Sister Catherine EthiévantOn the threshold of the Year of Faith Sr. Catherine was stunned by a call to go to Turkey even though she did not speak the language.

The story of this Year of Faith is recounted on the international website of the Daughters of Charity and begins…”How did I live the Year of Faith?  …In an unpredictable adventure and uniqueness…

“Yes… But you must come along with me, Lord!…”

Thus, on the threshold of the Year of Faith, I said yes to go to Turkey, a call that has left me stunned … The ways of the Lord are really unpredictable and surprising!  “Yes, Lord, but you must come with me” and I went forward with blind trust … blind trust because I am ignorant and devoid of anything that could make me a missionary in a foreign country. And my age would more logically send me to a nursing home instead of adventure!

But the Lord had another idea; it is to Him that I had said yes.  And he didn’t wait to be there with me. Immediately, he gave me an interior peace that even the strongest emotions couldn’t take away.

He took me by the hand with the sisters who accompanied me and those who welcomed me with kindness and friendship.  And, without preparation, I made the big leap from my pleasant little town of Corbonod, to Istanbul, a huge city swarming with people and noise having no other fear than to lose myself in this new world.

What was I to do here? this Muslim world? …and so late in my life?

I didn’t come “to do”, I came “to live.”  Simply, to join the missionaries who came to this land, so rich in our Christian history, and witness with them to the presence of the love of Christ for all.

Let me be dazzled by all the discoveries offered to me, starting with my first airplane flight.  How big and beautiful! I thought I saw earth as small as God sees his creation.  Lord, how can you be present all at once in such vastness as well as mysteriously in the heart of every person?

I marvel at the beauty and richness of this culture that was so unknown to me.  The quality of hospitality and courteousness of the Turkish people made me think of Christ as he walked among men. There must have been something of that gracious, smiling respect that made one want to relate to him.

What abundance of gifts the Lord has sown in the heart, head and hands of his children!  What creativity to see just in walking along!  The subway stations offer superb paintings.  What diversity of form, color and calligraphy to contemplate!  And in the shops, you see the magic of fabric, lace, jewelry and pottery as if one has entered the, “land of a Thousand and One Nights.” And in the spice market, the delicious smells that sting the nostrils.  What marvels we have in all the different people of our world!

There are a lot of people in Istanbul and when I walk in these impressive, cosmopolitan crowds, I say to myself, “I see a large crown of every race, language, people and nation…” There are very few Christians here.  In my heart there is a great desire, “Lord, how I would like everyone to discover your love and know how much you love each one.”

The number of Christians is such a minority in the heart of this Muslim world that the division among them feels like such a wound.  How urgent it is that we come to a way to be united.  My prayer for unity becomes that much more fervent.

Let me renew my Faith through my new companions…seven Sisters, six different nationalities.  In our sharing, language difficulties lead to surprising uses of words which make us go deeper.  And by these words, the Gospel sometimes takes on a poetic resonance that opens other ways of meditation.  Our sharings are enriched by the poverty of our words.

To live an unexpected dependence: that of language.  Not to be able to speak, to understand, to laugh, and to write is trying.  Except for the community where we speak French as much as we are able, everything is a jumble to my ears:  Masses celebrated in Turk or English, Polish, German Italian, Armenian, Greek make me think of Pentecost.  “Each understood in their own language.”  I understand nothing or the little that is necessary.  I am constantly in need of the patience of a translator for the smallest meeting or the slightest need.  My feeble memory plays with me in the daily expressions and especially with the kind words I would like to say to the sick or the workers at the hospital.  I try to learn them but they won’t come to my lips at the right moment.  It is really frustrating.  But it is also comical.  Many things are mimed and I show my clown talents which bring laughter and some sympathy.  “Ah, yes, Lord.  Truly you are along with me!”

The calls to prayer which mark the rhythm of the days, like the Angelus bells, raise bouquets of thanksgiving in my heart.  Blessed by God for all You have given me in the jostling of this new experience that pushes me forward.  Yes, I will sing of the love of the Lord.

Sister Catherine Ethiévant


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