ROME, NOV. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A small bell, a gift from Pope John Paul II, marks the passing of time in the first Catholic convent in the territory of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Mater Unitatis houses cloistered women religious in the town of Piatra Neant.
The bell was given to the Polish Pontiff in 2000 by the president of Hungary. It is a replica of the same bell that Pope Pius V ordered to be rung in thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary on Oct. 7, 1571, after the victory of Lepanto.
More than four centuries later, the tolling of that bell again marked a decisive moment for Christianity. The Benedictine monastery was dedicated last month, also on Oct. 7.
The project of establishing the convent began in 1994. Bishop Petru Gherghel of Iasi, Romania, visited Mother Maria Cristina Pirro at St. Andrew the Apostle in Frosinone, Italy, telling her of his desire to be able to build in Romania a convent as beautiful as hers.
“Although we are very poor,” Mother Cristina told ZENIT, “it has been these Italian nuns who have permitted this dream to come true. Thanks goes also to the regent of the prefecture of the Pontifical Household, Monsignor Paolo De Nicolo, and so many benefactors, above all Italian, who have believed in the cloistered nuns’ project.”
Ready to sacrifice
The abbess related how the nuns asked Our Lady of Loreto to intercede. “You know that we have received an invitation to found a monastery,” she said they told Mary, “but you know also that we have neither youth, nor money to build it. We are nevertheless willing to make whatever sacrifice, and if you want this monastery, you will obtain vocations and money.”
Thirteen years later, the convent was founded. It is set among three Orthodox monasteries. “We saw there the hand of providence,” confessed the woman religious.
John Paul II spoke of the project as “a providential initiative,” predicting that the monastery could be converted into a “central force of spiritual liveliness, according to the spirit of St. Benedict.”
The nuns ran risks, such as when they had to pay for the land and construction of the monastery. On June 30, 1997, Mother Cristina entered Romania carrying the money necessary to complete the negotiation.
If she had been stopped upon entering Romania, she said, officials would have taken everything. “Today, I would have made a transfer, but then, there was no bank to turn to,” the nun explained. “On crossing the border station, I entrusted myself to Jesus, to the Mother of Unity, to my guardian angel and to all the saints and souls in purgatory.”
Everything went well, but other problems arose. “Because of the instability of the Romanian government, we feared that they would not give Catholic nuns, and especially foreigners, permission to build the monastery in the Orthodox country,” Mother Cristina said.
She added: “They advised me then not to speak of the project. The story circulated that the parish acquired land to build a retreat house for priests.”
“But since the taxes were very high, they suggested we explain the purpose of the building. The Orthodox monasteries paid little or almost nothing. We informed the bishop, who chose a new name: Monastic Center ‘Mother of Unity,’ to which the government even gave juridical status in 2002.”
Today, everyone knows that the monastery is Benedictine and called “Mater Unitatis.” Even more, the city council, after the first solemn religious profession of Sr. Maria Lauretana Balasin in 2003, planted a road sign directing to the convent with the title in Romanian “Maica Unitatii.”
Above this, another arrow points to the nearby Orthodox monastery of Bisericani. “In this coincidence?” Mother Cristina asked with a smile. “We see prefigured in it the union that will be brought about one day between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches.”