So far yet no near, Monasticism for a New World
The Philippine Monastic Institute
Savio Maria Siccuan, OSB
Go Back to Your Heart – AIM and the Philippine Monastic Institute
“Today I find that I am the person who has left home and who has lost the key to get myself back there. Benedict your message is an invitation to interiority. Your experience is that of persons who regains their sense of themselves. Benedict, teach us to return to the heart.” (Esther de Waal).
How apt are those words from Esther de Waal in pinpointing the raison d’être of the Philippine Monastic Institute. From 1997 till now, this Monastic Institute, with its first-rate speakers, has served and continues to serve and remind all its participants to return to their hearts and there be reminded of their monastic ideals. They are to go back to their hearts and there search the deepest desires of their monastic calling. Thus they come out of the Monastic Institute refreshed, revitalised and raring to share the lessons they reaped to their respective communities. They come out of the Monastic Institute on fire with the vision of the monastic fathers and mothers.
The Philippine Monastic Institute is due mainly to the vision of Abbot Eduardo Africa, OSB, to make the Transfiguration monastery a center for monastic renewal. 1997 witnessed the very first Benedictine-Cistercian Assembly in Malaybalay with no less than Esther de Waal as speaker. What began as a Benedictine-Cistercian gathering geared solely for Monastic Superiors and formators has evolved into an Institute also dedicated to renewalists and those under formation. This means the Institute serves not only the concerns of the privileged officials of a monastery but the needs also of all the other constituents of a monastic community, e.g, monastics who have celebrated their 30-50 years of monastic profession, renewalists, and those still under formation. Every year, the average number of participants would be 60-70 monastics covering the whole archipelago.
What makes the Philippine Monastic Institute quite extraordinary is the range and depth of the speakers, who have been invited for twenty-three years now. Each of these speakers are experts and scholars in their chosen field of profession.
1997 Esther de Waal. An international lecturer and writer on Monastic and Celtic Spirituality. Topic: Monastic Vows of Obedience, Conversatio Mores and Stability.
1999 Columba Stewart, OSB. Professor of Theology, St John’s University, School of Theology, Collegeville, Minnesota. Topic: Passions of the Early Monks
2000 Abbot Francis Benedict, OSB. Abbot Emeritus, St Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, California. Topic: Humility (Drawn from his book Truthful Living.)
2003 David Lavich, OCSO. Monk of St Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts. Topic: Monastic Themes of Prayer, Lectio, Vows and Mary.
2005 Mary Forman OSB. Associate Dean, School of Theology. St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Topic: Community Life as Envisioned by Desert Fathers and Mothers.
2006 Aileen Bankemper OSB. Clinical Psychologist. St Walburg Monastery, Covington, Kentucky. Topic: Interpersonal relationships and the Vow of Conversatio.
2007 Columba Stewart, OSB. Professor of Theology, St. John’s University School of Theology, Collegeville, Minnesota. Topic: Evagrius Ponticus.
2008 Mother Irene Dabalus. Former Mother General of the Tutzing Benedictine Sisters. Topic: Prayer in the Twilight Years.
2009 Sr Pia Lansang, OSB and Sr Pauline Treviño, OSB. Tutzing Benedictine Sisters of the Philippines. Topic: Psalms in Monastic Life and Prayer.
2010 Columba Stewart, OSB. Professor of Theology, St. John’s University School of Theology, Collegeville, Minnesota. Topic: Creating a Monastic Culture.
2011 Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo. Auxiliary Bishop of Manila. Topic: The Face of Poverty in the Philippines.
If truth be told, by 2002, we in the Monastery of the Transfiguration had no further plans to host again a Monastic Institute because it involves so much preparation, movement, logistics and, more importantly, manpower. It was providential that Mother Angelica Leviste, OSB and Sr Lumen Dungca, OSB prodded Fr Savio Maria Siccuan, OSB, then the new Superior, to organise another Monastic Institute which would be hosted by the St Scholastica Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay.
Hence, from 2003 till 2011, all the Monastic Institute lectures have been held in Tagaytay. Of course, the Philippine Monastic Institute would not have been possible without the encouragement and assistance (moral and financial) of AIM. It is through AIM that we have been able to invite and gather quite an array of authoritative speakers on solid themes of monastic spirituality. It is through AIM that monastics who have meagre resources and who hail from remote regions of the country were able to participate in the Monastic Institute. Special mention must to be made, first of all, to Fr Martin Neyt, OSB and Fr Mark Butlin, OSB, who have been very supportive of our Monastic Institute since its beginnings. It goes without saying that our hearts go out in deepest gratitude to all of the AIM Board Members through the years. Sr Gisela Happ, OSB and Sr Placid Dolores, OSB have been excellent coordinators and go-betweens for AIM. Their vision and patience to reach out to us in Asia have been truly amazing.
As AIM celebrates its Golden Anniversary of foundation, it is our prayer that it may remain true to its ideal of spreading the Good News of Monasticism whether it be supporting new monastic foundations, alleviating disaster-stricken monasteries, giving scholarships for the Monastic Formators’ Program, and funding Monastic Institutes just like the one in the Philippines!
May God prosper this noble endeavour for the Church!
Savio Maria Siccuan, OSB, is a monk of the Transfiguration monastery at Malaybalay in the Philippines. He has been Prior- Administrator of the community since 2001, and was re-appointed in 2004 as Coordinator of the Philippine Monastic Institute.