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News - n. 04
70 Years since
the first Carmel
in Sub-Saharan Africa
The Carmel of Kanaga, in
the Democratic Republic of Congo, celebrated its 70th
anniversary on the 14th November. It was founded in
1934 by six Belgian nuns, and over the years it has grown and bloomed,
and has been responsible for the foundation of several other Carmels in
Africa. In 1952 it founded the Carmel of Zaza in Ruanda
(today located in Kigali) which, in its turn, ten years later, founded
Kinshasa (Democratic Rep. of Congo). Later Kanaga founded
Ruhondo-Remera (Ruanda), today in Yamoussukro (Ivory Coast), and also
This first sub-Saharan
Carmel has today 14 nuns, all of them African. Its dynamic presence is a
sure witness to the local Church, for which it is an important centre.
Retracing the great events of our Carmelite history, we proclaim once
more the fidelity of God who confirms us in our conviction that Jesus
the same yesterday, today and for ever@
The Origin of the first
The project of founding a
Carmel in Africa came to birth on the 14th November 1934, in
Kabwe, today the Democratic Republic of Congo, which at that time was a
Belgian colony. The first stirrings had been made ten years
before, more in hope than anything else.
It all began when a Jesuit
Missionary, who had been working in the Kwango region of the Congo, came
to give a conference to the Belgian carmel of
Matagne la Petite (Namur) in February 1925. At the end of the
conference he raised two questions:
there Carmelites in the Colonies? Is it permissible for Carmelite
Sisters to have houses in missionary territories?@.
The questions challenged
the Sisters and reminded them of the apostolic zeal of St. Teresa of
Avila. But it would be a long time before any kind of project
could be realized. The Superiors who were responsible for such a
project wanted to make sure first that this would be possible and so, in
the meantime, told the community not to mention it again.
There were other obstacles
to a new foundation: the community of Matagne was too young and
inexperienced; and numbered only 15, certainly not enough.
Moreover, in 1924 they had given up a much larger property in order to
re-house themselves in a smaller and more suitable building, but still
without a proper chapel or cloister. These obstacles, however, did not
prevent them from dedicating their future to such a noble undertaking.
In 1926 Pope Pius XI
published the encyclical
inviting the contemplative Orders to establish themselves in missionary
countries. This was a boost to the Sisters hopes. Contact
was made with missionary prelates. The idea of Carmel in Africa
raised all sorts of questions:
the Rule of Carmel be adapted to suit the ecuatorial climate?
Would indigenous people be suitable for a contemplative life? Can
such a Carmel in Africa be supported financially given the financial
After much reflexion the first question raised about the adaptability of
the Rule, established in 13th
century Palestine, could be adapted to the Tropics. And, thanks to God=s
Providence and grace, the other questions were answered in a similarly
positive manner. The time for the project to be fulfilled was
close but they were still required to wait.
In the meantime those who
were to be the pioneers had much work to do in the new property as well
as long hours of prayer. Their hopes and dreams intensified and at
the same time the numbers of vocations increased. In 1928 Mgr. Van
Hee, Apostolic Vicar of Kwango, passed through Matagne la Petite, on his
way to Rome. He told the community that, with the blessing of the
Pope and permission from Propaganda Fide, he
had assumed responsibility for the project to found a Carmel in the
On the 15th
October 1932, according to the chronicles of Kabwe, a friend and
benefactor of the Carmel, John Cornet d=Elzius,
promised some of his land in the Kivu region of the Congo, where a
chapel had already been built in honour of our Blessed Lady.
Unfortunately, Mgr. Huys, coadjutor to the Apostolic Vicar of
Bauduinville, (in which the Kivu region was situated) was not in favour
of the idea and advised the Sisters not to accept this offer.
It seemed that it was not
will that Carmel should be established in
this particularly beautiful place which enjoyed such a mild climate.
This was also the opinion of Mgr. Van Hee, and he suggested to the
Sisters that they make contact with the
Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scheut), whose
centre was in Leopoldville, today Kinshasa.
