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Monastic life today

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124

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123

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122

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Dwelling in the ‘common House’

Dwelling in the ‘common House’

AIM Bulletin no. 122, 2022

Summary

Editorial

Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB, President of the AIM


Lectio Divina

The heavens and the earth proclaim the glory of God (Ps 18a)

Mother Nirmala Narikunnel, OSB


Perspectives

• The Concerns of the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation

Dom Gregory Polan, OSB


• A New Development for Monastic Life

Dom Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori (OCist)


Opening on the world

Understanding the Anthropocene

Bernard Lucet


Witness

• France – ecological monasteries

Sister Nathanaelle Lefoulon, OSB


• Celebrating God’s Creation: Planting Trees

Extract of the newsletter of May-July 2021 from the Priory of Manila

Economy and Monastic Life

• Monasteries as centres of an alternative and durable economy

Benoît-Joseph Pons


• The Cellarer according to the Rule of S Benedict

An account of a Conference given at the meeting of MAC by Dom Simon Madeko.

Dom Médard Kimengwa Kitobo


Liturgy

Cistercian monasticism of the Ge’ez Rite

Dom Négusse Woldai, OCist


Great Figures of Monastic Life

Viktor Josef Dammertz, OSB

P. Cyrill Schäffer, OSB


News

• The Benedictus Foundation

Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB


• The Evolution of Benedictine Congregations from a Feminine Viewpoint

Mother Franziska Lukas, OSB


• Membership Trends in the Benedictine Confederation 1880-2020

Thomas Piazza and Fr Geraldo González y Lima, OSB

• Report of the Secretary-General of DIM-MID

Fr William Skudlarek, OSB

Sommaire

Editorial

The current number of the Bulletin of AIM is a continuation of the previous issue. It puts forward a concrete outline for running a common House according to the principles of Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti.

We are glad to begin this issue with a lectio divina from Mother Nirmala Narikunnel, Abbess of Shanti Nilayam in India on Psalm 8, ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of God’. There is a reflection on places for the new era which began in the middle of the 20th century and which is coming more and more to be called the Anthropocene Age; a look at the proposition of an alternative economy on which monasteries can be based; a proposal for the role of cellarer in a partnership with the abbot to exercise in the monastery and its surroundings the responsibility of healthy progress, taking account of the present world-scene as envisaged in the Rule.

The issue is completed by other contributions and rubrics. We report on the proposals of the Abbot Primate, Gregory Polan, at the opening of our Council in October 2021, those of the Abbot General of the Cistercians (OCist) and those of Mother Franziska Lukas, Abbess of Dinklage, on the experience of creating a European Benedictine Congregation after the Roman document Cor Orans.

The Prior of Asmara in Eritraea presents for us some aspects of the Ethiopian liturgy and we give a certain amount of monastic news.

Let us go forward resolutely to contribute to the emergence of a new world.


Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB

President of AIM

Items

Ecology and Monastic Life

1

Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat osb

Président de l’AIM


Ecology and Monastic Life


 

Literally ecology, according to the Greek origin of the word (oikos-logos) is discourse on life within the house, the space and time in which human beings live. This discourse should result in action: literally those actions which fall under the term ‘economy’ (oikos-nomos). According to the Greek origin of the word, economy is the totality of the ‘laws’ given for living together in this space and time. It is certainly unfortunate that today the term has been reduced to its usage in the world of finance, for it includes elements of personal, social and even spiritual life. There is an economic way of living and, in the personal sphere, a healthy ecology. This is altogether a way of monastic life.

According to the Rule of St Benedict the economic priority for monks is listening to God and to those who share the same situation for an open exchange of words concerning the basic principles. That is why monks give as far as possible a special place to silence, so that the words exchanged may have their true weight. It may be said that the essential listening both in oneself and from others and this mysterious Voice which goes before us and which we call God, is the basis of all ecological economy. A hotch-potch of words is certainly at the origin of the first economic crisis of human life. A word needs to be well received and given full value by everyone. It demands a great openness in order to be perceived in all its richness.

It follows that every monastery is organized on the basis of human ecology, both for personal and for community life. For every moment of the day monks are attentive to the supreme good of the Word descended from on high. They meet together seven times a day for prayer. They put themselves in the presence of the active source to which they wish to be connected in the first place, and they respond by abundant singing, as much to express praise for the gift of creation and life as to express the cry of distress of a humanity often challenged on the journey in this world.

They arrange their spaces in order to ensure that each detail has its full value. The Rule of St Benedict requires the cellarer of the monastery to ensure that every thing in the monastery is treated with the same care as the sacred vessels of the altar.

Spaces for greenery, pots, forests and agricultural land, everything in the monastery becomes a place of contemplation. Many monasteries today take care to preserve spaces with elementary rules to which the ecological movement draws our attention.

The relationship to time is also bound up in a healthy economy, even if today the monastic institution is under pressure from the same imperatives as society around it. Nevertheless the balance between prayer, work and free fraternal life remains a fundamental rule which must be preserved at all costs for a good social economy. To achieve this monasteries depend on the extraordinary reserve of solidarity constituted by numerous communities spread over five continents. It could be said of monastic life that it develops the ecological ideal of fraternal universality.

For monks food is an equally important economic and ecological element. For monks eating always implies a gift received and shared. Moderate eating without excess or waste is a rule on which St Benedict insists. Dishes should be sufficient, balanced and healthy to promote happy growth and a good development of other activities. If there is any symbol of a balanced life it is certainly that of consumption and especially that of feeding. Monastic communities truly tend to reflect carefully on this subject even when they are obliged to have recourse to outside services.

The comfort of ordinary life is limited to what is necessary. To each is given what is necessary for that individual. Everything is held in common for the sake of a solid economy. This makes it possible for a community to keep its expenses down and invest resources more generously in developed projects which an isolated individual or family could not envisage.

In welcoming guests for a stay in silence and recollection monastic centres put themselves at the heart of our societies as oases where it is possible to breathe more freely, to share more freely, to avoid the illusions of possession – all in order to be more effectively authentic in relationship with others.

It is astonishing to note that in the Rule of St Benedict the most ecological chapter is that which concerns the economy of the monastery:

The cellarer of the monastery should be chosen from among the community. To qualify for this choice a candidate should be wise and mature in behaviour, sober and not an excessive eater, not proud nor apt to give offence nor inclined to cause trouble. He should be aware of the presence of God always and everywhere and be like a father for all the community. He should take care of everything and should not upset the brothers. If a brother makes an unreason-able request the cellarer should, in refusing what is asked, be careful not to give the impression of personal rejection.

He should take special care of the sick, of children, of guests and of the poor.

He should consider all the possessions and goods of the monastery as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar. He should not neglect anything. He should not be prone to avarice not to excessive expenses; he should not waste the goods of the monastery but should do everything with moderation and a strong sense of the common good.

Of course the life of the monastery does not depend exclusively on the cellarer, but his example, as that of everyone in the monastery, should encourage the community to take the right decisions for an ecological witness at work in everything.

The heavens and the earth proclaim

2

Lectio divina

Mother Nirmala Narikunnel, OSB

Abbess of Shanti Nilayam (India)

 

The heavens and the earth proclaim

the glory of God (Psalm 18a)

 


The heavens proclaim the Glory of God

And the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.

Day unto day takes up the story

And night unto night makes known the message.


No speech, no word no voice is heard

Yet their span extends through all the earth.

Their words to the utmost bounds of the world.


There he has placed a tent for the sun;

It comes forth like a bridegroom coming from his tent,

Rejoices like a champion to run its course.


At the end of the sky is the rising of the sun;

To the furthest end of the sky is its course.

There is nothing concealed from its burning heat.

 

The psalmist may be likened to a shepherd keeping guard over his flock admiring God’s creation. Even if he had no scientific knowledge and before any technical discovery, he could wonder at the creation, and so sing this beautiful psalm.

By his powerful Word God created and organized the whole universe and his plans are irreversible. The glory, the magnificence, the splendour of God is manifested in the psalm. God is the creator of the heavens and of the sun that lights up the world. The heavenly bodies and the regular succession of day and night manifest God’s glory and they transmit their message, silently calling us to praise God. God has wonderfully arranged the universe and everything in it for our benefit. Heaven and earth manifest God’s glory. The perfections of God are proclaimed in eloquent silence by the created world.

The psalmist meditates on the perfect silence of nature. We can enjoy the marvels and wonders of nature only in silence. Like the prophet Elijah we will find the Creator in the gentle wind. Without word of voice the creation tells about the Glory of God. They follow the law of nature perfectly. The sun will not stop rising or setting one day because God the Creator has put order in the creation, and they follow the order perfectly which (unless he wills it) will not change.

St Benedict dedicates a whole chapter in the Rule to silence. It is only in silence that we can find God and in turn our fellow human beings. The mind penetrates the world around us, the more that witness staggers us with his greatness and glory. God’s glory means his manifestation and communication, calling forth a response of praise. In many other psalms the psalmist will invite the whole of creation to celebrate the greatness of the Creator, e.g. Psalm 148.

Night is the absence of sunlight. Night and day sing the glory of God. The day proclaims God’s splendour and night his hiddenness and mystery. Neither day nor night can talk as human beings do, but in spite of this they convey their message as ‘sacraments’ of the power and majesty of God. Their eloquence is a silent eloquence. The praise rendered to God by day and night covers the whole earth. Their praise is heard universally. The sun is the chief and most obvious witness to God’s splendour. It is poetically conceived as hiding in a tent in the eastern skies before it appears at dawn, and is compared to a bridegroom clad in splendid robes and because of the strength of its heat and light to a military champion.

The psalmist was very much impressed by the heavens, the uninterrupted sequence of days and nights and the rising and setting of the sun. He composed a poem and sang it in the presence of the worshippers. The world of creation is a mirror reflection of God and anyone who has faith like the psalmist will be able to see the reflections of God in the natural world. The exceeding greatness and power of God shine out in the heavenly sanctuary, in the vast expanse of heaven and on the whole earth.

‘The sun as it appears, making proclamation as it goes forth, is a marvelous instrument, the work of the Most High. At noon it parches the land, and who can withstand its burning heat? A man tending a furnace works in burning heat, but the sun burns the mountains many times as much. It breathes out fiery vapours and with bright beams it blinds the eyes. Great is the Lord who made it and at his command it hastens on its course’ (Sirach 43).

‘Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun, who is the day and through whom you give us light; he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, and bears a likeness of you, Most High’ (St Francis of Assisi).

God created heaven and earth, and the crown of creation is Man. Man is little less than a God (Psalm 8). The psalmist is a common man with vivid imagination, and profound sense of awe proclaims the majesty and power of the Creator. But man has disfigured the beauty of creation by sin, and Christ the sunlight has come to dispel the darkness of this world. The Creator of the immense and marvelous universe is so great and so powerful, yet he cares for human beings. When man misuses or treats creation badly nature reacts. Recently our monastery and the surroundings were flooded, and the reason was that some people had thrown waste into the drainage, which got blocked with incessant rain and damaged most of our cultivation and farm and contaminated drinking water, and we suffered great losses. We could do nothing about it until the water receded slowly, and that took more than a week. When nature reacts we can do nothing except trust in the transcendent God present in creation.

As we pray this psalm we can marvel at the wonder of creation: with what wisdom and love God has planned and organized everything! We thank God, the ruler of the universe, all wise, and all powerful, for creating everything so good and so beautiful. All praise and all glory to God for his infinite wisdom, power, beauty, creativity and love. We praise God on behalf of the whole creation. To praise and glorify the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is the ultimate goal of all creatures and human beings. Lord God, we praise you on behalf of the whole creation. The beauty and goodness of everything you have made, and the perfect system and order in nature manifest your wisdom and love. Whatever you have made is a marvel. Accept the praise and worship we offer you, and grant that all human beings may recognize the goodness and wisdom that are active in creation and give praise to you.

The Concerns of the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation

3

Perspectives

Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB

Sant' Anselmo, Rome

 

The Concerns of the Abbot Primate

of the Benedictine Confederation

 

 

At the meeting of the Council of the AIM at Dinklage (Germany) in October 2021 the Abbot Primate shared with us some news and concerns.

 


It is wonderful to have this opportunity to finally be together again, to hear of the good work that has been done through AIM, and to have the freedom for an in-presence meeting here at the Abbey of Dinklage. When we had our meeting of the Synod of Abbot Presidents in early September, there was a genuine spirit of fraternal joy to once again be able to be together, to hear of the situations in our various Congregations, and to look to the future with some hope. Today I would like to share with you six different points which come from my present work for the Confederation, and some things going on within the Confederation.

