Arms of Sant'Anselmo


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


Abbot Primate Notker Wolf OSB

Annual Circular Letter to the
Monasteries of the Benedictine Confederation

Saint'Anselmo | Personnel | St. Paul's | Journeys | Varia

21st March, 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Time flies even for monks and nuns, despite the idea some people have that time should stand still. On this the feast of the Transitus of Our Holy Father Benedict, I should like to send you a few lines to let you know what is happening here in Sant'Anselmo as well as in the Confederation.

Most of the students are on holiday. We shall celebrate the transferred feast of St Benedict appropriately after Easter. In these days we are preparing ourselves not only for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but today marks the beginning of the renovation- and alteration works in one of the wings of our abbey. The 21st March is the day registered with the local authorities here in Rome for the official commencement of operations.

1. The Renovation of Sant'Anselmo

During the recent Congress of Abbots several superiors met with the purpose of beginning the process of renovation of the house and to help us find the necessary finance. Some Congregations have already dipped deep into their pockets and made substantial sums available which enable us to start the work already. The first progress-report will be presented to the Synod of Presidents in October. Donors will receive a separate report on how their money has been spent.

We have divided the renovations into five areas or phases which it is hoped to complete within a ten-year time-frame. There can be no doubt that after one hundred years our lovely monastery needs a thoroughgoing renovation. Recently a visitor, referring to the lush growth of grass and other plants, jokingly described our roofs as 'ecological'. We have to take account of the developments of recent decades. The fact that in an Athenaeum originally built for 50 students there are now between 350 and 400 is itself an indication that many of our provisional solutions regarding spaces and facilities need to be radically improved. Many changes are required by new public security regulations. One example of this is the requirement that spaces accessible to the public must be clearly separate from residential areas.

A start is being made in the wing that stretches from the porter's office to the refectory. The latter, along with the kitchens, have already been renovated. At present Aula IV is being re-structured. A steel frame is being built inside the aula which will contain, on a new upper floor, offices for six secretariats. The ground-floor area will contain, in the space directly behind the hall at the bottom of the main staircase, the General Secretariat of the Athenaeum. Further in, in the area opening onto to the main cloister, there will be, as at present, an area for students to meet during coffee-breaks etc. The area under the roof-lights overlooking the small courtyard will remain and will become a space for academic and other official meetings. Work will also take place on the upper floors and the roof. Already at this stage provision must be made for water, electricity, telephone and Internet. For this reason, it was necessary to plan the work on the whole wing with the architects. Indeed, in order to get the approval of the fire-safety police we have had to present a plan for the whole house. We have established a house building-committee which meets regularly to discuss planning. In the near future we intend to put plans on the Internet so that all can have access. Detailed plans for Phase A will go to tender shortly after Easter. At the moment the remaining shelves in the former library; i..e. Aula IV, are being dismantled and brought to the monastery of Santa Cecilia.

Here, I should like to thank all who are involved in planning and, also the worry of the project. Among the happy outcomes of the last Congress of Abbots is that Sant'Anselmo has once again more clearly become a project of the whole Confederation. For this reason I am very grateful to abbots and monasteries when they send us students, professors and officials. Sant' Anselmo is the only central meeting-place of our Confederation and many abbots studied here. Without Sant'Anselmo the Confederation would not be what it is today. Given the fact that the number of monks, nuns and sisters in the developing countries is increasing, itself a reflection of general demographic trends, we need to look to the future. We need well-trained religious in these countries and it is my hope that at some time they will be able to send professors to teach here. This would be an enormous enrichment. When he was Secretary-general of the A.I.M., Fr Marie Bernard de Soos constantly reminded us that every renewal within the Benedictine Order began with a renewal of training and further studies. For this reason I consider the three-month course for formators which, as we speak, is taking place once again at the Generalate of the Tutzing Benedcitne Sisters, to be so important. And, once again, I should like to thank the Trappists for their generous financial support of this project. This year we have a group of 28 participants drawn from 17 countries.

Still on the matter of buildings and finance: the Aula Magna project has not been forgotten. At the beginning of February of this year the various public officials connected with the project were our guests here. They assured us that the project has been approved but that it would take some time for the funds to be released. Given the general financial cutbacks, things are not quite so easy as they were some years ago. The idea is that funds will become available in three annual tranches. Since this is the case with all such projects and not just for ours, can we not have the same patience?

As mentioned at the Congress of Abbots, we need additional sources of funds for the future of the Athenaeum and for regular maintenance-programmes. Thus, the first moves have been made to establish two new foundations, one in Europe and one in the United States.

