identified. Working as committees, they brought to their community prefabricated latrines; medical services, such as weekly consultations by two doctors, a pharmacy, and a medical lab; and Fe y Alegria Espiritu Santo, a school that began with 127 first-grade students ages 6 to 16. Because of earlier lack of educational opportunities, many of the students began first grade at an older age. The school now boasts a K-12 program with 1,500 students and professional teachers who graduated from their school.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Associate Patricia Gillis founded Voices for Earth Justice as an interfaith community “praying, learning, and taking action together for Earth justice.” The community was developed to address the environmental injustice plaguing the people of Detroit. In 2011, they purchased five lots with two buildings in the Brightmoor area of Detroit and built Hope House as a “gathering place and resource for neighbors and visitors,” especially around the area of environmental justice.
Voices for Earth Justice offers a number of workshops and retreats and leads the community in actions such as climate marches and lobbying with legislators, but remains focused on spirituality. “Prayer was and is our focus – to bring people together to pray for peace for all creation,” Sister Janet said. “We believe a spiritual transformation was needed to make the pollution and destruction stop.”
Sister Judy Byron, OP, serves on the Board of Directors of Mercy Housing Northwest, an organization founded in 1992 through a collaboration of five communities of women religious in the Seattle area – including the Edmonds Dominican Sisters, now merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters – and Mercy Housing, Inc. The goal was to create stable, permanent, affordable housing for groups that could otherwise be homeless, including low-income families, seniors, and immigrants and refugees.
Today, Mercy Housing Northwest manages about 54 properties, residential complexes in the State of Washington that offer services such wellness and after-school programs. Many of those complexes were developed through partnerships. For example, Emerald City Commons – a 60-unit complex in Seattle – was developed through collaboration with an evangelical church, which had owned the property and wanted to build housing on it. Mercy Housing Northwest partnered with them to develop the complex, Sister Judy said. She explained that Mercy Housing Northwest also collaborates with government organizations, foundations, and other social service and non-profit agencies to develop housing for people in need.
The models described by Sisters Janet, Maurine, and Judy can serve as inspiration for the various Resilient Communities Committees in the Congregation’s Mission Chapters explore areas in their geographic region where they can work with local residents to create resilient communities.
Feature photo (top): Sister Christa Marsik, OP, poses a question to one of the three panelists speaking during the Resiliency in our Midst educational forum.
From left, Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP, and Judy Byron, OP, listen to Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, during a panel presentation. Associate Dee Joyner, Director of Resilient Communities, listens from the podium.
August 23, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the United States are known for their work for justice. Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Philippines in the Philippines also have been fighting for years against issues of injustice in their own nation.
During a recent visit to the Adrian Motherhouse, three Sisters from the Philippines – Sisters Antonette Lumbang, OP, Bibiana (Bless) Colastio, OP, and Marissa Figueroa, OP – gave an update on their own work for justice.
Sister Antonette, Justice Promoter for the Remedies Chapter, began her presentation with a video that demonstrated the horrors of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” This war results in the extra-judicial killing of drug dealers and users – many times by contract killers who take orders from the police. More than 4,000 people were killed in three months through this policy of extra-judicial killing.
“It’s still the same, two years and two months after [President] Duterte was elected,” Sister Antonette said. “Human rights continue to deteriorate … Gross violations of civil and political rights are happening alongside worsening deprivations of economic, social, and cultural rights.”
Human rights advocates also face the threat of violence. Sister Bless noted that three priests who advocated for human rights were gunned down in recent months. Sister Patricia Fox, NDS, a Sister of Our Lady of Sion from Australia, and a human rights activist stationed in the Philippines, was deported as an “undesirable alien” on September 4 when her missionary visa expired – after 30 years of serving the people in the Philippines, Sister Antonette said.
Sister Antonette also spoke of the exploitation of the ancestral land of the indigenous Aeta people by private investors and quarry companies.
“Before the Aeta are forced to leave their ancestral land for lack of water or livelihood, they are seeking compensation and help in regulating the quarrying and stopping the conversion that shrunk their territories,” Sister Antonette said. On January 30 this year, she said, the Aeta people put up barricades on their land to keep out the trucks that were coming in to work in the quarries; they have remained on their barricaded land ever since.
Sister Antonette said the Sisters from the Remedies Chapter have been involved in such strategies as prayer and fasting, rallies and mass demonstrations, lobbying at Congress, and education campaigns. In addition, Sisters Bless and Marissa are among Sisters and seminarians who are preparing to be involved in human rights monitoring.
The Sisters from the Remedies Chapter are also working, through their formal ministries, to advocate for justice and to improve the situation for people who are suffering because of injustice.
Sister Marissa, Director of the Community Extension Office of the University of the Assumption in San Fernando, said her office provides “holistic treatment and rehabilitation” for drug users. “We are strongly convinced and strongly believe that drug addiction destroys the person’s life and future,” she said. “Full recovery is a challenge, but it is possible.”
Sister Marissa’s office is also involved in community-based prevention. “Last year we conducted a drug-awareness forum, in partnership with the Archdiocese of San Fernando, attended by almost 700 parish leaders,” she said. “The key to prevention [of drug addiction] is to build a harmonious, supportive family environment and promote responsive drug rehabilitation in the community and the school system.”
Sister Bless, head of the Commission for Family Life of the Diocese of San Jose Nueva Ecjia, said the Commission trains and facilitates the ongoing formation program of para-counselors, people in parishes who are not professionals but who have the temperament to offer counseling to parents and children.
Once a month, Sister Bless is also involved in group counseling at the House of Prayer and Evangelization (HOPE). HOPE offers programs such as Bible sharing, skills training, and gardening to drug addicts. She also conducts a symposium on drug addiction and other social issues at the diocesan, vicariate, and parish levels.
“We believe drug addiction is one of the reasons for extra-judicial killings,” she said. By working to prevent or heal drug addictions, she and other counselors and involved citizens can stop the violence of President Duterte’s war on drugs through extrajudicial killing.
“What we do as a Mission Chapter is a drop in the bucket, with all the justice issues and with the president still enjoying popularity with the majority of people,” Sister Antonette said. “Justice moves slowly.”
But Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, praised the three Sisters and all members of the Remedies Mission Chapter for their commitment and their work for justice. “Thank you for updating us and for the work you do,” she said. “That’s very heartening, because I’m sure you’re saving lives. We are so proud of you and will continue to pray for you.”
Feature photo: Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, Justice Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines, shares a light moment with her U.S. Sisters before giving an update of justice issues in her country.