First, I would like to offer a few thoughts with regard to the pandemic. Throughout the Confederation, it has been a difficult time for all of our monastic communities. For some it was sickness and eventual death, and for others it was establishing a new rhythm of life during this difficult and uncertain time. For us at Sant’Anselmo, it has been a time of living with a host of 123 members last year, and 93 residents this year. Keeping everyone safe and in good health has been a worthwhile and good challenge. From what I have heard through-out the Confederation is that during this time of the pandemic, it has been an opportunity for communities to deepen their experience of lectio divina, both in private and in common. In addition to that, several different communities have talked about their experience of faith sharing, which has been a fraternal experience, deepening ties among the members. It has also been inspiring to hear of the ways in which different communities have reached out and tried to be of service to others. Live-streaming their liturgies has been a worthwhile way of keeping connected to those who are their Oblates and friends. Several communities have talked about the impact that silence has had during this period of the pandemic. It has deepened a sense of prayer within the communities, and also been a reflective time for the monks, and also the nuns and sisters from whom I have received letters.

Second, it has been in the last year that we have seen the development of several programs of monastic formation in different languages, often coming from our Monastic Institute here at Sant’Anselmo. I think we all know that the formation of new members in our communities is one of the most important endeavors that we are involved in. It is wonderful to know that during this time when we have been restricted with regard to travel, our time has been well spent developing these programs of formation. This is something that I hope we will be able to continue into the future.

Third, as the restrictions for the time of the pandemic have been slightly lifted, travel has become more possible, enabling me to participate in a variety of different things: preaching retreats, attending meetings of our Foundations, participating in monastic jubilees and celebrations, and also meeting with communities that wish some guidance and encouragement.

Fourth, one of the projects at Sant’Anselmo that has occupied our time and energy has been the renovation of one floor of our guest facilities, our foresteria. After some consultation, we decided that we would renovate only one of the floors, and give a clean coat of paint to the other floor. The reason for this is because we have a variety of student groups that would be coming and using these facilities and putting them to good use. For example, we have a “study abroad program” with St. Vincent College in the United States, the Monastic Formators’ Program, and different pilgrimage groups from our monasteries. They are very satisfied with simple accommodation, and pleased that they can have accommodations at a lower cost. The rooms in the renovated guest department are certainly a welcome advance in our hospitality, an important charism for our Benedictine life.

Fifth, there has been the opportunity to have two serious visits at the Congregation for Consecrated Life. The first relates to the fact that we have had four Apostolic Visitations of monasteries in the last two years. It has been unfortunate that the Commissario in two of these situations have not been monks. In one situation a Carmelite has been put in place for the Apostolic Visitation, and in the second a retired Archbishop. In both of these cases, they have not understood a lot of the distinct characteristics of Benedictine life, tradition, and spirituality. I asked the Congregation that when the question of an Apostolic Visitation would come forward, that they would relate with me and the Abbot President to be able to find someone good to intervene in these situations. A second important discussion related to an audience that seven Major Superiors had with Pope Francis. The question that was posed to him was the question of a “Papal privilege” which would allow a non-clerical member to be placed as a superior of a community. The Holy Father was very attentive and responsive to our request. He said that he would support it, but in the end, this final decision would have to be left to the Congregation for Consecrated Life. Each of us, seven Superior Generals, had a distinct letter explaining our particular situation which we gave to the Holy Father in the midst of our 35-minute discussion with him.

Sixth, I take this occasion to express my personal feelings and beliefs that, though our numbers are down in those coming to monastic life, I think that there is strong reason for hope. Hope is a significant virtue, because it calls us to believe in something with a conviction of a brighter future even though it is difficult to see beyond the horizon. If we look at the history of monastic life, we see that there are times when different movements and wars have had an impact on the number of people entering monastic communities. There are times of ascent, and times of diminishment. Our 1,500-year history shows us that, even in the worst of times, there has been a resurgence that follows, giving us reason to hope in the future. I think it is also important to be able to see that during this time of the pandemic, monastic communities throughout the world have really come together, united in their efforts to work together in peace and harmony, and also to be of service to others. These are important elements that distinguish our monastic life and give us reason to believe that the Benedictine tradition will continue into the future for many years to come.

I would now ask if there are any thoughts, reactions, or questions that you would like to present to me regarding the information I have passed on to you, or anything related to a topic of the Confederation.

A New Development for Monastic Life

4

Perspectives

Dom Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori (OCist)

Abbot General of the Cistercian Order

 

A New Development for Monastic Life

 


The statistics concerning my Order continue to go down, even if in Vietnam and Africa, and some particular cases in Europe, the numbers still seem to be pleasing. To make a very recent example: I visited with the Mother Abbess President of the Congregation of Castile 8 monasteries of nuns in Spain. In 2 weeks we had the election of a new Indian abbess, we decided to close two monasteries with the transfer of the Sisters to the "assistancial" monastery in Madrid, we decided to affiliate 2 other monasteries, and we appointed a prioress administrator in another. Described like this, it seems like a tragic list, except for the Indian abbess. And yet, the way in which all of this has happened has filled us with gratitude and, in the end, with hope. Not of hopes, but of hope. To see communities that accept their death with serenity, knowing that they are accompanied and cherished, fills us with hope, if only in the abundant fruit that the seed that falls on good soil will bear. Where? When? Only God knows.

A month ago we held an informal meeting of the Synod of the Order to re-launch the preparation of the General Chapter postponed to October 2022. Apart from two abbots from Vietnam and one from Canada, about 20 members were able to participate, and it was a very good and much needed meeting. We reworked the major themes that we want to prepare for the next General Chapter: abuse of power and regular visitation; formation; the structure of government of the Order; foundations and reduction of monasteries.

I share with you some points of my introductory reflection that may be of interest to you. I gave as the title of my introduction: "Rediscovering a monastic balance to start again on a path of synodal communion".

I said that it is not enough to reflect on how to hold the General Chapter in spite of the crisis of Covid. I believe that this crisis reminds us above all to think of the General Chapter and the Order with a greater sense of responsibility, or rather in a more "dramatic" and mature way: that our union in an Order and our encounter be lived in each Congregation, in each community as in all of humanity, with responsibility in relation to our times.

The crisis of Covid has brought us to a halt. Many people and communities began a work on themselves, favored by the fact that practically all other activities were stopped. We were able to concentrate on the essential of our vocation: prayer, listening to the Word of God, fraternal life in the community. Paradoxically, this concentration on the essential was easier for communities with many external activities, because the lockdown meant for them, at least for a few months, a radical change in clear contrast with the life before. It was therefore experienced as a "sign of contradiction" deeply marking people and community life. In the more "contemplative" style communities, the contrast was not so obvious and for this reason perhaps less challenging. But it is difficult to judge, since each community has experienced this time in its own way. When life and activities resumed, even with the restrictions that are always necessary, it was and still is a matter of understanding how to start again, how to get back on track. And this is not easy because we feel a certain tiredness, we have difficulty in resuming activities, in opening our houses, our churches, our guesthouses. I asked myself: where does this pain come from? Why do we feel that we have become more tired and even older?

Perhaps simply because the ordeal of the pandemic has forced us to face our real fragility. Before, even many older and smaller communities undertook great activities and commitments not only in the field of work but also in that of liturgical celebration. We thought we had the strength simply because these activities had always been taken on since we were young and numerous. We moved forward like locomotives dragging everything without realizing that we never stopped to recalculate what our strength really allows us, to reconsider if the schedule and the way of celebrating the Office and managing our activities are still bearable for what we really are. And above all, we have never stopped to reflect if in all our activities there is still a harmonious balance that allows us to live with joy in what every monastery should be, a "school where we serve the Lord".

In many monasteries, we have cut back or let go of certain things, but we have not been careful to keep the balance between what we keep and what we let go of. As a result, some parts of our life have taken over while others have disappeared from the scene. In some communities prayer has suffered in favor of work. Or fraternal life, for example by giving up moments of recreation or dialogue. In other communities that could afford it, work was increasingly delegated to the outside world, to salaried people. In most communities, the little lectio divina that was still cultivated, at least in theory, has disappeared. Not to mention ongoing formation. I could give a thousand examples, different for each community.

But perhaps what is true for all of us is that for too long we have become accustomed to living a monastic vocation that is not very harmonious, not very well balanced, not very capable of bringing such a human balance to our lives. We have forgotten to cultivate the extraordinary human, physical, psychic and spiritual balance that the Rule of St. Benedict would offer us if we followed it not formally but as our fathers and mothers followed it: as a school where "the man who seeks life and desires joy" (cf. Prol 15; Ps 33:13) can find them on a path of filial fraternity and prayer that makes him prefer Christ above all and in everything. In this school, where only those who never finish being a disciple, who listen attentively with "the ear of their heart" (Prol 1), progress, every element of life must contribute to the balance of the person and of the community: prayer, fraternity, work, rest, obedience, listening, silence, speech, poverty, etc. We must not let anything fall by the wayside if we want our life to remain a symphony. When fragility, smallness, illness, etc. require us to adapt, we often do so in an unbalanced way by cutting off whole parts of our life and vocation instead of seeking a new balance between all parts. This is the problem of many communities! It is amazing that we often find this imbalance also in large and young communities.

I realize, in fact, that we have neglected for years, both in strong and fragile communities, this attention to maintaining the Benedictine balance, the famous Benedictine “discretio”. And although we often remind them of this, especially during regular visitations, some  communities are not always willing to correct this problem, as if they did not understand what a balance of life and vocation means. Each community, and often the superior or a particular member, especially when he or she is responsible for the economy or another area, thinks that he has to resist and maintain the rhythms and accents established "since time immemorial", to maintain certain absolute areas while abandoning others considered less essential.

The mistake is to believe that what saves our monastic life is a particular area, a particular work, a particular gesture, and not the balance between all. We have often not been aware that what makes a community attractive and meaningful to people is not only the liturgy, or only our work or way of working, or only our fraternal life, or only our silence, or only our welcome, etc., but precisely the harmonious balance with which the preference of Christ allows us to live everything with order and measure, with beauty and peace, in simplicity, putting everything in its place.

The lockdown period and all the restrictions of these years have put our backs against the wall. The global crisis of Covid-19 poses some pressing questions for us monks and nuns: What have we done with our vocation? What have we done with the Rule of St. Benedict, the Carta Caritatis, the integral spirituality of our fathers and mothers? Why did we need a global crisis to remember what St. Benedict has been highlighting for 15 centuries, to realize again that he is calling us to a balance of Christian life that can truly be a "Gospel of new humanity" for all our brothers and sisters in humanity?

It is important not to let this provocation pass us by - it is very present in the magisterium of Pope Francis, e.g. in Evangelii gaudium, Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti - in order to begin now a good conversion of the life of our monasteries, helping one another in this effort, without being afraid if we have to accept, in favor of a new balance of our life, greater poverty, more simplicity and therefore greater humility. Afterwards, at the Synod, I deepened again, in the light of what I have just said, the theme of a truer solidarity between monasteries of different cultures, not only economically but above all in formation, and then the theme of synodality, with a true mutual listening in the communities, between superiors and communities and Congregations. Participating in the synodal journey in the whole Church promoted by the Pope will help us to deepen our charism, offering our experience to the whole Church, for example our experience of synodality between nuns and monks.

Understanding the Anthropocene

5

Opening on the World

Bernard Lucet[1]

Extract from a conference

Given at the Abbey of Ligugé (France) in February, 2020

 

 

 

Understanding the Anthropocene

 

When man has cut down the last tree

Polluted the last drop of water

Killed the last animal and fished the last fish

Then he will realize the truth

That YOU CAN’T EAT MONEY!

Amerindian Proverb

 

 

The habitability of the only living space we have is threatened. This is something so vital that it should have hit humanity where it really hurts. To decipher and penetrate the actual situation, thanks to the explanations provided by scientists, is the only way to bring home this vital issue. It is a matter of leaving the world of convenient guesses, a world of denial, of phantasy, of distraction.

 

Greenhouse gas

The effect of greenhouse gas is necessary. It keeps the mean temperature of the earth at +15 degrees C; without it the temperature would be -18 degrees and life would not be possible. The sun’s rays arrive, partly reflected by clouds, glaciers, snow; solar energy is converted into heat which in its turn spreads out in the form of infra-red; certain gases in the atmosphere block the infra-red which therefore remains in the low atmosphere. The more greenhouse gas (GES) there is, the more energy builds up and the higher the temperature rises. The supplementary energy from our emissions builds up almost entirely in the oceans, a little on the ground, only 1% in the atmosphere.

The biosphere is getting warmer (currently +2.7% per annum). Such an acceleration is ten times higher than the most rapid increases of the past since more than a million years, and it is impinging on the biological and geophysical ecosystems. In fact for the last eight hundred thousand years the rate of CO2 had varied little. Unfortunately the pressure on marine and terrestrial ecosystems is altering the capacity of carbon reserves, destroying something which could help us to slow the increase of heat.

Lowering emissions is principally a matter of lowering the use of fossil energy, which is far from being the order of the day. What should be done?

Many people think that it would be possible to dispense with the resources of fossil and nuclear energy for the sake of the very considerable gains by the reduction of expenditure and the energy-efficiency of our apparatus and machinery. It might well be possible in the West to achieve this by achieving a radical change in our use and our habits, that is, by turning our backs on development. But there are many countries which need development to help their populations emerge from poverty, to educate, nourish, care for them – and why should these populations be unable to arrive at a more comfortable life-style, even well below our own? It is because on the world-scale energy would not decrease significantly, and even more because a great deal would be needed to help the world adapt to so many kinds of de-regulation by which climactic episodes here and there are going to occur. Think of the immense works required, for example, to protect exposed cities from the rise of water-levels! The fair worldwide needs of adaptation to the consequences of warming require a great deal of energy, the very opposite of the radical diminution of energy required by reliance on renewable energy.

