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Norcia’s Benedictines: Recovery Under Way in Wake of Devastating Quake

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Restoration of Norcia’s Benedictine monastery and basilica will cost millions of dollars, following the recent devastating earthquake, according to the community’s monks.

“Both the church and the monastery are too dangerous to live in,” Benedictine Father Cassian Folsom, prior of the Monastery of St. Benedict and a Massachusetts native, said. “So we’ve put up two tents; one is a dormitory, and the other is a chapel.”

The tents are located about a mile away, outside the city walls, next to a medieval monastery the monks have been restoring but which was also badly damaged by the natural disaster; it will need to be rebuilt.

Pentin-NORCIA-650x495The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the region Aug. 24, and its continued aftershocks, forced the monks to transfer to Rome for three days, leaving two of their brethren to camp out in tents so they could mind the basilica and monitor developments. Almost all of them have since returned and will be living in the makeshift accommodations until buildings are made safe.

The birthplace of St. Benedict, the patron of Europe, Norcia was just eight miles from the quake’s epicenter. But it remarkably escaped with relatively little damage and no loss of life, compared to the nearby towns of Amatrice and Accumoli. Although just 25 miles by car from Norcia, they and a number of surrounding medieval mountaintop villages were closer to the fault line and had many buildings that were not earthquake-proof, and so were practically wiped out by the natural disaster that took 291 lives, many of them children.

The true extent of the damage won’t be known until a full analysis can be carried out once the aftershocks have ended, but Father Cassian predicts it will be a “huge rebuilding project.”

norciaprayerThe Monastery of St. Benedict, which has only been in Norcia since 2000 (Napoleonic laws forced the previous community to flee in 1810), has become well established and much loved by the local people. One of the few religious communities in the world to celebrate both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite, the monastery draws thousands of visitors every year. It recently became famous for its brewery, opened in 2012, which produces its popular “Birra Nursia.”

Norcia is part of the beautiful region of Umbria, the so-called “Land of the Saints” because of the many holy men and women born there, and the “Green Heart of Italy,” on account of its verdant, alpine scenery. August is the height of the tourist season there, but the town was practically deserted the weekend after the quake, except for emergency vehicles and some television vans. Many of the citizens who remained in the town camped outside in fields or slept in cars.

The town and some of its surrounding villages have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, most recently after the town was struck by an earthquake in 1979 and reconstructed using earthquake-resistant techniques.Facade

Subprior Father Benedict Nivakoff said the earthquake “sadly served as a healthy reminder” for modern society, where “people can get so used to things being exactly how they expect them to be” that they cannot “control everything.” He said it will take some time for the town to get back to normal, and as it is very hard to obtain earthquake insurance, those hardest hit, including the monastery, will apply for government grants to help rebuild.

But for the monks, too, who take a vow of stability to live the rest of their lives where they took their vows, the event will serve a useful purpose, helping them to “root” themselves even more in the locality. “When you lose something that you’ve come to love, and we’ve been restoring this place for the last 15 years, one has to really dig in more; and so that’s what we’re doing, renewing and expanding our commitment,” said Father Nivakoff.

He said people can help by praying for them, the people in Norcia and the people hard hit in Amatrice and Accumoli. “That’s the most important thing: supporting us with prayers, sacrifices, acts of charity,” he said. He also said people can also help the rebuilding efforts by buying a best-selling CD of Gregorian chant that the monks produced last year, buying their beer and also making donations.

Father Nivakoff said the monks will also be giving around 15%-20% of whatever they raise to the people who most need it.

“The vow of stability means you love the place,” said Father Cassian. “We love the place, and so it needs to be rebuilt.”

Pope in New Constitution Renews Legislation for Cloistered Life

Early morning light streams to Sister Christine Reinhart  meditating during Lauds,  the second of two morning prayer sessions at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey  near Dubuque, Iowa.  The community of 22 Roman Catholic women follow Jesus Christ through a life of prayer, silence, simplicity and ordinary work.  Their home is a beautiful monastery which sits high on a bluff, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Pope Francis has given an update to legislation on contemplative life, since the last apostolic constitution for that “illustrious portion of Christ’s flock” is from 1950, and legislation for cloisters hadn’t been revised since then.

