On December 19, 2017, many friends of the Contemplative Sisters of Sion in Ein Karem, the Solitude, gathered for a mass of thanksgiving for the 48 years spent in the Holy Land.

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The Sisters decided together that as an aging community without a new generation it was time to close their house and return to France, where they will be accommodated in a home for elderly sisters. The community discernment took many months and its outcome was that the Sisters would leave Jerusalem as a community and continue their life of prayer as a community in France.

The celebration brought together many of the active sisters of Sion, other contemplatives (from the Benedictine Nuns in Abu Ghosh, the Poor Clares, the Greek Catholic Nuns of the Emmanuel monastery in Bethlehem) as well as many friends from other male and female religious congregations and members of the Hebrew speaking Catholic community. At the end of the mass, the guests were invited to view a retrospective of the 48 years the Sisters spent in Israel, first in Nazareth and then in Ein Karem.

An article French about the sisters can be read on the Latin Patriarchate website here

The Hebrew speaking Catholic community in Israel maintained strong ties with the Sisters. They will be sorely missed.

Father David, who presided the mass, gave the following homily:

This mass is to celebrate the decades that the Solitude has been in Israel, a prayerful presence in the midst of this country and a voice reminding us all that God is in our midst. Indeed that is the vocation of all contemplatives and the vocation of Sion is in a special way the reminder to Israel that God is indeed in its midst.

I retain three verses from today’s readings that for me signify today’s celebration:

1. Zephaniah the Prophet says: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph. 3:17). Well, that is if you read the reading in English. But we heard it today in Hebrew and in the Masoretic text it does not say “he will renew you in his love” but rather “he will keep silent in his love”. Silence, the gift of God and in imitation of God as He lovingly gazes upon his children. You teach us about the capacity to gaze on God’s presence, stilling the noise that invades us. Sisters, Jerusalem will be a noisier place without you and yet we give thanks for what you have taught us these past decades!

2. In the psalm, David sings out: “The plan of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11). What is this plan we might ask as our lives take unexpected turns. When you arrived here almost 50 years ago, I am sure you did not imagine that one day there would come the time to say farewell to this land and its people. Yet, we have faith that the Lord has a plan, that the thoughts of his heart will indeed be revealed to us, his children. Just as your coming was a part of that plan, so now too your departure is a part of that plan. Whether you are here or whether you are elsewhere, you are part of Jerusalem, the city of God, eternal capital of all those who seek to be part of his people and this profound communion is undoubtedly a part of his plan. Take Jerusalem wherever you go!

3. In the Gospel, we hear Elizabeth call out “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk. 1:45). The joyful scene of the Visitation, the two women embracing, youthful Mary and aged Elizabeth, both with child, has surely accompanied all these years you have spent in Ein Karem. But this scene strikes me in a new way today in the light of our celebration. A departure is indeed like a death and it is death that is present in these two women: Elizabeth, like Sarah before her, is aged and it is hard to believe that she could fall pregnant. And Mary, although youthful, has known no man and her womb is still like a tomb, empty of the seed of life, and yet she is pregnant too. This is our faith, our confidence and our hope. This is the source of our joy, present here in this iconic embrace of these two prophetic women. They have believed and thus become incarnate witnesses that God does not allow death the last word and from an aged body, from a tomb-like womb, life springs forth. Yes, today we too want to leap like John in Elizabeth’s womb and affirm that Jesus is there, already with us in Mary’s swollen belly. In God’s plan, every departure is a new beginning, every sunset promises a dawn.

Thank you, Sisters, for the faithful witness you have given in this place, a witness that has radiated far and wide. Thank you, Sisters, for your faithful remembrance of Jerusalem, of this Land blessed by God and of the peoples who live here.

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