This congregation of women religious from DRC was born from a newly independent African state, aware that "religious life was not just a matter for white people.”
On February 2, 2023, Pope Francis met with the clergy and religious of the Democratic Republic of Congo for a moment of prayer at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo in the capital, Kinshasa.
Sister Joséphine Mbembe, present in the audience, told I.MEDIA about her diocesan congregation and how the faithful in DRC became aware “that religious life was not just a matter for white people.”
“Our congregation, the Sisters of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, was born in the 1960s,” she explained. At that time, Joseph Albert Malula (1917-1989), who would become the country’s first cardinal, wanted to “Africanize” the Church in the DRC, which had just gained independence from the Kingdom of Belgium.
“Some women had told him that in the European congregations, African nuns were losing their ‘Africanness,'” said Sister Joséphine. She listed a series of qualities that she believes define this African style, such as “expressiveness, welcome and hospitality, spontaneity, kindness, joy and the smile.”
She explains that in those years “there was racial discrimination and discrimination against women even in the Church.” In the congregations, the Black nuns were the ones who did the most menial work, she added sadly.
Living and testifying Christ as African sisters
Thus in 1967, with permission from the Vatican, the archbishop of Kinshasa founded this diocesan congregation, which today counts 115 nuns. The mission of the congregation is “to live and testify the charity of Christ in our being African women and religious,” she explained.
Sister Joséphine and the other consecrated women from her community wear “a simple African mama’s dress” as a habit. They work on many activities in fields as varied as mechanics, tailoring, electricity, health and education.
“We go where humanity is,” she said. Sister Joséphine educates postulants and also teaches at a university and at the Major Seminary of John XXIII in Kinshasa.
“Cardinal Malula wanted the nuns to be well trained to be able to serve Christ well,” says the Sister, who is happy to see Pope Francis coming to her diocese to support the local Church. “The Pope carries African women in his heart and carries all women religious. It is a great grace that he came here.”