Before being admitted to make her life-long commitment in the Congregation, every sister is offered a very special time of formation which we call “tertianship”. This is an opportunity to take time and space away from busy lives, to listen again to the call of God and to deepen her understanding of the implications of her response, which will culminate in the final profession of perpetual vows.
On October 4th 2011, Sr. Christina Elias arrived in Heathrow Airport after a long flight from Pohnpei, her Pacific island home in Micronesia, through Manila and Dubai. This was her first time in Europe and in England, where she was to spend the next eight months in an international formation programme, in preparation for her final vows in the Congregation of Marie Auxiliatrice.
On Octobe 12th, she joined a group of 8 sisters belonging to three different Congregations, who have in common the spirituality of St. Ignatius and a commitment to active ministry in today’s world. These sisters who were to be her companions on the journey are from Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines and England, with three formation directresses to accompany them, one from Canada, one from Ireland and an Irish missionary in Kenya. The host Congregation, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, offer wonderful hospitality and provide us with all the resources we could possibly need.
The house is right on the coast of Kent, just a mile from the seaside town of Broadstairs, not far from Margate, Dover and Canterbury. We were blessed with beautiful weather until well into November. Some were even tempted by the mellow Autumn sunshine to have a swim in the sea in the early days!
The programme up to Christmas included various workshops, on human development, spirituality, the significance of dreams, art, culminating in a 30 days retreat according to the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius. This retreat is the pillar of the formation programme, around which the whole programme is built.
We had a break for Christmas and New Year and then some more workshops, this time on the particular rules of the Congregation (Constitutions) and one on conflict, reconcilaition and bridge-building.
After each workshop, the programme provides for quiet days for reflection and assimilation, reading and relaxation.
The group has now dispersed for the month of February, when each one is having a work experience generally amongst the poor, the sick, the elderly or disabled. Christina is spending the month in the small town of Brecon in Wales, volunteering in l’ Arche community (Jean Vanier) for adults with learning disabilities. On the journey down, she had her first ever sight of snow!
On their return early in March, the programme wll include personal work on the story of the Foundress of their Congregation and the charism, as well as a time of pilgrimage to places connected with the early days of the foundation. For Christina, this will mean a visit to Castelnaudary in S.E. France, the home of Blessed Marie Therese de Soubiran and the first sisters.
Here is part of Christina’s own account of the experience:
“Being a sister of Marie Auxiliatrice living and working with these two different Congregations gave me some new insights about the person I am and the reality of my origins. It is so lovely and interesting to see and actually live with sisters from different places, different backgrounds and cultures. It is a beauty and a profound richness too to see the uniqueness of each individual being shared. Having this beautiful experience, I gradually come to see and know myself more and more. This is all about going back to my origins where I can see my whole self and where I can find God in everything.”
Visit the website again for an account of her experience in Brecon