Province France North: Belval, a home for All

In this month of the Resurrection we present the second of two articles that touch our hearts. The work presented responds to the expectations of Pope Francis in his apostolic letter of 21 November 2014 to all consecrated people.

“I ask you to work concretely in welcoming refugees, drawing near to the poor, and finding creative ways to catechize, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach others how to pray. Consequently, I would hope that structures can be streamlined, large religious houses repurposed for works which better respond to the p resent demands of evangelization and charity, and apostolates adjusted to new needs.” (Expectations for the Year of Consecrated Life, point 4).

A year ago

It has been a year since we opened the doors of our little community in Belval, which we gave the name “house of Cana”, placing it in the hands of Mary to be like her: attentive to the needs of all and believing that nothing is impossible with God. “God’s works are accomplished little by little” says St. Vincent. This was so for us, even as this year was filled with self-giving, joy, listening, support. Today we are happy to share simply with you the meetings, the requests, the events, the networking that we have forged throughout this year.

A community of presence and welcome to all

FocusOn_Belval(1)We were very much anticipated…The people were very pleased to see Sisters return among them, but not the same ones! We have often explained our charism of following St. Vincent and St. Louise. The workers expressed their joy: Since you have arrived, your presence is a support to us.” “We are less alone in working in this project.” We were invited to give our testimony to a group of young people coming to the Abbey, or in schools, in the store or at the hotel. We explained why we came to this place and our project. Thus we renewed our own call and sense of belonging to the Company (of the Daughters of Charity). FR3 television came to BELVAL and filmed us with the homeless and in the following weeks many people said to us, “we saw you on the TV; you do a good work.” After the broadcast several donations came to the Association.

Each week homeless persons came, accompanied by their teacher. We made many connections with them. One of us called them “my buddies”. They became “our friends” in our community. In a way, they invited us to change our way of looking at them. They said to us, “here we are recognized… we are useful…” It is a day without alcohol, through cleaning flower beds and walkways where they regain some dignity as men. We share meals with them, festive moments. When they don’t come to Belval we miss them. We welcomed two homeless persons for the night and they soon were back on the road… The project welcomes those whom no one wants. We had one interesting story: there was a session for priests in Belval from the different dioceses in France. A homeless person found a priest who had welcomed him one day in Southern France when he knocked at his door. It was in Belval that the homeless person met that priest again.

We have many requests: “Can we come to pray with you?” Our chapel is open to anyone who would like to come. Couples and individuals come to pray Vespers with us. Diverse requests come to us through the store: “I would like to talk to a sister” “I would like to give you my prayer intentions”. They ask for counsel, they confide and we keep them in our prayer.

Daughters of the Parish

FocusOn_Belval(2)The parish gave us a warm welcome. These Christians prayed for three years to have Sisters and their joy was great when they saw us arrive. Immediately they asked us, “Would you like to join the choir? The Liturgy committee?” We responded and shared all that we could with them. We felt very much at home and quickly integrated, thanks to our very dynamic pastor who was happy to have us as parishioners. At Christmas he had the good idea to have a live nativity in the church. Donkey, sheep, lambs, actors, readers were all there to enliven the message of Christmas and, of course, we took part.

One of us received the request, “Would you be my sponsor for Confirmation? I would like a spiritual sponsor.” The response was, “Yes,” to this boy in difficulty yet eager for the Lord. He lives alone with his mother who is handicapped. Each Sunday he brings her Communion and during the homily he writes a few words in his little notebook to share with his mother. He comes regularly to pray Vespers with us on Sunday evening.

Serving by coming and going

Not being Trappestines, [whom they replaced] we quickly felt the need to « go out towards…”, even if our first place of service is in Belval with our close collaborators. Appeals quickly started to come: the local Caritas asked for our help, one of us joined a team to be present. A dying person, accompanied by her care-giver, came for the last time to Belval. She wanted to meet with a Sister and one of us met with her for several hours. Since that meeting, Sister visits her regularly in the hospital. Another Sister joined the team that visits the sick in the parish and brings them Holy Communion. There have been requests to visit lonely persons in their homes, in the countryside. Several families were visited and one of them introduced us to a 92 year old gentleman who lives alone and has no children. A young mother with four children asked for someone to come to visit because she was in difficulty. We began to tutor her oldest child and go to their home to support her. Last summer, a widow came to retrieve a candle that was from her husband’s funeral and, for two hours, we heard about her sufferings, her hopes and expectations. We suggested that we start a “House of the Gospel” with her. She would invite others to form a little community to share the Gospel of Mark in connection with the Diocese.

Collaboration with the laity

FocusOn_Belval(3)Belval was known for its influence, but today the Association has another dimension of service. It welcomes anyone in need of finding a job and to be reinserted into life, who desires to be renewed morally, physically, to regain confidence… take a break before going further… At the hotel (reservations made on the internet) we see Belgians, English, Dutch, Germans and, to be sure, people from different regions of France. Sometimes there are language difficulties but gestures help us understand one another quickly. We have made good acquaintances with them and had good sharing.

Our little community is being built every day. We have to accept being interrupted all the time, but isn’t our life to be available!? It is true that we cannot respond to everything, but when we look back at our year, we see that through the many meetings we have had that we live “giving and receiving.”

We still have a long way to go to be with everyone, but we are aware that the Lord goes before us, leads us and always gives us what we need. St Vincent said to us: “Do not go ahead of Providence.” If some day, we would see the project move faster, we also note that providence consolidates gradually.

The Sisters of Belval