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“My Jungle Is the World.”
U. S. A. | MEMBERS | NEWS
An interview with Caroline Wilders, a consecrated woman in Regnum Christi.

Caroline Wilders 1
Caroline Wilders is currently the director of Immaculate Conception Academy in Wakefield, RI.

By Elizabeth Stromberg

Wakefield, RI. September 7, 2010. Half-English and half-French, Caroline Wilders is a woman with a steely will underneath a serene exterior. She is also a consecrated woman in Regnum Christi, and will be celebrating her 25th anniversary of consecration this upcoming November.

Her path in life has not been an easy one, nor has it been typical. Yet it has always been marked by the presence and providence of God—especially when she has needed it most.

Looking for the jungle

Caroline had dreamed of being a missionary ever since she was five years old.

“I dreamed of going to Africa or the Amazon to be a missionary doctor. I wanted my life to help others and to bring them close to God, especially the most needy,” she says.

When she was sixteen, Caroline started spending her summers at Lourdes. For six years, her summers were spent “preparing meals, making beds, assisting the nurses, escorting the pilgrims, and praying to Our Lady to point out the proper jungle for me to carry out my missionary work as a doctor.”

After a high school education focused on math and science, she went on to medical school, which turned out to be a different sort of jungle.

“Medical school in France works like this: anyone with a baccalaureate can enroll, but only 100 will pass the first year. My freshman class had 800 students. It was every student for himself. Students caring only about securing their place did so by any means. They ripped pages out of textbooks so that no one else would have access to needed information, they sold cheat sheets with incorrect answers, and they gently persuaded other students to drop out.”

“I was lucky enough to be in medical school with two very good friends. The three of us studied together, stood up for
Caroline with parents
Caroline Wilders with her parents. Her mother is French and her father is English.
each other, and stuck together no matter what. At the end of that first year, all three of us had made the top 100.”

In Lourdes for the summer again during her third year in medical school, she was attending an international Mass in various languages on her 21st birthday. As the priest stood up to read the Gospel, she set down her water pitcher to pay attention.
 
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…” The reading was then repeated, first in French, then in English, then in German (a language she had learned in school), then in Spanish (a language she had picked up during the summer).
     
“Someone should have taken the water pitcher and poured it over my head. It was all so clear!” she exclaims.

“Listening to those readings of the Gospel was like God shouting at me from heaven: Knock, knock, Caroline! I am that hidden treasure. And, knock knock, to sell everything means to come follow me. And, knock knock, if you didn’t catch on at first, let me repeat myself in a language you will understand!

On her knees before him, in a state of elation and disbelief, she thanked him with all her heart for “the greatest birthday present he could ever have given me.”

Her mission was clear: she was called not just to relieve the sicknesses of the body, but to attend the greater and more hidden sicknesses of the soul.

“Christ was calling me to help the spiritually sick find healing in his love,” she says.

Having gotten to know the Regnum Christi Movement through a Legionary priest, she consecrated her life to the Lord on the Feast of Christ the King in November of 1985.

Solitude and poverty

The years have not always been easy, particularly in 1988, when Caroline was founding the Regnum Christi Movement in France. Three years after making her promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience, she found herself living the promise of poverty with particular intensity.

In their first apartment, she and two Regnum Christi coworkers started out with only one small suitcase and a rotting chair left by the former renters of the apartment.

As she sat on the chair and looked out the window, she saw a church steeple across the boulevard. “For you, it’s all worth it,” she whispered. Still, that didn’t change the fact that they had
Caroline Wilders with the Pope
Caroline receives a blessing from Pope John Paul II.
to eat canned food for three months and supply themselves with furniture from what was left as garbage on the side of the road.

The months that she spent there without the Blessed Sacrament in her house and without a lot of human companionship were some of the externally most difficult of her consecrated life but at the same time were moments of deep intimacy with Christ.

That experience also led to one of the best moments of her consecrated life: the day she received permission from the local bishop to have the Blessed Sacrament in her apartment.

“The parish priest didn’t even tell me, he just took me into the sacristy and handed me Christ in a small pix. I had already built the tabernacle and the altar for him with my own hands. I brought the Eucharist home and put him in his humble dwelling,” she recalls.

