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POPE-RELIGIOUS Nov-20-2008 (570 words) xxxi

Monasticism reminds Catholics of what is essential, pope says

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In their silence, their prayer and their work, monks and nuns remind other Catholics that the central focus of Christian life must be to seek Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Monastic life is "a reminder of that which is essential and has primacy in the life of all the baptized: to seek Christ and place nothing before his love," the pope said during a meeting Nov. 20 with members of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The congregation was holding its plenary meeting Nov. 18-20, focusing specifically on "monastic life and its significance in the church and the world today."

While the drastic drop in the number of monks and nuns in Europe and North America was one of the principal concerns of the plenary meeting, Pope Benedict did not speak about the declining numbers and the threat that poses to the continued existence of many monasteries, especially in Europe.

Instead, the pope focused on the value of monasticism for the church as a whole.

"In virtue of the absolute primacy reserved to Christ, monasteries are called to be places in which space is made for the celebration of the glory of God, where one adores and chants the mysterious but real presence of the divine in the world and where one tries to live the new commandment of love and mutual service," the pope said.

Pope Benedict said that men and women who enter a monastery are looking for "a spiritual oasis where they can learn to live as true disciples of Jesus in serene and lasting fraternal communion, welcoming guests as Christ himself."

"This is the witness that the church asks of monasticism in our day," he said.

The pope prayed that every monastery would be an "oasis of ascetic life" where outsiders could see how attractive it is to dedicate one's whole life to Christ "in a climate of silence and contemplation."

Unless monks and nuns "live the Gospel in a radical way" and are dedicated to contemplation, he said, they cannot be truly monastic and their witness will not be effective.

Opening the plenary Nov. 18, Cardinal Franc Rode, prefect of the congregation, warned of the "danger of activism" among monks and nuns.

According to Vatican Radio, the cardinal told congregation members that some contemplative monasteries have shown "a certain fever for mission, the temptation of visibility and overexposure, perhaps motivated by the best intentions," but putting at risk "the graciousness and simplicity of an authentic Christian lifestyle."

The faith that is lived in deep silence in monasteries and chanted in their liturgies is what will proclaim the faith to visitors and attract new members, he said.

In a statement released before the plenary, the congregation said there currently are 12,876 monks living in 905 monasteries and 48,493 contemplative nuns living in 3,520 monasteries, two-thirds of which are found in Europe.

In Europe and North America, it said, the decline in vocations and the advancing age of the religious have forced many monastic communities "to question seriously the possibility of continuing their presence."

At the same time, the congregation said, monastic communities in Asia, Africa and parts of Latin America are experiencing such strong growth that new resources and programs are needed to help the communities welcome and form new members.


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