last dispatch from General Chapter

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Carissimi,

One of the things I find entertaining about the Italian language is the double negative, as we would call it in English. For example, Non c’è nessuno is translated as “There is no one” but it literally means, “There is not no one,” which kind of means to me that there is someone. Just like Non c’è niente literally means “There isn’t nothing.” You could get held back in 3rd Grade for that. And then there is the specifically Tuscan style of voting. There are little black balls and little white ones. Black means Yes and white means No.

So today the Prior General officially resigned at the end of his six-year term, and Don Emaneule, the most senior member of the Chapter (and a former Prior General himself) took up the post of presiding for the election. We heard Alessandro’s review again of his job thus far, then we had a good sharing with him, and then a scrutinium, during which he left the room, and then brought him back him and shared with him, all before the vote itself. All this took almost two hours during which time (we Americans wishing we had been informed of this earlier) we did not take a break. Then we voted on whether or not to accept his resignation. So a Yes vote (a black ball) this time meant that we accepted his resignation, meaning we did not want him to be Prior General anymore. And vice versa, a white ball meant No, we did not accept his resignation, meaning we did want him to continue as Prior General.

I can’t tell you the exact outcome, but I can tell you we voted that we did not not want him. In other words, Alessandro was easily re-confirmed as Prior General today.

May God continue to bless our little sainted congregation of monks.

In the afternoon after the election we had a presentation on the possible new foundation in China. This has been a project dear to the heart of our Fr. Joseph Wong, who entered the Camaldolese with us in America before moving here to Italy to serve on the General Council, for as long as I have known him. He still goes to China each year to teach in the seminary there, and it is form these sojourns that he has attracted several candidates. Out of the ten or so that have explored a Camaldolese vocation here in Italy, at present only two remain, Elia and Antonio, though there is at least one other exploring the option still. We were offered a PowerPoint slideshow of the area where Joseph has found a welcome and an interest. There is a bishop who has offered us property next to a large church. The Chapter has urged Joseph and the candidates to start going each summer for an experience there, though it will still be at least four years, until the guys finish school, before they can dream of relocating there permanently. Elia is going to specialize in learning how to produce Camaldoli’s product from the Farmacia as a revenue producing work there in China. I certainly admire Joseph’s perseverance as well as our congregation’s hope and vision. We were told some things about the emptiness that the people of China face in these days, after the Cultural Revolution wiped out as many traces of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism as possible, they are left with a real vacuum, and there has been an astounding number of baptisms.

Then we all went up to the Eremo for a tour of the library. Ubaldo is a great historian and has been doing marvelous work with all kinds of ancient artifacts, a real patrimony. There were maps from the 16th century, a set of ancient coins dating back to before the Common Era (both Thomas and Daniel could tell you a whole more about these things, both of whom have great minds for history), but the pièce del résistance was what is know as Romuald’s Psalter. It actually dates back to the 9th century, the psalms written in a center column and columns on each side of that with commentaries by the church fathers. There is no actual writing of Romuald that we know of but by tradition he used it. Ulbaldo has been seeing to its restoration at a studio in Florence (its priceless) and brought it back just for the occasion. We did have some talk about protecting the patrimony of the Camaldolese during one day of the Chapter.

* * *

Wednesday, 11 October, 2017

Today was the second day of elections, for the three Assistants on the General Council. I’m sure there was a lot of discussion about these elections, but I only heard a little. And, to my surprise, I arrived at the meeting this morning assuming there would be some discussion about the nature of these jobs, the challenges ahead, even possibly a discussion of some possible candidates. There was none. At all! The outgoing ministers were thanked and then yellow cards were passed out and we votes for one at a time––first assistant (who is really the vicar of the Prior General), second assistant and third assistant. If no one gets a 2/3s majority after two votes, a simple majority wins. It went pretty fast, and the outcomes were for the most part rather obvious. The new General Council will be (in order) Giuseppe Cicchi, who remains from the previous council, George Nellyanil, former prior of Shantivanam and current vice-prior of San Gregorio in Rome, and Axel Bayer, a 40-ish German monk who lives at the Sacro Eremo and is a bit of a health nut, athlete and yoga teacher. Even though they are all from Camaldoli or houses dependent on Camaldoli, this is a very international group. These assistants also act as Visitators for the various communities around the world; George will be our main contact and he and Axel will be our Visitators. Special visitators get chosen for Camaldoli itself, though, from outside the community, and are also elected by the Genera Chapter. They chose me and Mario to do that, which means I will need to come a bit early for the Consulta in 2020 (who can thin that far ahead?!) and the General Chapter in 2023. Now all that remains for us is to write and then vote on our Delibere (deliberations) for each community, though the American contingent is heading to visit our nuns at nearby Contra tomorrow, a favorite spot of mine, for Mass and lunch.

Prayers for our friends affected by the fires in Sonoma, Napa, Santa Rosa! My friends at Skyfarm were evacuated at 1 AM Monday with fire all around them. So far they and their property is safe and sound, thanks be to God.

* * *

The rest of the week was given to writing up the delibere, the deliberations for each community and then reporting the same back to the Chapter. That was an interesting process. They are written based on comments from the other capitulars in reaction to our report, but written by we ourselves (Californians writing for the Californians, for example) and then re-presented back to the Chapter. I used to think that these were not so weighty, given that we write them ourselves, but no: when we brought them to the Chapter if there was something left out it got brought up. At times this meant we were re-hashing something that had already been hashed. Sometimes it was just a tedious argument over Italian grammar. (I can’t tell you how many times I heard the word “brutto” as in “ugly” in regards to something being written in brutto italiano! At one point I snarled to Andrew, “This isn’t Dante, for God’s sake!”). But at other times there were necessary corrections added.

We also went over two major documents, one on formation written by Giuseppe and the other was the introduction written by Emaneule, Alberto and myself, painstakingly, in several drafts, trying to get a little something of every one of the themes presented from the first week on in it, more like a summary than an overture. Of course then it had to go through another re-write after the Chapter heard it. Mind you, I was trying to do an English translation each time; that is how I’ve been spending my evenings back at the Sacro Eremo, trying to turn Emanuele’s beautiful florid Tuscan poetry into something even we mortals can understand! And then in the end the Prior General took it and came back with yet more “improvements” today, so I was translating on the fly with my computer on my lap, apologizing to Bede and Daniel while whispering, “I’m sorry! He’s added things!!”

And then finally we had Alessandro’s closing comments, in six points. (He’s rather famous for that, always telling you how many points he has, and then really sticking to it.) It was good, kind of an emotional ending to the whole affair. One of the things he, and one of the outgoing members of the General Council pointed out was that in spite of our aging and diminishing numbers and other troubles, what really came through was hope and newness. He also then allowed us all to share if we wanted, and several did. There was a general agreement that there was a different spirit about this Chapter than at other previous one, more frankness, more openness, more moments of reconciliation. Several of us, including me, offered some kind of sentiment of pledging to keep the bond strong between those of us gathered in that room.

I won’t write anymore. God willing after Mass and lunch tomorrow (everyone coming up here to the Sacro Eremo, as is usually the case for this kind of gathering), Robert, originally from Poland, will drive Bede and George and I to the train station in Arezzo, where they will go to Rome and I to Florence for an overnight before the long flight home on Monday morning, God willing crossing the newly opened bridge over Pfeifer Canyon and snug in my own hermitage and bed late Monday night.

Prayers for all those suffering, and prayers for our the growing strength of our monastic presence in the world, that it can lead to an end of suffering, a breath of hope and a ray of the Divine––toward the tomorrow of God!

Cyprian

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