Account of the Meeting of the Monasteries of Central Africa
Brother Jean Chico Mabonzo, OSB Monastery of Mambre (RDC)
A meeting of AIM for the monasteries of Central Africa with their superiors was held Monday 14th to Friday 18th July, 2014. Several communities could not be present, namely those of Rwanda and of Congo-Brazzaville, so that only those of the Democratic Republic of Congo were able to participate, namely Katanga, Goma, Bukavu, Kikwit, Kinshasa, and a delegation from Chad. Abbot John of Kappadu in India had been invited, and P. Martin Neyt of Clerlande was also present. A total of thirteen communities represented the three monastic Orders (OSB, OCSO and Bernardine Cistercians), in all twenty-nine participants.
The opening day began on the morning of Monday 14th July with a Mass presided by Mgr Edouard Kisonga, auxiliary bishop and vicar general for religious. The theme of the 2014 session was ‘Monastic Identity: prayer, work and lectio divina’. During the first two days P. Martin Neyt spoke on different aspects of this theme.
P. Martin’s first conference was on community life. By our baptism we receive the Spirit of God, the Spirit of adoption as sons which makes us brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and enables us to pray with Jesus, ‘Abba, Father’. Our vocation as Benedictines living in community is a prolongation of this baptism. It is a vocation to life under a Rule and an abbot. St Benedict, a Roman in late antiquity, offers himself as a master. He lays out everything with order, discipline, moderation, balance. Thus the Benedictine life is composed of prayer and work, in which each person plays a part in the service of others.
There is more to it than that. Community life presents itself as a living body, needing constant maintenance. The Benedictine rule and the position of the abbot find their place in the life of the first community of the Acts of the Apostles, and are characterised by boundless attention to individuals, weak or strong, young or old. It is all the expression of love and compassion, of which chapter 73 of the Rule is a wonderful summary. Afterwards P. Martin spoke of prayer as presence and interior fire for the monk or the nun and the whole community
Abbot John opted for the method of question-and-answer to ensure a more lively participation of the delegates; this allowed us to lay out the most practical problems. He responded to questions among other things on the vow of stability, on the content of the vow of conversio morum, on monks and nuns who become gyrovagues, on the sin of luxury, on the monastic charism with regard to different missionary Congregations. He also proposed a course to follow to initiate young people into lectio divina. With wisdom and a wealth of knowledge Abbot John led us through the scriptures and the Rule of St Benedict.
These two opening conferences were discussed in groups, which issued in guidelines. The superiors met to study how to organise future meetings for all the categories, among themselves, the simply professed, the solemnly professed, novice-masters and mistresses, etc. A final evaluation of the session formulated comments, wishes and thanks for these sessions. We all wanted to move forward and see these meetings of AIM in Central Africa continue regularly. The meeting was, therefore, a success, crowned by two monastic simple professions and one solemn profession in the monastery of Mambre, which welcomed us in a fine fraternal ambiance.