Moving Into Mutuality
By Kathleen Bryant, RSC
As women religious accompany and listen to people at the borders, we discover relationships of trust among asylum seekers, migrants, and ourselves. The same trust has been building steadily between survivors of trafficking and women religious over the last 20 years. In the last few years, I have observed a budding transformation of relationships among survivors and sisters. Moving from our focus on providing safe communities and services to ensure healing and success, we now also see the emergence of mutuality in our relationships.
Friendship develops from knowing and reverencing the story told without prodding, with respect for the dignity of the person no matter what was endured or the circumstances. As we observe gently and unobtrusively transformation in these women, often we are invited into a new relationship. I reflect on the freedom I have because I was not the caseworker, therapist, or community director for survivors. I am not bound by the ethical boundaries of these vital relationships. In that freedom, I have enjoyed friendships with women who were at one time trafficked. There is such a joy in these relationships.
At the Talitha Kum meeting in Rome, we talked about weaving a web in love. In this network of over 2,000 sisters in 92 countries, we heard about how we are “attracting others through tenderness and compassion…inviting others to rest safely in the web of women religious.” Pat Murray IBVM invited us to “widen the tent of your heart.”
Deep respect for the dignity of the human person is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching. Words have power and impact how we think about ourselves – victim, survivor, thriver. Pope Francis urges us always to find out the first name of anyone we want to help or those we encounter in service jobs. When I ask each person their first name, it seems to establish a more respectful connection and offer some dignity.
About five years ago when I was interviewing a survivor in one of the homes women religious run, the young woman thanked me for calling her a “survivor.” Repeatedly she had heard herself labeled as a victim of human trafficking. Now she has moved on in her life as a college student and in her own evolution has moved beyond “survivor” and left behind the labels. She has decided to move beyond any involvement, even advocacy, to be her own person. The transformative care that the women religious offered has enabled her to be free and move on.
When mutuality emerges into friendship, healing is evident. About twelve years ago in Ireland, when awareness of trafficking was first breaking, the police knew that our sisters were committed to this issue and brought a few women to our houses. With the help of a caseworker and services, these women moved on with their own lives. However, they periodically visit to have a cup of tea and even bring their children to share with the community the joys of their life. That early relationship of offering a safe place developed into a friendship with the community.
In evolving efforts to accompany those who were trafficked at one time, I find myself in new relationships. There is a mutuality emerging. I first discovered this as I noticed my own desire to include those I have met along the way at social functions. These were women who worked through healing, found jobs, and were living a whole new life. Last September I invited three of these special friends to a piano recital I gave. I took liberties to invite contemplative stillness after the last note of each work. On the way home, they shared how they had entered a deeply peaceful place which was a new reality for them. I invited these resilient voices to my Golden Jubilee and my 70th birthday party and delighted in how they were woven into my circle of friends and having fun. It meant so much to me that they came. Simple efforts reveal the mutuality I discover. One woman is great about making suggestions for new music to discover and new playlists to create.
There is a deep connection between us which is difficult to describe but it’s real.
I count on these friends who end up encouraging me. When I learned that I was leaving the U.S. to move to Ireland, I worried about their reaction. These resilient women were not floored but instead voiced their pride in this move forward and encouraged me! Mutual relationships are such a gift, especially when graced without effort!
Pope Francis challenged us at the Talitha Kum gathering to “Never end the day without thinking about the gaze of one of the victims you have known: this will be a beautiful prayer.” I give thanks as I hold the treasure of these unfolding friendships in my heart and reverence these women’s resilient voices. A beautiful thanksgiving prayer!