’Life on board’

’LIFE ON BOARD’ the boat ’Je Sers’ by the community of Conflans Ste Honorine

It is now a year since we have been associated with the boat ’Je Sers’. There is a large number of persons on board it and many people from outside come to benefit from the many services: food bank, clothing store. We were called by the community of the Assumptionist Fathers, and sent by the Congregation to share in a common project. For us, this project is lived out in our daily contacts on the boat. In our societies the number of those who are homeless, who are displaced, who are poor, is growing and an increasing number of fragile and marginalised people are coming on to the boats. 

 
Our two communities: Assumptionists and LSA, have met often in a friendly and simple way to discuss themes like ’the Reign of God’ or ’the family’. The following points constitute what is most important in these meetings: 
- keep up these meetings regularly, adapting ourselves to the time that best suits the different participants; 
- have a spirit of gratuitousness, joy in friendship and friendly sharing; 
- discuss different themes, something that nourishes our faith and the meaning of our sending; 
- support one another in our religious life. 
 
A few times we received our brothers at the house. We have also had the opportunity to reflect with the members of the Provincial Councils, those of the A.A. and of the L.S.A. 
 
When we first arrived as a community at Conflans we had the joy of having our house blessed. On several occasions we have been visited by neighbours, volunteers, boatmen and boatwomen, LSA, and we welcomed some fifty people for the open day and housewarming party. On Easter Monday sixty-four LSA from the Paris region came. 
 
We appreciated the three months that Hien, LSA novice, spent with us on apostolic placement. 

What we as LSA are experiencing, individually and as a community. 
 
Our life as LSA is made up of simple encounters ranging from ’Hello, how are you today?’ to responding to many different kinds of demands: reading a paper or document, a note sent from school, a telephone call to be made, listening to somebody’s worries, a word of comfort to be given. Listening to the other, to each one, for social matters, for the administrative steps to be taken for regularizing their situation and for integration into society. For us as Little Sisters, we feel our charism, the family, is very present here. We deal with several young people, children and adolescents, involving accompanying them to school, attention to health problems, and a concern for education and relations between parents and children. 
With regard to our activities, we think that a priority is for the people to learn French and to speak it, and so we have set up practical workshops for this. This requires that we persevere, recall, ask etc. 
 
There is a good atmosphere on the boat and this is important for everybody. Some say, ’Here, we feel welcomed like in a family’. When something is not going well, everybody knows it and we all feel it. A project is drawn up with each family, each person. They have to find a home port, a place to stop off during their journey. It is sometimes hard for them to leave the boat and to take a step further, going from their lodging on the boat to another one, or to another boat where the family has more autonomy. The ’halfway house’ is also a place for ongoing social accompaniment. 
 
We often hear the people who are received on the boat say: ’We’re grand here.’ It is true that their room is only the size of a cabin on a boat. They have to learn to live with overcrowding. We are often faced with violence and conflicts. These are reviewed either all together or individually by those in charge who try to resolve the conflicts. 
Since the end of 2009 there has been a new organisation for the meals. These are now prepared by small teams of the people who are received on the boat. We share the midday meal with them. Every day at this meal there are about forty or fifty people, and often persons passing through or new arrivals are welcomed. Each day is well filled with all the ’comings and goings’, with fine acts of service, mutual help, solidarity and, of course, the unexpected ! 
 
What stands out on the boat ’Je Sers’, is the chapel, which, in the same spirit, is always open. There are always people coming from outside and there is a full parish life. We say the midday hour of the Office every day. We have the good fortune to pray Vespers and to assist at the Eucharist. The ’Je Sers’ is a parish that is very much alive, and it is there that we also have links with the boatmen and women whom we are trying to get to know better. The calls made on us enable us to make links between the boatmen and the people living on the boat. We are also deeply moved by the relations with the volunteers and with the laypeople committed in the name of their faith. The depth of their commitment is impressive. A couple, Marie-Claire and Léon, followed the Assumptionist formation and have become part of the Assumptionist laity. They made their commitment, with others, on the 20th November 2010 at Valpré (near Lyon). 
 
Our community witness is essential. The people on the boat and the volunteers see us as persons and as a community. This requires us to be honest with ourselves and to give ourselves simply through our mutual riches and our frailties. Our personality enables us to give a colour to the charism through our different gifts. 
11/04/2011
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