Part of our History: Gathering of the Regionals of the Little sisters of Jesus from Magreb and the Orient in Assisi

What is often remembered from a gathering like ours is not the words, but the climate, the air we breathed, the depth of personal sharing. Here then is an attempt to transmit a life experience that was very meaningful to us.

We chose Assisi, a very symbolic place, a place of peace and brotherhood, far from the tensions and conflicts, divisions and wars of our countries. In none of the countries where we live would we have been able to walk around without fear or concern, alone or in groups, as we are able to do in the beautiful nature of Assisi. We lived in the company of Francis and Clare who experienced, first in their own flesh, the struggle against ‘the inner wolf’ until they tamed it: Francis, during his encounter with the Sultan at Damiettej at the time of the Crusades; Clare, who through the Eucharist, saved the city of Assisi from invasion. These are facts, stories of real struggles that speak to us today.

The countries represented were Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and then Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Irak, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. The list in itself expresses the challenges and riches of our group of Regions. During our exchanges on ‘Our Churches’ and ‘Islam’, we reflected on the reality of each country today and our questions.

What were our main challenges?

- That of being part of one ‘continent’: Maghreb and Orient. Our countries have much in common and yet are so different in their history and culture. At the heart of this Arab world, Israel is the incarnation of an even more radical difference.

- Our borders, defined by conflicts and wars at different periods of history. For many of us, to pass from one country to another, is impossible? How can we meet? Where? How can we get to know and understand each other better?

- Our religious life as Little sisters draws on varied sources from which it is nourished. Some live there where the Bible stories and the Gospels were written, some belong to the Oriental Churches and can draw on the wealth of their traditions and others live in Algeria where our community was born. How can we open our hearts to these different realities that are rooted in day to day living? Conscious of my own personal journey there where I live, can I open myself to another reality lived by others. Can I give space to the other, so that the riches of each one enrich the community rather than becoming an occasion of closing in on ourselves and enjoying privileges? Can we be both of the country and guests, but always in tune with the demands of the Gospel?

Sharing on the weaknesses and strengths of each Region and really listening to each other created a very good atmosphere. It seemed quite natural for us to share, as if we saw each other often. At times we felt and experienced like a passage: from the other sometimes perceived as a 'threat' to the other close, a brother or sister with the same difficulties, desires or questions.

Here are a few phrases that can give you a taste of what we shared.

The empty tombThe empty tomb

From Palestine:

‘How in front of an empty tomb can we be ‘Guardians of hope?’ It is for this reason that we remain in such difficult and often seemingly hopeless situations.’

From Irak:

‘This country is our country. We begin to speak of the Church of martyrs, as an expression of what all the Christians of the Orient who are physically threatened today are living and of their determination to carry on. It is also an expression of our responsibility toward the land and the people, without distinction of religion or ethnic group.’

From Algeria:

‘Our Community has learned a special language in Algeria: abandonment to God, welcome, giving priority to relationships. All this we have received and we are not the source of the gift. The first nomad Communities started here and there is 'a spiritual travelling' (Carlos Palacio) which calls us to be moving on, all our life. We are strangers and guests on earth and religious life is a call to live this in a radical way.’

From Israel:

‘The two twins fighting in the womb of Rebecca, are the sign of a conflict which dwells in all of us. It is a call to welcome differences.'

From Jordan, Lebanon and Syria:

'Our Community finds again its fundamental values in the spirituality and tradition of the Oriental Churches. We have been helped above all by the study and reflection of the little sisters on our charism and Eastern spirituality.'

From Egypt:

'We cannot separate the Church from Islam in the sense that we are one people. From the midst of this people the charism of the Fraternity questions the Church and the future: Can we foresee an Islamic or a lay society? This is a question for the whole of the Orient in so far as it is united by a same culture. What will the future bring?'

From Tunisia and Libya:

‘As between night and dawn, suffering may be necessary to give life to what is new. We are speaking here of each one's journey which is marked by the precariousness of life at all levels and nourished by a hope that comes from beyond ourselves.'

From Morocco:

‘We are challenged and questioned by our encounter and that of Brother Charles, with Islam. Does this encounter symbolize in some way the ‘visitations’we experience in our lives through the mystery of our relationships? What we live is often beyond our rational understanding.’

We left happy, our bonds strengthened, thanking the Lord who helps us cross our borders, pacify our conflicts; accept our loneliness and our difficulties. We say goodbye with gratitude and joy knowing that at every occasion new paths can open up and bear fruit.