16 November 2013

Pope Francis to Visit Camaldolese Nuns in Rome

Recently I wrote about the importance of contemplation, both in itself and as the foundation for any genuine ministry or apostolate. I have also written several times here about the Camaldolese "triplex bonum" or "threefold good" in which solitude, community, and evangelization or mission are combined in unique ways. You can read about that in articles here labelled "Camaldolese charism" and you will find a brief article about the nuns at St Anthony's under "Camaldolese nuns."

I mention all this because I just heard that Pope Francis will be visiting the Camaldolese Sisters at St Anthony the Abbot this coming week (November 21st) because of the unique way in which they (and all Camaldolese really) relate the contemplative life to active ministry. (The day is known as "pro Orantibus" and honors those who give their lives to prayer, especially then, contemplatives. For the feed of the visit, cf .Feed of Pope's Visit to Camaldolese Nuns.) The Camaldolese nuns on the Aventine are "rigorously contemplative" as one monk described them, and yet they are involved in feeding the poor in a kind of soup kitchen. It may also be that Francis has marked the 1000 year anniversary of the founding of the Camaldolese last year and too, that he knows that the Camaldolese generally have a high regard for interreligious dialogue --- especially among contemplatives of all religious traditions. (Despite undoubted Christocentric faith lives, Camaldolese routinely participate in dialogues with contemplatives from Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, etc. One volume celebrating such a formal dialogue is Purity of Heart, A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions. The papers in this collection come from a week long symposium at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California in 2000; participants included monastics from Benedictinism, Camaldolese Benedictinism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism along with specialists in Confucianism like Sister Donald Corcoran, OSB Cam.)

While Francis will stop there to pray I am sure he will also tour the monastery and see the soup kitchen linked to it. Perhaps he will also be able to visit the former cell of Nazarena, the Camaldolese recluse and anchoress whose story is truly fascinating. An incredibly gifted American woman, Julia Crotti, tried religious life in the Carmelites but truly felt called to even greater silence and solitude. I can't recall the exact details right now but I believe she left the Carmelites just before making solemn vows. Eventually she was allowed to live a completely reclusive and anchoretic life at St Anthony's. (The two things differ because an anchoress lives a very strict form of physical stability; she never leaves her cell; a recluse, on the other hand, might roam the countryside and still be a recluse.) Nazarena was not even allowed to speak to the Sisters there and originally was not Camaldolese nor allowed to become Camaldolese. Only over a period of 45 years did this change.

Unfortunately, but also understandably, the Church neither esteemed nor much trusted vocations to absolute reclusion; it was not easy, even within Camadolese "culture" (which does indeed allow for reclusion), to be allowed this grace. (With regard to Nazarena, Fr Thomas Matus tells the story of the time when one New Camaldolese Prior --- mistakenly --- assumed that Sister Nazarena would naturally become prioress and novice mistress for a new foundation in Korea. Sister Nazarena found herself caught between the demands of obedience to external authority and those of her own inner voice regarding her vocation.) Sister Nazarena died in 1990 with the Camaldolese nuns present during the last hours. (If you haven't read her story, I highly recommend it. cf. Nazarena, an American Anchoress by Thomas Matus, OSB Cam.) Again, it is these three elements, community, solitude, and evangelization or mission which constitute the dynamic known as the Camaldolese charism. The nuns' monastery in Rome witnesses to this in a uniquely vivid way.

So, we of the Camaldolese family are proud to be recognized for the unique charism with which we have been entrusted by God and the Church and pleased to offer Camaldolese Benedictine hospitality to Francis --- whose namesake, St Francis, is also said to have actually spent some time in a Camaldolese house in his day. All of us hold both Francis, the Sisters at Sant' Antonio's and those they minister to in our prayer.  (Again, for the feed of the visit, cf .Feed of Pope's Visit to Camaldolese Nuns.)