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Nuns are the lifeblood of the Catholic Church

Whenever I get fed up with the archaic actions of the Vatican and its backward sexist leadership, I have to ask myself what causes me to remain a Catholic? Some days this answer does not come easily. The Vatican's teachings against homosexuals, suppression of women, chastising the divorced, favoring the wealthy, prohibiting birth control and other atrocities make me wonder why I choose to be a member of such a closed, dark, judgmental society.

But then I remind myself, this dark cryptic tomb is not my church! My church is not the rules, the fundamental teachings, the incense or the rote prayers. My Catholic Church is a spirit burning bright and warm and is welcoming, loving, cheerful and hopeful. It is not a building but a way of life. Who wouldn't want to be a member of my Catholic Church?

My enlightened view of the church is one that was instilled in me by the Sisters of Mercy, who taught me the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule by example and led with songs of joy and happiness. The good, dedicated sisters who, in grade school at St. Teresa's, organized canned good drives and bake sales for Catholic charities and collected change and clothing for children in countries we could never pronounce. The sisters who, later at Mount Mercy Academy, gave us our voice and taught us to stand up for social justice.

Founded by Catherine McAuley, an Irish heiress, in Dublin in 1831, the Mercy sisters are dedicated to their mission serving "all people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education, with a special concern for women and children." They have stayed true to this mission for nearly 200 years. I had the good fortune to not only have been educated by the Sisters of Mercy for 12 years in South Buffalo, but also have two Mercy nuns as aunts. Living examples of Catholic faith among us? You bet! Dark, judgmental, fundamental and punishing? Never!

The Mercy nuns are not alone. Sisters of all congregations have been the driving force of good in our communities for decades. The sisters took a vow of poverty, and humbly but meaningfully immersed themselves among us. First, they founded the local hospitals and schools and then they realized the need was greater. So they started homes for troubled youth, helped with adoptions, opened soup kitchens, visited the sick, fed the hungry, sat with the dying and wept with prisoners.

More recently, they have expanded their outreach to include victims of drug and alcohol abuse, incest and eating disorders. Nothing is too "real" for the sisters. They live the Gospels every day, quietly but with purpose. And guess what the sisters do when they are in their 80s? Retire? Of course not! They take care of their fellow sisters who are infirmed.

So now the Vatican, in its infallible wisdom, is investigating their activities, suggesting that they are being too worldly. In what world is the Vatican living? Not mine, not yours. The time is now for us to make our voices heard. Let the Vatican know that we will not stand for this outright form of discrimination against these religious women in our community. Women who have without judgment stood by us from cradle to grave. We must support the sisters not only with prayers but with letters, phone calls and testimonials. The number of sisters is dwindling. It is up to each and every one of us who has been impacted in any way by a sister to speak out.

The sisters are our church -- the bright church, the spiritual church. Thank them. Tell the Vatican this is not OK.

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Patricia Ann Farrell, a senior vice president with Merill Lynch in New York City, was educated by Mercy nuns in Buffalo.