Sr. Maria Escayola: "It is important that we live in the same trust that Marie Poussepin had in God's Providence"

on 18 Nov, 2020
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Barcelona (Spain), 11/18/2020, Srs. Gemma Morató Sendra and Conchi García Fernández.- We would like to present to you an interview that we conducted with Sister Maria Escayola Coris, Superior General, on the occasion of the Year of Grace. As we know we are in an important moment, the Closing of this year of Grace, where we close a cycle, but not necessarily the illusion for what we have begun to live. Really, we are in an uncertain moment for the realities that are touching us to live, but also it is certain, that many positive things are being seen, we do not have more than to look at the news realized in this Year of Grace. The interview places us in the Congregation, but also in the reality of the Church. We will touch on profound, current and very much our own themes.


INTERVIEW: Sr. Maria Escayola Coris


Sr. Gemma: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, today we want to talk with Sr. Sr. Maria Escayola Coris, Superior General of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. For little more than 6 years, Sr. Maria has been leading our Congregation which has almost 325 years of history. Marie Poussepin founded our Congregation in a time that was difficult and also ravaged by illness. Now we are presented with great challenges, great questions and much uncertainty. About this and many other things we shall talk now with Sr. Maria Escayola Coris.


Sr. Gemma: Sr. Maria, welcome and thank you for your wish to reach the whole Congregation today.

Sr. Maria: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity for communication with all the sisters, though online, in such an important moment as we mark the close of this Year of Grace, of the 25 years of the beatification. Thank you very much.

Sr. Gemma: It is afternoon here, we do not know what time it will be around the world, we are going to talk a little bit about everything. But I think the first question is in view of the complicated situation of the world, of the global pandemic Covid-19. What would be your assessment? And perhaps, what are we interested in and how should we situate ourselves as daughters of Marie Poussepin?

Sr. Maria: Marie Poussepin wanted to found a Dominican community to know and announce Jesus Christ, also in a time very difficult at social, economic and human level. She looked for the poor and so she went to Sainville. Today the Covid has taken us by surprise, it has disconcerted us and then we were very sure of ourselves and very accustomed and very proud of what science and technology has achieved. We have to recover these founding aspects of the Charism of Marie Poussepin, that is community life, knowledge of Jesus Christ and service to the poor to announce love of God to them, that is, in some way the time of Covid allows us to go back to deepen, to live community life with greater intensity, perhaps we have been spending more time in mission, also to know Jesus Christ more, so that we will be able to announce Him later.

Sr. Gemma: So, we will talk about the theme of living community and spirituality, how to work with it, but now seeing a bit of the "worldliness of the world" that they say is modern... what could a community offer to the sisters or what could we offer to each other and what can we offer the world, perhaps a bit in the style of Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, what are we going to gain from this time?

Sr. Maria: This encyclical of the Pope is very good because it offers very clear steps and orientations. At first, he makes an analysis of the situation of the world which entails listening, openness, love for the world, social friendship, fraternity, but also dialogue, solidarity, openness to the whole world so that love will be effective. He also speaks of forgiveness, gratuity, acceptance, value of policies, value of economy, in other words, in this encyclical, he has touched on all aspects concerning our life at this time.  And He makes an analysis that can help us to situate ourselves and find our own place in the Church and orient ourselves on how we must act.

I would also like to highlight what he says that we need to live fraternity, it is not easy, and we will not succeed in getting out of this situation without the contribution of everyone. In other words, to achieve peace and fraternity, all of us need to get involved and each one should contribute the little that one can offer.

Sr. Gemma: Perfect, let us continue our conversation, and now this theme of the pandemic because we cannot live outside our world. Let's move on to another block.


Sr. Gemma: A moment ago, you mentioned on the importance of community. As in all "organizations" in the world, religious life today has great challenges, which one would you like to highlight? And to those that you wish to highlight, how can we respond to them?

Sr. Maria: I think the first would be, to find the place and the contribution of religious in the situation that we are living today, within the Church.  That is to say , what is the place of religious life in this situation and in the Church, and to strengthen the sense of community, of communion as opposed to individualism. Today we know that if it is not with all of us together, we are not going to go forward. So religious life can offer light and a path today. It can also give witness to joy, going out to others, being attentive to needs of others, going beyond ourselves and going out of ourselves. I believe that the work of the last General Chapter was taking us in this direction, now it is our turn to put it into practice knowing that we need God's strength and we need a personal and community conversion that unites us to the mystery of the Lord's passion and resurrection.

Sr. Gemma:  Although in the last General Chapter no one had imagined the situation that we face today in this pandemic, surely they would have thought about other things and in a different way, couldn't they?

