Simone Gebs, president 1992 – 1996


“It does not engage you, but it is necessary to have a third name …” It is thus that on the insistence of our then President Giovanna in spite of my strong reluctance, I became part of the compulsory “terna” of that times. Soon, what I was afraid of became reality: in July 1988, I was elected at Baltimore the President of the International Bureau for four years. It was my second mandate.

This period was a little bit of adventure in diverse aspects for me, a French by origin, married to a protestant Swiss from Geneva. All these, nevertheless, gave support to my apostolic work.

Death of our founder: At the beginning of this period, came the death of our founder Miss Monnet. I went to her funeral at Tours in France, but it was important to organise a mass in Rome in her honour. It was necessary to get in contact with different personalities of the Vatican. I thought it would be difficult, but I was always well received.

I went through the different corridors of Palazzo San Calisto. Several cardinals I met were busy and could not come to my request. Finally Cardinal Etchegaray accepted my request. He is French like Miss Monnet to whom we wanted to pay homage. He presided over the ceremony with his customary simplicity, telling us that he was born on the same day as Miss Monnet, but 20 years later!

A difficult situation: One of our national directors in Latin America was arrested; it was still the time of dictatorships in this part of the world. Alerted by our chaplain, I could help with telephone calls to Geneva UN offices and with the help of others the person was liberated. I spent several nights without sleep…

In the first two years of my mandate, there were a lot of communication difficulties: our new chaplain Father Chapper was from Uruguay and lived in Montevideo. As he lived in Rome sometime, he spoke good French. And I did not speak “castillano”. Postal services were not good, telephone calls were often inaudible, and in addition the difference of cultures. Internet or fax did not exist in MIAMSI. “Where am I headed to?” I asked myself!

Upon my request, the International Office in one of its meetings decided to support our chaplain to come and stay in Rome. I began to take the habit of travelling by night train from Nyon to Rome to work with him at Palazzo San Callisto a few days every month; it was easier face to face.

To help in all Roman formalities, there was Ella who was precious, loyal and devoted. Ella who did not count her time was always available, knew the context and assured all what we need for our meetings including my own accommodation and facilitated our travels. She also helped us in our secretariat.

At Palazzo Callisto, Cardinal Pironio who was in charge of movements like ours was kind and lent us his paternal ears. I recall: “Hi president, tell me everything.” His advises were very useful to our work.

As there was no secretariat in Geneva, I had to assume it. From 1989 one of our European colleagues visited me weekly to help in my work in the spirit of service and loyalty.

One aspect of the mandate: missionary travels

– In Latin America, I do not forget the tragedies that have marked the life of many families. Many faces come to my memory with their confidence and expectations.

– I went through a favela, visited a boys school where MIAMSI members give an aid, I saw a drug victim on the street – unfortunately the children see them often… One boy gave me a pencil he decorated; it is still on my desk. What does he become, a man in the right meaning of the term  ?

– I followed an intensive Spanish course so that I am not just a “flowerpot” and during the SAL meeting. I was given a diploma called “Golden Parrot”. A beautiful reward for the daily five hours of my study in summer!

– During the meeting at Azimtoti / Durban in South Africa, we were given a generous welcome in the diocesan house. We woke up during the night with big noises:  Members of an ethnic group we visited the day before were attacked by another and they were looking for refuge. We were shocked by this violence.

– In Sri Lanka and India, there were little difficulties as I could speak some English. Due to war in Sri Lanka, my plane had a delay of nine hours. I was concerned about our Chaplain who had to come and pick me at the airport. Fortunately, he was there and he took me to a small hotel. The road was not safe. He said that we could go to Colombo only the day after.

At Colombo, we participated in a monthly meeting of diocesan priests at the bishop’s house convoked by their bishop. The priests came with their picnic; our chaplain thought it would be a good solution for his country. They welcomed us generously. The meeting was captivating with great human warmth.

– In India, after spending two nights in the hotel, our friend and board member Carmel, offered hospitality as I would alone; Father Chapper had to leave us to continue his trip.

– In Syria, the French is spoken well. It helped me a lot and we could make a lot of direct contacts with them. There too, we received a great welcome. But for many months, we had no news from them and we became anxious.

Here and there, I met with members of our movements looking for the objectives proposed by MIAMSI in order to be in conformity with the “dream of the Lord”: a world of justice, fraternity,  sometimes at the destruction of their family or conjugal life. Can we have such a renunciation?

Anecdotes that have a meaning:

– When I was feeling safe in Chile before my last part of my five-week travel in the South, my bag was cut from top to bottom as well as my purse. Nothing was lost, my passport was at the house where I was staying. My friend who offered hospitality did everything to find a solid bag that could by of my taste.

– In Paraguay, by mistake I damaged the lock of my suitcase; two of my friends repaired it.

– In Sri Lanka, the suitcase of our chaplain was attacked. Nothing was lost but the lock was damaged. Our friends there helped us buy another one.

There were risks of travel here and there. But what we appreciated most were the goodwill of our hosts and their serviceability.

The friendships built with the members of our international bureau and the persons that have welcomed us in their movements during our travels in Europe (Brussels, Lisbon, Paris, Geneva, Rome) were unforgettable. Friendships around the world – we met whenever possible — in spite of the distances are as if “we got together yesterday”.

All these helped enrich thoughts, open the heart, encounter other cultures and get to know sisters and brothers laity and priests through our common work.

It was a time of grace lived with MIAMSI. Thanks Giovanna! Thank you all!