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5. A Passion for Unity
Trust, hope and joy...
Little sister Magdeleine rejoiced at the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. She wrote to the little sisters:
Several months later the death of John XXIII was a shock to the entire world. Although little sister Magdeleine had not had the chance to personally meet him she recognized his ability to be
"a father who allows the Lord's goodness to shine through him."
She was in Yugoslavia when she learned the news that Paul VI had been elected on June 21,1963. She wrote to him that same day:
In November of 1963 little sister Magdeleine collaborated in the foundation of a new religious family, the Little Sisters of the Gospel. Their mission was to attend to evangelization and education in places where no one else would go.
In December of 1963, on the eve of the second General Chapter, little sister Magdeleine wrote to the little sisters:
On March 25, 1964 the Little Sisters of Jesus was accorded pontifical status under canon law and the Constitutions were approved by the Congregation of Religious for seven years. For little sister Magdeleine it was the end of a long wait and she gave thanks to God who "gave growth to this little plant, keeping it safe in the midst of danger and allowing it to ripen in the sunshine of his Love. "
Several weeks later the General House was moved to Rome and more construction was needed to accommodate them. All of the little sisters there were mobilized to help clear and level the land and little sister Magdeleine herself hoed and raked with joy. She wrote:
"For me this is the best way to spend time with the little sisters and to get to know them. I am always sorry when something comes up that keeps me from working alongside of them."For years she spent several hours a day on the ongoing construction of Tre Fontane.
For little sister Magdeleine 1964 was a year of joy also for another reason: for the first time she was able to visit inside Russia. The border guards did a long a thorough search of this strange van that had been transformed into a camper and whose passengers were all women. But all went well and they were able to travel throughout Russia following a government-approved itinerary. At times they participated in guided tours and they used these as occasions to speak with the official tour guides. They told them that they were Catholics and members of a group that was dedicated to universal friendship among peoples and that they had come to Russia out of love, wanting to know the people there.
They were given the freedom to mingle with the crowds of believers who flocked to the churches that were open. In Kiev they were able to visit with some Russian Orthodox nuns whom they saw each year thereafter. Over the years deep friendships grew especially with members of the Orthodox Church. Among these was Bishop Nikodim who also visited Tre Fontane several times.
At the end of 1965 little sister Magdeleine became seriously ill with cardiac insufficiency and pulmonary edema. Bishop de Provencheres gave her the sacrament of the sick and invited her to abandon herself into the Lord's hands but she told him,
"I would be glad to go to heaven but... I must tell you that I have not finished yet... "
Feeling much stronger several days later she wrote to the little sisters from her bed:
Renewal and Continuity
November of 1969 was the beginning of the aggiornamento that the Council asked of all religious orders. All of the little sisters were consulted in this process and little sister Magdeleine began revising the Constitutions once again.
Little sister Annie replaced little sister Jeanne as Prioress General and there were changes in the General Counsel. Little sister Magdeleine was delighted to see that its members represented even more countries than the preceding Counsel and she was optimistic about this new step in the life of the Community. She was concerned about remaining open to the new forms of poverty and exclusion that come with such a rapid social evolution.
She was struck by the rapid growth of the hippy movement among the young and met various groups of them. She tried to make the little sisters and other religious aware of the needs of these young people who had rejected the consumer society into which they had been born, and who were searching for meaning. She particularly came to know the community of the "Children of God" who came to Tre Fontane several times. But when she learned what some of the members of that group were really doing and read some of their founder's writings she broke off contact with them and warned the little sisters about them while urging them to pray for them.
From the beginning little sister Magdeleine had a gift for reaching out to communities from other Christian Churches including the Brothers of Taize, the Sisters of Grandchamps and the Salvation Army. In several countries a few non-catholic women had contacted the little sisters about joining and little sister Magdeleine was interested in finding a way to welcome them. With the permission of the Congregation for Religious and the Secretariat for Christian Unity some discreet experiments in this domain were allowed to take place.
As the years passed Tre Fontane became a meeting place with people from around the world. One day Dr. Ramachandra who had been Ghandi's secretary for twenty years came to visit. He was very moved when little sister Magdeleine said to him,
"We are not trying to convert anyone but simply to make Jesus loved and to share his message of universal love."He answered,
"I have been waiting for this for a long time."
In many countries the poor were increasingly being oppressed and the little sisters, especially those in Latin America, were faced with some difficult questions. On January 23, 1972 little sister Magdeleine wrote the following letter to one of them:
Little sister Magdeleine was profoundly convinced that the little sisters would not be able to endure such situations without a deep faith. She wrote to them on December 6,1971:
In a tormented and difficult world little sister Magdeleine was pursued by the thought the message of peace and love that is the heart of the Bethlehem message is something for everyone and needs to resonate throughout the world. And so she sought ways of sharing this message wherever she went. In November 1971 she wrote to the little sisters:
On September 28, 1973 the little sisters had the great joy of welcoming Paul VI to Tre Fontane. It was very moving for little sister Magdeleine to show him the "Etoile Filante" in which she traveled throughout Eastern Europe and to introduce him to several little sisters from those countries who must live their vocation secretly. That year was the first time that they had been able to leave their countries for a time. The Holy Father prayed fervently with them during what was a very intense visit. He also spoke to all of the little sisters:
Inspired by Brother Charles...