It cannot be denied that fossil-energy – the major cause of emission of GES – is still irreplaceable. To eliminate oil would be all the more difficult because it is a practical and highly concentrated form of energy. We owe our style of life to powerful and cheap fossil fuels which power our machinery. Just look at the work-potential of an agricultural tractor on a single tankful of diesel and the enormous quantity of workers replaced by it! Without all these machines – and even the figures are dependent on the machines – it would mean a different civilization in a very different world.

 

The consequences of climate change

Climate change could be even faster that it has been envisaged. The precise modelling indicates that +2 degrees would be reached in 2040 from the emissions already present in the atmosphere. The present scale of emission indicates that it would be difficult to keep to +2 degrees after 2040. +2 degrees and even +3 degrees are already inevitable, and an average of +3, or +5 degrees on the continents, that is, a temperature reaching 50 degrees in a heat-wave in the south of Europe. Even if we succeed in reducing the emission of greenhouse gas in the future (and that is merely an hypothesis) our thermo-industrial civilization will have consequences which will last for thousands of years. Human action will affect the evolution of the planet.

In the past the major upheavals of our planet have resulted from cosmic events, such as the glacial and interglacial periods in the last million years. For the last 12,000 years we have been in an interglacial period called ‘holocene’, during which the temperature has varied only plus or minus 0.5 degrees. The actual temperature (+1.1 degrees) is the greatest for 1.2 million years. So this rise implies totally unheard-of modifications of biodiversity and climate which have adapted themselves during millions of years.

The novelty for the planet is that the temperature is increasing much more quickly: the tally of CO2 has increased ten times more quickly than in any crisis of the last eight thousand years. The changes consequent on the Anthropocene are turning the balance of the biosphere upside down and are leading to a cooked planet. The climate change is the result of political decisions made in the light of the causes, but the biogeographical accelerations to which the earth is being submitted will make the planet run out of all known systems of equilibrium.

 

The turning-point of ecosystems – towards a cooked planet?

People are already speaking, on the subject of animal biodiversity, of a sixth mass-extinction. We touch on the human risks, A very good presentation has been made by Gael Giraud:[2]

In the second half of the century the lethal conditions of heat and humidity will make considerable parts of the world uninhabitable for a hundred or two hundred days of the year. People will be obliged to desert places in India, south-west Asia and Africa. The World Bank reckons on two milliard climatic refugees in the second half of the century. I regard this as an under-estimate: at least three milliard will be obliged to migrate. Life is in the process of migrating towards the poles, and tropical diseases will move also, such as malaria, which is already appearing in Italy. The World Bank puts at 5.2 milliards the number of people who will suffer marsh-fever in 2050.

Such reversals are directly linked to climatic events both extreme and more frequent, such as dry spells, flooding, cyclones, heat-waves, with serious impact on provisioning and health. These climatic events are themselves the consequences of the reactions of our ecosystems under pressure of temperature rises through liberation of CO2 and the diminution of carbon reserves directly linked to melting glaciers and massive destruction of forests. The increased warmth of oceans is the sign of the accelerated warming of the planet. The oceans absorb 93% of the warming due to human activity and 25% of our emission of gas effected by greenhouse gas. This huge well of carbon is weakening because of climate-warming.

 


The passage of the typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in 2013 in the Philippines. Here the devastated school at Tacloban, run by the Benedictine Missionary Sisters of Tutzing (900 pupils). © AIM.

Atmospheric Rivers

This is the result of a corridor of water-vapor and warmth, a sort of atmospheric river which empties in diluvial rain over the Antarctic, thereby increasing the warming-process. Monsoons are being and will be modified by this climate change. Events such as that in Kerala (India) in August 2018 (450 deaths, a million refugees) will intensify this. The fact is that global warming will exaggerate the difference between the surface of the oceans and the earth in spring. This will increase the winds which produce monsoons. Besides, we know that warm air holds water better, with the result that flooding will be more intense at the time of the seasonal tropical episodes. This is a phenomenon already catalogued in historical summaries.

The jet stream is a current of violent winds at high altitudes around the north pole; in our latitudes it is responsible for extreme meteorological events. Climate change will increase this tendency towards 2050, linked to the heat-waves and repeated floods which we have experienced in the last few years.

The Hadley circulation is an atmospheric band formed of cellules resembling a conveyor-belt 15km high and almost 3,000km wide, controlling heat-exchange from the equator to the tropics at a high level. At the level of the equator warm and humid air rises, cools at a height (which yields strong rainstorms); the column of air, now become dry, separates into two masses pushed apart from each other at the equator before plunging to earth and bringing the warm dry air which is characteristic of subtropical regions. It is at these latitudes that the largest deserts of the planet are to be found (as the Sahara and the Atacama). With climate-warming the cellules of Hadley are enlarged, changing new regions into subtropical climates favouring a desert. The circulation of Hadley provokes an expansion of the subtropical regions and so an increase in drought. This is progressing faster than was foreseen. The phenomenon is no stranger to gigantic fires – and we are only at +1 degree.

El Niño is one of the worldwide climate disturbances produced every two to seven years. Its consequences are notable: droughts and floods over vast areas, devastating cyclones in the Pacific region, abnormally high temperatures in the years of el Niño. According to studies made in 2018 the extreme phenomena linked to el Niño are going to exacerbate and intensify the present risks, occurring twice as often, exactly like the dipole of the Indian Ocean[3] which is one of the major causes of the recent Australian fires.

Droughts in eastern Australia, Indonesia, Asia, southern Africa, Brazil. Floods on the west coast of South America, Africa, the equatorial east and the south of the United States. Whitening of coral reefs. Devastating cyclones in the central Pacific. At the global level the mean temperature tends to be abnormally high during the years of such incidents.

 


After the passage of the typhoon Haiyan in 2013 in the Philippines. © AIM.

Conclusion

Half the ecosystems here mentioned are already present – in a logic of balance. Rather than lament a state of fact, would it not be better to question the pertinence of the values of our global industrial civilization? These values produce a self-contradictory relationship to the world since they threaten life itself. We must come down to earth, as the philosopher Bruno Latour says, in order to get away from the overhanging cliff-edge on which we are settled and inhabit our planet differently.

What is to be done? This is the vital question. Before we talk about solutions the first step is to understand and feel the urgency by being clearly informed – not just conscious that there is a problem – that is not enough. Awareness of the urgency of the situation comes only from objective knowledge of what it is that is so urgent. The risk must be measured. So the first element is a personal ethic, confrontation with the reality of the challenge by trustworthy information, facing the imbalance and the fear.

A second element: not to blind oneself to the importance of personal gestures. They have little effect on emissions, at most 10% if the great majority make great efforts. At best it will be 5%. But make these gestures all the same, knowing their limits, such as consuming less, travelling less by air. The value of this is principally to fit one’s life-style with the enlightened sense of urgency, and by itself this constitutes a form of witness.

A third element of personal ethic: take a clear political stand. There are many destructive systems and powers, responsible politicians who are failing despite their ‘green’ credentials. Get to know them, or rather to denounce them. This has a significant effect. We should not forget decisions of re-orientation which tend towards the evolution of an economy of zero-emission (transport, energy, agro-ecology, urbanism, provisioning). These are decisions taken at the level of states and groups of states.

Finally, and still on the level of personal ethic: mobilize the spirit and the mind towards a desirable shared future. Nourish the desire for a world which lives differently. Think of the talents, especially human talents, for resolution, for self-improvement of which living environments are capable.

And never forget: ‘The forest comes before humans, the desert comes after them’.[4]


[1] M Bernard Lucet is a professional consultant of professional bodies. ‘Anthropocene’, literally ‘the age of man’, is a term used by scientists to signify that human activities now have the potential to modify the earth and its evolution [editorial note].

[2] Preface to A Pottier, Comment les économistes réchauffent la planète, (Anthropocène), Paris 2016.

[3] The dipole of the Indian Ocean, also known as the Indian el Niño, is an irregular oscillation of surface-temperature of the ocean, the western part becoming in turn warmer and colder than the eastern part. The Indian monsoon is generally affected by the difference in temperature between the Gulf of Bengal in the east and the Oman Sea in the west [editorial note].

[4] For a long time this saying has been attributed to Francois-René Chateaubriand, without anyone being able to find it in his works.

 

France – Ecological monasteries

6

Witness

Sister Nathanaelle Lefoulon, OSB

Monastery of Martigné-Briand (France)

 

France – Ecological monasteries

 


In February 2017 an unusual and unexpected invitation was issued by the Abbey of Maylis to a dozen monasteries. To be more precise, the invitation was issued to one monastery, which invited another, which invited another, and so on. Olivetans, Benedictines, Cistercians, Orthodox nuns and all – we found ourselves in the permaculture farm of Bec-Hellouin for a three-day session on integral ecology. Several laypeople joined us, eager to help the monasteries in the movement.

It was a time of rich and valuable encounter around Elena Lasida, professor of economics, Brother Dominique Lang (Assumptionist), Hervé Covez (Franciscan and agronomist) and of course Charles and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer, the owners of the farm. The subject of our discussions was how to live and deploy ecological questions in our lives, our communities, our activities, profiting from the example of Charles and Perrine and the encyclical Laudato Si’.

We started, starry-eyed and full of enthusiasm, with a question: how could our communities be in their own way ‘Laboratories of integral ecology’? Could not our monasteries, where life was so well-integrated and unified, become ‘archetypes of shared houses’ showing the world how this could be lived on a bigger scale’? The difficulty was to know how to follow up this fine enthusiasm and this fine intuition.

At this point Simon, a student of Elena Lasida in solid and social economy, and planning to write her thesis on how monasteries were receiving the encyclical of Pope Francis and live this dimension of integrated ecology, suggested visiting sixteen monasteries or new communities of all confessions. Thus it was that between April and July 2018 Simon, always accompanied by a brother or sister of the community being visited, went off with this brother or sister to the community being studied. In the course of these ‘visitations’ creativity and enthusiasm, gratitude and communion and government – these great themes of Laudato Si’ – were studied in the four relationships of the human person as defined by the encyclical: relationship to oneself, to others, to nature and to God.

All this work gave opportunity for a very beautiful meeting centred on Simon and Elena Lasida at the Carmel of Peace at Mazille on the 21st to 25th January, 2019. The brother or sister who had accompanied Simon and the superior of each community visited were also present.

In the course of these study-days three balances were put alongside the monastic vows:

• Singular/collective : the vow of obedience

• Free /useful : the vow of conversion

• Interior / exterior: the vow of stability.

From this starting-point the group at Mazille took the name ‘the Laudato Si’ community’, and the idea of an ecodiagnostic dedicated to the monasteries was born. Thanks to Elena Lasida, two sisters and a brother of the Laudato Si’ Communities (the Abbey of Landevennec, the community of the Chemin Neuf and the monastery of Martigné-Briand) met up with two Dominican sisters of Chalais and Estavayer. who had already embarked on a similar project. The adventure of the ‘green Church’ was on its way!

Almost two years of work have been necessary to achieve this diagnostic, and from 31st May to 31st July the ‘Communion Laudato Si’ ’ and the new communities accepted to try it out before definitively putting the ‘green Church’ community into practice on the ground. Up to the present the working-party, which has co-opted a deaconess of Reuilly, meets regularly by Zoom to correct, modify, and integrate the comments which have been gathered in from the testing period. We are hoping for a definitive foundation of the ‘green Church’ on the ground around April of next year.


Celebrating God’s Creation: Planting Trees

7

Witness

Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing

An extract from the Newsletter of May-July 2021

from the Priory of Manilla (Philippines)

 

Celebrating God’s Creation:

Planting Trees




The 22nd Manila Priory Chapter held in April 2019 has endorsed to all the communities: “that each community shall plant and nurture at least 100 trees within 2 years as a manifestation of our Benedictine stewardship.” Likewise, this is an affirmative action to the recommendation of the 13th General Chapter message, “the congregation commits itself to have planted at least 1300 trees within the next six years as a sign of commitment for the care of God’s creation,” in response to Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the environment and human ecology.

June as our Environment month and with the onset of rainy days, it is most favorable to plant trees for restoring and healing our planet. Besides, a green environ is essential for our survival against coronavirus. Our different communities reported their tree planting activities since 2019.


Priory House Community

To celebrate Philippine Independence Day on June 12, 2021 and as a sign of our commitment to care for God’s creation, the Sisters of the Priory House community trooped to Tanauan Farm to plant trees. Breathing fresh air, basking under the sun, and being amid the greenery and wide, open spaces in the farm proved to be the best time to heal tired bodies and spirits as a longterm investment against the raging pandemic.


