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In England: an experience that strengthened me...

"To let oneself be met by Christ. Contemplate Christ in his humanity in order to grow in inner freedom as a follower...". This was the title of the retreat I had planned to make during my stay in France. And then the Covid arrived. Retreat cancelled.

One day I got the call to go and help our sisters in Olney, England. Normally I would have thought I wouldn't be able to answer this call, or ask myself a lot of questions, but strangely enough, nothing at all. I had been able to rest, so I was quite available to go and help. The only problem could be the language. After spending three years in Chile, Castellano came first. But I was peaceful.

After a week in quarantine during which my guardian angel, Sister Margaret, came every day to bring me meals and to see if I had enough of anything, I was finally able to meet the sisters who lived in the section of the community and those on the care unit. I followed Sister Marilou during the different rounds. She was the link with the staff and with patience, taught me what to do. Little by little, I took my place in the group.

Then came the news that the care unit was closing. All the sisters were going to leave gradually, two by two, for Burlington Hall, a home for the elderly.

One day, I went with Sister Anne Morris to carry the first bags and see the new house. She told me that during her visits, she had asked the director if there was a chapel. No. Shortly afterwards, she received a call from the headmistress saying that it was possible to transform an office into a chapel. She, a Sikh, explained that in her home there had always been a room for prayer and that she understood the need for such a room for our sisters. Her wish is to make this a house where everyone feels at home. The gesture was really very beautiful and very strong, because she had no obligation to do that.

Then, on a visit to the village, Sister Anne told us that the mosaic at the entrance to the cemetery, depicting a Madonna, came from the chapel at Clapham Park, a former community. The day it was closed, the priest wanted to take the mosaic to his parish in Burlington Hall. And now our sisters are coming to this village... How can we not see this as a wink of the Spirit?

Accepting such a change was not easy! At St Joseph's, Olney, the sisters were at home and now they have to go to a totally unknown place... A house that is not even run by sisters! Of course, there was the brochure explaining the different activities or services that were on offer, but that's not all. And this is where the rescue came in: "Confidence, it's me, don't be afraid! " (Mt 14, 27) in connection with the next general Chapter. Yes, they had to trust. On the one hand, to the sisters who searched, visited, prayed to find the best place and on the other hand to abandon themselves to God's trust. Accepting to be led by the Spirit...

Before the departures, the parish priest came to give the sisters the sacrament of forgiveness and of the sick. A very moving moment. Then, a few days later, the receiving of obedience: the emotion was palpable in each one, but the most striking thing for me was to see one of the sisters, Francis Mary, on the eve of her 99th birthday, receive her obedience for the new mission at Burlington Hall.

How can we not think of our Rule of Life which says that "whatever our situation... we can always live our mission as Daughters of the Holy Spirit" (art. 11). And this is indeed a mission. It is not simply being sent to another retirement home, no! It is indeed a mission. With their arrival in this establishment, a chapel has been installed. This will allow other residents who wish to do so, to have a place to pray, to be able to meet sisters with whom they can talk and confide. Thanks to them, God will be a real presence in the residence.

Another thing that touched me was that I was staying with a sister who was not very well. She slept a lot because of the medication and I often saw her fingers searching for something. When I saw her rosary beads on the table, I put them between her fingers and she immediately grabbed them and calmed down. One evening when she was anxious, I offered to stay with her for the night. Now she asks me which bed I'm going to sleep on! When I showed her the chair, she looked at me sadly. I reply that it is comfortable. Then she asks if there is anything to eat. Happy to see that she is hungry, I ask her what she would like. But no, she was worried about me. She who was so sick was worried about me! These are just a few facts.

After having received so much, how can I not thank Sister Anne Morris who trusted me, and each of the sisters for their testimonies of faith, abandonment, lives given... to the staff who accepted me, with whom I was able to forge bonds, and also of course, to the cooks who made wonderful cakes…. Thanks to all of them from the bottom of my heart.

I was not able to make my retreat, but I think I can say that I really felt the presence of Christ at my side, at our side. I left without knowing what would be asked of me but without fear. Once there, I really felt that if I surrendered to God and the Spirit, trusting them completely, they would help me and that I didn't have to be afraid. This experience strengthened me as a Daughter of the Holy Spirit. Yes, he is there, in our midst. "Trust, it's me, don't be afraid."

Sister Isabelle Cracco, DHS. Published on 30 March 2021

Filles du Saint-Esprit 15 bd. Sebastopol 35101 Rennes Cedex 2 France

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