In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis wrote, “Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation… If only we might rediscover once for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth... Unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that misled us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness (35).”
Inspired by these words, we invited the community of sisters in Carterville, Ill., to share a story about their experience of transforming suffering into solidarity. Sister Phyllis Schenk provided this lovely example of how simple acts of solidary can transform human suffering.
Turning Suffering Into Solidarity
Tender-hearted Sister Josetta Brown came home from work at day-care lamenting the situation of one of her co-workers. Shelly* had mentioned it was only Wednesday and all the food that was left for her husband and two grade school boys for the rest of the week was peanut butter and jelly. Sister Phyllis suggested that she stop by the community pantry the third Monday of the month when they give away boxes of food. However, that’s during the work day and Shelly couldn’t get off at that time. Sister Phyllis realized she could leave the parish office for a half hour and get the box, and put it in Sister Josetta’s car when she came home for lunch who could then slip it into Shelly’s car when she got back to work.
Sister Phyllis told that story at pastoral council when the members were talking about local needs during the pandemic. The next Sunday one of the ladies, with tears in her eyes, gave an envelope with money for Shelly. She and her husband had raised four children, were touched by the need, and wanted to help.
When the stimulus money arrived, a former art teacher from the local university stopped in the parish office. She recalled a time as a young struggling artist when she had invited guests for Thanksgiving dinner and then realized she didn’t have the funds to fix the meal. But unexpectedly her great aunt had sent a card with just enough to buy the turkey and fixings. She handed over her stimulus money saying, “There was a time I wouldn’t have been able to do this, but now I can.”
When Christmas time arrived, a local charity provided boxes of food for those without enough. Linda heard about Shelly’s situation. Shelly’s husband was now without work and in the hospital on dialysis. Afraid the boys would have no gifts to open for Christmas, Linda asked their ages. “My nephews are the same age,” she said. “I know exactly what would make them happy!”
Reflecting on this situation we wonder if God allows us to go through hard times ourselves so that we can see our own stories in the lives of others as they live through their hard times. It’s a powerful illustration of how much we need one another.
(*Names have been changed for privacy)
In the photo: Sister Phyllis Schenk (right) is a veteran pastoral minister serving now at Holy Spirit Parish, Carterville, Ill. Sister M. Josetta Brown (center) has given her life of ministry to caring for children and now works at Robin’s Nest Learning Center in Carterville. They share community life with Sister Barbara Blesse, (left) who is pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Carbondale.