AFRICA/ALGERIA -The three Nuns of Timimoun

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Timimoun (Agenzia Fides) - The village of Timimoun rises in the homonymous oasis in the center of the Algerian desert, more than 1,200 kilometers south of Algiers. Tourist guides point it out for the red ochre color of its buildings built in the neo-Sudanese style.
Among the inhabitants, just over 30 thousand, all Muslims, there are also Pauline Bernadette and the other Pauline, three nuns from Burkina Faso who arrived in 2014 following their Christian vocation. Their story, recently re-proposed by Marie France Grangaud on the portal of the Catholic Church in Algeria, tells better than a thousand speeches the unprecedented, unpredictable and even impervious paths along which those who confess the name of Jesus with a simple and happy heart may find themselves walking.
Bernadette and the two Paulines are three Nuns of Notre-Dame du lac Bam, an indigenous Congregation founded in 1967 in Burkina Faso by Father Denis Tapsoba and the French Alain Gayet, both Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers). Fifty years since their foundation, the Nuns of the Lake from Burchina Faso are opening houses outside their country, as far away as France. Bernadette and the two Paulines, in 2014, happen to meet in Timimoun, to replace the "White Sisters", who are decreasing in number and have decided to reunite with the sisters of the Ghardaïa community. The three nuns from Burkina Faso do not know Arabic, they do not know Algeria, they only know that there are no Christians in the city. But they know that they are not alone, and that things must be taken as they come, without thinking too much about it first.
At first, everything is difficult, and it seems beyond their strength. The women in the town and villages do not know French, and they do not know what to do. However, they try to continue the works started by the White Sisters who left: meetings for the "promotion of women", cooking, sewing... They reach the villages by motorbike, start school support courses, and then decide to devote themselves especially to children with neuro-motor disabilities. They go door-to-door to families with children with disabilities to offer support. They start assisting some adults as well. And from that spontaneous gesture of their outreach, new avenues open up, and little by little a small social work is born. First, the sisters vacate one of the rooms in their accommodation to care for "their" children. Then, an Algerian association for the support of the disabled notices their work and begins to support it. This passage is animated by a former teacher, mother of one of the children taken care of by the nuns. She obtains facilities for disabled children, and the number of applications for assistance soars. Now, more than 120 minors under the age of 15 are cared for by the association, which, in addition to the work of the sisters, relies on the help of five volunteers.
In this journey of coexistence, Bernadette says that now every day becomes an opportunity to experience and confirm her baptismal and consecrated vocation. At the beginning - the nuns say - when the people learned that they were not Muslims, became worried, and urged them to convert to Islam if they did not want to run the risk of going to Hell. Today, everyone knows about their prayer life. And some Muslim families, in the face of the trials and dangers they face, ask the sisters to pray for them.
The nearest Christians live 350 kilometers from the nuns' house. The diocese of Laghouat, of which Timimoun is also a part, encompasses all of Algeria's territory south of the Atlas Mountains, and in 2019 had fewer than 2,100 baptized people out of a population of nearly five million. The priests who come to celebrate Mass for the sisters come from El Meniaa (located in the west) or Beni Abbès (located in the southeast). Soon, Sister Suzanne, the young sister who is studying Arabic in Algiers, will also arrive in Timimoun. Bernadette and her two Paulines are waiting for her. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 23/2/2023)