PRESENTATION OF THE MIXED ITALIAN REGION (RIM)
AND ITS EVOLUTION
1. A bit of History
When the regional conferences began officially to meet in 1966, the superiors of the Italian monasteries, to few to form a region of their own, after some consultation (their names, in fact, figure as invited guests in the 1966 meetings of the France South and West Region), joined the Spanish monasteries to form the Italian-Spanish Regional Conference. The abbots and abbesses met separately in two distinct Conferences, an arrangement that continued until 1979.
However, for reasons of geographical distance and differences of language and traditions, the Italian monasteries did not find sufficient identity and scope of express in this joint conference because they were not involved enough in discussions about the affairs affecting the Spanish monasteries and superiors. Thus, beginning in 1980, while still participating in the Spanish Regional Conferences (RE) for discussions of juridical questions, the Italian superiors began to meet as a Mixed Italian Sub-Region, to deal with their own particular problems at a pastoral level. In 1982, RE recognized and accepted the formation of an Italian Sub-Region at a time when the tendency was to form mixed regional conferences.
The evolution of the subsequent years is well synthesized in the prologue of RIM’s Statutes: “The long-term experience of meeting as a sub-region with the participation also of the novice directors (monks and nuns), brought us to an awareness of the specific identity of our Italian monastic identity. Thus in 1988 we came to form the Mixed Italian Region (RIM)—which included four monasteries and one annex house—that was definitively approved by the General Chapters of 1990” (See the minutes of the 20 September session [CGf 58 yes, 0 no, 2 abs; CGm 81 yes, 3 no, 3 abst.]). Being a small group fostered a particularly meaningful expression of our Italian communities, which gave the meetings a strong pastoral character appreciated by all. The fact that our houses are relatively close geographically also made it easy to have numerous delegates present (two for each monastery), thus making our communities more directly involved and giving them a better knowledge of each other. For language reasons, beginning in 1992, the superior of Engelzell, with the authorization of the president of the CNE Region, began taking part in our meetings, first as an invited guest and then, beginning in 1993, as a full member.
As defined by the General Chapter of 1990, RIM, on account of its small membership, foregoes sending its own representation to the Central Commissions, and is to be represented by a superior of its choice who is already a member of the Central Commissions. Moreover, it can manifest its place in the Order by sending the minutes of its meetings to all the communities (translated in the Order’s main languages).
The prologue of RIM’s Statutes goes on to say: “From the beginning, RIM has had its own characteristic features and organization. Its main goal is to encourage the communities, to foster fraternal relations among the houses of the Region, and their commitment to the life of the Order. [...] The communities are involved in the preparation of each meeting by dialoguing on the basic subjects dealing with monastic life, so that the truly vital problems can emerge, be listened to, and treated in-depth, in order to foster growth and progress in inculturated spiritual renewal.”
For several years RIM’s experience was very enriching from all points of view: the diversity of the monasteries that belong to it, the different histories and traditions, the presence of persons notable for their capacity for in-depth existential reflection and their long experience of monastic life enlivened the dialogue and led to good debate and exchange among all the participants. The subjects chosen were close to lived experience and were further developed by conferences by experts in the matter, conferences that were then shared with the various houses. The themes, which became points of dialogue in the communities, helped form a common line of thought.
With time, even though the experience continued to be basically positive, there arose difficulties and tensions that put the dynamic of the small group at risk. At first, we thought about including superiors from other Italian monastic communities, both Benedictine and Cistercian. But that plan of action, on account of the smallness of our group, would have changed the specific identity of our meetings. We thus welcomed with great interest the proposal that arose at the MGM of 2002 and that was later confirmed by our 2003–2004 regional meetings to expand RIM into a Mediterranean Region.
2. The Features of RIM
At this time when we are reflecting on the purpose of the Regions—are they primarily groups for mutual help and pastoral sharing among the superiors, or are they groups that prepare for the General Chapter in connection with the Central Commissions?—RIM’s experience could maybe prove interesting.
The first goal we always envisaged was pastoral for the sake of growth in our communities. This pastoral interest was understood less as discussion of hard cases or discernment of problematic situations than as a focus on the fundamental questions that are at the origin of daily problems great and small. This stress on the pastoral dimension of our regional meetings was experienced as a reflection on our identity and its implications. We met to help each other and our respective communities to reflect on monastic life of today and always, to reflect on ourselves as monks and nuns, to learn how to see and express our identity in such a way that it becomes a word of good news, and to encourage the communities to be involved in this work. Once again, it is a duty for us, as monastics, to engage in deep evangelization in order to restore the fabric of Christian life, a new awareness of the faith. This point of view is precious to us and we would not like to lose it if a new region is established.
By way of example, here are some of the subjects treated in 1988:
- The person and the Community (from a Christian point of view and in terms of the contemporary mentality,
- Present-day depersonalization and reconstruction of the person.
- The community’s formative role.
- Cistercian contemplative identity.
- Common vision and pluralism in community life.
- The formative role of the schola caritatis in today’s socio-cultural context.
- The Cistercian grace today: conformity with Christ.
It has always been necessary to be careful to keep the presentation of the subjects simple and clear for all the monks and nuns who make up the region, and not to make them to broad so as to avoid a sense of dispersion in the communities’ exchanges. The usually annual frequency of meetings, a common language, and the relatively limited number of participants generally led to good results in our meetings, which contributed valuable elements for revision of life and formation on the community level.
3. Other Initiatives of the Region
RIM meets annually, and, besides the Regional Meeting, the formators of the various monasteries meet for a more focused session, at times enriched by the presence of an expert. We have often sought to coordinate the topics of the Regional Meeting with the further development of the Novice Directors’ courses to our mutual enrichment.
Through the years we have developed a program that has gradually improved.
Here are the themes treated beginning in 1982:
- Young people and formation.
- Psychological, socio-cultural and pedagogical aspects of formation.
- Anthropology in the RB.
- Man in Cistercian hagiography.
- Person and communion.
- Atheism and Secularization.
- The steps of spiritual experience in St. Bernard.
- Christology and anthropology in the liturgical sermons of St. Bernard.
- Formation to contemplative identity.
- The Pedagogy of Desire.
- Lectio divina as an instrument of communion.
- Humility and obedience as a pedagogical means to the schola caritatis.
- The presence of Christ in the monastery, from the perspective of sacramental pedagogy.
The vows in St. Bernard and
- Education of the affectus.
- Education of the intellectus fidei.
Off and on we have also had sessions for those in formation, novices and junior professed or young solemn professed, in one monastery or another; sessions animated by the fathers and mothers of the Order or by other qualified persons. This initiative remains somewhat sporadic and has not developed much.
It has been more difficult to come to collaboration at the levels of the liturgy, finances and work because of the great diversity of the communities in RIM. On these topics a great respect for the various local situations has always safeguarded the initiative and autonomy of each monastery.