Community of Vila Nova de Gaia

Today, the mission invites us to broaden our outlook…. to enter "into this new vision of the cosmos in which the human being is a part of the universe." ( 2011 General Chapter)

Our universe is the place where God sends us on mission. In 2004, we were sent to this large district (in the town of Vila D’Este) Vila Nova de Gaia, to this part of the universe inhabited by a large number of human beings with whom we live, creating friendly relations, sharing their joys and their sufferings, carrying out the mission confided to us – that of proclaiming the Good News, being a presence and sign of the love of God. 
It is this common mission, so varied and beautiful, that each Sister is going to describe, sharing a little how she lives and is a sign of this good news.
In the area where our community is, a private Residence for elderly people. In agreement with the Social Security it was permitted to offer ongoing nursing care. One of the Directors asked our parish priest to give spiritual support to those who were ill and the other residents. As it was not possible for him to take on this commitment he called on the Pastoral group for Health, in particular the Little Sisters of the Assumption. 
For over three years now, as one of a women’s pastoral group, I have been going to this Residence once a week. On that day, the patients who so wish are taken to a room where we have a Celebration in which all participate, with distribution of Communion. During the celebration we choose simple hymns that they know; many are unable to speak but those who still have their voice sing with heart and soul, reliving the hymns of their youth. This makes their eyes shine with joy. The sign of peace, before communion, is another very significant gesture for them. Those who are not able to give it, have the joy of receiving it. Almost all of them are completely dependent. It is truly a moving occasion, being there among these other "suffering Christs", praying with them, talking to them of God-Love, being a sign of that Love for them. 
Here, the phrase from Father Pernet that is quoted so often – "May your actions speak Jesus Christ" – would have more impact if we said "May your gestures speak Jesus Christ". For them, a touch, a smile, a kiss, which everybody loves so much are, even though they are unable to speak, signs of the Love of God as is shown by their expression of contentment and joy. This challenges me and makes me think that, in our poverty, we possess a great treasure that can soothe pain and make the presence and the tenderness of God-Love be felt. 
Carminda Jorge
"Give the reason for the faith and the hope that is in you." (cf. I Peter)  
We believe that the Lord called us and sent us to this place to manifest his presence, his love and his tenderness for each person and to say, in simple words that can be understood, that God is a God who loves, listens to and cares for those who suffer the uncertainties and sufferings of the present time. We are going to try to tell you what inspires us, the way we are trying to respond to the challenges we face every day, to tell you about our joys. We also want to mention some difficulties that are part of any apostolate because it is hard for us to see whether we did all that we could and if it was done through the action of the Spirit or if it was part of our way of being and of seeing things. In this way we try to perceive what is best for the person or persons with whom we are working. 
As well as the work in the homes, with visits to many families whom we help with nursing care, accompaniment or social work, we work often in collaboration with the organisations that serve the local community. With them we have good relations and collaboration. We take part every month in the multi-disciplinary meeting in the Freguesia Centre with representatives of all the organisations that are at the service of the population here. 
With regard to the voluntary service, both in the homes and in the hospital, we see that it is a visible sign of love that makes people think and leads sometimes to questions such as: Why do they do this? Why are they concerned about these persons? Then we can talk about the love of our God for each person and how He needs us to carry out human actions that free people and make them happier. 
Many of the persons we accompany receive spiritual support through the weekly prayer and Communion. We also go to the hospital during the week to accompany the sick and the families, to help in feeding people and, especially on Sunday mornings, to take Communion to the many patients who wish to receive it. In giving Communion to the patients I always take into account the families who are present and the hospital staff: nurses and auxiliaries, and make this a time of catechesis; speaking of the One who gives me life and inspires me to share my faith and hope, trying to make known our God, Father and Mother, rich in Tenderness and Mercy. We work in union with our parish in the different Ministries. 
As well as the catechesis for the children and teenagers, what give us great joy and happiness is to sense in our young people and adults an interest in the Sacrament of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. The preparation of these young people and adults has been confided to one of us. 
It is a great joy for us to carry out this mission, making with them a journey of getting to know God and we see them growing in faith. This year, at the Easter vigil, two young people whom we had accompanied and helped were baptised. Diogo, aged 16, who has three brothers still not baptised, asked to be prepared to get to know Jesus Christ. He went to his mother who asked for our help. Diogo had gone with his grandfather to pray the rosary in our new church and he felt the call; he faithfully attended our weekly meetings...