Marihatag Community

From 2019 to 2020, the community of Marihatag planted and nurtured more than one hundred varied fruit-bearing trees: avocado, guyabano, marang, calamansi, kamias, grafted dayap, rambotan, durian, cacao, langka, different kinds of banana suckers (lakatan, kwarenta dias, latundan, saba, carnaba), dwarf and native coconuts, and many others that were planted at the San Benito Mabog farm, Cabahian farm, and our convent front garden. Additionally, last April 2021, Sr. Odilia Bulayungan OSB and Sr. Joyanne Morales OSB planted fifty propagules and bitaog seedlings.


St. Scholastica’s College & Manila Community

Since 2018 until 2021, St. Scholastica’s College has been conducting a yearly institutional tree planting activity in Tanauan and Tanay farms with representatives from the different sectors of the school community. Each tree planting begins with a liturgical service.

For the past four years, the school community has been able to plant a variety of fruit-bearing and hardwood trees. To name a few: 30 marang (johey oak), lanzones (longkong), 30 cacao, 10 langka (jackfruit), avocado, dwarf coconut, and dragon fruit. Seedlings were also planted by the Sisters’ community within the school campus grounds.

Blessing of plants at the College of St Scholastica (Manila).

Ormoc Community

Sr. Adela Arabia OSB and Sr. Leticia Saraza OSB planted fruit-bearing trees in St. Scholastica’s Housing in Brgy. Dayhagan. St. Scholastica Housing is a housing project for employees of St. Peter’s College, Ormoc City.


Pambujan Community

From 2019 up to the present the sisters have planted 392 trees. Today, 211 are growing sturdily in the St. Scholastica’s hospital grounds.


Formation House Community

The Formation House Community started planting trees in June 2020 with avocado and araucaria trees. To date the grounds are filled with greenery of fruit bearing mango, dragon fruit, mabolo (velvet apple), santol (cotton fruit), atis (custard apple or sweetsop), coconut, etc. Our nursery has new seedlings ready for the next planting season.


Mati Community

Sterculia foetida is a soft wooded tree that can grow up to 35 metres (115 ft.) tall. In the Philippines, this species is popularly known as Calumpang. Branches are used for fencing posts while its leaves are fed to goats. Seventy-five of these trees were planted on November 25-30, 2020 in San Isidro Mission Farm, Baon, San Isidro, Davao Oriental. Forty more trees were planted in St. Scholastica’s EnFIDe Institute, Dawan, Mati City.


Baguio Community

Baguio Community planted 50 Baguio Pine Trees inside the compound of St. Scholastica’s Convent, Baguio City last March 17,2021.


St. Scholastica’s College, Tacloban & Sisters’ Community

The Sisters joined the students, faculty and staff for tree-planting activities within and around the school campus.

Group at the school of Tacloban.

Divine Word Hospital Community

The Sisters’ community, together with hospital staff and medical personnel have been planting fruit-bearing trees at St. Benedict’s Farmers’ Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (SBFISA) in Alang-alang since November 2018. The Sisters also carried out this activity during their community outing to St. Scholastica’s Hospital in Pambujan. They pledged to continue planting more trees this year and the years to come.


Tabunok Community

In 2019, 400 mangrove seedlings and 200 coconut trees were planted by Grade 11 and 12 students respectively with the guidance of teachers. The sisters together with the school personnel planted 8 Araucaria trees on the 113th Foundation of the Manila Priory last September 14, 2019. The school’s Peace Garden was planted with ornamental and fruit-bearing trees by the Sisters, students, and school personnel. In addition to tree planting, the community shared seedlings of hardwood and fruit-bearing trees from the school’s ‘mini forest’ to another Eco Farm Resort in Cebu.

A group at Tabunok.

Angeles Community

On July 19, 2020, the Sisters Community’s Justice and Peace for Integrity of Creation (HFA-CBS JPIC) was launched. Its main project is tree planting. A nursery of mahogany and kamansi (bread fruit) trees was created to prepare the seedling for planting a year after. On July 30, 2021 the Sisters and other members of the school community and other mission partners had the tree planting activity. The nursery had an overflowing number of mahogany seedlings. Some of these were shared with the Dominican School of Angeles Foundation and with Mary our Help Technical Institute for Women in Mabalacat.


San Fernando Community

In 2019, St. Scholastica's Academy, San Fernando had their bamboo planting activity. The Sisters, students and maintenance employees planted 87 bamboo shoots that were given by the Alumni Association of SSC Manila.


The Sisters of San Fernando planting young trees.

Monasteries as centres of an alternative and durable economy

8

Economy and Monastic Life

Benoît-Joseph Pons[1]

 

Monasteries as centres

of an alternative and durable economy

 

 


Principles of monastic economy

How can a group of men or women who live a life based on economic principles opposed to those of the accepted model be inspired by the solutions to problems accepted by today’s world? This is the objective of our quest.

Monastic life is built on four pillars, namely prayer, work, lectio divina, and community living. This lectio is the reading of a spiritual text prolonged by personal reflection, meditation and possibly prayer inspired by the text. Monks and nuns normally consecrate to it one or two hours each day. The monastic economy is shaped around these pillars and rests upon two essential principles, disappropriation and an economy of need.

 

Disappropriation

In the Rule of St Benedict disappropriation is founded on the principle ‘to prefer nothing to the love of Christ’. In practice it is expressed by the two principles which follow:

‘Above all it is necessary to uproot totally the vice of possession’ (RB 31.1) and ‘Everything is shared by all, as it is written, “Let no one call anything belonging to him his own nor have the temerity to appropriate it’” (RB 33.6).

The Rule also says, ‘No one should have the temerity to give or receive anything without the authorization of the abbot, nor possess anything as his own, whatever it may be, since it is not allowed to the monk to have at his own disposal even his own body or his own will’ (RB 33.2-4).

In other words, the monk may not possess anything as his own, neither a material nor an immaterial possession. Not disposing of the body means chastity; not disposing of the will means obedience. In practice not owning goods which are put at his disposition means taking the greatest care of them. The Rule instructs the cellarer to ‘regard all the objects and all the goods of the monastery as the sacred vessels of the altar’ (RB 31.30).

 ‘If anyone treats the objects of the monastery improperly or negligently he should be corrected’ (RB 32.4).

Monastic disappropriation generates the need for solidarity and absence of professional competition. An office is a service which does not belong to anyone. It is given by the abbot in function of personal aptitudes and the needs of the monastery. It is not for anyone’s personal advantage.

Many monasteries practice ‘collation of offices’. Every three years or whenever it seems appropriate each monk renders his office to the abbot, who decides whether to reinstate him in the office or to give him a different office. It is not an arbitrary decision, for it is matured with the Council, the monks who help the abbot in his decisions, and with the people concerned. But every monk knows that at a given moment in his life he can hold an important position and then find himself in a much more modest post. In a monastery there is no such thing as a career.

The idea of not putting competition at the centre of interpersonal relationships is fully developed by Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, an idea inspired by St Francis:

‘Francis received true peace of mind, he was free of all desire for supremacy over others; he made himself last of all and sought to live in harmony with the whole world’ (FT 4).[2]


Economy of Need

An economy of need is defined in chapter 34 of the Rule, entitled ‘Whether all should receive equally what is needed’. It rests on the idea of a return to the idyllic time of the first Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles, ‘Distribution was made to each as any had need’ (Acts 4.35; RB 34.1). There is no question of considering each person as a mere number and identical. On the contrary, each is different and has particular needs. The Rule says, ‘Someone who needs less should thank God and not be upset. Someone who needs more should be humble and not puffed up because of the kindness shown to him. Then all the members will be at peace’ (RB 34.3-5).

The economy of monastic needs comprises two elements: everyone receives according to his needs and everyone contributes according to his means. So not every member of the community receives the same things. Each member is given what he needs, in function of his particular situation. In the organization of the work of monks someone who is young and gifted gives everything he has; someone who is elderly and less gifted contributes according to his means.

In monastic shops or workshops the work of the monk contributes to the remuneration of the community. But this remuneration is not linked to the work done. It is calculated on the basis of the needs of the person working, whether the work is basic or requires high qualifications.

 

Monastic economy as an alternative and lasting economy

These two functional principles make a monastery a special society. It is not a museum of customs of a previous age, for it is a place where people live in the present. It is not a laboratory, for there is no social experimentation. It is the place of an alternative economy because it puts to the world questions about its practices while trying to inspire new solutions to problems which occur. I limit myself to the examination of the question of work.

 


Monastery of Imari, Japan. © AIM.

Work

In the world work serves to produce goods and gain a remuneration which makes it possible to procure other goods. This is the basis of a liberal economy. This exchange of goods is an occasion of interpersonal communication. Work serves to establish a social hierarchy and is an element of recognition on the part of others and oneself.

Karl Marx defines three forms of alienation at work: when the remuneration represents only a small part of the value of the goods produced, when the work serves only to gain a salary, when the worker cannot exercise a free physical and intellectual activity.

In the monastery disappropriation creates a complete disassociation between work and remuneration. In this way of functioning the three forms of alienation in work disappear. Since the monk has no contact with remuneration he does not compare it to the value of the product. The primary aim of the work he does is not a salary. Finally, monastic work is generally of the artisan type, which leaves the worker more liberty of action than a production-line.

Work may be considered to have three possible aims: work to get a salary, work to be acknowledged by others and the worker himself and – for a Christian – work to share in the creative work of God.

 

Work to get a salary

John Galbraith underlines a paradox:

 ‘The word “work” applies simultaneously to those for whom it is exhausting, boring, disagreeable and to those who take pleasure in it and are not at all constrained. “Work” indicates at the same time an obligation imposed on the first group and the source of prestige and remuneration which the others ardently desire and in which they take pleasure.”[3]

In a liberal economy remunerations are defined by two recognized forces alone, the Market and the Law. Globally it is the Market which determines values; the Law frames them in order to limit abuse of them, remuneration of trainees, limitation of work-hours, prohibition of child-labour, etc. The Law is relatively effective in regulating low salaries; it is totally ineffective in the control of higher salaries.

Monks of today do not wish to live on public charity. They are aware of the need of work to sustain their community. But since the work does not offer any personal advantage, remuneration or consideration, the nature of the work undertaken loses its importance: there is no fundamental difference between running the business or sweeping the cloister. These are merely services corresponding to the capacity of each person and the needs of the community. Therefore there is no competition for the posts.

 

Work to be acknowledged

Apart from the salary, recognition is an important motivation. The amount of the salary is in practice itself an element of this recognition. The quest for recognition often translates itself into a quest for power, or the self-image or for the material advantages which it provides. In the world power is measured by the number of persons under somebody’s command, the spread of business generated, etc. The image given to family and friends is very important and can hugely influence behaviour. Everyone gains personal recognition by being useful to one’s business, family or community.

In contrast to salaried work, for monks work as a means of personal achievement is important. Someone who does work useful to the community appreciates the gratitude of the community, and if this is not given it is a trial.

 


Electrical installation, Togo.

Work to participate in the creative work of God

In the Christian conception Man was created in the image of God: ‘God said, “Let us make Man in our own image, our own resemblance, and let them master the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the earth”’ (Genesis 1.26). The fact that Man was made in the image of God gives a particular dignity. This dignity does not rest on possessions, success or appearance. The authority attributed to a person is to the image which is of God, an authority of love. The theology of continuous creation opposes the idea that creation is no more than a construction of a vast machine which functions on its own. God continues to intervene in the world, and Man, made in the image of God, is called to contribute to this intervention. Man, created in the image of God, participates by his work in the work of the Creator, and continues according to the measure of his capacities to develop and complete it, progressing in the discovery of resources and values included in the whole of the created world.

Thus work, especially in its monastic conception, is not simply individualistic and utilitarian, to earn a salary and gain recognition. It is to realize a work, in the sense given by Hannah Arendt. It is a community vision because what counts is the contribution to the world.

In the nineteenth century an expression developed, ‘the labour of a Benedictine’, which means a long labour, requiring a lot of patience. This care for work well done is linked to the obligation to take care of all the goods of the monastery. The Benedictine conception of work presupposes consecration to what is useful, avoidance of dedication to zeal and piety and trifles, as Dom Bertrand Rolin explains with reference to chapter 48 of the Rule, entitled ‘The daily manual labour’:

What is important in this chapter is that it should be truly ‘work’. The ‘work’ to be done, says the Rule, that is what is useful to the life of the community and to its functioning, whatever its valuation by society may be.[4]

How often do we make things perfectly useless, but which we show around because they demonstrate our skills!

 

Work and remuneration

In the monastic economy there is complete dislocation between work and remuneration – which is far from the case in the world. In the monastery the abbot has to find a person for each task and a task for each person. There is no such thing as a strike. This has two consequences. The first is that the existence of a function does not depend on the balance between what it costs and what it brings in. Even if a vegetable garden costs more than buying the vegetables in a supermarket, the fact that this gives work to someone must be taken into consideration. The second concerns the question of a strike and its compensation. Should priority be given to ending the strike or to compensation? Traditional politics suggest that the strike should be defused by compensation to the workers. Action against the strike seems normally to be guided by the need to control the cost of the compensation. However, as we have seen, work is certainly a source of revenue, but not only that. To indemnify the strikers is necessary, but that is not the whole story: they must be given work. This is a matter of the dignity which Pope Francis stresses in Fratelli Tutti. 

