In our present time of instant communication and ease of travel, the story of Mary Ward and her life-long desire to seek and know God’s will, can seem like a struggle way beyond human resilience.
That an English woman, in Post-Reformation England, could believe the Catholic Church would approve a plan for religious women to be free from the jurisdiction of the Diocesan Bishop but governed by one of their own, free from the obligations of the cloister, focused on the mission of educating girls in a similar way to boys, and flexible enough to respond to the needs identified around them, seems outrageous, shocking and misguided. This is what Mary Ward came to understand as God’s will for her.
With the young women inspired to join her, she crossed the English Channel many times, traversed the Alps of Europe on foot three times to seek approval for her congregation and all along the way, she established houses and schools where she was welcomed and supported. And while she died under the shadow of the Inquisition … her congregation can be found today in over 40 countries, with more than 200 Mary Ward schools, colleges and informal education facilities and thousands of women and men proudly associated with her charism and spirituality.
She truly believed that there is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things, as we have seen by the example of many saints who have done great things.
On Pilgrimage with Mary Ward is an App that will spark memories if you have visited these places, tempt you to make a pilgrimage, or add some ideas for the next time you are near York and Yorkshire, London and Saint-Omer, Liège, Munich or Rome.
The App, currently available in English, will soon be translated into Spanish and German. To download the free App please visit the Apple store for I-phone or the Google Play store for Android devices.
Chris Burke IBVM draws our attention to Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti” and writes. Mary Ward’s ever extending ‘circle of friends’ knows that our global systems are not working well. Everything we hoped for at the turn of the millennium is increasingly fragile: peace, care for the poor, employment, health, the very earth on which we depend.
Pope Francis’ newest encyclical, which he wrote encouraged by Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, gathers together threads of the social justice message he has been announcing throughout his time as Pope. He challenges us to recognize the injustice of systems which support selfishness, greed, and exploitation of those who are “other”, a global homogenizing of cultures for the purpose of profit. A world-wide rethink of political, social and economic priorities is a tall order. The solution does not lie only with the powerful, but has to rise from a grass roots commitment to care, to reach out, to choose to be open to other faiths, other cultures, other nationalities, especially when, exhausted, they arrive on our nation’s doorstep, begging for a new life after their experience of devastation and terror. We are one family: will we turn them away?
Do we dare respond? Are we the Levite or the person from Samaria?
A new style of leadership? An openness to ways and cultures which are different? These resonate
with the steps IBVM/CJ are making towards union, as well as our desire to reach out across boundaries. One first step is to encourage each other to read this admittedly long encyclical, and grapple with his ideas, to pray over them, allowing them to transform us so we can build a new culture. His view of our current situation is relentlessly honest, but also manages to instill hope that such a radical turn-around is possible. Many will have to take a flying leap over the first two words to reach the core of his message, but if change is to happen it will only happen when we integrate the heart of what Pope Francis is calling for and share it strongly with our own families, colleagues and friends. We can carry this prophetic word into our small worlds. Let us encourage each other, as ‘sorelle’ and ‘fratelli’, to read it – to go beyond the title, which, for many, fails to carry the message of inclusion so strongly argued in the body of the text.