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Chiara’s Calling

by Jeannette Isaac
photos by John Isaac


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In the shadows of the Giza pyramids there is a two-story dwelling and behind it a vegetable patch, a flower garden and a courtyard. This quiet sanctuary, a 45-minute car ride from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, is home to the Italian Elizabethine sisters.

Hidden by a high wall, the convent is in a world of its own where life centers around prayer and quiet service. Sisters are busy arranging fresh-cut flowers in the chapel, preparing home grown vegetables, sewing, reading or studying scripture.

Generous members of The Catholic Near East Welfare Association sponsor novices and postulants at the Giza convent by contributing $12.50 a month. This provides for schooling, food and other needs.

Presently there are two postulants, four novices and six sisters living in the house on Ramses St. When a girl graduates from high school and is interested in becoming a nun she lives with the sisters for a year. The next step in her religious life is to become a postulant. Postulants wear civilian clothing and study for two years before becoming a novice. After two more years as a novice, a girl can make her final vows. During her first year as a novice, she is not allowed visitors. In her second year she may attend family gatherings on special occasions, such as weddings or baptisms.

Chiara Ishac Theodoros, a shy, smiling girl with big blue eyes, has lived at the convent for three years. “Ever since I was 15 years old, I knew I wanted to become a nun. My family was pleased because they are very religious. They had no objections at all,” said Chiara who is 22. Chiara is from a family of five girls and two boys. They are farmers in Assuit, a town in Upper Egypt.

After making her final profession Chiara would like to teach at a university. If a novice displays a certain aptitude toward a particular vocation, she can then pursue her studies in that direction. For instance, recently Sr. Margarita became the first Egyptian teacher for the Italian congregation and is responsible for teaching the novices. Many of the sisters who live in the convent work in the hospital across the street which the community staffs.

At one time, the convent was home to an Italian family who donated it to the order in 1969. At that time it was much smaller with only a drawing room and dining area, a kitchen and two bedrooms. The second floor was built to accommodate the novices. Each sister’s room is simply, but pleasantly decorated and from the window there is a lovely view of the pyramids. But the girls don’t have much time to enjoy the view because they are up at 5 a.m. and busy with meal preparations, classes and prayer until 9:30 p.m.

The person in charge of the sisters at the Giza congregation is Sr. Lodovica Pradella. The Elizabethine community is taking root in Egypt; of the 57 Elizabethine sisters scattered throughout the country, 24 are Italian and 33 are Egyptian. “We don’t try to preach Christianity. Instead, through our work we lead a Christian life to serve as an example to the people,” Sr. Lodovica explained. A testimony to the life they lead is the fact that the Moslem taxi driver who drove the author to the convent knew immediately of the sisters and the work they do in the hospital. He said they are well-liked by the local people.

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Tags: Egypt Sisters Vocations (religious)