Dear Benedictine Brothers and Sisters,
This year's feast of the Transition of Saint Benedict is overshadowed by the war in Iraq. There are few signs of peace in the sense of a "Pax Benedictina". The war has started despite all the efforts of the Holy Father. It is not for us to judge or condemn -- God alone is the judge of history and the arbiter of our human destiny. May he bring to pass what we are incapable of achieving. Indeed, sometimes in our own communities we cannot manage to establish the peace we desire.
We began Lent once again with the usual élan. We joined Cardinal Tomko in procession from our church to Santa Sabina where we waited for the Holy Father, sharing with him the stational liturgy and listening to his introduction to the penitential season. Cardinal Tomko was celebrant and John Paul II preached. In his homily the Holy Father spoke of the communal nature of fast and abstinence in the Church and appealed for prayers for peace. Those seated in the presbyterium received the ashes from the Pope -- and these were administered with great energy. Despite his physical weakness, the Holy Father insisted on standing for the Gospel and when kneeling was completely sunk in prayer. The example of his self-sacrifice is compelling. Even though one might wish him a peaceful old age the effect of his personality and moral authority is astonishing, particularly in this time of war.
As elsewhere, feastdays are high-points of our community. They also provide the opportunity to meet personalities of the Church and public life. On the feast of St. Anselm, 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger honoured us with his presence while Cardinal Kasper delivered the address at the opening of the Academic Year. The church was so full for the Vespers preceding this address that it was clear that we would have to remain in the church for the remainder of the celebrations. To the amazement of some, Cardinal Kasper described the Benedictines as the oldest missionary order and expressed his hope that we would participate in a widening of the Church's horizons, going beyond the boundaries of a Europe-centered perspective to a truly global perspective. Cardinal Daoud came to celebrate the feast of the dedication of the church and Cardinal Cacciavillan joined us for today's feast of St. Benedict. Loyal and regular guests are Cardinal Augustine Mayer and Archbishop Pio Tamburrino. I get on the latter's nerves a little by constantly pursuing him in the matter of the approval of the new Antiphonale Monasticum.
On various occasions we were honoured by visits from the ambassadors of different countries. For the first time we welcomed our neighbour the Ambassador of Egypt to the Holy See and for the opening of the Academic Year we had no less than five of his colleagues. The Ambassador of France to the Holy See visited shortly after taking up office. Since he had previously been ambassador in Peking we had much of mutual interest to discuss. Personal commitment led him to come here again for the meeting of the Chevetogne Group. We were the recipients of the first visit of the new Ambassador of Germany to a Roman institution. This was because on several occasions in the past the ambassador had lived near Sant'Anslemo. Very recently the Ambassador of Canada came to visit. The next Synod of Abbots President will take place in his country, in the monastery of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. Our most important secular visitor was the Prince Grand Master of the Order of Malta. It was a constant joy for us that throughout the year many abbots and other confreres showed their links with Sant'Anslemo by visiting us. Frequently these visits were connected with meetings of various committees and official bodies.
Our Athenaeum with its three faculties is maintaining its student-numbers at a constant 350. You will find further details in the Sant'Anselmo Forum which, after a long interruption, will be reappearing shortly. Every Thursday evening more than 200 students from the Vicariate of Rome come for courses and in-service training in liturgy and 50 architects attend the course in Liturgy and architecture. Happily, 47% of our professors come from the Benedictine family. I am very grateful to the various superiors, women and men, for facilitating the academic training of monks, nuns and sisters in such a way that they can take their place as teachers here. Similarly, I am grateful to our external professors for their commitment and for sharing with us our responsibility for the young. In autumn 2002 the Mabillon Institute for the History of Theology received its first students. The Liturgical Institute and the Sacramental Theology Specialization held a joint study-day, thus strengthening their cooperation. In a one-day seminar the Liturgical Institute considered the very relevant topic of "Liturgy and the Mass Media". The Monastic Institute celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a symposium on texts and topics from the Christian monastic tradition and also arranged a joint meeting with the Chevetogne Group. In April next our students of philosophy and theology will discuss the theology of peace with the students of the Waldensian Faculty.
I should like to take this opportunity of mentioning that in May, in response to several requests, Father Jacques Coté will recommence the English-speaking Renewal Programme. The uptake on this has not been particularly strong. I hope that next year the response will be more enthusiastic. At present the second three-month Formators Course is taking place in the generalate of the Sisters of S. Teresa de Jesús. This course, also in English, is run in cooperation with the Trappists. Next year it is planned to begin this course in February. Once more the directors have managed to attract outstanding lecturers.
