Gone are the days when leading a purely religious life in the Catholic church was a preserve of those willing to lead a life of celibacy, without the responsibilities of looking after a family.
With dwindling numbers of young Catholics choosing to enlist for the various religious vocations in the church, its leaders are exploring other avenues to ensure continuity of the church’s ministries.
While the Vatican remains not overly enthusiastic about ending the era of celibacy for clergy, the church is opening up other vocations of religious congregations to Catholics leading a family life. These, however, join the religious congregations as associates.
Recently, 11 lay Catholics took vows at Bwanda near Villa Maria in Masaka, to join the congregation of the Daughters of Mary the first indigenous African society of the religious in the Catholic church. Daughters of Mary, or Banna-Biikira as they are fondly known, was founded in 1910 by Mechtilda, a nun with the congregation of the White Sisters at the urging of Bishop Henri Streitcher.
The congregation’s associates were inaugurated on December 3, the day the congregation marked 114 years since the first African girls took vows to embrace the habit and become nuns.
“The associates live their own lives but choose to follow the community’s spirituality and cherished values,” Rev Sr Rosemary Namaganda, the mother general of the Banna-Biikira sisters told The Observer.
The associates must be committed Catholics living in acceptable Catholic marriages and are willing to primarily embrace the motherhood of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the entire creation.
“You must be humble enough and ready to teach the rest of the people around you you must be ready to share, and be compassionate,” Sr Namaganda said.
The idea of enlisting associates in the church’s ministry was adopted about 20 years ago, and has been popular in European countries where the number of committed Catholics is on the decline. Some countries started separate institutes of apostolic life.
“They have different rules from the community’s constitution because we go through different formations,” Sr Namaganda said.
The associates’ formation takes two years, half the amount of time prospective nuns spend in the formation houses.
“Theirs is not restricted to only women, even men are admissible,” Sr Namaganda said.
The only man who had enlisted under the Banna-Biikira lost his courage at the last minute to take the vows, to the distress of the community’s leaders.
“There are people who can’t live a [completely celibate] life, but can serve the community in a different way it is a choice one has to make,” Sr Namaganda said.
The majority of the associates are widows, recruited from Gayaza Catholic parish of Kampala archdiocese, thanks to the efforts of Fr Jude Makanga, the former parish priest of Gayaza. Fr Makanga could not hide his excitement that he is the only priest who has so far taken the lead in supporting the congregation to take on associates.
“There is no better way I could pay back to the Banna-Biikira I regard you as my mothers because you taught me the catechism which gave me a foundation for my becoming a priest,” Fr Makanga said.
After mass that was celebrated by Fr Gerald Migadde, the assistant chaplain of the convent, the associates took their vows before his senior, Fr Leonard Lubega. Like the original nuns, the associates also took one-year vows and can in future take perpetual vows, committing their entire life to the community.
Source : The Observer