Sr. Maria: This is true, but I think that the fact of crossing or going beyond our own borders is a very valid invitation for this time: Crossing the borders to revitalize life and mission. Whatever the circumstances that we are touched by today and are not thought of at the time of the Chapter because we did not imagine it, but I think that the confinement has been an opportunity to strengthen prayer, to give greater strength and meaning to community life, discernment, seek creativity to reach those who suffer most from the consequences of the pandemic. Many sisters in the Congregation, those who work in health care have continued, even some have become infected to be able to give this service. While others, depending on their age and the possibilities of the circumstances have offered valuable services. Those in education have been working online, some have had more work than in normal times. There has been much creativity, a desire to collaborate and to know that by taking care of ourselves we also take care of others. This stimulates the sense of responsibility and search for the common good. I think it has been very important and has also prompted us to make good use of the media, although we lack much formation in many respects. But to know how to use them well for meeting, for listening, for creating communion and for the proclamation of the Lord. It is also a time to persevere in our difficulties because we need to support each other. This has been a hard time for many, emotionally and psychologically. I see that not just the sisters, but everyone is tired, and many times they tell us, that people can't take it anymore. We must know how to persevere as Marie Poussepin did in difficulties and concrete circumstances of our life.

Sr. Gemma:  Apart from this tiredness that is real and that I believe we are sisters to our people in the world and this has presented us with a very positive view of this confinement, and we are grateful for that.  But it is also true that not long ago and in times of confinement at least recently the CIVCSVA published a document "The gift of fidelity. The joy of perseverance "and in the circles of religious journalists, it is said and explained that it has been a bit of a response to a good number of brothers and sisters, from different institutes, who have abandoned religious life as they were obliged to live in community during confinement and have realized that they could not and that they really had a problem in the community. Perhaps the community, we talked about it at the beginning, has lost its importance, we had become so involved in the mission that we had lost one of the pillars, I don't know, what is your assessment of this document and this situation? I don't know if in our Congregation it has been as marked as in others, that it has been really very hard to go ahead in this situation.

Sr. Maria: I think this document is very valid, because it reminds us that vocation is a gift from God. God is always faithful, and we must persevere in accepting this gift and letting the Lord work in us. This perseverance today, is not an attitude that is valued in the world, but our response to God's gift. I think there are congregations that by Charism do not have or do not give the same value to community life and then, at this time that they were forced to live in community because there was no other way and has been an experience that they were not accustomed. I think for us community life is of great value.  We know that we carry out the mission in community and that we have to do everything in community. However, we have also had sisters leaving religious life. But I think, with multiple reasons, on the one hand there is a loss of faith and sense of relationship with the Lord. When the intimacy with the Lord is lost, faith dies and then other things becomes a priority for finding personal fulfillment like the desire to form a family, desire for relationships at a different level. It fulfills them emotionally, the feeling which is valued much today. I think basically it is the loss of the sense of one's own vocation that leads them to leave because difficulties are part of life for everyone. I have heard that couples also have difficulties to live together. It is the fact of being confronted with a reality for which we were not prepared and then we comes to learn the real truth .... what are our desires and aspirations? And some people, sisters, religious have understood that this is not the place where they want to be. Perhaps the pandemic has also served as a purification of the motivations of their following or choosing religious life to follow the Lord. As a document, I value it, because it reminds us of what is essential in our vocation and on the other hand it makes a great insistence on the role of formation and the role of accompanying one another.  How are we responsible for one another in the vocation that the Lord has given us and how have we assumed responsibility to welcome God's fidelity that is manifested throughout our life.

Sr. Gemma: It brings out that everything is within the person, we need to take care of it and treat it, but I would also ask what can we do to take care of the community? Not just the vocation itself, which is a gift of God and we respond to it.  But there are also many who leave as a result of their "bad living" in community, how could this be solved, if at all?

Sr. Maria: The solution would be for us to live charity as Marie Poussepin wished and for us to try to make room for each other. It is true that we do not always succeed in giving each one her place and there are sisters who feel that the community does not give them space, that they do not find their place in the Congregation. There is also human fragility, but I say that, when there are these situations, if we truly seek the Lord and make effort to follow him, it is the most important thing. One seeks help, one looks for a way that there can be a change of community or a circumstance that helps one to really live and respond to the Lord.  Because sometimes yes, the circumstances are difficult, but the Congregation is much bigger than a community. So sometimes there are fears or not being able to communicate with anyone. When the Pope speaks of social friendship, I would also say we need to be sisters and friends among ourselves to help us walk together in this journey of following the Lord. If there is no such thing as feeling like sisters, it is very difficult and when one feels alone and cannot trust anyone, life really becomes impossible.

