Golden Jubilee of the Foundation of Our Lady of Koubri

Mother Henriette Kalmago, Prioress

‘On your ramparts, Jerusalem, I have placed watchmen; they are not silent by day or by night’ (Isaiah 62.6).

Among the 22 monasteries of monks and nuns under the Rule of St Benedict with which West Africa has been blessed, eight have already celebrated their golden jubilee. That is to say that the foundations occurred during the period which we call ‘the Independance era’. The countries where they were founded were receiving socio-political and administrative independence one after another, which was not without influence on the fledgling communities. The founders had to cope with a double adaptation, just as the young people who knocked on their doors needed to be resolute and courageous, braving a question-mark before the unknown. It is indeed a grace for us in West Africa, as for many other regions in Africa, to number among those who brought the Good News of salvation contemplative communities watching over the walls of our cities and our countrysides and singing night and day the fidelity of the Lord, witnessing by their presence to the love of Jesus Christ for us.

There is beauty in the symbolism which represents monastic life as a cooking-pot planted on three firm stones: the search for God in prayer, lectio divina, labour and a fraternal community around an abbot! This is always the case in the depths of our hearts, even though we must also recognize that today, in a context threatened by scourges of all kinds, ranging from fratricidal wars, Boco Haram and various Islamist groups, the race for power and money, to the unlimited quest for independence. This sometimes amounts to an enslavement in so far as respect for neighbours is ignored or sacrificed. Nevertheless even we in our monasteries are whipped up by the insidious winds of individualism and a thirst for efficiency which threaten our monastic identity. These often amount to a return to the non-values which we have renounced by whole-hearted submission to the Rule of St Benedict. Otherwise it remains inexplicable that in our communities responsible, adult obedience is often misused and battered, and that in our communities we find the choice of superiors mirrors that of the profane or political world. Are we to accept such regressions into paganism which are a betrayal of our baptismal faith, simply because we think that our personal interests are threatened by authority, or by the very community which gives us existence as monks and nuns? It seems that the challenges of a previous era concerning discernment of vocations, formation and earnings have flourished and put out new shoots.

How can we be a sign and witness to unity in a fragmented Africa if we continue to turn a deaf ear to the call to fraternal unity in the face of the problems of tribalism? Other challenges are not lacking, such as the relationship between family and enclosure, help offered to needy people around our monasteries without losing our identity as contemplative monks and nuns. We cannot be blind to the toils of sin, though ‘Christ has freed us that we may remain free’ and for the same reason St Benedict has given us his Rule. It is the moment to ‘hold fast and not submit again to the yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5.1). After fifty years let us return with new zest to the struggle in order to ‘be sure that we are never spiteful or deceitful or hypocritical or envious and critical of one another, but are like new-born babies, hungry for nothing but milk, which will help us grow up to salvation, since we have tasted the goodness of the Lord’ (1 Peter 2.1-3).