Fr Martin Neyt, OSB
President of the AIM
THE GOLDEN JUBILEE OF THE AIM
Dear Dom Eamon, dear Mothers, dear Fathers,
I come to Assisi with joy and enthusiasm to share with you some important aspects of the current work of the AIM, and especially to listen to the questions you have in this year 2011. I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the Abbot General, Dom Eamon Fitzgerald, for his very cordial invitation. May the spirit of St Francis be with us in these days of meeting and fellowship.
The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Alliance Inter- Monastères (AIM) is the celebration of an alliance slowly woven between monastic communities of the Benedictine tradition. It came into being thanks to the visionary courage of men and women who gave their lives to make this great adventure possible. It could not have developed without the breath of the Holy Spirit. A clear sign of this is that in the first decade of the twentieth century only a few monasteries existed beyond the western sphere of influence, while today the AIM links more than 450 monasteries on all the continents.
In 1961, on the occasion of the 16th centenary of the apostle of Gaul, St Martin, the decision was taken to create officially the Aid to the Planting of Monasteries. From the beginning Dom Gabriel Sortais, Abbot General of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, regretfully already sick, leant his untiring support. Of course the Primate of the Benedictines, Benno Gut, and others were present. The early days were modest: a humble secretariat at Vanves, run by Father Abbot de Floris, the birth of the Bulletin, the development of links between monasteries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Next came the time of the great meetings: Bouaké (1964) and Abidjan (1979) on the Ivory Coast, meetings at Bangkok (1968), Bangalore (1973) and Kandy (1980) in Asia, an opening also onto Latin America. From these multiple contacts, which could be characterised as a new Pentecost, emerged the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (DIM), which became independent after a few years. At that time the efforts of AIM concentrated on daily life and the links between communities.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century the extremely mobile backcloth of the political and socio-economic world brought monasteries face to face with several contradictory currents. On the one hand there was the West, with communities often both numerous and ageing, weighted with age-old traditions. On other continents foundations, often isolated, lacking real identity, brought new blood and raised new questions. The religious were living out each his or her personal vocation, the fruit of a call, a conversion, an inner impetus towards the return to Christ – an existence wholly consecrated to God and to the praise of God. Apprenticeship to the common life in a world in transition, generating poverty and riches, violence and peace, dictatorships and attempted democracies, was indeed courageous and challenging. It meant transcending the obstacles of our era, emotional ties, intimacy, cultural and ethnic milieux. This was, however, a transition essential for building a fellowship founded on Christ, the basis of a life of work and prayer.
The autonomy of each monastery witnesses to the originality of a Benedictine or Cistercian monastic life, arising in a particular context, directed towards simplicity, each one different in its expression, but similar in its quest for the Kingdom of God. The variety of monastic identities could thus be seen to be as rich as natural biodiversity. This marvellous reality should be preserved. The Alliance should strengthen and enrich it. The mission of the AIM at local, regional and international level is to encourage mutual listening, to gather up the best of the lived experiences, to communicate and share them, to uphold the monastic identity of each community. From alliance to autonomy and from autonomy to alliance new ways of sharing began to be discovered: they related to hospitality and respect for one another’s convictions, new ways of creating links, of giving and receiving. There must be no spirit of colonialism, no attempt to convert: simply being there, living the life of Christ. In this school of the Lord’s service was revealed a path of silence, prayer, fellowship and humanisation, built upon the daily experience of the word of God.
What would become of the AIM if the lack of funds made itself more and more obvious? Above all, the money indispensable for supporting formation must be guaranteed, for the Bulletin as a means of formation and communication, for meetings between communities of different Orders. Other essential points of our ministry would survive.
Fraternal accompaniment of communities in their daily life. Certain monasteries are extremely isolated and vulnerable, for example in Latin America. I have just been visiting personally Benedictine communities in Amazonia.
Strengthening links between monasteries of a region or a country or several countries. Thus the AIM is supporting the creation of a union of monasteries of Central Africa (the great lakes, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda).
Meetings for formation at Rome (of which Father Mark Butlin will speak), in Paris and elsewhere, bring new blood to our old Europe, and also offer a framework for monks and nuns such as Sant’Anselmo, Vanves and the Centre John XXIII. After three years of formation in Paris a nun became Abbess of Sao Paulo in Brazil. She had been able to forge links with other students, one from the monastery of the Encounter, not far from Curitiba. Thus personal relationships between our communities, our Congregations, our Orders multiplied. Formation of bursars turned out to be equally useful. So the AIM has become a sort of fraternal presence, accompanying the daily life of monasteries. This experience is shared every three months among the members of the international team, and annually by the Council of the AIM. By these means we benefit from a deep appreciation of the successes and challenges encountered in the communities. In our turn we put this unique experience at the service of other communities. This mystery of an Alliance is gradually deepening, clothed in the mystery of the Risen Christ, who continues to raise up new communities, and is always present where two or three are gathered together in his Name.
To conclude, in this time of change in the sense of a new, worldwide discernment, our monasteries remain places of silence, meditation, prayer, solidarity, fellowship and lasting development. More than ever we need one another. The AIM thanks you for your support, especially through solidarity with the Cistercians, and the help of Abbot Armand Veilleux, and depends on you for the present and the future.