A Life Given to God for the Service of Persons who are poor
I heard the call very early: the day of my First Communion. I was 7 years old and I felt that my life was meant only for Christ. God revealed Himself through events: growing up in a closely knit family where moral and religious values were lived, the war, the defeat, the German occupation and the discovery of the horror of nazi camps… how can one not be marked by so much suffering…
I went to a nursing school and I realized that after all these signs, God was waiting for my response. With the help of a priest, I decided to enter the Daughters of Charity. I knew that there I could serve those who are poor and live with Christ. After a period of formation, I was sent on mission.
We were 12 Sisters in my first house. Community life was not a long, quiet river but there was fraternal love among us. The love of God and of those who are poor united us and nourished our times of prayer. In this district of Paris, I really met poverty. I still see this woman in a small room with 3 children, forced to hang the chairs and fold the table at night in order to put the mattresses on the floor where they could sleep. I also cannot forget little Danièle, hospitalized after being poisoned by a charcoal stove (caused by her father who loved her but was fiercely hostile to her progress) during the First Communion retreat.
Many changes have happened in my life and everywhere, I found persons who are poor. God made me understand how I can enrich these encounters. One should move beyond help, service and comforting words, go further and assist these poor persons to be responsible for their lives. I would visit them and they would welcome me and, having bridged the distance between us, a certain simplicity would develop, they could talk about things that are important to them.
Later, I responded to a call to go and help in the Sakeo camp in Thailand where the Khmer Rouge had taken refuge. One night while I was keeping watch, I was able to speak with Ven who was helping us in the tent where the sick were housed. Having escaped with 18 members of his family, he had arrived alone at the camp, all the others have died of hunger, ill-treatment, or executed, the last being his wife who got lost in the forest. I received this confidence as a real gift and I often think about it especially during difficult times. We were several Sisters from all over. What were we doing more than the “Doctors without Borders” to which we were in collaboration? Apparently nothing more; it was our belonging to this God to whom we had given our life that motivated us.
Later, I was sent to a community in H.L.M. attached to the “S.A.P.P.E.L. », an Association founded to evangelize the fourth world. In this context, we organized retreats designed for a small group of people in precarious situations.
When an appeal was launched to give play therapy to children from Kosovo who were deeply distressed by the massacres and who had lived in a forest for several weeks in the snow, I responded. I accepted because, despite my advanced age, I have a close affinity with children and kept my zest for playing. Games served as our language and their therapy. Laughter immediately erupted when boxes were overturned in the game of “mess-up everything” and very quickly, the little ones sang “do you know how to plant cabbage” (a French folk song).
It was at my request that the Company sent me to Rwanda. I stayed for six years in this very poor but lovely country. There is a saying that “God came to rest there at night”. There, I was mostly the driver who would drive the sick at night and sometimes bring the dead home so that these poor people could bury them around their houses, the cost of staying in the hospital being too expensive for them. They called me “umukécuru” which means “the grandmother”, a title of recognition. I had the joy of seeing vocations of young Rwandans flourish who are now Sisters, brave of heart and very close to those who are poor and who remain joyful despite the terrible massacres that would happen a few years later.
The last place where I was sent to was at “Depaul” Catholic Association to serve street people. I was a simple volunteer in the midst of others, working in humble tasks like doing the laundry, preparing the showers, and serving coffee to men and women living in the streets. With them, we had a simple relationship. They were “our masters”, serving as they asked us, sometimes receiving harsh or hurtful words, but also sometimes friendly, even gracious.
I am now at the last stage of my life. The hour of the Meeting is approaching, beyond imagination. Of course, I have some apprehensions, yet I know He will be there… What can I say? Quite simply: THANK YOU for the immeasurable happiness despite the difficult times, even the very difficult ones, when there was emptiness and where I neglected God. Still, He was there, awaiting “the return of the prodigal child.”
Sister Marie-Renée Lelièvre
Province of Belgium-France-Switzerland