Grenelle – An echo of the life of the Etienne Pernet community

The community: Our links with the laity, residents and staff of all the services:

In January 2013, we had the joy of the visit by Eugenia and Mary. What did they discover about our lives and our links with the laity and associations, in response to the questions set by the General Council to help prepare their visit to the communities?
 
We are a community of 25 sisters, aware of the privilege of living in the retirement home at Grenelle, this place filled with the history and life of the Congregation. It is a community animated by our life of prayer and mutual help; our days are not spent behind closed doors, nor are they monotonous! The mission territory has changed, but not the message that is carried by the testimony of our lives through our relations, without having to go outside our walls. 
 
 Waiting for the community meeting 
 
Sharing our daily life, day and night, with the lay residents offers a constant opportunity for receptivity and compassion, sometimes rather trying – but how many examples of courage and friendship we witness between the residents! 
 
As well as participating in the Eucharist, several residents attend the monthly gospel-sharing groups attended by laity and Little Sisters of the two communities at Grenelle. The days of recollection in Advent and Lent are attended by those who so wish and are a lovely opportunity to share a little about what makes us live. 
 
Our network of relations extends to the families who come to visit relatives. A smile or a word of comfort are always welcome and help to create a convivial atmosphere. 
 
Many groups use the "Enclos Rey" and, even though direct contacts are rare, we are affected by the life of these organisations operating in the fields of faith, health, solidarity, ecology etc. These are topical questions that are dear to our heart as LSA. 
 
We are no longer able to attend meetings or lectures outside but, in fidelity to the JPIC orientation of the Congregation, we have committed ourselves in community to sign the monthly letter by ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) and also to receive the information issued by the CCFD (Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development). We associate with the "Circles of Silence" (for the recognition of the rights of undocumented immi-rants) by five minutes of prayer during the evening office on the day when the Circle is held in Paris, and two of us are present at the Circle itself. 
 
Many of us are handicapped because of sight or hearing problems. One of us takes part every week in workshops at the Valentin Haüy Association – for those who are blind or partially sighted – and had the opportunity to contribute to research being done to improve the mobility of handicapped persons in Paris. 
Some years ago, one of us received the mission to accompany the Fraternities of Suresnes and of Saint Denis-Pierrefitte, where the LSA communities had closed. 
Listening attentively to the world and its changes, counting on the Presence of God in our lives, we are convinced, right to the end, that "Old apple trees do not produce old apples!", as a Japanese proverb says.
 
 

Some brief glimpses:

With the staff members – whether they are attached to the Retirement Home or the administrative services in Grenelle – it is the whole world that is present: from the Maghreb to the Congo, the West Indies to India, Egypt to Poland, the Philippines to Brazil, Madagascar to Vietnam or Cambodia etc. How many opportunities to discover cultures that are different and to react in line with current events. 
 
What we experience with the carers often leads us to thanksgiving and to respect and opens us to the inter-cultural and inter-religious dimensions, being very attentive to the other. 
 
One day we were admiring how Roger, a Congolese, was able to cope with the residents. He exclaimed: "But I love them!" We also appreciate his humour. Once, he was accompanying to her place one of the women residents who was being rather stubborn: So, linking her arm, he said: "We’re off to the Registry Office!". The African carers bring us a fresh outlook on old persons because they venerate them! For them, old age is a value! 
 
Louise, Congolese, faced with the difficult behaviour of a resident at breakfast made the sign of the cross, was silent for some seconds and then turned gently to the woman who was being difficult. Later, one of us said to her: "Your gesture did me good!" Louise replied: "Even in the family, every time there is some tension I make a sign of the cross, a little prayer and I ask God to help me not to say anything that might hurt the other." 
 
On Christmas Eve, at 8 p.m., the lift broke down and Nadia, a young Algerian carer, was inside. It was time for Myriam to go home, but she stayed to give some support to Nadia. She said: "I can’t leave a colleague there alone, anxious. I talk to her through the door to encourage her and so that she’ll know that we are doing something for her." Finally, Nadia was set free by the technician, an hour and a quarter later! 
 
 
 Attentiveness
 
Monsieur Alisse, a chef, who is from Pondicherry, serves us tenderly and with veneration, calling us "dear granny". 
 
Tina goes to great trouble to give pleasure. Every Christmas she works wonders by making decoration of all kinds in the Sri Lankan style: stars and comets that decorate the dining room and the corridors. When we were preparing the crib she offered, spontaneously, to help us during her break and brought us some beautiful red and gold stars that she placed at the entrance to the oratory and over the crib. Help that was greatly appreciated! 
 
Sisters Geneviève and Odette 
 
 
It is our "common home" that is built up and enriched by the charisms of each culture and of each tradition 
 

A prayer experience

The situation of several sisters of the community is a source of real concern for me: because of their health they are unable to participate in the community meetings nor at the times when we say Morning and Evening Prayer together. This because of the Care Home timetable. They spend long hours sitting in their wheelchairs, quite passive, watching the television. Now, in the evening of their religious life, how is it possible for them to live out their relation with God, how can we give them something to stimulate them, some nourishment for their spiritual life? (This even though I am absolutely convinced that, within their precarious life, God is present and is continuing to work in their heart and their life.) 
 
In the end, during Lent 2012, I took the plunge (impelled by the Spirit? Perhaps!) and brought the sisters together in a little prayer group, once a week. 
My aim was to lean on their own experience of their relation with God, and to revive in them the desire for God, their first "yes" in response to the Call, and their missionary sense by praying for the world and those who are suffering. 
 
With the group in the oratory, I began by some minutes of music to "create an atmosphere". Then we prayed a psalm, applying to ourselves the appeals of the psalmist or his thanksgiving. On other occasions it has been a gospel passage in which we put ourselves in the place of the shepherds or the paralytic. 
 
Time is left for the expression of a prayer by those who wish, helped by a question. For example: "If we were the shepherds at Christmas, what would we say to Jesus?" or, after the miracle at Cana: "Today, what is Mary saying to me?" or again, following on from the blind man "What do we want to ask of Jesus?" 
 
 
 The mission of prayer
 
A decade of the rosary, a hymn that everyone knows and then a sign of blessing on each one’s forehead to signify the special love of God for each one of us, give a structure to this time of prayer. 
Today, the little group is called "Nearer to Thee", not because we are nearer to dying, but because God is close to us even because of our state of weakness and vulnerability. 
 
This little group is open to all the sisters who wish to come and sometimes there is easily a dozen of us. A song of thanksgiving rises from my heart after every meeting of the group "Nearer to Thee". A sister said to me: "This does me good, it reminds me of bygone days!" Another confided to me: "Your words touch me because you talk of our troubles." 
Being at the service of our most helpless sisters is an encounter with the divine presence of God. 
 
Sister Marie Annick 
27/05/2013
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