|Supporters of women religious gathered for a prayer vigil outside the Cathedral of Christ the Light on May 29.
MICHELE JURICH PHOTO
They carried handmade posters with names and, sometime, faces, on them. They included the famous — Sisters Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, who, with lay missionary Jean Donovan, were killed in El Salvador in 1980, and Sister Dorothy Stang, killed in Brazil in 2005.
They carried posters with the names of lesser-known, but equally beloved, sisters who taught third grade, catechism, or had offered kind words that helped through trying times.
For some, like, Jim O'Donnell of Moraga, who cradled a framed portrait of his sister, Sister Anthony Edward in her habit, it was intensely personal.
About 200 people gathered on the sidewalk on the Harrison Street side of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, and on the steps on May 29, in one of dozens of such demonstrations of support nationwide for religious sisters in the wake of the results of a Vatican assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The conference is a Maryland-based national umbrella group of about 1,500 leaders of U.S. women's communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country's 57,000 women religious.
More than a dozen religious sisters, as well as a few priests, were among the group that gathered to pray, sing, listen and say thank you to religious sisters.
Christine Haider-Winnett, a student at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, said she was "overwhelmed" by the turnout. She had listed the event at the Nun Justice Project website, www.nunjustice.org, and some parishes included information about it in bulletins.
"I'm really grateful," she said, recalling the numerous phone calls she had received over the three weeks between the announcement of the vigil and its taking place. "The amount of energy people have around nuns just blows me away."
Because the group could not use an amplified sound system on the cathedral steps, the leaders improvised. "We're Catholics," Haider-Winnett said as the vigil began. "We're good at call and response."
"We're Catholics," the crowd responded. "We're good at call and response."
Haider-Winnette recalled that when she was in middle school, a classmate died of cancer. When Haider-Winnett was having trouble dealing with her friend's death, her mother took her to see a nun who did counseling in their parish.
"She gave me strength and hope and healing when it felt no one else could," Haider-Winnett told the crowd. The sister's presence went beyond that.
"She was also my first example of what a woman's ministry could look like, she said."
For 90 minutes, through testimonials, prayer and songs, the ministry of women religious was celebrated in similar stories.
"My faith in a loving, creative God calls me to be here," said Natalie Terry, 23, who is also a student at Pacific School of Religion.
As traffic moved by on Harrison Street during the commute time, drivers honked their horns and waved at the group. Signs reading "Support Our Sisters" and "We are all nuns" lined the sidewalk. There was particular interest in a sign that read, "Which shoes walk with the poor?" Two images — one of $650 red "Papal Pradas" and a pair of black "Nun shoes" — illustrated the point.
At the end, vigil leaders asked the sisters present to come together, and invited the attendees to raise their hands in blessing.
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