A new apostolic constitution, Vultum Dei Quaerere, was presented today in the Vatican press office by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life.

This “illustrious portion of Christ’s flock,” as St. Cyprian described it, constitutes the beating heart of faith and of the love of the Church for the Lord and for humanity, the archbishop said.

The Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi , which dates from 1950, during the papacy of Pius XII, was the regulation in force for cloisters until now.  Vultum Dei Quaerere is therefore valuable inasmuch as it fills the gap of the post-conciliar years, the consequences of which were starting to become evident, the Archbishop indicated.

“This gave rise to the concern of Pope Francis, a pastor attentive to the life of his flock, and his decision to give a new document to all those who in the Church, ‘men and women called by God and in love with Him, [who] have devoted their lives exclusively to seeking His face, longing to find and contemplate God in the heart of the world,'” continued the prelate.

The Holy Father, to underline his esteem for this particular form of consecration mysteriously called to give light to all humanity from silence and from the cloister, gives precise indications regarding the fundamental elements of a life of contemplation that, while not the exclusive prerogative of women, is mostly female.

“Therefore, in outlining the essential elements there is no lack of explicit references to contemplative women, to whom there is presented the icon of Mary as summa contemplatrix, Mary, Virgin, Bride and Mother, who welcomes and treasures the Word in order to give it back to the world … to help to bring Christ to birth and increase in the hearts of men and women.”

The Archbishop focused on the key points of the new Apostolic Constitution, emphasising that not by chance the first of these is formation, a theme which has for many years been of special interest for the Magisterium. “In this regard, the Holy Father on the one hand recalls that the usual place for formation for a contemplative community is the monastery, yet on the other expresses his hope for collaboration between more than one monastery, in various ways: the exchange of materials, the prudent use of digital media, common houses of initial formation, and the willingness of some sisters prepared to help monasteries with fewer resources.”

With reference to the ample space that the document dedicates to prayer, he indicated the Pope’s important clarification that prayer and contemplative life cannot be lived as a form of self-absorption, but must instead enlarge the heart to embrace all humanity, especially those who suffer.

“If it is a profound desire in the heart of Pope Francis to have an outbound Church,” he affirmed, “this is also applicable to those who are called to live out their lives within the walls of the cloister: the attention of the heart, in its maternal care, must continually extend the boundaries of prayer, so that it not only looks upward, to contemplate the holy face of God, but also descends to the depths, to encounter the suffering of man at his loneliest and most marginalized.”

Archbishop Rodríguez Carballo also referred to another two elements that are currently a subject of discernment and reflection for monasteries of contemplative life: autonomy, linked to the role of federations, and cloisters.

All monasteries, except in special cases, judged by the Holy See, are to be grouped in federations, and there is the interesting possibility for membership of federations to be based not only on geographical criteria but also on the basis of affinities of spirit and traditions. Likewise it is hoped that this will lead to the association, also juridical, of corresponding monasteries of men’s Orders, comparable to the formation of the international Confederations and Commissions of the different Orders.

With regard to cloisters, the three types of cloistered life already considered in Vita Consacrata are redefined: that is, the papal, constitutional and monastic cloisters, enabling individual monasteries to carry out careful discernment, respecting their own right to eventually ask the Holy See for permission to embrace a form of cloistered life different from their current one.

Archbishop Rodríguez Carballo concluded by reiterating that in Vultum Dei Quaerere, the Pope has considered all areas of contemplative life.

“With this Apostolic Constitution, his thought is translated into clear guidelines, that will be presented to the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, who will have the task of drafting a new document to substitute the existing one, Verbi sponsa, which contains the legislation regulating the formation, autonomy and cloistered life of monasteries of contemplative or wholly contemplative life.”

For full text of document click here.

Cloistered Nuns Want to Pray for You

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The following reflection was written by Rev. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, who serves as parochial vicar at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Many people in our world are in need of prayer. All we have to do is turn on the news these days and see how much prayer our world truly needs with terrorism and senseless violence. We know people, or perhaps ourselves, who need prayers for health, employment, or discernment, to name just a few. Fortunately for us, some people dedicate their entire life to prayer, especially interceding for the world, the Church, and priests. The witness of these men and women in religious life who dedicate hours to prayer should inspire all of us to make time each and everyday for prayer.