 


Monastery of Quilvo (Chile). © AIM.

Conclusion on Work

The monastic conception of work applies not only to monks. It inspires also oblates, those layfolk who are seeking to live the Rule in the world in partnership with a community. It rests on a teaching issuing from the tradition but also adapted to the world of today. Monks have no hesitation in using ultra-modern machines in their work. It claims to inspire the world with a way of progress, to inspire both Christian and non-Christian by different aspects.

I stress the idea that work need not be merely a source of revenue. Work should be an element of personal development, and this development incidentally does something useful for the community. For a worker on the bottom rung of the ladder it must be possible that it should make him proud of what he is doing. For someone who has hierarchical responsibility it means that he organizes the work of his fellow-workers so that they should be able to expand in what they are doing. For politicians and administrators it is not enough to solve the strike: they must reduce strikes.

From another point of view it is necessary that work should give a livelihood to a person. Any fair commercial movement or the AMAP[5] will advance in this direction.

Work must be a place not of competition but of co-operation.

Finally, to work more in order to earn more and to consume more is irresponsible from the moment that necessities of life have been satisfied. This puts the question of the place of growth in our economic analyses. This opens up also the question of publicity. One modern aspect of monastic life consists in remaining free of the urge to consume more; this is particularly true of limiting access to the internet. Publicity is not bad in itself, but its usage needs to remain under control.

 

The reception of the encyclical Laudato Si’ in monasteries

The publication of the encyclical Laudato Si’ has occasioned a wave of enthusiasm in ecological circles, even non-Christian ones. They consider it a confirmation of their thesis, passing airily over the points which upset them, such as the defence of life. Paradoxically, in monastic milieux it has taken time to sink in, although documents of the magisterium are generally welcomed. To understand this paradox I suggest an hypothesis: while militant ecologists have seen in it a veritable revolution in the social teaching of the Church, monks have initially seen it as no more than a new expression of the truth they have been living since the beginning.

Monastic life is a life of prayer, essentially community prayer, which depends on singing the psalms. The psalter contains 150 psalms, which monks normally sing in their entirety every week. Several authors have worked on the ecology of the psalms, others on the psalms of nature or of creation. 51 psalms fit into at least one of these categories; in other words, an important part of the psalter is ecological. So a monk, unless he is totally unaware of what he is singing, is naturally an ecologist without knowing or recognizing it.

After a certain period of maturation many monasteries have adopted the encyclical when they have realized that it is a brilliant formulation of what they try to live, and this has helped them to make progress.


Greenhouse of the Benedictines of Thien Binh (Vietnam). © AIM.

The main contribution of the monastic economy to the ecological question is ‘happy sobriety’. This is an expression developed by Pierre Rabhi which has been in a way constitutive of monastic spirituality since the beginning. For Pierre Rabhi the resources of the planet are limited, Fossil resources are not renewable and the capacity of the biosphere to absorb pollution is limited.

The notion of limit is constitutive of Christian faith. Already in Genesis (2.17) God says, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil’. This notion of limit is opposed to the idea that techno-science will give Man an unlimited power over his environment. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis affirms that technological development is good, but only on condition that it is accompanied by human development of responsibility, value and conscience.

Pierre Rabhi claims that economic growth is unrealistic and absurd. It is a prime agent of death. Hence it is necessary to set up a politic of civilization built on sobriety. We must learn to satisfy our vital needs with the simplest and healthiest means. By speaking of the conversion of hearts Laudato Si’ says the same thing. In Christian language Pierre Rabhi’s happy sobriety comes back to respect for creation and care for future generations, for whom it is our duty to leave a habitable environment.

But monastic happy sobriety differs from ecologists’ happy sobriety. While ecologists base it essentially on the protection of natural resources and the environment, monks base it also on a social aspect: superfluous consummation amounts to depriving other people of their necessities. In an ecologist’s vision it is necessary to work less in order to destroy less resources. That is the opposite of growth. In a monastic vision it is a matter less of working to produce more than of producing what is needed for one’s own needs or those of the community, since it is necessary to share with those who lack the means to produce everything they need.

 

Conclusion

By this rapid presentation of monastic economics as an alternative and durable economy we have identified several aspects which can inspire the world. The value of work as a means for personal development, the potential evils of competition in economic relationships, the search for consumption as a source of happiness. This leads on to the value of the idea of a happy sobriety which may be considered not only under the environmental aspect but also under its social aspect. In the prolongation of the proposition it would be necessary to raise the question of social inequality. Monastic life makes it possible to avoid the snare of an unsupportable imbalance. The economy of needs questions radically the principle of equality.

The word ‘pax’ is the Benedictine motto. St Benedict presents it as an advantage which we should seek avidly. It is the word which best sums up the harmony typical of the existence of a monk. In the Prologue to the Rule St Benedict prescribes a search for peace and the ceaseless pursuit of peace. This search for peace is linked to the search for God - two aims which run into each other. Monastic economy, based on disappropriation and the economy of need, to which are added non-competition and a happy sobriety, puts forward means to achieve peace. It is peace that makes the organisation durable.


[1] The author is a French agronomic engineer. He began his career in industry as a researcher in the microbiology of food. From there he became the manager of an enterprise in pharmaceutical chemistry. He also has a licence in theology and a doctorate in economics from the Faculty of Social and Economic Science of the Institut Catholique of Paris. At present he is a faculty member of the Chaire Jean Bastaire of the Catholic University of Lyon. He is the author of ‘L’économie monastique, une économie alternative pour notre temps’ (2018).

[2] FT: Fratelli Tutti.

[3] John Galbraith, Les mensonges de l’économie – Vérité pour notre temps (Bernard Grasset, Paris 2004, p. 34).

[4] Bertrand Rollin, Vivre aujourd’hui la Règle de saint Benoît – Un commentaire de la Règle (Vie monastique no 16, 1983, p. 54).

[5] Associations for the Maintenance of Peasant Agriculture. These are intended to help peasant and biological agriculture, which has difficulty holding its own in competition with the agronomic industry. The principle is to establish a direct link between farmers and consumers, who engage to buy the production at a fair price and to pay in advance [editorial note].

 

The Cellarer according to the rule of S Benedict

9

Economy and Monastic Life

Dom Médard Kimengwa Kitobo, OSB

Monastery of Lubumbashi, Kiswishi (DRC)

 

The Cellarer according to the rule of S Benedict

A Father to the whole community,

as the Abbot and with the Abbot

  

An account of a Conference given

at the meeting of MAC by Dom Simon Madeko[1]

 



Why should we be interested in the spirit and motivation which ought to animate the behaviour of the cellarer in a monastic community in the Benedictine tradition?

We live in a world which has a conception of economy not necessarily in harmony with our monastic ideal or with Christian ideals in general. The problem is that basically we are the heirs, by way of Greek culture since Plato, of an anthropology (a vision of humanity, of the human composite) which is dualist, or in other words, negative. This dualist anthropology determines the current conception of the economy which is an outrageous simplification, to the point of being a caricature.

This conception operates a dry distinction between economic (temporal) and spiritual life. Consequently the religious superior, abbot/abbess or prior/prioress in our Benedictine context, is the person who has exclusive charge of the care of souls with no connection to the material and temporal life (everything which concerns the production of goods, the provision of means to reach that point, their sale and their division) which is the business of the game-keeper of the economy, the cellarer.

But in the context of Benedictine spirituality is this conception correct, that the superior has nothing to do with the material life and the cellarer nothing to do with the spiritual life? In this case it would be normal that the cellarer should miss out the hours of prayer and other spiritual activities to complete the administrative and other tasks. This conception is simplistic and false.

Nothing could be further from the truth than this caricature, particularly in view of the Rule. There is no separation between the two domains. Concretely, in the Rule, the abbot is identified not only by his role in spiritual matters but by anything which touches the human person, including the material life. He must be concerned with the material life, without which the spiritual life cannot develop. Monastic life presupposes a decent level of material life if it is to develop. If the abbot is to generate sons who can conform to the will of God, their Father, he must look after the necessary material conditions. Did not the ancients say that a minimum of well-being is necessary for the practice of virtue?

According to the Rule it is incumbent on the cellarer to look after the temporal (economic) life of the whole monastery (RB 31.1). But St Benedict does not stop at this formulation of his mission. He also indicates the spirit which must characterize his action in looking after temporal affairs. Concretely, St Benedict says that the cellarer ‘should act in collaboration with the abbot, behaving like a father for the whole monastery’ (RB 31.2). This is very important. Father like the abbot, so his mission is indeed also spiritual. He shares with the abbot in the exercise of his mission. Like a father for the whole monastery, just like the abbot, the cellarer participates in the exercise of his ministry in generating sons for God, which is the prime mission of the abbot. Therefore the cellarer has also the mission of caring for the souls of the brothers in the monastery. If he has nothing to give he will respond with a word of goodness (RB 31.7, 13). No question of refusing for the sake of refusing, but ensuring that the brothers are born to the life of the Spirit.

The cellarer must act like the abbot. He must take note of persons. He must work in close collaboration with the abbot. In the exercise of his task he must do nothing without the order of the abbot and uniquely put into practice what the abbot has commanded (RB 31.4-5; 12.15). If the cellarer enters into that sort of relationship with his abbot his obedience is to achieve peace in the monastery. He is told that if there is no harmony he must answer for it (RB 31.9, 16).

The style of life or of spirituality implied by the economic question in the monastery should be aimed principally at the care of the human person, a sacred vision. The cellarer is instructed to treat the goods of the monastery as the sacred vessels of the altar (RB 31.10) and to sell products without greed (RB 57.4-8).

In other words, what is important in the economic activity of the monastery is not material gain but the well-being of the human person in the search for God. Those who have to do with the material organization of the monastery need to consider the primacy of the human person without sacrificing it on the altar of economic efficiency or of economy as such. Do the measures which I take and the actions which I pursue contribute to the development of the human person and to the peace and harmony of the community?

Having created Man in his own image and likeness, God wants him to stand proud, for God finds his glory in Man and his dignity (cf. St Irenaeus of Lyons). All the commentators on the Rule of St Benedict unanimously recognize that what makes its permanent actuality is its adaptation to every human person within the interplay of the community. The whole horizon of the Rule is human dignity, in which Benedict conceives monastic life as an enterprise of conversion, of return to God by work, the way of obedience after the subjection of the human will (RB Prologue 2-3, 8).

The need for a spirituality with this horizon of attention to human nature can be seen in an economic current, ‘social economy of the market’. Care of the human person or attention to Man is, on the other hand, the last of the cares of what is called economic liberalism of ‘wild capitalism’. If in the market economy there is any interest in the human person, in wild capitalism there is none, what is uniquely important is gain. Indeed, as citizens of the Congo and participants in this session at Goma in North Kivu, not far from South Kivu and Ituri, we can apply this conception of economics to consideration of the grumbling, interminable war which affects people obliged by the threat of arms to leave their homes – ‘let them die’. This is of no concern to the multinationals and their managers who are their lackeys. The fact that the Italian ambassador was sacrificed is of no concern to their interests. The world may stir for a moment on seeing lifted a corner of the veil which covers the pangs of this infamous war, but immediately afterwards silence returns, imposed by the god Mammon, the master served by the new masters of the world, the controllers of the world bank.


Restoration of the chapel of the Benedictine monks of Koubri (Burkina Faso) in 2019. © AIM.

To keep all due proportion, Max Weber can be held to be the ancestor of social market economy notably by his book, L’éthique du protestantisme et l’esprit du capitalisme (1904/5). He there shows how the Scandinavian countries, under the influence of Protestantism, have come to know an economy which puts Man at the centre. According to him Protestant ethics generated a capitalism with a human face.

This makes it possible to understand why market social economics is favoured by the Magisterium of the Church though its social teaching since Paul VI and his encyclical Populorum progressio (1967). But Paul VI himself espoused an eccleial sensibility on the question, a sensibility which is to be found already in Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) and in John XXIII in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (1961). Their successors have continued to walk in the same direction, as one can see in John-Paul II (Laborem exercens, September 1981; Sollicitudo rei socialis, December 1987; Centesimus annus, May 1991), Benedict XVI (Deus caritas est, 2005, chapter 3: Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, November 2011) and Francis (Laudato si’, May 2015; Apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, February 2020). In the different positions taken on these occasions on, among others, the questions we are considering, the Magisterium of the Church attempts to encourage Christians and people of good will to take stock of human dignity and to give preference to humanity. With all this, we realise that the spirit which must inspire the cellarer in his office has a solid foundation in the Magisterium.

