THE NUNS IN THEIR OLD FRANCISCAN HABITS AS POOR CLARES
MADRID – There are few things that can rouse a Spaniard out of the house before 9 a.m. on a weekend. Surprisingly, one of those is a group of religious nuns in denim habits.
On any given weekend, groups from around Spain rise early and drive to La Aguilera, a small town outside the northern city of Burgos. There, the Iesu Communio sisters receive visitors in a modern, circular meeting room built especially for this purpose. Visitors arrive to sounds of the sisters singing “Ven y Veras” (“Come and you will see”) in perfect, acapella harmony. Coming face-to-face with 196 radiant nuns standing in choral formation and singing of the source of their joy is enough to make many visitors ask, “Where do I sign up?”
The pull these sisters have is all the more surprising when considering Spain’s otherwise bleak religious landscape. A 2010 study done by the Fundacion SM, a social agency belonging to the Marianists, showed that 53.5 percent of young Spaniards between the ages of 15 and 24 identify themselves as Catholic. Yet of those Catholic youth, only 6.8 percent go to Mass once a week. The majority of the Iesu Communio sisters, on the other hand, fall within that age cohort, with just a handful over 40.
For the slim minority of young, Catholic Spaniards who practice their faith, it isn’t always easy. Anti-church sentiments run deep in Spain, often coming to a head very publicly. During Holy Week this year, the Madrid Association of Atheists and Freethinkers announced it would hold its own version of Spain's traditional Holy Week procession, carrying profaned versions of traditional Holy Week devotional statues through Madrid. The city stepped in and prohibited the procession, but the group marched through downtown Madrid in May instead, protesting what it claims are unfair advantages given to the Catholic Church in Spain.
Likewise, when Pope Benedict XVI visited Compostela and Barcelona in the fall of 2010, a group called “Yo no te espero,” or “I'm not waiting for you,” protested the trip. That same group has launched several campaigns against the pope and this year’s World Youth Day in Madrid via their Facebook page, including a boycott of World Youth Day’s corporate sponsors, a “gay kiss mob” meant to coincide with the pope’s arrival at Puerta de Alcala, and a drive to flood government representatives with letters, faxes and e-mails protesting World Youth Day.
Calm amid the Storm
Back in La Aguilera, however, the complicated relationship between society and church could not seem further removed.
“It's not because we live in a bubble outside the world,” the sisters explained. “Our lives are just as full of trials and challenges. It's only because of Christ; we are all here because of Christ, and none of us would be able to live this life without him.”
The Iesu Communio sisters have lived in the modern world, studied, worked and dated, yet despite it all, felt a “thirst” in their hearts.
“I had everything and nothing,” one sister said. “I had a loving family, I was at the end of my university studies, I had a boyfriend, a large group of friends I went out with regularly, lots of things to do, but I felt empty.”
She said she had always been involved in her parish, including playing in the church choir, but her sense of emptiness led her to abandon the Church.
“Finally, one day after many days of doing nothing, like all my friends, I couldn't take it anymore,” she continued. “I went out and started walking toward my church. Sure enough God met me halfway; when I got there, one of the priests was there as if he was waiting for me. He greeted me and we started talking. He asked me about my life, what I thought about God, about the Church, about people in the Church, and my answers weren't very positive.”
The priest had a sister in a monastic community, and he arranged for a visit to her community.
There, she said, “I was surprised to come face-to-face with a young woman behind the grill who seemed truly happy and free, depsite the physical barriers. That stayed with me. I wanted that joy too.”
Fittingly, many of the sisters say they discovered their vocation through participating in a World Youth Day. During a recent visit to the community by volunteers from World Youth Day Madrid, one sister stood up and shared her own experience with the visitors.
“I know you're caught up in the details right now and worrying about how it's all going to come together, but what changed my life at the World Youth Day in Paris wasn't the details,” she said. “It was coming face to face with thousands of other young people who are filled with Christ, who are living their life for him and are happy. I never knew it was possible to live like that, and I wanted it too.”
Another sister spoke of finding her vocation two years ago amid the spiritual preparations for this year’s World Youth Day.
“I was part of the group that went to Rome to receive the [World Youth Day] cross from the German delegation on Palm Sunday 2009,” she said. “When I felt the weight of that cross on my shoulders, I suddenly realized that what I thought could be the Lord speaking to my heart was the Lord calling me. The reality of that call hit me with the weight of the cross, and I said yes.”
The Iesu Communio sisters started out as Poor Clares living in a convent in Lerma, Spain, just outside Burgos. By the early 1980s, there just over twenty sisters in the community – all older women. The community had not welcomed a new vocation in 26 years.
