My name is Immaculée Nyembo Mamba. I belong to the monastery of the Holy Saviour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have been in France for three years, thanks to the bursary given by the AIM for theological formation at the Institut Catholique of Paris.
I belong to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country of central Africa, which has a surface of 2,345km square. The DRC is a country rich in mineral resources and numbers more than 70 million inhabitants. Before telling you about our monasteries in Africa I would like to stress a political situation which, among others, is basic for our inculturation. In the course of decolonisation, after independence, the country underwent several events including the politics of authenticity, whose purpose was to give the country its own identity. To this end the former Belgian Congo became ‘the Democratic Republic of Zaire’, all religious teaching in schools was suppressed. In the matter of clothing lay dress took the place of a habit, especially for female religious. That is how our first sisters passed from the habit to lay dress.
The monastery of the DRC was founded in 1946 by Benedictine nuns from Loppens in Belgium of the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of the Queen of the Apostles. At the present day we number six monasteries of which five are in the Congo and one in Chad, as I shall briefly present to you. I propose to speak of only three monasteries in the Congo.
The monastery of the Holy Saviour in the town of Lubumbashi is in the province of Katanga, in the south of the country, 2,000km from Kinshasa. The monastery lies in the Kalubwe quarter, 6km from the city centre and 15km from the airport. It is built within the curtilage of a property of 7 hectares, which allows the nuns to lead their monastic life of prayer, work and hospitality. In fact the area surrounding the monastery is increasingly densely settled. The population is continually growing because of the war, especially in the east of the country. In consequence of this migration the community faces new problems and the sisters are engaged in various pastoral activities such as the catechesis of children and of adults, as well as the guidance of a biblical group for meditation, principally the psalms, for those who take part in the liturgical prayer. In addition they run three large schools, nursery, primary and secondary. Nevertheless, with the problem of the exploitation of minerals, several mining organisations are recruiting young people by offering them a better salary. As the majority of the teachers in our schools are laypeople, regretfully a number of them are abandoning their profession of teaching. The consequence of this sometimes massive exodus is that the sisters are obliged to fill their places rather than compromise the quality of the education of the young.
The monastery of the Holy Saviour at Likasi (120km from Lubumbashi) is integrated into the local Church by daily prayer and catechesis. As hospitality holds such an important place in monastic life, the community runs a guesthouse and welcomes many people who need recollection and silence. They also practise agriculture and run a large primary and secondary school. At the beginning this school admitted only girls, for its purpose was to bring on girls deprived of any education. This was linked both to lack of resources and also to the difficulties of populationmovement. Because of lack of resources parents gave priority to boys at the expense of girls. For this reason the community found itself obliged to turn part of the guesthouse into a boarding-house for girls who could not otherwise get to school, which imperilled their future. The purpose was to give at least a minimum of instruction, for, according to the saying, ‘to educate a woman is to educate a nation’. From this arose the need of rooms providing space suitable for abandoned girls. Another problem which must be stressed concerns the mining organisations. There it was boys who are more at risk, and to face up to this problem we have accepted boys into our school also. The task is there, but with the help of God and the support of the AMTM we hope to be able to respond to the problem through our monastic vocation.
The monastery of the Annunciation at Lubudi (320km from Lubumbashi) is deep in the rural area. There is no other religious community in the village. As part of its insertion in the local Church the community has undertaken a hospice for old people drawn from among the poorest of the poor. The community survives by fieldwork. Right out in the country, the community is also devoted to the education of the young; it has a school and a boarding-house for girls from the surrounding villages. The education of girls is an urgent need. Since the parents lack any means, the sisters ask and encourage families to support the education of their daughters by payment in kind, that is, whatever they happen to grow, whether maize or cassava.
The Monastery of Chad
The monastery of St Agatha lies in the south of the country, in the diocese of Moundou, 500km from N’Djamena. This monastery was founded in 2005 by nuns of the DRC. It is one of the 103 new monasteries across the world in the last 40 years, which Père Martin mentioned in his speech. It is a sign of the development of African monasticism which is bringing us into the second generation of the spread of monastic life around the world. Now it is Africa which is becoming missionary! The community of the Congo responded to the appeal of Pope Paul VI in 1969 when he said to the Africans at Kampala, ‘You have human values and particular cultural characteristics which can be raised to their own perfection, suitable for finding in Christianity and for Christianity an unprecedented
fullness, and so capable of having its own properly African richness of expression. From now on, Africans, you are your own missionaries! You can and you must have your own African Christianity.’ The community responded also to the request of the Episcopal Conference of Chad, who expressed their desire to have monastic life in a country where Christianity and Islam live together. The influence of the community makes itself felt by prayer, work and hospitality.
• Liturgy. The community welcomes many people who want to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist. As there is not yet a chapel, a large room divided into two serves as oratory and community room.
• Hospitality. As you know, hospitality has an important place in monastic life. Thanks to the support of the AMTM the community benefits from a little guesthouse of six rooms, an ideal situation for those who want a time of retreat, solitude and silence. Its attraction is increased by the fact that it is the sole monastic presence in Chad.
• Work. ‘They will truly be monks when they live by the work of their hands’ says St Benedict in his Rule. In order to live, the community engages in agriculture. Thanks to the support of the AMTM we have a well which helps to provide both drinking-water and irrigation for agriculture, not only for the sisters but also for the surrounding population. We thank the AMTM, for this is a real development for the whole village. Besides this, the sisters make candles and liturgical vestments. In addition, a few months ago the headman of the village, a Muslim, brought to the notice of the community the need to educate girls. The sisters began by teaching the alphabet and setting up a reception-area for girls. Since the month of September they have opened a nursery school which caters for 160 children, aged 3 to 5, from the neighbouring villages. This progressive formation is done by the sisters themselves. The teaching takes place in three different places.
I would like to finish by saying that the monastic experience opens a whole new world to us, at the same time as being a withdrawal from the world. In everyday life we manage to express the character of our faith celebrated, lived and proclaimed, though we have certainly not overcome all the difficulties which this entails. The purpose is to live a balanced monastic life of prayer, work and hospitality, attentive also to the calls of the Church. In the name of my whole community I would like to thank the AIM and especially the AMTM which today is celebrating its forty years. Thank you for the help and support which spreads the influence of monasteries across the world. Thank you to all who are here. May the joy of the Lord dwell in our hearts. Thank you!