That Gaze


Alla-scuola-“Dara-Yakar”-durante-la-celebrazione-di-fine-annoSister Marvi on New Year's Eve Party School Dara Yakar

I first saw the eyes of Frances Schervier one evening in September 1987, as I entered the Youth Center of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Vermicino, in the region of Castelli Romani. She gazed at me from a painting hanging in the lobby. I do not know if the Sisters had intentionally placed it there, but it had a strange effect upon me. 

I felt scrutinized and known. I knew nothing about her or about her congregation, and getting to know her was not one of my intentions. I simply let myself be taken to Rome by two Franciscan friars, and I was more attracted by the idea of visiting the capital than of attending to a Diaconal ordination, the official goal of the trip. I was 24 years old, and was studying Psychology. I was attending Padua University and was having a hard time cutting the umbilical cord that connected me to my family and my little town in Piedmont. My new friends in Padua were making me question the way I lived my faith, something I had always taken for granted. I was attracted and fascinated by their way of living according to the Gospel. I realized they were introducing me to a new way of encountering God -- and provoking many questions within me, among which was one that kept bugging me: “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

It was during those days in Vermicino that I met some young religious women who were not frustrated at all. I discovered a world that, until then, had not interested me. Now, all of a sudden, it became a possible answer to my question.It was not love at first sight. I resisted, I wavered, but those Franciscan women intrigued me, perhaps because they were authentic women, yet fully dedicated. Perhaps it was because they were incarnating the ideal I longed for... I tried to understand something about their way of living, but I also tried to shun their gaze (not to mention Mother Frances’ gaze in the painting). Sr. Marvi insieme a delle giovaniSr. Marvi insieme a delle giovani

The day before my graduation I gave in and asked to be allowed to enter the Youth Center experience. Once I jumped in, everything else went smoothly. Twenty years later, Mother Frances still smiles at me, but this time from a beautiful watercolor hanging in the study room of our Novitiate in Keur Mbaye Fall, in the outskirt  of Dakar, Senegal.

I live now with our African Sisters, in charge of following them in their journey of religious formation to serve Him as Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Certainly I had never expected to be in charge of religious formation, but then my life has been a journey filled with surprises, challenges and grace.

Sr. Anne-Claire Kabore, Sr. Gemma Toupane e Sr. Marvi DelrivoSr. Anne-Claire Kabore, Sr. Gemma Toupane e Sr. Marvi Delrivo The bottom line, however, is that throughout these years I have done the same thing: I tried to welcome and to share that merciful gazing I found that September evening in the lobby of the Youth Center in Vermicino.

All the rest, the hundredfold of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, houses, fields and persecutions as well, have been a sheer, overabundance of grace which has enriched all my days, even the most ordinary.

I gaze at these young African women who have, by their life choice, challenged their ancestral traditions which socialize them as life-givers. I know it is not easy for them to bear the social and family pressures which may tolerate religious consecration but certainly do not encourage it.

I also think of women, perhaps not so young, elsewhere in the world who are almost afraid to admit to themselves that they have been called to religious life because it is so contrary to prevailing lifestyles, or because they are so involved in this current lifestyle and way of thinking that a vocation to religious life no longer seems valid.

I look around myself at this neighborhood, located in the outskirts of Dakar. People here ‘camp’ in dwellings that are constantly under construction. They live here where poverty to the point of misery lies side by side with hopes and projects that often seem illusory... And then I think of the suburbs in other countries and continents. Sr. Marvi in ascolto di una ragazzaSr. Marvi in ascolto di una ragazza

The people look to us to help them -- and as long as we ourselves burn with the desire to return their gaze with one of compassion, we will be feeding their hopes. And so their dreams become our dreams.

Together we share -- and fulfill -- the dreams of Frances Schervier and Francis of Assisi... of Jesus of Nazareth and God the Father... of a more humane life, one we hold in communion with all of creation, as redeemed creatures who have been healed.


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