LIVING CONSECRATED LIFE IN OLD AGE IN KARAMOJA, UGANDA

Margie Conroy, rscj

rscj, Margie Conroy

Ten years ago, at the age of 74, I returned to Karamoja after an absence of ten years. It was not an easy move, though I loved Karamoja, for I had been very active teaching the novices and involved in Justice and Peace work after spending 6 years as Provincial. My return to Karamoja was, in fact, the beginning of real retirement, though signs of old age such as deafness and poor balance had been with me for some time.

Children outside their home in a village of Karamoja

I went to Naoi in Moroto with no clear ministry except to be a support to the other overworked members of my community. I occupied myself with reading and with writing an account of the different houses of the Province. In Holy Week, Paulina and I organized a clean-up of Moroto Town, ugly with plastic debris everywhere. I felt like Moroto. I was not easy to live with and I knew it.

I took my frustration to the Lord, saying to him, “What do I do with this situation?”  The answer came, slowly but clearly: “Say ‘Yes’ to reality.”  Finally I took my frustration to the Lord, saying to him, “What do I do with this situation?” The answer came, slowly but clearly: “Say ‘Yes’ to reality.” I pondered this word and the meaning of it grew and grew within me. It meant far more than passive assent. It meant choosing what is. I was given the grace to choose deafness, wobbliness, joblessness, to choose the grit and dust of the dry, windy season, to choose the bad roads and the distance from anywhere, to choose and love the people. After that I was at peace, happy to be where God had brought me, and my happiness has increased over the years.

As a religious of the Sacred Heart personal, contemplative prayer is at the centre of my life, as a means to be transformed by the Spirit into Christ’s Heart on earth. The daily Eucharist is my bread for the journey of each day to make Christ known and loved in union with my Sisters. I have wonderful friends who enable me to read books by authors such as Kung, Radcliffe, O’Murchu, Chittister, Rowan Williams and others. I read the Tablet when the issues arrive in batches a month late. This year for the first time we have TV and follow the news of the world on BBC or Aljazeera. It has made us focus prayer on so many victims of violence as well as pray for all of creation on this earth which is being destroyed by our human greed. It was less disturbing when we did not know the state of the world, but even then the need of humanity for salvation from hardness of heart, offered at all times by God, was evident. Here in Karamoja we see clearly that God is with those who are suffering and oppressed and He wants to break open the hard hearts of the oppressors and transform them.

Prisoners acting the story of the Good Samaritan My ministry in Moroto prison has become more and more meaningful to me. These are people who have committed crimes, have killed, raped or injured others in some way – yet they are truly lovable. Their time in prison is a time when they can stop drinking (the occasion of most crimes) and become aware of their need of God. They are simple men (there are few women), mostly illiterate, and vocal prayers, especially the rosary, and hymns are their way of calling on God and listening to him. I love community life. It gives me joy to have companionship in silent prayer in our little chapel every morning, to go to daily Mass, eat meals and wash up together, have community prayer at night and reflection once a week on how our journey with the Lord has been. Ten years have slipped by very quickly. Now I am 84, deafer and wobblier than ever, but happy because this is where I have chosen to be in time and space and state of body-spirit