Sharing the Charism and the Mission with the Laity and in Inter-Congregation in Minas Gerais

This article was written by members of the São Judas de Tadeu de Ibirité basic community, by members of ILFA1, by Brother Adelmo and by the Little Sisters of Ibirité: Tide, Amelia, Bete and Ana. We thank them for their participation.

’I have neither silver nor gold, 
but I will give you what I have:
Stand up and walk!’ (cf. Ac 3:1-10)
Our life with the Little Sisters here in Ibirité began in 1994 when the first sisters arrived. They were looking for a house to rent, cheaply, in the shantytown. At that time it was very difficult for us to understand the mystery of God that the testimony of the life of these women showed us each day. Through their option for the poor, being themselves poor and working women, we learned to read the Bible and, through a spirituality of service and welcome to discern the presence of God as the Saviour Servant in the life of each one of us. The presence of the Little Sisters opened up prospects of change for us, the desire to do better, and enabled us to dream of a better life for all.’ 
’When they arrived, everything here was just beginning, and there was no church in the shantytown. They immediately struck up a friendship with some women, including myself, who used to pray the rosary in the families, and we began to make visits together and to accompany the prayer, suggesting that we make a Novena before Christmas. This attitude gave courage to people and also aroused their curiosity to get to know these women who knew so many things about the Bible and the life of Jesus. There were only four of them, two of them where quite ill and one was already old, so people used to go to their house to give them a hand and a bond of friendship grew from that. They gave the people courage to study the Bible and together we built the Church that now exists in the neighbourhood, and started the group of persons who work voluntarily in the Church and the groups who study the Word of God. There was also a group for recycling refuse etc. These were our first activities and they are still continuing today. 
Today, it is a great honour and joy for us to share a little of the riches we discovered with the Little Sisters – the richness of getting to know the Congregation and, for some of us who are part of ILFA (Lay Brothers and Sisters of the Assumption), trying to live out the spirituality of the Little Sisters in the realities of our life and at work. All those who know the Little Sisters and share their life, in the community, are struck by their simple and humble way of invoking God, Father and Mother, and of making Him known above all to the poor and the sick.’ 
’It was in working with the community that we discovered the Congregation’s way of being – in simplicity, in day to day life. The Little Sisters are an concrete sign of the love of God for the poor, their actions "speak Jesus Christ" and give us hope.’ 
Eight years ago we founded the Antoinette Fage Social Centre beside the church. There we have many activities for the locality and the parish such as the capoeira, the common preparation for the entry examination for the university, preventive and alternative health, a psychological service etc. The Little Sisters continue to give much of the life and strength so that the people may participate and succeed in recovering their self-esteem and self-confidence to continue and to help others in the same mission so that the ’Reign of God may come’. That is why the biblical quotation (Acts 3:1-10) is so suited to them because don’t have money, nor a grand appearance, they subsist on what they earn, but live to help the poor, including those in the more distant communities, encouraging the people to "stand up and walk!".
These days we are very happy to receive three new Little Sisters and we wish to welcome them with much love into our basic community. They come from the community of Teresópolis/Betim which has been closed because of the small number of sisters. So, we know that we need to pray and work with them in the Vocations Ministry so that many other basic communities may come to know the Little Sisters and the lay people (ILFA) who accompany them in the mission of Jesus in the midst of the poor.’ 
’It was also here, in Betim, in Jardim Teresópolis, that we got to know the Little Sisters, the Charism and the spirituality of the Congregation. These confirm that the attitudes of love and service towards the most deprived, sick and the excluded are the way to ’remake a people for God’. Now, after more than twenty years of presence here, we are experiencing the closure of the house. This process is painful but, at the same time, it teaches us a lot about the mission and evangelisation in the Congregation because the Little Sisters are missionaries and we too must be missionaries to follow Jesus Christ in his mission in the midst of the poor. 
During those years they devoted themselves in the basic communities of the Parish of St Mary Mother of the Poor, in biblical study and the training of leaders. They were also involved in the foundation and accompaniment of the Margarida Maria Alves Centre for People’s Groups, carrying out projects and supporting the educational activities in course such as handcrafts, women’s groups, adult literacy, circus skills, managing a budget, dance groups, alternative health etc. The Little Sisters have always participated in political movements, and still do: with them we have learnt that all our actions have a political dimension and that to do nothing is also a political position, but one of omission. Participation is a key to understanding reality and to action in the world! 
In all their actions, in the community of Teresópolis, the Little Sisters have made it possible to glimpse possibilities of a better life for the poorest among the people, for the excluded. Their attitude of developing citizenship and seeking to advance the rights of the poor made us want to follow them as Lay Brothers and Sisters of the Assumption in trying to do good to others, and discovering that this also did good to us. 
It is not easy to be an ILFA (a lay sister or brother of the Assumption), but it is simple. It is not easy because, like the Little Sisters today and like their Founders in their own time, it means going against the values of the consumer society, but it is simple because it also means being free to live the Gospel in an attitude of service that generates a social transformation in favour of the poor. Being an ILFA is a big responsibility for the continuation of the charism in the Church and in the world by keeping it present in the world of the workers today. 
Sharing the Charism with the Little Sisters is a mission and, at the same time, a vocation. At this time of change for them, a time also of difficulties and illnesses, we are learning more about the strength that can exist in weakness and how weakness is the strength of our Charism, but it is very good to know that they are still near us.’ 
’Our Congregation emphasises poverty, and getting to know the Little Sisters a bit better has been an opportunity for us to rediscover and review our Franciscan life and mission. Our way of being present in Brazil, such as participating with them in the basic Christian communities, is coloured by their missionary approach which combines discretion, knowledge and prayer that is rooted in the culture. 
At the moment we are sharing at inter-congregational level with them in work with EDUCAFRO, a local community network that prepares people for the entrance examination for University with the aim of making it possible for those who are coloured and those who are from poor areas to go to University. We are also involved in the Movement for the Defence of the Serra de Rola Moça (cf. Pain 15th October 2009) an important natural park of the region where we live which is threatened by the activities of the mining companies, interested only in their own enrichment. For this latter commitment it was the Little Sisters who invited us and woke up our Franciscan conscience! We are happy to work together. The union of Charisms is a path of mutual help in solidarity and communion, or organisation and testimony in union with the poor to whom we are all sent! 
The simple and discreet ways of the Little Sisters prove to us that the Kingdom is built by simple actions, in daily life. These simple actions, which range from the way they are attentive to people and bring a feminine touch to their surroundings and the struggles in defence of life to the preparation of theses for a University diploma, lead us to a new critical awareness in sustaining the environment. 
We would greatly like to go further in these areas, in which we are involved together and thus, in the inter-congregational aspect too, so that the seeds of the Gospel may germinate in hearts. Also, so that as brothers and sisters who are on mission in the Church and in the world, we may contribute to a world where there is more justice, peace and communion.’ 
We, the Little Sisters of Ibirité, feel that we are sent and loved by this people chosen by God, and we wish, with his grace and in harmony with our founders and the journey of the Congregation up to now, to live out our religious life together in the midst of the poor, with the families and the workers, seeking life in abundance for all. We seek to be a sign of the Kingdom for all those whom we can approach in the simplicity and daring that come to us from the words of the Gospel. 
Little Sisters of Community of Ibirité - Brazil
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