Yesterday, Pope Francis met with Camaldolese Nuns at the Monastery of Sant’Antonio Abateas (St. Anthony the Abbot) in Rome as the Church celebrated Pro Orantibus “(For Those Who Pray”) Day. The Camaldolese family is one of the ancient monastic orders in the Church, founded by St. Romuald a thousand years ago. They follow the Rule of St. Benedict (but also check out St. Romuald’s brief Rule) and most but not all of the communities existing today are part of the Benedictine Federation family.
The Holy Father greeted the 21 sisters and celebrated Vespers with them. The monastery was once noted for its resident American anchoress, Sister Nazarena of Jesus, who was born Julia Crotta in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Before entering religious life, she studied music at Yale and received a degree from Albertus Magnus College. She became an anchoress in 1945 and lived for 45 years in a tiny room attached to the chapel.
In sister’s cell was a plank for a bed, a small bathroom, a table and a chair (see old story in newspaper done while she was alive). For food, she lived on bread and water with an occasional grape or boiled carrot as a treat. She had a small window to the outside world and another opening into the chapel when she, unseen, participated in Mass ( a priest gave her daily communion).
When the abbess was asked if Sr. Nazarena was insane, she said, “Sister Nazarena is fully sane and has all her faculties. In a wild, self-seeking world, she has found an oasis that has given her tranquility and made her happy. She is the most serene person I have ever met.” Sister died in 1990 at age 82. Pope Francis went to her cell during his visit.
A book on her life by Thomas Matus is available at Amazon.com.
We are used to sports figures thanking mothers, coaches, wives and sometimes even God after big wins. However, this appears to be somewhat unique in the current annals of sport – an Italian coach who makes a pilgrimage to a Camaldolese Monastery to thank a group of monks after unexpectedly reaching the Euro 2012 (soccer) quarter-finals in Poland.
The Italian team met with the monks whose historical origins are Italian but have a foundation outside Krakow, Poland, before the tournament. Their coach,Cesare Prandelli, promised to make a pilgrimage to the monastery if the team got out of “Group C.” After their big win, the coach and his staff, at 3:00 AM in the morning, left their team HQ and walked 13 miles to the monastery which took 3 1/2 hours.
The Camaldolese were founded by Saint Romuald (11th C.) and trace their heritage to the 6th century monastic traditions of Saint Benedict and the reforms of Saint Romuald.
The Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli commemorated the 1,000th anniversary of its foundation by St. Romuald on June 19, the saint’s feast day. Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, Pope Benedict’s special envoy for the commemoration, was the principal celebrant at the hermitage’s June 19th Mass.
Drawing upon the Desert Fathers, St. Romuald encouraged some monks to live in solitude as hermits. “Saint Romuald, the father of the Camaldolese monks, striving for eremetic life and discipline, wandered through Italy for many years, building monasteries and tirelessly promoting the evangelical life among monks,” Pope Benedict recalled in his letter for the anniversary.
During World War II, the Camaldolese monastery of San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome hid Jews, anti-Fascist political figures, and “after Mussolini’s capitulation, even a few trembling, formerly influential, figures of the Fascist regime,” according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
The monastery’s chronicler wrote at the time:
“Jews–who were being sought to be locked up in those death camps known as concentration camps and who were divested of all their possessions–asked to be hidden, as did politicians who did not wish to collaborate with the reborn Republican Fascism; men who had escaped from the prisons and jails that had been opened for them as political offenders on 26 July; officers who were loath to belong to an army that was betraying national and popular principles; soldiers who sought refuge to avoid being deported to distant places; soldiers of the Anglo-American forces, prisoners of war who had managed to flee in the moment of confusion, and there were even a few Austrian and Polish soldiers who belonged to the German army.”
The Camaldolese are a joint order of hermits and cenobites, founded by St. Romuald at the beginning of the eleventh century.