For 180 years, Holy Cross sisters have heard the call of Jesus, who said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.” Answering that call took them across the equator to Brazil in 1947. Thirty-five years later, they journeyed to Peru. In both countries, sisters today continue to discern the needs of the people and respond in love and gratitude.
Holy Cross sisters in Brazil
As a Sister of the Holy Cross, one must always expect the unexpected. In 1947, sisters journeyed for the first time across the equator to Brazil. The cardinal of São Paulo had invited them to staff a health facility. But on arrival, they found the facility had not yet been built. So they shifted focus.They soon established a kindergarten. Today, that school has evolved into a vibrant, multi-level institution with 2,900 students. Over the course of 75 years, Holy Cross sisters ventured to many other locales in Brazil. They ministered in cities, in villages and even deep into the Amazon rainforest. Along the way, they conducted English classes and provided pastoral organization for factory workers. They also helped reclaim land for planting food and increased awareness about structural oppression and forms of resistance.
Helping to reclaim land and dignity
Today, 15 Holy Cross sisters minister in Brazil. In addition to their first school, Colégio Santa Maria, the sisters operate a senior living facility. At St. Martha’s Social Service Center, they teach women skills to support their families. Several sisters, including one who is a human rights attorney, strive to assist indigenous peoples whose lands have been illegally grabbed or compromised. And yet another works deep in the favelas (slums) to empower children out of their spiritual and economic poverty.
There are still many “unexpecteds” that cross the sisters’ paths, no matter where they serve. But always, their faith impels them to trust God ever more radically and to risk responding as disciples of Jesus.
Answering God’s call in Peru
In 1982, two Holy Cross sisters journeyed to Chimbote, Peru. Already, other congregations of Holy Cross men and women were established in this South American country. The sisters wanted to collaborate with them. They were prepared to live in this desert region. But a few months into their ministry, a small river unexpectedly rose to 100 times its normal size. They did not expect such an event in the desert. The flooding swamped many acres of cultivated land and destroyed houses. Immediately, the sisters set up soup kitchens and organized incoming donations.The Congregation’s four decades in Peru have been fraught with other tragedies, including terrorist groups. During that time of fear, Holy Cross sisters built social pastoral committees to help people cope. The terrorists violently opposed any type of organized group unless it was dedicated to their cause. They roamed the streets asking where the sisters lived. But not one person gave them up.
Sisters witness God’s love
The Peru ministry has had many wonderful successes too. Across 40 years, Holy Cross sisters strengthened parish pastoral work, supervised the orientation of religion teachers in public schools, and worked in health promotion. They also cared for the elderly and the poor and walked with thousands of women in hundreds of different ways.Today, six sisters minister in Chimbote and Lima. They conduct the Biblical Pastoral Reading Program and advise a family catechetical program. They also deliver health services to women in prison and their young children, and provide leadership training on justice, political, social and religious issues. Answering the call to witness God’s love for all creation is not a smooth path, but one on which Holy Cross sisters boldly venture.