By Uche Amunike
As a growing child, my mother kept on telling us how much she wanted at least one of her daughters to be a reverend sister and of course it fell on deaf ears. I have two sisters and each time she talked about it, we just laughed. It was funny, really. We kept on taking it as a joke. As we got older, she would express her disappointment that none of us ever thought it wise to consider her plea. That was when we noticed the passion with which she expressed her regrets that God gave her three daughters and none of them agreed to give back to God by becoming Reverend Sisters. It's actually funny thinking back now because she didn't think it wise to be a reverend sister during her own time and yet, went on to blame us all for getting married. Mothers are truly very funny creatures!!
I love reverend sisters. Don't get me wrong. I have a deep form of respect for them. It is not an easy vocation. When you see a young girl committing her entire life to chastity, prudence and obedience, you can't help but appreciate and respect her. That is part of what the life of a reverend sister entails. They are true definitions of service, compassion, piety, moral uprightness and what have you. As a matter of fact, they conquer their worlds through service to humanity and relish their seeming isolation which leaves them devoting more time to their cause.
Apart from two of my daughters that attended federal government colleges, I made sure that the others attended Catholic schools. That is where they have these reverend sisters as teachers, care givers and guardians. The principals of such schools are Reverend Sisters and the discipline rate is usually very commendable. They are particular about these girls turning out great as future mothers in society. They groom them in all areas and ensure that their moral, psychological and spiritual well being is assured. I can actually beat my chest and say that they gave me the best where my children are concerned. That is how much they contribute to the positive growth of young girls.
It is actually difficult not to respect these young women who have served in the Catholic Church for as long as she has been in existence. It is not easy to take permanent vows to devote their lives to the Church in order to offer the services required of them and also perform their special functions in the church. These functions range from humanitarian to evangelism. These reverend sisters run the motherless babies' homes, home for the aged, visitation of the sick, and even helping out with giving Holy Communion during the Holy Mass. Their different congregations actually determine what sort of services they would render to society. In all, through their day to day life activities, they are expected to reflect the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Just this morning, I was driving to work and when I got to the long stretch of road that linked Abacha to Nimo. I saw her. She was so pretty and reserved in her uniform which I think is called 'habit'. I wondered why she was standing there all alone in that lonely road and shuddered in fear for her. I just pulled up and asked her where she was headed and she told me she was going to Enugwu-Ukwu. I told her to hop in as I was heading to Awka. She happily did and we got talking. I was curious about a lot of things. First of all, I asked her if she wasn't scared about being attacked there on that lonely stretch of road and she just smiled and told me God was her strength and that she was used to it. I asked her if she didn't get a car from her parish after she was professed and she said she got a car but that it now belonged to her congregation. I really didn't understand what she meant until she told me that in the sisterhood, you really didn't own anything. If your parish gave you a car, it wasn't yours to use unless the congregation felt you needed it. I went on to ask her what happened if the car was a gift from one's family. She just laughed and told me that her family actually gave her a car but that she never drove it for one day. It has been ten years since her final profession when the car was given to her and yet she goes about via public transportation. I couldn't believe it.
She seemed really amused by my surprise and shock and went on to tell me that there was nothing wrong with it because these things were made clear to them during their formative years. So, it's not as if they were tricked into it. I had never been so shocked. Perhaps what shocked me most was her general attitude as we talked. She told me how much she loved her vocation and how much she cherished her vows. As I tried to understand her explanations, she reminded me that even though they were reverend sisters working for God in the Churches and hospitals and schools, I shouldn't forget that they were living in the community and that these communities took care of them. When I asked her if the church bought cars for them, she told me that the church cannot buy cars for everybody. She kept on harping on the fact that they lived community lives. I asked her about the priests and she said that diocesan priests had the right to own cars, but explained that in the case where they had two or three, the diocese might decide to take one and they would gladly give it to them, unlike that of the sisterhood where everything they are given belonged to the congregation.
She seemed happy and that made me feel really good. I asked her if some reverend sisters felt bad about not having such luxuries and she told me that any reverend Sister who knew what the vows was really about, wouldn't feel bad. In her exact words, 'that was why the apostles were called Christians. They did things in common. When you are given things and you share them with your community and help one another, it makes you a good Christian. She shocked me further by saying that before her family bought her car, she told them that it wouldn't be used by her but by the community. They felt bad but she told them that she was happy about it and that she would love them to buy it if they could afford it. They bought it and of course it went to the community like she envisaged.
As I dropped her off at her destination, I watched her from my rear mirror as she cheerfully walked into the building she was going to. For a long time, I thought about my conversation with this amazing vessel of compassion and service to humanity and was filled with admiration for her, who she was and all she stood for. As I drove on my merry way, I couldn't help thinking about her passion when she talked about her vocation and her love for her choice to be dedicated to God and our mother Mary for as long as she lived. It was really touching.
I however had my reservations. I still think these reverend sisters should be taken care of more than they are. When they go out there without their cars, they stand the risk of being exposed to danger. What about these one chance buses that are now everywhere, looking for people to rob in broad day light? What about these cultists that care less about their habit or if they are reverend sisters or not? What if they fall prey to such people? I saw one of them about entering a motorbike the other day. She refused sitting astride like other occupants did and after a while, the cyclist reluctantly accepted that she sat the way she wanted to. I didn't feel it was proper for her to sit astride the motorbike. I completely saw reasons with her. our roads aren't really good, so even sitting astride would make her lean on him with every gallop by the cyclist which was really uncalled for.
My appeal to the diocese is to put these little things in consideration. The very act of these reverend sisters being exposed to danger is scary. They need cars. Even if the community relates well with them, they need to be protected from the dangerous part of the community. Catholicism is a symbolic denomination. Those reverend sisters symbolize chastity. There should also be a kind of mystery about them. That mysterious part of them is what I am concerned about. If they are seen jumping buses and hopping from one motorcycle to the other, then the mysterious part of them is no longer there.
Our priests are always in their cars as they go about their daily activities. They are protected in those cars from danger and harm. These reverend sisters need even more protection than the priests do. Apart from being men, they can take better care of themselves than these young ladies. Can this please be taken into consideration? If they are brainwashed into believing that they do not need to use their own cars provided either by their families or the community, can their dioceses at least provide them with a general bus with a driver that can take then to and from wherever they need to go to.
And so, from my desk here in the Fides Newsroom, I can only say that I have a deep level of respect for all you adorable reverend sisters all over Nigeria and beyond. Kudos to you all as you work in God's vineyard. He is your strength at all times. I love you all!!! God bless you all!!!