A new monastic community called the Fraternity of Jesus has replaced the Benedictines as the caretakers of the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and they announced their goal to return the church its splendor as one of the most symbolic edifices of worldwide Catholicism.
According to Vatican observer Sandro Magister, the basilica of St. Paul, which is the second largest in world behind St. Peter’s, had lost its importance and prestige.
“The Benedictine monks that worked there numbered less than a dozen, were mostly elderly, and were all very tired. Masses were barley attended, and the territory surrounding the church was poorly maintained and annexed by neighboring parishes,” said Magister.
Magister said the Holy See had decided that in order to revitalize the basilica it was urgent to replace the monks, and the community that was chosen is new and young with many vocations.
The Fraternity of Jesus was established on an 8-acre piece of land in Rome, with a tower and a few old cabins. They do not have an abbey or a convent, their church is a large tent and their cells are pre-fabricated houses used to help victims during the 1976 earthquake that rocked Friuli.
According to Magister, “the stamp of St. Benedict and St. Bernard, the fathers of western monasticism,” is evident in this community. As in Clarveaux, and in all the great medieval abbeys, these new monks cultivate the land.”
The founder and abbot of this new monastic family is Tarcisio Maria Benvenuti, 58, who came to Italy as a refugee from Istria (ex-Yugoslavia). He was ordained in Trieste and founded the new community in 1972, and in 1985 the community moved to Lanuvio.
Magister explained that the new monks have embraced the Benedictine motto “ora et labora.” “They have community prayer at night and they begin to work the fields early in the morning, with the help of local farmers, young people from a nearby rehabilitation center, and guests of the monastery.”
Magister says this community has the support of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Cristoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
In addition to caring for St. Paul Outside the Walls, the monks of the Fraternity will soon assume responsibility for an important church in Rome, San Saba all’Aventino, currently under the care of the Jesuits.