Sr. Gemma: Perfect, let us take a little break and we will continue.


Sr. Gemma: Well, and let's go a step further, up to now the key theme in all homes and all communities has surely been the virus, but in the Congregation we have had and continue to have a central theme which is this Year of Grace or this year of thanksgiving for the 25 years of the Beatification of Marie Poussepin. You were present at the ceremony of Beatification of Marie Poussepin on that November 20, 1994 at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome with John Paul II, a saint who beatified our Foundress. What do you remember especially from that day?

Sr. Maria: We just had our Chapter and it really had been an important experience of the Congregation, of participation and communion. But it was very exciting to hear the Pope proclaim Marie Poussepin, Blessed. Also, to watch, the image of Marie Poussepin unfolding slowly in the Basilica and this continue to fill me with excitement. But an experience that seemed much good that helped me a lot in the Congregation later, was that of internationality.  Seeing how Marie Poussepin, her Charism spoke, connected with so many different cultures. We could say, from the Charism and from the spirituality, the people who were present that day and had come to Rome found her a guide and a model. For me, it's a little bit like saying, the universality of the world was present in St. Peter's, which is the sign of the universal Church.

Sr. Gemma: And well, this Year of Grace is almost over, we are on the verge of closing this year and that perhaps we have not been able to do everything as we had planned, given the circumstances.  But it can be done, perhaps I should not say so, but I believe that a very positive account can be made of numbers, participation, creativity as you pointed out at the beginning and surely in spiritual growth and in living our Charism. What would be the account, the summary, the synthesis of this year marked by the Covid but lived in depth by the sisters and Presentation laity?

Sr. Maria: Just before the confinement and without any indication of it, we had made a program in which we thought to organize pilgrimages and meetings. All these could not be done and therefore we had to concentrate on virtual media. The website has had more than 200,000 visits in one year, almost 200 news items dedicated to this celebration, videos and songs have been played thousands of times. There has been an extraordinary participation of the sisters and of laity from all the Structures. I think the desire to connect with Marie Poussepin once again was already in the sisters and this was seen as an opportunity to dedicate some time to her, to reflect, pray and love her more.

Sr. Gemma: And we continue to see, here, Sister Conchi who is filming us and I, myself with the webpage,  have seen that the e-mails are arriving until the last moment from all parts of the world wanting to present what they have been doing in schools, clinics, communities, lay groups, etc. Really the response has been a bit unimaginable.

Sr. Maria: I think the pandemic has helped in this. It has offered time for participation and creativity in community and also, time for reflection in community.  Many communities have expressed and thanked for the themes that have served them and helped them. And this has also helped them to feel united with the whole Congregation.  We all journey in the same direction, working for the same thing, a moment of strong communion at the level of the Congregation and much more during this time of pandemic. We have known each other more, what some does what others do. We value the contribution of the laity.  We are surprised to see how great is their spirit of vision and so strong the love for Marie Poussepin. Therefore, I feel that the Charism is alive.

Sr. Gemma:  Perhaps you have already expressed it a little, but on a very personal level, what is your feeling on this response to the Year of Grace?

Sr. Maria: On the one hand, a sense of thanksgiving, for the presence and action of the Lord in each sister, in each community, in the groups of lay people. And also the admiration, I esteem their creativity that has been expressed in such an extraordinary way. I could say, the joy for the growth of the knowledge and love of Marie Poussepin and the desire that this Charism will last. These are positive feelings, feelings of hope which encourage us to value more the Charism proper to the Congregation and to say that it has an expression to say to the world. Marie Poussepin's Charism is very much actual, and she received everything from the Lord. We have to bring it to up-to-date, to put it into practice, for the life of the world so as to give life.

Sr. Gemma: And as a result of this, one more step, many of us want the canonization, we will see it, the path has become complicated? should we always continue to pray? Well, many of us do. But what else?

Sr. Maria: We know that only a miracle is required for the canonization because the virtues have already been recognized, a miracle through her intercession is needed. But on our part, it requires also faith, prayer, presenting cases through her intercession and that we are able to let the Lord act in our lives to live as she wanted us to live. I believe and I have said this on other occasions that if we do not live as she wanted her daughters to live, she does not see herself capable of being a model for others. We have to embody that model of Christian life and religious life that she offered as a witness or as an expression of the way of living the life of Jesus Christ on earth. We have to imitate and have the same sentiments that Jesus Christ had on earth and I believe that there is a journey which is essential to take and that we need to work for it.

Sr. Gemma: Sr. Maria here leaves us with a great challenge, a great challenge for the next block.


