WE ARE STAYING HERE TO REBUILD THE HOUSE OF ST. BENEDICT
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Father Benedict from Nursia
In December of the Jubilee Year 2000 three American monks got to Nurcia who decided to inhabit the city of St. Benedict, in a monastery built at the place of his family house, at a basilica devoted to the patron of monks. After 200 years of absence of the Benedictines in Nursia in this symbolic place, monastic life was revived according to the principles of the father of the western monasticism. During a few years the community got larger and at present it consists of 15 people from various countries. When several years ago monks established their community in Umbria, they could not foresee that their ‘house’ in Nursia would be completely destroyed during the terrible earthquake which took place in the central Italy in 2016. But despite big material losses none of monks was killed which was a sign for them that they had to stay there, rebuild the monastery and the basilica in order to praise God and serve people just in this place of the birth of St. Benedict. I had an interview with one of them, father Benedict.
* * *
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: – What experience was for your Benedictine community to spend 15 years in the birth place of St. Benedict, in a monastery built at the place of his home?
FATHER BENEDICT: – During those several years of our stay in Nursia we developed our liturgical and cult activity in the basilica of St. Benedict a lot. In order to take part in our religious services, people were arriving not only from Italy, but also from all over the world, being so attracted by the person of St. Benedict and monastic liturgy. In this way people could listen to the Gregorian singing, pray with monks, tell them about their problems and look for help. These were years mainly for the great spiritual growth.
– How were you welcomed by the inhabitants of Nursia?
– Very well. For the inhabitants of Nursia the return of monks was something important – as if the soul of this place returned here with our arrival. We, the Benedictines, were perceived as spiritual sons of their great compatriot.
– Benedict and his spiritual sons gave the beginnings to the Christian civilization in Europe. You, the Americans in majority, have arrived at Italy at the particular moment of history of our continent – when the European Union is getting cut off from its Christian roots and is pushing away the Church onto the margin. So, how did you perceive our Old Continent?
– We were looking at Europe like at a boat without a sail. A boat which is allegedly in a good state, but is not strong enough to sail. The project of building the European Union had to be based on a basis. Rejecting Christian roots, there are attempts to remove the Christian identity of the continent. Although there are also politicians who point to St. Benedict as a person who could unite Europe, the Benedictines introduced Christian faith onto the whole continent.
– The Benedictines do not only pray, but also work, ‘ora et labora’…
– St. Benedict said that monks are real Benedictines, if they live from their own work done with hands. We treated it seriously. But in the beginning we could not do much – we could provide hospitality to people who had visited us and benefactors helped us. When the community got larger it was possible to do something more. Among monks there was somebody who knew production of beer. We sent him to Belgium to see the whole productive process according to the monastic tradition.
– In Belgium there are a lot of monasteries where famous beers are produced…
– That is true, the Trappists became specialists in the beer production. We opened our small brewery of 250 l capacity in 2012. We produce beer which we called ‘Nursia’ – like the city in order to make it popular all over the world. There were so many orders for our beer that we had to sell our first equipment and buy the new and bigger one.
– Where were you producing Your beer?
– In the birth home of St. Benedict there were two big rooms, which we renovated and used them, a garage and a cellar to produce beer.
– At one moment you decided to make a new headquarter for the community outside the city. Why?
– Nursia became a touristic and noisy city. Particularly in the summer times it was difficult to keep silence of monastic life. So, in 2008 we bought a ruined monastery of the Capuchins in the mountains, nearly 2 kilometers from the city, which belonged to the diocese. In this way we wanted to have two headquarters: in the city for apostolic activity and in the mountains for prayer. In the beginning renovation of the monastery was proceeding very slowly, because we had some problems because of the lack of money, but during the last 3 years we received regional funds and in this way we managed to open a Church next to the monastery which was built in XVI century.
– Let’s talk about the earthquake now. How did you react to the first quakes which took place on 24 August this year?
– That first earthquake caused a lot of destruction, so we were shocked. Half of the monastery was not available, so, we stayed in Rome for safety for a few days. When we returned to Nursja, some monks returned to the monastery, others decided to live in wooden huts built near the monastery in the mountains. Those wooden houses are prepared for this kind of situation – they can be assembled quickly, are safe because they do not have floors or walls or heavy ceilings. The earthquake on 26 October this year caused further destruction and other monks had to leave Nursja and move to the mountains. Thanks God!
– The earthquake which happened in Nursja on 31 October was catastrophic – it completely destroyed Your monastery and the basilica of St. Benedict…
– If there had not been earlier earthquakes and if we had not moved to the mountains, our whole Benedictines’ community would have been killed in the ruins of the monastery and the basilica. There is a view from our monastery in the mountains to the whole valley with the city. And from there we saw how much the basilica had been destroyed. It was terrible! We got realized how serious the situation was because losses were serious, and we thought that there were also casualties among people. Therefore 4 of us went to the city because it seemed to us that we could serve as priests in order to help people get rescued and give them the sacraments. Some of us stayed on the square in order to calm people and pray with them, others ran to the city in order to give help.
– For 15 years you had been rebuilding and beautifying this particular place, which was the monastery and the basilica of St. Benedict. Now everything, beside the façade of the church, is in ruins. How do you, the monks, perceive the destruction of the particular souvenir of St. Benedict?
– On the one hand we are engrossed in sadness, but on the other hand - we are grateful to God that He saved our life. Nobody of us was killed, so we think that God wanted us to stay here, in Nursja. And it gives us strength in this delicate moment. Maybe God wants us to have life full of prayer in the mountains now, in order to show people and the world how significant prayer is. Also Benedict XVI, the retired pope, gives us an example of life completely devoted to prayer. And walls need rebuilding.
– What are the nearest plans of Your Benedictine community?
– First of all, we want to settle in the wooden houses in the mountains better.
– Especially that winter has already begun and it is going to snow…
– That is true. Whereas in Nursja it is necessary to secure buildings, remove ruins and it will be possible to think about rebuilding the basilica and the monastery then. It is going to take a long time, but monks are famous for their patience.