Meeting of Laity and Religious – October 2013

400 religious (men and women) 
750 lay persons 
21 priests 
10 deacons
3 bishops
About 150 religious institutes were represented from all the dioceses of France and from Canada, Italy and Belgium.
 
In 2007, at Lourdes, the CORREF (Conference of the Religious of France) had invited the laity who had bonds with congregations to a gathering. The bonds are varied in nature: laity who share in the prayer of a community, those who have an affinity with the spirituality and charism of a congregation, those who share in the mission of an institute, those who are responsible for private schools that are linked with a religious congregation. 
 
Some Aolas (Associates of Our Lady of the Assumption), two persons from the Fraternities of Our Lady of the Assumption and friends from the other Assumption families participated in this first gathering. 
Six years ago, three of us Aolas were at Lourdes. We were greatly surprised to discover such an assembly, with all its diversity (I think there were about 1,500 persons). There was a joyous atmosphere, the recognition that a great spirit animated us, and the happiness of feeling we were members of a big family. The Spirit was at work. 
Suzette, Aola
 
Six years later, the CORREF again invited laity and religious to Lourdes, for a meeting on the theme ’Spiritual families, Living the Gospel together in the wake of founders, in the service of the mission of the Church.’ 
This time, for the Assumption family, there were: forty religious (men and women) and laity. 
  • The Augustinians of the Assumption and their lay friends (Réseau de l’Alliance)
  • The Religious of the Assumption and their lay friends (Assomption Ensemble) 
  • The Little Sisters of the Assumption (Eugenia Hueto and Agnès David), seven Aolas, and five members of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Assumption. 
We appreciated having a ’family’ meeting together one evening to pray and get to know one another better. 
 
 
We have to recognise that the Spirit breathes where he wills and inspires new paths. The laity find in the shared experience of the founders of the congregations an energy and a nourishment for the mission, for prayer and for daily life. The discussions, the talks and the celebrations during the three days confirmed for us that, in our great diversity, one thing brought us together: the development of our baptism according to the ’colour’ given by the founder of the congregation to which we are close. 
 
For me, this meeting was a true face of the Church, in all its diversity. Each and all, in our daily life, in our parish, find that we are more or less alone in a dechristianised world. In Lourdes, we were able to see the Kingdom of God at work through all those seeds sown by the Lord that grow in line with the intuitions of each congregation. Each one is a little shoot, but, all together, this can become a forest for the happiness of each and every person..
Mireille, Aola

On returning home, each one wrote some of the impressions she had had. They express the convictions and the questions that had arisen in the course of that fine Church event. So, I let them speak for themselves: 
 
’I appreciated the development in relation to the first gathering, held in 2007. Those affili-ated to a religious congregation had ample opportunity to speak and we discovered a broad range of ways to collaborate […] In the course of the meals we were able to discuss our different practices: for example, a head teacher told us that he made known the charism on which the school was founded, that he had organised a week-end meeting with the parents of pupils from the whole region of the West and that a very large number of parents had attended! […] There was a lovely inter-generational fraternity at Lourdes. […] I greatly liked the international aspect. We have it with the Little Sisters of the Assumption. There was a convivial atmosphere and talks that were clear and linked with the Gospel. A broad road has been traced out for us and it is joy to continue our journey within this movement, having in mind the sentence: "I am sending you, go along the path where the Spirit is breathing". And the Spirit was breathing at Lourdes that day.’ 
Monique, Fraternity of Our Lady of the Assumption 
 
 
’Despite the fatigue of the journey and the sustained pace of the meeting, the dominant note was the joy of being together in Lourdes. The talks and the testimonies were intense, technical and interesting. Not everything was perfect but, what an experience! All these very varied spiritual families who believe in the same God! The silence of the assembly during the Eucharist made a very deep impression on me.’
Micheline, Fraternity Our Lady of the Assumption, Vaulx-en-Velin
 
 
’On our feet before dawn, we headed for the Montparnasse station with a joyful heart. The gathering began there, on the platforms. We met one or other member of our family, or of other families: religious, laity, consecrated laity; each of them betrayed the same enthusiasm. 
We have been invited to Lourdes, under the gaze of Mary – this is something that fills us, the "Assumption Family", with enthusiasm. 
The train journey gave us the opportunity to get to know one another, to discuss together, to prepare ourselves to welcome as a gift what would come into being from this special time within the Church. 
While we were taking our places in the amphitheatre and the sound of the voices got louder and louder, we heard a voice that was going to accompany us all the week-end: that of Sandrine, her voice accompanied two excellent musicians. Her presence and her talent were to create a bond: to be able to make a crowd of over 1,200 persons sing with one voice and heart is a gift. That song became a prayer. As we walked around the shrine we could hear people humming: 
 
"The same faith gives us life today, 
Families gathered in the name of the Lord, 
The same love sends us today, 
To live out your mission, O Lord." 
 
