Extract from an article published in the book of the fiftieth anniversary of AIM "So far yet so near"
Benedictine and Cistercian Association of Nigeria
Peter Eghwrudjakpor, osb
BECAN is a forum for this on going dialogue of similarities and differences, on how to be Benedictine and Cistercian monks and nuns in contemporary Nigeria, and yet arrive at the same goal of every monastic life.
The establishment of BECAN (Benedictine and Cistercian Association of Nigeria) highlights a number of factors that were visibly present in the milieu of its establishment and which by and large are still with us today. The monastic life is both new and foreign in this country. Also, as is the case in some other parts of the African continent, struggles and difficulties, mostly social-economic in nature, abound. Hence, the pioneers of Nigerian monasticism saw the need for mutual and fraternal support, the need for stronger ties among the different monastic communities.
Though not clearly stated at its inception, BECAN saw one of its goals as that of building stronger bonds among the Nigerian monasteries in order to tackle the numerous challenges that are peculiarly Nigerian with greater confidence.
These early BECAN fathers and mothers recognised the fact that the traditional culture of the people has its own richness which is imbued with values some of which have correlation with Christian values and monastic values. The question then was: how could the newly arrived Western monasticism dialogue with the African culture, the Nigerian culture?
Most of the pioneers of Nigerian monasticism are still alive today, and there is common agreement that the idea of an Association embracing both Benedictines and Cistercians here in Nigeria came from two people: Mother Mary Charles Anyanwu,OSB, of Paschal Monastery Nike-Enugu, and Fr Columba Breen, OSB, of St Benedict Monastery Eke-Enugu. However, the first recorded event in the history of BECAN was a Monastic Seminar that was held in the Benedictine Monastery at Eke on 17 April, 1979. The participants at that first meeting were: from Awhum, Fr Mark, Br Paul, Br Gerard, and Fr Thomas (USA), Mother Patricia from Umuoji, Mother Charles from Nike, and from Eke, Fr Columba Cary-Elwes, Fr Columba Breen, Fr David, Br Colman Hingerty, Br Vincent Mordi, and Br Peter (from Igueben). (Taken from a chapter by Fr. Andrew Nugent,OSB titled ‘From Eke to Ewu: Entering the Promised Land’, in The Story of Ewu Monastery: Silver Jubilee Reflections - 2004).
Since then, regular meetings have been held in the various monasteries of the Association which has grown from the four representatives of the female monasteries to sixteen today, all bound by the Rule of St Benedict. And the association continues to be a source of enrichment and encouragement for all the member communities, part of the original idea.
One way the Superiors in the course of the annual meeting inform, share, support, and encourage one another is through the ‘House Report’ that is usually presented by each community and is distributed to all the Superiors. This is an important aspect of the week-long meeting. It is expected that the report will touch on every aspect of the community, from economy and finance to its prayer life and relationship between the monastery and neighbouring community as well as strained relationships within the community and its observances. At the end of each community report, there is space for observation, reflection, comments, and suggestions when and necessary. The quality of this report is often indicative of the level of openness and trust which one finds in the BECAN as a family. Today, there is greater trust and openness, and Superiors today are not as self-defensive and selfprotective as was the case once upon a time.
There is also a major shift in the way the BECAN understands itself and its role. In the past the family saw itself as a ‘loose association’. Thus, no community interferes in the matters or life of any other. The walls round each of the monasteries in that epoch were very thick with red flags flying high. It is a different concept today. The first real sign that the BECAN was taking itself and its role very seriously came in a circular which was produced at the end of the 2008 BECAN Superiors meeting held at Paschal Abbey, Nike, in April, and signed by all the Superiors there present. Among other things, this circular reads:
The BECAN Superiors have delegated each BECAN Superior to bring to the attention of the Community members what had emerged in this year’s meeting.
Considering itself from thence forward not just as a loose association but as a family strongly bound together, BECAN is now eligible to be appealed to, when anything goes wrong in any of the BECAN Houses. BECAN can always delegate some of its Superiors to mediate as a way to bring peace and harmony in any house.
This was a big shift from the previous stands that each house was completely on its own, thus even when there were troubles or where things were perceived to be going wrong, no one was able to intervene or comment. And this never helped the family which came to realise that in the end we are all affected where there are rumblings, earthquakes or chaos in any community. We share in one another’s joy but so too we share in each others’ wound.
The most recent BECAN meeting, held in St Benedict Monastery, Ewu Ishan in April 2011, took this departure from the concept of a ‘loose association’ a step further. At this meeting, the Superiors stressed that henceforth more space and time should be given to the real struggles, difficulties and challenges in the community and less given to the economic activities in the annual reports. Secondly, the Superiors insisted that a statute is to be drawn that should serve as a guideline for the BECAN, what it stands for, and its role. And thirdly, at this meeting an executive team of three Superiors was instituted with some authority (which is to be spelt out in the statute) to intervene and act on behalf of BECAN as a body, whenever issues are brought or referred to the BECAN.
Since 2009, after the meeting held at Mount Calvary Cistercian Abbey, Awhum, the Superiors have created a common purse. There is an annual levy on each community, as a way of building this fund. The idea is that part of this money is to fund the affairs of BECAN and those of the BECAN Formators. The Association has also decided to establish a common training ground for its monks and nuns. This project is currently in process. The plan for this Institute has been designed to be constructed in one of the BECAN monasteries.
The importance of formation in the life of any community made the Association create another forum specifically for the Formators of BECAN communities. This is a larger forum since its participants are persons having any role in initial formation. This forum, simply known as ‘BECAN Formators’, has its activities regulated (though indirectly) by the Superiors. Their annual week-long meeting comes up every second week in November. This, as in the case of the Superiors’ forum, is both an opportunity for mutual support and exchange of ideas on formation, as well as an avenue for in-group training, renewal and updating for the Formators themselves. Once in five years does the Formators’ forum organise for itself a month-long Monastic Institute which is always tagged ‘Formation of Formators’ Workshop’.