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Catholic Sisters in Africa Asked to Go Beyond “community projects” to Sustain Congregation

A section of ACWECA members participating in the ongoing five-day Plenary Assembly of Catholic Sisters in the region of Eastern and Central Africa. Credit: ACWECA

A Kenyan Nun is advocating for Catholic Sisters in Africa to be allowed, while adhering to the evangelical council of obedience, to join sectors of society that offer a “better pay” in view of sustaining their respective Religious Congregations that are facing tough financial times.

In a presentation at the ongoing 18th Plenary Assembly of the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA), Sr. Bibiana Ngundo, a lecturer in African Culture and Religion at the Kenya-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) highlighted various challenges that women Religious in Africa face, key among them, inadequate resources for their apostolate.

Credit: ACWECA

“As a way of economic sustainability of a Congregation, this paper has advocated for members of a congregation to be allowed to move outside their community projects and work elsewhere in public or other private institutions in search of better pay,” Sr. Bibiana said Tuesday, August 24.

The member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis (LSOSF), however, clarified that what her paper suggests “is not recommended as a contradiction to Canon 601 which enjoins members to undertake to submit to their Superiors.”

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“In the search for better ways of survival, all protocols and procedures of each community apply,” the Catholic Nun said, making reference to the evangelical council of obedience stipulated in the Code of Canon Law.

In her submission at the Plenary Assembly, which commenced on Monday, August 23, Sr. Bibiana noted that many Religious Congregations in Africa are struggling to survive especially owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Economic sustainability for many religious communities is an issue of concern today. Many African Congregations are struggling financially, more so during these COVID-19 times,” Sr. Bibiana said.

Credit: ACWECA

She added, “With the growing numbers of Sisters in some of our Institutes, the challenge of inadequate resources to sustain the Sisters in their basic needs, medication and care of elderly Sisters among other needs is truly biting.”

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“The question for Congregations should be, how do we sustain the Institute members and their needs?” the LSOSF member said.

Sr. Bibiana acknowledged that today, as opposed to the days past, dialogue has become a necessary tool in the effort for the Religious to exercise their vow of obedience with freedom.

“Abraham engaged God in a dialogue in plea for Sodom to be spared from punishment and God patiently listened to him,” the Catholic Nun said, and explained, “Dialogue however is two ways as Jesus indicates, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.’ In this case both the Superiors and their subjects need the exercise of listening to one another.”

Credit: ACWECA

She said that the attitude where Superiors of Religious Congregations engage in dialogue with members promotes peace and harmony between the two parties as well as in the community. 

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Sr. Bibiana noted that the exercise of dialogue can also be beneficial for inter-congregational harmony. 

Highlighting the challenges that Religious institutions are grappling with, Sr. Bibiana said, “Throughout the ages, religious life has never been easy. This institution is faced with both opportunities and challenges.”

“Religious life is lived in a world that is slowly progressing from peace to chaos, love to hatred, honest to dishonest, truthfulness to lie, from disease to disease, poverty to riches, riches to poverty, and from faith to faithlessness among others,” the lecturer in African Culture and Religion said.

She further said that the underlying issues in all the challenges facing Religious Congregations is the lack of financial policies.

Credit: ACWECA

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According to the LSOSF member, many Religious Congregations do not have established financial policies that could help guide Sisters in the use of congregational funds and resources.

In such scenarios, the don at CUEA observes, individuals end up withholding salaries or finding alternative ways of acquiring funds for private use or providing for their families.

“The lack of well-trained Sisters in strategic planning, finance skills and policies is the cause of poor budgeting and accountability in Congregations,” the Nun asserts, and adds, “These skills would help foster collective responsibility for the common good that lies at the heart of religious community life.”

She says that matters of financial insecurity might impact the future sustainability of Congregations and all that pertains to their spiritual and temporal welfare.

She quotes a 2016 report, which indicated that there was an ongoing struggle to generate funds to cover costs in Congregations because remuneration from Diocesan or Parish ministries, in which the majority of sisters were engaged, was extremely low.

“Sisters seek secular jobs where they receive better returns but this on the other hand becomes a loss of talent for church ministries,” Sr. Bibiana says.

Credit: ACWECA

To tackle the harsh economic times for Religious Congregations, the Catholic Nun further underlines the importance of collaboration between various Congregations. She also insists that Congregations become creative in sourcing for funding instead and avoid overreliance on donor funding.

“It seems there is great need for Congregations to find ways to collaborate with each other to meet these common economic needs, and particularly to break away from dependence on resources from overseas donors or salaries only,” the Kenyan Sister says.