7. The long awaited meeting

Trusting each other, we have been able to walk ahead.

On April 26, 1988 there was a big celebration for the 90th birthday of little sister Magdeleine. She told the little sisters who greeted her and thanked her,

"I also thank all of you for having trusted me. You were never frightened of my follies...

You must continue to trust the ones in charge. You can't imagine what the trust of another person can do. It helps one to walk on and not be afraid, even to be happy when there are troubles."

And then she added.

"Don't ask that I still live a long while. I want to go to heaven so much... I have lived so long and now am exhausted."

1989 05 Last journey in the Shooting Star1989 05 Last journey in the Shooting Star

As long as she had breath within her, little sister Magdeleine was ready to take to the road. That summer she traveled as far as Moscow, sharing the joy of the Christian Community that was celebrating the millennium of their evangelization.

In July 1989 she returned one last time despite the fact that she could hardly walk and had to travel lying down most of the time. In Moscow she enjoyed the openness that Perestroika blew in and for the first time was able to stay in the little sisters' apartment without fear of compromising them. There she also met her good friend, Fr. Alexander Men, one last time. He was an Orthodox priest who had touched the lives of many people and who was assassinated the following year.

She was also able to make one last visit to the nuns of Kiev and to friends who awaited her each year in a tiny little orthodox church on the outskirts of the town of Orel.

The return trip brought her back to France and the Tubet where the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the foundation began. After a few days they headed for Rome where she was expected for the 8th of September. Along the way she stopped to visit an old friend, the former Bishop of the Sahara, Bishop Mercier. Also quite elderly, he had tears of joy in seeing her again, saying "we will meet again in heaven." She answered,

"I look forward to it."

Several hours later she had a bad fall and broke her hip. She arrived in Tre Fontane on a stretcher after a painful trip. She moved into the little room that she called her "Theba'ide" ever since she had received permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament there. She spent the last months of her life there, welcoming those who came to her despite her weakness and simply being present before her Lord.

From her bed she was able to follow the Jubilee celebrations. There were little sisters and friends from around the world, including Tahar, her dear Muslim friend of 50 years from Touggourt. He had helped her to build the first house there. He told the little sisters:

"I think, I am sure, that this friendship is divine. We have a proverb that says, 'If friendship is divine it will last forever. If it is not divine it will be broken and will leave no trace behind.' I can say with confidence that it is a divine friendship."

1989 10 Tre fontane1989 10 Tre fontane

I cannot wait any longer

The doctors felt that little sister Magdeleine was too weak to undergo surgery for her hip and chose instead to keep her in traction. This kept her confined to her bed and was very painful because of how thin she was. She never complained and followed everything that was happening around her. On September 19th Fr. Voillaume gave her the sacrament of the sick and during this celebration she told the little sisters,

"I ask forgiveness of all the little sisters 'whom I may have hurt during my life. I ask forgiveness of those -who worked most closely with me. I ask forgiveness of the Lord for all the times I lacked charity, love and patience."

Little sister Magdeleine knew that she could be a bit abrupt at times but because she also knew how to ask for forgiveness just as quickly the injured parties mostly forgot the incidents just as quickly.

For several weeks little sister Magdeleine swung between life and death, suffering terribly and totally dependant upon others for her care. Little sister Jeanne and a few others kept 24 hour watch beside her.

At the beginning of November her condition further worsened. On the 6th she had trouble breathing and several times was heard to say,

"My God, I never would have thought that it would have taken this long...." Her last words were, "I cannot wait any longer..."

That evening, November 6, 1989, as they changed her dressings she bowed her head and went to meet her Lord. The little sisters of Tre Fontane were all in the next room praying the Prayer of Abandon. It was 8:50 in the evening.

Throughout the following days an uninterrupted line of friends came to pray beside her as the little sisters took turns, day and night, in a vigil of prayer around her. There was a profound atmosphere of peace and gentleness, an air of eternity that filled the little room where she lay.

Cardinal Pironio came and also spoke to the little sisters:

"I can feel your human sadness but I also feel your inner joy that little sister Magdeleine is already in the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit... What I remember most about little sister Magdeleine was a certain look of eternity that she had. She had a look of eternity, a look molded by contemplative prayer, a face in which one felt they could see the face of God."

