by Jeanne Guillemette.
Rimouski, a small city in the heart of rural Quebec, is the location of our newest Madonna House field house. Jocko d’Ursel and I have been there for three years.
Our directors general have given us three words for this house: prayer, presence and friendship.
This is a broad mandate and we are in the stage of trying different things. Essentially, we are in the time of sowing seeds.
One thing we’ve done is plant a garden, and it’s through our garden that we have a wonderful contact with our neighbor, Suzi.
Suzi, who is probably in her fifties, has a number of health problems. She can’t walk very well, and she has developed lung problems which result in her being on oxygen. She doesn’t practice any religion.
In the summer, she spends a good part of her day sitting on the porch, which is a great vantage point for watching us work in the garden.
Suzi loves cucumbers and green beans, and this has become an opportunity to chat with her.
We’d be working in the garden and all of a sudden we’d hear, "Do you have any cucumbers?" So we’d run over with two or three cucumbers and start chatting with Suzi and her little dog, Tobie.
And we noticed that over the year, something starting changing in Suzi. The only religious words she seems to know are swear words, and we began to notice that she was making an effort not to use so many of them around us.
The way she dressed also started changing. When we first met her, she was wearing black with images of a skull and cross-bones and heavy jewelry. But then she started wearing things a little lighter in color. One day a little cross appeared around her neck.
We’ve never talked about God with Suzi, but we became friends with her. That’s part of our work—just being friends.
This year before the growing season started, she gave us some seeds for what she’d like to see planted.
And then there is another neighbor. One day she came down to the garden and said, "I’ve been watching you garden. Do you have any turnip greens?"
She’s Catholic but not practicing. She didn’t really give up her religion for any specific reason that I know of, except that her husband died and that’s the way life went.
But it was beautiful that she felt free enough to come down and ask us for turnip greens. So this year we planted more turnips.
We are also teaching catechism, for we were asked to do so. This is the second year we’ve done it, and this year I had the youngest children, the six and seven-year-olds.
At the beginning of the year, they were wide-eyed and closed-mouthed, so it was really difficult to tell if the lessons were going in.
But as the year went on, the children got a little bit freer, and they started talking more.
At the second to last class, I decided to have a little quiz game. I divided them up into teams, a boys’ team and a girl team, and I asked them questions such as: who is the foster father of Jesus and who is Mary’s cousin and who was at the temple that Jesus went to when he was 12 years old.
This one little boy, whenever the boys got a chance to answer, would stick up his hand and yell, "Moise" "Moise" which means "Moses."
Moses was one of the people we had talked about this year, and invariably, whatever the question was, his answer would be "Moses," "Moses," "Moses."
(His father later told me that they had watched a very good movie on Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea.)
If that little boy got nothing else, he got Moses. Well, we’re about planting seeds in little hearts, and now that he is all enthusiastic about Moses, maybe he’ll get interested in some of the other people in the Bible, too.
We were asked to do other things as well. For example, the first Christmas we were here, we were asked to organize a Réveillon between the 3 Masses on Christmas Eve at the cathedral. The Réveillon is the French Canadian custom of having a festive meal with family after midnight Mass. This Réveillon was to be an open house one for the parish. It turned out to be lovely, and we’ve been involved in this each year since.
Along the same lines, we shared some of our Madonna House customs with people: giving a St. Nicholas party, having a Supper of the Lamb on Holy Thursday, and teaching people how to make pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs).
We were also asked to start a young adults’ group. A couple from the Emmanuel Community and our parish priest were concerned that too little was being done for this age group.
At our planning meeting, it was decided to try something once a month, maybe a Mass. And so we sent out an invitation to the young people and people who are interested in them to come to another meeting to decide how we would proceed. A number of people showed up.
The group decided to have a Mass together once a month.
So we did, but the numbers dwindled every month. Obviously, this was not what the young people wanted to do. So the group decided to try something else.
We decided to meet every two weeks alternating between meal and a discussion and just discussion.
It started out well but then the numbers started dwindling again, and pretty soon we were down to one or no young people. So we said, now, what do we do?
All the adults started talking, and we all came to the same conclusion: Don’t give up. If nothing else, we’ll use this time to pray for the youth of Quebec.
The group also decided that, instead of meeting in the parish church, they would meet at our house and have a potluck supper.
Little by little, the young people started coming, mostly international students from the local university. At the last gathering, a dozen people were present.
Somebody gave us a word they had received when they were praying for our group, and it was, "my children will sing." "The dawn will come, my children will sing."
So we started emphasizing music, and a guitarist came and started doing some lively music.
One of the young men who had come at first and dropped out, started coming back again. He was preparing for baptism, and the group ended up forming a little choir and singing at his baptism.
So we had this really peppy little song with lots of alleluias that we sang after his baptism during the Easter Vigil. And we danced in place as we sang and people started clapping and cheering us on. Anyway, it was fun.
At this point, no one knows what is going to happen with this group. Some of the students coming graduated this year, and we might well be starting again from zero in the fall.
But we are not looking for results. Our work is to pray, to be present, and to encourage friendship. That means simply sowing seeds, and it means trusting that God is at work through whatever we do even when we don’t see results.
The results are in God’s hands, and they may not be apparent for a long time.
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