In a community, a path of spiritual friendship

’A lodging that is not like any other, where it is pleasant to live and which you go back to with pleasure’. That is what the young women say as they go down the hill leading to the community of the Little Sisters of the Assumption at Vitry in the Paris region. But what is so extraordinary about what they experience during their one-year stay ?

Here we find that, for the space of a year, communion is possible even when, at the start, we didn’t know one another and this whether we were a member of the local religious community or one of the four students lodging here. We have discovered above all that the choice to come here gives meaning to life at a time when the younger ones among us are leaving their family roots. This is greatly facilitated by a life of prayer in Christ. 
Initially, of course, the choice is often motivated by the need for accommodation. But the candidates also consider the project to be interesting in itself. They arrive alone from their own country as students or employees, or leave their family setting to continue their studies in a different setting. For them, as for the sisters, the daily encounters and the weekly meal together help to live out a deep communion. In this school of life ’we learn to listen to one another, to help one another, to be patient, to enter into relation with the other person, somebody who is different to oneself, to talk openly to one another in a spirit of trust, to have "tenderness" for the other when there are difficulties.’ 
 
Cultivating our garden 
 
One of the present residents puts it like this: ’From the beginning the project is interesting for us… You, the sisters, you do not choose one another for the community and for us it is something similar. So it is a great challenge for us too. What interested me in arriving here was to have an experience of a project that included a meeting together each week… After a while we notice that friendship and community life flows from that. Besides, and it’s a strange thing, the friendship is not formed in the same way as with my other friends. The bonds between us are woven in a different way and they change us. We discover that we are called to love one another with what we are and the project takes on a different form.’ In accompanying the young women over the weeks and the months, it is easy to see this evolution. Gradually, they are surprised by the new human values that give meaning to their life. 
In our daily life three are some wonderfully joyful times but also times when there are difficulties and misunderstanding. In living through this and in looking back over them together, each of them can become aware of her own existence, of the person she is and of the transformation that is taking place at an age when they are owning their choices. Personal accompaniment and the closeness of the community means that they are listened to, that they can discuss events – the possibility of having a time when they can be open to "being in a different way". Looking out on the garden and the magnificent cherry tree that it producing its fruit at this time of the year, one of the young women said: "This year, in the life I’ve had with others, I’ve learned to cultivate my inner garden." 
 
The richness of encounter 
 
The international dimension of the community naturally gives rise to a desire to encounter the other’s culture. Among the students this year, one is Vietnamese, one Malagasy, one Brazilian and one French. Two of them said: ’While there are times when we might be surprised by certain ways of doing things, we were also surprised the resemblance between our Malagasy and Vietnamese customs. Our people have evolved at a distance of thousands of kilometres but, at some stage, the movements of our people have marked our cultures down to the present day." The richness of this project is also that the experience makes it possible to know the other person and so to discover oneself. "I liked the respect we showed to one another. When one is going through a bad patch, the others are attentive, while respecting her. When all is going well, we can share and laugh together. Here, it’s a real community experience where we share times of our life together." Another added: "I knew nobody when I arrived from my country. You were all strangers to me. But in this house I felt peace, something different, a bit special. I liked this place straight away, we are united now and you have become my family in France. I am going to cherish this experience always." 
 
Rooted and nourished 
 
At the heart of this community life there is also the intimate relationship with Christ that is transformed here where we have morning and evening prayer. "Even though I don’t always go to the oratory, I know that you are including me in your prayer and that helps me during my day. Before, I didn’t take the time to have personal prayer. Now, my life is changing. My faith is growing. I want to take time to pray alone, to go to Mass so as to be nourished." Most of the young women had very few experiences of that sort before living in this type of community. The family atmospheres and the grace of the freedom arising from the Augustinian spirituality give them the opportunity to have a deep human experience. It is interesting to discover how, over the months, each one integrates one or other aspect of this community and spiritual life. Through prayer, the discussions at table and the convivial aspect, the community life becomes enriching and makes it possible to welcome one another over and beyond our differences. Each one can exist in a different way. 
 
Sister Patricia Sacré, community of Vitry, France
25/08/2011
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