With “one more chromosome”, Claire

Five people with disabilities have just presented to Pope Francis the conclusions of a “synodal listening session” calling on the Church to give them a place in mission and evangelization. Among them, Claire-Marie Rolland, whom trisomy 21 did not prevent from becoming a radiant young consecrated woman. Meet.

“I have been to Rome five times! “recalls Claire-Marie with enthusiasm, a few moments after the general audience on Wednesday. The young woman has already met three popes: John Paul II, on the occasion of his confirmation, Francis, whom she invited to Lourdes, and also Benedict XVI, a “little bear”, she says with disarming tenderness. .

This consecrated virgin of the diocese of Bayonne forms a small community of life with Annie Rougier, a former official of the Ministry of the Navy, also consecrated under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Bayonne. Based in Lourdes for seven years, the two women run the Pôle de Lumière association, dedicated to welcoming families with children with Down syndrome.

An adoption lived under the gaze of God

The synodal approach allowed them to share their very atypical experience of life, a “story of God”, says Annie, who saw in this accompaniment the fulfillment of a vocation felt in her own childhood. “When I was little, in Paris, I had been marked by the little girl with Down’s syndrome — or ‘mongolian’, as we said at the time — of our neighbours,” explains Annie.

During the summer of 1985, Annie is invited to visit a community that welcomes handicapped children abandoned at birth. A little girl, born on December 8, 1984 and recently welcomed into this home, is the only one who does not sleep when she visits the house. Their eyes meet. “Something told me I had to come back to see her… I kind of adopted her,” she recalls.

A long journey will lead to the consecration of Annie in 1993, then to that of Claire-Marie, in 2013. From her childhood, the little girl with Down syndrome showed the signs of a desire for God. “When we went to see her godmother, who was consecrated, she didn’t say hello to anyone but she first went to the oratory to kiss Jesus, and only then did she come to greet us. She carried this passion for Jesus from a very young age,” recalls Annie.

The Bishop of Bayonne entrusted Claire-Marie with a mission of prayer and evangelization. Disarming with simplicity, tenderness and spiritual freedom, the young woman releases the gift of tears in many interlocutors. By chance listening to his testimony on Radio-Présence, the person in charge of the pastoral care of the handicap in the diocese of Albi stops at the edge of the road, crying. Her contact with Claire-Marie will lead the young woman to intervene in front of 700 pilgrims from her diocese gathered in Lourdes. “Everyone was affected,” says Annie. She remembers the natural compassion of Claire-Marie, who “went from chair to chair to see the sick”.

Claire-Marie puts her whole life in following Christ, with intensity. “Jesus is very compassionate with young people and children. We must pray for people who are alone and hospitalized, I pray for them in Lourdes”, she says. His priorities: “Prayer and evangelization. I share this with people with Down syndrome, and poverty too, because the Church is poor”, she underlines.

Young people marked for life by his testimony

Wherever she goes, Claire-Marie evangelizes, especially in schools. “I have known about abortion for a long time, because I was abandoned at birth, and I talk about it a lot to children, young people and also to the bishops”, she asserts with authority.

A young girl in tears said she had been abandoned too, and Claire-Marie went to comfort her.

During a visit to a vocational high school, “private but not very Catholic”, recalls Annie, Claire-Marie is invited to speak on disability and difference. Without complex, she changes angle and intervenes on the theme of “overcoming temptation”, in order to warn young people about the risk of abortion. “We couldn’t hear a pin drop,” recalls Annie. All the young people prayed with her. And when her testimony ended, she recited Pope Leo XIII’s prayer against the devil. I remember very loud music, from an unknown source, which stopped abruptly when Claire-Marie concluded her speech by saying: “And you, Lord, be blessed for having created me”: the young were petrified. A young girl in tears said she had been abandoned too, and Claire-Marie went to console her. All these young people told me that they had been scarred for life,” recalls Annie. And faced with the teacher, also in tears, who asks her where she finds the strength to evangelize without filter, Claire-Marie replies with humour: “For you, it’s true that it’s more difficult because they missing one! “.

With her extra chromosome, considered by part of public opinion as a shame to hide, Claire-Marie knew how to break down barriers. “Actually I’m not disabled: I have two arms and two legs, I have everything I need, and I’m very happy like that! I have a lot of joy in me, and it shows! “, she confides, completely at ease in front of young people who are sometimes reluctant to talk about their faith. “I like shy people,” she adds with moving sincerity. In the same way, she will awaken the tears of a homeless person, near the Vatican, by kissing him with this simple explanation: “I love the poor”.

In synodal dynamics, Claire-Marie shows the way to a Church in which people with disabilities are not mere recipients of pastoral attention motivated by compassion, but full actors in the mission. People with disabilities “want to be taken seriously and to bring joy to the Christian communities in which they live”, explains Vittorio Scelzo, in charge of this theme within the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. .

In this perspective, the participants in this synodal listening session have requested that at least one disabled person be able to participate in the final session of the Synod on synodality, in October 2023 in the Vatican. On this occasion or during a visit to Lourdes, Claire-Marie would like to be able to testify in public, before the Pope. “It is my dearest wish”, she confides, with an assurance of the presence of God which seems to illustrate these words from Matthew’s Gospel: “What you have hidden from the wise and the learned, you revealed it to the little ones”.


With “one more chromosome”, Claire-Marie wants to direct the Synod towards the love of the little ones