They are living on the ‘upper margins’ of society – at an altitude of 13,000 feet among the poor and underprivileged. Here in the cold air of the Andes the Sisters of Merciful Jesus bring the warmth of faith, and with it love and hope.

The financial support we are being asked for by their bishop, Bishop Krzysztof Bialasik of the diocese of Oruru, in Bolivia, is not much, yet they still will share it with the families, however little, and even if it is barely enough for themselves. For they share everything. Above all with the children.

For as Sister Victoria Edyta explains, ‘These are children who have never experienced any joy in their lives, nor any tenderness, least of all any selfless love. Their family life is deeply shattered; everywhere there is an absence of hope.’ 

The sisters take these children on little outings, give them blankets and bread and tell them about Jesus, Mary and Joseph and their simple home in Nazareth. Their merciful tenderness helps ease the children’s hunger for love and gives them fresh hope.

Along with 22 other religious sisters from eight different congregations the sisters fulfil the duties of their mission, which their bishop summarises like this:

‘They make up, as far as possible, for the lack of priests – leading the pastoral work in the parishes, training lay catechists and preparing the people for the reception of the Sacraments. 

They visit the families of the poor, and the lonely and elderly. They organise meals for the homeless, retreat days for young people, women and men. 

They care for homeless migrants, the lonely and abandoned. They go into the prisons, taking the message of salvation there too – and especially to the children living in the prisons with their mothers. In a word, they go out to the margins of society, just as Pope Francis says.’

Life on these margins is harsh and full of privations. It is not only running water and electricity they lack. The challenges, both spiritual and physical, are hard. Yet they still share everything. For the love that drives them is a wellspring that does not dry up. We have promised them our support for each of the 23 sisters.

Going out to the margins involves a high degree of selflessness. For these margins will always exist (‘You will have the poor with you always…’ Mk 14:7; Mt 26:10), but not necessarily these selfless sisters.

Fortunately, though, the Spirit is also blowing in Cochabamba (likewise in Bolivia) and here too such sisters are to be found, caring for the Church of the poor. In the last 10 years a new community of missionary Salesian Sisters has been formed, born of the desire to nurture young girls in the human virtues and a Christian spirit, though not specifically in view of a religious vocation.

By now there are five sisters with permanent vows, 34 with temporary vows and another 21 novices preparing for a life in the service of others. But for all their selfless love, the younger sisters and novices still need a roof over their heads and a place to pray and study.

The remarkable surge in vocations has made the building of a separate house essential. We have promised to help, for this is a form of support that looks to the future and at the same time an appeal to selfless generosity on our own part.

This article can be found in Mirror 0216.