, VATICAN, Feb 2 – As the Catholic Church’s Year of Consecrated Life comes to a close on Tuesday, AFP caught up with four very different members of religious orders for an insight into lives devoted to God.
While the numbers of young people entering orders is dwindling in developed countries, there remain 693,000 sisters and 55,000 brothers scattered across the world, each applying their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in their own particular manner.
Sabine, 75, takes care of a former Mother Superior stricken by dementia. Jean-Marie, 48, works with the mentally ill in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Clemence, 33, lives in a camp for ethnic Roma in Italy while Sister Cristina, 27, is best known as the winner of Italy’s version of “The Voice” and is currently starring in the musical “Sister Act” in Rome.
Q: Why did you choose this religious life, which for most people today seems so strange?
Jean-Marie: The calling to a religious life comes, first of all, from God. It is also about feeling empathy towards those who have nothing, those who society does not value. Personally it was something that came to me when I was working with Mother Theresa’s order, seeing the work they did.
Clemence: I dreamed of having a family, but then I realised that it was more important to dedicate myself to the world around me. I surprised myself but I feel I’m now where I want to be.
Cristina: It was a big surprise in my life. The Lord revealed himself to me so powerfully, I could not say no. I felt loved as I had never been loved by anyone.
Sabine: I wanted to learn how to pray. It is the best thing you can do on this earth, and I could not do it alone, I needed a community. You do not only pray with words, you put a whole life into it.
Q: What is daily life like for you?
Clemence: I pray with my sisters, morning and evening and also on my own, one hour a day. To earn our living, we sell our crafts, like the Roma, from door to door or in markets. The most important thing is that we take the time to forge friendships in the community that has embraced us.
Sabine: Prayers punctuate our day, from dawn until dusk. In between, we work, eat and sleep. We make a home-made spirit and I try to sell it. As you get older, it is all much more serious than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Those who were not really very, very motivated, they have left.
Jean-Marie: With my four brothers, we rotate between time for prayer, work and relaxation. We live in harmony but we are human beings, not everything is perfect. When there is a problem we talk about it and we forgive each other.
Cristina: We rise at 6:30 am for prayers and mass. Then everyone has their commitments. Personally, I sing, I take lessons, I perform — maybe it seems like two different worlds but it is the gift the Lord has given me and it is through singing that I bear witness to my faith.
Q: Poverty, chastity and obedience. Which of the three vows is the most difficult to observe?
Jean-Marie: They complement one another. Obedience is a difficult vow. And to remain celibate, in Africa especially, is not easy.
Clemence: These vows are about laying myself bare, how hard that is varies from day to day. But look at me, the person who gave up the opportunity to have a family, surrounded from morning until night by children.
Cristina: I would say obedience — to subjugate oneself to follow the will of God as expressed by one’s superiors.
Sabine: Everything can be understood through obedience. I am not poor, we are well fed, kept warm, taken care of, but I have nothing for me.
If I need something I have to ask for it and I did not always get what I asked for. It was the same for all my sisters. Some of them helped themselves — we are no better than anyone else.”