It was at that time Maria José Bersoza, an 18-year-old woman from Burgos, discovered her vocation to the religious life. Her brother, a seminarian, was the one to take her to the Poor Clares in Lerma, though he didn't think she would find their life well suited to her and was prepared to bring her home. She stayed on, becoming Sister Veronica, and at the age of 28, she was named Novice Mistress in 1994.
A strange thing happened soon after: Vocations started arriving. First it was just one or two, but the new sisters kept coming, and in increasing numbers. By 2000, there were 50 sisters in the community; by 2009 they numbered 130 and needed a new home.
It was then that the sisters approached the Vatican, asking that the community be split between two convents – one in Lerma and one in La Aguilera. Cardinal Franc Rode, then prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life and Societies of Apostolic Life, gave his permission and asked the sisters to define the form of community life to which they felt they were being called.
The traditional life of the Poor Clares didn't quite fit these younger sisters anymore. Poor Clare communities tend to be on the smaller side; when they get large, they split into smaller communities in order to maintain a sense of living in a family. While they can receive visitors, it's not usual to see an entire Poor Clare community meeting guests all at once the way Iesu Communio does. A key part of the Iesu Communio identity is receiving guests in their “locutorio” as a way to show them Christ and what it looks like to be totally in love with the Lord.
However, like their Poor Clare cousins, the Iesu Communio sisters are contemplative. They pray specifically for young men and women who are thirsting for something more, that they will meet Christ and turn their lives over to him. The sisters also do daily work in their garden, maintaining their home and spending several hours a day in choir practice. (The results are evident in the stunning, prayerful choral performance with which they treat their guests.) The sisters sell CDs of their music at a small gift store attached to their convent, along with sweets and cakes that they produce themselves. They live off the revenue from those sales, as well as donations from supporters.
In December 2010, the Vatican announced its approval of the constitution the sisters had proposed, along with their new name, “Iesu Communio” – a reflection of their charism to seek communion with Christ and the Church. The following February, 177 sisters received their new habits and crosses during a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Burgos. Sister Veronica was now Mother Veronica, superior of the new community.
The community continues to grow rapidly – already, the “new” convent at La Aguilera is getting too small, and construction is underway on larger facilities, as fast as finances will allow. Nearby parishes often organize visits to the community, and despite the congregation's policy of avoiding media coverage, word of the community has spread quickly throughout Spain and beyond – attracting vocations from as far as Poland and Brazil.
The faithful of Burgos now wait to see what will happen in the next chapter of “their” Iesu Communio sisters.
IN THEIR NEW HABITS AS MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE IESU COMMUNIO
In Monks and Mermaids we like to inform you about new monastic ventures and new forms of monastic living. This is because, from the very beginning in the Egyptian desert, monasticism has always been a movement rather than an institution, a charismatic activity that reaches beyond itself to the ever merciful but demanding Presence of Christ through whom we participate in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Utterly consistent in its principles but utterly varied in the forms it takes, it gives witness to the Church and to the World that God is present and worth seeking.
One difference between this community and the Brothers and Sisters of Bethlehem, of Jerusalem and of St John is that, while I can imagine myself at least trying to live their kind of lives, I couldn't possibly even imagine finding a niche in the community of Iesu Communio. It is all those gestures, those smiles, that bobbing up and down, that happiness on demand. Even when I am intensely happy, any attempt to express that happiness in the way they do simply adds embarrassment to the happiness, and I would inwardly freeze.
That may lead you to think that I am against the Charismatic Renewal and against these good sisters of Iesu Communio; but I am not. Indeed, I confess that I joined the Charismatic Renewal in the very early seventies, along with several other members of my community, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin Ranaghan and Francis McNutt when they came to England. I preached a charismatic retreat on BBC television, was for nearly seven years parish priest of a charismatic parish in Peru and spiritual director for one year of a community of charismatic seminarians. I have known many people who dance around in the way they do, but who are of deep, authentic classical Catholic holiness; and I have seen that there was a direct connection between their prancing around and their spirituality. In the BBC retreat, I said, believed and still believe that the Charismatic Renewal and the introduction of new eucharistic prayers in which the Father is asked to send the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and on the congregation are all of a piece and that the Charismatic Renewal is one of God's answers to that invocation in the new eucharistic prayers. This is based on close observation and participation, albeit uncomfortably, in charismatic activities. The Charismatic Renewal led me to St Seraphim of Sarov and the Desert Fathers, to silence and the Jesus Prayer, to a renewal of my own monastic life. I am grateful and do not knock practices which are not for me and are not according to my tastes or vocation.
