Food for thought for formators
Sr. Roshanthi Ranwatta from Sri Lanka, Province of Sri Lanka-Pakistan, Sr. Hortense Prosper Aime Saholinirina from Madagascar, District of The Isles, and Sr. Marie Jean Bae from Korea, Province of North East Asia, arrived in Rome in January 2020 to begin the five-month Program for the Preparation of Formators offered by the International Union of Superiors General. During this time, they lived at the Congregation’s international formation house in Rome. On their return to their home provinces, Sr. Hortense and Sr. Roshanthi will take up roles within formation, while Sr. Marie Jean will continue in her role as province contact person for the Asia Pacific Mission Development Office.
What aspect of formation was most transformative for you during your study of the program?
RR: I came to understand better how our formation structures need to be flexible, open and adaptable to respond to the values, experiences, culture and way of thinking of our younger sisters. We need to offer a more person-orientated formation that must be participatory, experiential, contemplative and connected. For me, this learning is a continuation of the dialogue we have been having in my province about how we can implement formation more holistically, especially in light of the Congregation’s 2019 Supplement to the 2014 Formation Guidelines.
HS: I found the writing of an autobiography as a means of discernment to be a core aspect of formation. In light of what I learned about myself during the course, I realize how much deeper one has to reflect on their autobiographical journey. I deeply value this aspect of deepening self-knowledge and self-awareness, and of having learned so much about myself. This is an essential tool in formation that I will use with formatees to assist them in their discernment during their initial and ongoing formation.
MB: I realized that formation should not just be limited to sisters. Nowadays, we are all mission partners, and our lay partners need to be involved in formation. This formation must not merely be restricted to the Congregation’s history, charism and mission, but it should be expanded to a much broader perspective, including their input about future direction.
One of the topics covered in the program was ‘intercultural living.’ How have you experienced interculturality in the Congregation.
RR: Previous to the course, as chairperson of the Asia-Pacific Formation Team, I had the chance to experience the interculturality and internationality of the Congregation. This was a privilege that enriched me greatly. More recently, my appreciation of difference was deepened when living in the international formation house – with 12 sisters from 11 different countries. One effective way to value and show respect for each other is to create space where culture can be expressed.
HS: Coming from a province of three islands, I felt to have some experience of interculturality. However, listening to the stories of the 41 other students from 20 different countries, with whom I studied greatly inspired me. I learned new things and feel better prepared to share what this means and support younger sisters who are preparing for an international experience.
MB: For me, the international formation house became a place of opportunity to learn about interculturality and internationality. It was exciting to share and experience each other’s culture – and cuisine. But what I valued most was how very creative we were in our liturgies. In Korea, we pray morning and evening prayer together using the Divine Office, but in the formation house, we even used YouTube as part of our liturgy – that was a first for me!
Finally, how did the COVID-19 outbreak affect your experience of this course?
RR: I felt it unfortunate that the lockdown restricted our interaction with the other participants, meaning that our sharing and gathering of wisdom and information was limited. This was also true of the aspect of accompaniment: being solely online, our opportunity to practice this and develop skills was restricted. However, I do feel that teaching continued online without course content being affected.
HS: In advance of the course, we received all the course materials, so, notwithstanding the pandemic, I felt well prepared to follow the online teaching with ease. This situation even had the added benefit of offering more time for personal reflection. However, the course was intensive, and there was a great deal of information to absorb in a short space of time. Since I am still unable to return to my home province, I’m using this additional time to continue to review, reflect and study the work we completed.
MB: This was my first experience of online learning, and I felt it did affect my emotional connection to the program. However, being under quarantine at the international formation house opened the opportunity for us to create something that would never have happened otherwise: the ‘international farm’! Together with the other sisters, we had time to cultivate the lawns surrounding the house and plant many vegetables. Before my departure, we were even able to reap the rewards of our labor and harvest the food to be used in our kitchen – with any surplus being sent to the Generalate or offered to our neighbors! This taught me how even amid a crisis, new life can be created, and something new and good can grow.