The Whole Community in France, 2008.
Servants of the Presence of God
One of the signs of the invisible unity between Catholicism and Orthodoxy is the way spiritual events and movements on one side are often matched by a parallel movement on the other. Just a couple of instances that were pointed out to me by an Orthodox Church historian\; how the time of great mystical movement in England which produced “The Cloud of Unknowing” and a number of other classics (which were preserved for posterity at the time of the Reformation by the monks and nuns of the English Benedictine Congregation), have as their parallel movement the outpouring of grace with St Gregory Palamas and the Hesychast movement. One reason that the Byzantine liturgy is so long, in comparison with the Roman liturgy, is that it took shape at the time of Cluny, when it was customary in the West to make liturgy last as long as possible.
The nuns of Minsk, founded out of a lay group dedicated to help mental patients etc.
This parallel movement of Grace is illustrated dramatically by two religious houses of women that the Belmont Community are involved with. One is in Minsk in Bylo-Russia and is Orthodox, and the other has a house in Pachacamac in Peru where Belmont has its foundation, and it is Catholic . Both look to the year 1990 when, in Minsk and in France, groups of laity were formed to care for the abandoned, the rejected and the suffering. Out of both, by a process of spontaneous growth, were formed religious communities which have not stopped identifying themselves with the lay groups which gave them birth. The two communities do not know each other, and the only connection between them is the Holy Spirit. I have already told you something in a previous article about the Convent of the Glorious Modern Martyr St Elizabeth: I shall now concentrate on the “Servants of the Presence of God.”
Father Thierry de Roucy was superior general of the “Servants of Jesus and Mary”, a French community which is formed in the spirituality of St Francis de Sales but has strong links with the Cistercians who provided the first members with a noviciate in Hauterive in Switzerland and where they remained until the end of the Second World War. Father Thierry had travelled to India and was moved by the poverty and misery there.
The Peruvian Postulant.
One incident was important for the future spirit of the movement he founded. He was playing with some children outside a soup kitchen where they were waiting to receive food. They became so absorbed in their game that they did not notice the time passing until after the soup kitchen had closed its doors. When Fr Thierry realized that these hungry children had missed their food because of him, he was filled with guilt and apologised profusely to them. They were not the slightest bit put out. They assured him they would not have missed their game for the world. He the realized that these kids, undernourished as they were, had a greater hunger for attention, for respect, for friendship, for love, than they had for food. They were “untouchables”, the lowest of the low, street children in a city which rejected them. Then along came this foreigner who appreciated them, who enjoyed their company, who respected them: this was worth an empty stomach till the next day.
In 1990, while at prayer, Farther Thierry hot upon the idea of starting a youth movement called “Points-Coeur”, which they translate into English as “Hearts Home” It would be for young people who give one to three years of their lives entirely to God. They would live among the most neglected, suffering, poor people. They would live an intense life of prayer and adoration, with the Divine Office (minus Matins), rosary and Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, and would attend Mass every day. So filled with God, they would be able to allow God to use them as signs of his compassion for the poor, the sick and the suffering. Since then, Points-Coeur has sent well over a thousand young people to all the continents. Their houses have become centres of compassion, and they have founded several villages “Points-Coeur” where the sick, the suffering and abandoned children can re-build their lives.
Of course, as in Minsk, when people give their whole lives to God and neighbour, even if only for a time, anything can happen because the Holy Spirit has space to move. It was planned for people to be members of “Points-Coeur” between school and university or just after, and before marriage, work and other commitments made it impossible to spare the time; their membership was designed to be temporary: only the effects were meant to be permanent. Ten years later, there are now lay men and women who have taken private vows and have made adoration and compassion their vocation for life. There are now priests attached to “Points-Coeur” and, for the first time this last year, priests ordained for “Points-Coeur”, and there is also a community of sisters who are called “Servants of the Presence of God”.
When, in 1994, some members of the movement approached Fr Thierry de Roucy because they wanted to becomes sisters within the movement, he was stumped. How could they make their noviciate? He talked it over with a Trappist abbess who was a friend of his. In the parlour of the monastery, the abbess was accompanied by the nun who was novice mistress, but she was without novices as the convent was dying out. “Why cannot we give them their noviciate?” she asked the abbess. After Vatican II, the Cistercian nuns had moved out of dormitories into cells. To accommodate the incoming novices for this new community, the nuns went back into the dormitories and gave their cells to the novices. The new community adopted the brown habit of a Cistercian lay sister, lay sisters having been abolished after Vatican II. After they had left at the end of their noviciate, the Trappist convent that had given them hospitality closed down for lack of numbers, and their first novice mistress is now an abbess of a flourishing monastery elsewhere. One result of their time in the Cistercian monastery is that the sisters practise “lectio divina”.
In 1999, the new congregation was approved by the Bishop of Beauvais, and the opened houses in El Salvador and Peru; which is why they are our neighbours. There are about twenty six sisters in the community, six of whom live in Pachacamac. Their charisma is to incarnate the spirit of compassion in the place where they live, always among the poor, and to serve the “Points-Coeur” movement. This can only be God’s work, a true charisma, if they live a life of prayer and adoration. In fact, the sisters, the priests, the consecrated lay people, and the young people who dedicate a few years of their lives to God, all live identical lives, have the same very demanding prayer programme, and the same commitment to the poor and suffering, first to befriend them, become their very real and genuine friends, and then help them within this context. Besides normally living in one of their three convents, the sisters also spend some extended times in houses of “Points-Coeur” or in the villages they have built in different parts of the world. In the house in our valley, there are two postulants, one French and one Peruvian. The last superior of the house was from Argentina; but most are French..
Their life is a contemplative one because they realize the truth that only a contemplative can adequately fulfil an apostolic vocation. In the village of Guayabo, in the valley of Pachacamac, they act as parish sisters, in charge of catechetical instruction for first communions and confirmation. They also make a point of befriending children, young people, the sick and the old. From time to time, one goes away for a time, visiting the “Points-Coeur” house in the Argentine or Brazil, and they come fairly often to Mass in our monastery. They are a wonderful community.
Servants of God's Presence and the movement, called in English "Hearts Home"
The Convent of the Glorious Modern Martyr St Elizabeth in Minsk, Bylo-Russia