Dear Brothers and Sisters of ABECCA:
After the invitation made to the communities to reflect on the questionnaire agreed upon during the Assembly in Lima (2003), we, who were assigned to gather and analyze the answers of the Caribbean area, are happy to report that we received answers from the majority of the monasteries.
Those participating were the following:
Benedictine Sisters, Monasterio Santa Escolástica, Humacao, Puerto Rico (Hnas. P.R.),
Benedictine Sisters, Mount of Prayer, Coubaril, Santa Lucia (SL),
Benedictine Monks, Monastère Morne-Saint-Benoît, Haiti (H),
Cistercian Monks, Monasterio Santa María de Epifanía, Jarabacoa, República Dominicana (R.D.) and
Benedictine Monks, Abadía San Antonio Abad, Humacao, Puerto Rico (Hnos. P.R.).
Regretfully, the Benedictines of Trinidad-Tobago and of Mayagüez, P.R., did not participate.
As you will remember, two questions were submitted. The first one dealt with the contributions, challenges, questions and struggles of monastic life in relation to the Latin American-Caribbean world; and the second question in reverse, namely, what contributions, challenges, questions and struggles the Latin American-Caribbean world presents to monastic life. As you can see, this proposal moves in two directions, monastic life toward the world and the world toward monastic life. Upon examining all the answers, we found that the communities interpreted the challenges, questions and struggles in basically the same terms so that, to simplify our presentation, we have arranged the answers related to these classifications under only one heading, namely, challenges.
The other principal category will be that of contributions. In some instances it was difficult for us to classify the answers in this way because it was not clear whether they were intended to be classified under the category of contributions or challenges, and one could easily interpret the answer given under either one or the other, depending on the angle. We have tried to be faithful to the sense implied which we understood predominant in such answers in order to classify them correctly.
We have decided to present the answers received along four lines: challenges of monastic life to society and vice versa; and contributions of society to monastic life and vice versa. We tried not to leave out anything of importance in this report.
Before we begin to report our findings, we want to comment that this type of questionnaire has its strengths and its weaknesses. Strengths in that it allows the communities to project something of their own reality, that which they live and think. Weaknesses as far as nature is always blended in the answers, making it impossible at times to see to what degree what is said is true or whether something significant has been omitted for fear or carelessness. There is also the danger of rationalizing or treating with a certain indifference difficult situations or ones we do not want to face, etc. Nevertheless, it will be a fruitful exercise in the measure that it stirs up reflection both in our meeting now and later.
In respect to the first question, that in which are detailed the contributions and the challenges that monastic life is believed to make on Latin American and Caribbean society, we could observe that the communities agreed on some points -- as was to be expected -- while on others they reflected situations distinct to particular contexts. This question was the one most widely discussed, apparently, along with the question about the challenges that society makes to monastic life. The answers under the category of contributions of society to monastic life were very few. Only one monastery answered with various points. Another sent only one response.
One outstanding point, brought to attention by the community of Haiti, is that monastic life ought also to see itself in relation to the local or national church and not only in relation to society in general. The community of Haiti therefore focused its answer according to this point of view. Nevertheless, the remaining monastic communities ignored this point even when it is obvious that each one belongs to a specific Christian (or ecclesial) community that has its own richness, needs and demands, and that there exists -- or should exist -- a vital interchange between the two.
This point suggests a parallel exercise that could be interesting: modify or change the questions in such a way that they will inquire into what contributions and challenges monastic life in Latin America and the Caribbean makes on the local and/or universal Church and vice versa, what contributions and challenges the local and/or universal Church makes on monastic life in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this way we could also verify the dynamics between monasticism and the Church.
