Healing through creativity : a Sister who helps the victims of human trafficking via art therapy

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By Sr. Doreen Bradley SSMN

Reflecting on the work I do in offering therapeutic art sessions at Bakhita House, which provides a refuge to women escaping human trafficking, my thoughts have turned to the early days of our Congregation.

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur were founded in Namur, Belgium in 1819. Prior to this, as a young man, our founder, Joseph Nicholas Minsart, had felt irresistibly drawn to the contemplative life as lived by the monks of St. Bernard. This call took him to the Abbey of Boneffe where he lived a strict monastic life. However, this was not to last due to the suppression of religious orders and the sale of their goods. The Abbey at Boneffe was pillaged and sold.

There came a time to rebuild:

In 1819 Fr. Minsart was wondering how to restore the Christian Spirit among working families, to help them escape from the appalling reality of having daughters forced to beg or to prostitute themselves. What could he do to ensure the “underprivileged youth could find bread for their souls as well as nourishment for their bodies?” (Taken from the Life of Nicholas Joseph Minsart written by a SSMN in 1995).

On the 11th November that year two young women joined Fr. Minsart in setting up a sewing workshop where the poor children and women came to learn and Fr. Minsart would regularly visit to catechise those present. 

Once again there came a time to rebuild…

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A change of location in 2014 opened doors for me to volunteer at Caritas Bakhita House which opened shortly afterwards. Volunteering at Bakhita House returned me to my first love, art and crafts. I meet the most amazing people there, our guests, the volunteers and the most compassionate and dedicated staff.

My contribution is in the field of therapeutic art. I very simply open creative doors and journey with our guests as they rediscover their inner beauty and discover dormant and hidden personal giftedness. Many of our guests say that the art helps them to forget the pain for a little while. It is such a joy to work with so many amazingly gifted women. 

These sessions remind me that it is a time to listen with my ears but most importantly, to listen with my HEART. This work is about personal relationships but also setting healthy boundaries…it is about listening and in a way sharing pain but not carrying it, it is about loving, but not enslaving… it is about bringing the guests to an inner and outer freedom and supporting their great hope for a realistic future. There has to be great emphasis on truth at all levels…false hope is destructive.

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It is important to say that volunteers are an integral part of the Bakhita House community. Putting the Bakhita experience into simple words, I would use the following: warmth, love, respect, dignity, support, hope, spiritual, challenge, all drawn into the true meaning of the word welcome. It is important to realise that joy and laughter are also evident in the midst of much pain.

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Volunteering is a two pronged fork, we never give without receiving and what we do give we receive many times over. Art comes from the heart and when your heart is hurting, perhaps broken, art becomes a challenge and a release. I am so proud of our guests for trying whatever I suggest we do in the art sessions, but the real happiness for me is when I see the joy and the pride of our guests when they produce a work of art they didn’t think they could accomplish.

But as in a chemistry lesson, it is the unseen results that will help the process of recovery.

 St Josephine Bakhita pray for us.

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If we're serious about ending slavery, we need to get serious about faith

By Luke de Pulford, Director of the Arise Foundation

On a recent field visit to India's southern city of Bengaluru, an unassuming looking woman stopped me on a street and asked: “What am I supposed to do with all the children?” Her searching, exhausted eyes had a serene authority that stopped me from walking away. She was a Catholic sister named Mary Elise who recently played a central role in the rescue of 300 forced labourers - mostly children - in Bihar, northern India. 

Three hundred children. That’s more than an average sized primary school. 

As I found out later, she had won an award for it.  But she wasn’t interested in talking about her achievements. She wanted to tell me that her organisation couldn’t deal with the numbers. There weren’t enough beds, school places, or counsellors to help them.

There was something hypnotic about this sister’s sense of purpose. As we talked I learned more about the daily difficulties she faces: scraping around for money to keep her work going; punishingly long hours; seemingly limitless bureaucracy; and the perilous risks she had faced including death threats and intimidation. 

It was clear to me that I was in the presence of someone who had given everything to this cause. A true abolitionist. 

