Pope Francis greets a member of the Little Sisters of Jesus during an audience with representatives of the congregation at the Vatican Oct. 2. The congregation ministers to circus and carnival workers and communities of poor people. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope praises Little Sisters of Jesus for friendship with the poor

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Obviously struck by the Little Sisters of Jesus he met living in a trailer among poor carnival workers outside of Rome, Pope Francis praised the way members of the order live like the people they minister to, sharing the Gospel through their solidarity, smiles and silence.

Being one with the humble, “your institute has spread to many countries” and led the sisters to friendships with the poor of “every race, language and religion,” Pope Francis told members of the Little Sisters’ general congregation.

“Your hearts have no barriers,” he said. “Naturally, you cannot change the world by yourselves, but you can brighten it, bringing the joy of the Gospel to neighborhoods, streets, mixing with the crowds, always close to the smallest ones.”

Inspired by Blessed Charles de Foucauld, Madeleine Hutin — a Frenchwoman later known as Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus — founded the Little Sisters in Algeria in 1939, sharing the lives of mainly Muslim nomads. As the order grew and spread to other countries, the sisters shared the lives of factory workers, Roma, circus and carnival workers and other communities of poor people.

He quoted a saying attributed to the founder about being “Arabs among the Arabs, nomads among nomads, workers among workers,” but he added, “carnival workers among carnival workers like here in Rome.”

Pope Francis told the sisters that the general congregation meeting, while requiring practical discussion and decisions, should also be a time to return to the original inspiration of the congregation. For Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus, it was the truth that “Almighty God, creator and lord of the universe, out of love for us was not afraid to become a small, trusting baby in the arms of Mary and still today wants to give himself for each of us, humbly, out of love.”

With more than 1,000 members in more than 60 countries, the Little Sisters “are found in humanly difficult situations” with the poorest and least influential people, the pope said. The sisters “are not there principally to cure, educate or catechize — even though they do these things well — but to love, to be with the least like Jesus did, to proclaim the Gospel with simple lives made up of work, presence, friendship and unconditional acceptance.”

Pope Francis told the sisters that it was of “vital importance” that they continually meditate on the original inspiration of their order, which is “the closeness of God, who meekly and humbly gives himself to us to save us and fill us with his love.”

And emboldened by that awareness, he said, the sisters will undertake “evangelization with gestures more than words: smiles, silence, adoration and patience.”

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