The gleaners of St. Louise

[Province of Sardinia] At the end of the fifties of the last century in the countryside of Campidano, in Sardinia, one could still see farmers reaping wheat with a scythe. And to those who passed near those fields, there were men, women, and children who, like squirrels, would run here and there to collect ears of corn left on the stalk or fallen from the wagon. They were the gleaners, intent on picking up some grain for their bread.   Saint Vincent, comparing his modest religious family with the great religious orders that flourished in the Church, called it a Congregation of Gleaners. 

In Cagliari, the capital city of Sardinia, a group of lay people has been working for a few years with some Daughters of Charity who, inspired by St. Louise de Marillac, a school teacher, call their group: “Spigolatori di S. Ludovica” (Gleaners of St. Louise). They are a small group of people who work temporarily, with few or no means, modestly ready to disappear if they are rejected. People who collect what others discard; people who do not seek visibility, who do not call the Rai (Italian Radio-television) to be filmed while working for the poor in whom they see Jesus in flesh and blood.

So, the group was born, almost without thinking about it. The gleaners, having only the desire to do something good for the children of the most disadvantaged districts of Cagliari, proposed to the administration to obtain permission to operate as volunteers, as support teachers in a state school in one of the city’s most deprived suburbs. The project has been going on for six years now in the same way:

  • Temporarily: the authorization to work in a state school is renewed year after year, without any certainty of continuity;
  • Smallness: primary school children and middle school children who can be helped until the end of the school year are little more than the blind and paralyzed that the Gospels indicate as healed by Jesus during his public life;
  • Gratuitousness: volunteers who are recognized as such, they enter the school quietly, take care of the least gifted pupils with very poor tools and ask nothing;

The Spigolatori of Santa Ludovica, are aware, as was their patroness, that ignorance is “a violent state”, devote themselves to the education of children at risk of leaving school early as those without education suffer the worst form of poverty.

In their work as “volunteers of knowledge,” they take care of children and young people seriously injured in their humanity by the worst forms of pain and adversity. Who is more helpless than a child who is denied a childhood? In their unconscious suffering, these children carry within themselves all the signs of despair: violence, depression, vulgarity and vice, a tendency to suspicion, shamelessness, lack of interest… A strict judgment hangs on them, which they themselves sentenced: “You are incapable. You’re worth nothing.”

The goal is to get them out of this desperation in their lives. It’s not easy. You don’t always succeed, or rather, you don’t always see the results, but sometimes the results are there. This is the case of those young people who, after months of patient accompaniment, love with no other form than a discreet and confident presence, begin to feel loved, discover their resources day after day and try to believe in themselves. They try and succeed; it’s a feast.

One girl, who is beginning to emerge from her hypochondria and refusal to relate, asks, “After the middle school exam, will you let me pray with you? You know, I bring flowers to Jesus, you love him too, don’t you?” – Meanwhile, she touches her forehead with her fingers accompanying the gesture with an expression of pain to indicate the thorns that hurt Jesus’ forehead, “it’s so beautiful!” and makes a gesture as if to caress his face.

While we never speak of religion, we encourage them to believe in themselves.

Sr Assunta Corona DC

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