2020-02-08 BRAZIL

To live in a mixed and international community, whose mission is to welcome Marist pilgrims from the five continents

Heloisa Afonso de Almeida Sousa, from the Province of Brasil Centro-Norte, was part of the community of Notre-Dame de l’Hermitage in France from April 2016 to December 2019. Now, on returning to her Province, she tells us about her experience.

In July 1993 I visited the Hermitage and the Marist places for the first time. On that occasion I was amazed at the greatness and simplicity of Marcellin Champagnat’s work. On three other occasions, I returned to the “Champagnat Route”, but with more knowledge of the Marist Spiritual Patrimony and experience in the formation of brothers and laypeople in my Province, in the other two Provinces of Brazil and in Latin America.

From 1997 to 2001 – as Pastoral Coordinator of the former Province of Rio de Janeiro, I was co-responsible for CEFORMAR, a Marist formation course for lay men and women with the participation of Brothers, in which Marists from the Provinces of Mexico Central and Central America were also present. For a period of one month, nine groups met at Belo Horizonte, in a boarding school, with an interactive, reflective, prayerful, recreational and fraternal programme. A wonderful experience of joint formation and shared life.

For the last fourteen years, I have worked as the director of the Centre of Marist Studies, an institution dedicated to Marist Patrimony, which has allowed me to collaborate as a facilitator in meetings and courses of Marist formation and to be part of the Patrimony Commissions in UMBRASIL and in my Province of Brasil Centro-Norte.

In 2012 I was appointed by the Superior General as a member of the International Commission of the Marist Institute’s Patrimony. I was the first lay person to participate in the work of the Commission, which entailed a time of learning, of intense work in the production of the Marist Notebooks and the volumes of the History of the Institute, published recently. In the course of two terms, I was able to contribute directly to the maintenance of the patrimonial and spiritual richness of the Marist world in the whole Institute.

The invitation to join, as a volunteer, in the renewed Hermitage Community was a pleasant surprise in my life! In April 2016, after two years of reflection, interviews, conversations with the brothers and my family, I arrived at Saint-Chamond, at the House of Marcellin and the Good Mother, the house of all Marists, laypeople and brothers. The contract was signed until December 2017, then it was renewed until December 2019.

Now, on returning to my country, I thank God for the unforgettable experience that I had at the “Maison d’accueil Notre-Dame de l’Hermitage”, in a mixed and international community, in a mission that welcomes Marist pilgrims from the five continents. I am also grateful for the reception and welcome given by the Brothers Provincial of the Hermitage, Brother Maurice Berquet and Brother Pere Ferr├ę, and also for the approval of the Superiors General: Brother Emili Tur├║ and Brother Ernesto S├ínchez.

To live with “marvellous companions” in community means sharing each day our own riches and poverty and those of the people with whom we live. I had the opportunity to share life, work, prayer and leisure time with people from six different countries. Nice moments of organization of community life, welcoming pilgrims from different countries of the world, weekly planning of the activities of the House – a very concrete and living experience of internationality and interculturality!

Monotony? Never! On the contrary, a dynamic life, both in the planned events and in the countless unforeseen events and welcoming of groups and individuals! All that did me good!

All through the time I was there, I was made welcome by two Brother superiors of the Community, who had an admirable human and spiritual richness! Brothers Xavi Barcel├│ and Maurice Berquet were my friends, my counsellors, my “animators” in Marist life with all the implications that this entails. I am very grateful for the welcome, the fraternal support, the community walks, the firmness and the delicacy with which they directed and still direct the community. The life of each Brother has been and is for me a presence of God who calls me and challenges me to grow in life as a person, as a follower of the God of Life! I thank God for the witness of Marist consecrated life, for the sense of fraternity, of free service, of love of people: all “marvellous companions”!

The mission of receiving the pilgrims and accompanying them in the Marist places is a moment full of exchanges of experiences, where Marist life is shared, where the events of all the provinces are known. I was surprised by the number of former students, teachers and families who arrived spontaneously, to have a moment of prayer and feedback on their life together with St. Marcellin Champagnat.

The contact with the volunteers – men and women who support the community through a weekly service in the house, either to answer the phone or to maintain the gardens and the orchard -, was a great opportunity to get to know the hearts of the people around us, a contact with the culture and the heart of the French people. I have learned and shared a great deal with these dedicated and loving people! They all affected my life deeply.

The opportunity to live with the Marist Brothers, lay men and women of the region, as well as the Marist world, has reaffirmed my purpose to be at the service of the Marist Mission, wherever it may be.

Lay Marists who feel in their hearts the desire to live a community experience at the service of the Marist charism and of growth in the spirituality of Saint Marcellin Champagnat and his followers, on this sacred ground of the history of the Institute, do not hesitate: contact the brothers! To live in the community of the Hermitage is a gift that no one can refuse! It is a gift of God and of the Good Mother who enlightens our whole life! For me, it was three years and eight months of spiritual enrichment, of joys, challenges and difficulties, but a lot of life! It is worth taking risks!


Heloisa Afonso de Almeida Sousa – Brasil Centro-Norte


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