Fr Martin Neyt, OSB, President of the AIM

Did the history of humanity begin with a gesture of compassion for a neighbour? Xavier Le Pichon reports on remarkable behaviour of the first human beings on earth and refers to the evangelist St Luke, apostle of divine mercy, ‘the friend of the poor and suffering, the evangelist of the Good Samaritan, of the Prodigal Son, of the Rich Man and Lazarus.’ Jesus Christ, close to children, to little ones, to the sick, to those who suffer – such is surely the heart of the gospel, the Beatitudes, the attitude which St Benedict expects from his disciples.

We must recall also that wonderful text of the Jewish tradition on visiting the sick: ‘One who visits the sick should not sit down on the edge of the bed or in a chair; he should cover himself completely and sit in front of the sick person, for the Shekinah is above the head of the sick person. The Eternal sustains him on his bed of sickness.’ Every visit acquires a sacred dimension, filled with the divine presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The theme of this Bulletin, ‘Healing and saving’, draws an essential dimension of community life from the heart of Christianity.

St Benedict well knew that the only effective remedy for suffering and evil is sharing and compassion. In the Rule the abbot is compared to a doctor, drawing his inspiration from Christ who came to care for wounded humanity. ‘Above all, he must care for the sick and serve them as if they really were Christ’ (RB 36), or again, ‘Let them very patiently put up with one another’s infirmities, physical or moral’ (RB 72). This monastic tradition dates from the first beginnings in Egypt. ‘Here is a man capable of healing and saving’, declares Abba Antony, pointing at his disciple Paphnutius as he proclaims a word of life and healing to a divided community (Alph. Antony, 29). Pachomius was converted by
Christians who cared for him. Martin gave the beggar of Amiens part of his cloak because he saw in him Christ lacking clothing. It is not difficult to multiply examples. Br Jean-Yves Mercier, OSB, recalls to us the intuition of the founder of the community of Croixrault in the diocese of Amiens, underlining the dimension of compassion on the road to healing. The witness of P. Guerric Baudet, OCSO, former Abbot of Notre Dame de Scourmont, analyses the transformation of fraternal relationships which develops in a monastic infirmary: relationships are more intense, masks fall away, forgiveness flourishes, a new secret bond emerges. The end of life seems to be a foundational moment, the transition from disfigurement to transfiguration.

This profound flowering of compassion spreads into the social fabric of which monasteries are a part. Monastic communities have taken responsibility for many social services. Two examples are given: Sr Maria Consuelo Taverès, OSB, describes the work of the Tutzing Sisters in north-east Brazil; the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, USA, present the support which they have been giving for a number of years to the population around them. The former have established social centres, taking part in the evangelization and human advancement of different strata of the population: crèches, children, adolescents, adults, single mothers, people of the third age. In Pennsylvania the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, who originally cared for the children of German immigrants, cater for the needs of the whole population; their activities carry symbolic names: ‘Emmaus Soup-Kitchen’ (the largest soup-kitchen in the State), ‘Sister Gus’s Kids Cafe’, ‘Inner City Neighborhood Art House’, ‘St Benedict’s Education Centre’, ‘Benetwood Apartments’, and still other enterprises which win the respect and admiration of the population. Lived examples similar to those in Brazil and the USA may be found in many countries. We can only thank God for the presence and activity of so many monasteries which take their environment to heart.

Monastic life is first of all a summons to enter into oneself, for no one can genuinely meet another person without opening up the thought and feelings of the other, their sufferings and their life. We are called to heal interiorly, to transform our memory of the past at the same time as welcoming the other as he or she is. This is impossible without the presence of the Healer of our hearts who comes to make all things new and look towards the future in hope. Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM, lost two hands in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, and has established in Capetown an Institute for the healing of memories. The truth of his testimony is poignant, a source of life and healing for each one of us. To become creatures of memory is to keep alive the memory of the Redemption, and make life spring up where death, sadness and despair have reigned.

Another aspect developed is ‘this light from above, of such splendour that it surpasses that of the day and enlightens the darkness’. The long article of Maricarmen Bracamontes, OSB, of Torréon in Mexico, explains the many layers of hope in the person and in the community, cries of hope in the Church and in religious life, the way the Benedictine Rule embodies hope, and makes us ‘accomplices of the divine mercy’. Donna Demetillo describes with a marvellous passion the healing power of the Seven Gardens: look after our mother earth and she will look after you! This is a whole programme which deserves a full issue of our Bulletin on the lasting developments of our monasteries.

In conclusion we give some impressions of the Symposium Communio Inter Benedictinarum (CIB) held at Rome in September 2010.We also announce to you that the AIM will celebrate its 50 years of existence on the 10th and 11th of November at the Abbey of Ligugé. It was in 1961, on the occasion of the sixteenth centenary of the foundation of Ligugé by St Martin that Dom Benno Gut, OSB, Abbot Primate of the Benedictines and Dom Gabriel Sortais, OCSO, Abbot General of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, in the company of other monastic personalities, confirmed the existence of a Secretariat for helping the foundation of monasteries. This was entrusted to Abbot Marie de Floris, OSB. We recall that at the time, the report of P. Cornelius Tholens, Abbot of Slagenburg, referring to the encyclical Fidei Donum of Pope Pius XII, noted that, ‘Before any progress is made, the abbots must, in the name of the Order, recognize the need for monks of the Order of St Benedict to go out to meet people, races and religious.’ At that time there were nine Benedictine monasteries in Africa, and six in Asia. Today the work which has become the Alliance Inter Monastères covers 450 communities. The service rendered by the AIM has evolved considerably in the course of these years. The world in general and the Church in its own way have experienced cultural revolutions linked to the globalization of relationships and intercontinental exchanges. The time has come to consider seriously the task which confronts the AIM in the face of the development of monasteries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Addendum: On 5th February, 2011, Fr Cornelius Tholens died at the age of 95. He was one of the original architects of the AIM and DIM/MID. The AIM extends most sincere condolences and assurance of prayers to his family and his community. A future Bulletin will pay him due homage.