Arms of Sant'Anselmo


Badia Primaziale Sant'Anselmo
Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta 5
I-00153 Roma


Abbot Primate Notker Wolf OSB

Circular Letter, 2004


My dear Benedictine brothers and sisters,

Sincere good wishes for Easter. May your communities be strengthened and renewed in these days by Easter peace and joy.

My letter this year has been somewhat delayed. I had been waiting in the hope of being able to give you news of a final decision on the Aula Magna project. The authorities, however, need time -- and we need patience. I have been told, though, that there is a very good chance that the necessary moneys will be forthcoming. Should they not be, we shall have to look for another solution. Extension of the library and a large hall are pressing needs.

One project that we were able to bring to completion is the Antiphonale Monasticum . At the end of January, after years of negotiation, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved the draft. For this we have to thank the new prefect, Cardinal Arinze, who intervened personally to speed up the process. The abbey of Solesmes has already begun to arrange for the printing of the book, but this will take some time.

In this context I should like to mention the Calendarium Benedictinum . Several Abbots President had asked that at the next Congress a new draft calendar be circulated. This was because of the numerous additions to the Roman calendar over the last two decades or so. Members of an appropriate commission were nominated by their presidents. In preparing for a first meeting of this commission it emerged that the whole question can be answered with relative ease.

In 1970 the Congress of Abbots decided to retain the tradition of a special Benedictine Calendar. For this reason the general calendar was not adopted (and adapted) at that time but, with Roman approval, some changes were made in the Benedictine Calendar. I think that this is how we should approach the matter again. This would enable us to retain the simplicity of our tradition and the liturgical seasons would not be blurred by an overload of feasts. For pastoral reasons, parishes may have other priorities. Thus, it would be good if individual Benedictine Congregations were not initially to submit separate requests for a calendar but were to wait for a common Benedictine Calendar after the approval of which permission for special feasts could be sought by Congregations or houses.

Congress of Abbots 2004

Some information concerning the Congress of Abbots: this will meet in September at Sant'Anselmo. Arrivals are planned for 20th and departures for 29th September. The theme of the Congress will be Globalization as a fact of contemporary world development, presenting as it does, opportunities and problems. There will only be two main presentations. This will give us more time for workshops on various questions of current interest to the Confederation. An innovation this year will be the holding of two orientation-days for new Abbots and Priors. These will begin on 18th September (with arrivals on 17th). The idea of these days is to prepare and tighten up the discussions on Sant'Anselmo. This is also the purpose of the meeting of an enlarged Commission for Sant'Anselmo which will meet at the beginning of June. At this meeting the Sant'Anselmo topics to be discussed at the Congress as well as those to be dealt with in the workshops will be finalized. At the same time as the June meeting, the Finance Commission and the actual Commission for Sant'Anselmo will meet here.

Before every Congress of Abbots a regular Canonical Visitation takes place which prepares a report for the Congress on the life of the College. For this reason we were visited early in March by Abbots Lorenzo Russo, Jerome Kodell and Franziskus Heereman. Most students had the chance of speaking to one or other of the visitors in his native language. I should like to thank the visitors sincerely for their service and their suggestions.


Some facts about Sant'Anselmo: at the start of the academic year the College had 118 residents of whom, happily, 93 were monks and of these 85 were Benedictines. I continue to be grateful to all abbots and communities who send students here. This ensures the Benedictine character of our house. Non-Benedictines, however, are well integrated here. It continues to be a pleasure for us when his health permits our confrere, Cardinal Augustine Mayer, to demonstrate his love for Sant'Anselmo and take part in our various celebrations. Most recently, the Cardinal was chief celebrant at our Holy Thursday Mass. I did the washing of the feet. Last June the Cardinal ordained Brother Dominic Nguyen of Christ in the Desert to the diaconate. Brother Johannes Oravecz of Hagia Maria Sion was ordained deacon by his compatriot Cardinal Tomko while Brother Ambrose Bennet was ordained by Archbishop Monterisi, a friend of the house who concelebrates with us most Sundays. I was able to institute several confreres to the ministries of Lector and Acolyte. We receive many visits from abbots and other confreres who have business in Rome or who simply want a breath of Roman air for a few days.

