Badia Primaziale Sant' Anselmo
Piazza Cavalieri Di Malta, 5
Tel +39 (6) 57 91 319 | Fax +39 (6) 57 91 374
My dear Sisters and Brothers:
The month of June brings us the feast of Pentecost and the end of the Easter season. In a sense, of course, we always live as Easter persons and we always need the inspiration and strength of the Holy Spirit. I wish all of you Easter peace and Pentecost strength as you continue your Christian and monastic life during the long days after Pentecost.
Since I last wrote to you (November 1994) I have taken a number of longer trips to attend conferences and to visit monasteries. The first and the longest trip (four weeks) took place in January 1995, a trip occasioned by a symposium on monastic formation. The leadership of Aide Inter-Monastéres (AIM) sponsored the symposium which was held at Asirvanam monastery near Bangalore, India, and directed by AIM's representative, Father Mark Butlin (Ampleforth). Most of the superiors and formators of the Benedictine monasteries in India and Sri Lanka attended the meeting to listen to conferences and to share ideas.
After the symposium Father Jacques Côté, my secretary, and I visited more than a dozen monasteries in India and Sri Lanka. I would like to share with you a few impressions of my experience of Benedictine monasticism in these two countries.
Benedictine monasticism, a late arrival on the scene (only a little more than 40 years old in India and 150 years in Sri Lanka), must relate to a number of ancient and venerable religions with their evident monastic traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Some Benedictine monasteries retain many traditions of their European founders, others have assumed many customs and traditions of the local culture. I noted the following values in the culture and in the monasteries (more in some than in others): a practice of simplicity of life and asceticism, the importance of meditation, the value of ritual, respect for sacred places, the value of the solitary combat (cf. RB 1), the importance of non-violence, the value of hospitality. These values are evident and we in the West could learn from the way in which they are expressed in India and Sri Lanka.
On the other hand Benedictine monasticism (with its origin in the West) has something to bring to India and Sri Lanka: an ancient and proved tradition, the sense of community (for monasticism is not just a solitary combat), a rhythm of community life (its public prayer, its lectio divina, its work), an advanced educational system that supports monastic life, and service to the local church and to the local people.
The Benedictines of India and Sri Lanka have done much in the way of inculturation but more has to be done in matters of architecture, art, song, and liturgy. This is also the case in other countries where Benedictines are present.
Later in the new year I made two trips to Switzerland, one to Engelberg on business (the abbey performs many financial services for Sant' Anselmo) and one to Einsiedeln to attend the Salzburg Abbots' Conference. Besides enjoying the hospitality of the monks of Einsiedeln and their newly restored church, the members of the Conference listened to excellent lectures on the work of the abbot being compared to that of a medical doctor.
In early May an ecumenical dialogue occasioned a trip to Northern England and Scotland. Before the meeting I visited the three Benedictine houses in Scotland and the prominent monastery of Ampleforth in Northern England. From May 10 to 14 I attended the Permanent International Ecumenical Consultation for Religious held this year at Saint Francis Friary, Alnmouth, England. I attended this meeting as a delegate of the Union of Superiors General in Rome. This consultation, which yearly gathers religious from the Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic traditions, has been in existence since the 1970's. This year we devoted our attention to the way in which our religious life is structured, especially in its efforts to facilitate an approach to God. It became clear that all our religious congregations need to take thought for a schedule which allows time for prayer, quiet meditation, service of the church and the civic community, etc.
The participants of the Consultation acknowledged that we all face similar difficulties in explaining our way of life to the church and the civic communities. The Lutheran religious congregations especially, and there are a dozen or more such groups in Germany, find themselves confronting a contrary tradition (Martin Luther wrote a treatise against monastic vows).
One afternoon the group enjoyed an outing to the holy island of Lindisfarne, a place made sacred by both Celtic and Benedictine monasticism (first Celtic and later Benedictine). Still to be seen are the ruins of the medieval priory that was dependent on the large Benedictine monastery in Durham. One participant asked me for my thoughts in viewing the ruins of the monastery. I answered that seeing such ruins makes me reflect on the long history of Christian monasticism and on the vicissitudes of monasteries (they come into existence and go out of existence for a variety of political, religious, and social reasons). Even large and famous monasteries can cease to exist and become places of only guided tours.
This ecumenical meeting which included talks by Benedictine Bishop Ambrose Griffiths (Ampleforth) of Newcastle, Anglican Bishop Alec Graham of Newcastle, and Archbishop John Habgood of York and Reverend Katherine of Lindisfarne exposed us to the various approaches to God and to the influence of Celtic monasticism on the Churches of Ireland and England and on the wider church (cf. the Irish Penitentials, the experiences of God in everyday life, the tradition of peregrinare pro Christo, the importance of hospitality, etc.)
On April 11, Tuesday of Holy Week, Rome's Sant' Egidio Community (a union of mostly lay persons dedicated to charitable action and prayer) held a prayer service commemorating the many religious and priests who were killed in places where they were serving the church and the kingdom. It was a moving experience to hear the names of dozens of martyrs read out during the service. Hundreds of religious gathered in the [Page 3] Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere to attend this liturgy. Remembering the martyrs of today urges us to pray for those Benedictines presently living and working in dangerous situations: Rwanda, India, and the Philippines.
