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​Having a sister study is not a waste of time

· In the Third World too ·

Women in the Third World countries undoubtedly find in the Church a possibility of instruction and of a very important professional training, which in some places is unique. And this possibility obviously also concerns the women who choose the religious life, a choice which often matures at the schools they attend, which are run by women religious. This access to education is an important possibility, it can even be described as a requirement due to their own mission as women. This is especially true for women religious called to serve throughout the world, who have the right to be properly trained and well prepared to carry out the service that is asked of them.

Gino Severini, “A Woman Reading” (1915)

Unfortunately, however, the scholastic process of training women religious is decidedly inadequate: only three years of formation for the consecrated life, and for many sisters study stops here, with the obvious consequence that their destination will be domestic service, jobs involving hard work. Then there are those who succeed in continuing, thanks to scholarships, and who perfect their studies, usually in Rome. We may distinguish between two categories of these women religious: those who have received scholarships and are housed in colleges annexed to the universities and those who have their mother houses in the West and are sent there to study. Sisters sent to the latter are usually burdened by the obligation to study and to attend courses without interrupting their life of service, the manual labour allotted to them by the institute they belong to.

Overall, however, these scholarships grant the religious too short a time for their training, not envisaging either the necessary period for learning the language in which the lessons are given or the adaptation required in order to confront new subjects and new study methods, a period which instead is customarily granted to priests and seminarians, who moreover are never subjected to the obligation of domestic work.

This is essentially an offer of study of a kind that is decidedly inferior to the study that males enjoy, as if women’s instruction was an optional and secondary problem.

But times have changed, women want to occupy management posts like men, they know that, like men, they have been created in the image and likeness of God.

Women religious who live in their communities must have time at their disposal to study and must be free to make programmes or projects, for study is a time of preparation for service to the Church. The more well-trained religious we have, the better we can carry out our service. They are well aware that three years of formation for consecrated life are not enough and cannot be enough to understand what service to the Church actually is, how it should be done and why it is done.

Our urgent need is not to hold offices but rather to train people who are capable of giving, who can give the best of themselves, because we can’t give to others what we don’t possess, as the Italian proverb says: “La botte dà il vino che ha” – the barrel gives the wine it contains. It is necessary to give consecrated women the time and means to study well; in this way they will have the possibility of knowing themselves and of developing their self-esteem, to be able also to appreciate the good qualities of others, to be demanding with themselves before being demanding with others, to be at the same time both objective and understanding. The woman who does not know herself well enough or has no self-esteem, lives under the influence of fear: the fear of not knowing herself, the fear of her responsibility and the fear of others’ freedom. In a word, fear of herself and of her inner emptiness. This personal insecurity does not help the woman religious in her apostolate, on the contrary it almost inevitably leads her to adopt attitudes of rigidity, severity, fixation, strictness and inflexibility with others.

These things are well known but I repeat them because all too often the studies of a woman religious are seen as time wasted, as if in studying the religious would lose her sense of obedience and humility. Unfortunately this is still the opinion that a great many people have of sisters who study, because they believe that after studying the religious will get above herself. However, in my own small experience I can say that study helped me to understand the deepest meaning of service and to perceive the difficulties of others. I therefore thank my superior who gave me this opportunity. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the aspect of Jesus the Servant while forgetting Jesus the Teacher himself, who taught in the temple. This is to say that what could be called the intellectual apostolate or service also exists.

Let us first ask Mother Church to be deeply committed to the formation of women religious: sisters who can make radical choices for Christ and for the dignity of women. To train combative women religious who have the courage to denounce and to say “no” to anti-values, which humiliate women and impoverish the meaning and value of religious consecration. The Church needs women religious who can carry out an intellectual service at all levels in order to rediscover the authentic value of service.

Rita Mboshu Kongo

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Sept. 20, 2019

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