Kevin Ranaghan used to say that the Charismatic Movement is like the Biblical Movement and the Liturgical Movement. It is aimed at renewing an aspect of Catholic life that had become neglected and then to disappear. In that spirit, many Catholics, like the monks and nuns of Jerusalem and Iesu Communio do not go around saying they are charismatic, even if they have been deeply influenced and blessed by the movement. They are simply Catholics who, like other Catholics not connected with the movement, try to live by the Spirit.
In that spirit, I recommend this community to you. It is another sign of intense Catholic life, a community renewed in the monastic spirit, in the words of the Jerusalem monastic family, "in the heart of God and in the heart of the world", If you can join in, "Blessed be God!", and if you can't, also bless God, because he probably has something else for you.
(InfoCatólica) (click) It was Bishop Gil Hellin, archbishop of Burgos, who confirmed the news to the nuns. They have issued a statement attesting to having learned of the Pope's decision. The Sisters of Lerma and La Aguilera have issued the following statement:
[indent]"Given the many requests of information we receive, we confirm that we received verbal notification of the decision of His Holiness Benedict XVI to approve our own way of life and build our community as a new female religious institute of pontifical right, which will be called "Iesu Communio". We are awaiting to get the relevant documents, so at this time we are unable to provide more detailed information.
This decision comes after the study, by the competent bodies of the Roman Curia, of the documentation presented by the Archbishop of Burgos, Bishop Francisco Gil Hellin, in response to a request by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life. The Congregation had encouraged the community in 2009 to seek to clearly define the lifestyle to which they felt called by God. The Archbishop also received verbal communication about the papal decree, and he shared the news with us immediately.
So far the logic and necessary reserve has been kept as this matter is subject to consideration and decision by the Holy See. The approval that has just become known to us bears the joyful news and the strong responsibility of confirming us in the life that God had stirred among us for a long time. He is the protagonist of everything and we trust Him to bring to fruition the life that has begun.
After sharing the news, and as we await the moment when we will make the official documents public, we want to express our joy and our thanksgiving to God, to the Church for her motherly care, and to our beloved Holy Father and our Archbishop.
We are thanks to Christ and the Church!
Community of Sisters Lerma-La Aguilera "
[/indent]Already in June 2009, Cardinal Rode, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, had approved the creaión of two different locations for one monastery, La Aguilera and Lerma. In a letter to Sister Veronica Berzosa, Abbess of Lerma, the Cardinal expressed his confidence that the nuns would reach clarity on the way to go:
This Congregation has carefully considered your request of May 15, so that you can remain a unique community of nuns residing in two separate houses: the sanctuary of San Pedro Regalado in La Aguilera and the Monastery of the Ascension of the Lord in Lerma. Indeed, having greatly increased the number of Sisters in the cloistered contemplative community, most of the nuns should move to La Aguilera, which would host the Abbess, the initial formation, and the infirmary, while a good number would continue continue the traditional activities of the monastery in Lerma. To kick off this new phase it has been chosen a strong and significant moment: the retreat led by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household.
We have to say that the request is very unique, as it's otherwise exceptional the situation that the Monastery is living, with 130 sisters, of which about 60 are in basic training. For this reason the Congregation has decided to approve the request, in the expectation that the Community will serenely reach greater clarity on what they feel called upon to perform.
Thus, it is granted, for now, the special power of remaining a single monastery "of the Ascension of the Lord" in La Aguilera-Lerma. The Community will move into two houses, with one government, and one novitiate. There will be only one conventual Chapter, to be held. with regard to common issues, in two separate locations under the chairmanship of the Abbess or the Vicar or a delegate; while the most important issues like elections or the decision of a new foundation, will be dealt with in a plenary session once a triennium.
This is granted for three years, with the request to submit annually a relationship to this Congregation. Meanwhile it will be convenient to work on a solution that falls within the norm.
Entrusting to the prayers of this community the service of this Congregation for Consecrated Life, we wish you all well with the most cordial greetings in the Lord."
[/indent]The approval of this new religious institution could enhance what has been known in Spain and the rest of the world as the miracle of Lerma .
These Poor Clare Nuns were bursting with vocations and had requested the Vatican for permission to continue as one community and one monastery although in two geographical locations relatively close to each other. This was granted as an extraordinary provisional measure for three years so that meanwhile the Sisters would have the chance to clarify their future.
These Poor Clare Nuns didn't want to just repeat the same way of living the life, and whatever is the way they live it they wanted to test it before making it public and requesting for Papal approval. This is what has just happened now even though we don't have the details because the Nuns themselves haven't yet received the actual documents from Rome.
