This is our last morning in lovely LePuy, and we spent the morning at the International Center of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The center was conceived of in 2000 on the 350th anniversary of the order's founding - when representatives from all over the world met to discuss the charism of the sisters and how they might address the needs of today's world.
The center opened two years ago with contributions from SSJ congregations all over the world.
According to the Center's mission statement:
In this 21st century, recognizing the urgent need for understanding and respect among peoples, cultures and religions, for one another and for the planet, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the world have created Centre International St. Joseph. The mission of the Centre is to promote interaction, collaboration and communion among Sisters, Associates and lay partners in creating an earth community based on the values of right relationship with God, with others, and with the planet.
We were met by two sisters who are spending two years at the center: Sr. Sheila Holly of Philadelphia and Sr. Mary Diesbourg of Canada. They showed us around the building, which includes guest rooms for up to 14 visitors. They told us that they have had about 500 visitors in the past two years - sisters, associates and lay partners from around the world - to study, make retreats, or pilgrimages.
Asked if language is a problem during these visits, Sister Sheila said "No: heart speaks to heart, regardless of language."
When we were leaving, the two sisters sang us a good-bye song, standing arm in arm and waving white hankies.
This afternoon it was travel, travel, travel. Our tour bus brought us back to Lyon (2 hours), we took the bullet train from there back to Paris (another 2 hours), and the tour bus picked us up at the station and brought us back to our hotel. We hardly know where we are anymore!
As an aside, we got a lovely note from our bus driver, Hakim, who has been with us for the past two days. He's from Lyon, and drove us to LePuy and then back to Lyon, and toured and ate with us in LePuy because he had never been there and was very interested in what we were doing. When he brought us back to Lyon, he gave Sr. Eleanor a post card on which he had written:
"Vous etes des anges, car la ou vent les anges il fait tourjours beau. Bon retour a vous tous et merci beaucoup de votre gentilesse et votre bonne humeur,"
which means, roughly:
"You are angels, and where angels go, the weather is always beautiful. A good trip back to all of you, and thank you very much for your niceness and your good humor."
In fact, Hakim was OUR angel; he took very good care of us and got us safely where we were going. And he did it always with patience and politeness. He was one of many angels that crossed our path on this amazing voyage.
When we got back to Paris, we regrouped and gathered together for one last time for a "Farewell to France" dinner. We virtually took over a small bistro near our hotel, and I'm sure they had never had 12 tired, hungry Americans in there at once before! We certainly kept the one waitress VERY busy!!!
We raised our glasses in salute to many things:
to Sr. Eleanor, whose gracious leadership was the key to our wonderful trip;
to Elms College, for recognizing the importance of this pilgrimage;
to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who for 350 years have embodied the spirit of God in the love of our neighbors;
and to France, which now holds so many magical memories for us all.
After dinner, Sr. Eleanor very much wanted us to walk down the Champs Elysess to celebrate the night before we leave Paris to return home. She wrote:
Tonight, we will conclude our time in France with a midnight walk along the Champs Elysees illuminated - a spectacular way to end our wonderful week. We know that the pulse of this wonderful ancient civilization will continue to touch us as it must have touched the early Sisters, must have touched Father Medaille, and must have touched Mother Fontbonne.
We have all been priviledged to come to France, and to absorb the greatness of history and culture here, and we look forward to returning home to our families and friends with the spirit and inspiration of our founders transforming our lives.