A French Carmelite restaurant in Lima.
Yesterday evening I had dinner with fellow novices Jake Martin, Jim Shea and Chris Staab at L´Eau Vive, a French restaurant in downtown Lima run by Carmelite religious women. I first learned of L´Eau Vive from a travel guide description that I read as I was preparing to leave for Lima. All that The Rough Guide to Peru had to say about L´Eau Vive was that it was a French restaurant operated by nuns who sang the Ave Maria during dinner; I was sufficiently intrigued by this information that I resolved to visit L´Eau Vive during my time in Lima. Now that I´ve been to this unique and delightful restaurant, I´d like to eat there again.
L´Eau Vive is an apostolate of the Famille Missionaire Donum Dei, a community of Catholic religious women founded in 1950 by Marcel Roussel, a French diocesan priest deeply influenced by Carmelite spirituality. From the start, Father Roussel´s community focused strongly on evangelization and missionary work. In the early 1960´s, the Donum Dei community began establishing French restaurants named L´Eau Vive in various cities around the world. Father Roussel described the L´Eau Vive restaurants as Carmels ouverts, ¨open Carmels¨ where sisters of the Famille Missionaire Donum Dei would serve the Church´s mission of evangelization through the witness of their lives of prayer and service and through gracious hospitality. At the same time, every meal eaten at L´Eau Vive would help feed the poor; all the proceeds from the restaurants go to support Donum Dei´s mission work. As far as I´m aware, L´Eau Vive is the only international restaurant chain run by a religious community as a charitable venture and as a means of evangelization. Though Donum Dei works on five continents, they are not present in the United States. Certain that I wouldn´t soon have another opportunity to dine at a L´Eau Vive restaurant, I knew I´d have to check the place out before I left Lima.
As I expected, dining at L´Eau Vive-Lima was a unique and fascinating experience. Located in an old mansion on a street lined with colonial buildings, L´Eau Vive stands out from its neighbors solely by virtue of a small sign on the door, painted by hand in elegant and unmistakably French cursive. To enter the restaurant, my companions and I had to ring a bell and announce ourselves via intercom. Our charming and gracious hostess, a Donum Dei sister from France, offered us a trilingual greeting (Spanish, French, English) and escorted us to our table in the high-ceilinged but simply-furnished dining room. Our hostess chatted amiably with us in both Spanish and French; pleased to learn that we were members of the Society of Jesus, she spoke of Jesuits she knew in Lima and in Rome and assured us of her prayers for us. Just as we were finishing our meal - the food was excellent, by the way - the eight or so Donum Dei sisters in the Lima community gathered in the dining room to sing a Marian hymn in both French and Spanish. I was touched by the sisters´ singing, which bore witness to their identity as religious and offered a prayerful and reflective end to a fine meal. A unique, enjoyable and ultimately grace-filled experience, my dinner at L´Eau Vive was one of the highlights of the time I´ve spent in Lima.
Rounding out this post, I must make note of two significant events that occur on July 16th. One is the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patronal feast of the Carmelite Order. This year, the Memorial isn´t on the Church´s liturgical calendar because it happens to fall on a Sunday. Nonetheless, it strikes me as rather appropriate that my brother novices and I observed what would otherwise have been the Vigil of the Memorial by having dinner at a restaurant run by Carmelite sisters. Another event that takes place every year on July 16th, Sunday or weekday, is my mother´s birthday. Mom, I´m sorry I´m not there to celebrate your birthday with you, and I hope you´re enjoying the day. Happy birthday!
As some readers may have already learned from Richard´s blog, Tomorrow morning my fellow novices and I fly to Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire and now a major tourist destination. I doubt I´ll have much access to the Internet while I´m in Cusco, so the next update to this blog will likely come next Sunday when I return to Lima. Until then, I wish all my readers the very best. AMDG.