With 120 residents our College is completely full. More than two-thirds of these residents are Benedictine and altogether 38 nations are represented. As well as our life together, service in church, refectory and at the washing-up provide opportunities to get to know and appreciate one another. Our Benedictine sisters continue to find a home with the nuns of S. Cecilia who have changed their timetable to facilitate participation by the students in most of the Divine Office and at meals.
For a long time our kitchens were not in accordance with modern health- and safety-regulations. It was high time to make the necessary renovations. Last Summer, in the record time of three months, the kitchens along with the washing-up area, changing rooms and staff lavatories were completely rebuilt. The work was completed in time for the Benedictine women at their symposium at the beginning of September to be the first to benefit from the changes. Now that our table-wine is now delivered ready-bottled we have been able to turn the previous wine-cellar into a small lecture- and seminar-room. The fact is that we are chronically short of space. We gained a further lecture-hall by the transfer of the bookshop to the monastery shop. Some work was done on the building-site in the cloister but we are still waiting for the approval of public funds before making further plans. There has, however, been one important step forward in that last autumn the project received preliminary approval .
The project no longer needs to be described as the repair of the foundations, but, if all goes well, will encompass two large spaces, namely a large aula and an extension to the library -- that is already bursting at the seams -- with provision for extra space for the archives. Naturally, I shall believe that all of this will happen when we have all the necessary approvals in writing. But officials work slowly and much patience is needed. Since the Confederation does not have any funds of its own we are trying to obtain public funding. After a hundred years, the whole house at Sant'Anselmo, including the church, is in need of a comprehensive renovation. So, we have much ahead of us. Both cellarers are never lacking work or free from financial worries. It would be great help if, in the long run, we could recruit lay-monks to help in Sant'Anselmo. Just as in earlier times we had brothers from European monasteries, I am hoping now for brothers from our monasteries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Not only would this help to reduce costs, but, along with the students, would reflect the word-wide Benedictine presence.
Sant'Anselmo is not a foreign body in Rome. That this is true becomes clear from the fact that in the meantime our monastery shop has attracted a regular clientele from the Aventine and its surroundings. In addition, last Autumn we revived an old tradition and established a circle of Oblates and Friends of Sant'Anselmo. In 2005 we hope to host a first international congress for Oblates. During canonical visitations and at the Congress of Abbots the wish has often been expressed that Sant'Anselmo would have more contact with the spiritual and pastoral reality of the city of Rome. Apart from some supply for sisters and in the parish of S. Prisca and some occasional contacts with the Community of S. Egidio, not much can be done. Our students are here for too short a time and are here primarily to study. Sporadic involvements are not very productive. For these reasons it is all the more gratifying that once again this summer Fr. Johannes Paul is organising a Congress for the junior professed of our monasteries.
The Synod of Abbots President met in September in my home abbey of St. Ottilien. Abbot Jeremias had invited us to hold the synod there so has to make it coincide with my silver jubilee as abbot. I am not greatly interested in such jubilees, indeed they remind one more of one's negligences and failures. But I greatly enjoyed the fine celebrations which were shared by a large number of friends, and particularly by the young. I am very grateful to my successor to whom I have bequeathed many burdens.
The Synod was mainly concerned with the preparation of the next Congress of Abbots. A Commission had processed the suggestions of the last Congress and presented a programme. The Congress will take place in Sant'Anselmo from 20th to 29th September, 2004. New abbots and superiors will have the chance of a two-day introduction on 17th and 18th September. Those abbots who have other business in Rome or who would like to stay a little longer are asked to do so before the Congress because on 29th September we must begin the preparation of the house to receive the new students who start their induction-week almost immediately following the Congress.
A very special event was the Symposium of the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) the international grouping of Benedictine women. I welcomed the women to our house which should also be theirs. Outstanding lectures highlighted various aspects of Chapter 72 of the Rule of Benedict on good zeal. In the meantime these lectures have been made available in several languages. Our awareness of the cultural diversity among our Benedictine womens' monasteries was heightened by artistic presentations from the 19 regions. It was also interesting to hear how younger nuns and sisters from the various regions understood Chapter 72. The Symposium was excellently organised by Mother Máire and her team.
