The smile on the face of Sister Cristina Bocanegra, S.M., expressed how “blessed” she was to be back for her second Esposas De Cristo Hijas de la Iglesia course.
Sister Cristina was one of 20 sisters representing 10 congregations who were participating in the third Esposas De Cristo Hijas de la Iglesia course for Spanish-speaking sisters held at St. Aloysius Retreat Center in Hopewell Junction July 17-28.
Esposas De Cristo Hijas de la Iglesia translates into Brides of Christ Daughters of the Church. It was organized by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, and hosted by Oblates to the Blessed Trinity at its retreat center.
“We come from different countries and different congregations. Right now, we are like one community,” said Sister Cristina, who cares for the sick and dying in their homes for the Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick in the Bronx. “We participated in the holy Mass. We have time for prayer. We’re sharing meals together and learning from each other. We’re sharing our own apostolates, the places we work in the Church. It’s just been a blessing for me.”
This year’s theme was “The Four Women Doctors of the Church: An Introduction to Their Lives and Teachings.’’
The four women Doctors of the Church are St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The topic was chosen in response to Pope Francis’ call to recognize voices of women in the Church and the roles they’ve played in the life of the Church.
A typical day included Mass, prayer and classes in the morning; workshops in the afternoon to further discuss the morning academic sessions; and a holy hour with an opportunity for confessions in the evening. Spanish was the language spoken during the course.
One morning, the sisters were engaged in a classroom group discussion with instructor Sister Anthony Mary Diago, R.S.M., on St. Teresa of Jesus, a 16th-century nun from Spain.
“We are going through their lives and how they responded to God’s call,” said Sister Cristina, who came to the United States from Mexico. “At the time, they didn’t do it because they were going to be saints. They just wanted to respond to God’s call, the way they did it.
“Now the Church is recognizing that we can follow their way and that they can teach us to go to God and to Jesus to live our consecration more deeply and also in the way of serving the Church.”
On July 22, the sisters took a field trip to Manhattan to visit St. Frances Cabrini Shrine and The Cloisters museum.
“We had fun together. We sang on the bus,” said Sister Carmen Rivera, P.V.M.I., who is originally from Puerto Rico and is now serving the parishes of Blessed Sacrament, New Rochelle, and St. Aloysius, Manhattan.
“I’m very happy I came here. I met many sisters. Although we’re all (speaking) Spanish, we're all from different countries and different communities. It has enriched me to see so many women with the same conviction of love for the Lord and the Church.”
On the final day, the sisters left the Hudson Valley to return to their congregations and share their experiences inside and outside the classroom. Sister Maria Theotokos Adams, S.S.V.M., the event’s organizer, is hoping the fourth Esposas De Cristo Hijas de la Iglesia returns to St. Aloysius Retreat Center for a second year in 2018. The first two Esposas De Cristo Hijas de la Iglesia were held in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“I hope that they are able to experience both the communion between congregations, between Spanish-speaking women of the Church in the United States, and they know more deeply how important and how valued their service and their consecrated lives are to the Church in the United States,” said Sister Maria Theotokos, who is based in Washington, D.C.
“Even more so, each one individually would be able to renew her own consecration as a religious, to know and love her charism more deeply and to set out with new vigor and energy in the mission she’s been entrusted with in the Church.”