The Amazing Paths of the Missionary Life
God has guided me in my missionary life through different interesting, amazing and lovely paths. My first destination was my home country: Mexico, where I worked in the periphery, and I served my community of Sisters. My second destination was Brazil, where indigenous people and Eclesial Based Communities (CEBs) help me to shap my relationship with God, people and the Creation. I worked there for around ten years, also dealing with justice and peace issues. After Brazil, the U.S. became my next destination in August, 2012. My new ministry would be to collaborate with VIVAT International, an NGO in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, which we, Comboni Sisters, are members. Before starting my ministry, I studied English for nine months, and when I ended my language study the General Council asked me to study in the U.S., something related to justice and peace issues in order to qualify for my ministry. While I was collaborating with VIVAT, I applied to three universities, and I was accepted in all of them. This was a great God’s gift for me. One of the universities was the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which had a great curriculum and offered me a full scholarship and a mensual stipend. So, I decided to study in this university, starting my Master in Peace Studies in August, 2014. My class is comprised of 21 students from 16 different nationalities: India, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, US, Chile-US, Liberia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Bulgaria, Poland, Singapore and Mexico. It is amazing to see how all these people, with different beliefs, cultures and religions, have come together as a community of peacemakers. My experience with them has been such a huge blessing, an experience full of friendship, learning, compassion, and love.
In the second year of the Master program, the university offers the opportunity to have an intership in different places: Colombia, Israel, South Africa, Philippines, Uganda, and Washintong, D.C. So, I had the opportunity to go to Uganda. Since July 1, 2015, I am doing my intership in GWED-G (Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization), in Gulu, Uganda. I chose GWED-G because it is an NGO focused on women’s issues in a war-torn society, and works directly with the grasroots.
For nearly two decades, northern Uganda was ravaged by a civil war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. The LRA, headed by Joseph Kony, abducted thousands of children and committed other atrocities. Women and girls from this region of Uganda have suffered the consequences of the conflict in different ways than men. I have met women in the villages who were abducted by the LRA and used as sex laborers and soldiers. Women who returned to their communities and were rejected and stigmatized for being former “rebels” of LRA, who had no right to own land or acces to livelihood programs. In the aftermath of war, violence continues affecting women, especially through economic and gender inequality and the increase of domestic violence. Therefore, the end of conflict is not the end of violence for women.
In Gulu, Uganda, I have had the opportunity to see how hard is the reconstruction of a war-torn society, and how important is the collaboration of the government and civil and religious organizations for peacebuilding. In my internship in GWED-G, I have had the opportunity to work with human rights issues, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, women groups, and gender based violence. I realized from my experience in Mexico with the drug war that there are different kinds of war, but the consequences of violence are very similar: pain, trauma, stigmatization, disability, and death, among others.
For my final year, as a requirement for my graduation, I am conducting a research focused on how religious Sisters are transforming the consequences of the LRA conflict in a war-torn society. The Sisters have had an important role in peacebuilding, but there is a lack of a systemic compilation of their contribution. I have interviewed many people, and this is giving me the opportunity to think more about the importance of our presence and our ministries as religious women in a war-torn society, and the importance to faithfully redesign our charism according to the circumstances and time.
I will end my internship on December 11, and will carry with me beautiful experiences with people, new learnings and relationships. I will go back to the US to continue to learn about PEACE and WAR, but with a different perspective than the one that the books give: the perspective that people from northern Uganda have brought to my life. Why do I need to learn about wars? I asked myself during my courses, and I realized that I need to understand how processes of power dynamics, interests, discrimination, religious intolerance, and politics, among others, create violence in order to understand what we human beings need to do for having a sustainable peace based on the values of the Kingdom of God. For having peace, we, Christians, need to be peacemakers; as Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium “ By preaching Jesus Christ, who is himself peace (cf. Eph 2:14) the new evangelization calls on every baptized person to be a peacemakers and a credible witness to a reconciled life.” Peace is a gift from God and a responsibility of human beings to keep it.
God’s peace will be always with you!
Sr. Olga Estela Sanchez Caro