« I am among you as the One who serves » tells us Christ (Lk 22,27)
As an answer to the call of the call of the French Bishops launched in 2009, the National Council for the Solidarity of the Catholic Church in France launched an activity called Diaconia 2013: « Let’s be at the service of Fraternity ».
The main target of the activity was to call the communities to live more intensively fraternity, hope and reciprocal relationships with the persons living in situations of fragility, whether near or far. This was also the occasion to repeat that the serving the others is a way of living the Christian faith as disciples of Christ.
Diaconia 2013 has been primarily an experience to live… to meditate… to pray…
Between the 9th and the 11th May in Lourdes, the national gathering put the word of the poor in the first place in the Church in France. More than 3 000 persons in a very precarious situation could participate in the meeting, with all the persons hailing from all the dioceses of France, accompanied by 86 bishops.
In Lourdes, the poor are really welcomed as Bernadette was… poor among the poor, chosen as messenger.
The date of the Ascension permitted the fresh reading of the liturgical texts: « You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth » Ac 1.
For the 12 000 participants, it was a matter of being touched by the word of the poor, starting from those who elaborated the whole assembly event: a time of listening, of movement, of conversion…
Among the strong moments: without forgetting the vision of an extraordinary vision, prophetic due to its diversities, one will surely remember Genevieve of the group « Place and word of the poor », near the statue with the hands joined and representing fraternity; of the declaration of Jonathan of the community of the Travelling Nations : « I discover in you, in us, the Holy Spirit who guides and animates us » ; of the song « Go and find my friends and tell them… , » right after the proclamation of the final message of the assembly. Every intervention was accompanied by the strong words of Mgr. Housset, President of the National Council for Solidarity who committed the Church in Frances to change its vision.
The theologian Etienne Grieu launched the reflection for the 3 days across three questions:
- « My God what do I discover about You when I encounter the other? »
- « To be at the service of: what does this change for me? In what does it commit me? Which calls do I hear to put my steps in those of Christ servant? »
- « A Church at the service of: which images does this expression bring forth in me? How can I help the Church to be more at the service of the society? »
Such questions challenged us and our engagement at the service of the other.
And Etienne Grieu shared with us: « we could understand that the most powerful calls that we have heard often come from persons who are highly vulnerable ».
(See the whole article of the Jesuit Etienne Grieu on the website: Diaconia 2013).
41 forums have been organised simultaneously on Friday morning: the topics covered all the big domains of the society: art, employment, economy and finance, lodging, precariousness, justice, the place of the women, immigration, education, disability, health, old age and bereavement. Some words which were raised during the forums and the animations were written one by one on symbolic bricks for the Eucharistic celebration: (Gospel – Christ servant – liberation– conversion – justice – change of outlook – responsibilities – reciprocity – proximity – and obviously, fraternity).
The work accomplished in the forums and the various animations permitted the writing of the final message of the assembly which calls to « a society where the attention to the poor leads all our actions.. ».
On Friday afternoon, in an atmosphere of deep silence, around 300 young persons and the 20 000 Diaconia participants gathered together with the pilgrims present in Lourdes. The participants were invited to present some attitudes regarding the topic « fraternity against exclusion »; we ended this time of sharing with a touching Ave Maria sung before the grotto. By this gesture, the participants wanted to manifest the power of fraternity against all forms of exclusion. In a society where life is so fast, where « doing » prevails on being with ».., we are challenged by the need to stop and rest... This gesture is inspired by the “silence Circles” which have developed several years ago in France, in solidarity with the undocumented immigrants…
Some testimonials of participating sisters in the assembly:
A sister said: « The poor have been in the centre. In fact a person said: "they looked lovingly at me and this love raised my spirit ". Another person belonging to the travelling nations spoke about the importance of a look to take off all barriers and fears a priori. During these days, life in fraternity with people whose life has been ruined and weakened truly convinces me that: “one can experience happiness WITH the poor." This experience challenges me to go further and to pursue the step to create a small team "Fraternal encounters" in my environment ».
Another sister: « During the opening Eucharistic Celebration in the Basilica, with the people: I am among you as the one who serves, I really liked the mime on the podium with concrete gestures: offering a glass of water; washing the feet; rubbing the back; washing a sick person’s hair; refreshing the face etc… with the procession of the book containing the fragilities and the marvels accomplished, starting with the testimonials. Each facet of the diamond reflects something different so that each one of us could reflect on different points. I need the other’s experience to discover one of God’s facets ».
One sister: « - For the diocese, we were 117 participants with numerous non-white, dynamic and joyful persons like the ancient missionaries who used to travel far to evangelise. With all the other dioceses, we really felt as People of God, on a voyage and oriented towards the Kingdom. No, the Church in France isn’t dying. Thousands of witnesses are always at work! ».
A sister: «During the mass of the Ascension, a blind person read the first reading in braille with great intensity… a mentally disabled person read one of the bidding prayers. A disabled person in a wheel chair served the mass. He took the water to the cardinal just before the consecration. Therefore, each moment of this first day made us experience a lively diaconia in both words and deeds. In the heart of this celebration, the persons in fragile situations had the space and the possibility to talk ».
During this gathering, we received the encouraging message of Our Holy Father Francis across the cardinal and secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, the first message of the Pope to the Church in France, read by Mgr. Bernard Housset:
"Pope Francis encourages all the faithful of the Church in France and all the participants in this assembly to open the doors of their communities so that, animated by the sacrament of love, they might become places of encounter and charity for all those who seek a fraternal hand. « The Church, following the example of Christ reaches and accompanies all those who feel overburdened by the trials of life, writes cardinal Bertone.”
It’s a special joy for Pope Francis to greet the Diaconia initiative 2013, strongly inspired by the encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI. We associate to this joy those who live in great suffering due to precariousness, abandonment, humiliation and solitude. May they find in the Church a service of fraternal love, encounter and listening".
Cardinal Bertone recalls the "three inseparable tasks" indicated by Benedict XVI’s encyclical: « the proclamation of the Word of God, the celebration of the Sacraments and the service of charity ». He insists that by putting in practice these three tasks, the Church is fully herself and renders the risen Christ present to every man".
He recalls that "the mission of the Church consists in bringing the light of the risen Christ in the darkest places, precisely where suffering reigns in the hearts and the bodies. That’s why Christ’s love urges us towards the cry of those who suffer due to social, economic and psychological poverty".
The Church, and therefore each one of us, is called to be in the world,
the sign of God’s goodness, compassion and paternal tenderness for every creature.
It’s by this witnessing that the Christians co-operate in the New Evangelisation.
The sisters present in the assembly:
Sr. Sophie Formaz – Sr. Raghida Al Khoury
Sr. Christiane Marmy – Sr. Marie-Olga Borgognon
Sr. Nathalie Soichet