The next edition of the Sant'Anselmo Forum, which will appear shortly, will contain details of life and activities of the Athenaeum. For this reason I shall confine myself to a few statistics. As usual, the number of students is 350. With 200 students the Liturgical Institute has its highest enrollment ever. Father Emmanuel Lanne of Chevetogne, the Nestor of oriental theology, received an honorary doctorate. Cardinal Arinze attended the celebrations. Cardinal Walter Kasper attended a symposium held to mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of Gregory the Great. This was also attended by the German ambassador to the Holy See. Held in conjunction with the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the monastery of San Gregorio in Celio, the symposium was spread over several days. In the course of the year, several other study-days were held in conjunction with other institutes, some partly in Sant'Anselmo. At present the theology faculty of Saint Thomas University of Miami and our Liturgical Institute are examining the possibilities of cooperation. Recently, the human sciences faculty of the Third University of Rome at Tor Vergata signed an agreement with the Athenaeum, permitting their students to inscribe for lectures at our philosophy faculty and the Mabillon Institute as part of a Master's program. In this context I should mention that several of our professors also teach in other institutes. Contacts with other third-level institutions widen our horizons and while learning from others we make Sant'Anselmo better known.

There have been some changes in the personnel of the house. Fathers Placidus Berger, Joan Recasens and Emanuele Aresu, having reached the age-limit of 70 laid down in the House Rules of Sant'Anselmo, returned respectively to Münsterschwarzach, Montserrat and Noci. I should like to thank all three very sincerely for their years of faithful service. Father Placidus was one of the two secretaries in my curia. The Abbot General of the Olivetan Congregation and the Abbot of Lendinara were willing to make Father Christopher Zielinski available as a replacement. Before he could take up this post, however, he was chosen as Prior Administrator of Pecos. I am grateful to Father Christopher that despite this he came here for the month of September to replace Father Henry who was with me at the Synod of Abbots President. In the meantime his confreres have elected Father Christopher abbot of Pecos. In his place I was able to obtain the services of Sister Maria Laura Natali from the abbey of Citerna. Sister Maria Laura also teaches in the Monastic Institute. I had been advised by my council to inquire for a secretary among Benedictine women, since much of my time is devoted to them.

Father Joan Recasens was for many years Rector Ecclesiae and thus responsible for weddings. This office and service has been taken over by Father Alcuin Nyirenda, the former abbot of Hanga in Tanzania. Father Emanuele Aresu was replaced in the shop by Father Dorotej form our small monastery of Cokovac in Croatia. Brother Athanas Mwanjile from Peramiho in Tanzania has been working for some months in the refectory. Best thanks to all of these new arrivals for their willingness to share responsibility for the life of Sant'Anselmo.

Last summer we had planned to renovate the refectory but had to interrupt the work at the end of August. When trying to apply acoustic plaster to the walls -- a measure designed to improve the sound -- bubbles appeared in that plaster. It was discovered that the cause was the very first coat of oil paint from a century ago. This would have to have been and will have to be removed before the acoustic plaster can be applied. Since we needed to use the refectory in September, the work had to be suspended until this summer. I should like here to express my profound thanks to the American abbots whose generous gifts enabled this work to be undertaken in the first place. In particular, I should like to thank Abbot Barnabas of Atchison who acted as a channel for these gifts and also Archabbot Jeremias for the lamps which are being made, free of charge, by the workshops at Sankt Ottilien.

Similarly, there was a delay in beginning the alterations that had been planned for Aula IV. Planning-permission was received too late for work to begin. The proposal is to put an extra floor in the inside part of the former library. This will permit us to transfer the various secretarial offices to this area, thus separating public spaces from residential, as required by public safety law. An additional advantage is that we will gain some residential accommodation. The apse and choir of the church will be repainted this summer. This is made possible by our insurance company which is paying for damage caused by the intrusion of rain.

We are completely dependent on outside help for the funds needed for major repairs and renovations to our century-old building -- not to mention new projects. The Subsidium and the Solidarity Levy -- for both of which I am very grateful -- make it just possible for us, exercising great thrift, to survive financially. This is highlighted by the transparency which has now been achieved thanks to the efforts of our two cellarers. The latter have drawn up a ten-year plan. This indicates where our priorities should lie as well as how much needs to be done. A subsidy from the abbeys of Salzburg and Admont made it possible for us to take the advice of the Financial Commission and engage the services of a management consultancy to assess the legal and financial position of the various departments at Sant'Anselmo and to advise on the measures that need to be taken both to comply with legal requirements and to avoid substantial fines for noncompliance.

One attempt to improve the very limited direct income of Sant'Anselmo has been the re-negotiation over the past two years of the contracts for the properties we have rented out. An addition has been the letting of the triangular garden with the "castello" to the Hotel Sant'Anselmo. As well as paying us rent, the owners of the hotel will restore the garden and buildings at their own expense -- tasks for which we simply do not have the money. Preservation legislation forbids any change to the exterior of buildings and the tenants have even restored the old greenhouses which had collapsed.

