Amrita Manjaly, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth (SCN), recently traveled abroad to experience the Africa Mission in Botswana and Kenya. There, she was greeted warmly by her fellow Sisters and by the communities. Sister Amrita shares the following from her experience:
Botswana, “the country of diamond-hearted people,” greeted me with “Dumela ma” – meaning, ‘hallo Maam’ when I landed in Gaborone, Botswana, on July 2. As soon as I saw Sisters Ann Muthukattil, Nalini Meachariyil, Sunila Erumangalathu, Bibiana Kindo, Mary Michael Dang and Stella Kaiprampatt at the airport, I felt I was home.
The Sisters had made a meticulous plan for my visit so that I never felt that I was in a foreign country. The entire time that I spent in Botswana was indeed a time of blessing, learning and renewing myself.
I consider my visit to Africa a special gift from our Sisters of Charity of Nazareth community, for I could rejuvenate myself, experience a new culture and new forms of worship, meet friendly people, listen to new dialects and appreciate their hospitality. I would like to recount some memorable experiences as I visited this enchanting, grace-filled, well-developed country.
Metsimotlahbe was my first stop, where our Sisters, Nalini and Sunila, are in mission. It is said that the first impression is the best impression and the Sisters went out of their way to help me experience every facet of this place. I was privileged to visit the Archbishop of Gaborone, His Excellency Frank Nubuasah. His pleasant and friendly demeanor and appreciation of SCN Sisters working in his Diocese were very enriching and encouraging.
The visit to some of the poor families where we, the SCNs, are conducting outreach programs was an eye opener for me – to know how the poor people live and cope with the daily challenges of life, especially not having sufficient water. The ministry to the Pabaelong Hospice is truly in keeping with our SCN Charism and objectives to give personal care and treatment for the sick and the aged.
Kanye SCN community is known as the Mother House of Botswana SCN mission. Our pioneer veteran, Sister Ann Muthukattil, and the ever young and energetic Sister Mary Michael Dang are in mission there. I was touched by the enormous work the Sisters are doing here. It was a surprise for me to see Sister Ann drive hundreds of kilometers all alone to reach the outstations of the parish for pastoral ministry. These roads are frighteningly lonely and barren without any human habitats and wild animals prowl around the vicinity.
Sister Mary Michael is the Head Teacher of St. Bakhita’s Pre-School. The tiny tots are quite creative, smart and gave intelligent answers to some of our questions. It is one of the best schools of the area. I was delighted to meet the Parish Priest, Father Gofaone Pehto, who has spent a few months in Kerala for renewals and spirituality courses. I found the funeral services in this parish very devotional and spiritual by giving the dead due respect and reverence. The roles played by the lay people in this ministry are unique and special to African culture.
Sister Bibiana Kindo and, lately, Stella Kaiprampatt are ministering in Lobatse Mission. Unfortunately, I missed meeting the children of St. Mary’s Pre-School due to holidays, but I was privileged to visit several families of the parish to understand their lifestyle.
The Sisters in Botswana occasionally gather to pray, share and celebrate community life. The three missions are an hour’s drive away. I admire and appreciate the driving skills of our Sisters in Botswana. They are confident and skilled in driving miles and miles around the country. (There are only two Women Religious Congregations in Botswana: SCNs and Sisters of Calvary.)
The entire Catholic community participates fully with their body, mind, and spirit by singing and dancing rhythmically and vigorously during the Sunday/Feast Day Masses. Botswana is a Christian country. I was warmly welcomed in all these churches. I liked the participation of the young children in the form of Flower Girls, who come around the altar dancing several times during the Mass. The people seem to like to be in the church for long hours as the Mass is quite long but active and alive throughout. The women come in various dress as they belong to different sodalities and organizations.
Another aspect of the Church here that I appreciated very much was that the people own up the Church, and it is not left to the responsibility of the priests or the religious alone. The people take care of the repair and maintenance of the Church and the entire campus, including the sustenance of the priests. The people’s love and respect for persons, the discipline in the society, and the desire to follow the rules and regulations of the country are admirable and praiseworthy. The people have great admiration and appreciation for the Sisters’ work and services which we render to the society, and they encourage and support the Sisters fully.
