Cistercian Abbey Setting Down Roots in Secularized Czech Republic

Founded by Young Monks Who Returned from France

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SEPT-FONS, France, DEC. 17, 2001 ( The Czech Republic, one of the most secularized countries in the world, is witnessing the birth of a new Cistercian abbey.

It is an initiative of the French Cistercian Abbey of Sept-Fons in Allier, founded in the 12th century at the time of St. Bernard. In recent years, Sept-Fons has had a notable increase in vocations.

More than 40 of the total of 76 monks are young. Many of them are from Eastern Europe. Sept-Fons is now founding a new monastery in Novy Dvur, in the Sudeten, Czech Republic.

The project began 10 years ago when, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of young Czechs knocked on the door of the French abbey. They were led by Father Martin, vicar of Brno in Moravia, who had a dream: to found a monastery for contemplative life in his country, where Communism had done away with all monasteries. His dream is coming true.

The French monastery is tucked away in the extensive fields of Allier, an area dotted by flocks of sheep and scattered farmhouses. A wall encloses the abbey´s 90 hectares (222 acres).

Sept-Fons was founded in 1132 by two members of St. Bernard´s family: Richard and William de Montbard. Today many of the novices are barely 20 years old. They come from France, Spain, Senegal and Eastern Europe.

The new abbey being built in the Czech Republic is called Our Lady of Novy Dvur.

Father Jeremiah is 28 and comes from the Czech Republic. He smiles when asked why the monastery is being built in one of the religiously coldest areas of the country. «There is not explanation. You either speak of chance or of the Spirit of God,» he said.

His brother, Father Georges, was among the first from the Czech Republic to arrive at Sept-Fons in 1991, together with Father Martin, after visiting eight monasteries in Italy and France, requesting that they open a monastery in his country. All responded that it was impossible.

When he arrived in Sept-Fons with his four companions, the abbot listened to him and did not answer positively or negatively. He simply said: «If you want to receive the habit, if your companions want to receive it, stay here and live with us. If one day there are enough Czech brothers, we might think of founding a monastery.»

Father Martin, a Trappist monk, is now in Novy Dvur to found his abbey. With him is Father Georges, one of the youths who accompanied him on his trip. There are 15 brothers or novices of Czech, Slovakian and Moravian origin in Sept-Fons, who will go to Novy Dvur.

Father Jeremiah recounted that as a child, he had no idea who the Cistercians were. «My grandparents gave me the faith,» he recalled. «I went to Church, it wasn´t prohibited, but we were all watched. Everyone knew we were believers. We had a record, and were often reproached for our faith.»

Despite the above, many vocations emerged in Moravia and Slovakia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In contrast, religious observance in some parts of the Czech Republic is barely 1%.

The Abbey of Our Lady of Novy Dvur hopes to be a focal point for the rebirth of Christianity in the Sudeten. The region saw many deportations under the Germans and was turned into a desert for the faith.

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