It was a beautiful sunny Sunday at St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican was filled with people from all the five continents of the world. “One heart, many faces” was the slogan printed on T-shirts, hats, scarves… And it matched the variety of physical features and the colourful costumes. The atmosphere was one of joy, expectation and a certain worry, since Pope John Paul II was already worn out by age and illness, and only at the last moment did everyone feel relieved when he appeared to celebrate the Holy Mass of the Canonization of the three holy missionaries: Arnold Janssen, Joseph Freinademetz and Daniel Comboni.
Among the delegations from the various countries, where the Arnoldus family is present, there was Sr. Bernadette Dere, a young missionary SSpS from Ghana, dressed in a colourful African-Ghanaian costume with a smile on her face that was impossible to hide. It was October 5, 2003.
Exactly 18 years later, Sr. Bernadette is in Rome, working at the Generalate of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit as English Secretary. This year she celebrates 25 years of consecrated life and recalls with great emotion the experience she lived during the canonization of St. Arnold and St. Joseph Freinademetz.
“For me it is still a very vivid experience to be in St. Peter’s Square, to observe and actively participate in everything that was happening. At that moment, seeing so many people from all over the world singing, the SVDs, we SSpS missionaries, the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration… I felt the spirit of joy, family and unity very strongly . The words of Saint Joseph Freinademetz seemed so alive to me: “the only language people understand is love”.
I was also very much touched by the manifestations of the different cultures. Songs were sung, dances were performed and before the gospel was proclaimed, I was part of the African group that did the veneration of the gospel through gestures and dance.
I also did the prayer for the sick and the elderly at the vigil service. I no longer remember exactly what I said, but it touched many people who came to tell me that it had been a powerful healing prayer and it lingers on. Once again, I thought of Saint Arnold who, every evening, before going to bed, went to the chapel and prostrated himself before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament and interceded for people.
So, for me, especially in this year when I celebrate my 25 years of consecration to the Lord in religious missionary life, the motto of Saint Arnold – for us his spiritual children ‘May the Holy Triune God live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people’ is a legacy that invites me to continue his mission. It is a call to love God and to love humanity. Nothing can be more beautiful than leading people to God, and asking God to be in our hearts, to live in us and then wishing this love also for others.
The key word for me is gratitude. My life has not been all roses, roses, roses. I have had many moments of joy, but also moments of struggle, of doubts… To do the will of God is not easy… But in the light of what was said during the celebration of the canonization, I look at our saints and I go forward. Saint Arnold said that there is nothing that cannot be done if we trust in God and do what we can, because God will not abandon us.
God is always giving us the grace to go forward, even in times of difficulty. Being with God, the difficulties do not matter. It is God who really matters, his love, his constant presence. Knowing that God loves me is exactly what is needed to carry on day by day.
That is why thanksgiving is so important in our lives. One of St. Arnold’s sayings says that we must make our hearts the altar of the sacrifice of constant thanksgiving. I have had so many joyful experiences during my life that I can never say that God does not love me. On the contrary, I ask who am I for God to love me so much? In fact, being a member of the Arnoldus family as a Missionary Servant of the Holy Spirit, is really a privilege of grace for service.”