Commemorating the 800th anniversary of the beginning of the "Holy Preaching" of St. Dominic in southern France and news of the refounding of the monastery of Senekal, South Africa
We have heard this phrase over and over again in newspapers, on the Internet, on radio and television, ever since the afternoon of 18th April last when the election of Pope Benedict XVI was announced to the world. They are words which take on a very special meaning at Christmas time, reminding us of the angels who proclaimed a message of great joy to the shepherds in Bethlehem (Cf. Luke 2, 10).
In the midst of the wretchedness of this time which appears to be so dark, at the end of a year filled with tragic events — natural disasters and wars — the star of Bethlehem continues to shine, even today.
Eight hundred years ago, towards the end of the year 1205, Dominic and Diego were coming to the end of their second journey as royal ambassadors to the Marches. They failed to achieve the purpose of their journey, and St Dominic’s biographers tell us that, on their way back to Castille, they passed through Rome and Cîteaux, where Diego asked to be clothed in the white habit. At the beginning of March 1206, they headed for Montpellier where they met up with 12 Cistercian abbots, led by a Papal Legate, who had met together with the local hierarchy in order to launch a preaching campaign. Diego suggested to them the method of apostolic preaching, in evangelical poverty, with austerity of means, and stressing the power of example. Diego and Dominic not only advised this course of action, but themselves began to put it into practice. From then on, Dominic began to call himself simply Bro Dominic. Diego had to return to Osma. Dominic preferred to stay on where he was as a preacher. The ‘Preaching of Jesus Christ’ approved by Pope Innocent III in 1204 had become reality.
The mission which had taken them well beyond the Pyrenees could not be accomplished. Undoubtedly the Lord had sown a seed which would bear abundant fruit. The experience of travelling from Osma and the surrounding region to well beyond the frontiers of the known world definitively changed the life of Diego de Acebes and Dominic of Guzmán, as well as — why not say it — our own lives!
We know our history. Moreover, eight hundred years later, the joyful proclamation of the Gospel to the poor and Dominican itinerancy continue today, signposting the way for us, like the star of Bethlehem.
As a Christmas message, here is a true story filled with hope. For this reason, I repeat to the entire Dominican Family: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum!
Forty years ago, the Second Vatican Council was promulgating the decree on the Church’s missionary activity (7.12.1965). The decree also deals with the missionary duty of contemplative communities, exhorting them to found monasteries in missionary territories (Ad Gentes 40). Invited by the local bishop, faithful to their contemplative Dominican vocation and to this spirit of Conciliar renewal, the nuns of the Federation of St Dominic in Spain generously undertook the foundation of a monastery in the diocese of Bethlehem (in the district of Senekal), South Africa.
On 9th March 1985, the Holy See authorised this Federation to make such a foundation. Seven nuns from various monasteries formed part of the first community. The first Vicaress, Sr Maria Isabel, died in an accident in August 1987. Others returned [to their original monasteries] for various reasons. On 13th February, 1988, the Monastery was blessed and enclosure established.
As the years went by, the situation of the contemplative communities in Spain meant that the Federation of St Dominic was no longer able to guarantee, as would have been desirable, a sufficient number of nuns for the hoped-for canonical erection of the monastery in accordance with the Constitutions. In the meantime, three Africans had joined the monastery, two from South Africa and one from Mozambique.
In recent years, discussions have taken place with the Federation with a view to saving the foundation with the help of other Monasteries in Africa. It was clear that the process would not be easy. In the entire continent of Africa, there are now six autonomous monasteries, plus 2 in the process of formation (Senekal and Kwito Bié in Angola). The monasteries are very far apart and are in different countries. In addition to the local languages which many of the Sisters speak, the ‘official’ languages of the communities are: English (Senekal in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya, and Bambui in Cameroon); French (Rweza in Burundi; Douala and Toumi in Cameroon) and Portuguese (Benguela and its foundation in Kwito Bié, both in Angola).
Last April, the Prioresses of the African monasteries met together in Senekal. They decided to take the necessary steps to support St Dominic’s Monastery in Senekal. The support of the Dominican Family in South Africa was an important element in this decision.
The founding nuns of Corpus Christi, Kenya, from the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace, North Guilford. Corpus Christi is the "granddaughter" of the Summit monastery.
Corpus Christi Monastery in Nairobi, Kenya, undertook to replace the Federacion de Santo Domingo in assuming responsibility for the future support of the Monastery in Senekal. Moreover, the three African members of the Senekal community joined the ‘refounding’ group of nuns from the Monastery in Nairobi and others from the Monastery of Saint Dominic in Bambui, Cameroon.
As from 1st August, the seven nuns who were to continue the foundation assembled in the Monastery in Nairobi. They were Sr Visitation and Sr Francis (both South African) and Sr Dolores (from Mozambique) [i.e., the three Sisters from the Senekal community]; Sr Judith-Mary and Sr Ermelinde, born in Cameroon and daughters of the Monastery of Saint Dominic in Bambui, Cameroon; Sr Joyce Rita and Sr Mary Rose, born in Kenya, and daughters of the Monastery in Nairobi.
They began an intense preparation for continuing the dream that had been begun 20 years earlier by other nuns. God willing, on 2nd February next, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Day dedicated to the Consecrated Life, they will commence their common life in the Monastery of Saint Dominic, in Senekal, South Africa.
It will be a day of celebration for all. In the monastery in Senekal, the Sisters are awaited, by the remaining five Sisters, who will then be able to return to their monasteries in Spain. They will do so rejoicing in the knowledge of having been faithful to a history pregnant with hope in this corner of South Africa. This is Dominican itinerancy in practice, some of us pass on the «testimony» to others, as the baton is passed from one to another in relay races.
The Order expresses its gratitude to these contemplative nuns. They are the hidden root of Dominican preaching. Out of their poverty, these Sisters, born in countries as widely different as Spain, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon, have offered their lives as an offering to God. Like Dominic and Diego, they accepted to travel well beyond their own frontiers in order to bring something new to birth.
The year 2006 will mark the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Monastery in Prouilhe. In a manner of speaking, we can say that it is the first community of the Order. Providence wished it so. This true story which I have just related is an addition to that of the beginnings of the Order.
The Monastery of Our Lady of Prouilhe, France
Often we think that we are very different, that we cannot tackle together the task of making a start in other countries, in other cultures, in order to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. Our contemplative Sisters are once again teaching us the way to go …
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: in the diocese of Bethlehem, South Africa, God has come to visit us once again.
Happy Christmas to you all!
Fr. Carlos A. Aspiroz Costa OP Master of the Order
Rome, 21st November, 2005.Commemoration of the Presentation of Our Lady in the TempleDay pro Orantibus for the contemplative life