2. Changes in Personnel in Sant'Anselmo

Our former prior, Fr Edmund Power, has departed to become Prior Administrator of St Paul's Outside the Walls. His successor since the start of the academic year is Fr Michael Naughton of Collegeville, previously Prior Administrator of Richmond. The subprior, Fr Johannes Paul Abrahamowicz, has also moved to St Paul's to help in the community there. His successor as subprior is Fr Stefano Visintin of the Abbey of Praglia. Fr Stefano also teaches fundamental theology and is Secretary-general of the Athenaeum. We are, literally, doubly grateful to Praglia, because the Economo of San'Anselmo, Fr Gerardo Garegnani, at present intensively involved in the planning and execution of our renovations, also comes from that monastery. In the autumn, Fr Luigi Bertocchi will also move to St Paul' s, making it necessary for us to keep an eye out for a new guest-master. Fr Luigi, as well as being guest-master, is at present completely taken up with the organisation of the first World Congress of Secular Oblates which will take place in September. I am convinced that this congress will bring many new and valuable impulses for our oblates. The latter are particularly precious to me because they bring the charism of Our Holy Father Benedict and of our monasteries to the wider world.

This summer, Fr Rector Albert Schmidt will complete his second term and is thus not eligible for a further term. On 5th March last a new rector was elected whose name cannot yet be published pending the confirmation of his election by the Holy See.

Fr Juan Javier Flores was confirmed in office as President of the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy for a further four years.

The Sant'Anselmo Forum will appear shortly with reports on the various happenings in the Athenaeum and College. Here, I should like simply to mention that on 17th March we continued the series of Vaggagini Lectures, this time with Professor Eberahrd Jüngel as guest-lecturer. Professor Jüngel gave us an impressive overview of Protestant sacramental theology.

3. St Paul's Outside the Walls

This is another area in which patience needs to be exercised. On 4th October, 2004, a commission specially established by the Secretariat of State, submitted a draft Motu Proprio to Cardinal Sodano. This document, containing provisions for the revised status and structures of St Paul's, deals in some cases with matters which have never been properly clarified since the time of the Lateran Pacts in 1929. We were closely involved in the final phases of the preparation of this document. It would seem that, since October, further matters for consideration have arisen, but up to now the Motu Proprio has not appeared. It is the case, however, that we need clear directives if we are to get the international community and its various tasks established. At the end of September, 2004, Abbot Paolo Lunardon offered his resignation. Prior Edmund is Prior Administrator. The Abbey is now under the Abbot Primate. Since no definite information was forthcoming from any quarter, I requested a meeting with Cardinal Sodano, which took place on 25th February. The atmosphere of the meeting was extremely friendly and we were able to discuss our difficulties. In a letter dated 10th March, the Cardinal informed me that the Holy Father had accepted the resignation of Abbot Paolo and at the same time decided that the Abbey should lose its territorial status and in future exist as any other normal abbey. The appropriate decree will be sent to us shortly. After that we can finally proceed to the election of the new abbot. Several further clarifications will be needed, but the way ahead has become clearer. Here, I should like to thank very sincerely the monasteries that have released a confrere for this project. I should also like to thank these confreres themselves who, in view of the insecurity of the situation, have had to be very patient. Cardinal Sodano was very impressed by the fact that I was able to present him with a list of more than 20 members of the community.

At this point I should like to mention other international communities. The Abbey of Rosano has assumed the responsibility for the contemplative community in the Vatican Gardens. It was the Holy Father's special wish that he would have near him a contemplative community made up of members from various nations who would pray particularly for the Pope's intentions and the needs of the Church. The community changes every five years. The first to be entrusted with this mission were the Poor Clares. These were followed by the Carmelites and now the Benedictines have been invited for the next five years. The nuns at Vanves in France are trying to revivify their monastery by adding an international element and, following the efforts of the Abbot of Ligugé, the Benedictine presence at La Source in the heart of Paris has been strengthened. I think that such places are needed in these centres of our secularised world, places where primacy is given to the search for and experience of God.

4. Journeys

Extracts from my diary, giving an account of my various journeys and doings, will appear shortly in the next edition of the Sant'Anselmo Forum which I mentioned above. I try as much as possible to attend national and international gatherings of our Order and in this way to be a link between our monasteries and regions. I also try to represent the Confederation at the more important celebrations of our monasteries. Everywhere, the welcome is extremely friendly and I am very grateful for this. The feeling of being at home everywhere eases the burden of the many journeys and many changes of time-zone and climate. Here, I should like to mention one or two recent visits.

