We are monks and nuns whom a medieval chronicler compared to trees. The Bible speaks more of a “vine” that God plants and transplants… So there are roots… and wings!
Everybody knows that roots have to be respected so there can be growth: Saint Benedict with his day to day humility, Father Emmanuel of Mesnil-Saint-Loup with his hope of conversion, Saint Bernard Tolomei with his taste for fraternal life, and Saint Frances of Rome with her sense of the Church.
Otherwise there won’t be any fruit! But if you mix these roots, what a perfume! And “the perfume spreads far”, as that same chronicler said…
Even to “a spring in the hollow of a valley” in the Holy Land: the village of Abu Ghosh, where a community takes on flesh and builds its day to day life as men and women together in the rhythm of praise.
But who were the people who gave wings to this community?
Mother Elisabeth de Wavrechin, who became a war widow in 1916, made the decisive discovery during a pilgrimage to Rome in 1919 of monastic life as founded in 1433 by Saint Frances of Rome at the Tor de Specci Monastery, with the support of the Olivetan monks at Santa Maria Nuova.
In 1922, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem raised in her the desire to come and establish a community there as a visible sign of prayer for the unity of Christians.
This spiritual direction, which she inherited from Saint Frances of Rome, and the call to unity, in later years corresponded with the spiritual heritage of the Bec-Hellouin Abbey in Normandy, where monastic life was restored in 1948 and entrusted to the leadership of Father Abbot Paul Grammont.
In his teaching and within the ecumenical movement Father Abbot Paul directed the monks and nuns towards the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity and towards listening to these.
This journey came to blossom in 1976 when Brothers Jean-Baptiste, Charles and Alain were sent to Israel. On May 1, they celebrated their first Mass in the church of Saint Mary of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh. They were followed in 1977 by Sisters Ignace, Henri and Marie-Joseph.
Forty years later, the two communities are rooted in the Land of Israel and take on their many-sided heritage; there are now seven brothers and fourteen sisters.
To be present in the place where the unity between the Church and the Synagogue was torn apart, the germinal place of all division and discords among Christians.
Our Vocation for the Holy Land is a Path
It is not something that is already finished, for which we bear the keys. We received the keys to this monastery in Abu Ghosh from its owner, the French State, due to a play of circumstances and of friendships.
These keys permitted us to realize a great desire of Father Abbot Paul from Bec-Hellouin: to be present in the place where the unity between the Church and the Synagogue was torn apart, the germinal place of all the divisions and discords that would come between Christians.
After a pilgrimage by Brother Jean-Baptiste and upon the request of André Chouraqui and Father Marcel Dubois, Father Abbot Paul thought it good to send us to this country…
Read More... For him, there were not two countries in this divided Holy Land. He wanted us to be in this place as a cordially welcoming presence, listening to the biblical Israel in its Jewish history, which continues in the Israel of today. Our presence in this Muslim Israeli village of Abu Ghosh fulfills the prophetic vision that places our community first of all within a mystery, the mystery of salvation. For in this place of Abu Ghosh we are placed at the heart of the very reality in the flesh of this country in its diversity. It is clear for us, as it was for Father Abbot Paul, that our vocation roots us in a tearing apart that is deeper than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Listening to this country and to those who live here, a slow and long listening, we have learned to “hear” this people that was given to us by maintaining our openness to this other who invites us, so as to remain faithful, to leave behind fear, and not to enclose ourselves in ready-made schemata of good and evil. All we have is love to oppose the various forces of evil that dwell in us, and only kindness to offer our guests and friends who come from every point of view. Read Less
For him, there were not two countries in this divided Holy Land. He wanted us to be in this place as a cordially welcoming presence, listening to the biblical Israel in its Jewish history, which continues in the Israel of today.
Our presence in this Muslim Israeli village of Abu Ghosh fulfills the prophetic vision that places our community first of all within a mystery, the mystery of salvation. For in this place of Abu Ghosh we are placed at the heart of the very reality in the flesh of this country in its diversity.
It is clear for us, as it was for Father Abbot Paul, that our vocation roots us in a tearing apart that is deeper than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Listening to this country and to those who live here, a slow and long listening, we have learned to “hear” this people that was given to us by maintaining our openness to this other who invites us, so as to remain faithful, to leave behind fear, and not to enclose ourselves in ready-made schemata of good and evil.
All we have is love to oppose the various forces of evil that dwell in us, and only kindness to offer our guests and friends who come from every point of view. Read Less
The rise of contentious people who tore the Church apart into separate denominations goes back all the way to the first tearing apart between the Synagogue and the early Church. At the same time, the attention we give to our common roots in the mystery of Israel is part of that process, as we remember everything that we have in common and everything that differentiates us, that opposes us to one another…
This monastic presence prays and listens. For our Benedictine community, this is about listening humbly to this Holy Land, whose stones themselves cry out and sing that which the entire earth is waiting for.
To live thus in the fervent prayer of the person who keeps watch is not possible without a cordial knowledge of the milieu in which this occurs and by being familiar with it.
Thus finding the land of the origins, the land of our fathers and mothers in faith, the monks and nuns feel that they are in accord with the country of the patriarchs, the prophets, the minstrels of the Most High. Being here, poor and silent, welcoming the mysterious resonances of the Word of God and faithful to the Church’s eschatological hope – this is their entire life. This might look very gratuitous, and in fact, this is what they want out of respect for the root that carries us and for the future of God.
If we speak of a return to the sources, it is good to live while being attentive to the germinal point of the Church and of Christian monasticism, without falling into an archaeological attitude and without idealizing, but in a logic of tradition, which always maintains the value of the source at its origin.
