Extract from an article published in the book of the fiftieth anniversary of AIM "So far yet so near"



Brazilian Conference for Monastic Interchange

Vera Lucia Parreiras Horta, osb


17 November 2009 marks the beginningof the existence of CIMBRA as a juridical entity recognised by the state. During a lively meeting, the participants unanimously approved the new statutes, which put a seal on the journey begun on 31 August 1967, in the days after the Council. In 2017, CIMBRA will celebrate its 50th birthday!

CIMBRA’s aims are:

A) To promote and coordinate closeness and contact between male and female religious communities in Brazil guided by the Rule and St Benedict and their respective Constitutions.

B) To promote, organise, and carry out courses, meetings, seminars, debates, encouraging the study of monastic themes and seeking to establish an effective collaboration between their members.

C) To promote exchanges with fellow organisations.

To understand CIMBRA, one has to place the monastic world in Brazil in the perspective of its historical formation and the context of the post-Vatican II Church. A year after the Benedictine Abbots’ meeting in Rome had drawn up a synthesis of principles of Benedictine monastic life, a pioneering group of Benedictine superiors dared to go beyond the limits of their monasteries and their communities and met for the first time in São Paulo, Brazil, in the São Geraldo monastery of Hungarian Benedictine monks. In this group, the presence of an Abbess from the north-east of the country, Mother Mectildes Villaça Castro, OSB, had a strong impact, given the distance travelled and the perceptions of enclosure at the time. This was the beginning of what would later be called CIMBRA: Brazilian conference for monastic interchange. It brought together communities from different monastic families present in the country, from the oldest Benedictine establishment on the American continent in 1582, the Benedictine Congregation of Brazil, restored in the nineteenth century by the Beuron Congregation, to communities of more recent origin. Brazil also had a Cistercian monastic presence, from different monasteries of monks and nuns – Italy, Austria, and Germany – some of which were gathered together within the Brazilian Congregation of Santa Cruz. Female missionary congregations, such as that of the missionary Benedictines of Tutzing, arrived in the country in 1903, and many have developed to form two provinces today (two priories). Having received their formation at Stanbrook Abbey in England, Benedictine nuns arrived in 1911.

New monastic communities joined the pioneering group when, after the Second Vatican Council, European and North American congregations established foundations in our country. This was the case with the American Cassinese and Hungarian congregation – which came during the Second World War – and the Olivetan, Vallambrosian, and, later, a new establishment by the Camaldolese monks. Some of these monastic families included the presence of female communities. There was a new influx of nuns with the arrival of the foundation of the Congregation de la Rainha dos Apóstolos (Queen of Apostles), the Encontro (Encounter) monastery, in the south of the country, where the French Benedictine monks of Tournai were already. More recently, the Encontro monastery founded a Priory in Amazonia, a pioneering presence in the region, followed by two communities of nuns from the Brazilian Congregation. Today Brazil also has male and female Trappists, monasteries which are part of the Subiaco Congregation, communities of Benedictine sisters originally from Italy, Poland, Austria, and the United States, as well as diocesan monasteries. The variety of this presence, which extends through the whole country, with a higher concentration in the south and east of Brazil, finds CIMBRA to be a place of encounter which unites all in fraternity.

Two tasks were necessary during the early years:

to bring together communities present in the country beyond the boundaries of their own congregations,
and to achieve the “aggiornamento” requested by the Council.

The impact of the promulgated documents, combined with those of the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences, such as that at Medellín, raised the question, “How to understand the monastic presence in this new ecclesial and Latin American context?” At the time when the Church was searching to understand itself and its mission in the face of new challenges, monastic life also undertook this search. An internal organisation needed to be established for the group which was emerging. From 1967 until 1974, annual meetings took place at the São Paulo-Morumbi and Rio de Janeiro monasteries, and, from the third meeting, a theme for reflection, such as “Prayer in the life of the monk”, “The monk and the world”, “Monastic youth and formation”, were chosen. The early days were marked by many tensions, caused by sometimes conflicting points of view and by the idea of whether or not to envisage the establishment of a Brazilian congregation, in which all the monastic families would be brought together, a route followed by the Southern Cone, but which did not seem adequate for Brazil.

