Colares, Sintra on 31 October 2022
Dear Fr Gailhac
I am writing to you after much deep meditation on the challenge that your daughter, Sister Marie-France, gave me: “Si vous voulez écrire au Père Gailhac, n’hésitez pas à prendre la plume…”
“If you want to write to Père Gailhac, don’t hesitate to pick up your pen…”
When I received this invitation, I had got back from Béziers a few days earlier and it was still difficult for me to ‘take in’ all that I had witnessed, experienced and felt there. So I hesitated a long time before picking up the “pen”…
I did it on a rainy day… rain that my country needs so much! And I read in that water, generous and free that flows over us, a metaphor for our thirst and for the fountain that spread from Béziers, overflowing banks that came to life!
I know you know who this writer is! But others who read my words will need to know a little about me to understand the words I say to you.
I have ‘known’ you for 23 years! Since I have been your collaborator at the Colégio Sagrado Coração de Maria in Lisbon, Portugal. I started by learning your personal history, and that of your friends, Eugène and Apollonie, your dream, your faith and your work!
Later, I set foot for the first time in your Mother House. I did it with the young people of our Institute, the future, the hope! Going in there, climbing those stairs, living within those walls, going down to the crypt and praying next to you was a time of great identification. I felt that I belonged to that place and, consequently, to that dream, vision and work. It was my story too.
The encounter with history gives us the opportunity to know ourselves, to identify ourselves, to understand and to launch ourselves into the future! That is the value of walls and objects. There is a spirit in them that goes through us and sends us out.
I went back to Béziers on other occasions, and each time I went back, I felt I was returning home, ‘finding my own family’, gaining strength and energy for the days to come, drinking from the source…
I went back to Béziers for the last time in July this year, 2022, when your Mother House was closing, and let me tell you how much the emptiness of that house speaks! There are voices that cannot be silenced…
I came back to document and transmit your transfer to the cemetery of Béziers. But I take on another mission: that of being a witness!
Accustomed as I am to reading your letters to your “daughters”, I wonder what this son of yours has to say to you and, in doing so, I realise the miracle of this sense of belonging, of inclusion, of totality that has always been present in your life and work.
What does this son who writes to you say?
He tells you aloud what his heart prayed to you as I laid my hand on your coffin in the crypt of the Mother House on 6 July 2022, when we brought you to the light of day and of our eyes.
To tell you my gratitude ‘out loud’, I resort to your own words, in the many letters you wrote to your daughters.
“Since my childhood, God has placed within me a great love for others. “
Thank you for the desire that was born in that boy and grew in that young man!
“How good it is to say to God with a generous heart: ‘My God, here I am to do your will. My heart is ready for anything ‘.”
Thank you for such a great, generous and accessible Heart.
“Let us dedicate ourselves to the people entrusted to us.”
Thank you for having lived your vocation without turning away from the world, but rather loving it.
“May our life be a continuous prayer.”
“Zeal is the flame of love.”
Thank you for faith rooted in life.
“Let us never permit preconceived ideas. In every person there are defects and qualities. We should act with serenity.”
Thank you for your ability to see the value of each person.
“The grain you sow, the tree you plant, do not bear fruit immediately.”
Thank you for the patience and hope so befitting an educator.
“Let us remain calm. God will do His work, as long as we don’t hinder Him too much.”
Thank you for the Work.
“Jesus Christ does not want enforced followers, but free.”
Thank you for wide vistas and big horizons.
“The foundation must be solid.”
Thank you for consistency and resilience.
“Forget the little you have done. Throw yourselves into what remains to be done.”
Thank you for the determination.
Thank you, Father Gailhac!
In our own time, when we are called to keep the dream and the work alive, I thank you in the first person!
I am a witness of what your life has given birth to, and how it has reached me, through so many sisters, some already close to you!
I am a witness of the care, affection and devotion that generations of children and young people have experienced from your work.
I am a witness to the dedication of so many lay people who live their vocation in our Institute, as your friends Eugène and Appollonie once did.
In your Institute I have been able TO BE. And believe me, there is much value in this, not only for me or because of me, but given as a sign of a Church where everyone has a place.
Luís Pedro de Sousa
PS. Give my regards to Sister Maria Dina Gonçalves de Freitas!