1.1. The Japanese Region     

             In 1896, thirteen years after the foundation of Our Lady of Consolation, which was the first foundation of our Order in the Far East, Dom Bernard Favre, the superior of Consolation, having received some financial assistance and personnel began the foundation of the first Trappist monastery of monks in Japan (Phare). This assistance came from various European monasteries. Two years later in 1898 the nuns’ monastery of Tenshien was founded by Ubexy in France. The foundation of both monasteries was instigated by the bishop (a member of the Paris Foreign Mission Society) who had jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical territory of both monasteries. As soon as these foundations were made the Abbey of Bricquebec assumed responsibility as Father Immediate of both monasteries.

            At present, more than one hundred years after the establishment of these first Cistercian foundations, Japan now has two monasteries of monks (Phare  and Oita) and five monasteries of  nuns : Tenshien, Nishinomiya (founded by Tenshien in 1935), Imari (founded by Tenshien in 1953), Nasu (founded by Nishinomiya in 1954) and Miyako (founded by Nishinomiya in 1981 and transferred to Ajimu in 2002).  With the exception of the first two foundations, that is Phare and Tenshien, all the other monasteries are foundations made by Japanese houses. The Japanese Region as such was born in 1967 with the first assembly of the superiors of nuns. At the time the Japanese Region referred only to the nuns’ branch of the Order while the monasteries of monks became affiliated with the ASPAC Region.

            By taking a look at the statistics we can see that the Japanese monasteries of nuns had very large communities. Considering the number of Catholics, the Japanese had the highest ratio of nuns in the world. That remains a testimony to a remarkable period of history. Presently every community faces the problems of aging and lack of vocations. However that does not mean that some communities continue to be in a dangerous situation as far as vocations are concerned. For several years now one community has been receiving candidates from Vietnam with good results. In the near future there is a possibility that another community will begin to receive Vietnamese candidates. Presently there has been an increase of seminarians and religious from active Orders who are coming from Vietnam. We can also discern in this development the possibility of a foundation of our Order in Vietnam.

            Recently within this region there is a community of nuns that has an abbess who came from another community and this has enlivened that community considerably. Another community of nuns had  a long period under an apostolic administration. It is happily regained its normalization and the nuns are now governed by their own abbess. Four years ago another community moved the location of their monastery in order to find a place more geographically suitable. Regarding the above mentioned situations, the superiors and communities of both monks and nuns have shown generous cooperation with each according to their means and abilities. Presently there has emerged among the Japanese superiors and communities a spirit of unity and cooperation. Regardless whether it be monks or nuns, when any community is in pain all the superiors share this and try to assist practically according to their possibilities. We have happily emerged from a darker period of time when we were not so fraternal. Due to this very open attitude and spirit of solidarity among us, our yearly meeting of superiors is a great source of strength. Of course there are also other areas of cooperation, e.g. translations, various exchanges of information and materials, study sessions, and help in problematic pastoral situations, etc.

            It can be said that the Order in Japan is very much influenced by the surrounding society as well as by the Japanese Church. Although only 0.4 % of the Japanese population is Catholic, Christians are respected and trusted by Japanese society and the religious life holds a great deal of interest. Furthermore, in recent years Tenshien receives about 3,000,000 visitors per year and these are not just sight seers. The monastery utilizes this opportunity as a means of evangelization. Although the other monasteries can not compare in terms of the number of guests, nevertheless in many different ways they are able to offer a sincere and respectful hospitality to non-Christians. Those who come seem to learn something that is true and authentic from our way of life. Similarly, the products that we produce in our monasteries are valued and trusted.

            The Japanese Church values our life highly and has its expectations of us: first of all they expect us to be able to give a visible expression to the “praying Church.” The Church also has expectations of us regarding the quality of the liturgy. For many years Phare and Tenshien have cooperated in developing the liturgy in the Japanese Church. The seven monasteries of the Order in Japan are evenly spread throughout the country so that Christians come from all over in order to participate in our prayer life.


1. 2. The Oriens Region

            The nuns of our Order were in Japan for 94 years before there was any other foundation of Trappistines in Asia. Then beginning in 1987 foundations started to follow one after another beginning with Gedono in Indonesia and Sujong in Korea. In 1993 there followed Rosary and then Matutum in the Philippines; two years later in 1995 came Makkiyad in India. In fact within five years there were foundations of our nuns in five different countries of this Region. This indicates a time of rapid expansion of the Order in Asia and at the same time bringing with it a great hope for the future. Gedono and Matutum came from Vitorchiano, Sujong from Tenshien, Rosary from Nishinomiya and Makkiyad from Soleilmont. Almost all these monasteries began because there were already serious young women in these countries who had the sincere hope of living the Cistercian life. The fact that many candidates continued to come was convincing. No matter which community, in a short time there was remarkable growth. Most of the communities were outstanding from the standpoint of inculturation witnessed by the architectural style of the buildings, the liturgy and lifestyle, etc. Furthermore there are communities that have contributed to the service of their local area either by providing a free clinic or employment opportunities. Of course, in each culture these monasteries were the first foundations so there were various difficulties and trials to face. In one country there were challenges to face from the surrounding society: Rosary has continued for many years to be in very special circumstances. Because extreme caution is always necessary, information is poor and it seems to be nearly impossible to have normal exchange with the other communities. In general they can not attend most meetings of the Order. Only in 1999 could Mother Teresa attend the General Chapter at Lourdes and in 2004 two sisters were also able to attend the   ASPAC-Oriens Regional meeting at Matutum. For several years Nishinomiya which founded Rosary braved dangers to visit them. Then beginning in 2002 Rosary was entrusted to Gedono so at present they receive support from the courage and generosity of Mother Martha of Gedono.

            From what had been the Japanese Region until 1988, with the addition of Gedono and Sujong, there came about the birth of the Oriens Region into which later foundations were incorporated. Before  joining the ASPAC Region as a Mixed Region of monks and nuns in 1995, the Oriens Region was composed of ten monasteries of nuns. In this region, besides the fact that it is spread out over 6 different countries quite distant from each other, each country has its own language, culture and mentality which are quite different. In the midst of this diversity by living together the Gospel, the holy Rule, and our Cistercian charism, we are united as one.



2.1.  Its Long Prehistory

            At the beginning of the 20th century there were two  monasteries of monks of our Order in the eastern part of Asia, namely O.L.of Consolation , founded in 1883 at Yang Kia Ping (China) and O.L. of the Lighthouse (Phare)  founded in 1896 in Tobetsu, Hokkaido (Japan). Both monasteries were founded by monks from French houses. Their Fathers Immediate were the abbots of Septfons for Yang Kia Ping and Bricqebec for Tobetsu.  In 1928 the community of Consolation made a foundation at Tchentingfu,  O.L. of Joy (Liesse). In 1947 the monastery of O.L. of Consolation was burned by the Communists; 33 of its members were granted the precious gift of martyrdom, the rest were either put into prison or sent back to their families. A number of them were released from prison afterwards and could gather in Beijing, running a dairy farm which was making enough profit to maintain the community. Unfortunately, in March 1954 the farm was confiscated by the Communists..

            Regarding the monks of O.L. of Joy, some of them managed to leave China and to go to Canada, while the others were dispersed in several places in China. At the end of 1950 11 brothers among them were able to reach Hong Kong and in 1951, under the   leadership of their unshakeable Prior, Dom Paulinus Lee (the first Asian Major Superior in the Order), they began to build a new monastery  on  Lantao Island.

            By God's Providence, the terrible sufferings undergone by the monks of the two Trappist monasteries in China were  like a grain of wheat that fell  into the ground and died  in order to produce much grain. In fact, in 1953 a small group of Dutch monks from Koningshoeven, Tilburg in the Netherlands, made a foundation in Rawaseneng, near  Temanggung, Indonesia. In the following year, 1954, two Irish monasteries made foundations in Oceania. The monks of Mount Melleray founded O.L.of the Southern Star at Kopua, near Takapau, in New Zealand, and the monks of Mount Saint Joseph, Roscrea, founded Tarrawarra Abbey, near Melbourne in Australia.

            Thus in 1967 when our Order began to have regional conferences, there were six monasteries of monks in Asia and Oceania. Phare and Lantao joined the US Region,  Kopua and Tarrawarra joined the Region of the Isles, Consolation and Rawaseneng did not belong to any Region, nor did Notre Dame des Iles which was founded by Septfons in New Caledonia  in 1968.

            Later on, O.L. of the Philippines, founded in 1972 by monks from several US houses on the island of Guimaras in the Philippines, became the third Asian member of the US Region, followed by Rawaseneng as the fourth one in 1979. After that the four Asian houses were given the possibility of forming a sub-region which could present their suggestions directly to the Consilium Generale. In 1980 the Japanese monks of Tobetsu founded O.L. of the Annunciation near Oita, on Kyushu Island, in the south of Japan.


2.2.  Its Conception, Birth and Short History

            Actually at the General Chapter of 1980, even before forming an official Region, the monasteries of Asia and Oceania were given the privilege of having a representative in the Consilium Generale. It was in 1982 that the superiors of four autonomous houses of Asia held a sub-regional meeting at Lantao, in which the superiors of Kopua and Tarrawarra as well as the  Procurator General were invited. It was agreed upon to form a Regional Conference, named the Region of Asia and the Pacific (=ASPAC), which was subsequently approved by the General Chapter of 1984.

            In 1991 a foundation for monks was made in Taiwan, namely Holy Mother of God  Monastery, near Shuili.  The founders came from  the communities of Lantao, Vina, and Guimaras, with Vina as the founding house. In 2000 the role of the founding house was  tranfered to Lantao.

            The ASPAC  Region used to hold its meetings in one of the houses of the Region, inviting one or several abbesses of  the Japanese Region, and to have additional days for a special program on one monastic topic or another. The meetings were held in 1985 (in Tarrawarra + formation by Br Eugene Dwyer, FMS), 1986 (Phare + Primitive Cistercian Documents by Fr Michael Casey OCSO), 1989 (Kopua + Psychological Aspects of Formation by Dom Jean Doutre OCSO), 1992 (Rawaseneng + inculturation by Fr. I. Kuntara SJ) and 1995 (joint meeting with the Region of Oriens at Phare + Japanese Culture by Mrs Ayako Sono).




3.1. General View of the Region

            In 1995 the Region of ASPAC and the Region of Oriens held a joint meeting  at Phare. In the presence of the Abbot General the two regions arrived at an agreement of forming one mixed Region

under the name of the ASPAC-Oriens Region. This fusion was approved by the General Chapter of 1996.

            In the meantime, at the end of 1995 several Indonesian monks from Rawaseneng were sent to prepare the foundation of Lamanabi in Flores Island, which was approved  by General Chapter of 1996. In 1998 Kurisumala Ashram, while retaining its own Syro-Malankara rite, was canonically incorporated into the Order. This monastery was founded in 1958 by Father Francis Mahieu, a former member of  the abbey of Scourmont, Belgium, and was meant as a far-reaching attempt at inculturation of Cistercian monastic life within  the context of Indian monasticism. The responsibility of Father Immediate was entrusted to the Abbey of Tarrawarra. It is to be noted that in 2002 the monastery of N.D. des Iles in New Caledonia was suppressed. Having no free communication with other houses of  the Order, Consolation  is not in a position to take part in the activities of the Region

            At present ( in 2005) the Region of ASPAC-Oriens consists of 20 monasteries ( 10 of  nuns and  10 of monks) dispersed among nine different countries. Two houses are over 100 years old: Phare  and Tenshien. Seven houses have celebrated their golden jubilee: Lantao, Nishinomiya, Rawaseneng, Imari, Kopua, Nasu and Tarrawarra. Two have celebrated their silver jubilee: Guimaras and Oita, and nine are recent foundations (or incorporations) of less than 25 years old: Ajimu, Gedono, Sujong, Shuili, Rosary, Matutum, Makkiyad, Lamanabi and Kurisumala.

            At least once between General Chapters a plenary meeting is held in one of the monasteries of the Region, namely in 1998 (Guimaras), 2001 (Sujong) and 2004 (Matutum). Each community is invited to send a delegate who takes part in all sessions and enjoys the right to vote, except for any vote restricted to the Superiors and announced as such by the Presidents. The languages of the Region are English and Japanese. Interpreters are provided when they are needed. A Regional Delegate for the General Chapter is designated by each of the branches of the Region. Each community, in order of seniority, selects this delegate in the manner decided by the local Superior

            Members of the Region present at the General Chapter gather together with the Regional Delegates to elect the two Presidents who will also be Regional Nominees to the Central Commissions, voting separately in the feminine and masculine branches, the term being for three years.

            The English speaking members of the Region feel the need to have sub-regional meetings for superiors and for formators. While the Japanese members meet every year, the far-flung English speaking sub-region needs to take a different approach to time and finance so that everything does not happen in one year.

            Because of the great differences in language and culture, collaboration at the regional level in the area of formation is rather limited. Because about a half of the houses are recent foundations with a lot of young members in initial formation, monastic formation is of utmost importance in the Region. Several houses have incidental collaboration with other religious institutes in their respective countries or invite monks or nuns from other houses of the Order to give series of lectures or to preach community retreats. It also happened that some particular houses invited juniors (Lantao in 1995) or formators (Gedono in 2004) from some other houses to meet for several days. From time to time the Regional Secretary for Formation organized regional meetings for formators, using the two official languages of the Region, namely in 1997 (Phare), 2000 (Guimaras), 2003 (Sujong). Sub-regional meetings for formators are also on the program (Gedono in 2005). As regards   intellectual formation for the priesthood, each house makes its own arrangement with the possibility of collaboration with local Theological Faculties. At present (in 2005) the Region has two Regional Secretaries for Formation, one for the English language and one for the Japanese language, one monk and one nun.

            Each house is responsible for its own liturgy. There is no collaboration at the regional level. English speaking houses have a greater possibility of using liturgical books and liturgical songs published in Europe or in the United States. In this context it is worth noting that Kurisumala celebrates its liturgy in the Syro-Malankara Rite.

            Regarding work (industries), the houses of the Region are located in different countries with very different standards of living. Great differences are also noticed in the evolution and the scale of their enterprises. Besides great scale industries in a few of the senior houses, there are also small scale house-industries in recent foundations which are still looking for satisfying forms of making a living.

Mutual collaboration in work can only take place among houses that are relatively close geographically. On particular occasions some houses, which are blessed with more economic wealth, give a helping hand to concrete projects of less fortunate houses.


3. 2. Some Challenges  of the Region

3.2.1. Diversities

            The ASPAC-Oriens Region consists of 20 houses which are dispersed in such a vast area, that  if the other regions were of the same size, there would be only three regions in the Order: ASPAC-Oriens, Europe-Africa (including Madagascar), and (North-South) America. The countries, where the houses of the Aspac-Oriens Region are located, are very different in their latitude, the number of their population, their languages, histories and cultures, the level of their economical development, their religious traditions, the structures of their governments and the percentage of the Catholic population.

            Most houses, especially the young ones, still have strong affective relationships with their founding houses, so that the relationship with them is much more intense than the other houses of the Region. It is also important to note that the founding houses in question also have different traditions, languages and cultures: French, Irish, Dutch, Italian, American, Belgian. There are also Asian founding houses: Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian. Two houses, Rosary and Kurisumala, were founded in very special and non-conventional ways. In other words the Region of ASPAC-Oriens is providentially challenged by enormous diversities in almost all areas. The only unifying factor is the fact that all houses in question do belong to the same Order.


3.2.2. Relationship with the local Church

            Nowadays and in the future the relationship of our monasteries in general with the local Churches is becoming more and more important. This applies even more to the houses of the ASPAC-Oriens Region. Communication and interaction with other religious institutes at the national level play ever a greater role. At this time, the relationships with co-religious and ecclesiastical personalities are not less relevant than the relationships within the Order. In this context it might not be out of place to mention some forms of collaborations existing at the regional and continental level in Asia, for instance FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences), AMOR (Asia-Pacific Meeting of Religious), the Secretariat of SEAMS (South East Asian Major Superiors). Up to this moment the ASPAC-Oriens Region of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance does not have any contact with these organizations. In fact, the topics of the regional meetings of ASPAC-Oriens houses are for the most part internal issues relative to the Order or to particular communities. Great Asian concerns such as dialogue with local religious traditions are practically never touched upon, except in additional programs given by local speakers without any follow-up.


3.2.3.  A Common Task of the Region

            For the ASPAC-Oriens Region a common task to face is indigenization or inculturation understood in its deeper meaning. If you want to transplant something that was grown in the West and bring it to the East you will naturally have to take into consideration the soil, climate and environment of the new location. This is the condition for indigenization. To inculturate a Christian monasticism which developed in the Western world into Asian soil is not a matter of simple outward adaptation to culture and lifestyle, but it involves the transformation of the deepest strata of the heart of an Asian as an Asian in order to authentically live a life converted to God. Taken in this sense it is a difficult task.

            This region is the birthplace for two of the four great ancient world civilizations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China). They are older than Christianity and they continue to exist. The region is not only characterized by great cultures but also by great religions. It is a world that is home to the powerful influence of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and many forms of pantheism as well as atheism.

            Given this context, if the Order is going to expand, it will have to accept challenges and also trials in this process of assimilation. Although there are communities in this region transplanted from Europe more than one hundred years ago, there are also communities that have come only ten years ago. It can be said that we sense a difference in the degree of inculturation among the monasteries in the region depending on how old the foundation is as well as the particular circumstances of the place in which each monastery finds itself. There is certainly no easy way to know how to insert a strong non-Christian spirituality into the Order without altering the essentials of Cistercian spirituality, or on the other hand, how do we introduce our spirituality into another already existing non-Christian spirituality. To a more or less degree this is something that will be faced by every monastery in the region. Furthermore, it is not going too far to say that the development of this region will depend on the appropriate response to this task. Although this involves investing a lot of energy, can’t we also say that it promises to open up new possibilities for the Order?


Agnes Akano and  Frans Harjawiyata