In the book that he considered his most important work, the Doctor of the Church Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote something many people today might find hard to hear: “The person who prays will most certainly gain Heaven. But the person who does not pray will likewise certainly be eternally lost.”
The book has the challenging title, Is Prayer Necessary? The contemplative Sisters answer the question with their lives. For some Sisters their work is to pray for the Church, others serve God in a more active life. Prayer always has a social dimension – but social work without prayer redeems no one. For the Poor Clares in Madagascar this is self-evident. They have five convents on the island, knowing that the social problems here cannot be resolved by work alone. “We want to fulfil the wonderful dream of saving many souls through the offering of our lives”, says Sister Laura. She is one of six Sisters living in the newest convent, which has just been founded. Like three of the Sisters there – Chiara, Gloria and Celeste – Sister Laura comes from Sicily, the other two – Agnes and Francesca – are from Madagascar. From their convent they hope to light up the Diocese of Ambanja. It is called “Kintana Manazava”, which means something like the “Convent of Light from Light”.
They want this light to light up the darkness of people’s lives here, especially the lives of the women, who often find themselves left alone with their children – as there is little sense of family cohesion in Madagascar. There are only a few schools, the illiteracy rate is high and even the religious life suffers from a lack of education, while across the island superstitious practices are widespread. Poverty and unemployment, prostitution and drugs are a bitter truth of daily life. Electricity and running water are a luxury, and many people have never even seen a car.
In order to light up this darkness, the Sisters begin with the light of faith, with prayer. One of the major concerns of their foundress was always to keep this balance between work and prayer, in which prayer must always take priority. Rule No. 7 of the Rule of the Poor Clares says, “The Sisters must work with fidelity and dedication – but without suffocating the spirit of prayer and devotion. All other temporal things must serve HIM alone.” For the Sisters it was a sign from heaven when one of the parishes gave them a statue of Our Lady to mark the opening of the convent. During the Marian months of May and October the statue of the Virgin of La Salette travels from house to house so that people can pray the Rosary before it.
As well as the six professed Sisters there are four novices and four young postulants living in the new convent. They devote themselves to prayer and religious formation. The land is paid for, but they do not have the funds to extend the house or build the chapel, which will also serve the Christians of the local community – especially the women. They want everyone to be able to draw strength from prayer. We have promised part funding of E200,000 for this project. The Sisters’ dream is a selfless one; it will find fulfilment.