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The Lesson from Nengapeta for Our Times

Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite Nengapeta (29 December 1939 – 1 December 1964)

I often reflect on the courage of Nengapeta, a young Congolese religious woman who dedicated her short life to the Sisters of the Holy Family in Kisangani. Sr. Nengapeta lived in an uncertain time of colonialism and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This did not deter her from giving of herself fully to her duties at the convent.

Having lived in relatively recent times of the 20th century, she is a relatable figure to African women. Any woman will tell you that there is nothing that causes more fear than the risk of sexual violence. Sr. Nengapeta came face-to-face with this fear from Colonel Pierre Olombe, a rebel, who wanted to rape her. When he did not succeed, he killed her. Sr. Nengapeta was so brave, even in her painful and unjust death at 24 years of age.

Sr. Nengapeta was beatified on 15 August 1985 by Pope John Paul II and was given the title “blessed”. Beatification is the second-last step to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is on 1st December, which is also World AIDS Day. Africa bears a big burden of HIV/AIDS as the most affected region in the world. Young women in Africa aged 15–24 years are at high risk of being infected with HIV. People living with HIV still experience stigma, in addition to the socio-economic challenges of maintaining healthy lives. HIV prevention and treatment has come a long way but more efforts are needed to end AIDS. For the 2021 commemoration of World AIDS Day, UNAIDS is calling on all of us to take urgent steps to “End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemics”. There is an urgent need to redress the inequalities that drive AIDS, especially during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My prayer is that, through the intercession of Blessed Nengapeta, we will be able to work together to protect life and peace in Africa. We can do this by strongly condemning all violence against girls and women, particularly sexual violence, which has robbed many of their lives. We must work together to end the inequalities that feed the vulnerabilities millions of young African girls face, which increase their risk of HIV infection. We should also support those living with HIV and educate ourselves with the right information to respond effectively to AIDS.

Ndanu Mung’ala, 26 November 2021 (Ndanu is Programme Coordinator, African Synodality Initiative at the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar)

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