Rome (Italy). On May 12, 2020, the eve of the Solemnity of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello, Mother Yvonne Reungoat, Superior General of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), sends a message to the FMA, young people, and Salesian Family.
“To you all, dear sisters, to all the young people, to the large number of Past Pupils, to all the people who share our mission, to the members of the various groups of the Salesian Family, to many friends and family members who are part of the great network with which the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians is connected, I wish everyone
Happy Feast of Mother Mazzarello!
We always celebrate this feast with joy, but especially this year, when we are starting the preparation for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Institute. The unprecedented situation we are experiencing because of the lockdown does not prevent us from feeling in profound communion in giving thanks to the Lord for the holiness of Mary Domenica! We feel her alive and active in our communities, in our lives, ready to support us, to encourage us, to suggest that we be creative.
It is the Feast of Mother Mazzarello of the first of the three years of preparation for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of our Institute.
I wrote in Circular 989: ‘As a sign of communion, we propose for this year marked by gratitude, to live the feast of St. Mary D. Mazzarello with special solemnity with an accurate and involving preparation and allowing gratitude to emerge for the gift of her holiness and for current events of the Salesian mission in the world.’
Circumstances have prompted us to seek new ways, both in the preparation and in the celebration of this solemnity, but I am sure that each community could tell beautiful experiences of meeting with the Foundress, of profound conversion, of joyful and renewed welcome of the charism; as I am sure that tomorrow you will be able to give an aspect of gratitude to the celebration.
I confess to you that in recent months it has made a great impression on me that most of our houses have become silent, that we had to stop many activities or rethink them to be able to assure them ‘at a distance’, that the life of the religious community itself is marked by the necessity of physical distancing, from concerns for health inside and outside, in families, among the recipients of our pastoral action, among our collaborators, by a change of rhythms and commitments. The young people who do not have another home, who feel this is their only home, have remained at home!
But I am also positively impressed by the great creativity to reach the young people, the families, the people who are in need. We have opened new ways which we did not think we were able to enter. Solidarity has multiplied. Faith was consolidated by giving space to prayer, to meeting the Lord. The Resurrection of Jesus came to illumine the path and give us joy again. Today Mary Domenica asks each and every one of us: “are you cheerful?”
The experience of the epidemic in Mary Domenica
For the vast majority of us, the reality of an epidemic is a new condition, all the more so since it manifests itself in the form of a pandemic, but Mary Domenica knew the consequences of the epidemics at an early age. Her parents had welcomed as their daughter another Mary Domenica, a cousin, from whom cholera had taken away her parents in 1835. The inhabitants of her hamlet were building the church of Saints Stephen and Lorenzo and Mary Help of Christians in thanksgiving for the protection received on that same occasion. But then she experienced an epidemic in her own person. It was the time of total oblation in charity and obedience: ‘Fr. Pestarino, if you want, I will go. But I am sure I will get sick.’ But, at the same time, without being able to even imagine it, this was a decisive choice for her life and … for us, for the Institute that would be born after several years. What could seem to be a failure, that brought with it the collapse of plans and hopes, revealed itself instead, over time, to be the key to access the providential and unthinkable design of God.
The beginning of everything…
What might have seemed the end of everything was instead, the beginning of everything.
God not only wanted her as a peasant, engaged in her parish, available to be a catechist also to mothers, but an apostle of the female youth world, through Christian education.
It was not entirely clear to her immediately, far from it.
From the prayer ‘Lord, if in your goodness you want to grant me a few more years of life, let me spend them ignored by all, and, except by You, forgotten by all’, to the vision of Borgo Alto, to the decision to learn how to be a seamstress to gather and educate the girls of the town in a Christian way. Thus a whole path of docility to the Spirit is outlined, which only shows her one step at a time what God wants from her, which stimulates her ability to look around, to see needs, and to plan answers … but always with the gaze of her heart on God alone.
I entrust them to you…, still today
This is a great suggestion for us at this time, in which all our homes do not resonate, as usual, with youthful voices, in which we are inventing new ways of reaching, animating, educating children and adolescents, of involving the young people in this mission.
What are the Lord and Mary Help of Christians asking of us? What face should our mission take now and when will we meet again physically? What do they want to change in our life and in our support of life that grows?
We only know one thing with certainty: that Our Lady’s appeal, ‘I entrust them to you’, continues to resonate in our hearts as individuals and as a community, as a religious community, and as an educating community, as an Institute. It is up to us to look for what it means in synodality, in this 2020, and answer it.
This is a path that fits well into this last phase of preparation for General Chapter XXIV.
Being ‘communities that generate life’ means knowing how to arouse life where there seems to be only death; hope where the temptation is to refuse even the possibility of dreaming of a better future; trust where mistrust risks taking over.
To awaken the vocational freshness of the origins is to help open our hearts and ears to the appeals that reach us from all sides and ask us to know how to ‘invent the tools’ to respond to them, to give a decisive turn to the choices to put ourselves at the service of those in need.
An event of grace
In this time, I have said to myself that even the pandemic with all that it is limiting, is an event of grace, which comes to shake us from our certainties and invites us to have a new look at reality and the charism.
Mary Domenica was asked to make the passage from what could appear to her as a broken life to a motherhood as big as the world; a motherhood that started in her, but continues in each of us through the almost 150 years of the Institute’s life.
A motherhood that is taking on the face, language, expectations, dreams of every people and every young person.
I leave you a task for this 13 May 2020: let us ask Mary Domenica to show us, as individual FMA, as a community, as educating communities, as young people, as families, the road that opens up to us the face for today, the changes that we are called to make to be ‘the transparency of the love of God and a reflection of Mary’s motherly goodness’ (C 14), in the concreteness of the society in which we will find ourselves living in the coming months, when the contagion has ceased. It will be necessary to repair the many material and spiritual, moral and social damage it has produced and make grow the prospects for the good that will develop.
I wish you a feast spent in intimate dialogue with Mary Domenica, our Foundress, in joyful docility to what she will suggest to us, in profound communion among us, with our young people, even if physically distant. They are always close because they live in our hearts, along with all those who habitually frequent our homes and collaborate with us in the mission.
May Mary Domenica accompany us and make us feel her strong and foreseeing motherliness. May she make us capable of her own self-giving to God and to the young people, to the sisters, and to all we meet every day. May she ask Jesus to fill our hearts with His joy!
Roma, 12 May 2020
Sr. Yvonne Reungoat
Superior General of the FMA Institute”