Sister Mary Elise walks in a long and noble tradition of abolitionist sisters. Some have even paid for their commitment with their lives. On 21 February 2004 someone broke into the house of sister Doraci Erdinger in northern Mozambique, attacked her viciously and indiscriminately with a hammer, and strangled her. 

Sister Doraci had dedicated her life to fighting organ trafficking, loudly and courageously denouncing local gangs which had been abducting and mutilating children to supply genitals and other body parts for ritual ‘Muti’ medicine.

There are many others. In 2013, sister Marie Emmanuel Helesbeux was murdered after 42 years of charity work in Madagascar. Sisters Lucia Pulici, Olga Raschietti, and Bernadetta Boggian were murdered in Burundi in 2017. Sisters Anselm, Margherit, Reginette and sister Judith were murdered in Yemen in 2016, to name just a few. Some died working against modern-day slavery. All died serving vulnerable communities. 

This list barely scratches the surface, and comes nowhere close to capturing the global contribution of sisters to human rights and development. Of course, most aren’t killed. But nearly all spend decades quietly serving those in need.

Here’s the strange thing. The work of these courageous sisters is still viewed with suspicion in the development community. It’s the same for all faith-based charity work. There is a stubborn assumption that people of faith will only serve people of the same religion. Or that they simply won’t be able to offer help without trying to convert or proselytise. 

Anyone who has seen the frontline effort of sisters knows this to be plain wrong. Yet still so many struggle to look beyond their faith to their extraordinary work. 

It’s a major blindspot. More than 80 percent of the world is religious, so it follows that faith communities could be powerful cultural forces for good. More and more reports have been published demonstrating the critical role of religion in international development.

But there's no real evidence that the policy community is listening. In the overwhelmingly non-religious worlds of the UN and government aid departments, there is still far too much ignorance of religion. And this leads to an inherent bias against it. Faith-based charities are at the back of the queue when grants are being handed out. Some bodies even exclude faith-based work as a matter of policy. 

The effect is that the largest frontline forces in the world are far from realising their potential, and rarely given a platform.

The Arise Foundation isn’t a faith-based charity, but we see the contribution of these sisters and others like them for what it is: potentially game-changing. Just on its own, the global network of sisters working against slavery spans 80 countries.

These are workforces of thousands of activists, embedded in local, hard-to-reach communities. Workforces offering life-saving services and loving accompaniment. Workforces whose commitment is vocational and lifelong; and willing to give everything, like sister Doraci and sister Mary-Elise.

Working with them is an absolute no-brainer. If we are serious about ending slavery, we need to get serious about faith. 

Luke de Pulford was educated between England, Lesotho and Italy. Much of his professional life has focused on the UK Parliament, where he is well known for his work in defence of human dignity. Luke is co-founder and Director of the Arise Foundation with John Studzinski CBE, set up to close the gap between those confronting the reality of contemporary slavery on the frontline, and those wanting to help them. 

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An African missionary looks back on decades spent overseas - and looks forward to joining a new mission in Liverpool

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By Fr Terence Madden M.Afr.

When Cardinal Charles Lavigerie founded the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) back in 1868, he was responding to the needs of his times. Famine and disease raged in Algeria where he had newly become the Archbishop of Algiers. The priests of the Catholic Church only ministered to the French population and left the local inhabitants to their fate. Lavigerie knew that he could not stand by and watch, from the edges, the sufferings of the people. The words of Jesus Christ rang in his ears: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Mt 25:35

He took these words to heart. He wanted the people to whom he had been sent to live the values of the Kingdom of God. In order to do this, he knew he had to eradicate the injustices from which they suffered. He had to bring an end to the diseases and hunger which crushed them. For the next 100 years this would be the way of his sons and daughters, Missionaries of Africa. They would preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God by the good works they would do in development, health care, education, and in sharing their faith through prayer and catechism.

