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Little Flower celebrates twinning relationship with Madagascar

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June 1, 2011

By David Eck

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — For more than a decade members of St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Mt. Airy have been building a relationship with the Sisters of Divine Providence ministering in the rural areas of Madagascar.


St. Therese Little Flower Parish presented Sister Marie Paule Chan Sin Nien with a $7,000 check for the Sisters’ ministry in Madagascar. Pictured with her are Sister Francis Maag and Father Robert Goebel, pastor.

The parish celebrated that association May 15 at a dinner with several leaders of the Sisters of Divine Providence, including Sister Marie Paule Chan Sin Nien, provincial of the Madagascar Province.


Among the highlights of the evening was an overview of the twinning project and the presentation of $7,000 for the Sisters’ work in education in Madagascar. Including that contribution, the parish has raised $38,000 for the Sisters’ ministry. The money has helped build and operate a school in Antsakabary in the Madagascar bush country. It has expanded to include a high school.


“Before that school was built the children had to walk several kilometers to go to school,” said Sister of Divine Providence Francis Margaret Maag, director of religious education at St. Therese Little Flower. “They just hunger for education.”


The twinning relationship began after her religious community sent Sister Francis to Madagascar for a short assignment in 1999. When she returned to the parish, she spoke of the experience. The Parish Life Commission was interested in doing additional outreach at the time and, after hearing about Sister Francis’ experiences, decided to twin with her Sisters in Madagascar.


Kathy Shannon, a parishioner at Little Flower for 17 years, said the stories of the Sisters’ ministry resonated with the group. The fact that Sister Francis is a member of the community made the link stronger. The group knew the Sisters could lead them through the process and explain how to approach new people and culture.


“We just thought it was such a good fit,” Shannon said. “We felt this was an opportunity to reach out across the world. We went with our gut on choosing Madagascar.”


Kathy Shannon speaks with Sister of Divine Providence Alphonse Marie Antinany from Madagascar

The commission spent several months developing a five-year plan, which has been renewed twice, involving prayer, understanding and action. The commission collects donations and holds fundraisers, including twice-yearly yard sales to support the Sisters. Members of the parish, including Shannon, visited Madagascar in 2005 and are planning another trip this September.


“What impacted me the most was the joyfulness of the people who live in the poorest part of the country,” Shannon said. “You don’t need to have these worldly possessions to be happy. That is what I learned, and that is what I’ve tried to share with people who want to know about twinning.”


In a twinning relationship, each partner learns from the other and shares their faith.


“The most important thing is to develop the relationship and know they are our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Shannon said. “We are Catholics together even though we are worlds apart.”


The commission has educated parishioners about the twinning project by giving talks in the parish school and writing updates in parish newsletters. Students at the school wrote to their counterparts in Madagascar and parishioners have exchanged letters and photos.


The project works because the parish leadership supports it, the Sisters are committed to solidarity and there is a well-organized plan, said Mike Gable, director of the archdiocesan Mission Office.
“The key piece in all this is they are growing in God together,” Gable said. “When a parish works together, they can inspire each other to become better Catholics.”


Sister of Divine Providence Mary Pascale Kubler, superior general of the order, speaks with Sister Francis Margaret Maag, center, and Mike and Kathy Gable.

While it took some time for parishioners to understand the project, they have been supportive.


“I think it has enabled them to think on a more global level,” Shannon said. “They realize it’s not just about us at Little Flower. There are people across the world who we can come to know and to love, and I think that’s what’s happening. They are coming to know that group of people.”  

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