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The vocation to reconcile study and stove

An interview with Sister Rita, a cook at the Capranica College and a Ph.D. in theology

Founded in 1457 by Cardinal Domenico Capranica to encourage the formation for the priesthood of poor young men, the Almo Collegio Capranica is the oldest seminary. Today young people of different nationalities are found there, some are preparing for the priesthood, others are already priests, continuing their postgraduate studies. Since 1978 the service of the college kitchen has been run by the Daughters of Mary Co-redeemer, including Sister Rita, born in Congo.

How did your vocation begin?

The story of my vocation began while I was in college, but even if I had the inclination to the consecrated life, I had no clear ideas. A priest in my village that I had known from a young age was instrumental in my journey of discernment. He was sent to study in Rome at the Capranica. It was he who helped me to understand what the Lord wanted from me, first letting me know about the Daughters of Mary Co-redeemer and then putting me in touch with them, so as to be able to come to Italy to experience religious life. He knew all about the conditioning that I had undergone from my clan, who had other plans for me.

What did your family want for you?

In the Kete tribe, a matriarchal tribe, the woman is considered the cornerstone of the clan. So it was up to me, as firstborn, to be formed to become clan leader, on the day when my maternal grandmother passed away. I felt this strong responsibility, which made my choice of the religious life difficult. If while I was in college I felt a strong inclination towards the consecrated life, I had only to return to my family for all my certainties to vanish. Moreover, in general, in Africa girls are educated to form a family. That's why it was necessary for me to leave this environment to try to really understand what I felt deep inside.

When did you leave the Congo?

I made the decision to begin the experience with the Daughters of Mary, and when I was prepared to go to Italy, I informed my family. They did not take it well. I left with sadness but also with a little trepidation because I did not know what to expect in Italy. However, I was determined. That was in 1996.

What is your congregation?

The founder is Father Vittorio Dante Forno, born in Porto Alegre (Brazil) June 2, 1916 to Sicilian parents. On 9 June 1940, he was ordained, choosing as his motto Vivas in me, vivam in te . The charism of the Daughters of Mary Co-redeemer, then, is the total offering of oneself in a silent daily martyrdom, because all their life - that is prayer, sentiments, thoughts and actions - is offered to God as a sacrifice of adoration, reparation, redemption and sanctification, so that priests be privileged with His grace, to make them more effective as ministers. The specific aim of the congregation is, in fact, to train people who offer their lives to God because the mission of the ministerial priest produces the full availability of the reception of grace in the hearts of men. The Daughters of Mary express their spirituality through an intense life of prayer of a contemplative and oblative character.

How do you express your  charism today and how do you live it in the Almo Capranica College?

We live our charism carrying out the apostolate in various fields. We give assistance to the poor, to troubled teens, we support development projects in Congo, we have managed the service of the kitchen of the college since October 1978, when we arrived here through the good offices of Monsignor Gualdrini, who was then rector of the college. At Capranica, while I gave my service in the kitchen, I continued my studies with a doctorate in spiritual theology .

You have therefore studied up to doctoral level?

After obtaining my BA in theology, the Superior General Mother Salemi, asked me first to continue with the license in spirituality at the Teresianum and then a doctorate at the same institute. I was specifically asked to deepen the spirituality and charism of our congregation: the title of my thesis was A perspective for an inculturated formation in the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Co-redeemer in the Congo . I chose this theme because the intent of Mother Salemi was to send me back to the Congo there to start our apostolate and train other girls wanting to become nuns in our institute .

How would you summarize your work?

I believe that education should start from what the aspirant is acquainted with. This knowledge requires a contact with the places of origin, with families of origin. It is essential to know the people before introducing spiritual content. I insist on the knowledge of the aspirant because in the specifics of Congo it is important to know that the girl is prepared by her family to become a wife and mother, that her wealth is, first of all, her husband and children. From this perspective, it is therefore necessary to explain to her that by religious consecration she remains a woman, but totally consecrated to God. Her duties as a wife and mother are spelled out in a spiritual motherhood and spousal relationship. The evangelical counsels must be presented to the aspirant as the capacity to love, to give, to give oneself; such as offering all their abilities so that, free from every other link, she may love the Lord as her spouse. She is able to love those who the Lord loves. Thus, the future nun lives her femininity giving all of herself to others according to the african mysticism based on the value of fertility.

How were you able to reconcile your service in the kitchen with the writing of the thesis?

It was not easy, but the Lord is great and listens to the cry of those who call in the difficult moments of life. It was difficult, but with the grace of God, my determination, a lot of sacrifice, the encouragement of superiors (starting with the rector, Monsignor Manicardi), students of the college and my sisters, I carried on my dual job of cook and student. Certainly the education and training received within my clan have been crucial. Moreover, I received the appointment to go into our community serving the Capranica when I was already on the fourth chapter of my thesis: only the fifth was missing! Yet, after the first moments of uncertainty in my new ministry, I continued to work at a snail's pace on the writing of the thesis. I did not give in to the inevitable difficulties because I think I have a very strong character.

During the writing of the thesis, what was your relationship with the students of the Capranica?

As far as my relationship with the students is concerned, I can only say that it consisted of discussion and mutual support. I still remember with emotion the party after the defense of my thesis shared together with my sisters and Capranica students in the refectory of the college.

How do you live your commitment in the kitchen as a PhD?

The achievement of the title of doctor of theology does not take away from me my fundamental vocation, which is to be a daughter of Mary Co-redeemer. So I live my commitment as a cook in the spirit of our charism. The most important thing for me, in fact, is to be a nun at our institution at the service of the Church where it is needed and where my superiors send me. My help in the kitchen makes me happy to the extent that I collaborate as much as possible, to ensure that the students fully live their ministry. But also I do try to update myself culturally, both by participating in meetings and by dialogue with students who are preparing for the license and doctorate.

What do you think of your path as an African girl who came to Italy to be formed in the religious life?

I believe that it is not at all easy to leave Africa and come to start training here. I think it would be better if the girls were initially formed in their homeland because they have stories that need to be known and understood in their context. Not only that: it is also necessary that the aspirant nun also involves family members. And those involved in formation should know them, to help them to understand the way of life that their daughter is going to take on. For me it went well, as well as for other girls formed directly in Italy, but I am of the opinion that it is desirable that at least the initial training should take place in one’s own homeland.

Born in 1966 in Luebo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Sister Rita Mboshu Kongo, after in 1987 obtaining the State diploma in general education, she enrolled in medicine at the University of Kinshasa. To answer the call of the Lord, the young Congolese leaves her own country and arrives in Italy with the Daughters of Mary Co-redeemer. In 1998 she begins her novitiate. A licentiate in spiritual theology, in 2005, follows and then, in 2011, a doctorate from the Pontifical Institute of Spirituality, the Teresianum of Rome.


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