Support for the life and ministry of 27 religious sisters
The religious affiliation of the population in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, northwest Africa, is almost 100% Muslim. A mere 4,000 or so Catholics are exclusively foreigners. The bishop, priests and sisters belonging to the only diocese in the country, are also native to 20 different countries throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.
These 27 sisters have their hands and hearts absolutely full in this, one of the poorest countries in the world. They care for expectant mothers, the sick, of migrants, prisoners and the disabled. Their work also takes them into the schools and other educational facilities teaching women who have not had the privilege of an education , practical skills such as sewing, as well as reading and writing.
Moreover, the sisters care for many undernourished and malnourished children 40,000 all toll in the capital city of Nouakchott, alone.
A worsening situation
The situation facing the Mauritanian people is headed into greater difficulty. Whereas as recently as 1960, when the country became independent, some 85% of the population were nomads and pastoralists, living from their livestock. The desert has been spreading ever further outwards, since the early 1970s, and many have now lost their flocks. More and more people are migrating to the cities and ending up in the slums. At the same time, the country, which faces west onto the Atlantic Ocean, is also affected by rising sea levels, which have rendered many outlying areas of the coastal towns and cities uninhabitable.
Although pressure from an insurgent Islamism is increasing in the country, the work of the Catholic Church is nevertheless highly esteemed by many Muslims.
The reach of Catholic sisters
Bishop Martin Happe has one Mauritanian friend who is a Muslim and has very happy childhood memories of the Catholic sisters. While he was still a child, he and his playmates used to think up all kinds of minor ailments, so that they could ring the doorbell at the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. For then, his friend told him, “we not only got a band aid but always a glass of lemonade as well.” To this day he still remembers the names of the sisters of that convent