EUROPE/FRANCE: From Lyon to the heart of Asia, discovering the little flock of Christ

Thursday, 27 July 2023

Lyon (Agenzia Fides) - Anne Robesson and Diane Angleys, aged 26 and 27 respectively, recently returned to Lyon, the city where they live, after a pilgrimage in Central Asia which lasted about nine months, which began in October 2022 and ended at the beginning of July. On August 2, the two young women will talk about their experience to the boys and girls of the World Youth Day" Lisbon 2023".
In the meantime, they anticipate to Fides the salient features and emotional episodes of their unique spiritual adventure.

Last year, on the occasion of the beatification of Pauline Jaricot, the foundress of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the two young students took part in the competition bearing the name of the Blessed. The award consisted in supporting the production of a journalistic reportage. The report will be completed at the end of 2023, and will have as its center of interest and narrative thread the long pilgrimage made to meet the Catholic communities in the countries of Central Asia. "We crossed paths with Pauline Jaricot in a providential way", Anne and Diane tell Fides. "We are from Lyon, and we had already heard of her, but too little". During the preparation for her beatification we also discovered the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS). During the beatification of Pauline, we also met the priest who was our first concrete link with Central Asia, Father Léopold Kropfreiter, S.J.M., responsible for the PMS for Kazakhstan. He has been a great point of reference throughout this pilgrimage". The passion for Asia had blossomed in Anne and Diane in 2019 the day after the end of their language studies at university. They therefore decided to leave for a year of volunteering. Letting themselves be "guided" without building plans or making room for strategic planning, they were "catapulted" to Russia to offer their services in a facility for the disabled. "Looking back today, we are certain that God was waiting for us there, because we found a land and an environment there that suited our personalities very well, which we could not have foreseen given our lack of knowledge of the Russian language and culture". By going to the Russian Federation, Diane and Anne discover a country they did not expect. They stopped in the European part, at the gates of the Caucasus, in a very independent republic: Kalmoukia. "We discovered, in a still Christian country, what it means to be a small Catholic community: the lack of priests, living rooms transformed into chapels for mass...We discovered a faith that deeply touched us, because it was lived in a reality so different from ours in the West. It was certainly the beginning of everything". Strengthened by this experience, which had a profound effect on them, Anne and Diane left last October for this pilgrimage supported by the French PMS. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan are the countries they have visited, accompanied by a small statue of the Virgin Mary, "Our Lady of Holiness", made of cedar wood from Lebanon, always at hand in the backpack and which becomes a travel guide in the unknown of the different communities visited. So many kilometers covered, thirty parishes visited. Anne and Diane take part in the Eucharistic celebrations, allow themselves to be carried away by the conversations and the meetings, accompany the priests in families, the meetings of young people, drink tea with the elderly women of the communities, each time sharing their testimony with simplicity.

"We took the time to immerse ourselves in the way of life of this population, who live on a varied number of small jobs or on its livestock", they both underline. "We discovered what the little flock of Christ is, where everything is small: small churches, sometimes simple houses transformed into chapels, small parishes, a small number of missionaries who nevertheless have a big heart. We have seen how faith does not depend on numbers".
Among the most striking experiences is that of the small community of Ashgabat, in Turkmenistan. This community, which meets in the tiny chapel of the nunciature, does not have an easy life, but it is the bearer of great hope. "This Church in Central Asia is still a fragile newborn, in need of a lot of attention, which counts on the arms of a handful of missionaries, but it is truly moving to glimpse its little path among local populations. All this, they add, also reminds us of the call of each baptized person to the mission. We certainly have the Church of France at heart, but we are also concerned with the Church that lives in every part of the world. We were able to see that the people we met are thirsty for the little things that we can share with them, even the testimony of beautiful families who keep the gift of faith (EG) (Agenzia Fides, 27/7/2023)