Úna Agnew SSL: Contribution to the Communicators for Women Religious Zoom Conference 21 March 2021

Úna Agnew’s contribution to CWR Provision of Service Zoom Conference 20 March 2021 

Why I became interested in CWR, Communication for Women Religious

I became interested in communication for women religious, when I first became painfully aware that religious life, and especially the life of apostolic women religious, was being seriously and consistently devalued in the public forum.

Day after day, week after week we have seen “nuns” lives under the cosh and their contribution to Irish society over the years, systematically eroded!

“Nuns” have been caricatured and denigrated. The negative media coverage has been so relentless, and our way of life brought to such a low level of esteem that one wonders if it will ever recover sufficiently to be capable of attracting future generations to its folds.

We have even been publicly denounced as untrustworthy. “Surely you wouldn’t trust nuns with that,” said one well-known TV announcer.

While I agree that there is much in our lives as religious that needed to be challenged, discarded, cleansed. We needed and still need greater humility and a readiness to admit that we too can get things wrong.

But perhaps we have also allowed distortions and misconceptions about our way of life to take hold. We may have been too long silent.

We may have allowed the public and the media at large to identify us solely with our works: with the buildings we built, schools, hospitals, social housing, shelters, etc. and the ways we strive and have striven for excellence and high standards?

We may, unwittingly, have transmitted ambiguous messages? Perhaps we forgot to keep making explicit the underlying meaning and motivation of it all, that our lives witness, first and foremost, to Gospel values.

At our recent Zoom Conference, Feb 20, 2021, Patrizia Morgante, Communication Officer for religious congregations in Rome (UISG) has challenged us to re-imagine our charisms, the founding ideal of our Institutes, in ways that are meaningful for today. I would go further and say, we need to re-imagine the fundamental meaning of our lives, make explicit their core values, and find ways to express this for ourselves and for others.

Religious are and should be a corrective influence in the Church. Our lives, when lived fully, create centres of value radiation, or in the language of physics, fields of religious energy. Or more poetically in 2 Cor. 2: 14 “like a sweet fragrance that spreads everywhere God uses us to make Christ known to all”.

Our challenge today is become better able to articulate the spiritual foundations of our lives, to make explicit what is implicit in our charisms. This is the challenge that presents itself to us to use whatever means of communication we are comfortable with to affect this.

Úna Agnew SSL

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  1. Alan McGill says:

    It is unimaginable that the secular media would dare to treat any other communities of faith the way it refers to women religious. This was evident in discourse surrounding the National Maternity Hospital and in wider failure to acknowledge the role of religious in education, healthcare, social services and advocacy for justice. With a few notable exceptions, TV portrayals of women religious depict them as caricatures of 1950s religious sisters – or a confused version of cloistered nuns. Yet anyone who grew up in recent decades in Ireland is likely to have encountered women religious who were inspirational teachers, mentors, and social innovators who lived and worked in areas where others feared to tread. There seems to be a kind of willful ignorance at work.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Alan McGill, you are right. Sisters have been the most maligned group in Irish society in recent years. But even from the doubly maligned older generations we have memories of deeply reflective, and truly enlightened women, who were streets ahead of the clergy. Laud their sanctity and dedication and you’ll be called a cover-upper. Speak of the kindness overflowing in their communities and you’ll be told “that’s the face they showed to you!” A German buddhologist told me of an admirable American sister here in Tokyo that he felt privileged to know her, that he regarded her as a living bodhisattva (embodiment of wisdom and compassion). The jaundiced anti-Catholic eye cannot perceive grace and virtue.

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