Saturday, July 20, 2002

Faith Matters

East European sisters visit U.S.

        When Ludmila Surmajova made the monumental decision to dedicate her life to Christ, she kept it a secret. She didn't want to subject her family and friends to the harassment and other problems that could ensue by publicly proclaiming her faith.

        During the 1980s in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, going public with religion was a jailable offense. The risk was so great that often sisters in the same religious order didn't know each other's names.

        Sister Surmajova was the last in her community of the Sisters of Social Service to take her vows secretly in 1989. By the next year, Communism had fallen, and faith could be public.

        But because of those many years in secrecy, many nuns in Eastern Europe didn't know how to live together and operate as a community.

        The U.S. Conference of Bishops in 1993 entreated American sisters to provide training to their Eastern Europe counterparts and “to help them get caught up to the 20th century,” says Sister of Charity Patricia Malarkey of Price Hill.

        When the program tapered off in the late 1990s, many sisters wanted to continue the relationship. Representatives from 30 religious communities throughout the United States pitched in

        time and money, ultimately bringing eight Eastern European sisters to the United States for nearly a month of study, conversation and retreats.

        The women convened at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse in Delhi Township in late June. Then the group split up and traveled to four cities to hold ““A Forum for Sisters,” a retreat and workshop where the American and European sisters could share their experiences and faith.

        They returned last week to the Moye Spiritual Life Center in Melbourne, Ky., and head home Monday.

        Ursuline Sister Katarina Simalcikova, of the Slovak Republic, discovered some differences. While few sisters in the United States wear habits these days, all of the Eastern European nuns wear the sacred garb.

        “For 40 years, we lived secretly, underground,” says Sister Simalcikova, OSU. “For us, our habit is a sign of our religious life, that we as sisters are present and alive in our cities.”

        Sister Simalcikova also discovered she has much in common with her American sisters: “God is present in our lives. He is alive in your country and in our country, too.”

My goodbye

        After eight years of punching out stories for daily deadlines, more than half of the time here at The Cincinnati Enquirer, I am leaving one noble profession for another.

        As I become director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, this column will continue with a new writer, Karen Vance. She's looking forward to your contributions and feedback. Send it to , or fax 755-4150.

        When this column began nearly a year ago, I talked to you about how I believe faith matters. In our world, our communities and in our lives.

        Thanks for all of your support.

        And God bless.


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