discovered the place where Benedict was living alone.
So they started coming to him
to learn the way to life.
(Life of St. Benedict by St. Gregory the Great)
[This is a revised presentation of an article that originally appeared on the monastic review ‘AIM Bulletin’ in 2001]
The way to Rangpur
We have been dealing with this people since 1989. At that time the monastery was under construction and some of the labourers came from Rangpur. During those 10 years we never raised the issue of their becoming Christian. Our approach could be defined more or less as inter-religious dialogue. In fact we used to encourage them to live as good Hindus. Nevertheless, we always had clearly in mind our duty to witness to our Christian and monastic identity.
In 1997 a family from Ghona came to the monastery asking for religious assistance. They had been baptized by itinerant preachers of a Christian sect, and then left on their own. Since this family had relations in Rangpur our old friends from there came to know about the matter and as a consequence they too asked to join Christianity.
- Material assistance: our way to help them is the same we have been adopting during the past years: it is addressed to everybody in need (as described in Our Life).
- Interpersonal relations: according to Benedictine tradition the monastery must always be open to receive Christ in its guests, especially if they are poor. So guests must really feel at home. In particular they must feel a close human relationship with the monks so that the journey to Christ is not only their own, but our common journey. In this way they are encouraged to share their personal and family-related problems.
Spending time with children
- Identity: since these people have decided to become followers of Christ they must be treated as such and such care must be taken not to address them as ex-Hindus. Doing so (i.e. addressing them as ex-Hindus) would hamper the Christian-identity process. The effect of this identity process is their denial of the caste system (by being ready to marry people who are considered outcaste in Hinduism) and the acquisition of a spirit of evangelisazion in order to avoid creation of a getto mentality in the village.
- Spiritual formation: since Friday is the weekly holiday in the country, it is the fixed day for the catechumens/new Christians to come to the monastery. In the morning we have the celebration of the Eucharist with a rather long homily-instruction; in the afternoon we gather for further instruction: Bible in general; learning and singing the Psalms that they will use as their morning, midday, and evening prayer; considering ethical and moral problems, etc.
Ready for Mass
- In this regard it is interesting to notice that, even after receiving Baptism, they continue -on Fridays- to come to the monastery. This fact induced us to offer them the opportunity to become Oblates of our monastery (Oblates are people who decide to become spiritual members of a monastery; to conform their lives to the Benedictine way of life, and to be available for any need of the monastery).
Oblates helping the monastery
- On Sundays, a priest from the Parish goes there to celebrate the Eucharist. Since in the two villages there is no church, Mass is celebrated -by rotation- in one of their houses. All the other facets of pastoral care too (like administering Baptisms or celebrating Weddings) are the responsibility of the Parish-clergy.
- Contents: we try to follow the catechumenal practice of the first Christian centuries: at that time, the catechist explained to the catechumens the deep meaning of the celebrations the catechumens had shared in.
So, once they have learned the ‘basics’ of Christianity (The Lord’s prayer, the ten commandments, the seven sacraments, monogamy etc.) we start commenting on the Creed: each statement (or each word) is described following its biblical references, and commented upon taking into account also related topics (ex. creation/relation of man to created world/relation between man and God/between man and woman/towards human society etc.).
This approch takes a rather long time, but -according to us- it is very important in order to create a Bible-based Christian cultural environment and spirituality. In this way they also learn to depend on the Word of God and to make use of it.