In my work as a priest, I have had the privilege to celebrate Mass for a number of cloistered religious communities. Last year I shared “Why I Love Consecrated Religious” and this year I wish to draw attention to a number of these communities. One reason why I love consecrated religious is because they make great sacrifices. This is particularly true for women who join a cloistered community, because once the young postulant knocks on the door, and enters into the cloister, she does not leave except in extreme circumstances. Oftentimes they are separated from those who visit their monastery by a barrier called a grille. They give a radical witness to the world of what it means to love Jesus. It takes a special person whom God has called to join such a community, but their love for Jesus should inspire us. Each day they chant the Divine Office seven times, attend Mass, have times for personal prayer, spiritual reading, and all this is in addition to any other work their community does. They are prayer warriors who seek to be in intimate communion with Jesus their spouse.

Recently in my travels, I visited a monastery of sisters, and had a prayer intention to leave with them. I noticed their basket for prayer requests and wrote mine down. This has been true for every cloistered community I have visited. These nuns want to pray for you. Here are five orders of nuns who will intercede for you if you write and ask.

Discalced Carmelites
There are two types of Carmelites, the O.Carm and O.C.D. (Order of Discalced Carmelites). The Discalced Carmelites are cloistered religious who do not wear shoes–the meaning of the word discalced. Their foundation dates back to the great reformer, St. Teresa of Avila. I have had the privilege to get to know one particular monastery located in my diocese–the Holy Name of Jesus Monastery in Denmark, Wisconsin. There are several other Carmelites in the United States. See if you have a monastery in your diocese or in your state. Write them a letter, and ask them to remember you in prayer. The website for the Discalced Carmelites have a listing of all the sisters in the USA. Visit this link.

Poor Clares and Poor Clare Colettines
Many people are familiar with the Poor Clare Nuns because one of the most notable figures of the Poor Clare’s passed away on Easter Sunday this year, namely Mother Angelica. The Poor Clares are associated with St. Clare of Assisi, who worked closely with St. Francis of Assisi and established a community for women. Like other orders, there have been reforms within the Poor Clares. In addition to the OSC (Order of Saint Clare), there is a branch of Poor Clares called “Colettines” named after St. Colette, who in 1406, felt called to reform the Poor Clares and return to a life of poverty and austerity.

Recently, a young cinematographer, sought to capture the life of the Poor Clare Colettines in Rockford, Illinois, with her documentary Chosen, that has yet to be released. Besides Mother Angelica, another popular Poor Clare was Mother Mary Francis, from the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, New Mexico. She was a prolific writer, authoring many texts, including A Right to be Merry, Anima Christi-Soul of Christ, But I Have Called You Friends, and Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience, in addition to two books focusing on the themes of Advent and Lent.

There are Poor Clare Monasteries all throughout the United States, 26 states to be exact. This Poor Clare website lists all the different types (OSC, PCC, PCPA) of Poor Clare Monasteries. See if your state has a monastery.

Cistercians and Trappistines
The Cistercian order began when several monks left the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme because of a lax following of the Rule of St. Benedict. Robert of Molesme, Alberic, and Stephen Harding are the well known founders of the Cistercian order, established the Abbey of Cîteaux. The Trappists, known as Cistercians of the Strict Observance, were a reform of this reform. That’s right, that is a threefold reform of striving to live more faithfully the rule of St. Benedict. To my knowledge, there is one monastery of Cistercian nuns in the United States, located in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The have two websites, this one (about their life) and another one about their hopes to build a new monastery. In the United States there are five monasteries of Trappist Nuns.

