The first missionary religious congregation for women in the history of the Church and the world is the Institute of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary founded in 1877 by BL. Mary of the Passion, now in the 139th year of its course.

Franciscan in its essence.
Missionary in its services
Mary - like in its approach.

» Dedicated to universal mission

» Seek strength from the Eucharist

» And offer ourselves in challenging services

Life Shared

Making Centre at the Periphery

                                                                  

On my way to class in Manila, I take the ‘MRT-3’ (metro rail transit). It is one of the earliest installed metro lines and probably the first one in Asia, having smaller trains and cramped stations compared to the latest ones. Long queues at every stage, and the heat and sweat make the travel in the crowded train unbearable. Sometimes trying to find a foothold in the crowd, I wonder in spite of being so close to each other we are so distanced from one another. It reminds me of the millions of people jostling for space, resources and dignity especially in the urban centres. Standing together, does not mean standing with or standing for. 

Many Asian countries have whole heartedly welcomed globalization, developing their cities on line with European standards. The facilities, job opportunities and the prospect of better future in the urban centre attract the rural population like flies around a drop of honey, causing a great rift between the centre and the periphery. Can we ignore the slums in Mumbai and the squatters of Manila where stray animals and scavengers compete for discarded crumbs at the dustbins? The centres are teeming with professionals without whom business cannot run, the businessmen who grease the economic machinery, they are at the core of the social strata. The middle class who run the errands come at the centre and the ‘dirty’ slum dwellers who keep our homes and roads clean are seen at the periphery. This is a common scenario with globalization causing a 3-tier structure: the core, the centre, and the periphery.

The forthcoming general chapter, exactly a year from now calls us to listen to the cry of the poor. There are poor at the core  that are intoxicated with greed to grab and hoard at any cost. There are poor at the centre that are caught in the rat race of competition, whose working hours are stretched long to avoid being hired and fired at the drop of the hat. And those at the periphery more often than not perish under the weight of poverty, illiteracy, vices, displacement, etc. Reflecting on Francis of Assisi, one cannot but see the response of Francis to the poor and the planet. He lived in a time and society that had clear-cut distinction between the "maiores" or "bonihomines", who were the nobles, and the "minores" or "hominespopuli". There was yet another class that was not recognized to which belonged the outcasts and the lepers. It very much represented the modern day three-tier structure. Francis wanted to rise from "minores" to "maiores". Instead he ended up being one of the outcasts. He just twisted the structures transforming the periphery into the centre. His logic, if any, was simple; if those at the periphery could not come to the centre, then let the centre go to them. Ilia Delio OSF calls it a Franciscan Kenosis, in which there is a letting go, bending low and being with.

We let go of ‘our centre’ to bend low (change of attitude) and be with those at the periphery so as to transform it into centres of Christ’s presence. As Franciscans and as missionaries we have made humble beginnings to carry forward this mission of Francis of transforming the periphery into centre: in changing the life style of traditional sex workers from the Domara community of Andhra Pradesh, in reaching out to the street urchins or commercial sex workers and trafficked women in Mumbai. We have transformed the lives of few tribal and gypsy children through bridge school in Andhra, instilled hope in the excluded religious minorities in Gujarat and made education accessible to the economically weak in Goa. We have empowered the voiceless women and fisher folk of Gopalpur-on-Sea. We have contributed our share to bring consolation to those with HIV-AIDS especially in Mumbai and Andhra. And the list goes on, still Francis would remind us, “Till now we have done nothing let us begin again to transform peripheries into centre”

Sr. Antonetta Pereira FMM