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In preparing this article, we decided to talk about some experiences of our women in formation -- those just beginning to learn what it is to be a Franciscan Sister of the Poor. I think all of these young women share Sr. Sophie Dioh’s sentiments: “... it is with joy that I would like to tell you of my short, practical experience...

I experienced a beautiful fraternal life by choosing to use my gifts and welcoming the gifts of others. During our meals, for example, we felt the pleasure of being together and sharing the content of our days. I had an opportunity to share the joy in my heart through ‘Ngona’ (evenings organized to socialize and help each other to be torches of Christ in their living environment), through the celebration of “good Sunday” and through community anniversary celebrations...”

Many of the young women were living in Samine in Southern Senegal in a Base Ecclesial Community from the Saint Bernadette of Temento Parish in the Diocese of Kolda. Others were located elsewhere – although their journeys were similar.

seUpper left: Geneviève, Jacqueline Flavienne, Pélagie. Large photo: Sr. Brassia (Filles du Saint Cœur de Marie), Sr. Jacqueline, Sr. Domitilde

Pélagie Ilboudo tells us: “I have the joy to tell you about my experience living with the Franciscan Sisters and their ministries in the Alleluia Community of Parcelles Assainies at the periphery of Dakar, a few yards from the sea... I was touched by the community life of the Sisters. I noticed in them the joy of their belonging to God, every day and every moment of their lives and their willingness to love and serve Him with love through ministering to their suffering brothers and sisters. They have among them a cordial and caring love and that enables them to work together with respect, consideration, and a willingness to seek the well-being of the other. They give themselves totally to the service of the poor. They help not only those who knock at their door, but many others by joining families in their homes.”

Tradition and Superstition

However diverse their experiences, there is great similarity in their journeys. For example, Jacqueline Flavienne Sané wrote: “The Sisters meet, touch, see, hear, feel and work with people whose lives are so different from theirs that for them it would be difficult even to imagine... They live in an environment where traditions take precedence over religion, and where the majority of people are victims of these traditions.”

As an illustration of the impact of tradition, Geneviève N’Decky begins with the following story: “I was at my choir class and a boy of about twelve years of age presented himself at the door, standing beside a bicycle. I thought he was a member of the choir, but to my great surprise, I noticed that he had a bowl covering his head. I asked the people in the choir about who this boy is. They all responded: ‘He is abnormal.’ I could not believe my ears, and then compassion overwhelmed me. I had some fresh mints in my purse and shared them with him. Then he gestured and I understood that he was asking for water to drink. I left the rehearsal and made my way to the presbytery to get him something to drink, and helped him hold the bowl. All the people were watching me, but I did not feel embarrassed. What mattered to me was that this boy represented the face of Christ. Immediately the words of the Gospel came to me: “Whatever you did for one of these, the least brothers, you did to me.”

Sr. Sophie shared this insight, “. . . I noticed that often new Christians need time, like us, to yet interiorize their Christianity and to become free from entrenched practices, such as the wearing of talismans (a piece of a tail or animal skin, material or black powder sewn on leather indicating the African traditional practices and carrying the power to do good or evil to others) around their waist or arms to protect themselves from evil.”
Sr. Sophie also shared another experience of an African tradition: “...among the outreach visits I made, the one to an elderly, disabled woman greatly affected me: we were warmly welcomed despite the language barrier and our difficulties with communication. Joy radiated from her face, and she shared her happiness with me during the few minutes spent with her. In thanksgiving,she gave us five oranges and walked before us despite her poverty. The order, the cleanliness of her home, and the words of blessing that were being spoken by her lips, and the warmth of her traditional hospitality made me feel the presence of God within her.”

Service and Example

Sr. Sophie went on to say that: “In my experience with the children of the daycare, I discovered that the beauty in life consists of being simple in everything and always joyful to enter into God’s plan. Every time I arrived in the morning, all the children ran to greet me and each one would try to hold my hand all the way to the room, wholeheartedly singing the songs and the poems that I taught them.” Jacqueline added: “I truly felt and lived the charism of healing with the Sisters at Samine through their availability -- and their way of welcoming people without prejudice. This was reinforced through their visits to families, through their kind actions of charity and through the attention they paid to poor and elderly people. The Sisters work with the same passion and courage as their Foundress, Mother Frances Schervier.”

Pélagie Ilboudo added: “In living with the Sisters, I realized that there is more joy in giving than in receiving; for I understood that the charism of our Foundress Mother Frances Schervier does not only consist of seeing before me a person who needs my help, but also of conversing with all people who need me during their moments of fragility.”
“The Sisters in Samine are also convinced that the best solution to heal the wounds of the vicious circle of poverty that perpetuates from one generation to the next is by educating as many children as possible. It is for this reason that they focus on education full time. However, it is not only to teach, but also to properly feed them, more so during the preschool years with prepared meals on a daily basis. To aid the population of Samine to achieve better living conditions, they work with women and young mothers teaching them sewing, embroidery and cloth dyeing.”
It is almost impossible to end on a better note than what Jacqueline Flavienne Sané wrote about the time she spent at Parcelles Assainies: “In a very sick world, plagued by all sorts of evil and injustice, I see a future filled with hope. The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor strive every day to become hope and compassion to the people they serve...so that one day all people will experience their God-given dignity.”

 

Published: June 9, 2014