6. With God's own strength

Keep your arms wide open...

1977 Czech Republic1977 Czech Republic

The years passed and little sister Magdeleine continued to travel in Eastern Europe. On August 22, 1977 she wrote to the little sisters:

"I only managed to complete this trip of 12,000 kilometers, by the grace of God, and by God's strength. I am so weak. When I left I was quite ill but little by little I came to life because I felt I had to give myself to all of those whom I would meet and who were waiting for me. As I return now once more I want to tell you to keep hope alive and to be joyful."

But these were the "cold war" years and the world was shaken by dramatic events on every side: in Vietnam the Marxist regime has taken over the entire country, war was raging in Lebanon and in Latin America military dictators had taken control in many countries. The repression was as hardened and difficult in the Marxist countries as in those with right wing dictators. On December 8, 1977 little sister Magdeleine wrote to the little sisters:

"I would like the little sisters from every continent to shine forth the gentleness, tenderness, light and hope of this tiny infant. May they shine it in the farthest corner of the world. Our world has such need of this gentleness, tenderness, light and hope... "

After warning the little sisters of the dangers of one extreme or the other, both of which breed hatred, she added:

"At the same time love for every human person must be lived in all of its fullness. There is only one Gospel, that of Christ who said, 'Love one another as I have loved you.'

And if we should see the Marxists and communists as those who 'persecute the faith' there is another word in the Gospel that is the further development of the first: 'Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors....  If you only love those who love you what merit is there in that?'

Are they going to accuse me now of taking sides with communism because of this? ...I have only borrowed from the Gospel itself: the defense of the poor and the oppressed, the seeking of a world that is more just and more loving... Those who know me know that my faith is much too strong and my love for the Church too deep to accept anything that would diminish the integrity of that faith and that love for the Church. "

Several times there were families who arrived in Tre Fontane seeking asylum: a Lebanese family trying to escape the violence of war, political refugees who had to flee Vietnam or Latin America. Little Sister Magdeleine wrote to the little sisters:

"You must keep your arms wide open to receive those who come. They should not feel that you are in a hurry or that there is no place for them... We don't always react with open arms when someone comes. "

Among these families was a militant Chilean communist whose daughter had been horribly tortured. After contacting many people little sister Magdeleine was finally able to have her leave her country and join her family in Tre Fontane. Later she wrote to little sister Magdeleine: "We learned a lot from you, especially about that most beautiful part of the human spirit that is love for another in a solidarity that is not self-seeking."

On July 25, 1978 while in Moscow little sister Magdeleine learned of the death of Bishop Riobe, the Bishop of Orleans, France. Olivier Clement had described him as "a man of prayer, deeply formed by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld, a man forever wounded by the Gospel and his meeting with Jesus." He had struggled all of his life for freedom, justice and respect for the poor. He had written, "The cries of thousands of tortured people will never cease to resound in my conscience as long as I know that even one of them is naked in front of their torturers. To keep silence would be a betrayal of the Gospel."

The next day little sister Magdeleine sent some extracts from his writings to the little sisters saying,

"He was a dear friend to us and we had a deep affection for one another."

1978 08 13 Tre fontane Bishop Nikodim from Russia1978 08 13 Tre fontane Bishop Nikodim from Russia

She was still in Russia when she learned through Bishop Nikodim on August 7th of the death of Paul VI. Deeply moved by his death Bishop Nikodim celebrated Mass and the office for the dead for him in his private chapel with the little sisters. Several days later he came to Rome as the Patriarch of Moscow's delegate for the funeral and stopped also in Tre Fontane despite his own fatigue.

And on Sept 5, 1978 Bishop Nikodim died of a heart attack in the arms of Jean Paul I during a private audience. Brother Roger of Taize who was in Rome for a visit gave this sad news to little sister Magdeleine.

In her own 80th year little sister Magdeleine wrote to the little sisters on Decembers, 1978:

"...No other year has been marked by such rapid, painful and unforeseen separations, one after the other... It was also a year of suffering around the world... I felt the suffering of each one as if it were my own country and my own family...

And then there was the great joy of John Paul II's election... I have known him for twenty years and he has been a tremendous friend for the community...

In a few days it will be Christmas night. Leave all of your worries, complexes, temptations, doubts and pains at the foot of the crib and walk away full of joy, beginning a new step, one that is centered in the love of Christ who lives in his Church. He cannot be separated from his Church. "

Among her last follies

1979 At the great wall of China1979 At the great wall of China

In October 1979, at the age of 81, little sister Magdeleine decided to travel to mainland China. Along with little sister Jeanne and little sister Carla she joined a tour group for three weeks. At times little sister Magdeleine did not have the strength to follow the day's itinerary and stayed behind with one of the official state-appointed guides with whom she became quite close. At the end of the trip this guide confided to little sister Magdeleine that her five-year old daughter had leukemia saying, "I don't usually tell this to the tourists."

