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Mother Josepha's Beatification:
'Sanctity as a fruit of the community'

Arlindo Pereira Dias, SVD (from Netherlands)
Maria Jose Rebelo, SSpS

he villages of Steyl and Tegelen (county of Venlo), in the Netherlands and the city of Issum in Germany lived moments of deep spirituality and celebration between 28 and 30 0f June of 2008. The figure of Josepha (Hendrina) Stenmanns made a crowd revive the end of the nineteenth century when two single women collaborated in the founding of three congregations that throughout the twentieth century have grown and bore fruit: the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit - SSpS - (3500 Sisters in 45 countries), the Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration of (600 sisters) and the Missionaries of the Divine Word (6100 Fathers and Brothers Missionaries in 65 countries). The path of thousands of missionaries (male and female) who went to all of around the world in the last century, now was done in the reverse direction in the small town of Steyl that welcomed thousands of people from all corners of the world. Sister Betina Ropp says that "the presence of 5000 people from the Netherlands, Germany and other parts of the world touched her because Mother Josepha did not go on mission, but her heart was everywhere in the world. Now the world comes to Steyl to visit her. "Beyond the work of care to poor and unemployed immigrants Betina is responsible for the young girls missionary lay of the MAS - (Missionaries for a time) that go to Brazil and other poor countries devote a time of life to the poorest.

On the afternoon of June the 28th about 1,000 people gathered in the parish church of Steyl for the vigil of thanksgiving for the life of mother Josepha. People from everywhere in the world gathered in front of the church. Despite different languages people were little by little communicating and knowing each other as a single family. During the prayer there were expressions of praise and thanksgiving presented by dances from Africa, India and Slovakia expressing the enculturation of the Gospel among peoples. At the end of the celebration people joined some kind of ribbon and formed the ?great current of unity? around the mission. After the vigil, in this time of year where everything grows dark later in Europe, people were received in the Motherhouse of Divine Word Missionaries in Steyl for some snacks and social coexistence.

In the morning of June the 29th more than 5000 people gathered for the Mass of beatification of Sister Josepha in large outdoor theatre ?Doolhof?, which drew attention for its natural beauty. The celebration was presided by Bishop Franz Wiertz, Diocese of Roermond. Also, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins (Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and representative of Pope Benedict XVI) and several other Bishops and Priests were their to concelebrate. The Portuguese Cardinal read the Apostolic Letter of Benedict XVI which introduced Mother Josepha in the record of Blessed. In his message, Cardinal Jose Saraiva thus said: "Sister Josepha is a precious and a spiritual heritage for us. Her example is a program of life, marked by her love for the mission and for the Holy Spirit and her testimony of fidelity and love of Christ. "

The celebration highlighted the internationality through the use of typical symbols, songs and dances of different countries where the SSpS sisters are present. One of the great moments of emotion occurred during the opening of the large panel with a picture of Josepha at the centre of the theatre richly decorated. Then Sisters representatives of the five continents brought to the altar relics of Sister Josepha accompanied by flowers and candles. At the time of the Gospel, the profession of faith of Peter "You Are Christ, the son of the Living God" was proclaimed in 9 languages, revealing the latest and universality of the person and message of Christ to the world today.

During the presentation of the gifts, Sister Fatima Kapp, the provincial of the south province of Brazil, came with the Valdir Bender, metallurgical Brazilian married, and father of two children, whose miracle opened the doors for the beatification of Sister Josepha. Valdir who could not hide his emotion, came especially for the celebration. He told us that one of the nurses of the hospital where he was in serious condition, with acute appendicitis, in the year 1985, interceded to Sister Josepha. "When I was dying the doctors opened me to see what I had and I almost did not come back," said Mr. Valdir. The next day, checking its sudden improvement, the friends and family began a novena in the hospital chapel. At the end of the novena was Valdir in person, already recovered, who was present at the prayers. Sister Fatima, who was present with other 16 people from Brazil says that the fact that the miracle has occurred in the small and unknown village of Antas, in Rio Grande do Sul (south of Brazil) is really the style of Mother Josepha, a life in silence and humility. "It is a sign that God acts in silence," she added.

Before the final blessing the Superior General of the Congregation, Sister. Agada Brand, addressed a word of gratitude to the participants. Agada highlighted among the characteristics of Mother Josepha the "opened eyes to those who were in more necessities" and centrality in God: "She lived in the presence of God. This was like to breath for her. She challenges us to become this type of woman".

The celebrations were completed on June the 30th, during the Eucharist celebrated in the city of Issum, homeland of Mother Josepha which brought together 4,000 people. The Philippine Father Antonio Pernia, Superior General of the Congregation of Divine Word, felt the celebration in Issum as "closer to the personality and sanctity of Mother Josepha" For him "we can experience the depth of the community of Issum that produced this beautiful fruit that is the Blessed Mother Josepha?. "I am happy to be able to experience the action and vitality of the community of Issum" he commented. Talking about the connection of Mother Josepha with Divine Word Missionaries he added that "as a co-founder of the missionary community" she meant "bridge of cooperation between the two congregations."