For this report we have decided to present enumerated all the answers received, along with a short commentary to determine their content with precision. We will place an asterisk * alongside the points in which there is agreement or coincidence between two or more monasteries as well as the abbreviations to identify the monastery in order to give evidence of the origin of said contribution. It is also necessary to note that, even when one could talk about "Caribbean society" or "the Caribbean," because there is a common geographical characteristic among our countries, certain contacts the people of the area and similar social situations, nevertheless, the idiomatic, historic, economic, social differences -- all products of colonization and development of the Islands and joined in their isolation -- are responsible for a certain fragmentation among us, a fragmentation that is really centuries old. The people of the Caribbean don't know each other very well and we live, to a certain degree, "with our back to the sea." For that reason we will on occasion talk about "the Caribbean societies" to express our social reality.
At the end of the sections of contributions and challenges, we will present
a critical synthesis that may serve as
key for dialogue or discussion in the Assembly for we understand that the work
of examining and synthesizing of the various elements is a task that should
not be limited only to those to whom the work of this presentation was assigned.
This synthesis will be brief, avoiding quotations from other sources in order
not to extend our presentation too much and also to serve as a general commentary,
the contributions of the various monasteries serving as a base.
Let us first of all look at the contributions that monastic life makes to Caribbean society.
As far as the contributions that the communities believe the Caribbean society makes to monastic life, we received only eight answers. Practically all of these except one are from the Cistercian community of the Dominican Republic.
In contrast to the contributions of monastic life to the Caribbean world, the contributions of the Caribbean world to monastic life have a predominantly humble profile as opposed to the high values of monasticism that were presented. They regard a world contributing very simple things, including some they don't have, its wants, while monasticism is presented as an ideal form of life that has many things which the world lacks or should re-discover. Monastic life brings to the world from "hospitality" to "a model of stable spirituality," passing through "a living of the transcendental," or "the search for happiness, not the search for pleasure or possessions," etc. Meanwhile, the world brings to monasticism from "vocations" (one has to mention this!) to "welcoming and the joint binding (solidarity), above all, on the level of religious life," passing then "through the poverty of the people which teaches love of fasting," a "sense of Providence," "cleanliness," "adaptation to precarious situations," "patience" ("perhaps out of obligation"), etc.
Evidently, the monasteries are very clear when it comes to expressing the contributions that monastic life makes to society. The communities amply show the riches that monasticism makes to the world. Yet, the scarcity or lack (in the majority of cases) of contributions of society to monastic life is very strange and invites a deep reflection. This may possibly mean a skimpy awareness (toma de conciencia) as to what the world has given and can give to monasticism and to our communities. Every religious community has to give something to the world and receive something of the world in return in order to be able to live. On this vital exchange history is built, its present and its future. Monasticism neither is nor should be something superimposed on the world, a kind of anachronism or a utopia.
Monasticism surely depends first of all on God to survive, but also on the world. If it disembodies itself from the world, it dies. The life of the religious community grows in the degree that it can face not only its necessities but also the necessities of the world, of the society where it wants to live. Its belonging and actual (existence) for this world will be summed up in this relation. Therefore it seems important for us that everyone is conscious of this vital exchange, as far as what we give to the world but also as far as what we receive from the world.
On the other hand, we should ask ourselves if the world is conscious of the riches that monasticism has to offer. True, we have a great deal to offer to the Caribbean , but does the Caribbean know this? Is it really aware of this? To what degree does Caribbean society, or even the Caribbean Church know the good things that monastic life offers it? To what degree do people of the Caribbean regard monastic life as a genuine contribution to religious life? How does monasticism project itself on the world of the Caribbean? How is it communicating its life and the riches it possesses? What do the people think of us? What does the Church?
If monasticism is an oasis in the midst of the desert, why do we not see more people drinking insistently at our source? It's worth nothing for us to be a jewel in the world if we are unable to show how beautiful this jewel is! This is of the utmost importance, both for the increase of more vocations as well as for the spiritual enrichment of the faithful and of society in general.
Conversely, we should ask ourselves how conscious our communities are of these riches as well as of the needs of our people. Do we really strive to know the world in which we are living or are we sometimes too concerned about maintaining our little monastic world?
(Continue with C H A L L E N G E S.)
ABECCA * ABECCA 2005 - Chronicle * OSB IndexRev. 24 August 2005 | © 2005 by ABECCA | www.osb.org/abecca/2005/report01.html