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.