Fr Martin Neyt OSB, President of AIM
The commentary by Fr John Kurichianil OSB, Abbot of Kappadu in India, on the Rule, continues our reflection on 'the Art of Leadership' (Bulletin No 84) offering some precious insights into this important dimension of the life of our Communities. The wide variety of Chronicles reported in this issue reflects for the everyday life of monastic Communities. Sometimes there are trials to be overcome, such as the fire in the church at Vigan in the Philippines, sometimes there are moments of joy, such as the celebration of 50 years of monastic presence for the Trappistines of La Clarté-Dieu in Bénin, and the monks of Mahitsy in Madagascar.
Some 400 monasteries, more than 600 Communities, live and grow under God's watchful gaze, according to the rhythm of prayer and work. In today's world, where globalisation is making its presence felt in many situations, some fundamental questions arise, and future generations will reasonably wonder how monasteries of the Benedictine family reacted when faced with contemporary challenges, and how A.I.M. offered them assistance.
Three major challenges can rally our Communities while safeguarding our particular identity: namely, poverty, the environment, and war. These realities regularly manifest themselves in one way or another, and challenge our daily life.
St Benedict humbly reminds us of the daily practices which respect people and things, and call us to intercession and praise. The Gospel reveals just how close Jesus Christ is to the poor while, at the same time, fighting against poverty. Stark contrasts separate the well-off (and those with access to an abundance of food, goods and services means of communication etc.) from that part of the human race which survives from day to day at subsistence level on the bare minimum. The testimonies of Sr Teresa of Calcutta, Sr Emmanuelle of Cairo, and Fr Pedro in Tananarive stir our admiration, respect and a sense of solidarity.
A number of our monasteries are situated in areas of reduced population which long for a means of becoming self-sufficient and less dependent on a whole chain of precarious factors which assail them on a daily basis. AIDS is a major concern in Africa, as Fr Robert Igo OSB of Zimbabwe explains.
The second challenge facing today's human race is that of the environment. A recent trip to Madagascar enabled me to understand even more the link between poverty and environmental deterioration. The lack of electricity and new sources of energy forces peoples of the high-lying areas to cut down trees for cooking, furniture, and building. The result is an anarchistic use of the land on fragile ecosystems, erosion and desertification. The call made to Benedictine monasteries has been heard. Initially, two men's Communities (Mahitsy OSB and Maromby OCSO), and two women's Communities (Ambositra OSB and Ampibanjinana OCSO) will collaborate with WWF-Madagascar to become models of durable management for reforestation, to set up an arboretum and a garden of indigenous species, and to collect local plants with known medicinal properties. These projects, which go by the fine name of 'faith and environment', will be supported by AIM and other international organisations. The objective is also to show neighbouring populations how to improve their own living conditions, medical care, and hygiene. The prospects are vast, but they open up modest areas for hope, faith, and solidarity.
The situation of the two Benedictine monasteries in Bouaké on the Ivory Coast falls within the bounds of the third challenge of our contemporary world. Conflicts and wars are waged with all the instruments of torture, aggression, and death: stones, knives, machetes, explosives, weapons and sophisticated technology. Everything is carried out between unequal forces and diametrically opposed viewpoints. These armed conflicts cause deep wounds between and within nations. There is no need to detail the long list of countries and monasteries which have been, and still are, tested by internal and external conflicts, nor the monasteries which have disappeared, victims of common misfortunes.
Faced with this triple challenge of poverty, environmental degradation, and war, our Communities often become places of refuge and hope. In co-operation with other organisations and individuals geared to education and teaching, care-work, and human development, we can sustain the hope and the faith of the persecuted minorities. Our monasteries are places of solidarity in a world which is often focused on personal and private interests. May St Benedict guide our steps, so that our monasteries may remain oases of silence, prayer, and hospitality.
Translated from the French by Fr Paulinus Greenwood OSB, St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, Kent.