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  • Thursday, May 28, 2020
  • St. Emilius

A God given experience: living and building an intercultural community

‘Serving always in a new way’ is one of our mottos in the Company of Mary Our Lady, but to serve always in a new way requires being always open to newness..."

May 2013 | Lidvine Nguemeta Mandzong | Experiences

I have been asked to share my experience of interculturality in the Company and I really welcome this opportunity with joy, given that sharing this experience is always an opportunity to relive it, and above all to look back, contemplate the ‘road travelled’ and give thanks to God for all that has happened.

My limited experience is just a part of many fruitful experiences of interculturality that many of our Sisters have been living throughout the world with simplicity, dedication and joy. In this way they have overcome difficulties linked to such an experience with the unique aim of building the Kingdom of God day by day… To share my experience is an opportunity to pay tribute to them and to praise their testimony, which is an inspiration for me.

I should mention that, like the majority of the Sisters of the Company of Mary, I was born and grew up in a country and, particularly, in a city, marked by diversity of cultures, languages and religions. Therefore, I grew up amid the diversity that characterises my homeland, which has called me and challenged me since my childhood to live with the differences that surround me.

Growing up in an environment which is marked by diversity, in some instances prepares people, without their being aware of it, to develop certain attitudes which allow them to live with differences and to find common ground within that diversity which tends to divide them. In my case I can say that this has enabled me to live the interculturality I have encountered in the Company of Mary Our Lady. I have been given the opportunity to live in an intercultural community in my own country and in foreign countries, in my own continent and in other continents.

I have tried to live with a desire and an open attitude to meet, discover and welcome something new. This attitude, which I have discovered and cultivated progressively with the grace of God, helps me to realise that I have something to receive and to give: what I am and what I have.
This openness has been nurtured by the disposition of availability (Cf. Constitutions of the Company of Mary Our Lady, Rule 4) that we as Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady are called to live, that is, being willing to go any part of the world where we are sent and where we are needed for the greater glory of God. For me, this disposition has been and continues to be fundamental in that it makes me ready, as a Sister of the Company, to go anywhere I am sent or to welcome the sisters from other contexts who are sent to my community. I must say that those two poles are fundamental (going out to the ‘unknown’ and welcoming the ‘unknown’), because we also experience interculturality without ‘moving exteriorly’, that is, without leaving our country, or our continent. Rather, we move ‘interiorly’, because we are called to welcome any sister who arrives in our community and who has another way of living and another way of seeing things which are different from ours. Despite the fact that we are united by fundamental aspects of our religious family: the same spirituality, the same charism, a common mission, the same history, the fact still remains that we are from different parts of the world.

What does it mean to live in an intercultural community whether it is in my own country or in another country? An intercultural community can be understood at three levels: sisters from different regions of the same country, sisters from different countries of the same continent, and sisters from different continents.

Living and building an intercultural community supposes that we are aware that the people with whom we live come from different parts of the world and for this reason, we have different ways and different patterns of seeing reality although we all belong to the Company of Mary Our Lady. Being conscious of that fact enables us to be more attentive and to contemplate the reality of every one as a gift which has been offered by the One who is the Author of the diversity of peoples, races, languages and cultures that we experience every day.
I would like to stress the word ‘difference’, because sometimes, in our communities, we try to minimise the differences and just focus on what unites us. Although this is vital, from my experience, today I believe that, in order to live unity in diversity in our communities, it is important to notice and acknowledge what our cultural differences are (Language, values, food, clothes, customs, habits, family environment, art, patterns of thinking, ways of understanding and interpreting reality, etc…). But, what am I going to do about those differences? This is the most important and essential question. Am I going to use them to undermine the culture of others, to find everything strange and reject it? In this case, I will be living with the assumption that my culture is the best in the world, the most decent, the most loyal, the worthiest… Or am I going to overvalue that of others and so undermine my own? Or am I going to be more objective? Where is objectivity?

That is when I came to discover and realise that humility is one of the fundamental attitudes for living in an intercultural community. Humility is not the negation of what I am and have; humility does not hide what I am and have. It is what enables me to situate myself appropriately within the life of the community with what I am and what I have, in order to give and receive as St Paul recommends us in Rom. 12: 3-8. Humility is letting others be themselves within the life of the community with what they are and with what they have. I came to realise by the grace of God that it begins with a sense of otherness, sensitivity to what is different from oneself, just being aware that something different and amazing is occurring around me, which is the presence of my Sister from another region or country or continent. I come progressively to replace the phrase ‘something different’ by ‘something new’.

The second thing that I have been discovering, which is linked to the first, is receptivity. In order to see and recognise a new way of life, which sometimes imposes itself on me when I am in another country, or when I am living in my own country with sisters from another country, I need to become more open. This is not easy and sometimes takes a lot of time… In fact, openness is a matter of looking and seeing, listening and trying to understand the feelings of people, savouring and appreciating, entering progressively into the experience, asking questions in a simple way in order to understand, and answering in a simple way, letting myself be touched and reflecting that experience in order to deepen the understanding, and suggesting a word, an attitude when it is required.
I also discover that openness to newness can affect us physically and, above all, psychologically, for we can sometimes feel nervous, anxious, lonely, homesick and confused about certain attitudes which can shock us when we are living outside our country. For this last point, knowing the history (National celebrations, laws; what unifies people, their joys and sorrows, their traumas, etc…) of the country or the continent can be a great help.

This shock is important because it is the opportunity we have to let ourselves be transformed, or transfigured by the newness of the culture we are experiencing, in other words to receive and to give.

The third thing, which I link to openness and which we have to accept and assume while living and building an intercultural community, is poverty-vulnerability. Just as a little child is vulnerable, for he has to learn a way of living and acting in the new world which he is entering, so, the experience of newness makes us vulnerable. Moreover it gives us the vital experience of ‘receiving ourselves’ from other people and from God. This is not possible unless, just as Jesus says, we become as a ‘little child’. This poverty-vulnerability, which is not always easy to accept, has its positive side for it bears fruit – fruits of patience and understanding of others, of other cultures, being aware that there will always be a ‘gap’ that I cannot cross and therefore the only thing to do is to respect it. This is not easy, for the tendency is to want people to behave as we want them to.
All this is why having a great sense of humour is important. I have discovered progressively that laughing at myself is important in the process of experiencing newness. Laughing when I have made some ‘silly’ mistakes and, of course, learning from them and letting God do the rest!
Intercultural experience is an experience which is interactive and which requires the will on the part of both to walk together side by side, hand in hand, heart to heart, with the same horizon. Our horizon as Sisters of the Company of Mary is to become everyday ‘New Women who have put on Jesus Christ in order to build the Kingdom’(Cf. Constitutions of the Company of Mary Our Lady, Art XVII, 1). We are indeed women who are invited to ‘serve always in the new way’, and this requires being open to newness which is one of the characteristics of an intercultural life.

May the Lord, by the intercession of Our Lady, the ‘New Woman par excellence’, and St Jeanne de Lestonnac, the Woman characterised by her openness to differences and to newness, continue to inspire our small steps in building intercultural communities in our world in need of ‘living together.’


3 Comentarios

Wilson Condori says:
Lidvina tu experiencia es practica, espero que en mi país Bolivia se realice de manera sincera, te agradezco por tu relato.
beatriz cortes says:
Livdina que experiencia te ha regalado el Señor. De verdad que nos enseñas con tu vida pero este articulo me hizo mucho bien. genial
Inelda says:
Me alegra profundamente la acogida que haces a la gracia del Señor en tu corazón.