The journeys to Senegal and Nigeria which I undertook before Christmas with Abbot Christopher of Glenstal were a new experience for me. True to their Solesmes tradition, the two communities in Keur Moussa have distinguished themselves by their liturgy, most particularly in their use of local melodies and rhythms. In this, their use of the West African stringed instrument, the kora, has generated a new esteem for this instrument. I was also, indeed, impressed by the liturgy at Mahitsy in Madagascar where I attended the 50th anniversary celebrations last August. Here too, indigenous melodies have become part of the heritage of the local Church. In Keur Moussa I blessed the large new infirmary while at Ewu, a foundation of Glenstal celebrating its 25th anniversary, I unveiled a statue of St Benedict and laid the foundation-stone for the new church. Ewu has developed one of the largest herbal medicine clinics in Africa. Similarly, the two large female monasteries of Umuoji and Nike have become major spiritual centres. All three monasteries have an impressive number of oblates. In a solemn investiture, the King of Enugu made me one of his chiefs, giving me a new name which means 'Father of the Faith'.

At the end of January I was at the Abbey in Oceanside, California, for the Workshop of American Abbots. The main topic for discussion was interreligious dialogue. Excellent lectures, particularly about Islam, were delivered by Archbishop Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Two days after my return to Rome I left for India for the annual meeting of the Indian-Sri Lankan Benedictine Federation. In addition to the female abbey of Shanti Nilayam in Bangalore there is now an abbey for men at Kappadu. The recently-blessed Abbot John of Kappadu was immediately elected president of the Federation. A prime concern of his is to promote education in the various monasteries, mostly by means of joint courses. The Benedictine presence in India is constantly, almost imperceptibly, growing.

Father Albert Schmidt accompanied me at the beginning of March to Jerusalem and Tabgha for the regular canonical visitation. Despite the huge difficulties in the Holy Land in recent years, the community, under the leadership of Abbot Benedict, has been able to make progress. In addition to the 11 solemnly-professed confreres, the community now contains six in simple vows. This means that the monastery can look forward to being able to staff the planned Peace Academy from its own ranks. After a one-year interruption, the Theological Study Year, associated with our Athenaeum, was able to be resumed.

In the week after Easter I shall be meeting the Italian abbots at Vallombrosa and, following this, the German-speaking abbots at Freising near Munich. From there I am going to Solesmes to take part in the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dom Guéranger, whose life and spirituality were so significant for the revival of Benedictine monasticism in the nineteenth century.

This is not intended to be a travelogue but aims rather to give some idea of the diversity of our Benedictine life all over the world. I should not like to give the impression that all is rosy. Several monasteries have acute personnel- and/or economic problems. In the future we are going to need even more cooperation. We cannot remain indifferent to the fate of our sisters and brothers in neighbouring communities. Monasteries of nuns in particular still seem to have difficulties working with each other. For example, suggestions that Congregations be formed frequently come to nothing because of fears of loss of autonomy. But cooperation is demanded even more today by precisely the fact that we Benedictines are not centralised.

The day before yesterday I delivered a lecture at the Paul VI Institute at Brescia, Italy. The theme was Benedictine spirituality in Paul VI. In preparation for this I read all his addresses and letters to Benedictine women and men. It struck me forcibly how this great friend of the Benedictines emphasises, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, not only that we should be clearly rooted in our tradition, but also that we should have the courage to change. He underlines constantly that monasticism has not only a value in itself but has a mission within the Church and in our modern world. I have the feeling that the modernisation wished by Paul VI has not yet been completed. Various experiments have led us back to a closer examination of the foundations of our monastic life. Monasticism is not merely the sum of customs and usages, even if observance is an expression of community life. The question in the Rule of Benedict of whether or not the monk, nun or sister, 'truly seeks God', has, if anything, become more acute. Each one of us needs to be touched and moved by this holy restlessness which should characterise our journey in the community under a rule and an abbot.

5. Varia

The new edition of the Catalogus is due to appear this year. Happily, the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) has taken responsibility for the monasteries of women. The men's Catalogus will appear on the first Sunday of Advent.

A commission under the chairmanship of the president of the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy, Fr Juan Javier Flores, is working on a new version of the Benedictine Calendar.

A notice from Fr Prior: Superiors who are considering sending a student to Sant'Anselmo in the next academic year, 2005-2006, are asked to contact the prior of the Collegio, Fr Michael Naughton <priore @>, at their earliest convenience, so that the application procedure may begin in good time and we may ascertain the number of non-Benedictine places available.

It only remains for me at the end of this letter to thank all who work with me here in Sant'Anselmo and, further, all those who contribute to our life here and commit themselves to the future of our common endeavour, for the Athenaeum, the College, the renovation-project and our finances. It is a consolation for an abbot who has no monks and funds of his own to discover that he is supported by others in fulfilling his responsibilities towards the Confederation. It is only together that we can approach the challenges of the future, for the benefit of our communities.

With every blessing and sincere good wishes for Easter,

+ Notker,
Abbot Primate