This week I am attending the Conference on the History of Women Religious. Last night was the opening night which featured the documentary Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism. “Interrupted Lives is a one hour broadcast documentary that explores the plight of Eastern-rite and Latin-rite Catholic Sisters under Soviet domination from the end of World War II to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
I personally was blown away by the documentary. I had no idea that Catholic sisters suffered so much. Yet their faith and their sisterhood kept hope alive through it all. Here is an overview of the sisters’ experience from the documentary’s website www.interruptedlives.org.
While not all of the activities listed below applied to every Sister and community in every country, the experiences were nonetheless widespread:
- Sisters’ schools, hospitals and motherhouses were seized by the state and turned over to secular uses with little or no compensation;
- Sisters were denied the right to assembly and to accept and train new members;
- Sisters were forced to work on state collective farms, in factories and mental institutions;
- Sisters’ teaching and nursing certificates were revoked and they were forbidden to work in these “helping
- professions” for fear of contaminating and influencing others with their beliefs;
- Sisters were imprisoned or sent into exile in Siberia as political punishment for resistance, assisting or hiding priests, arranging Masses, meeting with youth, or evangelizing children in the faith;
- Sisters in some countries were forbidden to wear their community habits and veils;
- Sisters were forced to live secretly in ones and twos in apartments as laywomen, compelling them to gather and meet undercover;
- Sisters joined congregations through an underground network in which they did not know the identities of other “Secret Sisters” for fear of accidentally revealing and compromising others;
- Sisters professed vows secretly in small, intimate ceremonies, usually in the middle of the night, for fear of police detection; vow papers were often signed, witnessed and burned so as to leave no evidence;
- Sisters were kept segregated by the state in “concentration convents” with limited access to family and friends;
- Sisters suffered imprisonment, exile, torture, deportations and police watch.
I encourage you to learn more about the sisters and the documentary. After you’ve had time to view the trailer and check out the website, please share your thoughts here.
JoyceElaine June 28, 2010 at 8:26 am
Thank you God, and thank you Sister Julie for posting this. This is incredible. I saw and read most of the website as well. I feel incredibly blessed.
Sister Julie June 28, 2010 at 11:32 am
Hi Joyce Elaine, It’s quite a story. What does it say about sisterhood to you?
~E June 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm
Thank you for sharing the documentary with us Sister Julie. It is so important to see historical examples such as these and realize that events like these are a part of the history of the church as well as history of our world. In additional, it is essential to document the stories of these sisters and capture them to be able to share them and utilize them in future teachings especially since many are advanced in age. It is the same as those survivors of the Holocaust and the fact that many are in their 80′s now and how critical it is to capture their testimonies and experiences, so that we never forget that these events did occur and they have forever marked a part of our history.
The message I obtained from the documentary regarding sisterhood is very simple. What I found was that the power of love and the love of God is amazing! All the sisters featured in this documentary are brave not only to have endured very tragic and disturbing experiences of torture, abuse, hunger, forced/expected denial of who they are, labor work, etc, but to be able to share their stories is a true blessing. In addition, the sisters were able to focus, in their dark times and moments, on the love of God and the power of God to help them survive such testing experiences. It is this type of self-less love and belief in God that is truly inspirational because each and every one of these women could have chosen to adapt to what was expected of them and avoid all the pain and hurt they experienced. Instead they chose to not deny themselves the great love they had and continue to have for God as well as their beliefs/vows and hold onto the love, hope, and faith they had inside and share it with others!
Suze June 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm
To me this speaks of the way of incredible love of community life (love for your sisters and from your sisters) with all the joys and trials, sometimes great trials. No matter what, you are your sister and your sister is you. And of the great love Christ Jesus has for each of us.
This reminded me of something the late Sister Jose Hobday said during a retreat “Women Mystics in the Church” about St. Teresa of Avila: St. Teresa was in her cell speaking with Jesus. He asked, “Who are you” to which Teresa responded “I am Teresa of Jesus”. As intimate friends address one another, Teresa asked Jesus, “Who are you”. Jesus replied “I am Jesus of Teresa”. He replies to each of us in the same manner.
Sarah, RSM June 29, 2010 at 2:35 pm
I met a woman last year who’d become a “secret sister” in the Czech Republic. Her stories were surreal to me as I listened from my white, Euro American Religious experience. I look forward to seeing the documentary and perhaps understanding from a deeper place.
MelbaL August 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm
Just FYI for folks with cable, this documentary is showing on EWTN on at 1AM CT on Sun., 8/15.