Dom Gregory Polan, OSB
My first contact with the AIM came through the Programme of Monastic Formation, in which I have worked for the last six years, teaching lectio divina and the Psalms. I have been teaching since my priestly ordination in 1977, and so have acquired a certain experience in teaching. The nuns and monks whom I have taught have shown a deep and special interest in monastic formation. The students are hungry and as thirsty as sponges. The questions they put are very deep, both on the practical and on the spiritual level. The way they talk about their communities shows that the communities are extremely lively and anxious to increase this vitality. From among these students three nuns and three monks have become superiors. There is no doubt that this programme of monastic formation answers a real need in our Orders.
Before Election as Primate
I was abbot in my Abbey of Conception for twenty years. I had the opportunity to make canonical visitations in other Congregations. I also preached retreats in various communities of monks and nuns, both Benedictine and Trappist or Cistercian. I had the good fortune to discover how close we are to each other in our way of praying, our sense of hospitality, our vision of monastic life, the importance we attach to simplicity, to the search for God, to openness to ecumenism and to inter-religious dialogue.
I would add a personal note. For the first time in ten years I have met a spiritual director of another Benedictine Congregation, a wise retired abbot. It took me a full year to find exactly the right person, a Trappist in whom I have found a remarkable spiritual stature, a special wisdom and compassion. He served as abbot for thirty years.
Since becoming Abbot Primate
For monastic orders Sant’ Anselmo has become a place to send young monks and nuns stemming from developing countries who show a talent for later filling positions of responsibility. This has resulted in a large number of student monks and nuns from Africa, Latin America, India, the Philippines and Korea.
From the Congress of Abbots in 2016 emerged a request to put in place an English-language programme of teaching, to respond to the growing number of students arriving at Sant’ Anselmo whose second language was English. I am glad to announce that next year we will inaugurate a programme of monastic studies in English, issuing in a diploma (Master or Licence). This two-year programme of study will offer a complementary cycle of studies of spirituality which could be of great benefit for anyone who wants to follow it.
What do we need to put on this programme of formation? We must offer specific bursaries to monks and nuns, Benedictine, Trappist and Cistercian, from developing countries. Life in Italy is expensive. Teaching itself may not be expensive, but many items useful for ordinary life need to be bought, and these are expensive. Such products are imported, for they are not the product of industries common to our Western world.
I consider the AIM a fundamental priority for myself as Abbot Primate in the coming year. Firstly, to offer bursaries to students of developing countries. Secondly, to begin the search for teachers for Sant’ Anselmo from developing countries. We must be careful not to strip communities in developing countries of their leading members, but to discover monks and nuns who are at once good teachers for Sant’ Anselmo and who will remain deeply rooted in their monastic life, wise and experienced.
Thirdly, to develop a programme of formation. It is a matter not of making a list of books, but of establishing personal contacts, in order to discover future leaders who can above all be models of monastic life, capable of teaching a spirituality and a learning, and of developing a spirit of true fraternity, in which each cares for the others. It will be essential to promote the value of prayer in common, of lectio divina, a true spirituality of work, a love of silence, in a spirit of humility, a twenty-first century understanding of obedience, which brings to life the paschal mystery in union with Christ, a sense of hospitality which enables a community to find Christ in guests, in the poor and the most dispossessed. In this we shall be at once very close to the heart of St Benedict and to the heart of Pope Francis, alert both to the Lord and to one another, in order to create peace, openness and good will among all people, providing a space in our monasteries for friendship, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.
Insufficient formation breeds the danger of an unhealthy authority and a superficial discernment, both factors which have marked a civilisation of the dark ages. As it is, monastic orders can provide a light which neutralises the dark elements in the world by looking for light, wisdom and peace.
Fourthly, how can we work together? By using Sant’ Anselmo more as a monastic university than as a purely Benedictine university, by encouraging the best possible relationships between our communities and our various Orders, by encouraging regional meetings which provide meeting-places, by knowing when to leave a place in order to find a better one, and by learning from one another.