Monday, November 02, 2009

The German version of Sr. Jesme

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Majella Lenzen

The cover of the book, 'God Forbid: why I cannot be a nun any longer’

Prof. Dr. Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt, a scholar of Comparative Religion from Marburg University, was walking around the Frankfurt Book Fair when she came to the India section and saw large photographers of Sr. Jesme, the author of the best-selling autobiography, ‘Amen’. In it, the nun had chronicled her trials and tribulations as a member of the Congregation of Mother of Carmel.

“I immediately realised that there is a nun in Germany with a similar experience,” says Prof. Adelheid. “Her name is Majella Lenzen.”

Majella, a nun in the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood, was based in Tanzania for several years. When the Aids disease became a full-blown epidemic, she started the Rainbow Centre. As part of its work, the Centre's vehicle transported condoms to prostitutes. Soon, the African press labelled her, ‘The Condom Sister’.

This action of hers raised the ire of her superiors and the Church, which is against the use of condoms. “When I matured as a person I began to think for myself,” says Majella, who was known as Sr. Maria-Lauda. “I realised that I was in the right. This brought me into conflict with my superiors.”

Soon, colleagues criticised and ill-treated her. “Most of us are unable to leave the congregation, because we have no financial backing,” she says. “For those who remain, the convent is like a prison.”

Even though Majella was not asked to leave, she decided to move on in 1995. “I did not want to go against my innermost feelings,” she says.

Majella, 71, came to public attention in Germany recently because she has written a book called ‘God Forbid: why I cannot be a nun any longer’. Released in August, by Dumont Publishing, it has become a bestseller.

“The response has been very positive,” she says. Adds Prof. Adelheid: “In the book, Majella lays the blame on the rapid spread of Aids in East Africa on the Church’s resistance to the use of condoms.”

Adelheid says that Majella’s story has many parallels with Sr. Jesme. “Even the duration of her stay in Africa was the same as Sr Jesme’s stay in her own order: 33 years,” she says.

Meanwhile, Sr Jesme feels happy and relieved when she heard about Majella. “I want many more nuns to speak out about their experiences, so that there will be a renewal of the church,” she says.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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