The result is clear. The Church is now established and still growing exponentially in almost all countries of Africa. So is the mission finished? In its last General Assembly, or “General Chapter,” in 2016 the missionaries of Africa defined their mission in these terms: “We are sent out to the African World and wherever our charism is needed, for a prophetic mission of encounter and of witness to the love of God.”

For 150 years these missionaries could only envisage their mission in Africa. Mission during that period of time was understood to be the Churches of Europe and North America sending missionaries into Africa to announce the Good News and establish the Church, in the form of Christian Communities, throughout the African continent. Today then, with the community of believers established, what can the mission be?

The essence of mission is to be found in the words “encounter and witness to the love of God”. By this encounter and witness, the Church hopes to cooperate with God who transforms the lives of people and society in general by God’s love.

Maybe more in Africa than any other continent, society needs transformation: from hunger and thirst to clean water and adequate food; from war and mortal violence to peace and harmony among peoples; from corruption and the rule of the strongest to integrity and democratic accountability; from exploitation by the rich and powerful to respect for all. Only the God of Jesus Christ wills that we all live in a Kingdom of Peace and Justice here on earth. Only the Gospel can transform Society into the Kingdom of God.

The Church still has far to go to establish this Kingdom. Now that the Church has taken hold in Africa the African Church has, by its very discipleship in Christ, to be the Sacrament of this Kingdom; making it a reality among the peoples of Africa, wherever they may be: on the Continent of Africa or in the world-wide diaspora.

Missionary Societies like ours still have much to do in Africa. We are sent to the peripheries; to the areas of conflict, to the places where the Church still has difficulty to establish the Kingdom, to the vast slums of the cities, to the distant, unreachable societies far from the centres of urbanisation, to those infected by HIV and other life-threatening diseases, to the poor and uneducated. We are sent, too, by the Spirit of Christ at the Well of Jacob (4th chapter of John’s Gospel), in a spirit of encounter and dialogue, to meet people of the Muslim faith and of African traditional religions. United with them, we have more chance of transforming the societies of Africa into the Kingdom of God.

Today missionaries also have a new prophetic role to play, constantly encouraging the African Church to avoid falling into the trap of clericalism, but to remain faithful to its mission to the poorest of the poor. This year of our 150th Jubilee, we, Missionaries of Africa in Great Britain, have responded to this challenge of meeting Africa and Islam in the diaspora of these islands by opening a new community here. We have accepted the invitation of the Archbishop of Liverpool to open a mission in Liverpool where our main aim will be to welcome the stranger and to meet the believers of other faiths. I will be relocating to Liverpool to join the new community of Missionaries of Africa there. We believe that this is our way of remaining faithful to the Society’s mission:  “We are sent out to the African World and wherever our charism is needed, for a prophetic mission of encounter and of witness to the love of God.”

The African world is present in our midst. Islam is present in our midst. Our mission is to this world. We hope to assist the Church in Liverpool to welcome the migrants from Africa into its midst and to begin a new meeting with the people of Muslim faith.

(Terence Madden was ordained priest in 1981. As a missionary, he lived in Burkina Faso for 22 years, the Philippines for 5 years and Scotland for 5 years).

Full circle for Columban mission as Chinese ordination looms

 Fr Peter Hughes is the Regional Director of the Columban Missionary Society in Britain. 

Fr Peter Hughes is the Regional Director of the Columban Missionary Society in Britain. 

By Fr Peter Hughes

“This is a Mass of Thanksgiving for 100 years of great missionary work and we pray that it will continue in the years ahead”   said Archbishop Peter Smith at the recent celebration of the Columban centenary at Southwark Cathedral.  The congregation numbered more than 850 people from around the country. It was the biggest ever gathering of the Columban “family” in Britain.

Our understanding of Mission has changed over the years.  Unlike earlier generations younger Columban missionaries build bridges not just between east and west, or north and south but all around the world. In earlier decades all of our priests were from English speaking countries. They spent their lives proclaiming the good news in East Asia,  Oceania and Latin America. Thanks to their labours.  and the efforts of so many,   including the local people,  the Church became firmly established in those places. Not only that but in recent decades, Christians in those countries have developed a deep sense of their own missionary responsibility. Consequently the majority of young Columban missionaries today - both priests and lay people - come from Korea and the Philippines, Fiji, Chile and Peru. Indeed since the last century we have travelled a full circle since there are plans to ordain the first Chinese Columban missionary priest during this centennial year.