Because of the energetic commitment of Claudio Bruno the monastery shop is running well. The bookshop which was formerly situated in the "catacombs" of Sant'Anselmo has now been integrated with the shop. According to the vision of my predecessor, Abbot Marcel Rooney, the shop is intended not only to make some money for Sant'Anselmo, but also to provide a shop-window for monastic produce from all over the world. For several years now buses have been forbidden on the Aventine. The effect of this is that the shop does not get the numbers of tourists or visitors which would bring a greater profit.

The Benedictine Confederation

Sant'Anselmo is not the canter of the universe but in the hundred years of its existence it has proved itself an important element in promoting the unity of the Confederation. It can be said to provide confreres from all over the world with a canter for encounter and for common studies. From here I try with the three members of my curia team to promote the unity of the Confederation and the spread of the Benedictine charism. In this task I receive indispensable help from the Abbot Primate's Council. The members of this council are the three Abbots President who are elected by the Synod of Presidents each year to form the Council for Urgent Affairs, as well as the main officials of Sant'Anselmo, namely the Prior, Rector and two Cellarers.

Following the injunction of Chapter 3 of the Rule of Benedict to do nothing without counsel in order to have nothing to regret later, I established this council when I became Abbot Primate. We meet almost every month and here I should like particularly to thank the three Abbots President (Abbot Benno Malfèr of Muri Gries, Abbot Richard Yeo of Downside, elected to succeed Abbot Thierry Portevin, President of the Subiaco Congregation, and Abbot General Andrea Pantaloni of the Sylvestrine Congregation) for their attendance at these meetings. All have many other obligations and often on a worldwide basis. These meeting make me realize that I am not left on my own in office and that responsibilities are shared. This is an experience I have in many other areas and my expressions of thanks are no mere literary formalities.

Attendance at national and international meetings of Benedictines provides another way of developing contacts within the Confederation and the common search, in faithfulness to the Rule of Benedict, for the way ahead. These meetings are frequently attended by brother and sisters from the Cistercian and Trappist Orders and I find this a great enrichment. Since these meetings will be mentioned in the forthcoming edition of the Sant'Anselmo Forum, I shall only mention a few here.

The meeting of ABECCA, the organization of the monasteries of the Caribbean and the Andes, held this year in Lima in Peru, dealt with the important question of the possibilities for human maturity in our monasteries. I think that if there are crises in our communities they are not primarily problems of faith but of human maturity and human relations. Our faith must promote both maturity and our living together. Similar questions were dealt with last year at the meeting of Italian abbots at Montecassino and at the meeting in February last of the American Abbots' Workshop at Saint Bernard's, Alabama.

At the beginning of December last year, the superiors of East Asia and the Pacific, meeting at the retreat-house of the Tutzing Benedictine Sisters in Tagaytay in the Philippines, asked how the so-called E-generation, that is those who have grown up with computers and mobile telephones, can be led to the monastic ideal. I was surprised at how realistically and critically one Vietnamese abbot looked at the many potential candidates seeking entry to Vietnamese monasteries. Few have a genuine vocation. I would be happy to see this reserve in our Western monasteries where, given the lack of vocations, there is an understandable tendency to accept weaker characters. But this stores up much trouble for the future.

At the annual meeting of the monasteries of India and Sri Lanka which was held in the newly-built monastery at Kumily in Kerala, attention was focussed on resurgent Hindu fundamentalism. This fundamentalism really is tragic, given that Hinduism is regarded in the West as the great religion of tolerance. In fact, every religion harbors not only apostles of peace but also a potential for conflict. We Christians know this only too well from our own history. Whenever the Kingdom of God is confused with earthly power, whenever the search for truth degenerates into always being in the right, the results are oppression and death -- as we are experiencing at the moment with Islamic fanatics. For this reason interreligious dialogue among monastics remains an important task.

A short anecdote: My diary is always full so I have very little chance during my journeys to see any of the archaeological and other cultural monuments of the countries I visit. Thus, when in Peru I had not planned to spend the weekend visiting Inca remains but, rather, three communities up the country. Because, however, the weekend coincided with a national holiday, it proved impossible to get a flight. So, I had to spend the whole time at the ABECCA meeting. At the end of the meeting one sister confessed that she had prayed to Saint Scholastica that I would not get a flight. She found my presence at the meeting so wonderful and enriching that she did not want me to go. My frustration was turned to laughter: 'People are more important than monuments,' - and I was reconciled.

