Root the strength of your resolutions and the hope of the success of your undertakings in the knowledge of your great weakness and the total mistrust of self, as well as in the firm assured confidence you ought to have in God, for whom nothing is impossible and will always assist you in everything you undertake for God’s glory through the movement of God’s grace and according to the orders of obedience.
Fr. Jean Pierre Medaille
Sr. Gladys Leigh, CSJ has recently begun volunteering with a wonderful organization that is working to provide healing and support for young women who have survived sex trafficking. I hope you’ll visit the Covering House and learn more about how you can help in this work. Sr. Gladys, generously shares this journey of her life. Finding a new way to be and learning that the Holy Spirit can ever reveal inner gifts and strengths we may have forgotten or not known were there. Thank you Sr. Gladys for sharing your story with us.
Laly, abuelita Laly. It happened to me at the Millennium Hotel, St. Louis. We were having a Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph event. It started with looking for a hotel that would take a public stance against Human Trafficking. The Sisters of St. Joseph take a public stance against human trafficking. We showed up…we listened…we prayed… Transformation happened. I said to one of my fellow sisters, “That is exactly how God is calling me to minister to, girls victims of the worst slavery of the modern world: sex human trafficking of children.”
And just like that I was told, “There is the woman you need to talk to” and was directed to Deedee Lhamonn, the director of the Covering House. There wasn’t a need for me in that moment but God was planting a seed. Perhaps, she told me that I could eventually become a loving presence, a Grandmother to the girls. Grandma to the girls? How could that be true, if I am not even a mother to anyone? Be not afraid… you will know it.
See, I was born in a desert called Sullana. North of Peru, close to the border with Ecuador. In 1940 we had a “military event”, a war. And my home town was a “military fort”. I saw many military, hostilities… actually the Military Social Club was next wall to our home. They would get drunk, and start shooting, almost every weekend for sure. No electricity, waking up with shootings. I grew in great fear.
I was terrified, afraid of the dark, afraid of violence; I felt I was not safe even at home. For different reasons, I was a hostage in my own home. My father died when I was 7. Then I was so afraid of the “dead, of dying”, of “seeing somebody sick” and was afraid “to see and hear people who were dear to me cry out loud”. I run away, I hid. We had been living at my grandmother, abuelita Teresita. My father’s mother. She was so dear to me, she was trying to help me to free myself from so many fears… she would defend me, protect me. She showed me to talk to God, talk to Mary, talk to my angel; she assured me they would protect me when nobody else would.
She was diabetic and became blind… she became very sick, so I was terrified of her… I did not want to go near her bedroom… I separated myself from her because I thought being blind, meant having no eyes in the face… how could I look at her having no eyes? How was she ever defend me and protect me? My grandmother kept calling me, sending me messages to not be afraid of her, so I became brave and went to see her, touch her face, jump up in bed with her and cuddle again. She died three months after my father did. Great losses for a 7-year-old girl. I was left with all my fears, real fears. Who could stand up for me? Who could protect me? Who could empower me? Who could believe me?
Years went by, full of fear. I was face to face to the very poor and oppressed, I saw their reality. Who could stand up for them? Who could protect them” who could empower them”? I discover who were the poor, no voice, children dying… the sick dying… people crying out loud… Then I discover that there are a varieties of being poor, who was the poorest of the poor? Women: for being poor and for their sex, and children for being born poor and with financial debt. Out of the cries of the poor I felt called by God. “I will go, God if you lead me I will keep your people in my heart”.
By the grace of God, by the blessings of my CSJ community, by the blessings of being among the poor, the people of God, the church of God, I started liberating myself from all my fears.
With the poor in Peru, with them, with the church and the CSJ I became like them, became to be prophets, the voice of the voiceless, the protector of exploited women, we became the ones who would empower the people of God. We responded with love, and I started to see liberation for all who are oppressed. I was one with the oppressed, lived it, loved them, done it.
In the last 20 years, more liberation on the way.
Terrified of seeing women crying, treating like they have a disease when they were giving birth? I was called to be their doula, stay in the moment, seeing pain with a purpose for new life. I was free with them!!
Terrified of being touched, even so uncomfortable to hold hands at praying Our Father? I was called to be a massage therapist, divining the body, respecting the body, experience and share “a healing, safe touch. I was free with them!
Terrified of the dying, of them abandoning me. By pure grace of God, I was able to stay during the whole process of seeing my two very best friends Mary Ann Fahey and Kathleen Judge both CSJs being seriously ill and staying with them every step of the way when they were dying. Comforting them, encouraging them even to let go and let God. Then I was privileged to accompany Mary Laurent when she gave birth to her new life. And in all these processes I was healed with them!
I let my grandma, mi abuelita Teresita get the credit for helping me become free of the oppression of my fears.
How can I not be “Grandma Laly” for the girls at the Covering House? How can I not hope empower them from the slavery of sex trafficking? How can I not continue to accept the liberating experiences of God for them, with them, and most importantly, you?
Where one CSJ is, we are all there.
What strengths has God revealed to you in your life? Are you able to see them as gifts to share or do you fear what they may bring? Are you open to a new identity or are you stuck in old ways? Who is God calling you to become?
So grateful to be on the path with you and Grandma Laly,