Hailing from the west coast of Ireland, I studied for the priesthood in St. Columban’s Seminary  and was ordained priest in April 1977.  That same year I went to work as a missionary in Chile. There, I mainly worked in poor parishes in the city of Santiago and for a brief period in Valparaiso on the Chilean coast. I was founder and parish priest of the first parish in Chile named after St. Columban. 

I worked in Chile during most of the dictatorship of General Pinochet which lasted from 1973 until 1989. Like all the Columban missionaries during that period in Chile,  I was involved in the defence of the poor against the oppressive policies of the dictatorship of General Pinochet. Because of this work with the poor I witnessed at first hand the abuse and hardship that they suffered. Some of my Columban colleagues were expelled from Chile during that time because of their work for human rights. A French priest in a neighbouring parish was shot and killed by the security forces as he read the Bible in his bedroom.

I served as Regional Director of the Columban missionaries in Chile for seven years. During that time the Columbans in Chile began to welcome local Chileans as members of the Society of St. Columban. They also welcomed the first Lay Missionaries to Chile.   After having spent 27 years in Chile I was recalled to Britain to help in mission promotion and fundraising. As well as Regional Director I am also the Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation (JPIC) coordinator for the Columbans in Britain. 

Our centenary Mass in Southwark had the theme ‘Sharing Gospel Joy.’  A special Offertory procession saw the presentation of symbols reflecting key areas of Columban work.  A swaying red Chinese lantern was presented by the Chinese Chaplaincy in coordination with Cultural Exchange with China, representing Columban beginnings as the Maynooth Mission to China. Columban priest Jim Fleming, who worked for several decades in Pakistan, presented a mat and shoes from that country representing Columban commitment to interfaith dialogue. Filipina and Fijian partners celebrated Columban commitment to caring for creation with a plant and a copy of Laudato Si, the environment encyclical of Pope Francis. A Lampedusa Cross was carried by Waling  from a migrant domestic workers organisation that the Columbans support.  Especially moving was a photo of Columban martyrs over the past 100 years – 23 priests and one Columban sister – and carried up the aisle by members of the Tierney family whose relative Fr Cornelius Tierney died at the hands of communist bandits in China in 1931, alongside Fr Ray Collier whose uncle, Fr Anthony Collier, was killed in Korea in 1950. The bread and wine were carried by Nathalie Marytsch, a Columban lay missionary from Chile and two Columban sisters, Kate Midgley and Anne Marie Smith.

Pope Francis is a rich source of inspiration, encouragement and challenge as we respond to our missionary call today. He reminds us that the message we proclaim is joyous Good News. The message is basically about the unconditional love, compassion and forgiveness of God reaching out to everyone to become a basic principle of all our exchanges. Pope Francis is very emphatic in saying that our missionary call is rooted in baptism.

“Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries,' but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples'”. (Evangelii Gaudium, para 120)

As we look back on 100 years of Columban Mission here in Britain, we give thanks to God for all the gifts and challenges which have been showered on us. At this important moment in our history we commit ourselves with renewed energy to what the future may bring, confident that the God of Mission will continue to inspire and guide us.  We are very grateful to the British people who have supported us so well over the years. You are part of our Mission and you are  part of our Centenary celebrations and our discernment on what God may be calling us to in the future.

No profit from pain

  Sr Silvana Dallanegra rscj is a Religious of the Sacred Heart. She works for Caritas Westminster, runs her Province's website and social media, and blogs at  All this life and heaven too .

Sr Silvana Dallanegra rscj is a Religious of the Sacred Heart. She works for Caritas Westminster, runs her Province's website and social media, and blogs at All this life and heaven too.

