ALHAMBRA — Consecrated women pledged to continue giving their witness of unity, joy and hope during the fourth national Encounter of Hispanic Religious Women (Encuentro Nacional de Religiosas Hispanas).

Under the motto “Invited to come to Bethany: Hispanic religious life in the United States, a new alternative to the challenges of today,” 130 women religious attended the Encuentro at the Sacred Heart Retreat House of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.

“This meeting has invited us to experience an encounter with Jesus as it happened to Mary at Bethany,” said Sister Ana Gabriela Castro, Guadalupana Missionary Sister of the Holy Spirit (MGSpS). “We shared our journey as missionaries in this country, and to see the challenges, needs and contributions we give to the Church in America.”

The religious Hispanic women worked around the icon of Bethany, referred to in the Gospel of John 12:1-3 as a cozy village situated three kilometers from Jerusalem. It was the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, whose home was an open house and meeting place for Jesus and his disciples.

The meditation to “enter” to Bethany was offered by Sister Georgina Zubiría of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and theologian of the Conference of Religious Superiors-Mexico (CIRM).

“In this Year of Consecrated Life, throughout the Americas we will be talking about Bethany,” Sister Ana Gabriela said in her reflection. “Our religious life must be a genuine meeting house, the heart of humanity and from where we serve the People of God.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez said that the Year of Consecrated Life is a time to thank God for the vocation of the religious sisters. “We live in a time of holiness blowing amid a strong wind,” the archbishop said. “Therefore I have asked them to pray for priestly vocations and for more and more consecrated men and women, because true happiness lies in God and not in things.”

During the interreligious meeting, which was held from June 3-6, Dr. Arturo Chavez, president of Mexican-American Catholic Schools, addressed the changing pastoral needs in the United States.

“We must pay attention to Hispanics born in this country,” Chavez urged the nuns. “They identify with the culture of their parents, but many of them are not decided on any religion and you should know how to respond to them.”

“Some of our challenges are inculturation and the language,” said Sister María Inmaculada Cuesta, a Comboni Missionary in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. “We want to be a bridge between cultures, because working in parishes in Mexico is different than in the United States.”

The sisters, who hailed from from Alaska, California and several other U.S. states, and Spanish-speaking countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico celebrated Mass, enjoyed mariachi music during dinner and took time to share their experiences with each other.

The representatives of various religious congregations encouraged each other in the arduous task of evangelization.

“We are all immigrants and also walked with immigrants,” said Sister Ana Gabriela. “We share the religious doctrine of the Church to respond continuously to the needs of the people.”

Sister Maritza Cisneros of the Society of St. Teresa, works for La Casita Learning Center in San Antonio, Texas. They offer GED classes to immigrants, English and spiritual guidance to low-income women.

“In my case, my call to consecrated life came when Teresians took time to have contact with the poorest people,” said Sister Maritza, who was born in Managua, Nicaragua.

“I saw the suffering of my people and injustice that existed at the time of Anastasio Somoza and the National Sandinista Revolution,” she said. “The people were struggling to emerge from injustice and dictatorship. I saw the pain of my people and that attracted me to give my life to helping others.”