From 30th October to 2nd November, the Abbey of São Geraldo in São Paulo (Brazil) hosted the second International Conference on Benedictine Education. The conference was attended by representatives of Benedictine schools in North and South America, Europe and Asia. Worldwide, we Benedictines teach at least 120,000 young people. Education is certainly one of the oldest Benedictine charisms. According to Gregory the Great the sons of Roman patricians were already being entrusted to St. Benedict for their education -- not to mention the great tradition of Benedictine schools in the Middle Ages and the Baroque period. At the suggestion of this conference I have established an International Commission for Benedictine Education. Abbot Chirstopher Jamison of Worth Abbey in England has agreed to act as President of this commission. At this time of cultural globalisation we should like to encourage a worldwide cooperation between Benedictine and Cistercian schools along with a mutual appreciation of various cultures, all against the background of a Benedictine vision of education. Among other things, we plan to hold a meeting of educators every three years to encourage mutual support and inspiration. Every three years, too, there will be a meeting of Benedictine students. The next such meeting will be held next year in Manila. We hope to develop a Benedictine vision of education in the light of the phrase in the Prologue to the Rule (RB Prol 45), "we propose to erect a school of the Lord's service", and make it possible for schools to concretise this vision in their respective cultures.
I flew from Brazil to Chile to take part in the Encuentro Monastico Latino-Americano (EMLA). Every four years the superiors, men and women, of all the Benedictine, Cistercian and Trappist houses of South America meet. The 114 participants, among them the Abbot General of the Trappists, searched for a new understanding of the Rule of Benedict in a changing cultural context on the threshold of the third millennium. I was impressed by the search for an authentic monastic life in simplicity and in touch with real tradition. These monasteries are not burdened with practices which have piled up in Europe in the course of centuries. Tradition can and ought to be a support but can also hinder normal development. It was particularly pleasing to see how uncomplicatedly monks, nuns and sisters here work together. Because of the dry season a tent had been erected in a meadow for the plenary sessions.
The next edition of the Sant'Anselmo Forum will contain a list of my journeys and activities, but I should like to mention one or two items here. In the United States Benedictine women commemorated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Benedictines from the monastery of St. Walburga in Eichstätt in Germany. I attended the celebrations in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania as well as the General Chapter of the Federation of St. Gertrude at Forth Smith. These provided opportunities to get some idea of the situation of Benedictine women in the United States. It is very impressive to see what has developed from difficult beginnings and to realise the contribution of Benedictine women to the life of the Church in the United States. We owe a huge debt of gratitude and respect to the founders and to those who developed and who continue their work up to the present. At the end of February I took part in the workshop of North American Prioresses and Abbots. In her contributions, Sr. Genevieve Glen from the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virgina Dale pointed out that the false god "Ego" needs to be dethroned and the true God reinstated.
Shortly before this I had returned from a similar meting of the ISBF, the Indian Sri Lankan Benedictine Federation. The final day of this meeting was devoted to interreligious dialogue. I was impressed by the contributions of the representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism on their various rites and symbols. It is one thing to encounter a religion only in books and quite another to experience it in a concrete situation. Despite all the differences between these religions and Christianity they merit our genuine respect.
My responsibility for the Slav Congregation brought me to Prague and Cokovac. Considerably further north, I was present in Lithuania at the consecration of the church at the Solesmes foundation of Palendriai. The courage of the confreres who are steeping themselves in the culture of the country is admirable. Not only have they learned the difficult language but also become citizens of Lithuania. Up to now there were only two monasteries of women, at Vilnius and Kaunas, which had survived despite long years of communist rule.
I took part in the usual round of regular meetings, for example that of AIM at Encalcat, DIM at St. Benoît-sur-Loire, of the China Commission in St. Otttilien and Rome, of the Chevetogne Group in Plankstetten and Rome, of the PIL Foundation in New York, of the Conference of German-speaking Abbots in Salzburg as well of the Italian Abbots at Bassano Romano -- the latter meeting the first for some time. There were also in-service study-days for Italian Abbesses and Nuns in S. Antonio on the Aventine and for the Federation of Piceno and the Lower Marches in Offida.
These meetings facilitate mutual encounter and exchange of ideas which, in my opinion, help to foster the unity of our Confederation as well as its bonds with our Benedictine sisters. To the extent to which my programme at such meetings permits it, I also try to visit neighbouring monasteries. At these visits I am very often asked to give conferences. It is true that constant travel is tiring and demands continuous readjustment -- but the joy of meeting brothers and sisters all over the world makes up for this. I find much honest seeking, much good zeal and many dignified liturgies. Certainly there are some difficulties, aging communities that for years have had no vocations, financial worries at a time of global economic restructuring. For me, one of the most depressing realities is when members of a community, be they men or women, hinder one another by fighting and by the insistence on being right. How can young people be expected to find their way to such communities? How can such communities be signs of God's merciful love and of reconciliation?
On my return from these journeys there are always discussions and meeting waiting for me in the house. For this reason I am particularly grateful that I have good assistants here who carry much of the burden. I am thinking of the officials of the house and those responsible for the Athenaeum, of my Council which meets about once a month, and also of the members of the Finance Commission and the Commission for Sant'Anselmo.
