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Where one of us is, all of us are: a social justice testimonial from Ohio sisters

The following is a testimonial from the "Women of Faith: Voices Against Violence" event held recently in Cleveland. The event addressed violence against women, children and other vulnerable people.

Those of us in the Cleveland, Ohio area are painfully aware of recent revelations concerning violence against women, children, and other vulnerable persons. The enslavement, trafficking, and murders have horrified us and were made worse by the fact that these crimes happened, undiscovered, in ordinary neighborhoods. Through the media and social networks, many expressed outrage and concern.

What to do, and who cares?

On Sunday afternoon, September 22, in historic Old Stone Church facing our Public Square, an overflowing crowd of all ages, social, and religious backgrounds, gathered to protest and share their pain, prayer, and commitment to preventive action. This consciousness-raising event was called "Women of Faith: Voices against Violence" and was sponsored by a multi-faith roster of almost 50 organizations. Our congregation was one of them. We learned of it through an invitation in the Congregational Communiqué sent by our Sister Donna Wilhelm, who was also one of the two main organizers.

The program inside the church consisted of eloquent talks describing the urgent need for personal, social, and political awareness and action. It unfolded in three sections weaving together, a sobering and deeply moving talk by a woman-survivor of childhood abuse, together with song, ritual, prayer, creative arts, and invitation to awareness and action. A high point of such a call to commitment came when all those in political office stood facing the congregation and voiced a detailed pledge to leadership, legislation, and prevention in this cause.

The response of solidarity from participants in the program was all the more striking and powerful because it mobilized representatives and involvement of every faith tradition in our city. Another culminating moment came just before we were invited to process around the public square holding signs with the names of victims or events we cannot forget. Just before calling us to this action, The Very Reverend Tracy Lind of the Episcopal Diocese was to lead us in prayer. She paused, saying, "I cannot continue without saying that this event would never had happened without the initiative and leadership of two women: Sister Donna Wilhelm and Julia Shearson" (also called "Sister" as an Islamic woman).

What a powerful example of the union of spirits: one Catholic; the other a Muslim whose kinship and concern sparked this new movement in our city.

Those of us Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis who attended did so on behalf of all of us and also to support Sr. Donna's initiative. We felt buoyed in spirit by the interest and prayerful support of others of our Sisters who desired but were unable to join us. We came away from this experience marveling at the power of what we proclaim in our Constitution. We have experienced its truth. Amen

Your Sisters,
Francis Therese Woznicki, Louise Szerpicki, Sandra LoPorto, and Susanne Skorich

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