THE MONASTERY OF AGUA VIVA, AMAZONIA
In August 2011 the Monastery of Agua Viva had the joy of welcoming P. Martin Neyt for the first time. This was a very encouraging visit for us who live in Amazonia, so far from everywhere. He showed a great interest in every aspect of our life here, and asked us for a little article for the Bulletin of the AIM.
This is a glimpse of our history. In 1987 the Monastery of the Encounter at Curitiba in the south of Brazil received from three different bishops a request to found a monastery in their diocese. After lengthy discernment the community decided to respond to the request of Dom George Marskell, Bishop of the Prelature of Itacoatiara in Amazonia, who had personally come to knock at our door. He admitted to us that he knew nothing of monastic life, but he believed with his whole heart that the presence of a monastery would bring light to all the communities of his huge Prelature.
There were several exploratory journeys, made in pairs, to get to know the region, and above all to discover whether the expectations for the monastery accorded with our identity, for we had already realised that its needs would be enormous. Finally Mother Chantal, Prioress of the Monastery of the Encounter, a foundation of the monastery Our Lady of Bethany at Loppem in Belgium, answered affirmatively, a generous gesture in view of their poverty. It needed courage to make the journey of 4,000 kilometres between the monastery in the south and that in the north. At first came the journey Curitiba-Brasilia by bus, then the night flight to Manaus and then four more hours to arrive at Itacoatiara, all the time loaded with a quantity of large luggage with all kinds of vegetables and other goods, because at the beginning there were no resources in the little town. The unknown awaited us, with the great equatorial heat, the exuberant life of the forest, a veritable symphony of birds, every kind of animal great and small, and a whole different world and culture. However, nothing dampened the enthusiasm and ardour of the nuns.
For the construction of the monastery we could count on the expert and precious help of P. José Maria Fungalli, a true missionary and a monk at heart. He oversaw the construction and himself lent a hand in every section. The monastery is 10 kilometres from the town, and has become a landmark for the neighbours. The founding sisters arrived in time for the silver jubilee of the Prelature, and the monastery of Agua Viva began its regular life on 7th October, 1989, a Benedictine monastery whose sisters exist to hear the Word of God, share it and put it into practice. They exist to be a community of prayer and welcome, at the service of those who need a place of silence to meet God, or the listening ear of a sister. They exist to be a community at the service also of the various groups of the Prelature who need to discover or deepen the gospel motivation of their pastoral work in accordance with the wish and request of the bishop.
The first local vocation was not long in coming and this first Amazonian courageously agreed to undergo her monastic formation in our new monastery. Sr Eliete, already a nun, undertook the task of catechesis of a group of children of the neighbourhood or of adults who wished to be baptised or married in the church.
Our community numbers six. After 22 years our foundation is bedded in, with three Amazonian nuns and one young professed sister. The courage to live monastic life in this region remains. We are the first Benedictine monastery in Amazonia. It falls to us to hand on monastic life or simply Christian life in this region, for we exist in a missionary region. We wish to be a sign of the presence of God among people thirsty for his Word.
Our monastery has a guesthouse where we welcome people for individual retreats, or larger groups of religious, priests and seminarians, missionaries. Some journey for four hours by boat to get to us. For them the monastery is a place of peace and silence, where nature and the divine Office help them to meet God.
Work to earn our living remains a challenge, for the region is poor. At present we make hosts, rosaries and grains of acai (a typical fruit of the region), and altar linen. Hospitality sometimes provides some funds. However, we are searching with the local people for a more stable source of income. The community remains small. In view of our isolation we must send our young sisters to our mother-house to complete their formation, and it is thanks to the precious help of our benefactors that our sisters complete their studies. At present Sr Maria Gabbriela is following the monastic Formation Course with the Cistercians at Rome. Sr Jacinta and Sr Myriam are following the course organized by the Conference of Religious for contemplatives, or sessions organized by the Monastic Conference of Brazil. We continue to dream of being able to invite people who by their courses and sessions would be able to help us for permanent formation, for in this area we have to depend on ourselves and our small library.
Life goes on, and with wear and tear and our hostile climate and the termites our buildings need restoration. Our community has been enlarged by the addition of Sr Elisabeth from the Encounter. The presence of this senior sister will help us in our community life and her specific talents will care for the upkeep of our buildings. We also plan to enlarge our little chapel and guesthouse for the sake of the groups which visit us. We live all this in faith and in the hope which does not disappoint. In the great desire to carry the flame of monastic life, we remain here a little SOURCE OF LIFE for anyone who thirsts for God and his Kingdom.