Pope Francis on Friday underlined his support for the prior of a "troubled" ecumenical community amid a dispute with its founder.

A statement issued by the Holy See press office on March 5 noted that the pope met with Br. Luciano Manicardi, prior of the Bose Monastic Community, on the eve of his trip to Iraq. 

Fr. Amedeo Cencini, the pontifical delegate to the community founded in northern Italy in 1965, also attended the meeting.

"His Holiness thus wished to express to the prior and to the Community his closeness and his support, in this troubled phase of its life, confirming his appreciation for the Community and for its peculiarity of being formed by brothers and sisters from different Christian churches," the press office said.

"Pope Francis, who from the beginning has followed the matter with particular attention, also wished to confirm the work of the pontifical delegate in recent months, thanking him for having acted in full harmony with the Holy See, with the sole intent of alleviating the suffering of both individuals and the Community."

The statement comes amid a standoff between the Community and its founder, the prominent Italian layman Enzo Bianchi.

The Holy See had given Bianchi until Feb. 17 to leave the monastery after issuing a decree, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on May 13, 2020, following an apostolic visitation.

A Feb. 18 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.

Bianchi founded the community in Biella 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.  

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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.  

Bianchi resigned as prior of the community in 2017 and Manicardi was chosen as his successor. 

The apostolic visitation, which took place between Dec. 6, 2019, and Jan. 6, 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."

The statement added that Parolin had sent a letter to the community that "has traced a path of the future and of hope, indicating the basic lines of a process of renewal, which, we trust, will give a fresh impetus to our monastic and ecumenical life."

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported on March 4 that Pope Francis had also communicated with Bianchi as he sought to resolve the disagreement.

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Bianchi has not commented directly on the latest developments, but he has appeared to address the situation indirectly via his Twitter account.

A few days before defying the order to leave, he wrote: "The exercise of silence is difficult and tiring for all of us, but the hour comes when the truth cries out precisely with silence: even Jesus, according to the Gospels, kept silent before Herod, and did not deign to give him an answer. So silence yes, assent to the lie no!"

The Holy See press office statement concluded: "Finally, the Holy Father manifested his solicitude in accompanying the path of conversion and recovery of the Community according to the orientations and modalities clearly defined in the decree of May 13, 2020, the contents of which the pope reiterates and whose implementation he asks for."