It is not simply a matter of ‘praying from time to time, when I feel like it. No, Jesus says that we ought “always to pray and not lose heart”.’

For the 21 Trappist nuns in the convent of Our Lady in Murhesa, Democratic Republic of the Congo these words of Pope Francis about praying at all times describe the programme of their daily lives. Prayer is the most important thing. Here, in the region of Bukavu, they have seen so much suffering, destitution, robbery and murder – indeed many people have experienced it firsthand.

But they know, as Pope Benedict XVI says, that ‘Our prayers reach the heart of God. We may be sure that there is no such thing as superfluous, unnecessary prayer; not one prayer is lost.’ That is why they never give up hope. And now that the fighting is dying down, they want to start anew and, as Sister Hortense writes, ‘take up our little industries again’. This means rabbit farming, candlemaking, beekeeping, knitting and soapmaking.

They already have much of the equipment for these activities, but what they don’t have is storerooms and workshops. Doors and windows are expensive, so are the foundations and steel reinforcement which cost far more than they could ever afford.

With our help the younger sisters will be able to set to work to support their community. But they also need medicines for the elderly sisters – not to mention educational resources for the younger ones. We are also helping with their general upkeep, and this aid is also ‘heaven sent’ according to Sister Hortense. They see it as an answer to their prayers. Though we might say that the sisters themselves are an answer to prayer, sent by Providence.

The Poor Clares in Brestovsko, Bosnia Herzegovina make use of every available minute in order to support their community, what with digging, hoeing, planting, needlework and baking unleavened bread for the Mass. The sisters work very hard, help their many visitors – but above all they pray. For them the words of Pope Francis are a daily reality: ‘Faith is not a theory, not a philosophy, not simply an idea; it is an encounter. An encounter with Jesus.’ 

They seek to encounter the Lord every day despite the difficulties of their situation – in a country still suffering the consequences of war. This is why they have been unable to finish the second part of their convent. The basic structure is complete, but the rooms are empty and the bathrooms still unfinished.

They need these rooms as there are many young women wanting to join the congregation. They could live with the simple, basic furnishings – a table, chair, cupboard, bed, crucifix – but not without heating. They plan to install a small solar heating system which will also help keep costs down in the future. ‘We humbly ask your help’, writes Sister Hijacinta. For to us too faith should be an encounter with Jesus and not a mere theory.

This article can be found in Mirror 0217.