Sister Maria Clara: From the Amazon to Hong Kong, "the joy" of mission for Christ
Rome (AsiaNews) - "Asia?! I never thought about it, but if God wants me to send to this continent I will answer ... Here I am." This is how at Pentecost 2012 Sister Maria Clara de Souza Pires, Missionary of the Immaculate (PIME) of Brazilian origin, welcomed the news of her future destination: Hong Kong. The religious (in the photo with the Bishop of Parintins) was born June 6, 1983 in the Amazon State of Parintins, Brazil, into a "deeply Catholic" family who passed on the faith to her since childhood. "At 15 I started helping in children's catechesis - she says - and it was at this time that I felt the desire to be a missionary."
Shortly after she saw documentary on Africa, on the war being fought in
one of the many countries in the continent that indelibly marked her life's journey:
"I have never been able to erase those images from my mind, they made me
reflect on my life ". After
completing her higher studies and looking at the example of the PIME missionaries
(Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) in Brazil, she realized she had
found "my life's path", entering in 2002 into the Congregation of the
Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate.
Today, the religious is studying missiology in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in order to "better understand the dynamics of the mission," in this era of profound "social and ecclesiastical change". A path that, alongside the study of language, within the next two years will lead her to embark on a new journey in the land which Blessed John Paul II defined "our common task for the third millennium."
We publish below Missionary of the Immaculate Conception, Sister Maria Clara Pires de Souza's interview with AsiaNews:
Sister Maria Clara, what are your thoughts on the election of Pope Francis, the first South American Pope in Church history?
The announcement of the new Pope was a moment of great joy, the first Latin American Pope in history. I think it was the same for all Catholics in Latin America. We are living in a time of change, openness to the new, we read of the simple and humble gestures of Pope Francis in the newspapers. There is a firm hope that these attitudes may penetrate into the lives of all members of the Church in all parts of the world.
How important is the role of women, lay or consecrated in the missionary journey of the universal Church?
I believe that women have a vital role in the mission of the Church, since Her feminine sensibility leads Her into places and situations of extreme necessity. If you look at the numbers we see that the greatest number of people participating in Church activities are women; mothers, students, retired ladies who share their faith inside and outside of the Catholic community. Women are working in often anonymous services, with simple gestures, of communion and participation that evangelize giving their collaboration in the activity of proclamation of the Gospel and the Church's life.
How are you approaching this period of study in Rome in preparation for mission in Hong Kong?
On a personal level, it is a time of tremendous anxiety! However, I am equally convinced that the missionary task, especially if lived on another continent, demands a capacity of openness to the new, the different from those who leave. Leaving on mission is like the "passage" from the book of Exodus 3, 3 -5. It means taking off my sandals, because I am walking in a sacred place where God has sent me to share the faith. Hong Kong is this sacred place for me. This is why it is important for me to approach this mission in Asia with a spirit of detachment, even though I am faced with the enormous challenge of learning a language and culture so different from my own.
What reality do you think you will find in the land of mission? And what are the challenges, the problems that most concern you?
I realize that Asia, but more specifically Hong Kong, is a completely different universe from mine, which is the north of Brazil, not only within the Church, but also social, economic, technological and cultural spheres. Regarding any fears, difficulties, obstacles, I trust very much in the spirit of adaptation. In any case, I am faced with a big challenge, because I will have to learn to live in a new way. Another difficulty that bothers me is the language.
Sister Maria Clara, what message would you like to give to people who - like you - want to leave Latin America, Brazil, to witness to the Gospel in the world?
I would like to say that, in any corner of the world, we are always in the presence of the same God who loves us, sends us forth in His name while staying with us for ever. For this we must not be afraid to leave and go beyond borders. Not only geographical, but to go out of ourselves to meet the other who is different, because we live in a pluralistic and varied world, which helps us to grow in faith and build the Kingdom of God together as brothers and sisters. We must remember that the mission of Jesus is also our own, it is up to us to be his disciple-missionaries today.
And what will you bring to your mission on the Asian continent from the land of your birth, the Amazon?
I will bring my peoples simple way of being and living, which pushes me to share my life with the Chinese people. I'll bring my lived experience of the Church in the Diocese of Parintins and in the diocese of Macapà, Churches that live with their challenges but also their wealth and their way of living the Gospel, the Amazon style of being Catholic. Iwill also bring the joy of the Brazilian people. I still do not have a departure date but I think I will be in China in the next two years and I will immerse myself in the fascinating, immense cultural universe where God is present and has sent me.