Juliana’s Pandemic and Sabbatical Year

When the pandemic year becomes a Sabbatical year.

More than a year ago, life began to change with the emergence of the Corona Virus.

During the first weeks, I experienced that my time was filled with more time to pray, to reflect, often and for longer periods. At this time, I was still thinking that within a month or two everything would be back to normal. So now, much later than anticipated, after 16 months of such slowing down, life is gradually becoming normal again here for us in Israel; whatever this new “normal” means!!

It was not only this “slowing down” that I experienced during these months but I also organized the computer and cleansed it of all the unnecessary junk; the house got a good cleaning too. A few months later it became clear, that this was a world-wide calamity and that it would continue for longer than just a few weeks or months. Meetings or gatherings became prohibited, retreats in personal presence were not offered, and so the norm became zoom or other online platforms to meet and encounter the other.

My first retreat was one suggested by Sr. Rita. She invited me to join a zoom meeting with Ron Rolheiser, from the Queen’s House Spiritual Centre in Saskatoon, Canada. From then onward, I began to receive their newsletter and I saw the many programs which were being offered via zoom. So, as part of a spiritual sabbatical year which was becoming my reality, I signed up for the 30-day retreat in daily live. There were 15 participants and each participant was required to have a personal spiritual director. From September to May this group of 15 met every two weeks via zoom to walk together and share the Ignatian way of following Jesus Christ.

During these months I also participated once with the Oblates of Toronto, and once with Queen’s House in a short spiritual direction course. This ministry is a call which has come back to me over some time; the call to have more knowledge and experience of how to accompany someone spiritually. I also went back to my notes from my novitiate formation course in 2006. I have realised that this way of listening and learning continues to deepen within me.

My second involvement was to focus on Hebrew language and so I began to watch television for one hour a day. I especially focused my attention on the news. At the beginning, what I heard were just sounds, but when time went on, these sounds became words, and then it became an encounter for me. This “encounter” does not mean that I understand every word, but that I can distinguish the everyday words spoken by Israelis. It’s really exciting, to realize that I am also getting better in this useful communication skill!

As well as these two main activities, I participated in the zoom teaching organized by our Sion Centre in Bayswater London, the Centre for Biblical Formation (CBF), and by the Australian sisters in AUS. I am also following the study of the Gospel of St. Mark in Hebrew with Fr. David. During the days from Easter to Pentecost another zoom meeting opened up for me which was the reading of the Acts of the Apostles with the Biblical Society in Linz, a German-speaking group.

The online platform Workplace, which was created by the Congregation, has become a source of sharing and awareness of the involvements of the sisters and the Family of Sion all over the world. So, there I have been able to experience the art show of the Moravia school in Costa Rica; learn about the sisters’ involvements in Brazil or the Philippines; create some group in which I am interested or participate in other groups. So, it was here that the Vocation and Come & See Group was created. Today Sr. Maria, living in the Philippines, Sr. Andrea living in Spain, and myself are the power behind this initiative. We have meetings with interested young people on the topic of our Congregation Notre Dame de Sion (NDS). At these gatherings those who are interested can get to know one another and ask questions. Every two months we offer a short teaching on the History of NDS and a Vocation Story of one of our sisters. So far, we have invited Anne Catherine, Kasia and Rita. They were called and generously accepted the invitation to share and give some insights into religious life in the Congregation. The young women are from Brazil, Costa Rica, Philippines, Israel and Poland.

As I conclude I can see that this year of the Corona Pandemic has given me a chance, both to get involved in fresh initiatives and to learn new skills and wisdom. So, the year has become for me a Sabbatical year in every sense. I have rested, been open to new ways of listening, hearing and engaging. I have followed my passion, to promote vocation awareness and to learn more about the reality and diverse manifestations of Anti-Semitism. In these last months of the Sabbatical Year that God offered me, I am also having some physical treatment. For this I receive a Chinese massage once a week. I find that it is a very great help for my neck and back.

In our Constitution # 84 it says that the aim of Continued Formation is to help each one grow in her experience of God, in her participation in community life, and in the service of others.

I thank my community for carrying me during this time. The above activities and orientations have been my way of engaging myself in a Sabbatical year during the Pandemic. I have experienced a deeper growing together, which has been a delight and deep experience of living life to the full.

With gratitude,

Juliana NDS
Ein Karem, Juni 2021