Silvana is a sister of this congregation, a native of the city of Reconquista, in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina, who lives with three others in Montevideo, in a settlement in Bella Italia, doing social work together with collaborators and volunteers to support and spiritually support the community of this place. in conversation with The morningtold how was the experience of consecrating themselves, living from faith and the work they do in our country.
The Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a congregation of sisters founded on November 21, 1800 in Paris by the French Magdalena Sofía Barat (1779-1865), who together with four companions adopted a religious way of life that combined contemplation and apostleship. One of her sources of spirituality is Ignatian (Barat was a spiritual daughter of the Jesuits). Today their mission is “to communicate the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the education of girls, boys and young people.”
From the beginning Magdalena Sofía, who was later canonized, lived a strongly contemplative life, without thinking of constituting a monastic life. From the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965 with John XXIII and Paul VI), when the preferential option for the poorest was adopted, these sisters went to live in inserted communities. At present there are 1600 religious who are deployed in 43 countries.
In 1967, the Society founded a community in Reconquista, the city where Silvana was born. They had a chapel in her neighborhood and when she was little she went to mass there. As a teenager she was a catechist and formed a bond with one of the sisters of this congregation, which inspired her vocation. Time passed, Silvana already had her profession and job (she has a degree in social work), but she was on a personal search and wondered what God wanted her for.
“I realized that I was fine, that I had everything, but there was something inside that wouldn’t let me go, that I was looking for something more,” she said. “When I began to talk about what I was feeling with some of the sisters, following a path of discernment, I recognized that I was feeling more and more fulfilled, that the happiness that I had sought so much throughout my life was finding there. I experienced an inner joy that nothing else has given me. That ‘inner contentment’ –we call it that– is maintained by her. I’ve been here for 22 years. I never had any doubts.”
Before making their final vows, the sisters of this congregation have international experience. Silvana went to India in 2011 because she was interested in learning about oriental spirituality, silence and prayer. She “she wanted to learn the way to pray from her. I was in a town eight hours from Mumbai, in a house in our community that has a school and a hostel where poor girls who have no resources can study primary and secondary”.
“For me it was a great novelty to contrast what I imagined with what I found there. In India people live, eat and relieve themselves on the street. Their religion, Hinduism, is very strong. It is a very spiritual town, but the inequality of rights that they maintain with women makes me a little noisy. There are still places where parents choose who their daughters marry.”
Life and work in Uruguay
The congregations are divided into provinces. Argentina and Uruguay is a single province for them. Silvana had her first experience in Villa Jardín in Buenos Aires and later did her initial training in Ituzaingó. After her first vows, she came to live in Salto, Uruguay, from 2005 to 2007.
Regarding his experience in Salto, he said that he maintains a friendship with the people there. “We become attached, we are sharing life, dreams and pains. In these times where listening is very difficult, we listen to people who are suffering and that is creating links with people. They are part of our family,” said the nun.
When they closed the mission in Salto they moved to the outskirts of Montevideo. Since 2013 they have two little houses, one in Bella Italia and the other in Piedras Blancas, in a settlement where they carry out a social work that works with other organizations and youth groups, such as the Beavers of the Seminary School, or Udelar. On Saturdays they have a pot, and the collaborators and neighbors help to chop the vegetables, carry out tasks of cleaning the ditch of a square and receive children with recreational activities and snacks in the “Jesús Buen Pastor” Chapel.
On Mondays they organize a support group for the women of the neighbourhood. “What we do is enable the word so that they can tell their story in a setting of trust, confidentiality, intimacy, tenderness and affection”, explained Silvana, “and thus weave a network of emotional support that helps them through the processes and that it also empowers them, because they see everything they have been able to survive. This is the best inheritance that you can leave your sons and daughters, because money comes and goes, but strength, struggle and faith do not move with anything.
When they arrived in the neighborhood they offered school support in the community room. “It is a very felt need and it linked us especially with the mothers, who are at the foot of the canyon with the children.” They worked for six years with young volunteers from the Catholic University, but with the irruption of the pandemic they suspended it and started with the pot. They now have a smaller school support group of three or four children at home, also attended by a math teacher who helps several teenagers.
few, but good
In recent years the Society has noticeably decreased in the number of consecrated sisters. “When I started 18 years ago we were 5,000, in 2018 we became 3,600, now we are 1,600,” said Analía, in charge of the mission in Uruguay, to The morning. He pointed out that the option for religious life is challenging and countercultural for today’s world. “Living in community is a gift that requires work,” she noted. In this province they do not have women in formation, however, they understand that there are many ways to live a service. “We don’t work alone, we have collaborators, otherwise we couldn’t support everything we support,” she added.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are a community with common projects, discernment and economic goods. “We lived like the first communities lived when they began with Jesus, where there were people who put their goods in common for everyone and no one lacked anything. To make decisions as well, it’s not that you have to ask for permission, it’s that we talk about it and see what’s best for one or the other,” Silvana explained.
They also hold retreats with the global community, face-to-face and virtual assemblies to meet and define the course to follow. “Now we are seeing what new way of organizing ourselves we want as an international society and it is a search in which the communities of all countries participate and also the laity who work with us”, said the nun.
Matter of faith
The sisters shared that people have different images of God throughout their lives. “Sometimes we believe in a punishing God, or in a God who is the judge of good and evil and we spend our lives there.” They also pointed out that there is a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation. “We come from a lot of doctrine and Jesus came to bring another message,” they said. “We have to learn that God loved us first and not look at everything that distances us, but establish a personal path of bonding with Jesus, which is essential.”
“Faith is a process. There are people who put little seeds inside us and that is growing”, Silvana shared. She defines prayer as a meeting where one can also express how she feels and how she is with the one who “brought her here” and who has not “abandoned her at any time.”
About miracles he said: “The great miracles are daily. It’s seeing children smile or seeing people we know and talk to stand up; that’s a miracle for us. It is feeling gratitude, accompanying children so that they can study and then seeing them as adults and that they continue with the same values, that they work, that they are good people, that is also a miracle. We pray for each other and miracles happen.”
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