Experiences such as these have formed her conviction that Christ is also faithful to his promises.

“Cut off from external securities and distractions, God’s presence in my life became more and more real. He showed me that he was the only truly faithful and reliable friend, and I could seek consolation and companionship only in him.”

Close calls in Africa

In 1993, she took a group of missionaries to the Ivory Coast in Africa for a month-long mission. There, too, adventures were waiting.

While in one village, she caught the eye of a village chief.

In broken French, he asked who the leader of the missionary group was. When the missionaries pointed to her, he looked at her and boomed out, “YOU, MY WIFE.” Then, pointing to his shelter, he said, “THIS, YOUR HUT!”

Knowing she was risking her life by refusing the head of a tribe anything, she tried to explain with desperate gestures to her ring and to the sky that she was already married… to God.

“If I had been of that tribe, I would most probably have been killed on the spot,” she muses. “Luckily, they have a wise saying that ‘the stranger doesn’t know any better.’ That saying saved my life that day.”

In another African village, the people were not particularly thrilled to welcome the group of French missionaries, since the area had been a French colony and light-skinned people were a reminder of past colonization.

While preparing for their work of catechizing the villagers, the missionaries were told to go and listen in on a local catechist who was particularly good at reaching the people with concrete images.

In his lesson on the meaning and value of sacrifice, the catechist began by asking the group of 1,000 students (all clustered in the church) what it meant to offer a sacrifice to God. When they answered that it meant giving God something of value, he asked for examples.

“An egg,” someone volunteered.

“Good,” he answered. “And if you have a big egg and a small egg, which do you want to offer?”

“The big egg,” a student called out.

“And if you have a white egg and a brown egg, which do you want to offer?”

“The white egg!”

Well aware of the missionaries’ presence, the catechist continued with more examples (a chicken, a sheep, a cow). The larger, whiter object was always the better sacrifice.

Finally, he stopped, and with great dramatic effect said, “We all know that human sacrifices are still going on just a short distance from here, but as Catholics, we don’t do them!”

The implied statement seemed to be that the best one to sacrifice would nonetheless be the white one…

“The white missionaries in the Church felt very white… and quite unsafe!” says Caroline.

Good Friday in a post-war zone

While on Holy Week missions in Croatia shortly after the war between Bosnia and Croatia, Caroline was walking through a makeshift orphanage full of handicapped Bosnian refugees.

It was Good Friday around 3 pm. There was rock music playing on the speakers, she had her crucifix in her pocket, and she was trying to unite herself spiritually to Christ in his passion and death.

She went into one of the rooms, where a young woman was lying in bed. When the woman saw that Caroline had her hands in her pockets, she asked excitedly in German if she had any chocolates or cigarettes. Caroline said she didn’t, and hesitatingly took the crucifix out of her pocket, expecting that the handicapped woman would feel let down.

But instead, her eyes lit up and she stretched out her hands. She took the crucifix and with great love and reverence kissed it over and over again.

“It was the most memorable Good Friday veneration of the cross that I’ve ever had,” says Caroline.

Cultivating a garden

Caroline is currently working at Immaculate Conception Academy, a boarding school for high school girls who are discerning their vocation to consecrated life in Regnum Christi. Her mission has taken her from African and urban jungles to a garden where the youth are learning to discover Christ and grow in his friendship.

For Caroline, the certainty that Christ is always with her and that he is faithful has always been source of strength and comfort. For her, these years have been well worth it because she has always been accompanied by his love.

“Jesus Christ is my life and my everything,” she says. “Being consecrated means being a missionary doctor in the fullest and most sublime sense of the word. My jungle is the world. My patients are anyone who needs to discover meaning in life. My prescription: Jesus Christ. Take daily. Fully refillable, no risk of overdose.”

Click here for more information about the consecrated life: http://www.regnumchristi.org/english/articulos/categoria.phtml?se=360&ca=234
To email Caroline for more information about Immaculate Conception Academy:
Cwilders@inteducators.org


PUBLICATION DATE: 2010-09-08


 
 

Related links

Official web site of the Vatican.
Legionaries of Christ
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