Handmaids of the Precious Blood
During my seminary years I had the opportunity to become acquainted with this community because they had a monastery several miles from the seminary. That monastery in Illinois has relocated to their motherhouse in Knoxville, Tennassee. The Handmaids were introduced to me in this way: they were lover of priests and most especially prayed for priests. They pray for priests beginning from the womb, praying for those who will be called, and pray for more vocations to the priesthood and for the sanctity of those who serve the Church. The spirit of their order is Pro Christo in Sacerdote Suo, For Christ in His Priest. I’m sure the Handmaids of the Precious Blood would love to pray for your personal intentions, but if you write these sisters, I’d recommend sending them the name of some priests to remember in prayer. You can submit a priest’s name for spiritual adoption on their website.

Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters
Founded by St. Arnold Janssen in 1896, today they have xx of monasteries in the United States and have 22 houses in the world (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, Togo, and the United States). They are better known as the Pink Sisters on account of their habit color, but they actual name of their community is Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration. They are an order that prays perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament, praying especially for priests, the success of evangelization and missionary efforts. I am sure these sisters are holding in prayer our current efforts of the new evangelization. Other communities listed pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters spend their time before the exposed presence of Jesus in the monstrance. In the United States, they live in Lincoln, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.

Why ask the Nuns to pray for you?
Truth be told, anyone could pray for your special intentions, a priest, an active religious sister, monks, and lay people, but there is something special about asking cloistered nuns to pray for you. I know for a fact that their prayers will not be a one time occurrence but that they will continually time and again remember you in prayer. I met a cloistered sister once at a conference (she had permission to be outside the cloister) and she wrote my name down in her book of prayer. When I went to the monastery to celebrate Mass several years later, she showed me my name in prayer book from years ago and told me she prayed for me daily. Cloistered nuns pray for people everyday, this is what they have dedicated their lives to do, and they want to pray for you.

As you can imagine, living behind a grille is a little old fashioned. Many orders have updated technology, and communicate via phone and email, generally speaking, their preferred communication is through the mail, so as to avoid the distractions of the world. If you need prayers, consider writing a letter, addressing an envelope, placing a stamp in the right hand corner, and dropping it off in a mailbox.

Lastly, I acknowledge this list is not exhaustive, so if you have an order of sisters to recommend, send me a message at my website.

Cloistered Nuns Visit “Sisters in the Faith” in Chilean Women’s Prison

nuns-1-680x450 A group of 61 cloistered nuns from six monasteries in Santiago, Chile, recently made an historic visit to a local Women’s Prison Center to spend time with the inmates and to attend Mass with them. “I don’t know if in the 400 years of the history of Santiago, there has been another occasion when contemplative sisters from several monasteries joined together to celebrate the Eucharist with a group of women who are incarcerated, but who are sisters in the faith,” said Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who celebrated the Mass. The nuns made the trip to the facility on May 23 to celebrate as the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy. Ezzati said that the nuns made the request to visit with the inmates “so the sisters who contemplate the face of God every day in prayer could contemplate him in the face of people who are suffering, going through a hard time in their lives.” “The dear cloistered nuns are the city’s uplifted arms to intercede before God for all of us, especially those who are suffering the most,” he said. After the Mass, the religious sang a traditional Chilean song to honor the Virgin Mary, and to everyone’s surprise, four of them got up to dance. They then went to the prison courtyard where they continued visiting with the inmates. For Sister Maria Rosa of the Discalced Carmelites from the San José monastery, the day was “a grace to share with them, to really feel like a sister with them, to feel their sorrow, their joy and to become one with them.” “It strikes me that this encounter would be on the feast of the Holy Trinity. That means that God dwells in every soul,” she told the archdiocesan communications office. Railín, one of the inmates, said that “it was good that they came and prayed for us. The sisters and bishops coming helped support us, we need a lot of people to come and see us.” Ana Chacón, another inmate, said that the religious “give us the spirit of the Lord,  it’s a blessing to have them here. Seeing the dear cloistered nuns doing the traditional dance and swinging the kerchiefs was something new.” This Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis runs from December 2015 to November of 2016, with the aim of encouraging Catholics to experience God’s mercy – both in the Sacrament of Confession and being concrete signs of this mercy in charitable work.  
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Vatican Document
Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on Woman's Contemplative Life
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Special Event
World Day of Cloistered Life - Pro Orantibus Day
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Free Audio Book
A Right to Be Merry By Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
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Terms
Glossary of Cloistered Life terms
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