Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum: Let all be welcomed as Christ

Participants gather in the courtyard at the monastery of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. Photo: Br. Simon Stubbs, OSB, Sant’ Anelsmo

German. Swahili. Polish. Chinese. French. Spanish. Korean. These are some of the languages Erie Benedictines Mary Jane Vergotz and Linda Romey heard during their participation in the 2018 Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) Symposium held at the monastery of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. “Let all be welcomed as Christ,” from Chapter 53 of the Rule of Benedict, was the theme for the Symposium that brought together 115 Benedictine women from around the world for a week in September. Sister Mary Jane is CIB secretary and Sister Linda is the organization’s treasurer.

The purpose of the CIB is to promote mutual support and exchange of ideas and experiences among Benedictine women on an international level and to foster the development of
women’s monasticism. The organization evolved over a number of years and, in 2001, chose its name and opened a new avenue for Benedictine women’s collaboration. Despite diversity in the interpretation and forms of Benedictine life, the sisters recognize common values and learn from each other.

The holding of a Symposium every four years to support a worldwide network among Benedictine women through liturgy, prayer, ritual and reflection upon a specific theme, is a centerpiece of the organization.

Martin Werlin, OSB, a former abbot of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland, delivered the opening keynote, creating a backdrop for this Symposium’s theme of Benedictine hospitality in his presentations on traditions, the Tradition, and Zeitgeist (the spirit of the times). “Many aspects of our daily monastic life are traditions,” he said. “They can be important. We like them. But their time may be well past already. Always when traditions get in the way of the Tradition, we have to abandon them.” He noted that those traditions include Church traditions that limit the role of women in the Church.

And he challenged participants, “Do we talk and discuss the tradition in our chapter meetings? Or are we preoccupied with defending traditions and saving them? We would do well to make the distinction between Tradition and traditions in our communities. Deepen the Tradition. Examine the traditions. If traditions get in the way of Tradition, we must have the courage to let go of them. New resolutions are needed, because the Zeitgeist has changed. And so new traditions are created – and they in turn are not created for eternity.”

In the following days, sisters from Spain, South Africa, Brazil and the Philippines spoke on hospitality both inside and outside the monastery. “Our speakers shared their insights from a variety of cultures which enriched our understanding of how hospitality is lived out in Benedictine monasteries,” said Sister Mary Jane.

In speaking on hospitality outside the monastery, Sister Roberta Peluso of Brazil said, “spirituality has something to say to people, whether they come to our monasteries or in society in general. It is something which resounds in their minds and reflects their own experience and values. It is possible to revitalize the proclamation of the Gospel in our guesthouses through offering a personal and community encounter with Christ.”

Multi-cultural table discussion followed each presentation—table placements mixed participants from different cultural and language backgrounds. Presentations and question and answer sessions were translated into five languages, but table discussions depended on the language and non-verbal skills of sisters at each table. “Benedictines from Spain, France and the Philippines shared my table,” said Sister Linda. “Three of us were bilingual enabling us to translate for each other as we raised our own questions. This shared table conversation allowed me to broaden my own understanding of what it means to follow the Rule of Benedict in the here and now.”

In addition to the many presentations and reports, the full scheduled included visiting the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Francis and day-trip to Subiaco to visit St. Scholastica Abbey and Sacro Speco (Benedict’s cave). Other outing options included the Catacombs of St. Priscilla and evenings out to St. Paul Outside the Walls and the community of Sant’ Egidio. The week concluded with a cultural evening with each region offering a short performance.

The meeting room was the nave of the monastery church at Sant’ Anselmo, emptied of its pews and arranged with conference tables and chairs with the five translator’s booths set up in the rear. The majority of the sisters were housed at Sant’ Anselmo and all participants joined the resident monks for prayer, liturgy and meals.

At the conclusion of the Symposium the CIB Conference members (delegates from each of the 19 regions around the world that comprise the CIB) elected Sister Lynn McKenzie from Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, AL, as CIB Moderator for the next four years.

Learn more about the CIB on the organization website, www.benedictines-cib.org. Multiple photo albums from the Symposium are accessible here.

Story contributed by Sister Linda Romey

Participants prayed each morning, noon and evening with the monks in their oratory. The language changed each day with small groups of sisters singing hymns and chanting the psalms in their native tongue. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
Participants prayed each morning, noon and evening with the monks in their oratory. The language changed each day with small groups of sisters singing hymns and chanting the psalms in their native tongue. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
The monks of Sant’ Anselmo shared their dining room and the culinary skills of their kitchen staff with the participants. Most meals included pasta dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses and breads. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
The monks of Sant’ Anselmo shared their dining room and the culinary skills of their kitchen staff with the participants. Most meals included pasta dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses and breads. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
The audience with Pope Francis. After offering a short reflection, Pope Francis greeted each participant. Photo: L'Osservatore Romano" Photographic Service
The audience with Pope Francis. After offering a short reflection, Pope Francis greeted each participant. Photo: L'Osservatore Romano" Photographic Service
Each of the 19 CIB regions is invited to send a young/new sister to the Symposium. Here, these sisters participate in a panel discussion. The nave of the monastery chapel was the meeting space with five translator booths across the back. Each participant had a headset to listen to presentations in one of the five official languages: French, Italian, English, Spanish and German. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
Each of the 19 CIB regions is invited to send a young/new sister to the Symposium. Here, these sisters participate in a panel discussion. The nave of the monastery chapel was the meeting space with five translator booths across the back. Each participant had a headset to listen to presentations in one of the five official languages: French, Italian, English, Spanish and German. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
Touring the Abbey of St. Scholastica on one of several outings available to participants. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
A small group makes its way to the Abbey of St. Scholastica on one of several outings available to participants. Photo: Benedict Brown, OSB, Turvey Abbey, England
Sisters from Africa dance during the cultural celebration the final evening of the Symposium. Photo: Br. Simon Stubbs, OSB, Sant’ Anelsmo
Sisters from Africa dance during the cultural celebration the final evening of the Symposium. Photo: Br. Simon Stubbs, OSB, Sant’ Anelsmo