Brazil: Ibirité: 20 years among the people

Today we are celebrating life! We are celebrating twenty years in Ibirité, during the year when we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Congregation! This missionary and international community gives thanks to God for their insertion in the midst of the poor and for all the possibilities offered by the charism and spirituality of Etienne Pernet and Antoinette Fage! With the groups and friends we are recalling and sharing a little of that history.

ILFA and the São Judas Tadeu community – 20 years with the Little Sisters in Ibirité/MG 
 
"We are so happy with them, it is as if God Himself had chosen to come and stay with the people in the town." (Tica, a neighbour of the Little Sisters)
 
When the Little Sisters arrived in the town there were people who did not believe that this miracle was possible. Today, twenty years later, we want to thank God for having revealed His poor and humble face in the life testimony of the Little Sisters. 
 
We saw several sisters arriving for their formation and it is a great joy to be able to continue life with them! The simplicity of these con-secrated women is what evangelises and shows us that, for God, everything is possible and that out of poverty and weakness God draws the strength for personal and social transformations. The Little Sisters always keep up hope and continue the struggle so that the life and rights of all be respected! They never condone injustices and are always there in a silent and loving prayer that makes the people feel that they too are capable and loved! Their action in the neighbourhood, at work, and in the Church, is constant: long and painstaking work that nobody sees but which has the power to keep people from becoming disheartened. All our activities, as ILFA groups (the Margarida Alves House for People’s Movements, the Antoinette Fage Social Centre, Church Pastoral activities, visits and care to the sick etc.) are linked to this characteristic of Father Pernet, which we learn with the Little Sisters – to be ready to volunteer, to love the poor, to care for families, to pass on freely what we know, to believe in ourselves! They have a vocation of truth, of love and of dedication! A hundred and fifty years of the Charism! Twenty years with the Little Sisters: let us give thanks to the Lord! 
(José Barroso – Zezé – from the ILFA group in Ibirité)
 
 
Visits to the Families – 20 years with the Little Sisters in Ibirité/MG 
 
It was through a visit to my family, when we were starting the construction of the Church of Saint Judas Tadeu, that I came to know the Little Sisters, their mission and their vocation. That was more or less twenty years ago! From that point, I myself and many others who were also receiving the same attention, became persons who looked after one another. It was with the presence of the Little Sisters, their concern to show us that the Church begins in the home, in the domestic Church, that it then became possible to build the Church of St Judas Tadeus, and also to build the community. During their visits, the Little Sisters always brought a little more love, dedication and affection. Each visit became an incentive for us to seek happiness together. They were not put off by the conditions of poverty in the houses nor what they encountered there in the line of vice, violence, unemployment etc. On the contrary, when they encountered a challenging situation in a house, they sought to help those persons, encouraging them to develop their self-esteem and to move towards finding solutions to the problems. It is a different kind of support in which, besides the prayer together, there is closeness and belief in each success. It was through this characteristic of theirs that I and many others have come to understand that ’unstructured families’ don’t exist: there are families, and God wishes to be present in all of them. Today, through the Ministry to Children, I am trying to do the same thing as the Little Sisters do, visiting and empowering poor families. Twenty years with the Little Sisters! May God be praised!
(Maria de Fátima, basic community of São Judas Tadeu)
 
Accompanying the communities – 20 years with the Little Sisters in Ibirité/MG
 
Today, the Little Sister who is beginning here in our community, Our Lady of Lourdes, is named Willma; she is Bolivian, but never imagined what the beginnings of the Church here was like, with Sister Chantal, who was French! Everything was starting – there was no bus service anywhere near and the people did not have the time to finish work and then see to creating a church community … The sisters made many house-to-house visits and undertook campaigns for improvements to the area and for the recognition of the Parish, because our community like the other two that are close to Ibirité, on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, was not classed as a parish but simply as a pastoral area. From the beginning, the community of the Little Sisters of the Assumption represented for us a force of faith and an incentive to hope. The Little Sisters who passed through here – whether in formation like Márcia, or so many others, especially Chantal who is now dead – always showed us the possibility of a simple, poor and humble Church, with people capable of changing their outlook, preserved from individu-alism, promoting justice and the feeling of communion and community. Today, we pray for vocations to the Congregation of the Little Sisters – how good it would be to have a community of them in each neighbourhood, helping the local communities to open their eyes to the situation and, through prayer, making a difference in the life of each one! Twenty years with the Little Sisters are twenty years building a world of hope and peace! Thank you Lord! 
 
 
Vocations Ministry - 20 years with the Little Sisters in Ibirité/MG
 
During those twenty of life in Ibirité, the Little Sisters were very attentive – and continue to be attentive – to the Vocations Ministry. Through their witness they stimulated many people to work with the local communities and to be committed socially. Their house is a formation house, and the young women who go there to get to know them and to know the charism and mission of the Little Sisters learn that the world can be more fraternal and that we are all co-creators with God. This is a service of humanity for humanity! Last year, the young man Andersen, a neighbour of the Little Sisters who had a vocation, made his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Congregation of the Brothers of St Gabriel and now, the first vocation from Ibirité for the Congregation of the Little Sisters – Jaqueline Assis Carvalho – has presented herself for the aspirant stage. The ILFA group (Lay Brothers and Sisters of the Assumption family) was part of this vocation journey. This group is present in three regions: Ibirité, Água Branca and Betim. It seeks to live by the charism and spirituality of Father Pernet and Antoinette Fage and to put them into practice in their life! Twenty years in Ibirité, twenty years of the Vocations Ministry! May the name of the Lord be blessed! 
(Geraldinha, du groupe ILFA Água Branca/Contagem)
 
Social Centres– 20 years with the Little Sisters in Ibirité/MG
 
The social work of the Little Sisters here in Ibirité has a transforming power! With very little they succeed in animating, organising and encouraging! It is the faith that inspires them and prayer that helps them to persevere all the time! The faith and politics group began with Sister Chantal. Gradually, the struggle this group was engaged in was transformed into the movement for the defence of Serra Rola-Moça. This movement was subjected to great harassment because it called in question the political and economic powers. Defending nature, being ecological and, at the same time, caring for/educating the communities and facing up to the power of the mining companies and the real estate speculators! With the Little Sisters the struggle became a missionary one! 
 
