The Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb is the first contemplative religious community in the world to welcome nuns with Down syndrome. The Roman Catholic community is located in France and has developed over several decades.
The Vatican News reports that the thriving community of able and Down syndrome affected sisters began forty years ago with a friendship. Mother Line, who today leads the sisters, met a young girl, Véronique, who has Down syndrome and felt a calling to contemplative religious life. Véronique and other young women like her could not enter other religious communities because of the metal disabilities associated with Trisomy 21.
Mother Line and Véronique began a quest to found a new community. What began in a small apartment in 1985 with just two members, grew to a formally recognized contemplative order in the rural French town of Le Blanc. Several bishops assisted the sisters in moving their case forward in Rome, and after 14 years they gained formal recognition.
The community now has 10 sisters, eight of whom have Down syndrome. The Little Sisters have a priory with a private chapel. In addition to their daily prayer, the sisters weave, make pottery, and cultivate gardens on the surrounding land. The sisters with Down syndrome need assistance in some activities, but Mother Line says they are well suited to the regularity and order of religious life and can do many things on their own.
In the spiritual life, the sisters with Down syndrome teach the able sisters a great deal. Mother Line told the Vatican News, “They know the Bible, the lives of the saints, and they have a fabulous memory. They are souls of prayer, they are very spiritual, very close to Jesus.” She explained, “Their souls are not disabled! On the contrary, they are closer to the Lord, they communicate with Him more easily. The other sisters of the community admire their ability to forgive, to encourage their sisters by finding the right phrase from the Bible that helps give meaning to the day.”
What the sisters with Down syndrome offer above all is a profound love. Mother Line said, “They bring joy to society and, above all, they bring love to the world. A world that needs it so much.” Three decades after feeling a calling to become a sister, Véronique says, “I was born with a disability called Down syndrome. I am happy. I love Life. I pray, but I am sad for the children with Down syndrome who will not feel this same joy of living.”
The Little Sisters are particularly needed in France, a nation that has been devastated by the horrors of discriminatory abortions. An estimated 86% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are killed in abortion. Due to this widespread injustice, public officials banned a television commercial because the commercial showed children with Down syndrome smiling. France’s Conseil Supérieur del’Audiovisuel called the commercial “inappropriate,” adding that images of people with Down syndrome and their families smiling was “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”
This callous attitude toward children diagnosed with disability is precisely what galvanizes the Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb. On their website, the sisters write, “At a time when society lacks points of reference, no longer finding meaning in life or giving it value, our community wants to reaffirm the sacred character of life and the human person through the simple witness of our life consecrated to God.”
They continue, “For us it means repeating the words of Pope Saint John Paul II: it means daring to say ‘do not be afraid’ to a world in which we fear one another, we fear the frailties inherent in our nature and condition, like disability and illness. It means daring to affirm, more than ever, the beauty and greatness of life in all its suffering mystery.”
They are a beautiful example for all Christians and for the world.
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