Wednesday, 10 June 2009

You wouldn't want nuns to fall out of windows would you?

Because if there were any more vocations to the convent where we stayed for the weekend, that's probably what would happen. Here, have a read:

Benedictine Convent "Santa Maria delle Rose"
Via Castello, 18
62020 Sant'Angelo in Pontano, Macerata

September 2008

Dear Sir

We are a Benedictine monastic community of strict observance, dedicated to praising the Lord and praying for every man on earth.

We are 30 sisters, the majority of whom are very young, from Italy and from other parts of the world (Belgium, Poland, Canada, Mexico and Taiwan).

The Lord is surprising us, continually sending us new young women who want to embark upon our Benedictine life, that unfolds in a harmonious alternation of Ora et Labora (Prayer and Work). In this way, as St. Benedict recommends in the Holy Rule, we sustain ourselves with the work of our hands.

The old convent is by now too small for our needs and for this reason we think that it is the will of God to construct a new one that, while remaining in the spirit of St. Benedict, will make tangible in its beauty the love of God for each person. We are sure that the Lord will carry this work to completion.

We are writing to ask for your help according to your means.

The new convent will be erected in Passo Sant'Angelo, where the Lord has already provided us with a gift of beautiful land and the authorisation to begin construction.

May the Lord bless you, your family and your work. We are praying for you.

Mother Abbess and community
Tel/Fax: (+39)0733/661206 or (+39)0733/978909 E-mail:

If you would like to participate in the construction:
Banca Delle Marche:IBAN: IT26 M060 5569 1600 0000 0002 225BIC/SWIFT: BAMAIT3AXXX
BancoPosta Italia:IBAN: IT89 A076 0113 4000 0003 6806 743BIC/SWIFT: BPPIITRRXXX

That's their letter. I'd like to add some words of my own:

The Mother's not kidding that the Lord is surprising them. At one time it seemed that the convent was bound to shut down for the lack of vocations, but now the place is teeming with young sisters, and quite an international bunch of sisters too. They are not chalking this up to co-incidence, but to the will of the Lord to do a new thing. They've already received requests to found new convents abroad, not so much in developing countries, but in countries where the Gospel has faded out of public life and where they would be sheep among wolves.

I might also mention that the New Movements of the Church have had a large part to play in this. That is to say that many of these young women were drawn to this ancient way of life precisely because they responded courageously to the call to live out their lay vocation, the priesthood of all believers. They haven't "escaped" - they're full of life and they're doing battle "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" on your behalf and on the behalf of everyone you love.

We're grateful for the love, the hospitality, and the words that they gave to us during our time there.

N.B. There are enough English-speakers in the convent that, should you wish to send a letter or an e-mail, I'm sure it will be gratefully received.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Nuns and Voting

This weekend we went to the Benedictine convent of Sant'Angelo in Pontano, "Santa Maria delle Rose". That's where Monica's friend Marghe(rita) has taken the habit and taken her temporary vows (if I err not). Apparently she "expires" (her own word - like passing your sell-by date) within a year, so she's pretty close to the final commitment. She's been there four years now. We felt the need for a retreat, if only a little one, and Marghe is Monica's best friend, present company excepted, so we decided to take a weekend break there.

It was great.
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
"I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
- Rule of St. Benedict
One of the things that this means is that I ate very well (though the tea was Lipton). Monica didn't eat so much, for she is a delicate individual with delicate insides, and when we arrived, the only other guest was fasting (practically two days), with a room right next to the dining room, so we couldn't really bang on about the food too much. She was a girl called Sonia on the (Neocatechumenal) Way and we felt a bit sorry for her because she was very young, fasted a lot and evidently had a very emotionally overwhelming time - notwithstanding the fact that she'd fasted, she didn't have a lot of appetite afterwards.

We didn't have any kind of programme for the retreat, so we basically ate, joined in with the Office, the Mass, spent time with Marghe and talked with Madre Diletta (Diletta meaning "one in whom delight is taken" rather than Delitta which is almost Italian for "crime") who Marghe recommended to us as a person through whom the Holy Spirit speaks.

I love singing the Psalms. We decided to make the effort to get up for the first prayers of the day, which means getting up around 5-6 at the weekend and neither of us regretted it at all though we did get quite tired out. The convent is a bit of a peculiar one. It looked at one point as though it was going to close down due to the lack of vocations, but God had other ideas, and it's currently packed out with young women. One of the consequences of this is that, for a Benedictine convent, it's a madhouse, and another is that their singing (about which I am certainly not complaining) isn't up to the high standards that are rather expected of the religious orders - so they were quite impressed when I just turned up and sang. Without going into detail, it was great, and it was nice simply to have a straightforward acoustic - San Tommaso is pretty echoey, so it's hard to follow a melody you don't know.

