Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB
Sant' Anselmo, Rome

The Concerns of the Abbot Primate
of the Benedictine Confederation


At the meeting of the Council of the AIM at Dinklage (Germany)
in October 2021 the Abbot Primate shared with us some news and concerns.



PolanGIt is wonderful to have this opportunity to finally be together again, to hear of the good work that has been done through AIM, and to have the freedom for an in-presence meeting here at the Abbey of Dinklage. When we had our meeting of the Synod of Abbot Presidents in early September, there was a genuine spirit of fraternal joy to once again be able to be together, to hear of the situations in our various Congregations, and to look to the future with some hope. Today I would like to share with you six different points which come from my present work for the Confederation, and some things going on within the Confederation.

First, I would like to offer a few thoughts with regard to the pandemic. Throughout the Confederation, it has been a difficult time for all of our monastic communities. For some it was sickness and eventual death, and for others it was establishing a new rhythm of life during this difficult and uncertain time. For us at Sant’Anselmo, it has been a time of living with a host of 123 members last year, and 93 residents this year. Keeping everyone safe and in good health has been a worthwhile and good challenge. From what I have heard through-out the Confederation is that during this time of the pandemic, it has been an opportunity for communities to deepen their experience of lectio divina, both in private and in common. In addition to that, several different communities have talked about their experience of faith sharing, which has been a fraternal experience, deepening ties among the members. It has also been inspiring to hear of the ways in which different communities have reached out and tried to be of service to others. Live-streaming their liturgies has been a worthwhile way of keeping connected to those who are their Oblates and friends. Several communities have talked about the impact that silence has had during this period of the pandemic. It has deepened a sense of prayer within the communities, and also been a reflective time for the monks, and also the nuns and sisters from whom I have received letters.

Second, it has been in the last year that we have seen the development of several programs of monastic formation in different languages, often coming from our Monastic Institute here at Sant’Anselmo. I think we all know that the formation of new members in our communities is one of the most important endeavors that we are involved in. It is wonderful to know that during this time when we have been restricted with regard to travel, our time has been well spent developing these programs of formation. This is something that I hope we will be able to continue into the future.

Third, as the restrictions for the time of the pandemic have been slightly lifted, travel has become more possible, enabling me to participate in a variety of different things: preaching retreats, attending meetings of our Foundations, participating in monastic jubilees and celebrations, and also meeting with communities that wish some guidance and encouragement.

Fourth, one of the projects at Sant’Anselmo that has occupied our time and energy has been the renovation of one floor of our guest facilities, our foresteria. After some consultation, we decided that we would renovate only one of the floors, and give a clean coat of paint to the other floor. The reason for this is because we have a variety of student groups that would be coming and using these facilities and putting them to good use. For example, we have a “study abroad program” with St. Vincent College in the United States, the Monastic Formators’ Program, and different pilgrimage groups from our monasteries. They are very satisfied with simple accommodation, and pleased that they can have accommodations at a lower cost. The rooms in the renovated guest department are certainly a welcome advance in our hospitality, an important charism for our Benedictine life.

Fifth, there has been the opportunity to have two serious visits at the Congregation for Consecrated Life. The first relates to the fact that we have had four Apostolic Visitations of monasteries in the last two years. It has been unfortunate that the Commissario in two of these situations have not been monks. In one situation a Carmelite has been put in place for the Apostolic Visitation, and in the second a retired Archbishop. In both of these cases, they have not understood a lot of the distinct characteristics of Benedictine life, tradition, and spirituality. I asked the Congregation that when the question of an Apostolic Visitation would come forward, that they would relate with me and the Abbot President to be able to find someone good to intervene in these situations. A second important discussion related to an audience that seven Major Superiors had with Pope Francis. The question that was posed to him was the question of a “Papal privilege” which would allow a non-clerical member to be placed as a superior of a community. The Holy Father was very attentive and responsive to our request. He said that he would support it, but in the end, this final decision would have to be left to the Congregation for Consecrated Life. Each of us, seven Superior Generals, had a distinct letter explaining our particular situation which we gave to the Holy Father in the midst of our 35-minute discussion with him.

Sixth, I take this occasion to express my personal feelings and beliefs that, though our numbers are down in those coming to monastic life, I think that there is strong reason for hope. Hope is a significant virtue, because it calls us to believe in something with a conviction of a brighter future even though it is difficult to see beyond the horizon. If we look at the history of monastic life, we see that there are times when different movements and wars have had an impact on the number of people entering monastic communities. There are times of ascent, and times of diminishment. Our 1,500-year history shows us that, even in the worst of times, there has been a resurgence that follows, giving us reason to hope in the future. I think it is also important to be able to see that during this time of the pandemic, monastic communities throughout the world have really come together, united in their efforts to work together in peace and harmony, and also to be of service to others. These are important elements that distinguish our monastic life and give us reason to believe that the Benedictine tradition will continue into the future for many years to come.

I would now ask if there are any thoughts, reactions, or questions that you would like to present to me regarding the information I have passed on to you, or anything related to a topic of the Confederation.