PROVIDENCE — Sister Lillian Carapia gently kisses a small wooden cross before holding it to her heart and closing her eyes to pray. The cross is a welcoming gift from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and the Diocese of Providence.
Sister Carapia, along with Sister Leticia Aguilar and Sister Virginia Arellano, traveled from Mexico to Rhode Island last week, as they moved into the convent at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. For the next three years, they will be serving three communities in Providence, including Blessed Sacrament Parish, Holy Ghost Parish, and the Cathedral Parish.
“This is our new home and new family,” said Sister Carapia, who hails from Mexico City, while Sisters Aguilar and Arellano are from Guanajuato and Zihuatanejo, respectively.
The nuns are part of Missionary Servants of the Word, a Mexican-based order that specializes in evangelizing to Latino communities via door-to-door visits. Their ministry also involves retreats, working with the youth, familiarizing people with the importance of the Bible and other initiatives.
“When we see a family, we tell them we are Catholic Missionaries,” Sister Arellano said. “We offer prayers for them and their family, encourage them to go to church and educate them about the Bible. It’s an opportunity to know your Catholic faith.”
According to Father Jeremy Rodrigues, administrative secretary to the bishop, as well as the director of the Office for Worship, the order has communities in various parts of the world. American locations include Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, California, and now Rhode Island.
“They expressed interest in the diocese because they already had the community in New Hampshire and Boston,” said Father Rodrigues, pointing out that Father Nolasco Tamayo, the director of the Multicultural Ministry Office, suggested that the Sisters would be a perfect fit for Providence.
Inviting the sisters to Rhode Island was also the diocese’s response to Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, or “Joy of the Gospel.” To Bishop Tobin’s delight, the sisters are intent on sharing the love of Christ, which is the foundation of evangelization.
“We are very grateful for your presence and very pleased that you will carry on that message of evangelization,” the bishop said to them during a Mass held at the cathedral’s private chapel last Thursday. “It’s a great need that we have.”
In a separate interview, John Barry, secretary of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry, agreed. He is confident that the sisters will help to further evangelize members of the area’s large Hispanic community.
“This is another effort on the part of the diocese to assist parishes in assimilating a significant Catholic population,” said Barry. “We’ve been trying various methods for the last 40 years to assist those communities to be a part of the diocesan family.”
So far, the sisters said they are enjoying Rhode Island. They are getting used to the cold weather, but are intrigued by snow.
“It’s beautiful,” said Sister Arellano, also noting that she is excited about fulfilling Pope Francis’ request for New Evangelization through her new ministry in the Ocean State. “He said, ‘don’t stay in the sacristy. Go out and speak to the people.’”
Sister Carapia and Sister Aguilar also praised Pope Francis. They said he is Christ-like in many ways.
“He is a very good example of the faith,” said Sister Carapia. “He is a man of our time [and] for our time,” while Sister Aguilar described him as trustworthy and faithful. “He gives us testimony and is always very happy,” she said.
Bishop Tobin also spoke kind words of the pope, as well as the sisters. He hopes that they will find the peaceful and prayerful atmosphere they need and deserve within the diocese.
“You’ve given your heart and souls to Christ. You’ve left your home, traveled to a land that is distant to you, motivated by the love of Christ. It’s in that spirit that we ask God’s blessing upon you as you being this work among us.”
As they settle in, they said they often think of their family and friends in Mexico. But they know God has placed them, and their loved ones in good hands, which allows them to focus on the task at hand.
“When you spend all your time on the mission, you don’t have time to miss anything,” Sister Aguilar said.