Throughout those twenty years, the Little Sisters’ community never abandoned the social struggle! During that time, they founded two community centres: one in Betim known as “Casa dos Movimentos Populares Margarida Alves” and the other here in Ibirité – “CESAF: Centro Social Antonieta Fage”, for the families in the deprived Primavera district. This centre in Ibirité provides a space of human development and of social and cultural awakening. In the social centres we nourish the charism of Father Etienne Pernet depending – against the current of capitalism – on the strength of the voluntary sector, on self-management and on raising awareness, especially in what has to do with the subjects of gender and race. 
 
Here are the activities of the social centres: 
  • Educafro: in partnership with the Congregation of the Franciscans Friars Minor, a preparatory course prior to entry into university and the ENEM, with a concern to guarantee the right to higher education for the poor, for women and for black people; 
  • Natural health: with homeopathic and plant treatments, highlighting the value of the cultures – within the struggle for a good-quality public health service;
  • Art projects (music, the circus arts, musical instruments): because art can overcome violence, criminality and drugs;
  • Dance and ballet: art, alternative and new possibilities for the children, adolescents and young adults of local populations that are in a situation of poverty; 
  • Attention at the level of psychological, psychopedagogi-cal and out-of-school support: this with a view to promoting health and the educational and social development of persons; 
  • Care: volunteers who spend the night as carers of the sick in hospitals or in their homes so as to support the families; 
  • Bazaar and cultural promotions: for the self-management and organisation of the social centres;
  • Crafts, sewing, women’s groups: self-management,, organisation, reflection on gender; 
  • Commemoration dates: to be able to celebrate, commemorate, have time together, even after 11p.m. in communities dominated by the parallel power. (Luzia Marques, from the Movement for the defence of the Serra Moça and Wilson Dias Araújo, from the“Casa dos Movimentos Populares Margarida Alves”) 
The World of Work
 
My name is Mariza, and for six years I have been a teacher in the socio-educational and prison system. It is difficult work, in fact, it is a mission! To be in close contact with young people and their families who are involved in the world of crime and drugs, having to cope with the revolts and difficulties of all kinds that are generated here and from that reality extract what good there may be, to believe that it is possible for them to learn new things and emerge from the situation that has been imposed on them socially: this is the privilege of the persons chosen by the Creator to love their neighbour, to forgive and restore life there where it is wounded and fragmented. I have been sharing this work with Tide (Mariotides) another teacher, for two years. I feel very proud to be able to be with her every day and that we can share our joys and anxieties. I have great esteem for her! Tide is a woman of faith! With her I am becoming stronger in this mission that we have taken on together, sometimes even to the annoyance of certain members of our family, but we have received it from the Lord! I would like to share something of our morning work with you, even if it is not much. Tide, in addition to being a teacher in the socio-educational and prison system, is also for part of the afternoon a teacher in the field of hospital and domiciliary care. That makes this colleague a person of love, a person who, as she herself says, ’has a vocation to be the SISTER of all’ 
 
When I learned that I would be working with a Sister of charity, a religious, a foreigner, and when I met her I was even more surprised because she is young, even though she has a lot of experience in the field of Education! I saw straight away that she was a simple person and I realised that I would learn a lot with her! And that is what happened! I discovered that paid employment, in the same conditions as any other worker is, for the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, a missionary place, a place for earning one’s living and for learning! A place to live one’s faith and one’s prayer. I began to believe in the counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience: I knew that religious pronounced those vows, but I had never been close to any testimony concerning them as my religion is evangelical – in the Baptist Church where my husband is a pastor. 
 
There is a lot that could be said about the intensity of our collaboration, but I am going to relate a sad event that tested our faith and our hope but which ended by uniting us more in the mission in the Internment Centre. I believe that this event is a good illustration of the festive atmosphere of the twentieth anniversary of the Little Sisters in Ibirité and the 150th anniversary of the Congregation in the world. 
 
On the 6th of April a student, angered by his social/educational score and armed with a knife that he himself had made, took me hostage during a class. At that moment there was a feeling both of despair and of hope. We were hostages of that boy who wanted to escape, I and my friend, the Little Sister. During that instant, friendship was transformed into sisterliness; through the faith we became sisters, reciting Psalm 23 together, waiting for the outcome of the situation which, thank God, left us free in spite of the violence. Today, we are continuing together, filled with dreams and plans for education! We believe that education makes people free and, because of that, we continue to help people through our vocation. 
 
I am very happy to participate in this celebration of the Little Sisters, being one with their enthusiasm and their hope that Jesus may reward them with vocations to come and the witness of their testimony in the missions on which He sends them! 
 
Mariza, teacher in the Belo Horizonte municipal network 
07/07/2015
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