A few months ago Archbishop Marian Oles, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kazakhstan and some other countries in that area of central Asia, paid me a visit to request the founding of a monastery in Kirghizstan. Let me quote from a letter he wrote to me subsequent to his visit:
"His Holiness has approved and blessed my plans. This is why I am writing to you to invite the Benedictine Fathers to come to Bishkek, the capital of Kirghizstan, and to establish there a monastery, church and school. ...I think that it is useful to keep in mind that Kirghizstan shares its border with an agricultural part of China. Moslems as well as many Christian sects already work there with great intensity. ...If I am not mistaken, it is the first time in history that the Turanic civilization is open to Western Christian influence, that is, to our presence in its midst..."
I promised to make this request known to the Benedictine world, but of course I could not assure him that any monastery is in a position to make a foundation at this time.
Joined with this circular letter is an introduction to the Catalogus Monasteriorum O.S.B. 1995. We are all indebted to Father Jacques Côté for his skill in preparing this important reference book. I am also grateful for the service of Father Adam Somorjai (Pannonhalma) who has competently assisted Father Jacques.
May the Holy Spirit of Jesus fill your communities with blessings and grace!
[signed Jerome Theisen]
Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen, O.S.B.
Badia Primaziale Sant' Anselmo
Segretaria Dell' Abate Primate
Piazza Cavalieri Di Malta, 5
Tel +(06) 57 91 319 | Fax +(06) 57 91 374
5 July 1995
Dear Father Abbots, dear Mother Abbesses,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You will soon be receiving the 1995 edition of the Catalogus Monasteriorum O.S.B., the eighteenth to date. This new issue of a publication which has followed the development of Benedictine monasteries for 125 years -- thus even preceding the erection of the Benedictine Confederation -- endeavours to reflect the configuration of the latter as of 1 January 1995. It was by this date, in fact, that we had requested the information from the monasteries. The only subsequent changes which have been taken into account are those concerning new superiors whose election or nomination was made known to us before going to press.
On this date of 1 January 1995, there belonged to the Benedictine Confederation in the strict sense, twenty-one Congregations of monks and six other monasteries of men, distinct from any Congregation. There also belonged -- but by association -- one Congregation and one monastery of monks, 353 monasteries of nuns of which the majority are grouped into thirty-nine Federations or Congregations, as well as thirty-seven Federations and six other houses of sisters.
How many different Benedictine Constitutions does that amount to! In their own way, they all testify to the richness of one and the same Rule -- that of our holy Father Saint Benedict -- which one and all profess, whether they are monks, nuns or sisters.
A global analysis of the statistics shows a geographical expansion of the Benedictine world. Some monasteries have been founded quite recently or have been consolidated in some areas which were still all but deprived of them. It appears that monastic life is beginning to be taken up in the countries of Eastern Europe. We have the added joy of welcoming more and more Asians and Africans into the Confederation, which now has a more universal and catholic configuration.
The number of monks has fallen by 4.5% over five years at a world level, even if certain Congregations, the majority of them with fewer members, have increased. The number of novices as of 1 January 1995 is lower by 4.5% than that of 1 January 1990. Similarly, the number of new professions to have appeared during the quinquennium 1990-1994 is lower than that of the quinquennium 1985-1989. This leads inevitably to a raising of the average age of the communities, above all in Europe and North America for, though there is no hard and fast rule, the rise in the number of monks is notable above all in the countries of Asia, Arica and South America.
It is in these countries also that the number of nuns has increased. This increase, too, is remarkable but, given that there are far fewer monasteries, it has not compensated for the loss suffered by the numerous European monasteries, which is 8.5%. This general tendency towards an increase in the houses situated in the territories of the Young Churches has been borne out in the sisters' group also, but they too have experienced a fall in the overall number of their members.
I wish to thank the monasteries which have obtained the necessary information for me and those which have not lost patience in the face of my requests for clarification. I would like, in a special way, to thank Father Ádám Somorjai, of the Hungarian Abbey of Pannonhalma, for his constant and invaluable assistance. I associate myself with him in requesting indulgence for the quite unintended inaccuracies which one may find in this work which we would wish, before all else, to be useful to all our brothers and sisters who serve under the Rule of our holy Father Benedict.
All those who receive the present letter will likewise receive a complimentary copy of this Catalogus Monasteriorum 0.S.B. This gesture was authorised by the Synod of Presidents of 1994 with the aim of developing the links of fraternal unity among our different Benedictine communities. A contribution (by the monasteries that have the means) to defray the expenses of publication will be received with gratitude, and further copies will be available on payment. The cost per volume is Italian lire 55.000 (postage and 20% discount included) C.C.P. n. 72070006, or the equivalent by Bank Draft (Cashier Check) in Euros or any currency [ca. US $35, 27 June 95], at the order of
CENTRO STUDI S. ANSELMO - LIBRERIA
Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, 5,
Fax: 0-011-39-(0)6-579-1374; phone 0-011-39-(0)6-579-1319
With my filial and fraternal respects in Saint Benedict,
Jacques Côté, O.S.B.
secretary to the Abbot Primate
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