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:
Since I last wrote to you five months ago (June 1994), 1 have attended some important meetings and visited a few dozen monasteries. While these meetings were rich and rewarding, I regret that I could not attend the other meetings and celebrations to which I was invited. Life is replete with choices and good intentions!
In June I was happy to attend the meetings of two committees that are very important for the Confederation. AIM which arranges for formational opportunities and distributes sizeable sums of money for monasteries in developing countries met in Praglia for two days under the chairmanship of Father Bernard de Soos. In this context I wish to ask your prayerful appreciation of Abbot Marie (Robert) de Floris of En Calcat who was the founding Secretary General of AIM and who died on 30 July 1994.
DIM which directs its attention to the practice and promotion of inter-religious dialogue met at the Augustinian monastery of Saint-Maurice in Switzerland under the chairmanship of Prior Pierre de Béthune. Joined to this circular letter you will find a longer explanation of the importance of this committee and the dialogue that it promotes. I am grateful to Prior Pierre for his work formulating this information and in accepting temporarily the office of General Secretary of DIM.
From July 4 to 10 I attended an ecumenical conference of Methodists and Benedictines at the Istituto Mondo Migliore (Rocca di Papa). About 120 persons (more Methodists than Benedictines) attended this international conference whose theme was "Sanctification in the Benedictine and Methodist Traditions." The project was promoted by Doctor James Udy, President of the World Methodist Historical Society but really suggested by Doctor Albert Outler, now deceased but formerly of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Outler mentioned to Dr. Udy that persons of the two traditions (Methodist and Benedictine), if they ever got together for a talk, would find many points of agreement.
During the conference I grew in appreciation of the methods of the Methodists who seek to grow in love of Christ and to serve the needs of the church and society. I was edified by their warm and unembarrassed faith in Jesus, their vigorous singing, their love of the bible, and their spontaneous prayer--all directed to the goal of holiness. They can teach us Benedictines methods of becoming more committed to Christ, whom we profess to follow in holiness with our baptism and monastic profession. Dr. Outler characterized Methodism, so I heard, as a religious order within the church. I understand his comparison now. Indeed Methodists are not so much Protestants as Anglicans who want to make it possible for a Christian to live a devoted and loving life of service to church and society.
At the end of August Father Jacques Côté, my secretary, -- and I flew to East Africa to visit some monasteries and to attend the Synod of Presidents. Over a period of four weeks we visited twenty monasteries in Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda. We found monastic life flourishing in the midst of a very young and dynamic church. Vocations abound in the monasteries of both men and women. Young people are coming forth in great numbers to join the communities which have provided a marvelous work of evangelization, education, medical services, and pastoral care. Monasticism here has matured to the point where it is taking the tradition and shaping it according to the customs of the local people; communities of African Benedictines are not only carrying on the tradition but founding new monasteries.
At the end of our stay in East Africa we attended the three-day meeting of the Synod of Presidents at the King of Peace Monastery in Tigoni (near Nairobi). Besides voting not to increase the subsidium for this year, the presidents approved the budget for the whole of Sant'Anselmo. They also held a discussion of the situation in Rwanda where three Benedictine monasteries were destroyed and eleven Benedictines (nine women and two men) were killed. The presidents also discussed the theme and the schedule of the Congress of Abbots for 1996.
The presidents were treated to African music and food as well as the natural beauty of the area. They were surprised to discover that the high altitude of the monastery provided us with cool weather in spite of the fact that we were near the equator.
Soon after my return to Rome I began to attend the sessions of the Synod of Bishops. The synod demanded much time and energy of its participants for we listened to more than 200 speeches, took part in small group discussions, and prepared a series of proposals to be sent on to Pope John Paul II. Since the Synod of Bishops is a type of counsel for the Holy Father, he was nearly always present for the general assemblies of the synod; but only at the closing banquet did he comment briefly on the event.
My general impression of the synod is more positive than negative. Yes, I heard a few bishops scolding religious for their lack of obedience to the episcopal magisterium of the church, for their dissent, for their extravagant renewal programs, etc. But my abiding impression is that the participants of the synod appreciated and valued the consecrated life in the church; they could not imagine a church without it.
Christian monasticism received more attention in the synod than a monastic could have hoped for! Many speakers mentioned that monasticism was the original form of religious life in the church and that it is still valid today. It was noted by a few participants that monasteries are ideal places for Christian ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Since the monastic movement antedates breaks of the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, the brothers and sisters of other confessions feel at ease in a monastic setting.
Many participants mentioned the practice and value of cloister, some to urge the retention of the present statutes, others to recommend changes. In the end the synod's proposals recommended the continuance of strict cloister in those institutes that so choose it, but it suggested a more flexible cloister for those who want to define the extent and conditions of cloister more freely. In particular the synod wanted to give abbesses and prioresses the authority to define the practice of cloister for their own monasteries without having to have recourse to the local bishop or to Rome for every instance of change and exception.
It was clear in the synod that, since the whole church is missionary and contemplative, religious institutes are also missionary and contemplative. But each institute carries out its missionary and contemplative dimensions in its own unique way. This is also true of our monasteries; they are both missionary and contemplative but they give shape to these dimensions in a great variety of ways.
Under the rubric of collaboration the synod recommended the greater use of associations and federations, especially for isolated monasteries, in order to facilitate mutual aid in times of trouble and to provide adequate renewal programs, first and continuing formation, spiritual and intellectual learning, and financial help. The associations, however, should respect the autonomy of the individual monasteries.
The synod was surely a learning experience for us participants and it pointed the way for small advances in the future. Now we await Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter to see what features of the synod he wishes to assume and to recommend for the renewal of the consecrated life.
Prior Bonifaz Klingler reports that we have 119 persons living in the Collegio di Sant'Anselmo this year. This number, the highest in recent years, includes 94 Benedictines (61 students, and 33 professors and administrators). Father Pius Tragan, the university's rector, and Father Vincent Tobin, its secretary, report that the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant'Anselmo, as of November 10, has an enrollment of 345 students (including 72 auditors). The number of students in philosophy is 28 (including 11 auditors). The number of students in the three years of theology is 68 (including 6 auditors). The monastic studies program numbers 26 (including 11 auditors), the sacramental theology program 23 (no auditors). The Pontifical Institute of Liturgy continues strong with 200 students (including 44 auditors).
During the summer months most of the quest rooms of Sant'Anselmo were repaired and painted; in particular five rooms on the prior's corridor have been improved with bathroom facilities. Scaffolding was placed around the church to facilitate the repair of the roof tiles and the replacement of the eaves trough. Father Mario Ravizzoli, our economo, is pursuing plans for remodelling rooms and for other repairs of the building.
I thank all of you for your support of the Confederation and of Sant'Anselmo! May the blessings and peace of the Lord remain with you!
Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen, O.S.B.
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OSB. Primate. Letter 9411 / Rev. 950811 / © Copyright 1995-2009 / www.osb.org/intl/prim9411.html