In addition to the usual concerns have been added the worry and responsibility of St. Paul's Outside the Walls. Many of you will have already heard of our plans for this monastery. Since the 8th century Benedictine monks have lived at and been responsible for the basilica built over the tomb of St. Paul. The monastery played a crucial role in the revival of Benedictine life in the 19th century as well as in the foundation of Sant'Anselmo and the establishment of the Confederation. But St. Paul's is not just of historical importance. Here in the heart of Rome it has a privileged place with much to offer as a spiritual centre, and as a place of pilgrimage and reconciliation for Christians from all over the world. It was here that Pope John XXIII summoned the Second Vatican Council and it is to this basilica that the present Pope constantly invites representatives of other Christian Churches for common prayer.
About a year ago the Cassinese Congregation and the community at St. Paul's approached the Confederation with a request for help both in strengthening the community numerically and in developing its potential. At present the numbers are low and the Cassinese Congregation is not in a position to help. Together we drew up a plan, greatly assisted by Prior Edmund Power who has been actively involved from the beginning. After much discussion we have reached the stage of putting our plans into action. We intend to develop the present community into an international community which will become involved in spiritual and ecumenical projects. Such a community could certainly have a special sign-value in a "globalised" world full of conflicts.
For this reason, I have proposed Prior Edmund as successor to Abbot Paolo Lunardon who, after six years of loyal service, would like to retire. About five other monks should go to St. Paul's with Prior Edmund. The first consequence if this proposed move is that I need immediately a successor for Prior Edmund here in Sant'Anselmo. Further I ask our monasteries and Congregations if they could release any monks for St. Paul's. This release need not be for ever but could be, perhaps, for a limited time, for example five years. The individuals concerned would need to be monks of good zeal who could make a real contribution to the realisation of this project. I am well aware that no monastery would gladly part with such persons even for a limited period. In concrete terms we need the following:
It may sound strange to be undertaking such a project just at this time when vocations are few. But our Benedictine presence in St. Paul's is of the greatest importance, particularly in the Roman context. An emphasis on spiritual and ecumenical endeavour is a contribution which is uniquely suited to the location. A community with a clear identity will be a place to which the Lord, in the words of Acts 2.47, will send vocations. It is certain that the solution does not lie in lamentation and in doing nothing.
Firstly, I should like to thank all who in the past year have sent us their new addresses or informed us of changes. I encourage all to continue to do so. If possible, this information should be sent to my Curia email-address <email@example.com> or to my personal email-address <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Being able to send the circular letter by email saves not only work but a significant amount of money.
But there are a few other points. Those about whom nothing is known cannot expect that others will be interested in them. We need urgently to do more to make our Athenaeum and the other activities we are offering better known. At a PIL Foundation dinner some time ago I was not able to present the invited guests even with a prospectus of Sant'Anselmo. Such a prospectus simply did not exist. At present we are preparing one. In addition our monastery shop now has a booklet-guide to Sant'Anselmo. Hitherto, Fr. Mark Sheridan has kindly, on his own initiative and with the help of an assistant, issued prospectuses for the various departments. Fr. Johannes Paul has been responsible for the establishment and updating of a Sant'Anselmo website. But we need one person, a Benedictine woman or man, who can take full-time responsibility for our public relations. We are talking here of all our relations with the mass media. In the eyes of many outsiders we as Benedictines have much in our favour but how can we expect others to help us if we don't help ourselves? For this reason I am very happy that many monasteries have established websites. But we must do something for the house here and I should be very grateful to obtain the services of someone for a certain period.
Another point: You will have noticed that I refer often to the "Benedictine Order" and not to the "Benedictine Confederation". The "Confederation" refers to Benedictine men but in many cases I am speaking about and to Benedictine women whom I do not want to treat as a separate group, but speak to all Benedictines together. For this purpose the term "Benedictine Order" is the most appropriate even if this is not to be understood in a technical, juridical, sense.
Finally I should like once more to express my thanks. An Abbot Primate is dependent on the help of many. I thank all the monasteries that send us students. This promotes the unity of our Order. I thank all who make professors and officials available for Sant'Anselmo, thus enabling us to provide the services we do. I thank also those who provide material assistance without which we would be helpless. I thank all those with whom I work and who share my responsibilities and all those who received me with much love in their monasteries.
My wish for us all is that we continue on our spiritual and human journey with God's blessing and in particular at this time of preparation for the Pasch, overshadowed as it is by war in Iraq, that the Lord will grant you and all of us the gift of his Easter peace.
With affectionate good wishes,
Abbot Primate Notker
21st March, 2003
Feast of the Transition of St. Benedict