St. Paul Abbey, a Truly Benedictine Monastery

Interview With Abbot Edmund Power

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ROME, MAY 19, 2005 ( The Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls has always been a place of special ecumenical character, says the new abbot of the Roman community.

In this interview with ZENIT, Abbot Edmund Power, 52, says that the community in charge of the basilica continues to be Benedictine «as over the past 1,300 years,» and explained some of the activities of hospitality and promotion of ecumenism which he hopes to carry out.

Benedict XVI visited the basilica the day after the solemn inauguration of his pontificate.

Q: Has the monastic community of St. Paul Outside the Walls become intercongregational, or is it completely Benedictine?

Abbot Power: Intercongregational has a technical meaning for us Benedictines, because the Order of St. Benedict Confederation is made up of 20 different «OSB congregations,» each one a group of monasteries, whether national or international.

In our case, the answer is yes: We have new monks who come from different OSB congregations, but the community remains totally Benedictine, as it has over the past 1,300 years. St. Paul continues to be a Benedictine monastery.

Q: The Pope came right away to the abbey after his election. What does this celebration mean?

Abbot Power: From the beginning, the Church of Rome was founded on the two great apostles, Peter and Paul, not on one or the other, but on both together. At times this is forgotten, given the importance of St. Peter and the Vatican.

The Holy Father decided to acknowledge again the ancient connection, taking possession of the Basilica of St. Paul, at the same time — in fact, the next day — as that of St. Peter. The cathedrals of the Bishop of Rome are the four patriarchal basilicas: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.

The Pope came to St. Paul’s, therefore, to venerate the Apostle and to take the chair, not primarily to visit the monks of the abbey. But of course the monastic community, as the basilica’s chapter, offered the welcome.

Q: Does the community hope to become a place of ecumenical meeting? What types of activities will it organize?

Abbot Power: The Basilica of St. Paul, apostle of the gentiles, is traditionally the place where the Holy Father’s important celebrations of an ecumenical character are held. Monasticism is always a strong point of contact between Catholics and Orthodox, because it expresses an ancient spirituality, wide and common, not the exclusive possession of the West or even of the East.

Our concrete experience is that often the Orthodox, for example, feel quite «comfortable» in our context. Naturally, we do not wish to restrict our relations only to the Orthodox. We also seek contacts with the Anglicans and Protestants.

We are at the beginning of our project, but I would like to see three levels of activity:

One: Periodical meetings at the level of study/discussion;

Two: Sharing of prayer and spiritual as well as social service;

Three: General hospitality: in fact, hospitality is a key element of St. Benedict’s Rule.

A small concrete example will be the great Roman feast of Sts. Peter and Paul [June 29]. As every year, we plan different religious and cultural activities in the area surrounding St. Paul, among which is the great procession of St. Paul’s chains through the streets. Thousands of people participate. It will be on the evening of June 28.

This year we want to elaborate the image of the chains as symbol of the «chains» of love that link all those who follow Christ. We will invite an ecumenical participation to the celebration.

Q: Personally, what is your dream, now that you begin your service as abbot?

Abbot Power: That our international community grow in fraternal love, seeking always with fervent desire the vision of God’s face.

At the same time, we wish to collaborate with the Church’s evangelical commitment, in particular, in the context of the basilica which is a great international shrine and contemplative place of encounter with God, as well as a point of reference for so many Romans. We hope that our spiritual quest will be an inspiration to many other people.

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