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Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome
SOME PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON THE FIRST WORLD CONGRESS OF BENEDICTINE OBLATES IN ROME. Margot Knight OSB Obl. St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, Kent, England. When I arrived at Ciampino airport on 19th September 2005 it was the first time I had ever been to Rome. As it was midday it was very hot, and it was a relief to see Alberto holding up his sign with 'Congresso Mondiale Oblati Benedettini' written on it in bold letters. The driveway to the Salesianum was extremely impressive with huge palm trees and peacocks roaming the vast grounds. We registered according to nationality, and were given name tags to wear each day with our Abbey name and the languages we could converse in on it, to encourage conversation amongst the Oblates from other countries. This, in fact was instrumental in initiating some interesting conversations in Italian and French. After lunch we were allocated rooms, and had time to freshen up before Vespers in the Chapel. This was presided over by Piero Marini, Dean of Papal liturgical celebrations and an Oblate of St George's, Venice. Next we had the introduction to the Congress by Angela Fiorillo, national co-ordinator of Italian Oblates, in Italian, then Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, OSB spoke to us in English. This all took place in the very impressive conference hall which was equipped with earphones to translate all the talks into various languages. The next morning I woke up early and went down with my video camera to film the Salesianum at 6.30 am before it was busy. However, in the coffee area there was already a group of African Oblates singing and praying, and on entering the dark Chapel I saw that there were already Oblates sitting in silent prayer. At 7 am we breakfasted then went to Lauds followed by a talk. Mass was in different languages every day, as was Vespers, and we all had a book of the Liturgy for each day. Each morning and afternoon we had a conference in the lecture hall after which there was time for questions and comments, and these proved to be most interesting. The Conferences were based on the theme of what the Oblate has to offer the Monastery, and what the Monastery has to offer the Oblate. The Monastery is a place where God's Spirit transforms, where one is revitalized. How an Oblate's home should reflect the Monastery's atmosphere, as should the behaviour of the Oblate in the workplace. On Thursday there were two presentations on inter-religious dialogue and Islam and Sufism, and The Mission: Justice, Peace and the Care of Creation. Saturday was the most memorable day for me when we went to Monte Cassino, and assisted at a Mass in the beautiful Basilica. After the homily we made a renewal of our Oblation vows, which I found very emotional, and it was difficult to believe we were truly where St Benedict and St Scholastica had actually walked. I was very surprised that we were invited into the enclosure of the Monastery into the refectory to eat our lunch, and afterwards there was a short time to wander around and admire the paintings in the Monastery, which were a sight to behold. Afterwards we were split into language groups for a full tour including the catacombs where St Benedict had his cell. I took photos of the old altar where St Benedict and St Scholastica's remains are buried, and where a bomb landed on the altar steps and failed to detonate during World War II. I visited the repository where they were selling the same Benedictine items of piety that I sell in Ramsgate Abbey! There was also a little shop selling home made honey and herbal remedies and salves, all of which were extremely popular. Latin Vespers ended our very busy day, and we returned for our farewell dinner followed by many speeches and votes of thanks. Sunday was our last day in Rome and after Lauds in Spanish and Mass, we travelled by six coaches to Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope for an audience with Pope Benedict who gave the Oblates a special blessing. It was a fitting end to a very memorable week where we conversed and exchanged views with Oblates from all around the world during the first ever world conference of Oblates. It was enlightening to see how Oblates from other countries celebrated the Mass and prayed the Divine Office. We can truly say that we have taken part in an historical event! My first encounter with the Benedictines was when I visited St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, one Saturday to take part in 'A Day With Mary'. This is a Catholic devotion that takes place every Saturday in a different church in the south of England. The minute I stepped into the Abbey church I felt like I had found my spiritual home as it was so steeped in prayer. From that time on I attended daily Mass at the Abbey instead of going to my Anglican church. I really felt drawn to the Oblates, but I had to wait a year before I could be enrolled as a novice Oblate as I had to be instructed in the Catholic Faith and received into the Church first My understanding of being an Oblate is someone who offers themselves to God, to Our Saviour, to Our Blessed Lady and to our Holy Fr St Benedict, promising to work at the conversion of their lives, according to the Rule of St Benedict. The word Oblate is derived from oblatus meaning something offered - an offering to God. Being an Oblate has changed my life in several ways. The Mass is the most important part of my daily life, it is such a privilege to receive Our Lord, and I offer up prayers of thanks throughout the day for this. Tuesday is a special day for Oblates, which is set apart for the special veneration of St Benedict. I like to say my morning and evening prayer and pray a Rosary, and if I am able, I really enjoy taking part in Latin Vespers with the Monks. Since I made full Oblation I have done various tasks every day for the Monastery, from helping with the library work, cleaning the church, managing the Abbey Repository to preparing the Parish rooms for coffee after Sunday Mass. Oblation means drawing away from the spirit of the world and worldly habits, resisting temptations, bearing trials and suffering patiently, and trying to conform myself to Christ It is an ongoing processand I try to apply Oblate values to all areas of my life, particularly at home or when out and about. In conclusion, I would say that Oblation changes your life in so many ways that it is not possible to list them all here. Little did his mother know when she gave birth to St Benedict one thousand five hundred and twenty-six years ago that his Holy Rule would influence so many people's lives over the centuries, thus helping to make the world a much better place to live in.