5. A Passion for Unity

1982 08 Tre fontane hard at work1982 08 Tre fontane hard at work

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:

"It was so wonderful to see Bishops from around the world enjoying each others' company... Many had never met before... It was an unforgettable sight to see people of every race mingling together as they left St. Peter's. It was equally unforgettable to see the official "observers" mingling with Bishops from around the whole world...

May the little sisters realize on this Christmas night to what extent our mission of unity is of primary importance. Nothing is more important. Everything else is secondary. How often I have told you that if I had define our mission in one word, I would not hesitate a moment to say "unity". Unity is at the heart of everything."

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:

"On what is such a momentous day for you, allow me to express my personal joy as that little sister whom you received with such kindness nearly twenty years ago. You opened doors for us in Rome. I am filled with joy because you know us and have often showed us so much goodness."

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:

"This Chapter's task is to better organize our Community for the future... But better organization is useless if it is not an expression of your growing love for the Lord.

Be united with the Church and its representatives. Do not judge or criticize. Do not adopt the negative aspects of the modern mentality, only its youthfulness and all that is best in it...

Do not become prematurely old. Criticalness is often a sign of old age rather than of youthfulness..."

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.

1979 Moscow Red Square1979 Moscow Red Square

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:

"Be true contemplatives in the midst of the world. It needs contemplatives more than ever... Be fervent in your adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day... Be passionate about the real presence of the Lord.

Be adults. Yes, the children of the Gospel are true adults, unless by "adult" you mean people whose reasonableness keeps them from being able to embrace the tiny infant Jesus. They are ashamed to receive him from the Blessed Mother in order to carry him throughout the world with his message of gentleness and peace.

Look at him. Because of him be a youthful and joyful light in this age. The Council did not wish to do away with what was old but to rejuvenate it and, in so doing, beautify the Church. It did not want people to negate the past that has given us so many great saints nor to be a cause of bitterness for those who had trouble accepting the renewal"

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.

1972 Br Roger1972 Br Roger

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.

1974 Tre fontane Secretary of Ghandi1974 Tre fontane Secretary of Ghandi

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:

"I understand all too well the situation in which the little sisters of Latin America find themselves. I am glad that you have shared about it.

Yes the world of the workers and the poor must be freed from oppression and injustice. Yes you must stand with them against injustice but not against the person who commits the injustice. That would betray your vocation of universal love.

You cannot break with a whole class of people... You can distance yourself from the faults and the injustices but not with the persons. Our vocation is very demanding on this point.

...Do not let evil find a home in you. Humbly accept to be misunderstood. Love the Lord with your whole heart. Love your brothers and sisters and do what you can for them. In your neighborhood help those who suffer but do not stand against another person...

Remain those who bring a touch of gentleness and joy into a suffering world. "

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:

"Maybe I have not spoken to you enough about that supernatural spirit that is the heart of everything... Without it true charity, littleness and spiritual childhood are impossible. A supernatural spirit, sometimes called a sense of God's presence or a spirit of faith, is a basic disposition or inner attitude that is totally centered on God. It is totally turned towards God and bathed in the light of God's love and therefore cannot be turned in upon itself but rather sees every aspect of life and all that happens in the light of faith.

So rather than telling you to 'be loving, gentle and humble' I prefer to tell you today to cultivate a spirit of faith and a sense of God's presence. Realize that if God has called you it is out of his infinite love and that if you are here it is because you have wanted to respond to that love. So try to live in God's sight and in God's light and your life will be transformed... "

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:

"Every community has a duty to share this message:

In this age of confusion and revolt, wherever you are in this world, weave a web of love, trust and joy with the tiny infant Jesus at the center. He is our God who came to save the world...Through your words may he be a source of peace to the hardest and most pained heart."

1973 Paul VI at Tre Fontane1973 Paul VI at Tre Fontane

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:

"The reason for this visit, a visit that will remain etched in my memory, is for the Church to recognize you... to tell you that the Church is really happy for your existence and your presence, happy that you are who you are...

I have come to encourage you... I tell you in the name of Jesus whom you love so deeply that you have chosen well. You have chosen the better part."