We were very fortunate to have the amount of time that we did with Marghe - you'd be surprised at how busy nuns in an enclosed order can be, and it was good to catch up, especially for Monica of course. Practically the first time Monica spoke to me it was to confide in me how hard it was for her that her friend was entering the convent - she misses her. But it was also very good for my Italian, not just with Marghe, but with everyone. It was very easy to listen, and to speak, which is not something I can take for granted here.

I'm not going to go into what we talked about with Madre Diletta, but suffice to say we received a lot of comfort and a lot to think about, and we're very glad that Marghe suggested it.

Now, theirs is an enclosed order, but it was time to vote over here too, and the Church makes a big deal of voting (Carlo blames the Church for supporting Berlusconi, among other things) so they go out in groups to vote. We went with Marghe's lot as an excuse for a stroll, and one of the nuns, on learning that I was from Sheffield, proceeded to tell us more than I could remember about the Yorkshire metal industry. Pfft. Sant'Angelo in Pontano is a very nice place, and there's a beautiful view of the mountains, behind some of the greenest hills I've seen in Italy (not so green as England), so it was nice to see the nuns having a chance to appreciate that as well.

We very cleverly scheduled our retreat so that we had to vote when we got back to Offagna tired from insane prayer schedules. It was a bit funny to vote in Italy, but the system is basically exactly the same as in England. Monica asked me who I was going to vote for, but apparently I wasn't meant to tell her, because then everyone would know. This is a little village after all. Monica says if people know how you vote, you get labelled - s'probably true everywhere. I voted PD anyway. I had half a mind to vote UdC because of their family policies, but they're rather a minorty party, and I'm not sure how much you can legislate for strong families. I also like the idea of the IdV, because if there's one thing Italy needs, it's a continual, real struggle against corruption. Di Pietro, the leader, was a judge at the time of Tangentopoli ('Bribesville', a scandal that destroyed the Christian Democrats, completely reconfiguring the Italian political landscape) before founding his party as a response to the corruption. But I couldn't condone all of their programme.

Anyhow, same story here as in the rest of Europe. The PdL, Berlusconi's centre-right party, in coalition with the Lega Nord (racists) seem to have done it again. The IdV have made good progress, and I hope they continue to do so.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The European Elections

I decided to do a rough translation of an article on the various parties and their manifestos in Il Messagero because it seemed like a good way to a) help me vote sensibly b) practise Italian and c) give you a window into Italian politics, should you want such a thing.

Here we vote on Saturday and Sunday. We're away for the weekend at a nunnery for a personal retreat, so we'll have to vote when we get back on Sunday.

If you want to ask any questions, do. I know that there are tons of typos - this does not concern me. I think it's pretty interesting to compare this with British politics.

Here it is:

Popolo della Libertà (People of Liberty): first objective: becoming the largest party within the European popular parties
The first objective of Berlusconi is to make the PdL the most numerous group of the PPE, thus the leading party, thereby conditioning the choices of [the European popular house?]. The PdL has undersigned the programme of the PPE, that, after unrestrained laissez faire, ending with the world finiancial crisis, is now staking everything on the “social market economy”. The financial markets must submit to fixed rules. Job creation is a priority, given that unemployment is on the increase, as well as investment in green technology and renewable and nuclear energy.
Then the struggle against illegal immigration, a common policy on asylum and the Blue Card system for immigrants. Pension reform and tax policies for families. Also a stronger EU that will renew its partnership with the USA, more control of world financial markets from the Monetary Fund and re-inforcement of the UN.

Partito Democratico (Democratic Party): Economic Emergency: supporting workers and businesses in crisis
The PD is relying heavily on social-economic themes. Modification of the stability pact (to remove investment and reserach expenses from the deficit), issuing of European public qualifications to develop infrastructures and a fund for supporting workers and firms struck by the international crisis. The development of social shock-absorbers, from a minimum income to support for low salaries.
Then the “green economy” following Obama, an obligatory Erasmus programme in the universities and achieving equality between men and women. Management of the immigration problem by the EU: struggle against illegal immigration, black-market work and human-trafficking, but also integration, common rules on asylum, and entrusting border control to the EU rather than single states. Co-operation against organised crime and defence of Schengen, creating a European police force.