Benedictine Women

For this reason I found the annual meeting of CIB, the Communio Internationalis of Benedictine women, so important. This year it was held in Sydney, Australia. Mutual understanding among Benedictine women has grown quickly. Shared Benedictine ideals bind them together and to us. But I have another reason to be happy at the formation of CIB. A general meeting of women is quite different from one of men. The emphases are quite different, symbols play a greater role. I am particularly grateful to the Benedictine women for choosing Australia and this not only because it gave me the chance to visit the monks at New Subiaco and Arcadia and to get to know the nuns at the Jamberoo Abbey which the conference visited on a day-trip. Also important for me was what could be called the 'option for the poor'. By this I mean that the roughly 500 Australian Benedictines sometimes think of themselves as outsiders because the result of their geographical position is that they seldom have Benedictine visitors from abroad.

Synod of Abbots President

From Australia I flew directly to the Synod of Abbots President in Canada. Here, basking in the warmhearted hospitality of the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, we spent a week dealing with the business of the Confederation and of Sant'Anselmo. Among the matters discussed were the preparations for the next Congress of Abbots and the help that the Confederation might give to the Abbey of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome. The latter was of some urgency since shortly before the synod the Holy See had circulated a draft Motu proprio for Saint Paul's which we felt contained several provisions that needed to be modified. In order to strengthen the Benedictine hand, the synod commissioned the Abbot Primate to act as negotiator with the Holy See. Prior Edmund Power, in consultation with Saint Paul's, relieved me of the responsibility of much of the work. At the beginning of the synod I received the happy news that in October, 2004, Father Michael Naughton, at present Prior Administrator of Richmond, Virginia, will succeed Prior Edmund in Sant'Anselmo. To avoid misunderstandings, though, it is important to make one point clear: even though Father Edmund has been the driving force of the Saint Paul's project, the community of Saint Paul's retains complete freedom of choice when electing a future superior. But it will not be enough simply to have a few extra monks. Rather, we much first have a vision of the position of this abbey in the Roman context and at the tomb of the Apostle Paul. It would be a huge loss if, after 1300 years of Benedictine presence, we were to lose this monastery. What is needed is a strengthening of the spiritual and ecumenical emphases and this with the help of other monks. Why should an international community not be possible in Rome at this time?


In my last circular letter I reported that we had begun once more to have lay oblates at Sant'Anselmo. Subsequently the idea surfaced of having a meeting of oblates from all over the world. It was clear to me that the number of such oblates is growing and I think it a good idea that they should have the opportunity to exchange experiences and to share how they bring the Benedictine ideal to bear on their family and professional lives and in their individual cultural contexts. Given the limitations of accommodation -- the Salesian canter outside of Rome where the congress will take place can take only 300 people -- it will be possible only for representatives from the various countries to attend. But these representatives will return to their own regions and their experiences can be of value to all. Apropos, we were visited twice by members of the Manquehue Benedictine Movement, a group of lay Benedictine oblates which has three large schools in Chile. They are closely connected with Ampleforth Abbey in England.

Congress of Juniors

This calls to mind the congress of Benedictine juniors which took place here in Sant'Anselmo last July. Participants came from North and South America, from Africa, Asia and Europe. They had the chance to experience the variety and spiritual unity of our Benedictine life, to get to know Sant'Anselmo as well as the more important sights of Rome, including of course, places of importance to Benedictines. All found the time spent here worthwhile and enriching. The youthful idealism of the participants reminded me of my own monastic beginnings and made me think that we older monastics could do worse than allow ourselves to be infected by this idealism.


Apart from talking about the CIB, there has been little mention of our Benedictine nuns and sisters in this letter. They did, of course, participate in the large meetings of ABECCA, of the East-Asian and Indian-Sri Lankan superiors. In addition, I went to the annual meting of German-speaking abbesses and prioresses and took part in the general chapters of the Benedictines of St Bathilde at Saint Thierry in France and of the Federation of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration in Warsaw. Many of the cares of individual monasteries land on my desk and, indeed, in my heart. Unfortunately, although I am generously welcomed wherever I go in the world, I can only visit a few communities.

Some people have been rather surprised that the next Congress of Abbots will deal with the effects of globalization. Some were and are afraid that the topic could become too political. In fact, as is evidenced by this letter, we have all been affected by globalization for some time and I think it will be a good thing to have a thorough exchange of views.

In closing, I should like to wish you a happy Eastertide and as we prepare for Pentecost pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us in the right path to what lies ahead. I look forward eagerly to this Easter night which we will celebrate solemnly here in Sant'Anselmo. The day after tomorrow, Easter Monday, I leave for the annual meeting of the Italian abbots to be followed by that of the German-speaking abbots.

With sincere good wishes and gratitude,

+ Notker Wolf
Abbot Primate

Easter Saturday, 10th April, 2004