by Paula Wells, Tumuaki, Sacred Heart Girls’ College New Plymouth
In recent years, the Mission Sisters in Aotearoa, New Zealand have been hosting student leadership camps annually for the head students of their Mission secondary schools. These have been under the direction of Sr Anne Sklenars, RNDM. The purpose has been to share more deeply with college leaders aspects of the charism for individual spiritual nourishment through tangible and practical opportunities to engage with the teachings of foundress, Euphrasie Barbier, and to challenge the student leaders to take the missionary spirit and zeal back with them to their schools.
The fearless, extensive missionary experiences of the Mission Sisters, being graciously completely present for those most in need and being compassionate companions, sometimes in the most extraordinarily challenging of circumstances, is the epitome of discipleship. Their devotion to contemplation, communion and mission provides a highly-attuned foundation from which accompaniment, in its purest form, manifests itself.
An important aspect of the camp is the students being hospitable to one another. Things are simple. The accommodation is adequate, yet comfortable. The food is self-catered, with a roster that enables students to plan in advance how they might nourish others. They work collaboratively in preparing kai and serving one another. The environment is nestled in nature. Paring back, slowing down, noticing and being appreciative, form part of the existential essence of the Mission Sisters’ contemplative spirit, and the simple beauty of the leadership camp, in its physical sense, provides a purposeful backdrop.
This year, the student leaders closely examined The Visitation, and related the experiences of Mary and Elizabeth, from an historical and biblical perspective, before applying the learnings contextually to their present-day lives and experiences. It is in being wholly present, in communion, that we can be attuned with those in our presence, accepting and understanding who another is in that moment of vulnerability, without judgement. It is in that state that one can walk alongside the marginalised, inconspicuously, unwaveringly, being a conduit for the Holy Spirit.
A special guest was Shanti Mathias, a young Christian academic, who writes a regular column in Tui Motu. Shanti spoke of her inter-cultural upbringing, and her life of faith now being lived out as a student at Victoria University. Eloquent, energetic and engaging, Shanti mesmerised the student leaders in sharing of herself with a freedom of expression that both transcended and liberated the young faithful. Her gift to them was one of being totally in communion, present, effervescent, a modern-day example of a joyful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Students were challenged to consider the learnings they had gleaned from these trailblazing feminine role models, and to plan how they would incorporate missionary zeal in little and big ways into their “everyday”. Within school groups, college leaders planned initiatives and projects to take back to their schools, and they presented their intentions to one another for critique and encouragement. Thank you to the Mission Sisters for engaging with the highly capable, committed Catholic student leaders of our colleges. Thank you for being present in communion with them, for sharing in the charism, for nurturing and uplifting them, and for entrusting them to keep the spirit of mission alive in our schools.