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3. Broadening the horizons
A turning point.
The Community of the Little Sisters of Jesus had been founded exclusively as a presence to the Muslim world and this was very dear to little sister Magdeleine. But on July 26, 1946 she was suddenly seized by a new idea:
She immediately wrote to Bishop de Provencheres and Fr. Voillaume and waited to hear from them before speaking to the little sisters. On September 8, 1946 she wrote to them:
And this without forgetting
"that Islam remains our primary orientation."
Very quickly new communities sprung up in very different contexts:
The first worker community began in Aix en Provence. Two little sisters were hired in a light bulb factory, sharing the working conditions of their co-workers, living off of the same wages. After the initial shock (it was the first time that religious women in habit went to work in factories) the ice was broken and the bonds of friendship began to weave themselves. After several months little sister Magdeleine sent a report about their experience to Bishop Montini for him to give to Pius XII.
Soon she was dreaming of starting a similar community in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Rome. She struggled for several years to receive permission but on April 27, 1951 she wrote:
In 1949 a community began among the Gypsies. There too, the little sisters lived among them as one of them, learning how to cane chairs to earn their living. They fixed up a trailer in which they were able to have a small chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and were welcomed in a Gypsy camp where they settled. Soon they were being called "Gypsy little sisters."
Little sister Magdeleine had been attracted by the Middle Eastern for a long time: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt... She knew that there were Arab Christians there who prayed in their language, the same language as the Muslims of North Africa. As she arrived there in 1948 it was only natural for her to imagine starting communities that would belong to the Oriental Churches, placing themselves under their jurisdiction and adopting their rites as their own. She wrote to Bishop Hakim who was the Archbishop of Galilee:
During this first trip to the Middle East little sister Magdeleine went to the Holy Land to pray in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The pilgrimage was that much more moving because the Israelis and Palestinians were locked in a war that was tearing the land apart. The frontlines ran right through the heart of Jerusalem. Her idea was to establish communities on both sides of that border, one among Palestinians and one among the Jews
"to work for friendship and love among all of the children of the same God by loving both. "
It is his work...
September 8, 1949 marked the tenth anniversary of the foundation. There were nearly one hundred little sisters in fifteen communities and little sister Magdeleine was grateful to the One who had "taken me by the hand" and who she had followed in faith. She wrote to the little sisters:
June 13, 1947 the community received diocesan status under Bishop de Provencheres, the Archbishop of Aix en Provence. On June 23, 1949 it entered the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Oriental Churches whose secretary was Cardinal Tisserant.
Several times throughout 1949 little sister Magdeleine had expressed her desire to leave the responsibility as Prioress to another in order to be freer to help with the foundations in far away or dangerous countries. She thought especially of the U.S.S.R. because of the fact that it was closed to the outside world and that the Christians there suffered persecution. She also wanted to see the community sufficiently structured so as to be able to spread its wings and fly without her in case she should suddenly disappear.
She thought that little sister Jeanne who was only thirty years old could take her place. Bishop de Provencheres as the founding Bishop confirmed this choice and Cardinal Tisserant gave his permission after consulting with the various Bishops in whose dioceses the little sisters lived. Everything was readied for the transfer to take place at Christmas.
Christmas night little sister Magdeleine and little sister Jeanne were in Bethlehem. As providence would have it Bishop de Provencheres had just arrived there to assist with the Palestinian refugees. December 25, 1949 little sister Magdeleine wrote to the little sisters:
The call to the whole world: the trip around the world
1951 saw the first foundations in West Africa and little sister Magdeleine arrived in the Cameroon, at the time a French colony. She was overwhelmed by the reality of racism that she encountered. She wrote to the little sisters:
She asked the little sisters to live in an African neighbourhood, in houses just like the people, sharing their living conditions and refusing all of the privileges that the Europeans enjoyed.
The vocations multiplied and the rhythm of new foundations doubled. Little sister Magdeleine led a harried life in the midst of never ending travels. She wrote to Fr. Voillaume on April 23,1951:
After Africa it was on to Latin America in 1952, together with little sister Jeanne, with whom she always travelled. They went to the Brazilian interior and travelled for several days along the Araguaya River to reach a small Indian tribe that was threatened with extinction. She left a group of little sisters among them. In North America she felt that Alaska should be the priority and decided on a foundation in an Eskimo village.
In December 1952 she discovered Asia, arriving in India where she founded a community in Varanasi, along the banks of the sacred Ganges River. It was a community dedicated to adoration among all of the Hindu temples.
She went to Vietnam, at that time, in the midst of their war for independence. The fact that they were only able to travel by military convoy did not prevent her from planning several foundations. She wrote about her time there:
In August of 1953, along with little sister Jeanne, she began her "trip around the world". Within the course of a year they crossed the five continents. They went from Niger to the Cameroon, to East Africa and then to South Africa where apartheid had recently been instituted. Little sister Magdeleine wrote in her diary:
From West Africa they left for South America and Mexico and on through Martinique, Cuba, Haiti to North America. After travelling all the way to Alaska they went on to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam. At this point Fr. Voillaume, who had been travelling with them, returned to Europe, while little sister Magdeleine and little sister Jeanne went on to Australia and Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Pakistan and even into Afghanistan where foreign religious were forbidden. They completed their journeys by way of Iran and Turkey, arriving back at the Tubet on August 30, 1954.
In each country that she had visited, little sister Magdeleine sought out those forgotten-about minorities and those insignificant groups of people that were of little interest to anyone else and whose very survival was sometimes threatened.
She wrote in 1951:
In 1952 she told the little sisters:
In order to establish these foundations many young little sisters were sent abroad. They had little preparation for the totally new cultural contexts into which they entered. Little sister Magdeleine warned them about the risk of making rash judgments out of an "unconscious superiority complex". She told them:
During an interview in 1983 she was asked why she made such a trip around the world that flew in the face of prudence. She answered:
The communities quickly took root around the world and young women from many different nations were attracted to this way of life and joined. Soon the complexion of the Little Sisters of Jesus reflected that internationality. In 1962 little sister Magdeleine wrote: