ROME – In a letter to members of the ecumenical Bose Monastery, currently tied up in a months-long internal conflict, Pope Francis showed his pastor’s heart, telling the community not to be discouraged and urging them to stay true to their vocation as a source of strength.
In his letter, dated March 12 and published by the monastery March 18, the pope said he was writing “to express my closeness and support to you with all my heart in this period of strong trial that you are going through to live your vocation faithfully.”
“Do not feel abandoned in this impervious stage of your journey,” Francis said in the letter, which was addressed to prior of the monastery, Father Luciano Manicardi, adding, “The pope is beside each one of you.”
“May nothing and no one take away the certainty of your call and of its beauty and trust in the future,” he said.
For the past two years the Bose monastery has been embroiled in internal conflict after an investigation was opened into its founder, Italian lay monk Enzo Bianchi, in 2019 after members of the community complained about abuses of power and authority, leading to a Vatican investigation that culminated with Bianchi and three other members of the community being asked to leave.
Founded by Bianchi in the 1960s, the monastery is a community of men and women belonging to different Christian confessions, but who live a common life of prayer, poverty, celibacy, and obedience to the Gospel.
Bianchi himself had stepped down in 2017, and Manicardi was named as the new prior, however, community members complained that despite no longer holding the reigns, Bianchi continued to interfere, expressing open disagreement with decisions that Manicardi made.
After the conclusion of the 2019 apostolic visitation, the order for Bianchi and the other exiled members to depart was given in a decree issued in May 2020 by the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, however, Bianchi has yet to leave the monastery.
According to the papal delegate to monastic community, Father Amedeo Cencini, the main reason for Bianchi’s refusal to leave was that he could not find suitable housing. In February, Bose announced that it would close a property in Cellole and set it aside it for Banchi and any community members who wished to join him.
In the new arrangement, Bianchi was ordered out by the start of Lent. To date, he still has not left.
Pope Francis recently stepped in directly, meeting with Cencini and Manicardi March 4, the day before his historic visit to Iraq. Afterwards, the Vatican issued a statement asking that the May 2020 decree ousting Bianchi be implemented.
Bianchi hit back in a lengthy blog post March 6 in which he accused Cencini of “lies” and of distorting the facts of the case, arguing that it was never explained to him why he was being exiled, and that while he had initially agreed to move to Cellole after he was unable to find affordable housing, he was not aware of the terms of the move, which he allegedly found out only after agreeing, and which stripped members who moved there with him of their monastic status.
Had he known about this and other conditions when he agreed, Bianchi said, he would never have said yes in the first place and has refused to move to Cellole under these conditions.
In his letter to community members, Pope Francis, who is known for his ecumenical efforts, said the continued presence of Cencini as delegate and Parolin’s involvement are “signs of my constant concern.”
“Do not be disturbed by rumors that aim to throw discord among you: the good of authentic fraternal communion must be safeguarded even when the price to be paid is high,” he said, adding, “fidelity in such moments allows us to grasp even more the voice of the one who calls and gives the us the strength to follow him.”
Francis said he is “well aware” of the internal difficulties the community has endured, which he said “have unfortunately increased due to the prolonged delay in the execution of the decisions of the Holy See” in the May 2020 decree.
In this context, he repeated a message sent to the monastery for the 50th anniversary of its founding, urging members “to persevere in the initial intuition of a fraternal life in charity and a witness to the search for radical evangelization in prayer, in work, and in hospitality.”
“The ecumenical dimension that characterizes you and your active yearning for Christian unity are a precious treasure that the Church wants to preserve, safeguarding her authenticity and fruitfulness,” he said, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to give them “strength and courage” as the various parties continue to look for a solution.
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