At times when they were free from the organized visits little sister Magdeleine was able to contact several Chinese priests. One of them wrote to her later:

"When will we see the little sisters among our rice growers and textile workers? Come among us because China has endured great suffering."

Little sister Magdeleine would comment,

"That is why the Lord wanted me to make this trip despite the many obstacles. I needed to come and see for myself to be strengthen in my conviction that we must be present in this enormous country. "

Another country where she dreamed of travelling was North Korea. Until the year of her death she sought in vain for a way to gain access.

On September 8, 1981 the fifth General Chapter was convened and little sister Carla, Italian, was elected Prioress General. Several weeks before, little sister Magdeleine had written to the little sisters.

"The first thing that I want to say is a word of hope. I don't know why anyone would be worried about this event that will take place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit...

All I ever wanted was to do a work of love. And now it is up to each one of you who have followed me in this way to, in your turn, do a work of love. "

Until her death little sister Magdeleine never ceased to repeat that this work of love had to begin within the community and among the little sisters.

In February of 1983 little sister Magdeleine accepted to do an interview with New City Magazine. She was asked, "How do you see the future of the Church?" She answered,

"What I see or would like to see for the Church is, first of all - and this is the desire of many — that while remaining the Church of all people it become more and more the Church of the poor, of those whom Christ loved with a preferential love... that the shepherds of the Church fearlessly take the side of the those who are oppressed or despised...

In order to be the Church of the poor, I hope that they would not build any more episcopal palaces nor surround themselves with luxury items... that they would do away with all the honorary titles such as Reverend and Very Reverend to better express their roles of service...

I would hope that the Church would open wide its doors to other Churches... that it be more and more merciful towards sinners, and welcoming, as Christ was, of unbelievers and those who persecute others. "

Outside of her yearly travels to Eastern Europe little sister Magdeleine spent most of her time in Tre Fontane. She took great care and was very involved in all of the building that was taking place there. Her keen eye for color and design made for a simple and harmonious style with great respect for the environment and the trees that she loved so much.

She also worked with a group of secretaries towards the editing of a series of books on the history of the Community. Many little sisters also corresponded with her and she never left a letter unanswered.

Despite such an intense workload her door was always open and she received many visitors in her tiny, neatly arranged office. There were several regular visitors whom she called her "mischievous children" whom she insisted on seeing, sometimes to the confusion of the little sisters at the door.

Each week she held a meeting with the little sisters at which she loved to reread some of the writings from the foundation. She was able to pass from one subject to another, from the most spiritual to the most mundane, without any need for transition. For her everything was equally important.

Often it was only in the evening that she had time to spend long moments in her little corner of the chapel next to the sacristy. Her life was so unified through her attitude of deep faith and love that everything became prayer for her.

Joys and sorrows, one after another

On June 2, 1984 Bishop de Provencheres died following a heart attack at the Tubet. It was a profound loss for little sister Magdeleine and she wrote to the little sisters:

"Until the very last day he -was such apart of everything that made my life as a little sister: my disappointments, my difficulties, my joys. I always submitted my important letters to him, all my ideas and desires about the Community. He protected it like one protects a fragile little plant. He defended it with love, helped it to grow and allowed us to be daring... His reasonable, peaceful and gentle way helped us to trust."

1985 22 dec John Paul in her study1985 22 dec John Paul in her study

On December 22, 1985 there was the joy of welcoming Pope John Paul II to Tre Fontane, having invited him to come for a long time. He spoke to the little sisters at length and encouraged them to remain faithful to their vocation:

"I want to affirm your vocation in the Church and tell you that it is authentic, necessary and timely."

The sixth General Chapter opened on September 8, 1987 and little sister Magdeleine wondered if she would have the strength to assist at all of the meetings. Having borrowed a wheelchair to help transport her to the meeting room she was able to follow all of the debates with an extraordinary quality of presence. She was delighted with the election of little sister Iris Mary from South Africa as Prioress General. At the end of this Chapter that dealt with many varied questions she admitted that

"she had experienced moments of both pain and joy."
Then she added,

"Despite the fact that there were some painful moments for me 1 never once lost a sense of peace and joy. When the devil tried to make me be aggressive I told him, 'You won't get me.' And I was never defeated... I have the impression that this Chapter has drawn us so much closer to one another even though I had the courage to say all that was on my heart. No one seemed to become impatient when I raised my hand so often to ask to speak... We really listened to what each one had to say... Not once was there ever the least shadow over our love for one another. So we lift a song of praise to the Lord."