The clear fact is that they have been approved as a new Religious Institute of Pontifical Right for Women by Pope Benedict on December 4. There is huge expectation in Spain to get to know more about their life and charism.
Mother Veronica Berzosa, the young Abbess, is now also Mother Foundress. She has not been accessible to the media, and that's a "sin" not easily forgiven in our time of instant communication and everything out in the open.
Let us rejoice with this new life for the Church from the tree of the Poor Clares Order, and give God thanks for them as we pray for the transition and new beginning ahead.
Tuesday March 29, 2011
source: Carrera Hacia Christo (click)
source: Carrera Hacia Christo (click)
Last Sunday we were about 500 people in the parlour of the Sisters of La Aguilera, Iesu Communio (Burgos). The sisters had removed all the large furniture to make room for us and make us comfortable.
Outside it was raining, windy and quite cold. Within, God's Grace also rained without stopping; the wind that blew was the Holy Spirit, but it was not cold because these women have the fire of love in them and radiate it without stopping.
We come from many places, mostly around Madrid. We were from different ecclesial realities, mainly from Opus Dei and the Neocatechumenal Way, although there were also Guadalupana families, and from the Verbum Dei, Communion and Liberation, Cursillo, etc.. But above all Christians, members of the Catholic Church without distinction. A people united in one body, with Christ the head.
Two Sisters made their initiation into the Consecrated Life". After more than a year spent as postulants, they were to become novices in the new Institute "Iesu Comunio". Maribel and Ruth shared with us what God was doing in their lives: their call, their vocation, and their life in Iesu Communio. Some of the other 192 sisters also shared their experiences.. Mother Veronica and Mother Blanca spoke to us too.
For about an hour and a half we were together, and the presence of the Spirit was among us all. This, perhaps,should have been sufficient, but it was just the "appetizer". We had to be ready for the big moment which was nothing less than the Eucharist: Christ's real presence with us through his Body and his Blood.
Five priests who were closely connected with the two sisters concelebrated at the Mass. . The rite began with the initiation of them both into the religious life. It was a simple rite, but full of signs. They were happy, and we felt their happiness from our pews.. They were in love with the True Love..the Mistress of postulants presented them to Mother Veronica, who has filed a brief dialogue with them in which they pronounced the formula of Initiation to the Novitiate. Then they received the veil, a light blue scarf blue, knotted behind. They were handed the Constitutions of the new Institute and received the medal. The medal has an image of the Pieta with the expression "Stabat" and has a teardrop shape. In response, we all cried: Amen, amen, amen. Three times AMEN.
Each of the 190 Sisters embraced them; and this sign ended the initial rite.
The Liturgy of the Word of the Third Sunday of Lent seemed chosen for the occasion. The call of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: "Give me a drink" was just right for these sisters ... In fact, the oratory is dominated by the phrase "I have thirst" next to the cross.
The readings were read by two relations of the novices:: Maribel's brother and the mother of Ruth.
The homily was great, well prepared and very well delivered, so much so that Mother Veronica has kept a copy. The sermon was given by Father Fran.
Maribel and Ruth brought the offerings to the altar and the Eucharistic liturgy begun. The priests and the newly clothed received Communion under both species, while the rest received only the body of Christ.
The two postrated themselves on the ground together with Mother Veronica while communion was being distributed ; while the brothers of Maribel sang a beautiful song in honour of the Eucharist. I think the most memorable picture of the whole day is that of Mother with her daughters prostrate on the ground, praying to Christ whom they had received into themselves.
After the blessing the novices addressed a few words of thanks to all those present, their families first, and everyone else. They talked briefly about their feelings at that time and explained to us the role of the Virgin who presides in the chapel. They invited us into the embrace of the Bella Pastora, to give her our prayer.
First they have done with Father Fran, and then with their parents and the rest of their families. Then a long line of worshipers was formed to kiss the Virgin, to pray, and to place themselves in her lap.
We returned to the parlour to say goodbye to them and each has made the trip back to his house. All loaded with cakes and sweets which the nuns had so lovingly prepared, and loaded also with Christ, with Grace of God, and the Holy Spirit.
I regret to say that I could not be objective in this "post" for very obvious reasons Ruth is my daughter, thanks be to God. But while not bearing my name or that of my wife, Maribel is also my daughter and each of the 192 Sisters Iesu Communio. Therefore I ask your pardon, dear readersSISTERS OF IESU COMMUNIO EXPLAIN WHAT THE WORLD YOUTH DAY MEANT TO THEM