The population of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, in northwest Africa, is almost 100% Muslim. The mere 4,000 or so Catholic Christians are exclusively foreigners. And the bishop, priests and religious sisters of the only diocese in the country likewise come from 20 different countries of Europe, Asia and Africa.
The 27 religious sisters have their hands absolutely full in this, one of the poorest countries in the world. They care for expectant mothers, the sick, migrants, prisoners and the handicapped. They work in the schools and other educational facilities and teach the women, who have no opportunity to attend school, such practical skills as sewing, and also reading and writing. On top of this they care for many undernourished and malnourished children, of whom there are around 40,000 in the capital, Nouakchott, alone.
The situation facing the Mauritanian people is becoming ever more difficult. Whereas as recently as 1960, when the country became independent, some 85% of the population were nomads and pastoralists, living from their livestock, the desert has been spreading ever further outwards, since the early 1970s, and many have now lost their flocks. More and more people are migrating to the cities and ending up in the slums. At the same time, the country, which faces west onto the Atlantic Ocean, is also affected by rising sea levels, which have rendered many outlying areas of the coastal towns and cities uninhabitable.
Although pressure from an insurgent Islamism is increasing in the country, the work of the Catholic Church is nevertheless highly esteemed by many Muslims. Bishop Martin Happe has one Mauritanian friend who, although a Muslim, has very happy childhood memories of the Catholic religious sisters. While he was still a child, he and his playmates used to think up all kinds of minor ailments, so that they could ring the doorbell at the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. For then, his friend told him, „we not only got a sticking plaster but always a glass of lemonade as well.“ To this day he still remembers the names of the sisters in the convent at that time.
The Catholic Church is also respected by the government for its charitable work, but it does not receive any financial support. And so, this year once again, ACN is supporting the life and ministry of the 27 religious sisters there, with a contribution of 20,000 Euros.