Every Friday night an international group of Sisters who live on the 13th floor of an east London tower block open their doors for a community drop-in, to share both the Gospel readings for Sunday and food. “We never know who’s going to turn up,” says Sister Catherine, who has lived in the flat since 1989 – moving in after it was a drugs den, with syringes everywhere.
There are some regulars, such as a local Anglican woman vicar and Ann, a retired teacher who brings her daughter when she’s back home from her L’Arche community, as well as newcomers, like the man who recently walked across London to join them.
With echoes, perhaps, of the “worker-priest” movement in post-war France, the Little Sisters of Jesus live as their neighbours do, working as cleaners, home carers and in supermarkets, and they can be spotted down at the Jobcentre when work is hard to come by.
“Our vocation is to live a contemplative life, but at the heart of the world, following an ordinary lifestyle as Jesus lived in Nazareth,” Sister Catherine says. “Living together in the block with people from different cultures and religions opens up opportunities to get to know each other. On our corridor there are a majority of Muslim families, with whom we are friendly.”
Sister Claire and Sister Pat previously lived in Birmingham, where one of the Sisters in the community worked as a hospital cleaner and another in the café at the Aston Villa football ground. “Sometimes people think the Vatican funds us,” they laugh. “Having ordinary jobs and living in social housing is a way of being on the same wavelength as other people, with all its grind.”
But there is an added dimension: a chapel on the 13th floor, with daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: “We try to bring the love of Jesus wherever we are. We choose to be in places where people are pushed to the peripheries.”
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