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DRC: Sister Claudia's mission among the rejected in Kinshasa

Sr. Claudia, an Italian-born nun with the Sisters of the Poor who has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the 1990s, recounts her experience of serving the sick, the elderly, orphans, the malnourished, and abandoned babies, noting that “society does not help and means are lacking, but there is God’s Providence that guides us.”

By Salvatore Cernuzio – Kinshasa, DRC

Sister Claudia Nicoli has the voice of a child, but the toughness of a lioness. She is described as “a tractor” by priests from Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, who have seen her since 1996 when the nun, a member of the Sisters of the Poor congregation founded by Blessed Luigi Palazzolo, left Italy to come “with joy” to the African country.

She was sent to replace one of six sisters who had been killed by the Ebola virus. They had gone to Kikwit, 500 kilometers from Kinshasa, to help the sick, despite everyone’s warnings not to go.

Meeting the Lord by serving the poor

Right from the start, Sister Claudia, from Bergamo, set out to help this population where emergencies are the order of the day.

“I meet the Lord every day by serving the poor, the sick, and this, for me, is a great gift, the most beautiful thing,” she told Vatican News, on the sidelines of Sunday afternoon’s meeting between Cardinal Pietro Parolin with local religious congregations in the Apostolic Nunciature.

The grandparents

Sister Claudia told the Secretary of State about the service she and the other sisters provide and introduced some of the “grandparents” – the elderly cared for in the nursing home near the airport that for more than forty years has welcomed those whom others reject.

There were, among them, “Papa Williem,” who is blind, and his wife “Maman Justine,” a paralytic, who lived in a house without water, with him begging all day long and occasionally remembering to move his wife to a room where she stayed throughout the day, even defecating in the same place.

Maman Bernadette

Also in the Nunciature was “Maman Bernadette,” who is paralyzed from the waist down. “She came to us at a very young age, and was very thin, full of bedsores,” Sister Claudia explained, “due to lack of money, she was no longer receiving care.”

Today, the woman is 55 years old and has changed in both body and soul. “She counsels young people, makes clothes by sewing on her bed. Look at how beautiful what she is wearing is! She always prays for everyone, and in her tenth year our house, she wished to have a Mass to thank the Lord for her story.”

The mission

The “grandparents” are just one of the categories of poor people that Sister Claudia and her sisters care for on a daily basis. The others are the sick, orphans, and malnourished children – “all those whom others reject.”

“In our house in Kinshasa, we have a hospital center. There is also a very large school, a rest home, a malnutrition center. Our mission is in all these places.”

The newborn abandoned by the river

The nun has seen many situations over the years, but a recent one has particularly stuck with her.

“There was a newborn baby abandoned on a path along the Ansene River. He was almost dying with the umbilical cord attached, but without any knot. Miraculously alive …” the nun recounted. The policewoman who found the baby said, “We are taking him to the nuns because there is life there.” As soon as he arrived, he cried.

 “For us it was a cry of joy, that baby was alive,” said Sr. Claudia. “We nursed him, and now he is in a family.”

Society does not help, but Providence guides us

Sister Claudia’s voice cracks with emotion as she recounts these events, then her tone changes when she is asked what the greatest difficulty in her service is.

“It is dealing with people who sometimes not only have physical poverty, but also moral poverty, an ignorance that sometimes does not even allow them to get back on their feet,” she said.

“The most beautiful thing we can do is to help people get back on their feet. It is not always easy because we lack the means, society does not help us, but there is Providence that guides us every day.”

Source: Vatican News