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Religious Life -- Introduction
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Issue Date:  February 27, 2004

A monk prays in the chapel of the Trappist monastery of Koutaba in Cameroon.
-- Laurent Larcher

The wilderness and the world stage

From the solitude of a hermitage deep in the mountains, to a Trappist community in Cameroon, to the halls of the United Nations where nuns, priests and brothers rub elbows with the world’s power brokers, religious life is featured in astonishing diversity in this special section.

Rich Heffern looks at the choice of some to seek God in solitude and silence. Today’s hermits may be found in the cities or the country, but they all have removed themselves from the frenetic, noisy distractions of modern life, stripping it to its essentials and finding, as one hermit says, “the depths of emptiness and humility.” (See story.)

Solitude can enhance awareness of the world’s pain, says one North Carolina hermit. In their spiritual engagement, hermits are the hub, she said -- they “hold it all together,” as others pursue a more social-activist path.

Patricia Lefevere’s report on the growing representation of Catholic religious orders at the United Nations shows one way those in religious life embrace social activism. As members of nongovernmental organizations accredited to the world body, religious women and men contribute international expertise gained through their worldwide contacts and ministry. (See story.)

Our cover and photo spread introduce us to one corner of the world where Catholic monastic life is thriving. French journalist Laurent Larcher profiles the lives of the Trappist monks of Koutaba, Cameroon, and their efforts to put a unique African stamp on an ancient Western tradition. (See story.)

-- Teresa Malcolm

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004

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