Sunday 8 December 2019 was a day of great rejoicing in the community of Dunedin as they celebrated the 60th jubilee of profession of Sr. Geraldine Marie de la Croix. Sr. Geraldine is from New Zealand and spent many years serving the elderly in India and Africa.
Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, the Apostolic Nuncio to New Zealand and Apostolic Delegate to the countries of the Pacific was principal celebrant at the Jubilee Mass, accompanied by Bishop Michael Dooley and parish priest Fr Fredy Permentilla MSP.
During his homily, Archbishop Novatus focused on the fruitful missionary life of Sr. Geraldine and built on this to stress the call of each one to go and announce the gospel. He recalled the faithfulness of the Little Sisters who had remained in Brazzaville during the 1997 civil war despite the dangers. Archbishop Novatus was serving as secretary to the Nuncio in the Republic of the Congo at that time and shared in the experience. The Archbishop then centred on the need for vocations and encouraged us to not lose heart as we work and pray for this intention.
Sr. Geraldine shared the following memories:
“Several events during my time in India and Africa are engraved in my memory. First the foundation in Coonoor in 1969, where we were very poor but also very happy to welcome the elderly who literally had nothing. The action of Divine Providence was tangible. In Africa, I had the joy of another foundation in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985 with the same experience as in Coonoor. The privilege of visiting the different communities in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Istanbul and Malta was an occasion of joy and gratitude. I was in Algiers in March 1996 when the seven monks were kidnapped from the Monastery in Tibirhine; it was a dreadful shock to all especially as I had been to a meeting of superiors just a few days before and met the prior, Father Christian de Cherge. Our confessor, a White Father had been assassinated on 27th December 1974, Father Charles Deckers and we had known almost all the religious who had been assassinated in Algiers leading to this latest atrocity. I was back in Algiers in May when the death of the monks was confirmed.
At that time, we had been asked to leave our Home in Bouzareah as the police said that we could not be protected. We were the largest Christian community. The monks and the Cardinal were fare-welled at the Requiem Mass in the Basilica of Notre Dame d’Afrique on June 2nd, Trinity Sunday. Mgr. Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Oran, came to a meal in our refectory just one week before he himself was assassinated on August 1st 1996. Having returned to Algiers a few days later, it was with deep sadness that I was in Oran for his Requiem Mass. As in the basilica in Algiers, the cathedral in Oran was packed by our Muslim friends. What a privilege to have known these martyrs who like their brothers and sisters in religion, witnessed the love of Christ by their lives rather than in words. The courage of our Little Sisters in Algeria as in Congo-Brazzaville cannot be underestimated."