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 Sr Catherine, who has lived in the flat since 1989.
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 Agnes, Sheila, Margaret, Lien and others: “There’s a real sense of welcome. I think we enrich each other.” Sr Catherine adds : “We want to build friendship & contribute to grassroots reconciliation. When we arrived, the flat had been used as a drugs den, with syringes everywhere.”
The Little Sisters of Jesus try to share the lives of their neighbours, working as cleaners, home carers and in supermarkets and can be spotted down at the Jobcentre when work is hard to come by. Sr Catherine explains: “Our vocation is to live a contemplative life, but at the heart of the world, following an ordinary lifestyle as Jesus lived in Nazareth. Living together in the block which gathers people from different cultures and religions opens up opportunities to meet and to get to know each other. On our corridor there are a majority of Muslim families with whom we are friendly. We choose to be in places where people are pushed to the peripheries.”
Sister Pavla, from the Czech Republic, volunteers at a hospital caring for patients with HIV/AIDS, Sr Pat accompanies refugees from Ghana. She and Sr Claire previously lived in Birmingham and reflect fondly back on when one of the sisters worked as a cleaner at a major city hospital and another in the café at the Aston Villa football ground. “Sometimes people think the Vatican funds our lifestyle” they laugh. “Having ordinary jobs and living in social housing is a way of being on the same wave length as other people. In Hackney we’re currently struggling with a water cylinder in the flat that’s been leaking since October – this is just daily living, with all its grind.”
But there is an added dimension – a chapel on the 13th floor, with daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. “For us, the centre of our life is friendship and prayer. We try to bring the love of Jesus wherever we are.”