We had been invited to a family celebration that was to stimulate our life and strengthen our desire to work for the "Mission". The Church is dying? The Congregations are ageing? Founders whose intuition does not mean anything nowadays? The Spirit who does not seem to be there when needed? 
 
It was enough to see the multitude of groups represented: Friends, Associates, Alliance, Consecrated Laity, Fraternities etc., to see clearly that the Spirit is there at the heart of the Church and continues to make Life spring up. The Church of the Lord is very much alive. Throughout this gathering we were invited to give thanks for all that is already being done. We were also challenged, invited, to let ourselves be unsettled: "be inventive, creative, don’t be afraid, let the spirit of daring rise up in you!" All those groups, whatever name they may have, are not there to make up for the lack of religious; no, all must find their place, make their own the charism of the founders and make it live in them and in all that they are experiencing, be it in the Church or in society. 
All those families have a treasure in their hands, a treasure for our time and for all those persons towards whom the Lord is sending us, unceasingly.’ 
Marinette, Aola 
 
 
’We thanked the Lord for what is signified by the baptism we have received, the starting point of that wonderful love story with the Lord, enriched by all those witnesses, past and present, who have come into our life and encourage us to be a light that would illumine the life of others.’ 
Sr M. Eugenia
 
"Spiritual Families": we really felt that we were a family, in a warm atmosphere. The speakers gave us, in ever-increasing doses, the nourishment we needed to continue our journey and rediscover energy and hope. A big "thank you" to them. I noted that there was no need to expect recipes or templates! So, there was great freedom to take away what suited us. 
For us, Aolas, who came seeking support and inspiration to "re-launch our journey", it was good to have Eugenia and Agnès at our side, discreet but close, as well as our friends from the Fraternities.’ 
Marianne, Aola
 
 
’It was a joy for me to participate in this meeting of spiritual families, a gathering in an atmosphere that was festive but also recollected. With the speakers we were able to broaden our outlook and raise questions for ourselves as to how to live out the mission. 
 
We were able to share with Micheline, who was happy to meet us again and I also made the acquaintance of Jacques, another member of the Fraternity. He expressed the immense gratitude he felt to the persons who welcomed and helped him. It was truly family life that was being expressed. 
 
But I also shared some time with a religious sister and a group of laypeople who have the same spirituality. 
Three days to renew ourselves and share life together so as to continue the journey.’ 
Elisabeth, Aola
 
Lucette Moureu, Aola, also experienced the same joy with the encounter and the strength received through the richness of the talks. The fact that the laity were in the majority is to be emphasised, even if they did not have sufficient opportunity to speak. 
 
’What struck me is the energy that exists. How do we receive the advancing age and the fragility of the majority of the people involved? Are the Church, our groups, ready to be open? This gathering makes us feel optimistic. 
 
One aspect of the talk by JC Lavigne (Dominican) seems to me to be important for the mission of the Church today. We have a mission of reconciliation because society is threatened with disintegration; "reconciliation does not hinder diversity, it presupposes it". Are we able, will we be able, to live together? The institutes have a rich heritage of conflict resolution. The spiritual families arise from action in the field to live the Gospel together. 
 
For us, AOLAS, who are ageing and are scattered throughout the world, we must have proximity among ourselves and in the places where we live, and also live out the universality of the mission. This calls for both humility and daring.’ 
Yvette, Aola
 
’I was struck by the calm and the recollection. This gathering has strengthened my faith because I could see how our mission and our prayers converged in the same spirit, linked with the Gospel. Nobody has the monopoly of a charism, the priests or the bishops no more than the laity. But, all together, strengthened by a charism, we can make God known. The bishops expressed how important our gathering was. They told us that they would tell their brother bishops about it. We talked about all that later in my Fraternity.’ 
Jacques, Fraternity OLA, Montrouge
 
 
We end with words from Eveline Diarra, of the OLA Fraternity at Antony: "My encounter with Jean Claude, from the workers’ mission, had a deep impact on me. After 35 years in Brazil, at the age of 80, he is continuing to follow up young people; that man radiates joie de vivre." Iman Mansour, of the OLA Fraternity in Vaulx-en-Velin told us: "That gathering has given me confidence and courage, notably to become involved in catechetics." 
 
 
 
 
We are called to share the same Church mission in an ’alliance’ with the Religious. I like that word ’alliance’ which, for me, says more than partnership. The challenge is to recognise that, without the lay branch, or without the religious branch, the mission would be compromised." (Sr Bernadette Delizy) 
Aolas and laity, in an alliance with the Little Sisters, constantly encouraged to grow in our specific vocation, we have been able to see, in listening to the various speakers, that we are extremely fortunate and for that we give thanks. 
Suzette, Aola 
 
 
Agnès, LSA 
10/03/2014
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