by Sr. Carol De Angelo
I couldn’t help but notice the woman standing in the back of the Church as I made an announcement from the pulpit at the end of Sunday mass. She was moving towards the door to leave the Church but then turned around and stopped.
A short while later after greeting parishioners after Mass, I entered the parish office only to find this woman nervously sitting there waiting for me. She was scared that her husband would come looking for her knowing that Mass had ended. This woman, now a grandmother, is still in contact.
She is one of my heroes and mentors. She may be grateful for the support and help we offered her over forty years ago, but I am grateful for the gift she has given me, of journeying with her and seeing the Christ life shine brightly in her through the sufferings and joys she has experienced. As a wife in an abusive marriage, it took several years for Bernadette to make a final break, and then many months to get the annulment and legal divorce.
The System creates a lot of barriers for women in abuse situations. She and her son came to live in our Convent until the Shelter agreed to accept her. It took three stays in different shelters before the final break! With lots of advocacy and connections, we were able on the third try to have the System agree that she could stay longer than the 3-month limit to allow annulment and divorce proceeding to be completed, thus leaving her free to return to her country of origin with necessary legal papers, especially regarding care of her son.
It is difficult to leave an abusive relationship. Her husband followed her back to their home country as soon as she went home. To this day he continues to harass her, sometimes coming to her home and throwing rocks at the windows. Police say there is little they can do. They arrest him. Put him in jail until he is sober. His presence still looms large in her life and her adult son’s as he struggles with his relationship with his father. Should he shut him out completely, limit visits, and how to deal with the father’s verbal accusations and inuendoes?
Bernadette and her son left an abusive relationship. The abuser followed them. Upon return to her country, her parish priest said Bernadette should go back to her husband – annulment and divorce were not acceptable. With the support of her parents and other relatives, over the years Bernadette parented her son, worked long hours, was the family breadwinner, remained a faithful prayerful Christian bearing a heavy cross – her husband’s nasty threats, constant harassment and following of her.
Our contact is infrequent – emails and sometimes a WhatsApp call. Yet we still accompany each other. She says I give her hope. She shows me what hope really is…moving forward, one step at a time, holding on through darkness and trials, staying gentle, loving, giving, and laughing. Thank you, Bernadette, my friend and mentor! In journeying together in God’s Love, may hope, strength and courage shine forth in us.