Colombia - ’I have seen the oppression of my people’

’The heritage that is given to her is that of the poor, the workers and their families and she will love this heritage with a preferential love.’ Etienne Pernet

Sharing the experience I have had with families who are displaced involves recalling the treasure that fuelled my vocation from the moment the Lord arranged the encounter through the Little Sisters, at a time when I was a young student more than half a century ago! For me, listening to and discovering this heritage then and down to the present, has been and still is for me the motive power, the inner strength that comes from above. This strength becomes concrete in the double passion for Jesus and his poor people that animates me and gives an impetus to my offering. 
Over the years, the poor, the workers and their families have appeared to me in my life as a Little Sister with different faces, faces that touch me in the depths of my being, that question me, mobilise me, move me to the depths, demanding a response: to journey alongside them, sharing their aspirations, their joys, their sufferings and anxieties; this testimony that for me is basic to my vocation to follow Jesus as a Little Sister, listening to the Lord who speaks to me through the text – one that I read today in the light of our Colombian reality –: 
I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Colombia,
and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; 
I know their sufferings … the cry of the women, children 
and men who are displaced has come to me… 
so come, I send you … (cf. Ex 3)
I have seen the affliction of my people in Colombia: A people that is victim of a conflict that goes back almost 60 years, and has cost the life of millions of persons. 
Today there are more than 5.7 million displaced persons, they second highest number in the world after the Sudan. (According to the Norwegian Council for Refugees [NCR]) 
At Suacha – a neighbourhood of Altos de la Florida – the place where I have been working with other congregations for almost six years – I have seen the arrival of women who are filled with faith, who are combative, some who have had little formal education. We can see the traces of suffering on their faces, the indelible mark that is left by violence; the violence that wrenched from their hands and their homes so many spouses, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, relatives. 
They arrive empty-handed, a few with some pieces of clothing, grateful to God for having saved their lives. They also have the pain of separation, with the fear of threats, of being hunted, with the fear that is aroused by the unknown, and with distrust of the person who is beside them. Their arrival in these areas exposes them as easy prey for micro-trafficking, for violence. … For many years these people have been hoping for the return of their dear ones or that they might be given "their remains, so that they may have a Christian burial". 
I have heard the cry that is wrenched from them by their oppressors:
"They (they are afraid to say who) came and gave us a few hours to leave… we had to leave everything behind us, all that we had succeeded in putting together during our life." 
"We got into the first vehicle we met, without knowing where we were going." 
"We had a simple life, we were happy… Now, here, we have nothing." 
"The piece of land, the lake, gave us food; here everything is bought with money – and where do we get it?" 
"There we knew one another, we used to help one another… here nobody knows us, they look at us, they reject us… They make us afraid. 
I know their sufferings …. the cry of the women, children and men who are displaced has come to me…
To welcome them, listen to them, offer them what we can so as to help them to situate themselves in these new places, to accompany them through the procedures for obtaining some government help and be recognised as displaced persons etc. …
The visits to the families, the self-help workshops that, with Sister Norma, an Auxiliatrice sister, we have organised for the women who are victims of the conflict (most of them displaced persons) has enabled us to know and hear about situations that, as Fr Pernet said, "I hardly knew existed"; also, to share closely in the cries of widows, of women who are abandoned, victims of violence and rape, overwhelmed by life… what can be done in the face of so much pain, so much abuse, so many violations? We can do what Pope Francis says to us, and which is confirmed by our LSA mission: “come close to; journey with; listen to; heal wounds; give warmth, closeness and proximity to hearts; take responsibility by accompanying them, like the good Samaritan …" "Be the eye of the blind person, the foot of the one who is crippled, they ear of the deaf, be the mother of the poor". (Etienne Pernet to Antoinette Fage)
Offer spaces for recuperation, promote the discovery, or the reaffirmation, of the riches they have within themselves: that they may become aware of their value as persons (which is denied and even, for some, unknown), their capacity to resist, to express so much pain and so much suffering and to encounter, through music, art, dance or painting, paths of healing, the recovery of resilience, of self-help, so as to open up new paths, new horizons, to strengthen themselves so as to begin anew, sustained by the security that God wants for them a life that is dignified and healthy. 
Hilda (H.A)
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