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Swiss nuns with a global agenda

Mother Superior Edelina Uhr is proud of the nuns' pioneering work

(swissinfo.ch)

The nuns of the Ingenbohl convent have a mission to help the world's poor, but falling numbers complicate their task, Mother Superior Edelina Uhr tells swissinfo.

The convent, which was founded 150 years ago next to Lake Lucerne, is home to 450 sisters. But only one or two novices are joining every year.

The order of sisters of mercy of the holy cross spread quickly from Ingenbohl to neighbouring countries. Nowadays Ingenbohl nuns are active around the world in the fields of health-care and education.

Care for the needy and those on the fringes of society is a major focus of the nuns' work.

swissinfo: Does the Ingenbohl convent work with people of other faiths?

Edelina Uhr: We cooperate with other Christian churches, and some of our sisters are involved with the inter-religious work community of Switzerland.

In hospitals, we work with and care for people of different faiths. And at the convent we have older sisters who give German lessons to foreign children and adults who often belong to a different faith community.

swissinfo: How do you react to the increased tensions between the religions following the row over the Mohammed cartoons?

E.U.: It is a tragic development, because at the heart of all five world religions is respect for individuals. We should complement one another.

But fanaticism, or fundamentalism, have upset the order of things and now no one knows anymore what the fight is all about.

I can only hope that the healthy forces in each religion will regain the upper hand and bring people of violence to their senses.

swissinfo: Shouldn't faith and religion be something private, instead of being politicised?

E.U.: On the one hand, yes. But on the other hand, I can't just block my religion out of my life and my political activity. When I'm voting, I decide according to my Christian convictions.

swissinfo: Do the Ingenbohl sisters working abroad have a duty to evangelise and attract new members?

E.U.: That's not their primary duty. Their duty is to help people. But if I'm convinced about my faith it's natural that I want other people to believe in a God who accepts them too. But there's no compulsion for them to believe.

We should never go to people because we want to recruit more members to the order.

swissinfo: Unlike the communities abroad, the Swiss convent has a shortage of new entrants, and the average age is high. Is that a problem?

E.U.: Yes, we don't have many younger women. At the moment we have one novice and one sister who has put off taking her vows. Two younger sisters are due to take their vows next year. I am thankful that there are even a few who want to follow this path.

The ageing community is not just a problem here in the convent. In the mother province as a whole we have far more older sisters than younger ones. But that is also a reflection of today's society in Switzerland.

swissinfo: Are you worried about the future of your work?

E.U.: We have built up many social projects and I'm convinced we have done pioneering work. For that we needed a large number of nuns. But today the state has taken over many of these tasks.

What it can't take over is our way of life, and I think that should not be allowed to disappear. We don't need many nuns to carry on our way of life and show people alternative values to economic success or the survival of the fittest.

swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein in Ingenbohl

In brief

The Ingenbohl convent was founded in 1856 by the capuchin monk Theodosius Florentini and sister Maria Theresia Scherer.

The community of the sisters of mercy of the holy cross soon spread to Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Germany.

The Ingenbohl sisters, who belong to the Franciscan order, are involved in social work, care of the sick and the education of women and children.

The convent superiors are responsible for managing hospitals, schools and foundations in different parts of the world.

In Switzerland the community is struggling in the face of dwindling numbers.

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Key facts

The Ingenbohl convent is the mother house of 4,190 sisters who work in 14 countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa.
In Switzerland there are around 780 Ingenbohl sisters, 450 of them at the convent.
The convent runs limited companies and foundations around the world and owns numerous houses and farms.

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