"Where there is a Franciscan there is a Poor Clare, and where there is a Poor Clare there is a Franciscan"

In early January, Fr. Donaciano gave a tour to show the Holy Land to a group of very unusual pilgrims: all contemplative nuns, all Mexican destined to become “living stones” of the Holy Land, Christians in Nazareth.

These eight young Poor Clares from the province of Zacatecas, Central Mexico, responded to a call made by Mother Françoise de la Vierge, abbess of the monastery of Nazareth who faces the aging of her community. They left their country, their culture, their convent to come to restructure that of the city of the Annunciation and join the remaining six Francophone sisters, while Mother Françoise retires in France.

The challenges are great for the new community. Language learning is a necessary first step: French and Spanish to better communicate within the convent, English as an international language, Italian for daily Masses celebrated by the Franciscans of Nazareth, Arabic for neighbours and friends of the community, Hebrew for official documents … Accept and enrich themselves with the cultural differences between Mexican, French, Lebanese and Ivorian, but also with the generational differences between sisters under 40 and sisters over 65, is a tough but beautiful path. Mother Felipa, the new abbess, smiles confident: “The Lord is going to do his work!” “Little by little”, says in French showing a big smile.

The sisters are not alone in this period. If the monastery is managed independently, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem delegates a priest to monitor and support the community. This priest is usually a Franciscan by virtue of the existing links between the two Orders. For several years Fr. Stéphane Milovitch OFM accompanied the French speaking sisters in their rebuilding project, encouraging them with a sometimes necessary external view. He is from now on supported by Fr. Donaciano Paredes OFM, who, like all the Mexican friars, received instruction in the same province of Zacatecas. “As I speak the language of the sisters, brother Stéphane asked me to help him. In the first part of the project I endeavoured to answer the sisters’ questions, so they could have a clear idea of what they undertook. Then I received them, I visited them, I attended the handover ceremony with Patriarch Twal and Bishop Marcuzzo of Nazareth. We did several days of pilgrimage. It was important for these women of faith to discover the sacred sites before their fully integration to their new life in the monastery. The Mystery of the Incarnation led them to come here. This pilgrimage bolstered and motivated them more.”

Two of the four monasteries of the Poor Clares in the Middle East are in the Holy Land, namely in Jerusalem and Nazareth. During the last decade, the one of Jerusalem was re-founded by Italian nuns, accompanied already by the Custody. Since then, as a sign of renewed vitality, a young girl entered the novitiate and made his first vows.

In Nazareth, the Mexican sisters wish to reinvigorate the monastery, which now has fourteen nuns. Mother Felipa explains: “We want to give it new energy. We will learn from each other and give a new face to the monastery.” Laughing, she recalls the board games and the volleyball matches she used to play with the other sisters, “because sport is important!” And when she explains the role of the Poor Clares, she radiates: “Our Poor Clare life is like a candle that lights silently. Missionaries from a cloister, we pray for the Holy Land and the world in the silence of our humble ordinary life, devoted to the Extraordinary “.

The sisters work for a living producing host to the surrounding sanctuaries, and soon creating ornaments for the priests. They prepare and also sell olive wood rosaries and cord, and cards with dried flowers from the Holy Land. Located just 15 minutes walk from the Basilica of the Annunciation, they often host groups of pilgrims because in their community the Blessed Charles de Foucauld spent three years from 1897 to 1900. A small museum gathers objects that belonged to him.

“We feel much supported since our arrival by the Patriarch, our Franciscan brothers and the Lord”, said Mother Abbess. It is normal for the Custody to accompany the Poor Clares of the Holy Land: “From the unique charisma of St. Francis and St. Clare two orders were born, two ways of life, apostolic and contemplative. It is important that the two lungs of our charisma are present around the sanctuaries in the Holy Land” explains Brother Stephen. Fr. Donaciano adds: “Their presence, fellowship and prayer help us in the difficulties we may encounter. During the pilgrimage, when the friars met the newcomer Clares, they always ask them to “Pray for us”. This second lung brings oxygen. A sister wrote to me one day: “Where there is a Franciscan, there is a Poor Clare, and where there is a Poor Clare, there is a Franciscan” and I think the same. It is important that the family would be complete. “If the sisters are cloistered and cannot visit the brothers, the friars will go there with joy. To preach retreats, celebrate Mass, talk … some newly ordained brothers have even chosen to go to celebrate their first mass. And when you randomly ask to a Franciscan about the relation with the Poor Clares, he confirms “I feel that we belong to the same family. It’s very strange and I cannot explain it but it is exactly this sense of family”. A family that has gladly grown in the early 2015 and now prays for future vocations.

For contacting the Poor Clares of Nazareth:
Monastery of St. Clare
BP 50588
16135 Nazareth (Israel)
+972 4 6559961
clairemarie1884@gmail.com or clairemarie1884@bezeqint.net

© main picture : Latin Patriarcate of Jerusalem

Hélène Morlet

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