Sister Sadhani Walmillage, Contemplative Councilor Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan

Sister Sadhani Walmillage, Contemplative Councilor Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan

Sister Sadhani Walmillage, Contemplative Councilor Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan

Sister Sadhani Walmillage, Contemplative Councilor Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan

Sister Sadhani Walmillage, Contemplative Councilor Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan

Sister Sadhani Walmillage, Contemplative Councilor Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan

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Zealously flowering in contemplative life

Sister Erika Patricia Sánchez was born in Ciudad Isla, in southeastern Mexico. She entered Our Lady of Charity in 1998 in Saltillo, northeastern Mexico, where she made temporary profession in 2001. In 2007, Sister Erika made her perpetual profession in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, eastern Mexico. Here she shares how her work of the mission has been strengthened through her commitment to justice and peace.

 

Did you always want to be a religious sister?

I have to admit that I never thought of being a sister or a nun; it wasn’t in my plans. It honestly all caught me off guard. To be honest, I didn’t want to know anything about religion, absolutely nothing. I couldn’t understand the good and merciful God that my mum talked about. The same God who was capable of allowing so much deprivation, violence, and suffering to occur. So, my plans were to study for a career, earn enough money, and be able to give my mum a comfortable life.

But my mum has always been a woman of much prayer, of great faith. And every day, I saw her pray for me… every single day. Yet I felt like everything I dreamed of was coming true. I was in university studying dentistry and even had the opportunity to have my own practice once I graduated. But all of a sudden, I began to feel like something was missing, that I wasn’t actually happy. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

I began to pray every day as well. I began to attend church more, and that’s how I met Sr. Josefina Pérez. She told me about the mission, charism, and spirituality, and I actually identified more with the women than with the sisters. I used to say to myself about these women: “she is who I am”. And I fell in love with the work. I began to accompany her, going with the sisters to areas where prostitutes worked or to the prison. And I liked it; I liked it very much… very much indeed.

But God still had a lot of work to do with me. I suddenly felt this dryness, that dark night that Saint John of the Cross talks about, and I walked away from everything – the sisters, the Church – and focused myself entirely on my studies.

But the feeling that something was missing returned. I went on my knees to pray and cry in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I asked the question: “Do you want me to consecrate myself to you?” And in my heart, I heard the answer: “yes”. From that moment, I began a process of letting go of everything I had to let go of.

Photo One: Sister Erika with her mother and two brothers when she renewed her temporary vows in 2003.

I remember what my older brother said to me about my decision: “You’re making a big mistake”. And I told him: “Maybe I am but let me be the one to make this mistake”. And well, we can never say never, but to this day, I am still convinced that I made no mistake.

 

You have studied human rights and were a member of the Justice and Peace Team as NGO Regional Designate for REAL-ECLAC; what is the source of your passion for justice and peace?

Most of my ministries have involved working with women in prison or in prostitution. I’ve always said it’s where I feel like a fish in water. And I have to say that the idea of studying law was directly connected to mission.

In 2005, I was sent to manage one of our ministries in Nuevo Laredo, a city on the Mexican border with the United States. The work was overwhelming; I honestly didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have anything to offer because there was no plan in place; there was no project. We had arrived as an entirely new community where we had to start practically from scratch, where we had to begin all over again to secure funding.

I was meeting girls who had been trafficked, and I felt that I didn’t even have a support network that I could reach out to, something that could help me to help them. I felt how powerless it is to say: “I can’t do anything”. It was there that I truly experienced what it was like to live in that spirit of the early Christian communities. Where if there isn’t enough for everyone, there isn’t enough for anyone.

I was in prayer and despair when suddenly I felt the words of Saint John Eudes permeate my heart: “Mercy requires three things: the first is to feel compassion for other people’s needs; the second is to make a definite decision to help them in their need; the third is to translate desire into action“.

It was an illuminating moment for me. I began to say, “OK, I need to prepare myself so that I can help them and provide them with the tools they need”. I understood that I couldn’t give them something that I didn’t know about, something that was outside of my grasp. I knew that I had to study law. And that’s how I came to study law and human rights in general.

Photo Two: Women prisoners in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, attending a workshop led by Sister Erika in 2018.

But true justice and peace is about empowering people. They don’t need you; they can do their own thing if you help them. So, it’s not enough for me to know that they have rights; they have to know that they have rights. And they need to know how to defend themselves and where to go. I want to educate them about their rights; I want to empower women, so I need to understand what they need to be empowered.

And, honestly, I’m so happy with the professional work I do in justice and peace and human rights. For me, it’s essential to keep up to date with this work.

 

Have there been role models who have influenced your life?

Apart from my mother, a fundamental pillar in my religious life, a model for me to follow, is Sr. Berta Alicia Alvídrez Ibarra – she’s now my guardian angel.

In my early years in religious life, she was my formation director and someone who made me feel really welcome, valued, and motivated. She was naturally a very human person. So, I learned a great deal from her; she was also a woman passionate about the mission. And I can guarantee that if she were alive today, she would be one of the happiest people in the world to see the changes that have been taking place in the Congregation. And this gives me so much encouragement because I feel like I’m fulfilling one of her dreams.

To be honest, I agreed to be part of the new leadership team because of her. At first, I said no. I resisted until almost the last moment. I was very fearful. I’m young, and not just in age but in experience. And I really felt very incapable. But something strange happened: the night before the election, I dreamed of Berta Alicia.

And I remembered everything that I’ve learned from her and how I’ve tried to follow what she taught me. I remembered something that my angel always said: “to be able to refuse a ministry that’s been entrusted to you, you need to have valid reasons. But first, you have to enter into a process of evaluation”. So, that was how I entered into a discernment process all over again. And I said, “OK, let’s see, fear is not a valid reason; it’s simply not. And inexperience isn’t a valid reason either because experience builds along the way”. So, I had no other choice but to accept.

And I don’t know how it’s going to be, but I always try to do my best, wherever I am, whatever is entrusted to me. So, I’m going to do the best I can.

 

How have you experienced these changes you mentioned that have been taking place in the Congregation?

In Mexico, between the reunification of the two congregations and the unification of the two provinces, we have experienced so many rapid changes.

For me, reunification was a very significant challenge. One which involved a lot of tears, much pain, many renunciations, many misunderstandings – on my part as well. But I am also very grateful for what I have learned. I have learned to let go, to let myself flow, to say that changes are necessary and that they are not without pain or suffering. Because we need to do what is called of us. Always keeping in mind who we are, why we were called, and why we are doing what we are doing. We are consecrated, we were called to be with Jesus, we were sent on mission. And we need to do whatever it takes to achieve the best we can. And this will not be without renunciations, suffering, pain, or tears.

Photo three: As the Journey of Enrichment brought the two congregations together through merger, Sr. Erika meets with the junior sisters in Saltillo, Coahuila, in 2012.

 

As you embark on the six-year journey ahead, is there anything else you would like to share with the Congregation?

I would like to finish by saying that the many challenges posed to us by the Congregation are the work of us all. The leadership team cannot do this work alone, and we need everyone to be committed and available. If we want this to be successful, we all have to commit ourselves to carrying out and fulfilling our mission.

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