On the other hand, there is an attitude of humility that is to be lived in contact with Israel, and this obliges us to purify our Christianity of all self-sufficiency and all triumphalism, without denying our identity.
What is important is not to judaize, but to recognize “the rock from which we were hewn” and to witness to our Jewish brothers and sisters of a true life that is penetrated by beautiful prayer, for which they gave us the poems, especially in the Psalms.
Moreover, what makes the unity of the Bible as a whole, as well as of the monk’s and the Christian’s existence, is a wisdom that is filled with a sharp sense of the human being and of his and her universal vocation. And for the world this remains the great hope of peace.
At a time when the human capital itself is threatened and in which the universe is seeking its cohesion, as if the planet Earth were shrinking, it is important to hear the great voice of the prophets and the sages, the message of the doctors of the Law of Israel, on an earth where space and time are contracting and where the Word of God recapitulates all the paths and expectations of history. Jesus did not come to abolish, but to fulfill, uniting in himself the immense memory of Israel and giving it a cosmic unfolding that leaves nothing outside of it.
“Hear… You shall love…” These two words of the Benedictine Rule at the beginning of the prologue and of chapter IV are the echo of the “Sh’ma Israel” and of its continuation.
And as was promised to the people of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, of Moses and of Elijah, to the people of Mary and of Jesus, that they would reach the Jerusalem on high, thus our Benedictine Rule concludes: “You shall reach…”
Those who have Inspired us
Father Paul Grammont
Father Jean-Baptiste Gourion
In 1976, he founded the Abu Ghosh community and brought new life to the Mesnil-Saint-Loup monastery. In 1983, he initiated a monastic presence in Ireland.
He was a man of tradition and of openness, a man of solitude and of contacts, a man of discipline and of kindness, and as such he marked profoundly all who approached him.
At Mesnil-Saint-Loup, he received a classical human formation and an openness to modernity and innovation. In Paris and Rome, he was profoundly marked by his teachers, who sensitized him to the liturgy as an act of remembering the history of salvation in its entirety and to the mystery of Israel, the root from which the Church may not cut itself off. He became attentive and sensitive to the tearing apart of the Church and the Synagogue at the Church’s origin, the germinal point of all splits.
His spiritual life and his work are marked by this search for unity, a personal unity, the unity of the Church, the unity of humanity. But this search for unity was not a search for something monolithic nor for uniformity or for a “One” that would be fusion, but rather of what he often taught as a “plural unity”. And that was not simple wordplay, but a reality that he lived until his death. For he had the ability to conjugate and to reconcile opposites.
With her fiery and willful temperament, she always linked a radical listening to the plan of God as discerned in the “circumstances of the words of God” in the Bible, thanks to her Protestant ancestry, with her successive encounters with Dom Maréchaux, the abbot of the Sainte Espérance [Holy Hope] at Mesnil-Saint-Loup, and then with Dom Paul Grammont. These were a support in the birth of the community of monastic oblates in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, which was later transferred next to the Abbey of Our Lady in Bec, Normandy.
From Saint Frances she received a sense of the value of oblation, as transmitted by Saint Frances’ teaching and life, and she founded a community of oblate-nuns that was united with a community of monks, a unity that was lived in common praise and oblation-profession around the same altar, thus realizing a living image of the Church.
After his military service and the discovery in Algeria of the horrors that the human being is capable of inflicting on another human being which marked him profoundly, he chose the monastic life and made profession at the Bec-Hellouin Abbey in 1965. He was ordained a priest in 1967 (he became abbot of our abbey in 1999).
From the outset, he was open to the Catholic charismatic renewal, faithful to a process that led him to ever greater human and spiritual openness to the other, even to the point of the impossible, while he always carried within himself the ever present wound of the horror inflicted on his people.
His playful temperament did not always conceal the bitterness of a personal journey in which he gave himself over to others, first in his responsibility as Benedictine abbot, then when he was named a bishop, which rooted him – according to what Father Abbot Paul said – in the fidelity to his Jewish origin, but also confronted him with the institution of the Church in its painful contradictions.
He lived in his flesh and his soul an even more radical tearing apart with the death of the young Brother Alain, whose offering “for Israel” and whose spiritual testament – “Suffering gives no right whatsoever except to love” – took nothing away from the sacrifice that was demanded, like with the death of a son.
Fortunately for him, he found in the friendship of our friends in Bethlehem and with André and Annette Chouraqui the Oriental milieu where his sense of life could expand as well as the joy of animated meetings and his marvel over creation… which remains our community heritage!
Made fruitful by the Gospel, his desire for life made him attentive to all that makes up human and Christian reality, including sexuality, with his concern not to let dry up the savor of the Father’s tenderness revealed in Jesus.
This is his heritage to us, which is an example of his Sephardi Judaism that gives us life today in this Land, where we live as witnesses of hope; this heritage is written at the heart of every human encounter.
But this man, who was seized by the absolute, was not satisfied with preaching to his parishioners. He committed his entire being to this desire for conversion, a desire that for whom would take the form of a commitment to monastic life in the school of Saint Benedict, according to the “idea of a monk” that he had perceived during his youth: “It seemed to me that I saw the monastery in the peace of this solitude; and the monk himself, freed of the things of the earth and recollected in the presence of God’s Majesty, whom he adored and to whom he sang.”
Thus this person who has been passed down to posterity by his religious name of Father Emmanuel, together with a few companions, had to build at the heart of his parish a “small corner of Jerusalem”, as he liked to call his monastery, which in 1886 was affiliated to the Benedictine congregation of Mount Oliveti.
If the times and the modalities have changed, there is still a community of monks and another of oblate nuns living in this place, seeking the face of God, the source of all hope.