By Stefanie Stahlhofen
Judith Samson is a Benedictine novice and a "Laudato sí" animator. She tells Vatican Radio all about how the Benedictine nuns at the monastery try to live sustainably. Each of us, she says, can make a difference.
43-year-old Judith was born in Münsterland, Germany and she has been a novice at the Fahr monastery in Switzerland for just over a year. The Benedictine nuns' monastery is located near Zurich, and because of the pandemic, she had to self-quarantine. It was precisely at that time - she explains in our interview - that the idea was born to transform the popular monastery garden, which is open to the public free of charge, into a "Laudato sí" garden.
Provost's garden, teaching garden, "Laudato sí" garden
Judith Samson: Pope Francis published the encyclical Laudato sí six years ago in which he urgently called each of us to action. The garden is very important to Benedictines here as it is to Benedictines in general. It has always been important: first as the provost's garden, then as a teaching garden - until 2013 there was a farm school. For Sister Beatrice, sustainability has always been a very important factor - protecting native varieties and insects, creating pastures... Here we are in an oasis for tourists who come to the Limmat Valley in large numbers, especially on weekends. People of all ages come: couples, families, singles.
When I started my novitiate, we were in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. So I had to quarantine and my room looked out right onto the garden. I would watch the crowds of people visiting the garden and I thought - or rather the Holy Spirit spoke in me - saying “this is the perfect place to bring Pope Francis’ message to the people.”
"This is the perfect place to bring Pope Francis’ message to the people."
Vatican Radio: Then how did you pursue this idea?
Judith Samson: I was already a "Laudato sí" animator, that is, I had training from the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which is now called the Laudato Sí Movement. They offer in-depth training that allows for a deeper knowledge of the encyclical to all those who want to be particularly committed to the dissemination of the text so that they can act as multipliers in their own environment and with the means that they have available. Obviously, one is committed to prayer, but also to action for the care and conservation of creation.
Getting back in touch with the Creator in a concrete way
You had an idea for concrete action: Transforming the garden of the Fahr monastery into a "Laudato sí" garden. How did you go about that concretely?
Judith Samson: I suggested to the Prioress and to the community that we put quotes from the encyclical in various places in the garden so that people would have the opportunity not only to admire nature, but also to get back in touch with the Creator. Everyone thought it was a good idea, so we started implementing it.
There was a very well-known poetess in our convent, Silja Walter, who lived here under the name Sister Maria Hedwig. She was very inspired by the creation that surrounded her in this environment. Her verses and thoughts fit incredibly well with "Laudato sí". So the Prioress thought it would be a nice idea to see if there were any quotes from Silja Walter that matched those of Pope Francis. And so we came up with the idea of "putting Pope Francis' encyclical in dialogue" with Silja Walter's verses.
Could you give us a concrete example of that dialogue between the poetess and the encyclical? Do you remember any verse or theme where Silja Walter had similar thoughts to Pope Francis' in "Laudato sí"?
Judith Samson: Well, at the time, in the 1970s, environmental protection and the preservation of creation was already a major theme. She wrote a lot on this issue. For example, "Fastenopfer," a large international aid organization here in Switzerland, commissioned Silja Walter to write a song to promote relations with churches and international partners, even in developing countries, and at the same time to promote the preservation of creation. She wrote a song that said: "Gott gib, dass die Lauen, Lahmen, die wir doch Salz der Erde heißen, diese Welt dem Zerfall entreißen", that is: "God grant us, who are lukewarm and limp, despite the fact that we are supposed to be the salt of the earth, the grace to be able to save this world from decay".
I find very much in tune with the concern that is in Pope Francis’ heart today.
What are the reactions of visitors, how is the project being received?
Judith Samson: It's still a very new project. We opened the garden on Friday before Pentecost, during "Laudato sí" Week, which intentionally ended with the Pentecost event, so that the Holy Spirit can continue to work and inspire us. So far we have seen that people are very interested in reading the texts. Meanwhile, we have had positive feedback from our sister monastery in Einsiedeln.
Fahr's Benedictine sisters also support a project in the Philippines
You just said that with the end of the "Laudato sí" year and the "Laudato sí" week, not everything is over. The idea developed by Pope Francis in "Laudato sí" must be carried forward and we must continue to actively implement this document. To this end, the Vatican has recently launched a new platform for action on the Internet. Do you have any thoughts on how to contribute?
Judith Samson: We are already on the way, for example, we are committed to the cry of the earth and to the protection of biodiversity. We consciously grow indigenous herbs and medicinal plants, not exotic ones. We have rented our farm and are converting it according to organic farming criteria. We have printed the texts of the "Laudato sí" garden on postcards, which we sell in our monastery store. Most of the proceeds go to support a "Fastenopfer" project for the reforestation of mangrove forests in the Philippines, which are particularly important for the livelihood of local fishing families.
"As Benedictine nuns, we generally have a sustainable lifestyle: all twenty nuns in the convent share one car.”
The 20 nuns of the convent share a car, we recycle as much as possible, we sort our waste, we also do a lot of "upcycling" (reuse of waste materials) with creative ideas and we generally try to reduce our waste as much as possible. Milk, for example, is delivered fresh from a local farmer. We also try to eat according to the season: we pretty much only eat fruit from our own garden and maybe buy an apple once in a while. Some of the vegetables we eat also come from the "Laudato sí" garden, as do the herbs.
"Starting in late June, there will be visits to the "Laudato sí" garden on the themes of spirituality and creation."
Of course, as Benedictines, ecological spirituality is one of our central themes. We included the protection of creation as early as 2020, for example, in the Season of Creation in October, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in Eucharistic celebrations. From the end of June there will be guided tours of the "Laudato sí" garden on the themes of spirituality and creation, and we have joined the network of contemplative communities for the care of creation.
What each of us can do to protect the environment
What can ordinary people do in their daily lives to live more consciously and sustainably? Do you have any concrete suggestions?
Judith Samson: What I particularly like in the encyclical is what the Pope says, also in reference to Therese of Lisieux, about taking small steps: everyone can do something in their environment. He says that we should simply be careful and be open. For example, in our workplace, in our family, with our friends… If we recycle something, or if we turn down the heat a bit and dress more warmly, if we consciously save water... All of these things help. They're small things to us, but overall, they make a difference. Or if we take care to buy sustainable goods from regional producers at the market or the fair trade chain of production - within our means, of course.
"Lots of little things create change."
I think a lot of small things bring a change in consciousness, then gradually it becomes more and more automatic. If we live our lives with a keen mind, we will notice where it is possible for us to do something more, without putting pressure on ourselves. It is enough, in my opinion, to become aware of the situation, start with the small things, and then remain open, because the things we can do will then come by themselves, I am convinced of this.
Opening hours and guided tours in the Laudato si' Garden of the Fahr Monastery
The "Laudato sí" Garden of the Fahr Monastery near Zurich is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to about 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The Fahr Monastery offers guided tours of the garden with Sister Beatrice Beerli and, since the end of June, also guided tours on spirituality and creation with Novice Judith Samson. Groups of max. 14 persons, fee CHF 150. Registration 043 455 10 40 (Mon-Thurs) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cards with quotes from the encyclical are available for purchase in the monastery store. Proceeds will be donated to Fastenopfer to support a mangrove tree reforestation project in the Philippines.
For more information visit the Fahr Monastery website (in German): https://www.kloster-fahr.ch/?page_id=21136
The video about the Garden "Laudato sí" was produced by kath.ch