On April 21, 2023, Sr. Josephina D’Souza, Superior General, and Sr. Adelheid Scheloske, General Councilor, arrived in Belize for the canonical visitation of the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The three weeks were filled with a rich program that included many meetings with all fifteen sisters of the Province and with many people who are in close contact with the sisters in the country.
Belize is a small country divided into six districts with a total population of almost 450,000. In recent years, our sisters have lived and worked in five of the districts, and today there are three communities. While the visitors arrived at the largest community in centrally located Belize City, they soon went to Punta Gorda in the south and then to Orange Walk Town further north to complete their visit with the Belize City community.
In each community, the Superior General Sr Josephina met the sisters individually. In order to better understand the situation of the sisters in the country, the visitors looked at the property and the living situation of the sisters, their involvement in the local Church, the service they do for the people today. They had the chance to see the places where our sisters work today or used to work. And they had the opportunity to learn about the different cultures of this multicultural country with a rich tradition of Mestizos, Creoles, Maya, Garifuna, Mennonites and other ethnic groups.
So, one day in Punta Gorda they went to a Mayan village where they visited the family of one of our sisters. Another evening, a Garifuna group performed social dances of their tradition. In Orange Walk they attended Holy Mass, celebrated in Spanish. While travelling through the country, they stopped for lunch at a modern Mennonite colony where a restaurant served excellent food from their own production.
They visited not only the three communities, but also the two places where the first Pallottine Missionary Sisters began their ministry in the country 110 years ago: Benque Viejo and Corozal. In Benque Viejo they were invited to a celebration where a commemorative committee offered a rich programme. The local people fondly remembered the almost fifty years of service that the Pallottine Missionary Sisters have given to their community. And they shared their memories with the guests in a beautiful presentation, including a brief history that highlighted how much the sisters have done not only for some local schools, but for many schools and the education system in the country. Two lay school principals who had followed the sisters in leading the parish school in Benque Viejo shared about the changes the sisters had made in their own lives. Young Vinette Manzanero recited her poem, “Divine Messengers”, about the sisters’ early years in the country.
Today, most of the few sisters in the country are elderly and can no longer do as much ministry as they used to. Caring for the elderly and prayer ministry are their main apostolates today. In addition, they still run the Pallotti High School in Belize City and offer smaller ministries to the people in the parishes and to the poor. But their possibilities are limited, and decisions have to be made with regard to the future of the Province.
Therefore, a Provincial Chapter was to take place during the last week of the visit. All thirteen sisters who could attend were present. The words of adress from the Superior General, the reports of Provincial Superior Sr. Clara Teul, who is also the School Principal, and from the financial accountant helped to look at the present situation. Against this background it was possible to have honest discussions. Encouraged and animated by Sr Josephina, this could be done in a truly synodal atmosphere of open sharing and listening to consider together the steps to be taken in the near future.
After the official programme was over, the visitors were offered the opportunity to take a day trip to one of the offshore islands, Caye Caulker, where they could enjoy the Caribbean Sea and nature. It was good to have this opportunity to relax before they travelled back to Rome at noon on 10 May, arriving only in the evening of 11 May.
A heartfelt thank you to our sisters in Belize and to Provincial Superior Sr. Clara who put together such a rich programme for these three weeks.
Text and photos: Sr. Adelheid Scheloske SAC