Apostolic religious life for women in East and Central Africa: Future sustainability and ‘deep story’

Catherine Sexton and María Calderón Muñoz from the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge discuss the findings of a recent report on the lives of religious sisters in Africa

In 2016, our research team from the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology and Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies was awarded a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters’ Initiative to undertake a study with Catholic sisters across East and Central Africa. The aim of this project was to further enrich local theological discussion about the apostolic or active form of religious life for women in the region and contribute to the growing global discourse on the same.

In recognition of our being outsiders, i.e. neither sisters nor from the region, and with a desire for this work to be participatory, we consulted widely with sisters about the exact topic of the research. This culminated in a meeting in Zambia in 2016, bringing together sisters from the five project locations: Kenya; Malawi; Tanzania; Uganda and Zambia. The primary concerns expressed were sustainability; the role of sisters in the Church, and how best to form them for these roles. As a means of exploring these concerns, the sisters suggested the research ask what sisters themselves say is the essence of religious life for women in Africa today and into the future, and what are the key challenges that hinder the living of this essence.

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