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Interview with Patricia Villarroel, Superior General

"The best learning is 
knowing how to adapt to a changing reality"


Religious life has always been changing throughout history. In the past months what has changed and how especially in our Congregation?

Religious life (RL), and with it the Congregation, has known how to adapt to the situation. I think we have been able to make sense of it, even in confinement. We have prayed more, our fraternal life has deepened, we have been more concerned with housework, and … of course, we have learned a lot about new technologies. There have been countless meetings by video-conferences, we have participated in talks or virtual conferences, there are sisters who have started online courses … Our schools have continued to function virtually, which has also meant changes and learning for everyone.

There are sisters who are working in soup kitchens; others have welcomed people into the houses; others again have engaged in prevention work, making masks for distribution… Creativity has very much been at work. In general, ways have been found to continue our mission, proclaiming the Gospel and having a presence and closeness with the people. The best learning is knowing how to adapt to a changing reality.

There is much talk these days of collaboration in many areas. Do you think that the situation created by the pandemic is a propitious time for inter-congregational collaboration on specific issues and between the branches of our religious family? What could these issues be?

We have experienced networking and inter-congregational collaboration before. This has been one of our new challenges for some time. It is true that the pandemic has given us an important boost, above all, because many people are assuming that we need each other. We understand that the great problems of humanity cannot be solved by individuals alone, nor by isolated groups, not even by a country or a continent. Globalisation unites us in good and bad, and the pandemic has reminded us of that. I think that awareness is growing.

We already have community and inter-congregational missionary experiences, social projects linked to other entities or institutions ... We cannot not deny, today, the need we have for lay men and women to participate in our reflections, recognising the richness that emerges when we think, plan and work with them and they. At times lay people can teach us to pray ... In our own SSCC works, working with lay men and women is increasingly collaborative. I am sure that we could not think of new projects today without the collaboration of others.

Regardless of the times we live in, how can the aspect of prophetic denunciation be lived and fulfilled?

This is a complex issue. Undoubtedly, there is an important prophetic dimension to RL. But prophecy is a point of arrival, not a starting point. Prophecy is the consequence of fidelity to the Spirit, of missionary audacity, of generous dedication, of creativity in proclaiming God's love. Such a life speaks for itself, and that is the best critique. To live the Gospel authentically is to denounce individualism, inequalities, and discrimination, because following Jesus necessarily leads us to the most neglected, brings us closer to the suffering of the people, and puts us on the path of the prophets.

Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga has just passed away in Brazil. He lived fully the prophetic dimension of RL, and certainly that was the fruit of his evangelical commitment, of his love for Jesus in his poorer brothers. His life as a shepherd was a denunciation, a fight for justice, for the cause of the poor, for the indigenous. He was a prophet because he knew how to put himself where he should be. And he leaves us a beautiful testimony.

It seems that the Pope is very aware of the Union of Superiors General when it comes to making the presence of women more visible and more important in the Church. Can you imagine any roadmap on this path?

It is clear that steps are being taken. Pope Francis himself is giving clear signals that are reproduced in certain particular Churches. The cultural changes that are taking place in societies are having repercussions in the Church. Unfortunately, the Church is not a pioneer in this. Its changes are slow, but they are irreversible. I believe, for example, that if the laity left the church there would be no going back. And the participation of women is being pushed by many lay men and women. There are roads that are long, but if we are walking in the right direction, little by little things fall into place.

There has been a Synod for the Amazon. Our sisters are already giving a direct response to the need for a presence of religious life in that area. Tell us about any remarkable experience.

We have been present in the Amazon for a long time. The Aguarico mission in Ecuador is in the Amazon region, and for several years there has been a SSCC community that collaborates with the Vicariate in evangelisation and accompaniment of Christian communities and that is developing some projects of human development.

This year the problem of the Amazon became more visible. An inter-congregational community was formed in the Peruvian Amazon region and our sister Alicia Mamani was involved from the beginning. The news that comes to us firsthand is that things are very difficult. The pandemic arrived with force but neither the means nor the necessary resources to deal with it have arrived. There are 4 sisters from different congregations, sent by the Conference of Religious of Peru, who are living among the indigenous communities, sharing life with them. They have not been together for that long, but it is an interesting, novel experience that is in line with what to do today.

What priorities of the Apostolic Plan of the last General Chapter do you see the most fulfilled and which ones will need a greater boost?

It depends on the places and the history of our presence in each country. Our reality is so diverse! It seems to me that we are making progress in ecological awareness, in supporting women and in our sensitivity to migrants. These are problems that have become visible and to which we are trying to respond. It is true that the pandemic has changed our scenarios, but the more problems there are in the world, the more necessary the presence of RL becomes. I hope that we will continue to advance in our Apostolic Plan.

Covid-19 has affected the entire Congregation, sisters, brothers, laity, family members and so many close people. It is not that long since Sister Mª Olga Mardones passed away in Chile and she has left a great mark. What has it been like to welcome and accompany these deaths?

Very painful. It is one of the things that is hard to believe ... One always tends to think that we will not be affected that much, but when so many people die, it is made harder knowing that they do so without there being present some people who are close or known to them. In addition to our sisters and brothers, we continue to hear from relatives, people from schools, parishes, ... who are infected and, in some cases, die.

What happened to María Olga was a very hard blow. She was a great pillar for the sisters in Chile, a woman who at her age was still very present, very relevant, very active… and when a pillar falls, the building shakes… Her death has made me think a lot about pillars. Sometimes I wonder if the older sisters really know how important they are to the Congregation. I always – forcefully sometimes - try to remind them of their importance. Sometimes is seems they believe that because they are handicapped, because they no longer have great responsibilities, they are not very important. I say that ever when they are prostrate, or sick, or forget things, they have an inestimable value because without them we would not exist. That is why having them, taking care of them, loving them, is good for us. They give us strength.

It is hard not to be affected when things have been so serious. This pandemic has made us live in solidarity with so many people ...

Patricia, after two years as Superior General, could you share some of your dreams with us, send, so to speak, a message of hope to our SSCC family.

I dream of a Church that rises renewed from the crisis it is going through ... A serving Church, humble, ... smaller ...

I dream of a RL that lives among the people and speaks of Jesus with his testimony of welcome, love and solidarity.

I dream of SSCC as simple, happy, fraternal; with creative sisters capable of welcoming the beautiful tradition that we receive and recreating it for each culture, country and human group that welcomes us.

I dream of sisters dedicated to the mission, happy until the end of their days, sure that "the work belongs to God", trusting that the Spirit accompanies us every day, and that we are not few - we are who we should be at this time and for this time.

I dream that our Sacred Hearts spirituality reaches many lay women and men, who discover in it a way to live their family life, their faith and their following of Jesus.

I dream that we all live with the hope that with our weaknesses and frailties – not forgetting the riches that we have - we are in a position to live what the Lord expects of us, and I hope and pray that what the Lord needs for building the Kingdom comes closer.