Sr. Gemma: We return to religious life in our Congregation. Scholars in consecrated life say that very few Congregations has survived more than 300 years. And we are almost 325 years old.  What has been the secret or how can we endure and not pay attention to the birds of prey. With what spirit or with what heart or with what tools should we face this new world, with so many changes and what points should we pay attention to and put into practice?

Sr. Maria: I do not know if there is a secret, I think it is the Lord's Providence and the prayer of Blessed Virgin that has been leading the Congregation in its moments of light and of shadows because we have had them all, easy moments and other very difficult ones. But the Lord has found sisters who have known how to connect or interpret the signs of the times, let themselves be led, open to discover the movements of the Spirit, to update the Charism and the response of the Congregation in these moments to the needs of people, the world and the Church. I also think that the confidence that Marie Poussepin had and her prayer for her sisters and for those who would follow her had an influence. Marie Poussepin was sure that if we acted as she has given in the Rules, the Congregation would last, but it depends on us, but she had that confidence. I think her prayer helps us too.

To continue to exist, we need to return to the essentials, to our sources, to value the contributions of new generations, but not only to value them but to accept them, to know how to give space to each one of the sisters and to be attentive to the needs of the poor. The Congregation blossoms in a place where we are faithful to the service of charity to the poor. When we abandon the poor, then we die there.

Also we should give priority to formation. Today we need a much stronger formation both in the spiritual, religious, human and professional sense which will allow us to respond to these needs we are talking about. And all these with a strong appreciation of community life because it is in the community by helping each other that we can build the Congregation of tomorrow. Live communion and make charity the soul of the community and this is what Marie Poussepin expects or desires from us.

Sr. Gemma: Any practical questions?

Sr. Maria: I don't know if it's very practical, but next year we celebrate the 325th anniversary of our foundation. Now we have been deepening our knowledge of Marie Poussepin and I think it is now time to get to know the Congregation better. It’s history, Charism and life throughout these years. Because we have many witnesses of faith, service, availability, dedication in the sisters who have preceded us and in those who live among us. But it must also be a time of evaluation, of seeing where we are and of intuition, of discovering the paths that the Lord wants us to travel. This must be done with the contribution of all, to seek in fidelity, to bring life to this desire of Marie Poussepin to "live and die at the service of the Church in the exercise of charity". In reality, returning to the sources and to what is our Charism proper is where we will find the paths for the future.

Sr. Gemma: Therefore, nd almost at the end, this dynamism that the Year of Grace has generated will continue in a certain way, surely, as I expressed with another theme or other elements, will it continue? Because in 2021 there will be 325 years of the Congregation and this cannot go unnoticed either!

Sr. Maria: Yes, surely it will have to be another way, history enlightens us, but we cannot stay in the glories of the past and simply with our history. But we can know our roots to learn that which moved the sisters and above all the essentials that encouraged them and gave them courage. This will be helpful: their creativity, intuition and to discover it. I think that love for the Church is one of the aspects that will help us discover the meaning of our life and the Charism of the Congregation. In recent years, the writings of the popes have been very communicative in what they have expressed. Pope Francis himself has valued service of charity in building and being builders of communion, teachers of communion. This is identified as essential for the Church and for us. But we need conversion, it is not easy to be a teacher of communion if we do not live it among us and there we have to recognize that we lack more fraternal communities, more open, more willing, more available, less static ... but this is the fragility of our humanity. The Lord continues to trust in us and we must respond to this trust of the Lord with generosity.

Sr. Gemma: We have clear plans already to celebrate or commemorate the 325 years of the Congregation.


Sr. Gemma: And we have reached the end of this interview, perhaps we can ask Sister Maria Escayola Coris, what is the message that she wants to send to the entire Presentation family?

Sr. Maria: I think it is important that we all live in the same trust that Marie Poussepin had in God's Providence, we are in a moment of uncertainty.  We must put trust and this to live communion, service to the Church, to the needy as Presentation family.  We must expand our mentality, our life to the whole Presentation family.  This is the way to go beyond borders and work with others. To bring the proclamation of God's merciful love to all, to each brother and sister, to each one of us, to the whole world. In other words, we are going to make this announcement as a family and bring it to everyone this trust in God's Providence that always accompanies us and that will never leave us.

The Lord is present where two or three are gathered in his name and this trust must strengthen us so as not to be afraid, to go forward and present ourselves as Mary in the temple in this world for His service, may it be so.

Sr. Gemma: Well, thank you very much, that Marie Poussepin accompanies us and until the next time.   Let's hope that it won't be too long and at least, in this way, she is able to reach the whole Congregation at the closing of the Year of Grace.  See you soon.

Sr. Maria: Thank you very much to all our sisters and our laity for your creativity, contribution. Let us continue to deepen our love for Marie Poussepin.