Leadership groups were formed to coordinate CIMBRA, with the support of the Benedictine Congregation of Brazil, the Hungarian Congregation, and the Morumbi monastery.

From these early days of CIMBRA, we should mention the publication of the Cadernos beneditinos (Benedictine notebooks), the work of the liturgy and singing committees, with the publication of booklets of readings of patristic and other authors, which enriched the Office of Vigils. We should also note the intiatives for the updating of the Divine Office in conformation with the new directions of the Thesaurus Monasticum, a great event in the monastic world in general. The first directories of Benedictines in Brazil, the Centre for Monastic Information, the litugical Bulletin, the news Bulletin, and the beginnings of translation of monastic sources also date from this period. We should also note the help with the cost of travel to meetings and the donation of books.

To reach the current organisation, CIMBRA gave itself simpler statutes. Its leadership was gradually made up of a President and six counsellors, three male and three female. In addition to the balance between male and female houses, we are careful to take the representation of monastic families in Brazil into account.

Through his visits to a large number of communities, Dom Leo Rothrauf prepared the ground for the realisation of the first meeting of CIMBRA JOVEM (Young Cimbra) in 1976. Dom Paulo Rocha was remarkably active in CIMBRA publications. Thanks to the help of Dom Timóteo Amoroso Anastácio, OSB, who knew Latin and Greek, we were able to translate the Institutions and Conferences of Cassian into Portuguese, along with various Lives and other monastic sources. The importance of the study of these sources for the study of the Rule of St Benedict became obvious during the courses given by Sr Aquinata Böckmann, OSB, and Adalbert de Vogué, OSB, from 1981 onwards. These meetings offered a space for reflection and proper monastic work, material still used today.

1972 brought a great novelty: the first Latin American Monastic Meeting today called EMLA. Organised at the São Bento de Rio de Janeiro monastery, it had the theme, “Monastic life today in Latin America”. The first step towards the congregation of monastic families of the three Americas, EMLA became regular, gradually organised into the form called UMLA, the Latin American Monastic Union. The three monastic organisations of South America, ABECCA, CIMBRA, and CONOSUR, are all part of this, and today it has a small status. The EMLA Meetings take place every four years, each time in one of the regions mentioned. Today the Latin American monastic world knows itself, and is united by solid links of fraternity and mutual help.

1976 was marked by the achievement of the first meeting of young people in formation, held at São Bento de Rio de Janeiro monastery, with the theme “The Benedictine Community at the service of the Church”. These meetings, called CIMBRA JOVENS (Young Cimbra) have become a tradition. They have been held every two years without interruption since their establishment, in the form of study weeks. A team led by Sr Úrsula Worringen, OSB, Mother Teresa Paula Perdigão, OSB and Abbess Paula Iglésias, OSB, and other collaborators, marked generations by the deepening of monastic life and the establishment of links of friendship which mark the whole of life. Recently a CIMBRA JOVEM took place divided into three annual sessions, in the form of a course on patristics.

In 1979 CIMBRA extended its work into the field of liturgy, by organising Weeks of Sacred Music. The best trained monks and nuns in this field met with professionals, tackling the study of Gregorian chant and music in general, and began to establish a repertoire in the vernacular for the Divine Office and the Mass.

Meetings of those in full vows, on a variety of themes – the twice-yearly meetings, as they are known – are CIMBRA’s normal means for enabling ongoing nourishment. Sometimes choosing themes such as prayer, work, health, the strongest periods of monasticism like the fifteenth centenary of St Benedict’s birth, and sometimes by linking the monastic reality to the steps of the Church in Latin America, after each Episcopal Conference CIMBRA looks to exercise a role of leadership in monastic life in the country, as an interlocutor on the way. We hope in this way to accomplish our mission by rereading history, going deep into its roots and turning our eyes towards the future to be built.

The latest achievement of CIMBRA is the School of the Lord’s service, a programme for formators divided into two, twenty-day sessions a year. With these initiatives and yet others, CIMBRA, attentive to contemporary monastic movements of the different families linked by the Rule of St Benedict, constitutes one of the many constellations which today enrich the world of monasticism and for which we are always full of gratitude.