Young People and Seniors - The Community of Westminster, Canada

Abbot John Braganza, OSB, Westminster Abbey, Mission, British Colombia, Canada

At Westminster Abbey, we are a small community, ranging from the age of 20 to 96, learning how to live the Gospel. The community consists of 33 members and if we were divided into age groups we would look something like this: one monk is in his 90’s, eight in their 80’s, six in their 70’s, four in their 60’s, three in their 50’s, three in their 40’s, one in his 30’s, and seven in their 20’s.

It is generally understand that all of us take part in all the activities of the house, each one according to his own capacity. In fact, our oldest waiter at table is 80, our oldest cook is 81 and our oldest teacher is also 80! Thanks be to God, in general, we enjoy reasonable good physical health (our manual labour is a contributing factor). The younger monks in particular have been trained to assist the elderly and the sick. At present, three out of the four rooms in our infirmary are occupied. In having the younger monks assist the elderly and the sick, our community has been blessed with a natural and healthy integration of the elderly and the young – the wise and the inexperienced.
St. Benedict’s own words – “Let the juniors reverence their seniors and the seniors love their juniors” is a daily reality at table, in the infirmary, at meals and at recreation.

In the last three years the Abbot has placed a great deal of emphasis on healthy, open and strong fraternal relationships, which are the backbone of community living. Here, he was merely building upon an earlier foundation. But, what really promotes mutual knowledge, love and respect in the community besides our daily Opus Dei and the Eucharist, are the shared tasks of manual labour, teaching, care of the elderly, kitchen work, guesthouse clean-ups and two mandatory daily recreations; and especially, our annual community vacation; we don’t go home for vacations but our families may visit. Our periodic outings together also help us to know and appreciate each other more that is possible in the daily round of the monastic schedule.

In truth, the fruit of harmonious community living takes gradual and consistent practice. But it involves special attention to the formation and accompaniment of the younger monks, to the needs of the middle aged ones and the growing health concerns of the elderly. Before entry into the monastery, most of the younger monks already partially shared our monastic home life.

Entering from the High School or the College Seminary, the younger monks came to know the monks who worked closely with them as teachers. Such an experience before entry into the monastic community makes a significant contribution to the unity of thought and action within the community. “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”