By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 7, 2018
COLLEGE PARK—The tiny nun packed a big punch.
Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, founder and mother servant of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth religious community, was one of the featured speakers June 2 in the English track of the 2018 Eucharistic Congress at the Georgia International Convention Center.
The only female speaker at this year’s congress, Mother Olga began her talk with a sung prayer—her voice carrying clearly and sweetly over the crowd. Rather than standing at the podium, the diminutive sister in a blue religious habit stood among the crowd as she focused on the day’s theme, “That they may all be one.”
The theme from John’s Gospel, chapter 17, is the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in Scripture, Mother Olga said.
“It’s such a beautiful theme to contemplate,” she said, adding that the prayer for unity is often associated with ecumenical initiatives to bring various denominations of Christians closer together. Her focus, though, was much more personal.
“As I was praying for all of you this weekend about this particular theme, I felt that there was something more than just contemplating Christian unity,” Mother Olga said. “It depends on each one of us to work for this unity. And that means it has to become part of who we are. So it has to start with us as individuals.”
Unity, she said, begins with the human heart and is needed within each person’s heart.
“There is restlessness in the human heart. In my head I am thinking of this direction and my heart is telling me another direction,” she said. “So you can see that even inside ourselves we need that unity.”
A native of Iraq, where she ministered in the Assyrian Church of the East and established a religious order for women, she came to the United States for her studies in 2001. She entered the Catholic Church in 2005 and took perpetual vows. She has ministered in the Archdiocese of Boston among college students at Boston University for a decade. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston in 2011 asked her to establish a new religious community of women there, the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
Rediscover American saints
In her ministry, she sees a great need for rebuilding unity within families, she said.
“You and I know today, in the 21st century, everywhere, but particularly here in our country, how much the family life is broken. Marriages are broken. The dignity of marriage is so broken. Families struggle to be of one mind and one heart,” she said. “Everywhere I travel, people ask me to pray for their family members who don’t go to church. We have been facing a lot of challenges in recent years that have destroyed the unity in our families.”
Unity is also needed within parishes and in the Catholic Church as a whole. Different parishes can be boastful about their method of worship, which creates further division, Mother Olga said. She brings the sisters of the new community to the shrines of American saints, like the North American martyrs, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mother St. Frances Cabrini. She said, in order to have unity within the Catholic Church in the United States, Catholics need to have a deeper connection with their spiritual roots.
“I want to encourage you to learn about the roots of the Catholic Church in America,” she said. “Do you know how many American saints we have and how many holy men and women in this country gave their lives for our faith?”
While it is important for various cultures to bring their own devotions, songs and prayers to their faith, she said it is vital to celebrate and draw deeply from the roots of the church in the United States.
“As the people of this nation, whether you are an immigrant or you were born and raised here, this is our homeland now—this is where we live and work and grow our families,” she said. “As people of the church, people of this land, we have to go back and be connected in order to bear fruit. Unity is a fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit in each one of us.”
Four pillars of unity
No matter if someone is longing for unity in his or her own heart, family, parish, church or country, it has to begin here and now within yourself, Mother Olga said. The path to unity is made up of four pillars, she said, and the first is prayer.
“The power of prayer works miracles,” she said. Pray in making decisions and pray for one’s family and for the church and the world.
“If you have a family member who is not practicing their faith, pray for them,” she said. “Always keep praying.”
To bring about unity in parishes, it’s important to continue to be active, she emphasized.
“If there are things you don’t like in your parish or your archdiocese or your global church, don’t think things will change if you leave,” she said. “We are people of the church. Stay in the church for the church—and that is where we are going to see unity.”
While people may have experienced hurt, “the church is much bigger than my wounds,” she said. “We have to be people for the church.”
To bring about unity in the country, people must show respect to others.
“We have an obligation to this land. It’s OK to voice our opinions, but don’t blame America for everything. We are America. America is you and I. If we want to see the change, we need to pray daily for our elected officials.”
The Blessed Mother is the second pillar on the journey toward unity.
“I always say that Mary is a good Jewish mother,” Mother Olga said. “She never gives up on her children. Mary is in our midst and we have to tug on her hand.”
The power of the Holy Spirit is the third pillar of unity.
“My brothers and sisters, the work of unity, yes, depends on each one of us, and we all have to work for it. But we are not the source of unity. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’ We have to rely on the Holy Spirit.”
The final pillar is the power of daily encounter with Jesus, whether through Mass and the sacraments or spiritual communion.
“All this work, if it’s not for God, is for nothing,” she said.
Mother Olga concluded her talk by encouraging attendees to take the message they heard at the Eucharistic Congress out into the world, even if they think they are too small to make a difference.
“We can make the change we all came here hoping for, that all may be one.”