Here in the UK we've just been celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding the National Health Service. Over those seven decades millions of lives have been saved, transformed, enhanced, cared for - with no eye-watering bills at the end of the treatment, however lengthy or specialised. Yes, it has its flaws, bureaucracies and problems, but nonetheless it is, quite rightly, a precious national treasure, of which we are all justifiably proud. It is, very much, what its chief executive has called “a unifying ideal – across this nation and down the generations. A health service that belongs to us all. 

Writing in The Guardian Maggie O’Farrell reminds us: “It’s tempting to get grouchy and huffy, to focus on waiting lists or delayed appointments or scrambled prescriptions, but we all need to incant this to ourselves, on a daily basis: the NHS is free, it is inclusive, it is, I believe, this country’s superpower.” And indeed, only those who have lived in countries where medicine isn't free, or who are old enough to remember having to pay, pre-1948, can truly appreciate what a remarkable system we have - and how selflessly counter-cultural, in a world geared to profit and personal gain. Selfless because our national insurance isn't personal - I pay in, and my sicker neighbour benefits; selfless too because it isn't run for profit. This has certainly been the theme to No profit in pain, an NHS tribute song by Gruff Rhys, who also reminds us not to take its continued survival and existence as a free service for granted.

Our celebrations have been filled with gratitude and appreciation: for the service itself, but especially for its staff, many of whom serve with extreme - and at times legendary - commitment, dedication, generosity and sheer, unstinting hard work. Even someone as relatively healthy as me has a list of people to thank: long-ago midwives and health visitors, opticians, dentists (yes, even though I dread every visit!), doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. And there is universal gratitude, too, for the memory of the NHS's founders, especially Nye Bevan, whose passion, audacity and conviction drove the idea forward and ensured it became reality.

Passion, audacity and conviction... these are the hallmarks, too, of those who founded our religious orders. Passion for Christ and his Gospel; passion too for the needs of the world and of suffering humanity; for the young, the sick, the elderly, outcast, materially or spiritually poor, the abused, the vulnerable... for whatever need or situation spoke most strongly to our founders' hearts. Audacity - simply to believe in and hold fast to their call and vision, often in the face of institutional opposition. And a conviction, centred in the healing, redemptive love of Christ, that this little group, this fledgling community, was called to be Christ's hands and heart and hope, however daunting the task or slender their resources.

And if we were founded with passion, audacity and conviction, we have certainly been continued with commitment, dedication, generosity and hard work. Each order has its own narratives, of pioneering spirits and sacrifices made; each order, too, has its own local heroes, serving - especially where the needs are greatest - whether as quiet presence or as tireless, feisty leader, as inspiration or self-effacing team-worker, as they continue their founders' legacy. 

And rather like the NHS we do all this selflessly. We make no profit from pain: pain – whether physical, spiritual or emotional - is what we endeavour to heal, in countless ways; to hold in prayer, to transform, to campaign against, to be alongside - freely. Whether in healthcare or education, in pastoral ministries, counselling or social work, in working with those who are lonely, abused, trafficked or otherwise vulnerable and disadvantaged, or in the silence of our prayer, we give, as freely and plentifully as we can, for love, and with love. 

Yes, we too (like the NHS) have, and have had, our flaws – which communities are addressing – but there is, I believe, an overall balance of goodness and goodwill, which has touched and transformed so many lives. And just like the NHS we also need more resources – in our case, not government funding or specialists, but great-hearted, generous vocations, ready and willing to give their lives for love.

Passion... commitment... dedication... generosity... selflessness… words we so rightly ascribe to the NHS, and all its staff. But wouldn't it be lovely, too, if people, hearing those words, would also automatically think of religious women and men? Not only the religious who work in healthcare, but also the ones they meet in parishes, projects, neighbourhoods and schools up and down the country? The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has described the NHS as “the most powerful and visible expression of our Christian heritage”: I’d love to think that we, who have pledged their lives to Love, could also be seen to be a powerful and visible expression of those very ideals and qualities...

Sr Silvana Dallanegra RSCJ