Tunisia - FROM THE HUMAN FAMILY TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD

The place of bi-national couples in our life as Little Sisters in the Maghreb.

In the Maghreb, for a long time, families where there were Moslems and Christians have been a priority in the pastoral ministry of our Churches and, quite naturally, our LSA communities have been open to these special families in which, usually, the wife comes from the western world and has married a Moslem. 
It is through our various forms of work, and by encounters in various neighbourhoods that we become acquainted and the bonds of friendship are formed. 
 
 
These couples, and in particular these women, have made a radical choice, com-mitting themselves by marriage to integrate into the Maghrebi culture, with their husband, his family, his language, his history, participating fully in the advancement of their adopted country and committing themselves in it. With their husbands, in educating their children they take history and the world around them into account. 
Very often they feel closer to us than to the expatriate families because they notice in our lives this same choice that binds us to these peoples. 
 
Our community is the place where the religious expectation may be expressed, the place where there can be a sharing of the loneliness and difficulties encountered in this difference of beliefs. Even though their religious practice may often be hindered by the circumstances of life, of their family and of their in-laws! They freely express their need for an encounter with the Christian community; small groups come into being to support them in their faith and to accompany them. This takes various forms, from real meeting dealing with a specific subject to a group for making toys, an opportunity for an informal get together where the women can talk freely among themselves. One of sisters, Mathilde de Chaunac, excelled in this reality and we have met here in Tunis a member of this group who has retained an unforgettable memory of her. The bonds last over the years: what a joy to meet up again with one or another after more than thirty years of separation! 
 
Through these couples there is a true encounter between the Arab-Moslem world and the ’other’ world. Today, it is a great challenge to live out this encounter in day-to-day married and family life. Yes, they tell us, it is possible, and not just in theory. 
They enrich us and enrich our Church by their human and spiritual differences, their struggles, their tenacity in persevering in welcoming the other; ’love is not enough’, one of our friends used to say, and yet it is the foundation of their couple. What does loving mean in this context? how are the children to brought up? – the questions are huge when culture and religion are so different. 
From now on our world, wherever we may be, is composed of cultural and religious mixing and this reality is present everywhere. Today’s family, like that of yesterday, is at the heart of our charism and here in the Maghreb these bi-national couples are a bridge between our peoples, between east and west. Father Pernet wished us to be at the heart of the family. He transmitted to us this concern to gather together: to be, above all, those who ’bring together’. 
 
That is what we experienced with intense joy during the Christmas of 2013. S. and S. were able to be free for a few hours: it was an ordinary day in Tunisia! With their two children, I. and A., they came to have lunch with us and were joined in the course of the meal by their friends (who are ours also in other domains) R. and M., and their two teenagers. Encounter, exchanges, festivity, joy – all heightened by this unexpected reunion they had in our house and with us. 
 
 
The long, simple journey in friend-ship made by the community with R. and her family over the years makes us receive the openness of the whole family to the mystery of the Word made flesh with gratitude …, 
Before joining us in the course of the meal they had participated as a family in the Eucharist at the cathedral! 
 
Yes, at Christmas that year we received a glimpse of the dream Etienne Pernet had: that the Little Sister, by an attentive and loving presence to each one, might be a worker for bringing people together so as to ’remake a people for God’. JOY 
 
The Hammam-Lif community, Tunisia
31/07/2014
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