By Christopher Wells
Benedictine sisters and nuns from all over the world are in Rome this week for the 8th International Symposium of the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum, the collection of all the communities of Benedictine women in the Church. On Saturday, participants in the Symposium were received by Pope Francis in an audience at the Vatican.
A vocation to hospitality
In his address to the Benedictines, the Holy Father focused on the theme of the Symposium, taken from the Rule of St Benedict: “All are to be welcomed in Christ.” This expression, he said, “has given the Benedictine Order a remarkable vocation to hospitality.” Benedictines are able to “offer the precious gift” of their witness to the “many people in the world who seek to reflect in their lives the tenderness, compassion, mercy, and acceptance in their lives.” In particular, he mentioned the welcome accorded to persons of different religious traditions through ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.
The importance of prayer
Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of prayer – especially the daily celebration of Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours – at the centre of the lives of Benedictines. “Each day, your prayer enriches, in a manner of speaking, the ‘breathing’ of the Church,” he said. That prayer, he said, is a prayer of praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and intercession. “The value of your prayer is incalculable, yet surely it is a most precious gift.”
Care for God's gifts
In his address, the Pope also recognized the “special care” Benedictine women have shown “towards the environment.” “I know,” he said, “that the Benedictine nuns and sisters in the world are good administrators of God’s gifts”; and he encouraged them to continue “this style and service.” The Holy Father also expressed his appreciation for the Benedictines’ “witness to the importance of mutual love and respect.” He said, “the way you accept one another is the first sign you offer in a world that finds it hard to live out this value.”
Icons of the Church and the Madonna
Concluding his remarks, Pope Francis told the Benedictine women, “You bring a precious gift to the life of the Church through your feminine witness of goodness, faith and generosity, imitating the Holy Mother of the Church, the Virgin Mary. For this we praise the Lord and we thank you.” He reminded them, “You are icons of the Church and of the Madonna. Don’t forget it! Icons. Those who see you, see Mother Church, and the Madonna, the Mother of Christ.”