Colombia’s capital has doubled in population since the late 1970s – a phenomenon observed in other major Latin American cities as well. Today around 7 million people live in Bogotá, many of them in slums on the fringes of the city, such as in Bosa, located in the southwestern quarter. It is here that the Visitation Sisters do their pastoral and charitable work, striving to help those around them materially and spiritually.
The convent of the Visitation Sisters in Bosa, the Monasterio de la Visitación, is home to some 38 enclosed sisters who, in accordance to the Rule of St. Francis of Sales, live a life of prayer and contemplation. St. Francis, former Bishop of Geneva, founded this order in Switzerland, together with the French noblewoman St. Jane Frances de Chantal, at the beginning of the 17th century. The order has been present in Colombia for more than a century.
“We are the only convent in the south of the city, where people live in conditions of extreme deprivation,” emphasizes Sister Rosa de Maria, the Superior of the convent, in a letter to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). She adds: “The poor are the treasure of the Church. Currently around 120 destitute and homeless families come to us, and we help them with food, clothing, medicines and essential toiletries.”
The Sisters do more than merely provide material help; they also offer spiritual support, as Sr. Rosa explains: “We are active in teaching the Faith and giving instruction for Baptism and Confirmation, and we also open up the convent so that the local faithful can attend Holy Mass.”
Sr. Rosa does not hide the fact that the sisters themselves have to struggle for their own survival. She explains that for years, they have been striving to modernize the convent, while at the same time remaining faithful to the Rule of the Order, which states that the community must provide for its own support as well as that of those who come to them for help. The community seeks to support itself partly by the traditional means of baking hosts, sewing altar cloths and vestments for use in the Liturgy, but also by rearing and selling laying hens, eggs and young chicks.
At present the convent has two separate units, containing 3,500 adult birds and 1,500 young chicks. They are now hoping – with the help of ACN – to add a third unit of a similar capacity. This will be a necessary investment – for the building, technical equipment and poultry – that will help secure the future of the convent and consequently the long-term pastoral and charitable initiatives of the Visitation Sisters in Bosa, one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of Bogotá.