1989 11 10 Tre Fontane1989 11 10 Tre Fontane

The priests from the Russicum came to sing the office of the dead in Slavonic, followed by those from the Greek College and the monks of Grotta Ferrata. As she had loved the Oriental Churches so much it was fitting that she was accompanied in death by the prayer of so many different churches.

Fr. Voillaume celebrated the funeral Mass along with 80 concelebrants from various countries on November 10, 1989. As the chapel was too small to accommodate such a crowd the liturgy took place outside. The coffin was placed on the ground upon a bed of sand that recalled the desert. The pascal candle and a bas-relief of the infant Jesus in his crib was placed next to it.

Over 300 little sisters from many different countries participated. Cardinal Martin came as the Holy Father's delegate as well as Cardinals Gantin, Etchegaray and Silvestrini and Bishops Macchi and Sejourne. They were all long-time friends. Bishop Spiridon came as the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, and by some miracle Fr. Alexander Men just happened to arrive in Rome the day before unaware that little sister Magdeleine had died. It was the first time that he had been able to travel outside of Russia.

The brothers of Taize and the sisters of Grandchamps were there as well as a crowd of lay people including several families who worked with the little sisters at the Luna Park fair grounds. Little sister Magdeleine had insisted that the little sisters have a stand there among the carnival workers in order to shine the light of Christmas and the message of universal love among them.

At the end of his homily Fr. Voillaume spoke with great emotion:

"Little sister Magdeleine's death allows us to say aloud and to affirm what we couldn't say while she was with us - what she meant for the Church. Only God knows what bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay people and the very poorest received from her. She shared with them her universal love and her message of simplicity, poverty and loving presence to the poorest. Yes, only God knows. I have already alluded to what John Paul II said to the little sisters. He said that their mission to the poorest should express itself through the respect that each person deserves in virtue of their human dignity. ...To end I want to mention the extent to which a very particular grace of ecumenism dwelt within little sister Magdeleine. It dwelt within her in an exceptional way because of her deep humility. She had a special gift to see and respect the very best in each person, the truth of each person. God has allowed this ecumenism to be present in our assembly today."

At the end of this very moving day the little sisters gathered with little sister Iris Mary who had this to say:

"Throughout her life I think that what little sister Magdeleine lived was a very ordinary life that had its roots in the world beyond... She lived with the Lord but always did so Ain this life.' It wasn't all 'supernatural' or all 'natural' . It was just life... and she lived that way until the end. That is what strikes me most in having lived this last period with little sister Magdeleine. Her life that was so rooted in the Lord's Will naturally became a contemplative life. She was a woman of faith and humility. These two go together. At the same time she remained very human with all of her faults just like the rest of us... That is what she has left us... her belief that in daily, ordinary life one can find the way to God."

Was it purely accidental or was it some kind of mysterious coincidence that that same evening, November 10,1989, the Berlin Wall began to crumble.

In the following months letters arrived from around the world and from people of different faiths and nationalities attesting to how much the life of little sister Magdeleine had been a light of faith and a sign of the tenderness of God for them and of that desire "to gather together all the scattered children of God." This letter from Fr. Alexander Men is a fitting conclusion:

1988 Russia Fr Men1988 Russia Fr Men

"I loved little sister Magdeleine very much. It was not only because of her human qualities but because I was sure that all of her ideas, desires and motivations had to do with the things of today's world.

In another time, two thousand years ago, the world was shaken by wars and contradictions and the people were faced with the same temptations that we see today. The apostles, men and women of their day, overcame these contradictions not by force but through faith in service of others.

Today's world is torn by hatred. The only thing that can overcome it is love. The most powerful love is Gospel love. And in little sister Magdeleine who has just left us, love was particularly strong.

She went to Russia several times and I had the great pleasure of seeing her and knowing her there. For me and my parishioners, she was a sign of the Spirit's presence while her body had all but disappeared...

1989 12 Tre Fontane Final resting place1989 12 Tre Fontane Final resting place

The last thing that I want to add is this. The day that we remember that Our Lady left this world is a day of celebration. It is the same for us today. We say goodbye, we attend this funeral and it is a day of mourning. And yet in faith I feel that it is a solemn feast for the Church.

May her prayer for you and the blessing of God be with you always."

Little sister Annie of Jesus 15 mars 1997