Five Poor Clare sisters from the monastery of Lusaka, Zambia, arrived in Kokstad on November the 8th to establish a new monastery. A four day journey by road brought them to their home “Santa Chiara”. The sisters are Sister Intulo, Luwa, Maria-Coletta, Mdzakazi, and Mary and they come from Zambia and Malawi to open the first Poor Clare Colettine house in South Africa.
In June 1994, Mother Veronica, the abbess of Lusaka and Sister Intulo came to Kokstad to look at suitable sites. They selected a small holding about 8km from Kokstad beneath Mt. Currie, surrounded by trees, with water and an area for vegetable gardening. The original swimming pool was removed to make way for flower gardens while the tennis courts will now become a haven for drying vegetables. The property was acquired by generous fraternal assistance of the Minister General Father Hermann Schaluck, the Irish Franciscan Province and the benefactors of the Lusaka Poor Clares.
At the opening Mass on the feast of the Presentation of Mary, November 21 the majority of the priests and brothers of the diocese gathered to welcome the sisters. On this day of joy the Lord and Saviour, came to dwell in their house. To receive this Guest the sisters spent the night in prayer. The church of Kokstad received the Poor Clares with great joy. Their monastery is a village set on a hill calling us to worship and praise, to remember that God is among us and to place our trust in Him.
At a very impressive ceremony on November 13, in the home monastery in Lusaka a large congregation of Zambian christians said goodbye to the sisters who were leaving for good to found a new monastery in a distant land. After a solemn entry while the drums were played, the sisters stood before the altar and prayed a traditional African love song, now sung to Jesus,
I have seen my way and I go.
There is a call in my heart
Which urges me ahead
To do my Lord’s will.
Since he has won my heart
And inflamed it with the living ember
Of his own life.
I will follow him wherever he leads me.
Then Mother Veronica,the Abbess of Lusaka, blessed the sisters “Now I send you in the name of Clare of Assisi, our Mother and of our Father St Francis to found the new monastery of Poor Clares there in Kokstad; a house of prayer and peace following the holy rule and traditions of our order”. She then gave the holy rule to Sister Intulo and continued “but you should also be ready to live according to those desires of your new people which harmonise the true Franciscan contemplative life.”
The sisters then renewed their total commitment to the Lord before the church of Lusaka. In response to this renewal of their dedication of their lives to Christ the whole congregation burst out in song and dance
A new born child! Blessed are your parents!
Clare, you are a child of blessings.
Clare’s fame has never died.
It goes on spreading everywhere in Africa!
See; the daughters of Clare and going to a new village.
The first scripture reading was from Genesis, Chapter 12 which speaks of Abraham moving to the mountainous district east of Bethel, where he pitched his tent, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built an altar to Yahweh and invoked the name of Yahweh. The Pilgrim psalm captured the moment; “I rejoiced when I heard them say let us go the house of the Lord. And now our feet are standing within your gates, oh Jerusalem”.
The gospel reading speaking of the vine and the branches brings out the fact that the Poor Clare apostolate is exercised through the living in union with Jesus Christ. Their union with him, as it were, removes the stone from the door of the grave, and allows Him to enter our world in all His power and glory again. Through union with Christ the Poor Clares reach the whole world. Through their union in Jesus Christ at the heart of the church of Kokstad they will give life to the apostolate and the mission of that church.
At the offertory the Zambian congregation offered symbolic offerings and seeds to be planted in Kokstad. The priest blessed some carved white doves. These are symbols of purity and gentleness, of silent contemplation and loving song. The Mother Abbess, Sister Veronica then handed each of the sisters a dove saying “You may now fly to where God calls you to be his adorers in spirit and in truth.” The Kokstad sisters, holding the doves and dancing slowly sang;
“The wind is blowing to take you to your new land, yes, it is the spirit and we are ready. The same sun will warm you there. The same love; the same God of our lives.”
The sisters placed the doves on the altar as the offering of themselves.
The congregation singing the magnificat said goodbye in tears to the sisters while they parted from the people with whom they had so often prayed and gave each a small homemade scone as a sign of friendship. They then set out for Kokstad.
Saint Clare left home on Palm Sunday 1212 and Francis arranged for her to live at the little church at San Damiano. For 43 years Clare lived a life of intense prayer and union with God, and became a light for her city and for the world. In her lifetime the sisters went down to found monasteries in France. From France they moved to Algiers and from Algiers on to Lilongwe in Malawi. From Lilongwe, Sister Mother Veronica took the Order to Lusaka in Zambia. And from Zambia they have come to Kokstad. Such has been the journey of St Clare from Assisi to Kokstad.
St Clare herself explains the life: “You have one aim, to embrace the poor Christ. Keep your eyes firmly on him who for you was regarded as nothing. Your bridegroom, Jesus, is He who is a beauty beyond all the sons of men. Keep your eyes on Him, gaze apon Him, think of Him always and become like Him”.
At the opening mass the congregation was told that the sisters had not come to Kokstad to work in hospitals, or to teach in schools, or the visit in our parishes, or to do social work. They have come to bear witness to the supreme advantage of knowing and celebrating and loving and living in Christ Jesus our Lord. They are sent for the tired, the despairing, the weak, the imprisoned, those in broken lives, for the young, for the old, for families. They are sent for all of us.
Although Clare lived a life of great poverty and total simplicity, she lived a life of radiant joy as was witnessed by all who knew her. The reason for her joy can be found in her words “Oh spouse of Jesus Christ, how fortunate you are to love Jesus with all the strenghth of your heart. He it is whose beauty is admired incessantly by all the angels and saints in heaven. It is love for him which makes us happy, His kindness fills us to the brim”.
Father Robert Steward, Provincial of the South African Franciscans welcomed the Poor Clares. He assured them the whole Franciscan family rejoiced in their arrival. Father Robert highlighted the significance of the fact that these new missionaries where from Zambia, another African country.
The people of Kokstad expressed their joy by bringing gifts to the sisters. Clare of Assisi had come to Kokstad.