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Religious Life

Mercys choose Chin to lead

NCR Staff

The Chinese “believe that the belly is the center of our being,” said Sr. Marie Chin, and when Jesus sets about lighting a “fire on the earth, when that fire is ignited in our belly, when our spirit-self becomes animated with the power of God -- spirituality breathes dark and hidden beneath everything.”

Whatever else the Mercy Sisters got when they elected Chin last June to lead them into the new millennium, they selected a Mercy with a loving touch for words.

Chin is a slender, quiet-spoken daughter of Chinese parents who fled the Quantung Province rice famine in the 1930s, made their way along the Panama Canal to Suriname (then Dutch Guyana), and eventually to Jamaica. Chin dwells within, and when she emerges, she speaks out.

“Spirituality is an awakened consciousness of the sacred, and an ordering of life toward that consciousness. Spirituality,” she told a Jubilee 2000 gathering in Los Angeles, almost before the ink was dry on the first document she’d signed as head of the new Mercy leadership team, “is a river that runs deep, in some realm beyond words, and yet speaks of fluidity; a stream that brings our being and our action into the flow of a power that is beyond ourselves.”

The spirituality leads to a love “that is not convenient love, not romantic love. It is womb-love.”

“Womb-love is a metaphor for merciful love that Sisters of Mercy in Tonga gave me,” Chin told the assembly, “and, conscious that there are men among us, I had second thoughts about using this image until my own experience, of my father who ‘mothered’ me, encouraged me to do so.

“This womb-love that is mercy and compassion is a spontaneous response to suffering which is outside of ourselves. ‘Can a mother forget her child or the babe of her womb?’ In this sense, mercy is not something I can take off and put on at will; mercy is not something that I do in response to God’s commandment. Mercy is a very specific kind of ‘love that I am’ in the presence of suffering.”

Marie Chin of Kingston, Jamaica, has a bachelor’s in history from the University of the West Indies, a master’s in formative ministry from Duquesne University, and a résumé that includes high school teacher, retreat director, Jamaica region coordinator and formation director, and eight years on the Mercy leadership team.

She’s been the liaison for the Sisters of Mercy of the America to Mercy Pacific forum and Latin American-Caribbean Conference gatherings, is a U.S. Catholic Mission Association board member, and represented the Mercys at the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

How does she see the Mercys moving through these early years of a new century? “We get a passion around things,” she said, “and it’s a passion that becomes more than an influence, it starts driving things. It could move us to a wonderful place. Move us beyond ourselves.”

Chin has been moved beyond herself. As a child, she was taken by a Mercy sister to visit a Miss Lillian in Hansen Home, the Jamaica leprosarium. “We knocked at the door, and a strong, cheery voice invited us to enter. I bounced into the room and stopped dead in my tracks. There in front of me was a travesty of a face, Hansen’s disease, the repulsive deterioration of the bodily structure.

“ ‘I’m delighted to meet you,’ came a voice in waves as the room spun around. For my own life, I could not speak. But Miss Lillian only extended her hand to me. A stump: no thumb, no fingers. Everything in me recoiled, and a silent scream arose within me. ‘Oh, God,’ I prayed, ‘don’t do this to me.’

“ ‘Just put your hand in my hand.’

“ ‘I can’t, Miss Lillian. I’m afraid.’

“ ‘Yes, you can … don’t be afraid … look at the lilies of the field. Does God allow any harm to come to them?’

“I was not conscious of any volition on my part. But the next instant my hand was resting on Miss Lillian’s stump, hard as wood, rough as sandpaper. Yet wonder of wonders. I felt a surge of power flow from her hand into my own, up my arm, into my being, and a gentle peace settle in my soul.’ ”

Some leader.

National Catholic Reporter, February 18, 2000