Young people and Monasteries.
The subject of this 2007 - 89 bulletin, which is ‘Young people and Monasteries', lies within different cultural contexts depending on which of the continents we are dealing with. The presence of one, two or more young vocations, or even none at all, is an invitation to communities to listen attentively to what is conspicuous, or to pray fervently and to make fresh commitments: "new questions and thoughts in the West, attracting young people in Vietnam, putting down roots in Chile and elsewhere". These are three views which are influenced by the places, the people and the times.
Father Christopher Jamison, OSB, Abbot of Worth, does not flinch from tackling the paradox of the decline in religious life in Great Britain, including that of the English Benedictine Congregation, so as to "relinquish a narcissistic view which states that everything is fine about our present way of life." He says that we should leave behind the agreeable land of optimism and venture forth into the uncomfortable territory of hope. As for the Abbot of La Pierre-Qui-Vire, Father Luc Cornuau, OSB, he gives a report of a European meeting of 22 monks and sisters who share their new experiences that emphasise the importance of living connections between the young people in monasteries as well as the need for a profound re-direction of our hearts, a conversion, so as to develop tranquillity in monasteries. Yet other new questions are cropping up in our old continent....
In contrast to what is evident in Europe, Mother Agnes, who is Prioress of the monastery of Thu-Duc, shares her community life which develops within the Vietnamese culture. Centred on village life and on an aquatic agriculture, the Vietnamese people are privileged with humane virtues and hospitality. The testimony of young sisters clarifies the saying "as black as ink but as bright as light". This light coming from elsewhere explains the number of vocations in the Holy Family Congregation which is the largest congregation of this Cistercian Order. For Vietnam is steeped in the values of religious life (Buddhism, Confucianism, Caodaïsm).
Through this dimension of interiority, young monks find a new family spirit that is centred on the person of Christ, that is to say it is a way of living out the ideal of the first Christians " who lived heart and soul". Candidates for monastic life are moved by the liturgy, hymns, chants and tunes used in the singing of the psalms. Formation plays a large part in the life of young monks. "The Holy Spirit's power breaks through within the Church in Vietnam and in the Cistercian congregation of the Holy Family". AIM which is a witness to this, joins in the thanksgiving to God for this new source of monasticism which is refreshing the Christian life of the area.
Questions and reflections in the West, the attractiveness in Vietnam, and the taking of roots in Chile! The Apostolic Movement of Manquehue is well known to readers of this Bulletin!1 Benedictine spirituality shines forth from three colleges in Santiago, Chile. The schools of divine service have 1500, 800 and 1300 pupils respectively. What is more, since 2001, a community of Oblates has become established in Chilean Patagonia at ‘Malin Grande' where the community has introduced many people to ‘lectio divina' and the divine office. There too, as elsewhere, the Rule of St Benedict influences young people where it is lived authentically under the Spirit of God. Sister Mary David Totah, OSB, distinguishes the vibrant heart of Benedictine tradition from the out of date practices which are of no interest to the young. Values are handed on by actions and by bearing living testimony.
The experience of the Taizé monks reminds us wisely of two fundamental dimensions regarding young people and probably adults as well. Brother Aloïs, the Prior, starts off with human weaknesses. They are so many doors through which the Holy Spirit is able to come into our lives and to quote Brother Roger Schutz: "Prayer is a source of love for you. Surrender yourself body and soul in a boundless gratuitousness. Every day probe some of the words of Scripture, so as to come face to face with someone other than yourself, that is to say the Risen Christ. In silence allow the living word of Christ to be born in you so as to put it into practice straight away." ‘Choose to love, choose hope', everyday in our community life this phrase can ring out.
Weakness and the presence of the Holy Spirit are at the heart of the Continent of Africa. Several communities, many of them young, have undergone the impossible. The Mokoto community was driven from its property in May 1996 and went to live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near Lake Bukavu, at Kyeshero. It regained its strength and numbers more than 28 brothers. The Benedictine community of Kinshasa, was forced to leave Katanga and escaping from the region of Kindu, it has laid the first stones of a new monastery in the area around the city. These examples, far from distancing us from our subject, reflect the profound spiritual dynamism which, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, comes through ordeals, failures, and even destruction and does not wear down the courage of young people consecrated to monastic life. The reader will also read with interest the reflections of the Council of the AIM which was held at the Abbey of Montserrat where they shared their experiences on the subject of communion and separation. How can we welcome young people to our monasteries? The truth goes through able men and women, under the divine breath, who find among themselves genuine ways of communion generated from a living tradition capable of adapting to every circumstance it meets.
Just as the threads weave back and forth on the loom, formation and information disclose new aspects of monastic topics. In this AIM Bulletin a new heading expands our vision of the Church: ecumenism. Thanks to the welcome saved for us by the monastic community of Bose, the tasks of the Russian Church open up to us with new Orthodox viewpoints. The excellent meeting of the monasteries of Latin America in presenting "The Benedictine peace, a gift and a challenge in the Latin-American context" also deserves our undivided attention. Lastly, AIM is delighted with an important work concerning an environmental survey "Listening to the Earth" carried out by the Benedictines of Erie and published by the World Bank department "Faith and Environment Initiative" in partnership with "Alliance for Conservation and Religion" and which deals with respect for creation. 2
Father Martin Neyt OSB
President of the AIM
1 Note particularly Bulletin 2001 No 73 p.28-34 dealing with Benedictine education.
2 Published in English, Spanish and Portuguese, this 190 page volume which was thought up by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in Pennsylvania, USA, in 2006 offers solutions to environmental problems (air, pollution, drinking water, sanitation, renewable energy, plans of action....). The work can be obtained from the central head office of the AIM at Vanves by addressing your email to Sister M. Placid Dolores, OSB, on the email of the AIM-Vanves.