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Little sisters of Jesus 70th Anniversary Celebration in Algeria, Touggourt
On the 8th September the Little sisters celebrated 70 years since their foundation by Little sister Magdeleine of Jesus, in Touggourt, in 1939.
When Little sister Magdeleine, our foundress, first landed in the Sahara she was searching for a way to follow in the footsteps of Charles de Foucauld. She began by founding a soup kitchen in Sidi Boujnan, Algeria. She quickly realized that her calling was to something more contemplative, to a life of prayer lived among the people rather than to an organized apostolate. Sisters of another congregation took over her project there, and she proceeded to Touggourt, where she founded the Little Sisters in 1939.
So a very special celebration took place in Touggourt, 'the cradle' of the Community. Little sister Jeanne, the constant companion of Little sister Magdeleine and first General superior was invited back and could meet up again with the very first nomad friends and friends from the village with whom little sister Magdeleine built up such strong bonds of friendship and trust. Little sister Jeanne also met up with their children and their grand-children. What a joy to find such a big family, with each one not knowing what to do to to make this such a special occasion!
Tea in Touggourt! Little sister Jeanne with Soad, granddaughter of Atman, our dear friend from the days of the foundation, Aquila, Nadia and Little sister Myriem Rehba who has lived in Touggourt since 1951 working alongside Little sister Jeanne Andree who was a midwife and brought to birth 1500 babies!
Little sister Jeanne writes:
As our Bishop wrote in his monthly newsletter:
'Live together, respecting our differences is not only possible but is part of the daily tram of our lives and a sure road when facing an uncertain future.'
A special celebration gathered Little Sisters and the people of Touggourt, along with priests and religious of the region, including Bishop Claude Rault of Laghouat, Sahara. He preached the homily at the Mass:
Homily by Bishop Claude
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus:
When I arrived in Alger in 1970, it was customary to go touring in the South during school vacation. So of course, I did homage to the custom by going with a friend to take pictures of the dunes, the camels, and the desert. We'd stayed with the White Fathers in Touggourt, and were invited here to Sidi Boujnan, to the Little Sisters of Jesus. At that time, they had a little maternity clinic, where Little sisters Jeanne-Andree and Meriem-Rebha (among us here today to welcome us!) were bustling about.
I will never forget that first encounter. I had come alone to visit the Little Sisters. The yard was empty, and I saw a little sister come out with a newly-born baby in her arms, wrapped in a little blanket. It was "Djedda," Little sister Jeanne-Andree. We didn't know each other. Right away she put the baby in my arms and said, "You see how cute he is! I'll be right
L.Sr. Jeanne-Andree was midwife to many of the nomad women who prefered to come to the little sisters for the births of their babies.
back." And she left me there, with the baby in my arms, to go see about some business in the house. Don't worry, she did come back; but she was gone long enough that I had time to become aware of the quiver of life shining in that baby.
If I'm telling you this story, it's because I was able to glimpse all at once, and very concretely, what we could call the "spirituality" of the family of the Little Sisters of Jesus, and the heart of their vocation. I'm not going to launch into the historical facts, where I'd be in danger of losing my way. But when I entered their chapel, another child, not of flesh but of painted plaster, captured my attention: "the little infant Jesus!" It was he who welcomed me in this chapel, where his Eucharistic Body was also exposed, as real as the newborn baby I had held in my arms a few minutes earlier.
Here, then, are two important poles of the spirituality of the family Little sister Magdeleine founded 70 years ago. I don't think she had all of her numerous intuitions all at once, but Everything was there, within her, as she contemplated both the innocence of the Infant Jesus and the Innocent One present, offered, in the Eucharist. And that Body of Christ was also present, encountered, in the poorest of the nomads of Sidi Boujnan, who welcomed her, supported her, and quickly came to love her.
To love concretely, especially at that moment when war was raging in Europe and having its repercussions even in Algeria, Little sister Magdeleine needed "human resources." She needed companions to support her in her work, and in her vocation to the service of the lowly. So she went, criss-crossing France with her conferences, explaining, convincing, speaking:
"I hope that in every hall I speak in, at least some of those who hear me will carry away in their hearts a little friendship for my dear friends back in Algeria...! want to work toward the creation of profound friendship and great love between persons," she used to say.
The strength of her conviction and the fire that burned within her were such that she wound up going "from the Sahara to the whole world," as the title of the first volume of her memoirs says so well.
I had the joy of meeting her in Rome, in 1979 when she was preparing to go to China. She was full of life, like a child, like that Child who never left her! She had his audacity, innocence, and trust. She wasn't afraid to tell me how crazy the trip was, but her enthusiasm was visible. Her encounter with Brother Charles was permeated with the simplicity that characterized the family of Nazareth.
Yes, you see, from the Child, we arrive at the "family." There is no better model of community life than the family of Nazareth, even if we know so little about it.
By God's grace, Little sister Magdeleine was able to do what Brother Charles had not managed in his lifetime: found communities, universal communities to radiate that Love which can only be communicated through simply living it.
Two things about Little sister Magdeleine and her communities impressed me: the radiance of the life within them, and the drive outward toward others, especially toward the lowliest.
--Radiant community life doesn't just happen. In fact, community is the toughest laboratory for culturing Gospel life. This will not come as news to you. In true common life, lived as closely as you live it, in spaces as limited as you live in, you can't escape yourself and you can't escape the other. And it's often when you navigate the "crises" of this kind of life that you most radiate the Presence of Jesus around you. I've noticed it often. You yourselves can't measure the effect your communities have. Fortunately. It's part of the gift God gives you, it doesn't belong to you. There's nothing in it for you to be proud of; God's grace passes through our weaknesses, our limits, our failures. It's not that you should go looking for difficulties, they'll come quite well on their own... St. Teresa of Avila used to say, "We're stupid enough by nature, it's not worth trying to be so by grace!" Our limits are like trampolines we can bounce off to gain more altitude as we soar by the impetus of the Holy Spirit.
-There's also the dynamism pushing you toward others, beginning with the most insignificant, the most abandoned, the most forgotten. It wasn't by accident that Little sister Magdeleine chose the places she did. She always wanted to send her little sisters "to the edge"... where people were the most abandoned, the most wounded, the most diminished, both personally and socially. In Sidi Boujnan she gave people jobs, she started this little maternity clinic. She was effective and creative. But she never wanted to use methods that went beyond what Jesus used in Nazareth. The temptation was always there to give priority to what human beings could accomplish, when the priority should always be Love. What I saw evolving in Sidi Boujnan is very much along that line. Even if today you don't have much in the way of material resources, the original spirit that characterized you is still very much alive, and it always takes first place in even the humblest things you undertake.
Little Sisters, go on bearing the fruit of this spirit, the spirit of childhood, in contemplation of the Infant Jesus and Jesus in the Eucharist. Keep your hearts open, keep the spirit of the family of Nazareth, even as you navigate the crises in your life. Finally, keep your doors always open, for then you will know how to touch the poverty hidden in the mysterious inner recesses of every human person...
And as I haven't referred yet to the Scriptures for today, I'll borrow St. Paul's words to end my meditation: "God is the witness to how attached to you I am; with Christ Jesus' own tenderness. And in my prayer, I ask that your love make you grow more and more in knowledge of what is true, in perfect clarity as to what is the most important thing..."
And isn't loving the most import thing?
Inspired by Brother Charles...