The visit to Kasane- the Game Park for wild animals like elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers, and many others and Victoria Falls (on the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe/ Zambia) was something memorable and special. We could see the wild animals moving around the villages freely, and no one seemed to be bothered much about them, which shows the affinity of the people toward nature and the environment. The people consider everything as the creation of God and therefore try to live amicably and harmoniously with everyone. We can learn so much from this experience.
“Jaambo” is the word in Swahili for greetings. The Sisters Vinaya Chalil, Philomena Hebrom, Cornelia Ekka, and Helan Sathiya are really one with the people of Marereni village. Within a short span of time, our Sisters have already learned the Swahili language, which is very different from the many Indian languages. It helps them to participate in all the facets of the place and people. The Sisters are fully engaged in the activities of the Church and the society as they live among the people, in the midst of the villagers. The Sisters truly live a very simple life keeping in mind our original Charism with many challenges and hardships as the facilities are minimum and the resources are hard to find.
I was delighted to see the Indian Ocean very close to our place and felt that we were closer to India though separated by thousands of miles away. Malindi was the place where Vasco De Gama stopped on his exploration trip to India, where he erected a pillar that is seen at the shore of the Indian Ocean. Here, I would like to narrate an incident: When we the Sisters went to see this pillar, we had to buy a ticket, and we were told that the ticket fare for the foreigners is four times more than the citizens. Since the amount was very high for the Sisters to bear, we decided to go back. As we turned and walked toward our destination, the ticket counter official called us back and was ready to give us tickets at the rate of the citizens. When we enquired about the change of his mind, we were amazed at a lady whom he pointed out to us whose name was Elizabeth. She was resting from her garden work a little far away from the place and was watching what was happening with us. She enquired from the ticket counter why we went away without purchasing the tickets. When the official told her about the ticket fare difference, she told the official that these ladies are Religious Sisters/ Nuns who serve us here in Malindi and please consider them as ours. He suddenly realized his folly and tried to amend his rule for us and gave us tickets at the rate of the citizens. Good Samaritans are found everywhere. I felt proud of our Sisters as they are in a safe place where the poor own us up completely.
The Church culture in Kenya is very much similar to Botswana, though the people are very poor here. But the spirit of sharing among the people is praiseworthy, and they take it as their responsibility to care for the Consecrated Persons. I was touched by their act of sharing with the Sisters the fourth Sunday’s offertory gifts. The other three Sunday offerings go to the priests.
I was privileged to meet the Bishop of Malindi, most Reverend Willybard Lagho, at ‘Emmaus,’ his residence. The travel by Matato (small vehicle for public transport) is very similar to Indian auto Rikshaws. The Sisters use this transport to move around the place. I was amazed to see the simple setup of the Cathedral Church and so are the other churches, but the churches are filled with people who actively participate in the Mass with lively singing and dancing. Kenya has more Catholics.
St. Francis of Assisi Pre-School, where Sisters Cornelia Ekka and Helan Sathiya are teaching, has reached up to class three with more than 250 students. The school is growing rapidly since the Sisters joined it. These tiny tots leave home as early as six in the morning, walking all the way to school. It was very interesting to see the children walking on both sides of the road, almost in the dark which shows that they are eager to learn and want to be in schools. It was very painful to hear that most of these children do not eat anything throughout the day. It was a very painful fact to assimilate. The school community welcomed me and the Sisters with their cultural extravaganza. The children are very creative and enterprising.
Sisters Vinaya and Philomena are fully into the pastoral and social outreach programs. It was very heartening to see the Sisters are welcomed and supported by the people everywhere and sharing whatever little they have with the Sisters. The ‘Jumuiya’ – Small Christian Community prayer gathering – was an eye opener for me as every member present shared one’s reflections, prayers, and petitions not once but multiple times, which shows the depth of their spirituality and communion.
My firsthand experience in Africa has taught me several new things for life, some of which I can never forget. I have great admiration, and appreciation, and salute the daring spirit of our Sisters and their ‘Yes’ to Africa Mission. I am grateful to God, to our SCN community and to the Central Leadership Team for giving me an opportunity to have this emersion experience at this time of my life. I wish and pray that more of our Sisters will have these types of experiences, which are life-giving, memorable, and one of a kind.
As I conclude, I feel that we SCNs have shared our resources and expertise sufficiently with our country India and I do feel the need of the hour in keeping with our Charism is to focus more on the pressing needs of the people in Africa who are in great need of SCN presence and services.