Abbot Peter Novecosky, from Saskatchewan, at the Abbey of St Anselm in Rome during a congress of Benedictine abbots
Benedictine abbots from around the world gathered in a monastery atop the Aventine Hill in Rome to discuss what has been happening in their monasteries, how they can work together and how they can reach out to the rest of the world, reports the Catholic News Service.
The Congress of Abbots of the Benedictine Confederation of Monastic Communities brought 235 abbots, as well as representatives of Benedictine women's communities, to Rome's St Anselm Abbey from September 17-25.
During the congress, the abbots re-elected German Abbot Notker Wolf to a four-year term as abbot primate.
The main talks at the congress focused on the viability of Benedictine monasteries, and on balancing the autonomy of Benedictine abbeys with a need for wider cooperation among them. But the abbots also participated in workshops on issues ranging from ecumenical and interreligious dialogue to the formation of candidates for monastic life.
Two facts framed much of the discussion: Benedictine abbeys generally are growing in Asia, Africa and South America; while abbeys in Europe, North America and Australia generally have a declining membership.
There are exceptions to the rule. Abbot Peter Novecosky of St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan, just welcomed six candidates to his community of 15 monks. "For us, six is an unusually high number. I consider that God is blessing us," he said. "We lost five members to death in the last two years, so maybe they are sending replacements."
The abbot said the men, who range in age from 19 to 52, will have a six-month candidacy period and then move to a one-year novitiate before first vows.
"They feel a call from God. It's a response to an awareness of God in their life and wanting to do his will," the abbot said, adding that the candidates have told him they consider the Benedictine life a "tried and true way of spirituality."
One of the main speakers at the Benedictine abbots' congress was Cistercian Father Michael Casey, an expert on monastic spirituality from Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia.
Maintaining tradition while responding to changing needs is an inescapable part of life, both for individuals and for religious communities, he said.
"The fact that we are alive means that we are continually influenced by our past, continually interacting with our present, and looking forward to the future. It's really just a matter of personal integrity, personal vitality that we do respect and allow our past to continue speaking to us."
Father Casey said he would object to labeling "conservative" the young people who are attracted to older forms of Catholic religious life, habits and liturgy.
"People are looking for a clear alternative to the way they were brought up, just as many of the more free-wheeling religious communities are reacting to the tight discipline of their own youth," he said.
FULL STORY Benedictine abbots ask what attracts vocation (CNS)