At the end of the celebration Fr. Geancarlo Girardi, General Procurator of the SVDs stressed that for the visitors in Issum "was a wonderful contact with the local community people that feels like theirs this blessed." For the Divine Word Missionary Fr. Joaquim Teixeira from Portugal who came for the celebration "the experience of internationality was very strong during these days." "I have been asking my myself how three people as different as Saint Arnold, Mother Helena and Mother Josepha with their personal difficulties could collaborate so deep and come to this work? It impresses me how the Holy Spirit worked at that time" concludes.

Women with their own way of being Church, the challenge!

Like Mother Josepha, two important figures during the celebrations were Sister Agada Brand, current Leadership (finishing her term in July) and Sister Maria Thereza Hornemann - General Coordinator elected in May 2008. Sister Agada is a native of Brazil. She was for two terms the provincial of the south province of Brazil. After that she was called to be part of Spirituality Team in Steyl. In 1996 she was elected General Leadership and re-elected in 2002. Sister Thereza was born in a small town near Steyl, Germany. She entered the congregation in 1975. She was a nursing professor, formator of the postulants and novices to Europe. She was elected general council in 2002 during the second term as provincial. The two sisters gave the interview below:

How do you evaluate these 12 years in the overall coordination of the congregation?

Sister Agada Brand: We, missionary SSpS, these years have moved many steps towards greater awareness and availability of missionary sisters, of not European nationalities. We have grown in conscientious and missionary enthusiasm. We re-discovered that we are missionaries of borders, ready to go where there are people in need. Open new fields of mission. We have decided to work deeper in the ministry with the people with AIDS, not only in the care of patients, but also in awareness and help women to self-help. We want to walk the walk with them and go fighting for what gives meaning to their life.

What challenges do you see for the future of the church's mission?

Sister Agada Brand: Today the changes come very fast. To follow the time is necessary discernment and constant willingness to learn new things. Often the structures tie us, become unwieldy and not allow a faster walk adapted to the changes of time. Nowadays, the society requires a type of religious life different from the past, but we still have no clarity on how. We are looking for new ways for it to be marked and prophetic in the church today.

The internationality is also a challenge. Now we are from 43 nationalities, a great wealth. The coexistence in a multicultural community needs to be learned, it is not enough to put people together. It must be open to learn from each other, accept the differences that should not be seen as obstacles but as wealth. I must be prepared to leave what is mine and embrace what is the other.

Another challenge concerns the space of women in society and in the church. If the woman had more space in the church, certainly would be a much more welcoming place where everyone would feel more at comfortable, at home. There is a long way to do this.

What are the main challenges for the church in today's world?

Sister Maria Thereza Hornemann: One of the biggest challenges for me is to be a church closer to the people. We must help them to try to believe in God and relate to Him brings strength and joy to our life. People often do not find answers to their needs inside of the church. One of my concerns is living the Christian and Missionary be to the way which truly makes sense to people.

On the other hand I would like that women were more involved in decision-making in the church, not because we are better, but because we are different from men in decision-making. That would bring changes. I would like to see women really equal to men in rights. We have our own way of doing things. God created us as men and women and it should be recognized as complementary. It would be a great contribution to the world when the two can contribute fully with their qualities and differences.

What does this mean for the congregation the slogan "commitment to life," assumed by General Chapter celebrated last May?

Sister Maria Thereza Hornemann: It means to serve the life in all its forms: the nature, animals and human beings. Our action should be guided by this principle: everything we do or let not do should be to the service of life. Sometimes it is also what we do not do. We should always support the life, so it can grow and be protected, especially in places where this is in danger, repressed or there is no freedom. As women we are called upon to be sensitive to situations where life is being threatened and then offer our gifts.

Ready is my heart!

Mother Josepha was born on May 28, 1852 in Issum, at that time, the small town of Lower Reno on the border with the Netherlands, German diocese of Munster / Westfalia / Germany. The young Stenmanns, early began to care for the poor and help people in difficulties. For she, it was decisive the meeting with Saint Arnold Janssen in Steyl, that invited to be part of the new congregation which was founded by him. The admission as religious happened on February 12, 1884. Ten years later she professed her first vows in the Congregation of the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit, a new Institute founded by Arnold and Maria Helena Stollenwerk, becoming master of novices and then Superior General. It offered a great contribution to the growth of the congregation in Latin America, the United States and Africa. When she died in Steyl - in May 20, 1903 - Arnold Janssen gave her the title of co-founder. Never went on a mission, but had a missionary soul. "Ready is my heart," was the slogan used in the preparation of the beatification.

(Translation: Guilherme Andrino, SVD)