Speaking Personally: Maire Hayes

Sister Maire Hayes

Sister Maire is a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, currently living in Luton working with Grassroots interfaith project. She is a member of theNJPN Executive.

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from? It comes to a large extent from my familyupbringing. Both my parents had a social conscience and lived their lives accordingly. They brought me up to be aware of the situation so many people were living in the Ireland of the 1950’s. This was developed and nurtured by the education I received in the schools of the Congregation I was to enter. My study as a student in Liverpool in the lives of such icons as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, their lives of commitment to their beliefs and sacrifice inspired me greatly. Again as a student I took part in protest marches against Apartheid, Ban the Bomb Save the Whale … but all somewhat spasmodic and “gentle “. However it was my privilege to be missioned by my Congregation in1980 to Chile that changed me radically. Those 22 years were God’s gift to me. I lived and worked there during the cruel dictatorship of Augustus Pinochet, in the “poblaciones” – marginalized areas, in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Not only did I share the neighbourhood of the pobladores, but also the fear and injustice that marked their daily lives. Liberation Theology, the study of the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, Segundo Galilea to mention but a few of these inspiring theologians deepened my option to work for justice. My way of praying the Scriptures changed. I took part in activities and protest that denounced injustices, like the Movement Sebastion Acevedo against Torture. I worked alongside the courageous group of women who constantly asked of the Government of Pinochet “DONDE ESTAN!” “WHERE ARE THEY!” of the thousands of missing people who” disappeared” under this regime. I visited political prisoners of some faith and none who inspired me by their dedication to work for justice for the Chilean people. All these experiences and many more, plus the companionship of many pobladores, sisters, priests -some even giving their lives for the cause of justice- were an incentive and support during my years in Chile. “Bread Work Justice Freedom”, the cry of protesters, still remains with me.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today? I returned to the UK and was missioned to multicultural and multi faith Luton. New doors opened in the form of Inter faith dialogue. Hans Kung expressed it thus, “No peace in the world without peace among religions. No peace among religions without dialogue between religions”. I work in an ecumenical organization Grassroots in a programme “A Spirituality thatDoes Justice. With my Grassroots colleagues we engage in inter faith dialogue through reflection and action. Over the challenging years we have with a multi faith steering group achieved Fairtrade Town status for Luton. We organize events like the Peace Walk each year visiting places of worship of the different Faiths, with conversations and exchanges of hospitality hopefully leading to a better understanding of “near neighbours” – a few examples of working for a Luton inHarmony despite the tensions constantly brewing in the town.My years in Luton have urged me to contemplate the teaching of peace and justice in other faiths.

What sustains you in your commitment?
My prayer life – the spirituality of my congregation expresses it thus: “The same Spirit who gathers us in Congregation is also the one that sends us in the simplicity and boldness of the Gospel with those who seek to build the world through justice and love.” RL 10;and “For us there is no mission without adoration without calling upon the Spirit to renew the face of the earth”. RL12.There are organizations that sustain me like the vision ofNJPN, GRASSROOTS, LUTON COUNCIL OF FAITHS, CAFOD,LINKS- RELIGIOUS OF ENGLAND AND WALES, JP IC COMMISSION NORTHAMPTON….Again the examples of so many people who hit the headlines challenging injustices and working for the Common Good and also the unsung people who work quietly in their localities building a society of friendship and kindness. Then there are my memories for to remember is to stress the obligation we have as Christians to humanize an inhuman world. Memories are a form of meeting people who have touched my life and are witnesses of a God of justice and tender love. Indeed I do not think I could live my vow of poverty authentically without working on justice issues.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?`
The words and gestures of Pope Francis are an expression ofHope for me, the “untying of the knots” that bind our Church.He speaks of the Church as “a mother with an open heart and with doors wide open”. I hope for an inclusive Church in every way compassionate and not so legalistic, where women are appreciated for their gifts of insight and have a role in decision making and taking at different levels in the structures of ourChurch. A Church that is poor and is for the poor, that lives out the directives of Vatican II especially regarding relations with other Faiths (Nostra Aetate). A Church in which we the baptized are helped and supported to live out the responsibilities of our baptism in our families, parishes and society and so build up the living stones spoken of by St Paul. How we would be changed and begin the ripple effect around us! Finally a Church that speaks out strongly on option for the poor, compassion for refugees, economic justice, care of the earth, indeed the injustices of our world -we know them, let us the Church help our leaders to articulate them. Religious women and men have been directed by Pope Francis to “Wake up the world!” (Rejoice) or as the prophet Micah proclaims; “This is what Yahweh asks of you, only this to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God”. Micah6:8