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Mercy Challenge Offers Inside Look at Religious Life
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, June 24, 2010
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ERIE, Pa. (CNS)—Debbi-Ann Chambers is reflective and loves to read poetry, especially the wisdom of the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi.

A native Jamaican with an easy laugh who has been studying psychology in New York City for the past nine years, she also has a passion for God and making a difference in the lives of people.

At 31 and one year away from a doctorate in counseling psychology from Columbia University, she is curious about where God is leading her, so she attended Mercy Challenge.

The annual weeklong event is sponsored by the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas for single women between ages 18-40 so they can experience a taste of Mercy life through prayer, community, theological reflection and service.

"This has been an opportunity to talk with people and think of my spirituality and my role in fighting for issues of social justice," said Chambers.

Social justice is close to her heart, having worked with the poor, unemployed and mentally handicapped, most of it in the secular field.

"(Mercy Challenge) offers the theological component lacking in the secular field and is a opportunity to grow in my spirituality," she said.

This year Mercy Challenge was hosted for the first time by the Sisters of Mercy New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community, one of six communities that make of up the institute.

Chambers and four other women from different parts of the country visited sisters and ministries in Buffalo, N.Y., and Erie, Pa., to learn about Mercy life.

While in Buffalo, participants heard the stories of refugees at Vive Inc., and prepared and served meals to the poor at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room. They toured Mercy ministries in Erie and spent a day working with clients at the Mercy Center for Women, which provides transitional housing for women, with or without children.

Besides Chambers, other participants included: Luz Alvarez, Amy Streit and Katie Chambers (no relation to Debbi-Ann)—all of the Chicago area—and Kitty MacLean of Lebanon, Pa.

Streit said she found the Mercy sisters she met to be close-knit and focused on their service to God and ministry. Mercy Challenge helped her see another view of ministry.

"This has been wonderful," said Streit, who is thinking of becoming a Mercy Corps volunteer after she completes her degree in human services from St. Mary's University in Winona, Minn., in two years. "You gain more insight going into an area that you are not familiar with and work with people who are struggling."

Streit said she intends to keep in touch with all of the Mercy Challenge participants, especially the two from the Chicago area.

Sister Sheila Stevenson, a member of the vocations team for the New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community, said Mercy Challenge gives pause for reflection for both participants and organizers.

"This has been a great educational and experiential experience, one that really caused us to think more and feel more deeply about how Mercy acts in our world," she said.

Chambers found the Mercy sisters prayerful and so full of life. And she saw those with whom she worked with at Mercy Center in the Bronx section of New York and during Mercy Challenge as happy in serving others. She described them as "front-runners in ministry" in responding to the needs of people.

"They are so blessed and everything they do continues to flourish," she said. "Their programs grow out of the needs of men and women to whom they minister."

Chambers said she is not sure if she will one day choose religious life but remains open to the idea.

"I have a lot to think about," she said. "I serve a much more complicated God than I realize. I will digest this experience for the rest of my life."

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