Sister Josephine Parkinson OSB, Stanbrook Abbey (England)
Young European Benedictine Women
Bayeux 29th Sept-3rd Oct 2014
2014 was been a year to remember: 100 years since the beginning of the First World War; and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which hastened the end of the Second World War. This made a poignant background for us, a group of Benedictine nuns from all over Europe, lighting candles and praying together for lasting peace in our world on the beach at Arromanches, Normandy.
The Monastery of Sainte-Trinité, Bayeux, generously hosted the 5th YEBW (Young European Benedictine Women) meeting. This group meets every two years and is the fruit of the CIB (Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum) who every four years invite a young sister from each of the 19 Regions to attend the Symposium. To qualify as a young sister one needs to have been in Solemn Vows for between 5-10 yrs. and under the age of 50. For those lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the symposium the experience is one that shapes one’s perspective of monastic life. Any opportunity to meet, listen and discuss our way of life, our hopes, fears and concerns and celebrate Benedictine life for women is a wonderful occasion.
Ten years ago the CIB delegates made a visit to Poland. It was during that visit that some discussed the possibility of organising a European meeting specifically for young sisters that would meet every two years. Mother Zoe, Prioress of Turvey Abbey was part of this initial discussion and hosted the first meeting at Turvey. Since then the young sisters themselves have organised the meeting and arranged a speaker. Given the decline in vocations across Europe in recent decades it is easy to see the value of such meetings. 20 young sisters from England, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain , Poland, Sweden and Lithuania, met together from the 30th Sept-3rd Oct. We took the theme of ‘Stability’ as our focus. We had a good mixture of sisters who had attended previous meetings and others for whom it was their first time.
The meetings are always hosted by a Benedictine community. This means we can simply enter into the liturgy and daily horarium of the community and this provides the structure for the meeting into which we can insert our own the input and discussions. Meeting together is a true deepening in a new though familiar context of our desire to be faithful monastic disciples. Mother Zoe of Turvey generously agreed to attend this meeting and led each morning, looking at a different aspect of Stability. We had all by now experienced the sadness of someone leaving our community after Solemn Vows and we had all by now experienced the challenges of living community life and had our own stability challenged. We discussed what truly holds us firm, our ever growing and deepening relationship with Christ and expressing that in living with our sisters in community. We began each session with a form of shared lectio, and this prayer brought us as individuals from different countries and expressions of Benedictine life in our various communities to the core ingredients that bind us together as Benedictines.
In the afternoon we broke into smaller groups to discuss passages from the Rule and scripture that inspire us about stability, and we were each
asked to bring a photograph of someone that had taught by their lives about stability. In a smaller group the discussions could be more personal and it was a privilege to listen to the joys and concerns that each of us carry.
My own experience of these meetings is the value of being with others at the same stage in monastic life as oneself. There is something very real about the simply being at the same stage in living the life and it cuts across different expressions of the life, language and cultures. It doesn’t take long for such a group to become a community for the days together and go straight the depths. The rule and our prayer and lectio have already bound us together.
There was the opportunity to visit Bayeux cathedral and to spend some time with our host community. They could not have been more generous, both with their welcome and with the space they provided for us to hold the meeting. They also appreciated the influx of younger sisters and commented on the filling of the choir stalls in particular. The Bayeux community are not guaranteed Mass every day, and so we were delighted that a priest was able to celebrate Mass each day of our visit and rather touchingly more than one was able to celebrate Mass with a mixture of French and English. Interestingly when we sang the chants in Latin, most people were familiar at least with the Ordinary.
On the last afternoon we were able to arrange cars to take us to Arromanches and to pray for peace all together on the beach. Standing in the place where so many died, each of us from countries with our own wounds and history, knowing in times past we had fought one another. The sea held back just long enough for us to light candles and pray for lasting peace in Europe and across the world. This was a fitting end to our days together. We know our life of prayer can often challenge the world as the purpose of monastic life. The solidarity of that prayer together was surely a fruit of our stability, each one of us remaining faithful to the life we profess and the Christ we love.