Northern League: No to super-state Europe
less immigrants, more security

More than a programme, Carroccio proposes a manifesto against beaurocracy from Brussells. The league doesn't want a “continental super-state”. The alternative is that of a “Europe of the peoples” with a confederal model in which the member states maintain their unaltered sovereignty. The League's document recalls the battle for Europe's Christian roots: a separate chapter is dedicated to the refusal of Turkey's entry into the EU. The participation of Ankara “would make the idea of a Europe founded on common roots, which are Christian, collapse”. Fiscal federalism, defense of Malpensa as an international airport, defence of the family and no marriages except between a man and a woman. Also: regional autonomy in waste-management and re-introduction of customs duties to beat unfair competition from the far-east and elsewhere.

Unione di Centro (Union of the Centre): The family above everything
aids, relief and subsidiarity

The centrists of the UDC are relying heavily on the Europe of families. And they've put together a manifesto in which the defence of the family is the central nucleus: the family founded on marriage, as the Catholics consider it; family policies that aim to defeat poverty, without the redistribution of wealth as their goal, to be applied in terms of subsidiarity and not welfare, that don't regard solely welfare, but also tax relief, school, bioethics and employment. A fundamental principle is that a European citizen's capcity to contribute must be based on the size of the family in his care. Immigration also to be managed with a view to the family: “Illegal immigration and violence, exploitation and xenophobia – they are fought with family unity and Europe must take up the fight”.

Left and Liberty: Reduction of working hours. Yes to civil partnerships and gay marriages
Vendola and company are looking to the European socialy salary for the unemployed and also propose ther reduction of working hours and taxation of large estates, instability, reduction of the differences in EU payments. Renewable energy rather than nuclear, bio-construction, quality agriculture, consumer protection and struggle against the climate emergency. On civil rights, Left and Liberty wants a Europe that recognises the decisive role of the individual conscience in the great ethical questions: Yes to liberty of treatment, to the use of stem-cells, to assisted fertilisation, to civil unions and gay marriages. Equal opportunity and freedom for women and men. No to the Gelmini reform, quality public schools and universities financed by public money. Against armaments and in favour of disarmament.

PRC-PDCI: Minimum salary, private incomes to be taxed and dismissals blocked
Another Europe is possible is the title of the manifesto presented by the anticapitalist list formed by the PRC and PDCI. “We are opposed to a laissez faire, technocratic Europe”, it declares. The joint programme sustains that the workers mustn't pay for the crisis of capitalism. Therefore, a plan for full employment and a fund financed by the taxation of private incomes and financial speculation is necessary, as well as the blocking of dismissals and delocalisation. The firms that make use of public contributions can't dimiss workers or use the funds for relocating production. A European contract and minimum salary, a social income for the unemployed and an adequate pension. Among the proposals: public control of credit, nationalisation of the banks, closure of detention centres for immigrants, the dissolution of NATO. Renewable energy and no to nuclear.

Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values): More transparency and inelegibility for the condemned. European social pact
Italy of Values presents a 12-point programme. The party of Di Pietro intend to carry their flag for the defense of legality into Europe: transparency in European finance, inelegiblity for the condemned and European sentences to be respected within 60 days of their approval. The IdV says yes to the affermation of civil rights (in particular civil unions and living wills), and would like the obligation to study a second European language from infancy. On immigration it asks for the regulation of the flow of migrants on the basis of solidarity, of regular employment and of capacity for subsistence. Help to the unemployed, a European social pact for the ditrubution of aid and social shock-absorbers in relation to support capacity, to the nuclear family and to the possibility of relocation.

The list of Bonino: “The United States of Europe, immediately”. A vote against 'partyocracy'“United States of Europe, immediately. For a European homeland against the Europe of homelands”, the slogan of the Bonino-Pannella list and the most European of all. The exact opposite of that procliamed by Bossi's League, that is the desire to have a strong, united Europe guiding us, overcoming selfishness and national myopia. One of the strongest slogans exclaims: “For the Liberation from 60 years of 'partyocracy' Let us call together the Italians for the great 'American' reform, liberal and federalist, lay and non-violent, for a new governing class, an alternative to the one we have, for an open society like the one proposed by our referendums, often approved by the overwhelming majority of the Italian people, but then betrayed by 'partyocracy'”. The radicals denounce: “Not only democratic elections” undermined by disinformation and “violation of legality”.