The Joy of Being Given to Christ – Testimony of Sister Ana Belen at the Motherhouse, Paris

P1070372When I received the invitation to give my testimony, my first feeling was fear because, I must admit, I am not used to speaking in public. But I said “YES” at once because I like to tell of the marvels that God has done and continues to do in my life. I have also lived a beautiful experience: for all my small “YES’s” said throughout my life as a Daughter of Charity I have received a generous recompense from God who always gave me much more than He was asking for.

We are in the Year of Consecrated Life. Pope Francis, in his letter of 21st November 2014, invited all consecrated people to: To look at the past with gratefulness; to live the present with passion; and to embrace the future with hope.

A grateful look to the past

I can say that I had a good childhood. I was born in the Basque Country, in the North of Spain, to a Catholic family, although not too practicing. Since I was 11 years old I studied in a school of the Daughters of Charity and I formed part of the Vincentian Marian Youth, a Marian Association requested by Our Lady when she appeared to Saint Catherine in 1830 in this Chapel (at the Motherhouse). I believe that this marked the beginning of my love for Mary. During my first years in the school, I saw the Sisters as a “little away from reality”. I didn’t understand their life and they were very demanding teachers for me, an attentive pupil. But all this changed when I was 17 years old. At this time I met a new Sister who was for me a testimony of happiness and fullness of life. Now, I believe this Sister was an instrument that God put in my way to touch my heart. At 17 I was a normal youth, with very concrete dreams: I wanted to be a doctor, to be married and form a family. But God had other dreams for me, and little by little He found the way to show them to me. At 19 I felt that the call of God resounded with force in my heart, and I said: YES, in spite of the opposition of my family and the incomprehension of my friends. But the love of God is stronger than anything.

For one year I lived my ‘Postulatum´, a period of discernment. I was in a community of Sisters that lived in a marginal neighbourhood of Bilbao who were in charge of a nursery. This stage was a year of great discoveries that allowed me to be sure of my vocation. I continued on my way; this time in the Novitiate (which we call Seminary) of the Daughters of Charity in San Sebastian. In the Seminary I met other young girls who, like me, were ready to be Daughters of Charity. This comforted me a little. Well done! I was not the only madwoman in the world! To live with them helped me to clarify my ideas and to realize that the call of God is a gift, a grace that fills your life with happiness. When I finished these two years of intense formation, the Lord called me towards the Poor: abandoned children, youth in difficulty, pastoral youth ministry … In all these services, I experienced the happiness of giving myself to others. I have been very happy with all these people that I have had the opportunity to serve. With them I have learned the merciful love of God, who loves without limits, who is all to His smaller children. Community life and prayer have always been essential supports for me.

After some years of service in a Home for children, I finished my Chemical studies and I became a teacher in a Daughters of Charity School. Besides Chemistry or Mathematics, I tried to teach my students to be good persons and friends of Jesus. It also seemed very interesting to sensitize them towards service and especially to help the poorest countries. Photos - neige 213God always reserves surprises for us. And this time, God’s dream sent me… to Africa! I lived six months of missionary experience in Chad. A new service that was abruptly interrupted by illness, but that has left in my heart an unforgettable warmth. Not only the heat of the high African temperatures (that also!), but mainly the heat of living with welcoming, cheerful people, full of life. I admired the way of the Chadian people to come closer to God. That is why I love to participate here in the “Cristo Bolingo” vigils of prayer. The songs, the rhythms, the expressions of love towards Jesus, make me think of a God who is Father of all and who is happy to welcome the different forms that his children have of going to him. At my return from Africa I again had the joy of serving the Lord in Spain with children with social problems, in a small town where our presence as Daughters of Charity was very significant, mainly in the parish. But the Lord still wanted to give me a surprise and… Here I am!

We are already in the present time. Since 2013 I have lived here, at 140 rue due Bac, in the house of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. It is our Mother House, and I have the grace of living with Daughters of Charity from all over the world. I give thanks to the Lord every day for IMG_1118this opportunity, to be able to discover in other Sisters from a different culture than mine, the same call and the same objective: to serve the Lord in our brothers and sisters. At the moment, my main service is translation, maybe the most arid of all I have had up to now, but I try to carry it out with love and with my open heart. I know that my work helps the Sisters to be able to do a better service and to live their lives thoroughly as Daughter of Charity, and this encourages me. I form part of a chain of love that wants to transmit God’s tenderness to today’s world. And this is enough for me to be happy. On Saturday afternoons I help the Sisters in the “medals area”. It is next to the chapel where pilgrims can buy medals, rosaries, books and pamphlets that help them to pray. To participate in this service is truly a gift that allows me to be in contact with people who share with me their stories: stories of life and happiness, of problems and sufferings. But mainly, they are people that, in spite of their diversity, have a point in common. They trust in Mary, our Mother, who awaits us here.

The prayer, “Come to the foot of this altar, there graces will be bestowed …” makes sense for me when I see people praying here. Mary, the mother who welcomes; Mary, the woman who believes that nothing is impossible for God. Thank you for your faith in her; your faith confirms mine. I also like to speak with elderly Sisters who have given their lives with generosity. I discover in their history what I want for mine: to find my strength in God, to be rooted in Jesus Christ who makes us able to overcome all difficulties. As Saint Paul says: “When I feel weak, it is then when I am strong“. When they ask me for the reason for my happiness, I respond at once: my happiness comes from knowing that I am loved by God in an unconditional way. It is He who gives a deep sense to my life; thanks to Him I had found my place in the world.

And to finish, I invite you to follow Pope’s Francis indication to “embrace the future with hope”. In today’s world it is very difficult to live with hope, but it is more important than ever. This is what I would like my life to be: a sign of hope.

The document “BE JOYFUL,” written for the Year of Consecrated Life, gives the words of Pope Francis who says: “Wake up the world! Be a witness in a way of doing, acting, and living!” The Pope encourages us to meet with today’s men and women. In my opinion, this should be the great purpose of the Consecrated Life of the future: to wake up the world, to wake up humanity, in order to discover the Love of God that watches over this world from all eternity. The experience of the Love of God introduces the hope needed in the human heart.

Thanks to the lives of more than 16,000 Sisters worldwide, the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul tries to give a contagious testimony of happiness, serenity and fruitfulness close to our poorer brothers and sisters. And I feel very happy to belong to it.