At this time of the Easter octave, Sr Ruthina Francis, in community in the Ivory Coast, shares with us how she acted as an intermediary to help a fifteen-year-old girl on the road to conversion.
The spiritual journey of a person who has been deeply touched by God can help him or her to grow in faith throughout life and be an incredible force that can act on the conscience. In other words, the heart and memory can be touched by shame and lead to a beautiful conversion. On the 5th Sunday of Lent 2021, the first reading from Jeremiah 31:31-34 reminded us that the Lord says: “I will forgive their iniquities, I will remember their sins no more“. This day set Lea, 15 years old student in a secondary school in Daoukro, on a journey of conversion.
Shackled by her sins
I had never met Lea before she came to the community to meet me. Happy to welcome a young girl after Mass, I thought that she might religious life in mind and quickly came to meet her. As I approached her, I saw a sad, upset, guilt-ridden girl. She couldn’t say what she wanted to and kept her head down throughout our conversation.
Suddenly, with a little encouragement, Léa said to me tearfully: “Sister, I would like you to ask my neighbour to forgive me because I stole 2,500 cfa three days ago. He is now accusing his children and I am ashamed of myself. This is the first time and I can’t sleep. I needed to pay for my school documents. My mother does not work and had no money. I want you to apologise for me”. This young woman felt really guilty and embarrassed by this theft. It was eating away at her and preventing her from being happy.
Forgive me, I have sinned
At the same time, it was difficult for her to carry this burden and she refused to remain a slave to her theft. Leah wanted to be free but needed support to help ask for forgiveness. It was a request for forgiveness like the sinner’s confession: “Have mercy on me, my God, in your love…” of Ps 51.
She was not afraid to confess her guilt. However, I was a little confused by what she was asking of me and my role in this request for forgiveness. I was touched, however, by Lea’s humility, her effort to regain her dignity and her inner peace and I could not refuse. I had to be the mediator between the sinner and the one who had been robbed. What a task! What should I say?
The freedom and joy of being called “My daughter”
As an “ice-breaker” for this process of reconciliation, what other text could I use before this man if not that of the Father who forgives, in Luke 15. This Father leaves his door open, to welcome his prodigal son while granting him forgiveness. So I asked the man for forgiveness for Leah, like Moses in Exodus 32, 11-14, who implores God for his people.
“I pardon you”
The man looked at Leah like a loving father and said: “I forgive you because I too have made many mistakes in my life and it is thanks to God that I am here today. I cannot but forgive you“. Giving Leah a handshake he said: “You are my daughter and I forgive you but don’t do it again“. Leah, having been forgiven, became a new daughter, because she needed this forgiveness. This step towards regaining peace and dignity was followed by the sacrament of reconciliation.
It is in this story of conversion that a text of Mother Marie de Saint Charles finds all its sense:
“When you fall into any fault
humiliate yourself as soon as you realise it,
but with loving humility,
and then resume your race towards God
with more courage than ever”.
D.S. 14th April 1881
Sr Ruthina Francis dj