Yasmina, aged 17, from Guinea in Africa had made the same journey as Diogo, except that she had already begun this in her home country. It was a beautiful celebration that night; it was they who asked for Baptism and explained to the community the path they had followed with me. That night the families of both were there to celebrate and there was a very strong African presence. Yasmina and Diogo will soon take a step further – the preparation to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. 
Another young girl asked to begin the preparation for her first Communion, and then for Confirmation, which she is going to receive with her sister who attends the catechetics meetings. 
A women, over 40 years old, asked our help so that she might make her 1st communion this year. She had been baptised as an adult, but without preparation; she felt that she ought not to receive communion without knowing Jesus better, although recently she had been participating in the Eucharist with her husband. This lady is very interested in the Bible, which she then discusses with her family and friends. We feel she is an apostle who wishes to transmit what she is receiving. 
A group of adults, from our district, have been meeting with me every week for the past three years to read and meditate on the Bible. We meditate on the Word and try to discover what we are being asked to live today, in the place where we are called to live, what is the response we might give to the problems of our time. 
All this work in proximity is a sign of the presence of the Lord who is attentive to those who are suffering; we remember the words spoken to Moses: I have seen the suffering of my people, I have heard their cry. Go, I send you, help them to free themselves. 
Maria Adelaide Oliveira 
After many formal-ities, much struggle and great perseverance, last year saw the construction and inaugu-ration of the Church of the "Holy Family" in the heart of our district. The premises that for several years had served as a place of worship for the people became a Social Centre, something greatly needed among these people so much in need of support. It is in this place, where I go every day, that I feel the joy of being sent to bear witness to the Love of Christ among these persons who are lonely. 
During the afternoon we have various activities: games, sewing, knitting, crochet, recycling materials by hand, gymnastics, singing and dancing etc. We also have times of prayer, especially in May and October: the rosary, the prayer of simple people. 
“I bless you, Father, because you have revealed these thing to the little ones." (Matthew)
Sr Gracinda
The meaning of life is eternity
"Why me?" "What harm have I done to God to deserve such a great punishment?" "I always helped others, why am I suffering so much?" 
It is this environment that moves me daily to try to help people to demystify things or at least help them to another cause and meaning for human suffering, not as a punishment or "God wills this" or, "I have to suffer". 
The questions about life in time of illness are what make us journey towards a life with meaning in which all that is passing is relativized and the small things are imbued with an element of eternity. It is in this environment of great suffering that I spend a large part of my time as a silent presence of Christ the liberator. It is in the reality of this mystery of suffering that I try to be a balm for those who suffer, with anger or in silence; sometimes the suffering is not only physical but also moral. 
The loneliness that is the result of being abandoned by families or friends is something very difficult to deal with. In these cases, the patients require the constant presence of health professionals, something that at times is not possible for them due to lack of time or because they are not prepared to do it. 
Here too I have met great men and women of faith, whose life is offered every day with a sense of fulfilment, with a peace that can only be acquired throughout life and not improvised and which gives rise to expressions such as "I can die, my mission is fulfilled", and they say this very serenely with their children and other family members. 
It is in silence, listening and dialogue that life is engendered and light appears, that God shows himself through my frailty, helping the patients to sum up their life and encounter themselves and God, to renew their hope and to be in peace. 
Today there is a great thirst for what is spiritual and religious, expressed with some rejection: "I am a Catholic, but not practising". This can be accompanied by a litany of arguments for not practising – some of these are justified and some are the result of lack of instruction or ignorance. In this environment, sometimes hostile, I have the opportunity to reveal the Love of the One who gives meaning to my life and makes me live: the Risen Jesus. 
Six years have passed and now my presence is not ignored by any of the officials; often they request spiritual or religious support even without the patient or the family having requested it. I feel that I am accepted and that my presence is valued by the majority of the professionals. 
Many things have improved at the level of organisation and humanisation. Now, with the crisis, things are going to become more restricted, already there is the sense that things are regressing. 
During these years, very rich but also filled with questions without answers, sometimes I have questioned the meaning of life, I ran the risk of letting my heart become hard: I pray to the Lord for a heart of flesh, one that is capable of helping with tenderness and mercy. 
Sr Maria Luisa R. Silva, Spiritual Assistent at the Santos Silva Hospital 
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