Portugal – Vila Nova de Gaia

’To give an impetus to our mission, which we have received from God, with a new heart and outlook, creating among ourselves and with others a spirit of Solidarity and of Communion so as to build a world that is more habitable.’

’We are the People of God in Communion’
 
 
It was with this slogan that the long-awaited construction of the New Church finally got under way in this large district with some 20,000 inhabitants, including us Little Sisters. 
The Church, built by human hands and human strength, is today a Church that is very much alive, animated by the action of the Holy Spirit. 
It is with this people of God and the presence of the Spirit that we give an impetus to and share our mission, received from God; we journey with them, creating bonds of friendship and a spirit of Solidarity and of Communion. 
Today, we are going to listen to the testimony of some of the laywomen who work with us in the same shared mission. 
’I am a member of the Health Ministry team and I am also a cate-chist. The presence here of the Sisters was for me a gift of God. Through their example and their way of living I discovered that this ministry includes the human and spiritual dimension of the person. 
 
I work in the Church of the Holy Family where I am responsible for all the cleaning and the decoration; however, the most important mission I have here is that of receiving people. 
Knowing how to listen to persons who are living in solitude, marked by the sufferings of life, deprived of affection, prepares the way for becoming clearer about the faith and going deeper into it, and this awakens in them the desire for a human and doctrinal education that would be more up-to-date. I do this work in collaboration with the Sisters. 
 
From these contacts, some adults have already been prepared by the Sisters for Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation. At the moment there is a Bible study group, with many participants. After all this time, I feel that the presence of the Sisters has made people more human, helping them to have a greater sense of solidarity. ’
Fernanda Xavier
 
’I became acquainted with the Little Sisters of the Assumption ten years ago. I had been a widow for about a year and I used to go to Mass with my two sons. I and my younger son, aged 8, used to receive communion, but my older son couldn’t because he was handicapped and was unable to read. I had asked several priests if he could make his first communion, but this was always refused for the reasons I have mentioned. 
 
One day, after Mass, one of the Little Sisters came up to me and asked why my son never received communion. I explained the reasons to her and she said that she was going to help me. She talked to the present parish priest who not only agreed but encouraged his preparation. It was from then that I became involved with the Sisters who prepared my son for first communion and profession of faith, and later for Confirmation. It was a great joy. That is just one of the ways in which they helped me. 
Then, one day, I was invited to participate in a training programme to become a member of the health ministry with the aim of becoming a hospital and parish visitor. 
On seeing the work that the Sisters did with all those patients, the love they had and all that they did for them, I felt an intense desire to be able to do the same, and so I accepted the invitation. From that point, my life was changed. I have unforgettable memories of the visits I made to the patients; I have the feeling that just my simple presence and affection can really make a difference to the patients I visit because, often, that is what they need most. This work is done with a marvellous team of laypeople, and the Sisters are part of it. 
 
I have been a member of the Pastoral Health Ministry for eight years and it has been wonderful to be alongside the Sisters and be able to do a little of what they do. 
I keep thanking God that I have known them because, even now, they are continuing to help me. They were, and still are, real guardian angels for me. 
Marfida
 
’I was born into a very ordinary family, a Christian one. I grew up with the benefit of good example from my parents. 
When I was young, I was involved in various parish activities, especially in the catechism classes and the women’s branch of the Catholic Action for Youth. For me, these helped to develop my faith and guided me for my future. I was anxious about my vocation in life and this caused me to be very anxious and full of doubts as I tried to discover the path I should follow.
 
One day, a team of religious (men and women) and lay missionaries came to my parish to talk to all the groups about vocation. In the team was Sister Maria do Carmo, from the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption. We became friends, and this friendship continued during the monthly vocation meetings that were held in the Seminary at Maia and organised by the Combonian Fathers with a whole team.
For me, these meetings were a human and religious school that awakened a great sense of the other in me, to the point that it led me to a full gift of myself in the religious life. 
I followed the nursing course and religious formation in the Missionary Company. I worked in the hospital as a professional, and also by vocation, making it my place of mission. 
 
Fifteen years later, I left the consecrated life. 
After some time had passed I met my husband; he was a widower who had responsibility for three old persons and two sons, one of whom was a minor. 
 
After long reflection, I decided to marry and take on this mission in the line of gift and total giving to this family that was so bereft of love and affection. On getting married I came to live at Vilar de Andorinho. The years passed and I volunteered to collaborate in the parish pastoral ministry.
 
The friendship that had developed with Sister Maria do Carmo in my youth, so many years earlier in Porto, was renewed when I learnt that the Little Sisters of the Assumption had come to live in the parish of Vilar de Andorinho, very close to me, and this gave me great joy. I contacted them and offered to collaborate in their mission. 
At present I am a member of the group of volunteers in the Health Pastoral Ministry for the parish and the hospital. With them, I share life and feel I am part of a family, committed in a common mission. 
I want to say: how small the world is!.. After so many years, from the friendship that was established with a Sister with whom I no longer had contact, it was a joy to meet a community of the same Congregation, persons who were friends and so necessary in our parish. The Sisters do not need to look for any other mission field; here it is not possible to respond to the extremely numerous needs that exist . We are all united in the same ideal – We are witnesses and a sign of the Love of God for those who are the weakest. 
Once again I say: ’God knows what He is doing’ and accompanies us along the way. 
M. de Fátima
 
These testimonies, given in simple language, are only a small part of the fruit of the many seeds sown by the Lord in this land during the years of our presence here, collaborating with others. 
Working with others gives us a greater possibility of sharing our faith and our hope more, of cultivating friendship and mutual help and of letting ourselves be challenged by those among whom we live and work. This opens us more to the world around us and helps us to make known the spirit that animates us: the Charism of our Congregation. 
Comunity of Vila Nova de Gaia
18/09/2014
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