This is an edited extract of an article written by Lukas Lessing. It was published both by Das Magazin, Zurich and Die Zeitmagazin, Hamburgby Lukas Lessing / June 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
14th March 1997
Melanie is entering a convent. She is 25 years old and is becoming a sister at Himmelspforten, a Carmelite convent in W?rzburg. “I believe God has led me on this path,” she says. If it is the right path, she will stay in the convent all her life-her body will remain there even longer. The catholic Carmel order is strict: the sisters never leave except for medical emergencies. When they die, their bodies are buried beneath the chapel. The sisters do not carry out any missionary or social work; they see their main calling as prayer. They converse only when necessary, apart from a daily conversation meeting of one hour. “To live in the succession of Jesus Christ, to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience” is the order’s precept.
Melanie is spending her last night out with her sister Nina and her friend Rebecca, with whom she has shared a flat for the past four years. They pray, sing and talk a lot. In the morning, there are bibles and prayer books on the floor in between the mattresses and sleeping bags-and tissues. Melanie looks pale. She has been praying herself to sleep for weeks. She packs her last items: nightdress, toothbrush, Bible. She writes a few postcards, jots down telephone numbers, tries to call her parents and her grandmother. Outside, church bells are ringing. There are 77 churches and 16 monasteries in W?rzburg; it is All Soul’s Day.
Melanie will be reunited with three old friends at the convent: now called Maria Miriam, Maria Beata and Maria Johanna. Melanie is the last to join because she decided to finish her degree in Christian psychology. There are 22 sisters at the convent. Most never leave the building, their “gate sisters” do the shopping and go to the post office. Ten years ago monastic life seemed set to disappear, but the trend is changing. There are now 20 Carmel convents in Germany and 860 worldwide.
Just before 10am Melanie, Nina and Rebecca hurry to St Joseph’s church. Since Melanie converted to catholicism, she has attended mass almost every day. Nina and Rebecca are protestant, but they do not mind. Today is Melanie’s day. Nina begins to cry. Melanie interrupts her prayer to comfort her sister. Then they both weep.
After church, Rebecca buys things for lunch: frozen calamares and chips-she…