Here in France, at the beginning of February we have fifteen days of vacation. Fifteen days when many families travel, some go to see their families in different parts of the country, some go to the snow regions, and many go abroad.  This is the reality of many… but not of everyone.

In the neighborhood of Chennevieres, in Saint Ouen l’Aumone, the famiiles do not have the possibility of leaving, to getting to know other places… therefore we spend the school vacations with these children to give them the opportunity to do different activities; during the school year two Sisters go there every Wednesday.

Here in this neighborhood we can put into practice the desire of St. Raphaela Mary: Our heart should not limit itself to a determined number of people, but should encompass the entire world”… In fact, the entire world enters our lives every time we are there. There are families from almost every continent and from many countries… they all live together, they all share dreams, they all have similar preoccupations…

Moreover, in Saint Ouen l’Aumone, we can also experience inter-religious life, since although the majority of the children are Muslim, there are also Christians and children of other faiths… we can all live together, sharing what is essential of life in God (no matter what name we use for Him): Love, encounter, search for the Good.

It is not always easy, because since they are a very vulnerable population with many economic problems, as well as the difficulty of integrating into the country and the resolution of their legal status, often we are confronted with situations of violence, with children with behavior problems, with conflicts among families and even within the families themselves. However, it is here where our mission resides, doing what we can so that during the time that we are with the children, they can experience what it is to live together in a wholesome, peaceful way, with dignity, trying to bring out the best in each one.

It all begins with the five words that guide the Rafaela Maria Association: “Good morning”, “Thank you”, “Please”, “I’m sorry”, “Good bye”. At the beginning of every week Sr. Sabina Abaroa reminds the children and the assistants…and the truth is that, with these words we can do everything. With these words that they all know (no matter what their ethnic origin or their religious belief) we create community, we grow together. That is not all; there is one more, which is the foundation of all and without which what we do would not be possible: Love. It is this love that makes us leave Paris every Wednesday to go to meet the children and their families; it is this love that makes us want to help them to grow up happy; it is this love that we give but also that we receive, each day, each time we go. A love that does not always express itself in words, but which is lived in the joy that we experience when we see them playing together,  when we feel their enthusiasm for getting to know other realities outside their neighborhood or when we see them enjoy things as simple as an afternoon at the pool. This is priceless, and as Sabina often tells us, it gives us life.

What we experience in Saint Ouen l’Aumone is a constant giving and receiving, being side by side, accompanying one another, without barriers, without pretentions… “from below, from within, from up close.”

Clara Lito, aci