Pope Francis, pictured April 17, 2013. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.
Pope Francis has sent a letter to an ecumenical community experiencing “a severe trial,” encouraging the group to “persevere in its initial intuition” despite a dispute with its founder.
The Monastic Community of Bose, founded in northern Italy in 1965, is emerging from a years-long clash with its founder, the prominent Italian layman Enzo Bianchi, who was asked to separate from the community after an apostolic visitation and a resulting decree from the Vatican.
Br. Luciano Manicardi, Bianchi’s successor and current prior of the community, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on the eve of the papal trip to Iraq.
On March 18, the Bose community published a letter from Pope Francis to Manicardi which it said arrived a day prior.
“I am well aware of how in recent months the serious difficulties that had led to the apostolic visitation and to the issuing of the singular decree have unfortunately increased due to the prolonged delay between the execution of the decisions of the Holy See contained therein,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter dated 12 March.
“Do not be disturbed by rumours that aim to throw discord among you: the good of authentic fraternal communion must be preserved even when the price to be paid is high! Just as fidelity in such moments allows us to grasp even more the voice of the One who calls and gives the strength to follow him.”
Bianchi founded the community in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. It is a mixed community, composed of both men and women, who pray the Liturgy of the Hours and follow a rule influenced by St. Benedict and St. Basil the Great. Members include Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians.
Pope Francis encouraged the Bose community to “persevere in the initial intuition of a fraternal life in charity and witness in search for evangelical radicality in prayer, work, and hospitality.”
“The ecumenical dimension that characterizes you and your active yearning for Christian unity are a precious treasure that the Church wishes to preserve, watching over its authenticity and fruitfulness,” he said.
The letter from the pope arrived a month after Bianchi defied a Vatican order to leave the Bose monastery in Piedmont. The Holy See had given Bianchi until 17 February to leave the monastery after issuing a decree, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on 13 May, 2020, following an apostolic visitation.
A 18 February statement on the community’s website announced “with deep bitterness” that Bianchi had not left the community in Piedmont to move to Tuscany as instructed by the pontifical delegate in January.
A charismatic figure, Bianchi has maintained a high profile in the Italian Church. He took part in the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and was named a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2014.
The apostolic visitation, which took place between 6 December 2019, and 6 January 2020, was conducted by Fr. Guillermo León Arboleda Tamayo, Abbot President of the Benedictine Subiaco Cassinese Congregation, Cencini, a consultor for the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, and Mother Anne-Emmanuelle Devéche, Abbess of Blauvac, France.
In a 2020 statement, the community said that Cencini had communicated the Vatican’s ruling privately to those concerned with “the greatest possible respect for the privacy of the interested parties.”
But after “several of the interested parties” rejected the measures, it said it was “opportune to specify that the above-mentioned provisions regard Br. Enzo Bianchi, two brothers and one sister, who are to separate themselves from the Monastic Community of Bose and to move to another place and who at the same time are relieved of all the offices they presently hold.”
In the letter, Pope Francis wrote that the Bose community should view the presence of Cencini and his work in harmony with Parolin as “a sign of my constant concern.”
“I wholeheartedly wish to express my closeness and support to you in this period of severe trial you are going through in order to live your vocation faithfully,” Pope Francis said.
“May nothing and no one takes away the certainty of your call and its beauty and trust in the future,” he wrote. “I invoke the Holy Spirit upon you to give you strength and courage as we continue our Lenten journey toward the Easter of death and resurrection.”