KENYA: African Synodality Initiative Holds a Contemplative Synodal Encounter with Carmelite Sisters

By Caroline Kavita and Ndanu Mung’ala

KISII, AUGUST 29, 2023 (CISA)- “We are Contemplatives and have limited contact with the outside world. We know the synodal process is ongoing, but we would really like to know what it is all about, the aim, and how we as Contemplatives can be part of it,” said Sr Chiara Therese Mbom  OCD, the superior of the community in Kisii, Kenya, when she reached out to Caroline Kavita, the programme coordinator of the African Synodality Initiative (ASI).

In response to this desire of the cloistered nuns who have dedicated themselves to a life of contemplation and prayer for the Church and world to know more about the Synod on Synodality, ASI held a formation workshop on Synodality with the Discalced Carmelite (OCD) nuns from August 2 to 3, 2023, at their monastery in Kisii.

The two-day workshop was aimed at giving the nuns a comprehensive understanding of synodality so that they can fully and prayerfully participate in the process. By deepening their knowledge and clarifying their role. The workshop sessions were intended to assist the sisters in aligning their contemplative mission with the needs of the Church and the world and to be truly in communion.

According to Ms Kavita, “For ASI, this was a unique experience as it is the first contemplative group to work with. It was a blessed opportunity to advance the goal of incarnating the practice of synodality, through the formation of people in ministry and the people of God, especially on the margins of society.”

She explains, “Before the workshop, ASI sent various synod and ASI materials to the sisters so that they could familiarize themselves with the process and some of its outcomes. During a session on the contributions Contemplatives can make to the synodal process, the workshop facilitator, Ndanu Mung’ala, also shared with them two letters written in 2021 by Cardinal Mario Grech (General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops) to women and men called to the monastic and contemplative life. In his August 28, 2021, letter, Cardinal Grech exhorts them: “Our Holy Father Pope Francis often repeats: “Pray for me!”. Today I, as an interpreter of the meaning that the Pope wants to give to the synodal path, ask you: ‘pray for the Synod!’”

The Carmelite sisters were touched and elated by how deeply the letters by Cardinal Grech reflected their day-to-day struggles and reminded them of the vital role they play in supporting the Church and her mission. The sisters also requested ASI to convey their heartfelt gratitude to the cardinal for remembering them.

Using the Spiritual Conversation Method in small groups, the sisters reflected on their vocation and role in synodality, through prayer, discernment and providing their contemplative lives and traditions as support and direction, especially as inspired by their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, who exemplifies being “a daughter of the Church.” The nuns were concerned too with sustaining the momentum that had been built in the last two years of the synod. It was evident that they were firmly anchoring themselves on the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.

In giving feedback from their group, Sr Catherine Muchemo OCD summarised: “Through prayer and contemplation, there’s an extension of the tent; our hearts expand. We are then able to accommodate others. Through silence, the Holy Spirit speaks to us, allowing for conversion, allowing us to journey together.”

At the end of the workshop, Sr Mary Joyce Sagwe OCD with clarity on the synodal process said “It is not too late because the process is not over; it is a journey and it needs our prayers still,” as Sr Marie Therese Nangole OCD added, “By listening and accompanying those who come to us, we realise that their visitations are more for deeper spiritual needs rather than the material needs they first talk about.”

The sisters agreed on some practical activities they can do to promote synodality, including: praying the synod prayer with the community and initiating more prayer sessions; adding current synod processes to their monthly mass intentions; using the Spiritual Conversation Method in their weekly Gospel reflection and organising their own local prayer vigil in solidarity with the Church on September 30, 2023, as invited by Pope Francis, before the start of the 16th General Assembly in Rome.

They shall also discern together a prayer they can contribute to the Pray for the Synod website. The nuns also pledged to be ‘synodal Sisters’, as encouraged by Sr. Nathalie Becquart, xmcj (Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops), through a renewed commitment to their vocation, their community and the Church.

Edited by CISA