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ANNY PEÑA fi: “The key of an international community is that the fundamental does not change”

March 25, 2017

I am Ana Cristina Peña Mendoza (Anny), Dominican, and today I celebrate 22 years of perpetual vows. I want to share with you my experience so that we may give thanks to God together.
I discovered my vocation when I began to feel compassion for the poorest. And I can personify it in the marketer who, carrying his basket full of fruit on his head, would pass by my house, announcing his fruits. I studied at the “Politécnico” of Santiago de los Caballeros, my first teacher was Clementina Piccoli FI. Already in high school I began to participate in the vocation days. In them I saw clearly that I had a vocation, but later I would return to my house and forget. Although from time to time the desire to be “of the sisters of my school” reappeared in me, as Father Christopher Hartley, a Spanish missionary who at that time was working in New York, still reminds me today. There I met him when I went to this city with my family: I studied, worked in different factories and participated in the youth group “Los Amigos de Jesús” [The Friends of Jesus], where we prayed, celebrated and did volunteer work.
When I was 19 years old, I decided to return to the Dominican Republic and enter the Congregation of the sisters of my school. It was August 8, 1985. Actually, I did not know much about the religious life, but I had a heart desirous to serve. At that time we sang a lot the song “my house, my house is the world” (some will remember it). I always remember listening to Rosa Santos FI, mistress of novices, telling us: “You have entered the Congregation, not a province or country” and that has helped me to feel at home in any community where I may be.
From 1994 to 2005 I was in Cuba with María Blanca del Barrio FI, Victoria San Segundo FI and Luisa Suarez FI. Back in the Dominican Republic, from 2005 to 2009, I lived in Los Minas, Guachupita and Cotuí. After participating in the Renewal Course in Brazil I received the call of our general, Maria Inez, sending me to Asia. In January 2010 I arrived in the Philippines to reinforce my little knowledge of English. I was there for 5 months where after an interview I was accepted to work in Thailand at the NGO Jesuit Refugees Service (JRS) as coordinator of the adult literacy program in the refugee camps. So I arrived in Thailand and was received by the Filipino sisters of the community: Madeline Capistrano FI, Evelyn de Alba FI, and later, Elvenia Escultor FI. We had the pleasure of going to Japan before the reunification of provinces and then to Taiwan for the provincial assembly, because it is the province to which we belong.
After 5 years another call from Maria Inez to discuss the proposal of JRS to work in Myanmar. In September 2015 I arrived in Myitkyina (Myanmar) as project manager. The following month Rosemary Wan FI, a Chinese sister, arrived; and we completed the presence of Myanmar, because we formed community with the sisters of Thailand.
Being from the Dominican Republic, where for many years the majority of sisters were Spanish, I could say that I “grew up” in the religious life, even within my country, in an environment of internationality. I believe that the internationality of our communities is a true wealth and at the same time a challenge. It tests our congregational and cultural structures, our concepts, our whole being. I always remember Ines Laso, superior general when I did my last probation in Rome (1994), who told us: “In the future there will be many changes, but always remember, the fundamental thing never changes” and that is the key in an international community, to know clearly what is fundamental as Daughters of Jesus, and the rest is cultural, social and personal addition. In these years what I am learning (which does not mean living in totality) is to discover and enhance what is essential. I have discovered that the most fundamental and simple thing in any religious community is to feel and recognize ourselves as sisters (but in truth, not in theory) and from here the additions are respected, assumed, changed and enriched. And for this we need to know how to dialogue. The attitude would be that of fraternal correction from heart to heart: a sister corrects me, she gives me suggestions with words that come out of her heart and which are received with the heart of a sister.
Another important thing is to be aware that our mission is a common mission; it is not my parcel of land, but our farm. That’s why it’s important to be interested in, to know, to savor, to participate in what my sister does because what she does is my interest too. Thus we will be able to help each other, to see as a contribution, as a collaboration any comments from a sister about what I am doing and how I am doing it, and we will not see it as a criticism. My affairs are not mine, but ours.
In my work with JRS I would highlight the value of universality, of unity in diversity, of the sense of family among peers. The desire of JRS is to bring quality education to refugees through the training of teachers in refugee camps and to accompany them in their reality through pastoral care (Thailand). In Myanmar, we train young people who want to be teachers and who, at the end of the process, work in parochial schools in remote areas. Rosemary Wan is in charge of the training of these young people and I am now the coordinator of the accompaniment program in the camps of the displaced.
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Asia. With a population of 53.26 million people, with more than 100 ethnic groups. Since 1948 many armed conflicts have taken place, sometimes very intense. Our presence is in the northern region of the country, near the border with China, in Kachin State, and we live in Myitkyina, which is the capital. There are many IDP [internally displaced persons] camps. Myanmar is a multi-religious society where there are Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, popular religion and Catholics (who are the minority). The region is divided into areas controlled by the military and areas controlled by armed groups. Access to these areas is highly controlled and limits the presence of foreigners in them.