In this context, what spirit should inspire the cellarer? What should be his style of life in the exercise of his mission? In answer to this situation and linked to our ideal of life at the basis of our conception of the economy there is belief in divine Providence. We are aware that sometimes our economic investments, despite all precautions, do not give a sufficient return. So we must live, produce, share our assets and at the same time remain humble in asking help and trusting in Providence. And we must share an awareness of the economic factors of the world capitalist economy to educate the masses.

Echoing all these preoccupations and uneasiness expressed by participants facing wild economy Fr Simon wakes us up by the following propositions:

Faced with aggression by the liberal economy why not set up a network of sale of the products of our monasteries (MAC) in which the conditions of production respect human and environmental dignity? Promote private initiative, enter into partnership among ourselves and with others. Set up a co-operative, an ethical circle! After all, with the populations which surround us we are victims of the liberal economy. The supermarkets are strangling us! We are conditioned by publicity. That is why we must be critical of the information which is flooding to us.

To enter this circuit we must realise the potential of what we intend to put on the market. They must be quality products and above all ethical to attract the clients who lean toward us as alternatives to supermarkets. In the same registers, to promote solidarity within the functioning of the economy of our monasteries we can also think of the possibility of a health co-operative for our monasteries of the MAC as an expression of our attention to human dignity in our research for a healthy financial situation. This would be a good illustration of our productive effort putting Man at the centre.

In short, our principal concern is the spirit which must animate those who have direct responsibility for the management of the economy envisaged by Benedict, the cellarer and the abbot in particular. It is a matter of entering into the spirit of the economy according to the father of Western monks. This is the perspective of an economy according to the spirit of the Rule. At this school the economy is built on a spirituality.

 

Monastic Life according to the Rule of St Benedict

St Benedict conceives monastic life as a way of conversion, of return to God through the labour of obedience. And this, after the fallibility of the illusions of personal will and autoregulation (cf. RB Prol 2-3.8). The destination of this road is the return to God, eternal life or more simply an authentic life, the kingdom of God, the life of communion with God, beatitude (RB Prol 42;5.3,10; 7.11; 72.2, 12).

When Benedict makes of ‘eternal life’ the ‘kingdom of God’ or ‘joyful days’ the terminus of the journey back to God which the monk undertakes he is not thinking of final ends; but an experience already in the present life, harmony lived with those who share the life of the monk in the same monastery. The concrete place of the experience of this beatitude and this peace is living according to God’s commandments, a life enlightened by the Word of God. In other words, St Benedict asks monks to undertake this road by leaving themselves to be guided by the Word as principal source of action and light to their step day by day.

In conclusion St Benedict wanted monastic life to be like a school for learning to serve the Lord or being totally given over to service of the Lord.

In the living out of the gospel ideal, apart from the determination to make monastic life a school of the Lord’s service, Benedict also wanted monastic life to be a workshop at the interior of which the spiritual art was exercised (RB 4.75, 78). The monastic ideal thus defined by Benedict is the responsibility of the abbot. He must incarnate and guarantee it, spreading it to all those who with him have built up the school of the Lord’s service and the workshop of training in the spiritual art.

 

Profile and mission of the abbot according to the Rule (RB 2 and 64)

On the profile and mission of the abbot according to the Rule the yield of chapters 2 and 64 are filled out by others: 21-24; 28;31-33; 36; 39-41; 44,47-51, 53-57; 60; 66-68; 70.

The abbot in his capacity as guarantor of the ideal which Benedict proposes to his disciples, has the mission of guiding the monks entrusted to him in the realization of the ideal of return to God. This is because he makes Christ present: through him God engenders, or better re-engenders, sons. He is not Christ, but makes Christ present by his witness and by his teaching, by teaching, but in a particular way. Teaching is not the problem but the manner of teaching. He must teach by his word, inhabited by the Word of God. He must possess this Word, proclaim it, explain it, but above all illustrate it by his example, his witness of life, its actualization. For example, in correcting others he corrects himself. He needs to care for his monks, but on the condition that the monks open their hearts to him, laying open their spiritual sicknesses, as for example submitting to him what they want to offer to God during Lent, so as to realize it with his prayer so that they do not fall into presumption and vain glory. This form of abbatial paternity, according to St Benedict, is the heritage of the figure of spiritual fatherhood in the tradition of the deserts of Egypt and the origins of monasticism, a figure immortalized in the Apophthegmata.

For the spiritual development of his monks the abbot must pay special attention to necessary material conditions. In other words, for the temporal life for which he primarily is responsible. Superiors are primarily responsible for the temporal life of the monasteries confided to them. Concretely, St Benedict foresees that the monks sleep in good conditions (RB 22) with a dormitory for themselves, for example. He must also ensure the quality of food and drink (RB 39). He is a realist if ever there was one! He must also look after the weak (the elderly, the sick and children – RB 36 and 37).


Gedonon Abbey (Indonesia), 2010. © AIM.

For the sick his vigilance goes further: Benedict prescribed that there should be an infirmary where the sick must receive due attention (RB 36.7-8). Among the weak in the care of the abbot Benedict mentions also strangers, pilgrims and guests. He is instructed to oversee that they are well received, notably with a lodging under the care of someone who fears God (RB 53.16-22). The issue is that no one should remain outside the care which the abbot provides for the monastery.

Definitively the community in which the monk must configure Christ should have everything necessary on the material level (RB 66.6). To have everything is a universal proposition. It is a community in which one should find different instruments for different tasks. The abbot is asked to hold an inventory of them (RB 32.3). Why not think of holding an annual inventory?

The abbot must also ensure that the monks of his community have the necessary kit for their work, adapted to each person (RB 2.23-32; 33.5).

The mission of the abbot, then, consists in this, that all the members should be in peace (RB 34.5). A minimum of peace would make our monasteries a paradise. But our sin makes this impossible. All the members, including those for whom one does not have a good feeling, must be at peace, for in the bosom of the house of God which the abbot governs no one should be sad or preoccupied (RB31.19). Every morning he should look at each member of the community to test the state of soul: is he or she in peace or troubled? Does she or he have problems?

The economic health of the monastery is an important dimension for the development of psychological and spiritual health of each member. Peace and harmony is a factor for each monastic vocation. This is why in the Rule the abbot appears as an agent of a superior authority to whom he must render an account (RB 2.1; 4.7-8, 20-21). He is the manager of the monastery as a whole in everything which touches material life as well as spiritual life, with a particular attention to each person, eager to adapt to each one. The abbot is manager of persons before being manager of its goods. If he manages the goods this is only because they are at the service of persons in the process of a return to God. Persons therefore have primacy over goods.

To avoid derogating from his spiritual mission the abbot delegates his powers to the cellarer and other officials, collaborating with them. In addition to being a manager he is also a teacher of the Word of God which he has to actualize. As well, he is a father in reference to Christ, and he must keep his monks safe, loving them as God loves his children, and insuring that they have bread to eat. In the last analysis he is a pastor, a shepherd, a doctor. He is called to have compassion and to care, to look after especially those in difficulty. Superiors of communities must learn to do without sleep sometimes to merit their role as father or mother. There is no merit in being the sole perfect person in a community of delinquents. We will complete the course together.

The spirituality of the cellarer should be sketched beside that of the abbot by the fact that the cellarer acts like a father, imitating his abbot and generating sons for God. According to the data of the Rule the identity and mission of the abbot which have repercussions on the cellarer are those of incarnation with relation to justice and peace. This spirituality prescribes that

• The cellarer is marked by the fear of God, virtuous, clothed by the Word of God to be transfigured by it, finding in it consolation and strength.

• He should be obedient, submissive, docile and attentive (RB 31.4)

• He should be charitable, sympathetic, discerning, ready to give a special place to the weak in the conviction that the goods entrusted to people should be first of all put at the disposition of the weak. It is a diaconal ministry of service.

• He should have a responsibility with regard to people and possessions in developing a freedom with regard to worldly things, but also developing a confidence in Providence.

• He should be humble, open to collaboration in the knowledge that he is a useless servant.

• He should be honest.

Basically the cellarer no less than the abbot is invited to live a spirituality of the Cross. The cellarer is the one who looks after the temporalities for the salvation of souls. From this fact the abbot and the cellarer are linked in a special collaboration in confidence, faith, peace and harmony.



[1] Dom Simon is Prior of the Benedictine community of Mambre (DRC).

MAC: Monasteries of Central Africa.

Cistercian monasticism of Ge’ez rite

10

Liturgy

Dom Negusse Woldai, OCist

Abbot of the Community of Asmara (Eritrea)

 

Cistercian monasticism of Ge’ez rite

 

Ge’ez is the classic Abyssinian language today used only as a liturgical language. In our monastery we pray the Hours in Ge’ez but readings from the Scripture and the Fathers are in Tigrigna in Eritrea and in Amharic in Ethiopia, both derived from it.

© AIM.

From its very beginning the intention of the Church and our institutor, the Venerable Abba Fesseha Ghebreamlak, was to erect a Catholic monasticism for the indigenous Catholics parallel to the existing sister Orthodox Church of Abyssinia (Ethiopia and Eritrea). By initiation and mediation of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Cistercian Congregation of Casamari became the cradle of the shoot by accepting the future institutor Abba Fesseha Ghebreamlak who was a diocesan priest and others who followed his footsteps. They were formed according to the Rule of St. Benedict (RB) the constitutions of the Congregation of Casamari with the clear intention to follow the Ge’ez Rite once they return back home and establish the Cistercian Monastic life in Eritrea.

In 1940 the first group of Cistercians comprised of three Italians and four Eritreans arrived the capital of Eritrea Asmara to establish their first monastery at a locality called Beleza, 13 km north of the capital. Later in 1948 the monastery was transferred to Asmara.

It was not a smooth job to have two rites, Latin and Ge’ez, in the same monastery for the first decades but they managed to walk jointly under the RB. In 1960 when the first Eritrean monk Abba Thimoteos Tesemma was elected as superior, only Ge’ez Rite was used in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

As common observance Cistercians we live according to the “ora et labora”.


Liturgical Life:

Our Psalmody which comprises 150 psalms and 15 Canticles of the prophets and is continuous, and distributed to two weeks. That means every two weeks we start with Psalm 1.

The Monastic Liturgy of the Hours in week days includes:

1. 1st nocturns: which comprises the respective psalms and readings from the Scripture followed by a short prayer called Liton.

2. 2nd nocturns: respective Psalms and readings from Fathers followed by Weddasie Mariam (Praise to the Virgin Mary of St. Ephraem The Syrian)

3. Lauds: respectively Psalms followed by Kidan Zalalit (From Testamentum Domini) I & II

4. Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass)

5. Terce and Sext at 12:30

6. None and Vespers at 18:15 daily (15:30 pm on Feasts…)

7. Chapter and the Compline at 20:45 concluded with Salve Regina in Ge’ez language.

© AIM.

On Sundays and Feast days our psalmody is the Cathedral Divine Office according the Ge’ez Rite liturgy. As usual at the eve Vespers is chanted then early in the morning Vigil starts at cockcrow i. e. 03:00 or 04:00 am till the Divine Liturgy or The Holy Mass. Ordinary Sundays have their proper theme and Name.

We use the traditional musical instruments during Cathedral Office such as drums, sistrums and supporting choir cane or stick, liturgical dance accompanied with clapping of hands and ululating voices from mothers and sisters. Here the faithful too join during this psalmody.

We have our Traditional Lectionary and Liturgical Calendar (12 months of 30 days each plus 5 or on leap year 6 supplementary days). Here we insert some Roman Church and Benedictine sanctoral and commemorations. According to the Catholic Church of Ethio-Eritrean tradition daily Divine Liturgy is celebrated either low or song while the Sister Orthodox Church tradition is always song on Sundays, Feast days and on special occasions, such as matrimony, funeral services or requiem Mass, baptism of infants where the sacraments of confirmation and communion (i.e. initiation sacraments) are administered simultaneously, etc.

Fast is observed almost 200 days per year for the strictly observant. On fast days Divine liturgy is celebrated beginning 12:00 pm according to the Orthodox Church tradition while in our case it is every morning.

 

The music and gestures of the Ge’ez rite are a reproduction of those of heaven. The singers are separated into two choirs. On the right symbolically are the cherubim, on the left the seraphim. The choreography of the singers symbolizes the passion of Christ.

The kabaro is a conical tambour in wood and leather, covered by a tissue which represents the shroud over the body of Christ, or the tissue covering his face when the Roman soldiers were mocking him. The smaller membrane of the tambour represents the New Testament, the larger the Old Testament.

The baton of the choir represents the Cross of Christ. Its head represents the head of the paschal lamb, symbol of Christ.

The sistrum represents Jacob’s Ladder: the two vertical sides symbolize the Old and New Testaments; the join of the two at the summit makes the Bible. Some consider that the sound of the sistrum represents the sound of the wings of cherubim and seraphim in the heavens.

© AIM.

Viktor Josef Dammertz (1929-2020)

11

Great Figures of Monastic Life

P. Cyrill Schäffer, OSB

Monk of St Ottilien (Germany)

 

Viktor Josef Dammertz, OSB:

Archabbot, Abbot Primate, Bishop, Monk

(1929-2020)

 


Josef Dammertz was born on the 8th June, 1929, at Schaephuysen in the Lower Rhine area. His mother’s family were originally from the Netherlands. His father, Wilhelm Dammertz grew up in a farm in Schaephuysen until he took over, after his marriage to Engeline Schepens, a bakery which his father-in-law, now dead, had set up. There were two children, Joseph and Marga.

