Laity and Monks : Towards New Partnerships? Fr Martin Neyt OSB President of AIM AIM has just lost a friend, a great monk, travelling companion, abbot, and figurehead of monasticism in West Africa. He had just been appointed to the AIM Council, and had expressed his joy in this. May God welcome into His glory Fr Robert Mawulawoe Kossi Yawo OSB, this disciple of the Gentle and Humble of heart, who does all, according to his last words, 'with simplicity, fidelity and love'. At the end of January, the assembly of the Superiors of West Africa was held at the Abbey of Keur Moussa in Senegal. In the refectory the reading stressed the centrality of faith in God who assumed a human face and a human heart. In this centrality of faith, the love of God and of people finds its unity, its concern for others, its disposition to sacrifice for Him, and an openness to the gift of new life. This is the new encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI 'God is Love'. Laity, religious, and priests had assembled in the guest house. I pondered on this new breath of love which can transform relations between laity and monks, giving at the same time a vigour gushing from the monastic tradition, and a worldwide openness which today touches all human awareness. The new monastic territories, with more than three hundred and fifty Communities developing at a rate of four or five new ones per year, open up a two-way reflection between the Church and the involvement of the laity. Laity and monks, towards new partnerships? The first monks were lay people who eagerly went to question the monks in the deserts of Egypt and the region of Gaza. Fr Longeat OSB, Abbot of Ligugé, with his theological outlook, situates the relationship of laity and monks in the totality of monastic history. In the network of relations woven around the monasteries, a global re-reading imposes itself. This issue presents a number of mutual exchanges and enrichments: spiritual friendship, guests, Oblates, friends, employees, financial and economic counsellors. Lay people speak: an Oblate of St Benoît du Lac, Anne-Marie Mambourg at Chucuito in Peru; Sir David Goodall, the former ambassador of Great Britain. The Benedictine Oblates met for their first International Congress in Rome in September 2005. Abbot Primate DomNotker Wolf OSB, insisted on the need to remember that these Oblates do not only partake of a monastic Community, but that they belong to a whole movement. At the Congress, Oblates from different countries and different cultures met. By the choice of his name, continued our Primate, the Holy Father recalls how much St Benedict, with his monastic Rule, provided in the West after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the troubles due to invasions, a foundation for a new cultural development throughout a continent. This treasure, shared and communicated, cannot remain enclosed within the walls of monasteries; it is a wealth for the whole Church and a way of participating in its mission. The relationship with lay people in Benedictine life stems from the very life of the Community which nourishes itself on the Word of God, celebrating the Lord in the Eucharist and the Divine Office. The monastery lives by its own labour, welcoming the people around it, and contribute in one way or another in its development. 'The evolution of St Benedict himself', writes Dominic Milroy, 'was paradoxical: on the basis of an ideal of solitude, he erected a philosophy of Community; he began by seeking the desert and ended up by civilising it [...] The same paradox resounds in the history of all monasteries which drew their original inspiration from the same Rule. Western monasticism thus became an agent of internal transformation of society. There seems to exist in the Rule of St Benedict a movement which returns the monks to the true activities which they thought to have abandoned' (Dominic Milroy OSB, Lettre de Maredsous 4 (1980), 5. When, under the impulse of Fr Dominique Catta OSB, the monks of Solesmes, founded Keur Moussa in 1963 to be a centre of prayer in the heart of Senegal they discovered the kora, the African twenty-one stringed harp; the African xylophones, the calabash and jembe (a drum-like percussion instrument) which accompany their psalms and biblical canticles, responses and hymns. Profound occurrences drew together Gregorian music with the music of the people of Sahel; friendships grew between the monks and the griots, these poets, musicians and singers of the widespread family traditions of Western Africa. The impact of the liturgy of Keur Moussa continues to expand throughout West Africa and beyond. On another level, Benedictine schools are developing on all continents. Meeting together, solidarities are being born between privileged schools and underprivileged schools. Furthermore, some are adopting the Benedictine Rule as a model of education. For example the Manquehue movement in Chile manages three important schools in Santiago. The Sant'Egidio movement in Rome has regular contact with the Benedictines of Sant'Anselmo and elsewhere. And the impact of Taizé on young people remains astonishing. The activities of Benedictine Sisters of diverse Congregations (Tutzing, Grace and Compassion, Good Samaritan and many others) reach all levels of their people on all the continents. The work which is being undertaken in China, at Meihekou in the province of Jilin, is impressive. The Cistercians in their turn, have had their third meeting of lay Cistercians with one hundred and twenty people representing thirty-four Communities around the world. Spiritual links were made, founded on the essentials and opening up new horizons. A paradox lies at the heart of our life of silence and prayer. The more our vocations turn towards the heart of the Benedictine Rule - a deep faith in the merciful presence of Christ in each Sister and Brother - the more the conviction grows that monastic life can make that compassion which comes from on high, live in all. This compassion breaches the enclosure of the monastery and assists in the very Mission of the Church through the monastic friends and Oblates. New ties and new solidarities are born. Is this not precisely the service which has been entrusted to AIM? - the promotion of monastic life in these new monasteries which, with the help of committed lay people, shine with new life despite all the sources of worry and the difficulties which manifest themselves on their way, as they were on the way of St Benedict. Translated from the French by Sr Diana Busch OSB

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