Part of our History: Niger, Heartbreak and reflecting on our story

The Little sisters of Bankilare write:

From Jeanne Loique:

Once more, we had to close a community in Niger because of the situation being so insecure, this time in Bankilare.  But before writing this diary, we needed a little time to make all these painful events descend into our hearts so we could name the gems to be found, even in darkness.

There is a time for everything under the sun.  (Eccl. 3:1)

There is a time for arriving and a time for leaving,

A time for beginning and a time for ending,

A time for founding and a time for closing,

A time for rejoicing and a time for suffering,

A time for sowing seed and a time for leaving it to the mystery of the earth,  

And it is always the time to believe, to love, to hope.  

Little sisters,

During this time following the closing of Bankilare, I am filled with pain, questions and also a mystery.  Not easy to share....  

It was Christmas 1951 that Little sister Magdeleine spoke for the first time of the foundation of a community in Niger, at Agadez.  And in 1953, the plans took shape for Azel and Kerbubu, too.  It was going to be the Tuareg region of northern Niger.  And, with the years, it took shape.  Twenty years later in 1973, this little region started a foundation among the Toubous in eastern Niger.  That’s why, in 2008, when we had to decide as a Region to leave northern Niger, I had the impression that we were letting go of a part of our history: the people, the language, the land of our birth in Niger.

But there had been some comforting signs.  It happened that the village of Bankilare, where our Bishop of Niamey suggested we go was a Tuareg village.  Being back again with our people and language was like reconnecting with the source.  That was a sign that gave us much strength and confidence for starting there, considering our limits of age and health.  The welcome of the people of the village also encouraged us. We lived something very beautiful with them.  Bonds of friendship took shape in a very simple sharing of daily life.  We also lived a shared faith as believers, Christians, Moslems together, and we experienced the intuition of Little sister Magdeleine that ”It is possible and even beautiful to live together, to love one another, to respect each other as different.”  We startedto work together doing handicraft work. And with the two Christian families of the village, we lived the mutual support that deep friendship brings.  

And then, in this peaceful sky, a clap of thunder.  With the worsening of the situation in Mali, our closeness to the border (45 miles) brought problems, especially with the risk of being taken hostage, a situation our white skin could surely attract.  A difficult discernment.  We would have liked to stay, hoping no one would be interested in us...  But it was a little complicated and finally, the Congregation decided that it was wiser to withdraw. There is no need to explain just how hard it was. We were being asked to let go of so bonds, personal bonds, faces which dwell in our hearts and above all of this so precious testimony that life together is possible.  It could be said that all of these things are precisely what the fundamentalists want to suppress and it hurts terribly.  It is as if the very heart of the Gospel and the charism of the Congregation were being denied.  Especially at Bankilare, we had been able to live this closeness, this ”being with” with a small little group of humanity who were little appreciated and not given much room in history.  And it was a joy to discover the values which existed in their daily life and how Gospel values are there to be uncovered.

We have loved, and we still love, how our Congregation has been able to live very close to minority groups of people.  Little sister Magdeleine looked for them everywhere in the world, hoping we could live a little what they live.  Sometimes I wonder: “Lord, we hold so much to this aspect of our community in the Region and I thought that you too loved it.  Are we wrong, Lord?  Was it just an ideal we created?  Or is it just a path of faith, of death, that will produce more life?”  This is what we hope and what the young ones of the Region help us hope for.

We also trust, because

“The victory of Love will be the last word of the history of the world” (Benedict XVI). 
The powers of evil which are unfolding in Mali, in Nigeria and elsewhere will not have the last word, but for the time being, this is another mystery of  our history.

In 1939, Little sister Magdeleine felt pushed to found a congregation exclusively consecrated to Islam in order to live together in mutual respect and confidence, and today it is the fundamentalist currents, who call themselves Islamist, that are causing us to leave chosen places and people we love.  Yes, a mystery which we are eager to understand with the eyes of God.  Today, we live this time with many questions and in darkness.  But what cannot be taken away is that our life is given for our brothers and sisters of Islam and of the whole world.  Yes, our brothers and sisters of Islam, the fundamentalists and the violent included.

Lord, may they be disarmed by your LOVE.

from Violeta:

Yes, it was a hard blow.  And even if, in spite of everything, we live in trust  our hearts shout their pain:

How can we leave Bankilare, that place, that land of a dialogue lived through simple gestures and simple words exchanged with our neighbors and friends day after day?

How can we leave this land without feeling the deep suffering of separation from all those beloved faces and all that mutual enrichment that took place through recognizing the difference of the other who is truly other?

So much time, love and strength put into abolishing the obstacles due to mutual ignorance of our cultures, our religions, our customs and into building bridges that would bring us to mutual knowledge... Was it for nothing?

And other questions, still unanswered, rise in our hearts.  


However, one answer – in the form of a sign – came to us, barely two days after the decision.  We went to see the little sisters of Niamey and our Moslem friends from Kerbubu, Agadez and Bankilare.  We all enjoyed the brotherly-sisterly atmosphere.  We ate together and spent the afternoon sharing deeply with one another.  We all became stronger realizing the feeling of well-being we each had in this universal friendship that we shared..

And we give thanks to God, too, for giving us the courage to continue the journey in other lands and  for giving us other faces to love....Three of us left to reinforce our communities in Burkina and one will stay in Niamey.  For one of us this was the third time in two years that she has had to leave a community because of its not being safe to remain: first N’Guigmi and then Diffa and now Bankilare. Niamey remains our only community in Niger.  

All together, we picked out this phrase from Brother Luc of Tibhirine for our journey,:

“May God have mercy on my past life. May he give me love for the day that is dawning, and hope for the future.”

United with you, little sisters, on the path that leads to others and to the Other."

The other Little sisters from the Region add their word:

Yes, for the future and for hope....At this time, when the Burkina-Niger Region has become impoverished by these successive closings, we ask God that hope might grow in us, despite all opposition.

The community of Kaya is confirmed in its mission of making the Congregation known and of contacting young people.  Already, its life in the midst of a neighborhood where Christians and Muslims live side by side gives the little sisters the opportunity to develop relationships with everyone.  They want to give priority to building up friendship in the neighborhood: that this aspect of the call of the Congregation may be clearly apparent.

In the diocese of Kaya and elsewhere in Burkina, there are groups of young people searching their way.  The little sisters are going to see how they can try to be in contact with them.  At the same time, we want the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts so we will discover in Burkina the people and places among whom Little sister Magdeleine would have placed us today.

At the time of the foundations, it was evident that God was showing her the way. May he show it to us still today.