Joseph, already strongly linked to the Catholic association of Neudeutschland young people, where he deepened his faith and developed the art of service, when he reached the final year of secondary education announced to his parents that he wanted to become a priest.

Thus it was that in the second semester of 1950 he entered the Collegium Borromaeum, the seminary of the diocese of Münster. He pursued his studies at Innsbruck, where he lodged at the Jesuit college, the Canisianum. At the university he had the opportunity to attend lectures of well-known professors such as Andreas Jungmann, and Hugo and Karl Rahner. Already at this time in the third year of study he had got to know the missionary monastery of Sankt Ottilien in Upper Bavaria, and felt drawn by the spirit of the universal Church and the religious life which reigned there.

On 12th September 1953 he entered St Ottilien, where he was given the name Viktor, in memory of the ancient Christian martyr Victor of Xanten. After his first profession he pursued theological studies at the Benedictine university of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. When he had completed his Roman studies he was ordained priest in 1957.

His motto as Abbot Primate clearly expresses his vision of priestly service, ‘Priest of Jesus Christ, to the service of mankind’.

He was asked to study canon law, for the current abbot, Dom Suso, needed a secretary with skills in this material. He obtained his doctorate summa cum laude with a thesis on ‘The Constitutional Law of Benedictine monastic communities in history and in the present’. Obviously with this thesis and in view of his intellectual capacity an academic career could have been offered to him, but it seems never to have been seriously envisaged.

At the sixth General Chapter of Sankt Ottilien in 1960 Fr Viktor was called to the post of secretary of the Congregation, and at the same time Archabbot Suso nominated him his personal secretary. Even if the role of abbatial secretary seems somewhat secondary P. Viktor was able to exercise a moderating influence in many respects on his superior, and balance out the tensions between the archabbot and the community. As an expert in the canon law of the Congregation P. Viktor played an essential role in the revision of the Constitutions of the Missionary Benedictines, adopted in 1970. His consultative collaboration was also much appreciated by other Benedictine and non-Benedictine Congregations. He participated notably and intensively in the elaboration of the post-conciliar Leges Propriae of several Benedictine Congregations.

At the beginning of 1975 Archabbot Suso was forced by a serious cancer to leave his post. It was no surprise when P. Viktor was elected to succeed him. As the new abbot of the monastery P. Viktor continued to lavish his personal service on his predecessor, who had held up till the election but died a few days afterwards on 12th February.

The Archabbot Dammertz chose as his motto ‘Iter para tutum’, a programmatic phrase taken from the ‘Ave Maris Stella’. In one part it expresses his Marian piety, but also his consciousness of living in a time of tumultuous reversals in which a guiding star is necessary.

In taking up his functions Archabbot Viktor entered upon a whole network of obligations and especially of meetings, especially attendance at events in the Diocese of Augsburg, such as solemn Masses, confirmations, all kinds of manifestations, in the monastery itself with its many annexes such as the school, the parishes, the five dependent houses, and of course in the other houses of the Congregation which expected directions from the President of the Congregation, especially in the young Churches. Even though the mandate of Archabbot Viktor was to last only two years and eight months, he was able to contribute a certain stability to the Congregation in the turbulent world after the Council. In his own monastery he was able to put in place a Lyceum for the diocese of Augsburg, which ensured the permanence of the school.

In September 1977 Archabbot Viktor took part in the Congress of Abbots of the Benedictine Confederation in Rome, where for some years he had been the secretary of the Canonical Commission, and had played a significant part in the review of the proper Law. Beside the question of the future of the College Sant’ Anselmo the congress worked on the new religious law of the Benedictines. Archabbot Viktor as canonist gave a forceful and novel lecture on the subject. A little later, on 20th September, Abbot Primate Rembert Weakland surprised the assembled abbots by announcing that he had been nominated Archbishop of Milwaukee and was resigning his office with immediate effect. New elections were organized to find a successor. From 22nd September the voices of the abbots focused on the archabbot of St Ottilien who was not only the head of one of the largest of the monasteries of the Benedictine Order, but also possessed the competence which was so much needed in the matter of religious law. The community of St Ottilien was informed of the operations under way in Rome, but by the time Prior Paulus Hörger had sent a fax in the name of the community, saying, ‘Do not accept on any pretext’ the archabbot had already responded favorably to the vote of the Congress and thereby laid down his function as abbot of the monastery and president of the Congregation of St Ottilien.

In the following years Abbot Primate Viktor succeeded in calming somewhat the agitated relationships within the Benedictine College. He had at his side collaborators highly qualified such as the Rector Magnus Löhrer (1928-1999) and prior Gerhard Békés (1915-1999). Despite the diminished number of students from the Order, the University experienced a period of scholarly prosperity thanks to a number of professors of high quality who worked out together, among other things, the post-Conciliar reference-work Mysterium Salutis.

The first Panafrican English-language Meeting at the Major Seminary of Harare (Zimbabwe) in 1991. © AIM.

Abbot Primate Viktor was able to give significant help on many occasions at the time of the necessary revision of the Constitutions of the Congregation; he took part in the revision of the religious law and was a member of the Commission for the authentic interpretation of Canon Law. In the course of the 14 years which he spent at the head of the Benedictine Confederation, twice re-elected, Abbot Viktor visited more than 750 male and female communities in the course of innumerable journeys all over the world. One of the strong points of his mandate was the organization of the great jubilee of St Benedict in 1980, in the course of which the 1500th anniversary of the Benedictine Order was celebrated. On this occasion 500 abbots of the Benedictine family gathered in Rome. In Sant’ Anselmo itself his principal architectural heritage is the library in the ancient crypt of the Abbey Church.

In an interview in 1992 he expressed his conception of his ministry by saying that the Abbot Primate should promote in Benedictine monasteries the awareness that all formed part of a ‘great worldwide community’. Facing up to the centrifugal forces at the heart of the order, the Abbot Primate tried to promote unity without reducing legitimate and vital diversity at the heart of the Order. His service of mediation included the construction of bridges between sisters and monks of the Order who, in the conception of the time, were separated into different worlds, In his mediation the Abbot Primate preferred mutual recognition of legitimate Benedictine principles, which he compared to Martha and Mary. He suggested that the two separated secretariats for Benedictine monks and nuns should be joined together. This constituted an important step towards the ‘Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum’ which now exists.

At the congress of abbots in 1992 the Abbot of Collegeville, Jerome Theisen (1930-1995) was chosen to succeed him. After the expiry of his mandate on 20th September 1992 P. Dammerts had looked forward to a more tranquil retirement in his monastery, although there was question of his nomination to the Vatican Congregation for Religious. However, in the middle of a private retreat before Christmas 1992 the Apostolic Nuncio rang him up to tell him that Pope John-Paul II had nominated him 78th Bishop of Augsburg.

In his official residence, the episcopal palace opposite the cathedral of Augsburg, Bishop Viktor set up a little domestic community with his secretary, Dr Christian Hartl, his sister Marga and two Franciscan Sisters of Maria, with whom he celebrated the Office and the Eucharist. He himself described the arrangements as ‘a little convent’ and he found it agreeable to continue something of monastic community life in the episcopate.

Among the events which marked his mandate it is appropriate to mention some which Bishop Viktor Josef himself held particularly dear. Among them was the signing of the ‘Common Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’, 31st October 1999 at Augsburg, the great day of faith on the occasion of the Holy Year 2000 in the Rosensaustadion of Augsburg, and the canonization of Crescentia von Kaufbeuron at Rome on 25th November 2001, and just at the end of his mandate the ‘Year of Vocation’ which he proclaimed in December 2003, in the course of which it was certainly important to pray for priestly vocations, but above all to discover every way of life as a vocation and a gift. As such a wide diversity of events shows, Bishop Viktor wanted to play and succeeded in playing on different registers which included both popular piety and new theological and ecclesiastical developments in the world.

Meeting of P. Viktor Dammertz with Pope John-Paul II. © AIM.

On his 75th birthday, 8th June, 2004, Pope John-Paul II accepted his request to retire from the office of Bishop, and he was able to withdraw to a place which had become for him a familiar place of rest after many holidays there: the convent of Benedictine sisters and the village of children of St Alban, where he served the sisters as spiritual director. His sister Marga accompanied him into his retreat at St Alban. Many friends and companions visited him there until in January 2015 increasing infirmities of old age suggested to him to move to the infirmary of St Ottilien. There one could frequently find him in the large common room, where he would be running through a pile of books and reviews placed beside him.

A sudden loss of strength prevented him from assisting at the episcopal ordination of his second successor, and after several days of increasing weakness he took his leave in full consciousness. His funeral took place in the cathedral of Augsburg, presided by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, while his successor, Bertram Meier, pronounced the homily. He now lies in the crypt of the cathedral.

After this biographical sketch we must examine more closely the Benedictine stamp of this religious bishop. At his first interview after episcopal ordination he was asked slightly provocatively whether an enclosed monastic life was a useful preparation for the vast responsibilities of a bishop. The new bishop agreed that the space of a monastic life was very different from a diocesan pastorate. However, he mentioned also the advantages linked to the experience. Among them he mentioned the importance of a deepening of spirit for the future of the Church, and the appreciation of diversity in unity, since this demands mutual acceptance and dialogue. At the end of his mandate Bishop Viktor underlined these advantages even more massively:

‘Monastic life according to the Rule of St Benedict has marked me profoundly, and the values and fundamental attitudes transmitted to me have equally helped me as a bishop. The image which Benedict gives of an abbot can be adapted to a bishop quite easily. The search for a balance between ora and labora, between prayer and work, is also a permanent challenge for a bishop. The virtue of wise moderation – Benedict calls it discretio and considers it the mother of all the virtues (RB 64.19) – prevents the bishop from embracing extreme positions.’

On the basis of the Benedictine image of the abbot, Viktor-Joseph was able to establish a little mirror of a Benedictine bishop, and even reckon that the direction of a parish was, for fundamental questions, not all that remote from that of a monastery.

The bishop’s way of life, always revolving round meditation, attracted a certain number of objectors, who held that it lacked energy and decisiveness. But on the whole the speaker for the council of priests of the diocese expressed the feeling of all by these words, ‘Life according to the wise Rule of St Benedict is for us an example and an encouragement, especially in its spirituality and style of guidance.’

In what follows I would like to take up this appreciation even while questioning it gently: should a Benedictine official in the 20th and 21st century follow effectively the directions of St Benedict or enter upon the open field of a creative and personal re-interpretation?

Bishop Viktor describes thus his conception of ministry:

‘It is one of the most important tasks of an abbot to preserve, promote and ceaselessly re-create the unity of the community against all opposition. This is no less true for a diocesan bishop in a Church which suffers more and more from polarization. Different groups rapidly come to accuse one another of no longer being ‘catholic’ or of constituting a ‘sect’. The task of the bishop is to restrain excess on both sides and for the rest to hold together groups which stray, and bring them to mediation.’

From this declaration two conclusions may be drawn. Firstly, to describe the task of Church leadership Bishop Viktor has recourse to the Benedictine image of the abbot in chapter 2 of the Rule, according to which the superior of a community should ‘serve the character of each one’ (section 31). On the other hand he makes much of the wise consideration of human diversity by a fundamental desire for unity and mediation, whether in monastic communities or in the local and universal Church. Even if this corresponds entirely to the Benedictine attitude, such a service of the truth is never explicitly expressed in the Rule.

Another marked trait of Bishop Viktor Josef which is often praised was his capacity for teamwork. The people involved stress his capacity for listening, his patience and the time he gave to others. Thus they were able to explain their point of view and experience his appreciation, even in cases of persistent divergence. It is well known that the Rule begins with an invitation to listen. It recommends the monks to listen to the words of the Master, that is to say the words of Christ, and to be open to them. On this basic principle the abbot is invited to listen to the advice of the brothers (RB 3.1). Further on it is laid down that he should himself decide what is the right path. It must therefore be granted that the Rule of Benedict holds certain traces of democratic decision, although its model of domination remains essentially that of a monarchy. The present restrictions on abbatial power by the Chapter and the Council are later developments. The pictures of the search for truth by dialogue which to us seem so obvious do not correspond to the reflexes of primitive monasticism.

These brief remarks are not intended to deny the undeniable Benedictine stamp of the lifestyle and direction of Bishop Viktor Josef, which he himself stressed. But they do invite to a reflective application of the formula so often stereotypically used of ‘Benedictine spirituality’. The Rule offers almost unlimited possibilities of interpretation. Traditionalist and integrist circles refer to them as much as Christians liberal and open to dialogue. In the case of Bishop Viktor Josef it was a question of a very personal application of the Benedictine charism which resulted from his own character, experience and of his life and wisdom. It is perhaps more closely related to Viktor Dammertz than to St Benedict. Perhaps more in accord with the Benedictine tradition, Bishop Viktor liked to characterize this tradition by the expression ‘diversity in unity’. Both are important, diversity as well as unity, but as Viktor Dammertz underlines by putting diversity first, diversity receives a head start.


