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Angola, and 30 years of Promaica

Women of Promaica (from diocesedohuambo.org)
24 October 2020

A national congress was held in August to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the foundation of Promaica, the association for the promotion of women in the Angolan Catholic Church. However, covid-19 forced a postponement of everything sine die - reports the bitterly disappointed Julieta Araújo, its national coordinator.  Promaica was founded in 1990 by Monsignor Óscar Braga, the visionary bishop from Benguela, who died on May 26, 2020 at the age of 89. However, if he is its father, its mother is Rosália Nawakemba.

In the Eighties, Caritas went through a crucial phase of transition from upholding a welfarist philosophy to one that concentrated on development, i.e. not giving fish, but teaching how to fish. Monsignor Braga, the president of the Angolan Caritas, embraced this new philosophy. With a Cafod fund, the Catholic overseas development agency sent two women to Kenya in 1990 to experience the new approach. One of whom was Rosália, a volunteer at Caritas in Benguela and a teacher.

Rosália met free women who were able to transmit their knowledge competently. She was enthusiastic about this. She knew that her bishop had always dreamed of such women in Angola. She thought, what if we were to create a small group? On her return, she talked about it with Braga who was “amazed, red with joy”. He asked her, “What do you want me to do?” “Get Teresinha to come and help us”. Teresinha Tavares, from Portugal, from the international Grail women’s movement, had already been to Caritas Angola and Nawakemba and had met her again in Kenya, where she was accompanying a group of Mozambican women. In Angola, she conducted a course that ended on August 23, 1990. This was to become the date of Promaica’s foundation, which was first called Women’s Social Development, then Women’s Promotion and finally Promaica: Promoção das mulheres angolanas na Igreja Católica. This name would distinguish it from other women’s movements emerging in the Country “in the Catholic Church”. Promaica operated without an actual hierarchical structure until 2003, when Nawakemba became its national coordinator. Today, in retirement, she is its councillor. And, she feels happy because what she wanted for Angolan women is taking place, and with the new leadership, she knows that “there will be continuity”. What Rosália and Monsignor Braga wanted was a space where women could become aware of their value in the Church and in society, where they could “promote themselves to promote” other people, explains Julieta Araújo, a nurse specialized in clinical analysis. Like her, the majority of Promaica’s 95,000 members are active in different sectors of the Church and society. In addition, Promaica-Giovani exists today with about nine thousand members. The movement is present in the 18 Angolan dioceses and now also in Sao Tome and Principe and Mozambique. Promaica’s activities are centered on human, Christian and professional formation, and which takes concrete form in the fight against illiteracy and poverty; which are problems that after almost forty years of war have made more serious, especially for women.

Today, women are more educated, more active, more united, they have “a greater sense of religious and civil participation”, sums up the founder. However, there is something that still makes her cry, which is the extreme poverty of women in remote areas, despite their hard work. Rosália asks the Church to help her organize sustainable agriculture. Is that not the State’s task? “Yes, but when the state is late, the Church must help” and it can be done without waiting for anything from outside, but starting from the resources and the local reality, making these women protagonists of their development as in Promaica’s philosophy, she says. On the spiritual level, Rosália sees the need to intensify the fight against witchcraft, which is still very much present with all its implications. Witchcraft was one of the issues raised by Benedict XVI when he visited Angola in 2009. On that occasion, the Pope met with Catholic women’s movements, and in his discourse he famously used the expression “silent heroines” with which he defined the woman who, especially during the war years, were able to defend the family with dignity, as a sanctuary of life. History often considers only the achievements of men, said the Pope, who invited us to examine the extent to which certain measures and attitudes of men can obscure the equality between men and women, who are called to live in communion and complementarity. During the meeting, Rosalia recalled the hard work that Promaica is doing. When asked whether they are satisfied with their role in the Church today, Rosalia and Julieta respond positively: progress has been made - they explain - today some women are studying theology, they are part of parish commissions, they prepare the altar for Mass, there are altar girls. Moreover, Promaica has the Episcopal Conference on its side. There is dialogue and collaboration with the bishop and the priest as spiritual director. The women do what they are asked because they want to, never by imposition, and they also know how to say no, says Rosália. The source of Promaica’s funding is membership fees and over time, the movement has also become independent of Caritas. Comforted by the fact that Pope Francis repeats that women must be of service and never serve and that they must be able to occupy important positions in the Church, Julieta and Rosália maintain that, beyond the question of the priesthood, women can carry out any task in the Church in Angola. However, the main concern of those working in Promaica - they imply - is the improvement of women’s living conditions, because “there is no point in wanting to occupy higher positions if one does not have the adequate preparation to do so”, says Rosália.

by Maria Dulce Araújo Évora