Sr Marie Therese Clement is settling into her new role as International Coordinator of DSI
Sr Marie Therese Clement has had a busy ten months since assuming the position of International Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International (DSI). She made her first trip to Ireland recently to take a short holiday from her work in Rome. Despite hailing from St Lucia, Sr Marie Therese doesn’t like the heat and thought that Ireland would be a good destination for some relaxation.
DSI is an important forum for Dominican congregations world-wide who can come together to discuss and solve some of the issues that are facing congregations across the globe. The Dominican Sisters Cabra is one of the 150 Dominican congregations who are now part of DSI and is represented by Sr Helen Mary Harmey.
Being part of DSI enables a greater level of communication across the continents and one of Sr Marie Therese’s key roles is to maintain regular communication across that network throughout the year, between general assembly meetings which take place every 3 years. This level of communication has enabled the Sisters to share a common purpose and to bring all of the richness and history that has been accumulated over the years under one umbrella.
Sr Marie Therese admits that this approach is working very well, “Sisters are able to come together to share in conversation and to search for answers to some of their challenges. These challenges range from dwindling membership, aging and few new recruits in some parts of the world to the need for solidarity with Congregations who are in countries of war and prone to devastating natural events. In addition to these, DSI provides a forum for exchange among its member Congregations seeking new ways of responding to their charism of preaching. Several Congregations have, for example, used this forum to begin and affirm collaborative initiatives some of which have become federations and other types of mergers.
Sr Marie Therese speaks openly about the issues around decreasing numbers of vocations and explains that this is more evident in the developed world when there are greater opportunities elsewhere for self-advancement. “Fewer people opt for religious life because the long term commitment is seemingly unattractive.”
Sr Marie Therese believes that congregations can recover but this can only be achieved when there is an openness to reinterpret the basic charism of each congregation and to evaluatehow the Congregation has been carrying out its mission. She believes that Congregations are now being called to revisit “the elements of their structures that make them heavy and are sometimes obstacles to renewal in order to capture the new opportunities for evangelization that exist today.”
Sr Marie Therese is also very pragmatic about the need to reach out to the youth of today but in a non-conventional way. She believes that young people have a great thirst for truth and they will listen if they are approached in a way that is non-threatening and does not require them to necessarily conform. “Congregations are making very positive moves by doing some very radical things such as giving up some of their ministries that have become somewhat sterile and closing up large houses with just a few inhabitants to living in neighbourhoods among vulnerable people who need their help.”
The example of the Dominican Sisters in Iraq at the moment is an excellent example, in that although the sisters have been displaced like many Iraqis, they are developing an apostolate of close proximity with the poor while living in solidarity with them and helping to nurture, feed, clothe and be attentive in the midst of such chaos. They appeal to the international community not just requesting assistance in meeting their material needs but asking for justice and peace.
There are many Dominican sisters now also involved in area of ecology. Marie Therese explains that this is also a justice issue. Governments are intent on taxing people so that they can reverse climate change but it is proven that this approach is not working. However, in this regard some Dominican Sisters are taking a more radical position to teach people about sustaining the earth while at the same time, undertaking themselves, to work and live in a more sustainable ways, as is evidenced by the positive work being done in Wicklow by the Cabra Dominicans.
People in general look to religion and spirituality for answers to the challenges that they have in life. When those challenges no longer exist, people tend to turn away from needing faith. This present world climate requires that attention be paid to area of justice and peace, ecology and also working with people on the margins – the poor, refugees and asylum seekers, etc.. As governments are not adequately meeting the needs of the more vulnerable in society, religious orders can provide help and leadership in this area.
The aforementioned forced our conversation in the direction of the plight of asylum seekers especially in Ireland. They arrive in a country that claims to be welcoming to foreigners but underneath isn’t really. The first few years of arriving in a country are very difficult. These people have moved away from countries where their lives were threatened, where they have, in some cases, been tortured and they often have lost their sense of personal dignity. They come to a new country with new customs and can easily end up homeless and without the basic skills to adapt to a new culture. It seems evident therefore and from recent media coverage in Ireland that we, as a nation have a lot of work to do in this area.