The three most recent Abbots Primate: Gregory Polan, Notker Wolf and Viktor Dammertz.

The Benedictus Foundation

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The Benedictus Foundation


Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB

President of AIM

 

 

The Friends of Monasteries Around the World (AMTM) and the AIM (Alliance inter-Monastères) have set up together the Foundation Benedictus under the aegis of the foundation Caritas France. The Foundation has an objective of general interest with a non-lucrative purpose in conformity with the Foundation Caritas France. Its mission is to bring moral and financial help to support activities of development of social, cultural, economic and environmental fields, serving the promotion and the dignity of depressed populations linked to monastic foundations all over the world, living under the Rule of St Benedict outside Western Europe and North America.

 

Why was Benedictus formed?

To allow in all administrative security the increase of gifts with the possibility of monetary receipts of deductible gifts of IFI (Impôt sur la Fortune Immobilière), to receive legacies, to approach new donors and new friends of the monasteries.

 

Links to AIM and AMTM

This protected Foundation complements the work of the AIM which receives directly financial help on the part of monasteries and organisations both varied and particular in order to support all the projects which do not enter into the realm of the Foundation Benedictus: formation, construction and renovation of specifically religious buildings, money-earning activities of monasteries. The association of AMTM will work on awareness of support for monastic life in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania and Eastern Europe.

 

Thank you for your loyalty! Please do not hesitate to bring your support in whatever way is best adapted to your possibilities, and be sure of our prayers and our fraternity.

 

Link to the page of the Foundation Benedictus on the site for Caritas France:

https://www.fondationcaritasfrance.org/fondations/fondation-benedictus/

The Evolution of Benedictine Congregations from a Feminine Viewpoint

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The Evolution of Benedictine Congregations

from a Feminine Viewpoint


Mother Franziska Lukas, OSB

Abbess of Dinklage (Germany)

 

 

The Congregations, from a female point of view –"new and old”: This is what I was asked to speak on this morning. When I read this proposed title, I thought you might be most interested to hear about the experiences that I and we had as we set out on the path of erecting the European Benedictine Congregation of the Resurrection. It is of course the view of a Benedictine, and does not directly address the situation of the Trappists, Cistercians or other orders.

You are all certainly familiar with the general history of Cor Orans:

In 2014, a questionnaire from the CCLSAL in Rome was sent out to all monasteries of moniales. However, many received it only after a long delay and some never received it at all. This was especially true for us Benedictine moniales. Fortunately, that year we were together for the CIB Symposium. At this Symposium a papal audience was scheduled, which was cancelled from the Vatican at very short notice. This gave us the time and opportunity to talk and communicate about the questionnaire. To our surprise, we realized that we were/are in agreement in our answer on most of the basic questions.

In 2016, the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere was published: we still cannot tell if, or to what extent, our responses and / or the responses from other moniales to the questionnaire were incorporated into this document.

As a follow up in 2018, the Instruction Cor Orans was published; this set out the new norms that we are expected to take on in obedience. Some of the norms increased the responsibility of moniales; others are not compatible with our life today.

Cor Orans was the catalyst for three movements:

1. Collaboration and communication at different levels, especially with regard to the generally felt irritation caused by the length of the formation period.

2. Contact with the Congregation for Religious (CCLSAL) at the international, European and national – in our case, German – level.

3. Ongoing developments and shifts among the communities and moniales themselves, for instance:

• In Spain, where the communities of the moniales were already in the process of forming one monastic congregation to replace the four existing Federations and in the Philippines, where the three communities of moniales started to form a monastic congregation, and under the monasteries of the new European Congregation. The constitutions for all of these congregations have meanwhile been approved.

• For individual monasteries who decided to join already existing federations or congregations.

• Federations making adjustments to their norms - in some cases considering asking for dispensations (e.g. from the extended formation time).

These few references should suffice in relation to the general developments at this point.


Concerning the new European Benedictine Congregation of the Resurrection.


I can describe it from two perspectives:

A. The process that our community in Dinklage went through: Each monastery of our congregation had to go through their own version of the process and had to come to decide how they wanted Cor Orans to influence their future. For us in Dinklage we had different reasons that led us to prefer creating a new monastic congregation like the one we did. For us, it seemed that to build something new “only” in Germany was too narrow, because we have different nationalities in the community, but that to build a truly global congregation seemed too wide. Secondly, we see a monastic congregation of “women” as a sign that is asked from us at this moment in the church, when Rome has given us the power to do exactly this.

B. Process of developing the group of communities that now belongs to the newly erected congregation.

The initiative was taken by two monasteries in Belgium:

• They asked other monasteries if they were interested.

• Those who were drew collectively on existing networks that have grown up over the last decades [UBB, ADSUM; CIB].

The target from the beginning was:

• To develop a monastic Congregation, not a Federation. We all agreed that this was the preferred route because we wanted to be juridically independent from the bishop.

• We do this because we think it is good for us, not because Rome asked for it (even if Rome ultimately gave the impetus). Our experience: we discovered immediately that taking this risk and opening ourselves up to this adventure sets energy free. We see advantages in building a new and bigger community in this way.

• Preserve diversity: that was and still is an important point for all of us because each of the communities has such a different history, lifestyle, tradition and culture.

• The idea of living in a common “Europe” is shared.


Regarding the elaboration of the Constitutions, the following steps were taken:

At the very first meeting in October 2018 we decided to have a juridical commission with 4 superiors and Sr. Scholastika Häring, Dinklage as the coordinator.

This commission made different drafts as they moved forward step by step. We discussed each of these in the conference of superiors. Each draft that came from the commission was sent to the superiors who discussed and adjusted it. Afterwards the text went to each of the communities. Each time we (superiors) brought with us the questions and commentaries that were discussed in our communities and then made further decisions based on all of this in the next conference of the superiors.

This went on step by step for several drafts.

Before presenting the final text we asked two canonists, a woman/a man to read the whole text in English/French. After receiving their comments, we had a last superior meeting to discuss it. The final text went to each of the communities who then voted on it.


As for the content of the Constitutions, perhaps the following is of interest:

We have written a Preamble as our "common identity"; in that we emphasize, that we live our life according to Perfectae Caritatis 9 (monastic).

We have drafted the Constitutions on the principle of

• as much as necessary, as little as possible,

• we point to the importance of monastic norms (e.g. term of office of the abbess, term and composition of the seniorate, period of visitation)

• we avoid standardisation; these are not possible or desired in the areas of liturgy, habit or apostolates. All live according to their place and tradition.

We began the process in October 2018 and by spring 2020 the Constitutions were nearly done. Then came the lockdown during which we could meet only via zoom. We were able to make this work, however, and managed to finish writing our constitutions. In November 2020 we had a virtual meeting of superiors during which we passed the Constitutions and then sent them along to the communities for them to vote.

Even at this point, it remained impossible for the superiors to meet in person so we gathered virtually and made the decision to get everything ready for Rome and then send it.

In addition to the constitutions themselves, we had to send in chapter minutes of the vote for joining the congregation, the chapter minutes about the vote for the constitutions, the decree from every monastery about the erection of it and a short description of every monastery. One of the superiors was authorised to speak in the name of all of us.

After waiting for a few months, we were granted a miracle: The erection of the congregation and approval of the Constitutions for 5 years ad experimentum.

So here we are! In November 2021 we prepare the general chapter that will be held in February in our community in Sweden. There we will elect the president, the council and so on and of course, we will celebrate that we have made it to this point!

 

Monasteries of the new Congregation are

Alexanderdorf (Germany)

Dinklage (Germany)

Egmond (Netherlands)

Hurtebise (Belgium)

Kaunas (Lithuania)

Liège (Belgium)

Montserrat (Spain)

Oosterhout (Netherlands)

Simiane-Collongue (France)

Steinfeld/Bonn (Germany)

Vadsena (Sweden)

Conclusion of the Report given to the Synod of Abbots

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Conclusion of the Report given

to the Synod of Abbots (September 2021): Membership Trends

in the Benedictine Confederation 1880-2020

 

Thomas Piazza[1]

et Fr. Geraldo González y Lima, OSB[2]

 

 

A global view of the Benedictine Confederation documents the major trends of the last 140 years of Benedictine history. There appear to have been four major periods:

1880-1935: After the revival and restoration of monastic life in the latter years of the nineteenth century, the number of monks and monasteries increased rapidly until the Second World War. Although the increase slowed during the First World War, the main trend of rapid growth continued until 1935

1950-1965: After the Second World War the growth continued, although at a slower pace, until membership peaked during the 1960s.

1965-1980: The decades of the 1960s and 1970s represented a period of innovation and reform both in monasteries and in the Church as a whole. That dynamic period, however, was accompanied by a large exodus (a decline of about 20 percent in the total number of monks) between 1965 and 1980. It would be very interesting to be able to analyze the age structure in monasteries before and after that period.

1980-2020: After 1980 the overall number of monks continued to decline, but at a slower pace. The number of ordained monks declined somewhat more rapidly, as the older priests passed away and a smaller proportion of monks were ordained. It seems that we are now entering a period of contraction and consolidation. But it is not our purpose to project these trends into the future. We merely wanted to show the situation up to the present.

Abbots President in September 2021.

We would like to emphasize that these trends for the Confederation as a whole are not necessarily reflective of what is happening in every congregation in every part of the world. This is only a bird’s eye view, as it were. We intend to carry out further geographic and congregational analyses in the future, in addition to two such analyses published so far.

In conclusion, we want to underline the value of the Catalogi Monasteriorum O.S.B. for understanding membership trends in the Benedictine Confederation. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the early members of the Confederation who had the foresight to compile and publish these invaluable documents. It is up to all of us to make effective use of them in helping us understand the current situation and in planning for the future.


[1] Thomas Piazza is a retired survey research designer and statistician from the University of California, Berkeley. He was a Benedictine monk of St. Leo Abbey in Florida during the 1960s.

[2] Geraldo González y Lima, O.S.B., is a monk of the Abbey of St. Gerard in São Paolo, Brazil, and serves as Treasurer of the Benedictine Confederation in Rome and as Vice President of the International Commission on Benedictine Education.


Report of the Secretary-General of DIM-MID

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Report of the Secretary-General of DIM-MID

to the Board of Directors of AIM

28th October 2021


Fr William Skudlarek

 

 

The continuing restrictions on travel and gatherings to halt the spread of COVID-19 severely limited DIM-MID’s activities again in 2021, those sponsored by the secretariat as well as activities at the level of regional commissions. An on-going dialogue with Shi’a Muslims, which was postponed in 2020 and was supposed to take place in Vienna (Schottenstift) earlier this month, again had to be put off. We now hope to meet in May 2022.

The annual meeting of the European Commissions of DIM-MID was scheduled to take place at Ligugé in September of this year but was again put on hold. It would have included a day with the staff of the new International Center of the World Community of Christian Meditation at Bonnevaux to discuss how DIM-MID and WCCM might collaborate in programs at the Center.

Also delayed was the General Chapter of the Ottilien Congregation, which would have included a session on monastic interreligious dialogue.

The organizers of the National [USA] Workshop on Christian Unity invited me to be “theologian in residence” and keynote speaker for their virtual conference that was held in April. I gave three talks on the place of hospitality (philoxenia, love of the stranger) in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

As associate editor of DIM-MID’s online journal, Dilatato Corde, I continue to devote a good bit of time and effort to translating and editing materials submitted for publication, as well as to correspondence with the authors and external reviewers of scholarly articles. In addition to personal reflections and reports on the interreligious activities of individuals and of the regional commissions of DIM-MID, Dilatato Corde continues to publish significant scholarly works on interreligious dialogue at the level of spiritual experience and practice. In the two issues of Volume 11 (2021), for example, you will find “From Deus in audiutorium to Maranatha: Colonialism and Reform in John Main’s Hindu Encounter” by Nicholas Scrimenti and two studies by Fabrice Blée, “Le dialogue chrétien-bouddhiste : Dimension prophétique du dialogue interreligieux monastique” and “L’expérience de Dieu dans l’œuvre de Panikkar : Éléments épistémologiques pour une approche contemporaine du divin.”

I gave a presentation on the “convivial” dimensions of monastic interreligious dialogue on a webinar organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue for the North and South American members and consultors of the PCID. The webinar was held on October 19 and was part of the Council’s preparation for next year’s General Assembly, which will be devoted to conviviality and dialogue.

I am hopeful that my successor as Secretary General of DIM-MID will be named later this year or early next year. I will complete my fifth three-year term on November 30, 2022, and while my health is good and I remain committed to promoting interreligious dialogue among monastics, I believe this is the right time for a younger Benedictine who is passionate and knowledgeable about interreligious dialogue to assume the leadership of this important work on behalf of the Confederation—a Benedictine, moreover, who is neither North American nor European.

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