Monday, January 7, 2008

Out of Africa

This weekend we had an Africa theme birthday party for our prioress. The menu said that the main entree was "elephant's ear" but it looked suspiciously like rolled, stuffed American beef to me. It was an appropriate theme since she was just in the country of South Africa in early December helping a small, fragile Benedictine community of women with their General Chapter and elections. Over a dozen other community members have been to Africa also.

There are quite a number of Benedictine monasteries and abbeys on this continent. Most were begun by missionaries from Europe: Germany, Belgium, France, England and Italy had the most. The largest number are in Tanzania, the Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. There are a few very large groups, 100 or more members, but most have between 10-60 members. By now many of them are independent but they are still a member of a large congregation. The ones that do not belong to a larger federation or congregation were often founded by a local bishop and are somewhat "diocesan" in nature. Many of the communities are still rural and a large number live very simply; more than a few are quite poor.

One of the highlights of the birthday party was the decorations. There were kangas everywhere...the brightly colored wraps worn by African women. We have great pictures of African Benedictine sisters wearing beautiful kangas over their habits during community celebrations!