Tunisia, Christians and Muslims live in peace in Ain Draham

The end of year’s celebration in the kindergarten of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary

Tunisia, Christians and Muslims live in peace in Ain Draham

By Cristina Uguccioni/ lastampa.it

Stories of coexistence between the faithful of the two religions. Journey to a town in the African country inhabited by six Christians and 40 thousand Muslims.

Sister Bruna Menghini belongs to the Congregation of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. She is 81 years old and has spent 50 years in North Africa. She currently resides in the north-west of Tunisia, in Ain Draham, a mountain town marked by poverty and unemployment. Bruna, her four fellow sisters and a priest are the only Christians present in the area: all the other inhabitants, about 40 thousand, are Muslims.

A small flock

Speaking of Tunisia Sister Bruna wanted to make a preface: “Here the Church suffers some limitations: we can profess our faith only within the churches and the buildings of religious congregations, but all forms of public proclamation are prohibited. However, the new Constitution has introduced freedom of conscience, an important clause that is absent from the constitutional charters of other countries in North Africa. Furthermore, the coexistence of Christians and Muslims is good. It seems to me that dialogue between religions is making progress; a university faculty of comparative religions was also founded in Tunis”.

The works, the collaboration

The sisters run a kindergarten, attended by one hundred children, provide shelter for passing Christians and take care of the neediest. They can count on a network of volunteers, all Muslim, who spend themselves at their side with generosity. They also collaborate with some local voluntary associations: together they look for the best solutions for the families most in need of help. “Ain Draham is inhabited by simple people who have come to town from the very poor surrounding villages in search of better living conditions. We try to be close to everyone, especially those crushed by poverty and feel hopeless,” Sister Bruna says.

Daily life

The Congregation of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary has been present in the city since 1930: the population is now accustomed to the presence of religious, who are an integral part of society. “The relations with the Muslims - says Sister Bruna - are good, both with the authorities and with the population, which has always shown sympathy, benevolence and respect for us”. The sisters do not fail to visit the families on the occasion of births, mourning and weddings, and on the occasion of Ramadan are often invited to family dinners. “Inter-religious dialogue, good relations between Christians and Muslims here in the city are not put to the test: they are lived in daily life, in the small and great events of life”.

Muslim friend

Among Sister Bruna’s friends and collaborators there is Bournia Amiri: 61 years old, single, she lives with two sisters who are also single. For 34 years she worked in the kindergarten as a cook: now she is retired and often accompanies the sisters on visits to the neediest families. “I loved the children and was happy to work for them”, she says. “I carried out my task as a cook with love, without thinking about the fact that I was doing my work with Christian people: it is work done together that counts. I also tried to help those who had problems and placed trust in me: so many people have come to my kitchen! Sometimes they would tell me about their difficulties asking me to be their spokesperson for the sisters: and I have always been very happy to do so”.

The good of children

Bournia built a strong bond of friendship with the sisters: “We never miss an opportunity to help each other. With them, she says, she can always talk about her religion and had the opportunity to read the Bible with interest”. “Over the decades I have also committed myself to welcoming the religious women who have come here throughout the years, and to help them understand Tunisia and the city. Thanks to them I have been able to expand my knowledge”. Bournia, who in Tunisia does not grasp the trouble in relations between Christians and Muslims, is convinced that sincerely religious people (of different religions) who live and work together in harmony for the education of children “can teach the world how important it is to work together for the good of children, who are the future of the world. All religions invite us to seek good. We share many values: for example, mercy, listening, respect, trust”.

The “Jasmine Revolution”

In 2011, at the time of the “Jasmine Revolution” - she says - the army was sent to protect the kindergarten: “The population, caught off guard, reacted by claiming to be able to take care of the school’s protection. And so, during those days, it was the families who supervised the kindergarten, which remained open and was attended regularly by the children”.

The future of the Country

The kindergarten of the sisters is one of the nine Catholic schools in Tunisia, a country in which there is one single diocese that can count on about 40 priests of 15 different nationalities and 90 religious from various congregations. There are five churches for about 40 thousand Catholics, almost all foreigners. Sister Bruna says: “The Tunisian people show a genuine desire to start changing, for example about the condition of women, laws have been passed that testify to a significant opening: I hope that Tunisia can continue to proceed in this direction thanks to men and women of peace determined to commit themselves”.

All brothers and sisters

And thinking of her own experience with Ain Draham, she added: “I can live my faith and I can talk about it: of course, my everyday dialogues with people are not aimed at deepening great theological questions, but I can talk about Jesus, about loving thy neighbor, about God the Father: I do so with conviction, respect, simplicity. And listening to what my Muslim interlocutor says, without assuming an air of superiority, as if I, by the fact of being Christian, were better than them. We are all brothers and sisters, and we all walk towards God. Every human being was created in the image and likeness of God: this likeness is therefore present in every person, not only in Christians: we must look for it. The more we can live together in peace and harmony, the more we can help build a more just world”.

A life that is everyone’s

Sister Bruna says she knows that some Christians are wondering why a religious should live in an entirely Muslim reality. And to these she replies: “Because I wish to live the fraternity; because Jesus took care of every creature and lived a life that is everyone’s: let us think of the thirty years of Nazareth, so dear to Charles de Foucauld that lived together with his “beloved brother Jesus” among the Muslims”. Where there are human beings, the Church is happy to be”.

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 09:39
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