Session of Benedictines of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Sister Emérence Mbala Kitenge
Monastery of the Tree of Life (DRC)
The second session of the MAC (Moines et moniales d’Afrique Centrale) was held in India at the Abbey of St Thomas of Kappadu in Kerala from the 20th to the 28th July, 2016. It brought together fourteen monks and nuns from ten monasteries, of which one community was Bernardine, two Cistercian and seven Benedictine. We regretted the absence of our Cistercian sisters of la Clarté-Dieu, of Muresa (Bukavu), our Cistercian brothers of Mokoto (Goma) and our Benedictine brothers of Gihindamauyaga (Ruanda), each of them prevented by canonical visitations of their respective communities. All the same, they were in our hearts.
The AIM-Afrique Centrale (MAC), held at the monastery of Mambre in Kinshasa in 2014, took as its theme the three pillars of monastic life: prayer, work and community life. Dom Martin Neyt and Abbot John Kurichianil of Kappadu were the principal speakers. At the end of this session the priors and prioresses unanimously decided that to deepen these three pillars of monastic life; one week was not sufficient. Therefore they wanted to treat the same theme with the same speakers in a new session. Generously Abbot John invited us to his community in India. Furthermore, the experience of the two intervening years lived in our different communities confirmed the need to investigate these three pillars as the sap of monastic life.
Therefore this year, 2016, we deepened the theme in a new perspective, ‘The join of the three pillars’. In fact prayer calls for work and community life; work is supported by prayer and community, and community is nourished by prayer and work. For these sessions Abbot John was the principal speaker and Dom Martin acted as interpreter from English into French.
To have the same theme twice with the same speakers is not always obviously useful! But with Abbot John things worked differently, thanks to his human and spiritual wisdom: he remains a wise man who drinks at his own well and has the ability to communicate quite simply to others. The method which he used evoked out enthusiasm: teaching and questions in the morning, and in the afternoon discovery-visits to put our fingers on the teaching received.
After the opening prayer Abbot John welcomed the members and announced a correction in the formulation of the theme of the session. He preferred to speak of prayer and work as the two poles of community life.
An experienced orator speaks from the overflow of the heart. In Africa the Bemba say, ‘Washa umulilo we sendapo ikyushi’, which means, ‘You have left the fire but you have taken the smoke.’ For our part we hope and believe that from the teaching and the discussions held we are carrying the fire to enflame monasticism in Central Africa. Our gratitude turns first of all to the Lord our God, who guided our travel and looked after us during the whole session. Our thanks are due also to the whole team of the AIM which made the session possible.
We salute the generosity and flexibility of Abbot John and his whole community: since all the participants could not arrive on the same day, a brother of the community made himself available to shuttle between the Abbey and Cochin Airport (about 70km). The same generosity of the community was expressed in looking after the lodging and feeding of the participants. As if that was not enough, the visits to tourist sites and other places were generously offered: the visit to Elamdesam (50km away), the visit to the coast (70km) and the visit to the south, Anakkara and Thekkady. Once more, a very special thank-you to Abbot John and all his community. Nor must we forget our interpreter, Dom Martin of Clerlande, for his ever-encouraging presence.
For each of us this session was a real spiritual and monastic resource, as it soon will be for the spread to each of our communities of Central Africa. This was a special grace for MAC in this Holy Year of Mercy.
In the evening of 27th July a post-session meeting of priors and prioresses was held. The following decisions were made:
To set up a new committee for the co-ordination of the MAC. Fr Médard Kimengwa Kitobo, of the monastery of N-D des Sources (Lubumbashi) was elected President. He will be seconded by Sister Emérence Mbala Kitenge, of the monastery of the Tree of Life, as Secretary. For co-ordination and distribution of news to communities a secretary for each region was elected:
• Dom Gilbert Mwanafunzi, Prior of Gihindamuyaga, for the region of the Great Lakes (Bukavu, Goma, Ruanda)
• Dom Médard Kimengwa
• Sister Emérence Mbala for the region of Kinshasa (Kinshasa and Bandundu)
The proposal of a formation session for young professed religious (more or less 30 years old), lasting 15 days, in August 2017.
A third meeting of priors and prioresses of the MAC, in Ruanda in 2018.
To set up a common fund for the functioning of the MAC. This implies subscriptions of $100 per annum per community.
To re-dynamize the prayer of intercession in our communities in the light of what has been shared at this session, to propose a set of prayers for members sent on a mission (cf. RB 67) and for those who enter and leave the weekly service (cf. RB 35).