In September 1933, Fr
Daems, Superior of the said Missionaries, accepted straight away to have
a Carmelite foundation in one of the vicariates confided to his
Congregation. The Apostolic Delegate, Mgr. Dellepiane, doubted
that such a foundation could survive in Leopoldville (Kinshasa), and so
proposed the city of Kisantu, where there was a large regional seminary.
Thus on the 13th
March 1934, the Vicar Apostolic of Alto Kasayi, Mgr. De Clerq, accepted
the possibility of a Camelite foundation of nuns in his Vicariate.
He proposed to situate the convent in Kabwe, between the major and minor
seminaries and not far from the Parish Church. But then the
Vicariate was divided into two, so this Vicar Apostolic was unable to
finalize the plans.
On the 15th May
of the same year the Apostolic Delegate, with the blessing of the Pope,
was finally able to approve the project of Matagne Carmel.
The General of the Carmelite Order, Guillermo of St Albert, supported
followed the preparations with interest. After having weighed up
the importance and significance of this project as well as the risks, he
obtained the necessary authorizations from the Vatican authorities.
Now at last the train was on the move.
Foundation in Kabwe
On the 6th
October 1934 six Carmelite Sisters travelled to Central Africa, arriving
by boat from Lisbon. The names of these sisters from Matagne
Carmel are: Carlota of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Teresa of the Holy
Face, Cecilia of the Good Shepherd and Maria Rosa of St Joseph. Joining
them were two others from Carmels in Belgium: Maria Julian of the
Blessed Sacrament, Lieja Carmel, and
Margaret Maria of the Sacred Heart from Ath.
Carlota, who had been prioress from 1928-31, was appointed prioress of
the new foundation.
The itinerary that the Sisters followed was practically the same as the
one followed by the first Carmelite friars to the Congo in 1584,
following the attempts of 1582 and 1583 which ended so disastrously.
They disembarked at Lobito (today Angola) on the 28th
October, the feast of Christ the King. In Luanda they could admire
the ruins of the original Carmelite foundation. They travelled in
land by train to Dilolo-Tenke, the first station in the Belgian Congo.
As they approached their journey=s
end, Luluaburg, today the city of Kananga, they intoned a fervent
They spent several days in
Mikalayi, the first Mission of the Region, making initial contact with
the new land, the new climate and the new environment. Some days
later, on the 13th November 1934 the pioneers of sub-Saharan
Africa eventually arrived in Kabwe, where they received the Canonical
approval for the new building, just arrived from Rome, from Mons. De
Clerq. The new Kabwe monastery was officially established the
following day with the celebration of the first Eucharist. The
Carmelite Sisters could not wait to prepare the land, to plant trees, to
lay paths and convert buildings into workplaces.
In May 1935 another Sister
arrived, followed by a second a year later. The convent now had 12
Nuns. The chronicle records:
the 24th May 1935 four Nuns arrived from Matagne, among them
a novice and a postulant. We prepared accommodation for them
dividing our cells into two with a curtain...@
The construction began in
1935 and was finished in 1937. The chapel was solemnly inaugurated
on the 19th March 1938 by Mgr. Demol, together with all the
Superiors of the neighbouring missions as well as the seminarians.
But right from the beginning the question had been asked:
this Carmel hope to attract vocations from the local people?@
The answer was yes but with difficulty; throughout there was always this
When the manor seminary
transferred in 1984 to the capital, Kananga, in the Malole suburbs, the
sisters decided to move there too, principally for the sake being close
to the seminary which was always a resource centre for formation.
The Carmel quickly established itself and was
soon considered the heart of the diocese, and many priests, religious
men and women, as well as laity went there to spend time in quiet prayer
The celebration of the 70th
anniversary of the convent coincided with the golden jubilee of one of
the community. The sisters gave a sincere thanks to God for all
the wonders that He had worked throughout these years. At the same time
they appealed to our generosity for financial help so that they can keep
going. They wrote:
need material help and your prayers for vocations to come and join us in
a life dedicated to the Church@.
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15 dic 2004 by
OCD General House
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