Catholic monasticism in Africa gains independence while encountering new challenges

As membership in Catholic monasteries shifts away from their foundations in Europe to Africa, these institutions are becoming increasingly independent and more involved in community development while also facing new questions of sustainability, writes Isabelle Jonveaux in the journal Religions (vol. 10). The growth of new foundations for monasteries in Africa and Asia has taken place as European monasteries have faced closures amidst the gradual aging of members. The monasteries in Africa tend to have younger members, with an average age of 42 compared to 62 in European monasteries.  Linked to these demographic changes, “a new phenomenon can be observed—long-established European communities no longer send members to their foundations abroad but call members of these foundations home to overcome the aging and reduction of their communities.” In Italy, for instance, 42 percent of cloistered communities currently include foreigners, according to Jonveaux.

One challenge in some parts of Africa is to establish the identity of monasteries as separate from other religious organizations. They are often asked to provide social ministry to people in need and these new monasteries have stepped in to play community development roles, even being recognized by governments and politicians for such work, writes Jonveaux. The fact that the mother-daughter relationship between the monasteries is fraying with the declines in the European ReligionWatch Vol. 34, No. 12 communities is leading the African ones to install their own leadership (though more in the male than in the female orders). Regional transnational networks for liturgical resources and education are being developed. The main challenge for these monasteries’ independence is finding a way to be self-supporting. Many of the aging monastics and nuns serving in Africa receive pensions from Europe, and this form of monastic economy will need to be replaced.