CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 20, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II says the “mystical passion” proper to monastic life is a profound response to the “artificial paradises” offered by today’s world.
The Holy Father expressed this conviction when he met with 220 abbots and abbesses of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance — the Trappists — who are holding their general chapter in Rome from Sept. 4-24.
The Pope recalled that “since their beginning, Cistercians have been characterized by a ‘mystical passion,’ proving how the sincere seeking of God through asceticism leads to the ineffable joy of a spousal encounter with him in Christ.”
“This lofty spirituality retains all its value of witness in the present cultural context, which all too often kindles the desire for deceptive goods and artificial paradises,” the Holy Father continued.
Because of this, John Paul II asked the religious “to witness to the high ideal of holiness, summarized in unconditional love of God and, as a reflection, a love that in prayer mystically embraces the whole of humanity.”
On behalf of the Church, the Holy Father thanked the religious “because from the silence of your cloisters incessant prayer rises to heaven” for his ministry, “and for the intentions and needs of the whole ecclesial community.”
John Paul II remembered in particular the seven Trappist monks of Notre Dame d’Atlas, killed in Algeria in 1996 by armed Muslim groups, and exhorted the religious not to be “disheartened by the trials and difficulties, no matter how painful they might be.”
The Pope said he hoped that the blood spilled by the martyrs “will be the seed of numerous and holy vocations for your monasteries in Europe, where the aging of communities of monks and nuns is most noticeable, and in other parts of the world where there is another urgency, that of ensuring the formation of aspirants to the Cistercian life.”
The Pope referred to the order’s growth, “especially in the Far East,” where the monks are “in contact with different religious traditions.”
In this connection, the Holy Father said that “it is necessary to engage in prudent and wise dialogue so that, in the plurality of cultures, the unique light of Christ will shine in all places. Jesus is the resplendent sun of whom the Church must be a faithful reflection.”
Trappist sources told ZENIT that the number of monasteries of this religious family has doubled over the past six decades: from 82 in 1940 to 127 in 1970, to 169 at the start of this century.
In the 1940s there was only one Trappist monastery in Africa and none in Latin America. Now, there are 17 in Africa and 13 in Latin America. In Asia and the Pacific there were only 6; now there are 23.
Over this same period, the number of Trappist monks and nuns has decreased by 15%, to a total of just over 2,500 monks and 1,800 nuns. The average in each community is 25, fewer than half the number in previous times.