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Nuns in Angola: 'We hid in the bread oven to escape being killed by the bullets'
"As soon as we arrived, the vocations began; so many in fact, that we didn't have room for them."
By Oliver Maksan
NEW YORK (April 19, 2016)—Living the Gospel of mercy amid flying bullets is no easy task. The Poor Clare Sisters living in the convent of Santa Clara in Malanje, Angola, have lived through a number of battles during the civil war that destroyed so much in this country, all without leaving their convent walls—which are nonetheless riddled with bullet holes.
"It's a miracle that we’re still alive, but we weren't hit by a single bullet," Mother María del Carmen Reinoso told internatinal Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The civil war in this country was one of the longest and bloodiest on the continent, and the early years of the decade of the 1990s was the most violent period of all. During one of the phases during which the convent was attacked, the sisters had to hide in the bread oven, where they normally bake the bread, in order to take shelter from a hail of bullets—and indeed still to this day the walls of their convent bear the “tattoo marks” of the shooting.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the bishops of Angola asked the Poor Clare Sisters to come to Malanje to establish a contemplative convent there. After much effort, and living in conditions of "great poverty,” the Mother Superior said, they founded the convent in 1982. "As soon as we arrived, the vocations began; so many in fact, that we didn't have room for them,” she said.
It was a joyful surprise for these Spanish nuns, who were accustomed to the shortage of vocations in their own country. "They were too few in Spain and in Angola there were so many, and so some of our sisters from here were sent to Spain,” said Mother Maria del Carmen.
Since 1987, ACN has helped the Poor Clare Sisters in the Archdiocese of Malanje with various different projects—including the construction of the convent itself, the extension of the chapel, and its restoration after it was peppered with bullet holes during the war. Since 2002 alone the charity has given approximately 77,000 Euros in aid for the sisters.
"We are able to live, thanks to the benefactors,” the Mother Superior said, adding: "Our prayers are the only thing we can give them in return, and so every day we pray the Rosary for them and also offer Masses."
Currently there are 19 professed sisters and five novices living in the convent. In addition to the spiritual duties of the contemplative life, the sisters also make baby clothes and religious items for sale in order to bring in a little additional income for the convent. Their convent chapel, which was restored with the help of ACN, is today one of the places where the faithful can come during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, for it is here that one of the Doors of Mercy was opened in the diocese.
Mother María del Carmen Reinoso; ACN photo