Coming from a small village in Bangladesh, Sister Anna Manar, CSC, always had a desire to work with people in rural areas and small villages. “But it was when I was in the novitiate in the United States [that] I had a chance to live in community for a few months with Sister Ane Monica Nguyen, CSC, in Austin, Texas. She was so hard working and her dedication inspired me so much. It was through my experience with her I knew I wanted to study social work,” Sister Anna shared. In October 2021, Sister Anna left Bangladesh to study social work at St. Edmund’s College in Shillong, India.
Bridging the gaps
“Social work and pastoral ministry are essentially the same thing. Social work is the secular and professional term, and pastoral ministry is the religious term. But both involve responding to the needs of the people with compassion and a transforming love,” Sister Anna explained. Early on during pastoral visits, she noticed that the people she was ministering with needed food just as much as a listening ear and compassion. “I am excited to be a social worker because there are government programs to help those in need. And after my education I will be like a bridge who can connect people with the assistance programs in our area.”
She added, “Pastoral ministry is so important for the people in this village and in so many remote villages across this country and in Bangladesh. We are all children of God, and the people on the peripheries have very little opportunities.”
The term “peripheries” has multiple connotations. In one sense, it can relate to geographic location, such as those isolated communities Sister Anna hopes to reach. But people also exist within societal, cultural and economic peripheries, where they—and their struggles and needs, dignity and gifts—go unseen. Sister Anna provides an example. Shillong, India, is a hub for higher education, and many of the schools are operated by religious congregations. “There are priests and religious everywhere you look in Shillong,” Sister Anna shared. “But in the villages, it’s the opposite. So many people out there crave faith formation opportunities but are getting nothing. And so going into these villages, teaching catechism classes, and working with these people is extremely important.”
Creating relationships and community
Now in her third and final year of school, Sister Anna is eager to complete her education and be in full full-time ministry. Even with her heavy course load since she began her studies, she has not let that stop her from her passion of ministering with those on the peripheries.
Every weekend when she doesn’t have classes, Sister Anna finds herself in Laitkseh. The remote village outside of Shillong has a church but no full-time priest. Sister Anna and a few candidates travel with local diocesan seminarians to visit the community. There, they provide catechism class, prayer services, reflections, family visits and different programs throughout the year. Most recently, they have offered youth ministry programs, retreats, and even a debate competition. The topic: “Is it right to force your children to come to church?” Sister Anna said it was a very interesting debate.
Growing through ministry
Currently, she is busy planning a pilgrimage for the Catholics in her village to travel to a religious center in the city. “It’s a big trip because it involves renting buses, planning for meals. But the Catholics in this village are so eager to learn and grow in their faith I think it will be a great success!” Sister Anna said.
In 1822, Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, said: “If they send me to preach in some poor parish, I shall thank God and my bishop. I am burning with this desire and should love to be already engaged in this work. Need I tell you? At times this desire is so strong that I feel my whole heart on fire.”Sister Anna is continuing the mission of Holy Cross with a zeal and love for her work that would make Father Moreau proud. She did not mention it, but there is a good chance her heart, too, is on fire for her ministry. And the people she encounters deserve nothing less!