“Women filled with the spirit of the Gospel can help humanity not to be inhuman”, said Pope Paul VI. This high esteem for women in general and religious women in particular, runs through recent papal teaching, including that of Pope Francis who, like John Paul II, speaks of their “feminine genius”, which is “essential to society”. Among these “women filled with the spirit of the Gospel” are the Sisters of the Daughters of Mercy, a Franciscan congregation. For many people they are the face of humanity and, true to their charism, bring the love and the smile of God to the poorest of the poor. In Maluku, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these include abandoned children, orphans, and the single mothers living on the streets, without homes and without work.
The four Sisters, Raquel, Charlotte, Maria and Alejandrina are living out their vocation in a practical, hands-on way, caring for sixty orphaned children in their “Marija Petković House of Mercy”, which is named after the beatified foundress of their congregation who came from Croatia. During the day a hundred more children from the parish come to the house, for a hot meal and, more importantly, spiritual nourishment. Young mothers also come here to learn needlework skills; these help them to find work more easily. And the Sisters run a small emergency first-aid station for the sick. God’s smile is attractive and there are many young women who would be happy to follow this way of life. But the selection process has to be a strict one, as there is simply not enough space in the convent, and besides, not every girl has a true vocation to the religious life.
The novices have to learn French in order to be able to do further studies, and they also tend the garden and livestock – for the moment only hens, but they are hoping to eventually keep pigs, sheep and goats as well. And they are also planning a small fish farm. The more independent the community can be, the more effectively they can care for the children and families in the parish and help humanity to flourish, here on the peripheries. For the time being they have more plans and dreams than they do livestock, produce or resources. But right now, on account of the pandemic, the mother house can no longer support the Sisters here. Everybody is struggling to make ends meet. And yet the Sisters are full of hope.