The road to Bethlehem

Tre Fontane, November 1st, 2007

Little sisters Jeanne and  Annette at the entry to the Cave of BethlehemLittle sisters Jeanne and Annette at the entry to the Cave of Bethlehem

You probably know that Little sister Annette and I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We had a great longing to go to Bethlehem.

A few years ago, because of housing problems, the little sisters had left Bethlehem for a neighbouring village called Beit Jala but being aware of just how much the presence of the Little sisters in Bethlehem has meaning for the whole Community, they continued searching and finally found a house.

Bethlehem will always have a very special place in the life of our Community.

In January 1949, little sister Magdeleine wrote;

"How could we honour the infant Jesus in all our Communities without having a presence in Bethlehem?”

Bethlehem 2007 Returning from the GrottoBethlehem 2007 Returning from the Grotto

Again in September 1949 she wrote from Jerusalem:

"Because of the important place the Infant Jesus had in our foundation, it would only be right that that there should be a very small community of Little sisters near the place of his birth."

I am also reminded that it is there, in this Grotto of Bethlehem where the Infant Jesus was born, that little sister Magdeleine, on Christmas night 1949, handed over her responsibility as Prioress General. She wanted to pass on this charge to the little sisters who would assume that responsibility in the future and who would have the mission to transmit not only within the Community itself but throughout the world, this message of love and peace of Jesus, newly-born.

We were not able to visit all the Communities. We went to Jerusalem, to the 6th Station and in the New City, to Nazareth and of course to Bethlehem. We did not go to Gaza because the situation was very tense but we were able to meet the Sisters from there at the 6th Station.

We were deeply touched by the welcome we received and to witness how the little sisters lived in these Holy Places marked by many sufferings. It is truly a "Holy Land". It is beautiful to see with what care the Holy Places are maintained and how much everything is centred on the life and person of Jesus.

We were impressed too by the faith of the pilgrims. It is moving to meet people of every country: Indonesia, Korea, Nigeria, Russia..., who prostrate themselves in front of the star of Bethlehem, at the sites of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre and pray there with great fervour.

It is a grace to live where Jesus lived, to walk in his footsteps, to look up at the sky he looked at. And even if many transformations have marked these holy places, it remains the land where Jesus walked and contemplated his Father.

It is truly the "Holy Land" and all along our way, I could only ask Jesus to increase our faith.

When we arrived inJerusalem,it was the Ramadan for the Palestinians and the Jews had just celebrated the feast of Pardon, Yom Kippur, and were getting ready for Sukkoth, the feast of Tents.

Jerusalem 6th Station chapel cryptJerusalem 6th Station chapel crypt

In Jerusalem, how happy we were to meet up with the little sisters and the 6th Station and to be able to go every day and pray at the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary.With them, we went to pray at Gethsemani, the Mount of Olives, the Cenacle, the Dormition, and also to visit the Greek Catholic Patriarcate which is their parish. On  8 September 1950 Little sister Magdeleine had written:

"Jerusalem signifies our consecration, it is the symbol of our vocation to immolation united to the Agony, Passion and Calvary of our beloved brother and Lord."

We also enjoyed visiting the handicraft workshop with its door opening onto the Via Dolorosa, which offers a welcoming presence to the passers-by.

 We were also happy to get to know the community in the New City in a Jewish neighbourhood and Little Sister Myriam took us to the Wall of Lamentations. As it was the Jewish feast of Sukkoth, there was a large crowd praying.

At Nazareth, the Little sisters have a new house in a Palestinian neighbourhood. Little sister Teresa Quy who has lived in Nazareth more than 40 years knows everybody and is well known too. Carla Francesca was able to find work in a day-care centre. Many friendships have been built up by sharing life together.

With the Poor Clares in NazarethWith the Poor Clares in Nazareth

We met the Poor Clares, among them Sister Josephine, who had come for the Beatification of Brother Charles. The sisters have kept with great love souvenirs from Brother Charles’s stay with them in Nazareth and always welcome the Little sisters for prayer in a little hermitage specially prepared for them.

We could also go to Lake Tiberias and the Mount of the Beatitudes. Where the community from the New City have a hermitage and welcome many little sisters.

Lake Tiberias,  five loaves and two fishLake Tiberias, five loaves and two fish

Nazareth is where Jesus grew up. It is the place of his hidden life and where he worked. But above all it is where God made himself "one of us", where Mary gave her total assent to the will of the Lord for her with a "yes" that changed the world. It is truly the place of the Incarnation.

In Bethlehem the new house is not far from the Grotto of the Nativity and their handicraft workshop is located in a street close to the Basilica where many little sisters through their work try to share the message of the Crib.

Bethlehem is the place where God manifested his love, making himself accessible to all, never excluding anybody through becoming a little child, the place we can leave from, giving thanks to God, the place where

"the Word became flesh and has come to dwell among us ".

Bethlehem 2007 view of the dividing wall in the distanceBethlehem 2007 view of the dividing wall in the distance

I did not share with you about the situation of the country. It is a very painful subject. Here are two worlds,  two peoples suffering through each other. Fear marks all relationships and because of that, people do not meet much. And yet, everybody would like to live in peace. We have to keep hope that it is still possible to live together and to know each other.

On the 14th September 1949 Little sister Magdeleine wrote:

"More than anywhere else, the Lord wants us here to be a tiny spark of love and to love fervently every human person, our brothers and sisters and the brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus: Arabs and Jews, all are children of the same Father in heaven ".

Many tourists and even pilgrims can travel through the country without realizing what the population is living, especially the Palestinian population. The presence of the little sisters on both sides, allows us to experience this drama more profoundly and with them to beg the Lord to give the peace that he came to bring on the day of his birth.

The presence of our Community, sharing in this situation of great suffering, such as in  Gaza just now, is a little light of hope and love for those who can come  and share with us their daily burden.

On the 6th of November, we will celebrate the 18th anniversary of Little sister Magdeleine. I am sure that she is watching over us. She told us many times that she would help us when she would be with the Lord.

As she was telling us from Damascus, on the 28th October 1949:

"I think that I have no other mission than to show you the star that has led me to Bethlehem where I can fulfil my great dream of love."

I also believe that she would tell us again what she left us as a testament on 15th August, 1989, asking us that

At the Community in BethlehemAt the Community in Bethlehem

"Jesus, so tiny in his crib at Bethlehem may take a very important place in our Community, because it is through him that God chose to reveal his love.

Jesus in his crib, is the source of spiritual childhood for the little sisters and Bethlehem has become our 'trademark' with its characteristics of simplicity and joy.

We keep in our hearts all that we have lived there, following in the footprints of Jesus through meeting a suffering people, being present in those very places where he came to live among us, where he was born, lived and suffered for us.

For Mass at the Grotto of the Nativity, on the eve of our departure we were just among ourselves. I remembered what Little sister Magdeleine told us on 4th January 1950:

"Little sisters in Bethlehem, just to keep company to the tiny one of the crib. "

"The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us".

And while the priest was celebrating the Mass and gave us the Eucharist, the words of Jesus were present to me:

"I am with you until the end of time".

Confident that he walks with us, together we continue the road. May we, with Little sister Magdeleine be able to say:

"He took me by the hand and blindly I followed"

You can be sure that I remain close to you near the Virgin Mary and the little Jesus of the crib, and I ask him to give each one of you a meek and humble heart like his.

View over JerusalemView over Jerusalem