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Istanbul Harlem Nuns on a Mission 8June 1996


JUNE 8, 1996

Energy of Harlem nuns

By Ashali Varma


They work with the poor, the marginalized and the homeless and bring to Habitat II real life experiences from the streets of New York, Port au Prince and a dozen other cities around the world.  Sister Mary Myriam and Sister Mary Virginia belong to the Fraternite Notre-Dame and work out of the mission headquarters in New York.

“We care essentially for the homeless and the poor in East Harlem,” said Mary Virginia, “We have a soup kitchen everyday and feed over 300 people.  In addition we have a ‘meals on wheels’ program that goes to the people who live under bridges, on sidewalks and in cardboard boxes, in the city.”

The sisters visit poor families and provide them with food hampers.  Food left over from the soup kitchens is also distributed to families in need.  “They live under very difficult conditions, in small overcrowded apartments.  We try to provide them with furniture and some essentials,” Mary Myriam said. 

“One day a family who had just arrived in New York and had no furniture or money came to us for mattresses.  We did not have mattresses for them but then somebody came to our door and said they had mattresses for us.  We call it providence,” she said simply, her face breaking into a smile. 

People with AIDS who are too ill to visit the mission are provided with meals and help at home.  The sisters also visit prisoners with AIDS in the Sing Sing Correction Facility.  “They are often very lonely and sick and we try to bring them some comfort,” Mary Virginia said. 

The Fraternite has permanent missions in Haiti, Cameroon, Mongolia, Martinique and France.  “In Port au Prince we have an orphanage where we have adopted 20 children and feed and clothe many more who are on the streets,” Mary Virginia said, “The children who were adopted were so sick that they would have died had we not taken them in.” The sisters also visit children who have been imprisoned and live under the most terrible conditions.  They try to make life easier for them by giving them food and clothes and hope for the future. “For Christmas we had a party for them and they had something to look forward to.”

The Fraternite of Notre Dame works in war zones as well, by establishing relief missions.  They have supplied medicines, food, clothes and help to Rwanda.  On the question of what they hope to achieve at Habitat II:  “We work on the ground level and we feel this Conference is important for the many  who live on the edge of existence in urban areas.  We hope something can be done for them.