Pope Francis told Cistercians on Monday to embrace “the greater poverty of spirit and goods in order to be more available to the Lord.”

“Today the experience of encountering diversity is a sign of the times,” the pope said on Oct. 17. 

The pontiff told the monks and nuns gathered at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace: “Yours is a valuable contribution, particularly rich, because, by reason of your contemplative vocation, you are not content with bringing diversity together on a superficial level, you also live it on the level of interiority, of prayer, of spiritual dialogue.”

Noting the order’s full name is Cistercians of the Common Observance — to distinguish them from those of the “strict observance” known as Trappists — the pontiff said the adjective “common” made one think. 

“Common always also has a richer sense, indicating the whole, communion,” the pope said, adding that this pointed to the challenge of “observing Jesus. Like a child observing father, or best friend.”

Representatives of the order are currently gathered for their general chapter — a meeting of representatives of monasteries of the order that traces its roots to France in the year 1098. 

Pope Francis with Father Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, OCist. Vatican Media
Pope Francis with Father Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, OCist. Vatican Media

Speaking to participants on Oct. 9, the abbot general of the Cistercians, Father Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, noted a decline in membership: Since the last general chapter seven years ago, the members with a right to vote dropped from 100 to 87. 

“The membership of the order, notwithstanding the countries and certain communities in Europe and the United States that have enough vocations, have dropped from about 2,500 to 2,217,” he said. 

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Father Lepori was re-elected as abbot general on Oct. 10.

At their audience with Pope Francis on Oct. 17, the pontiff said: “The main thing is not to let the evil one steal our hope! For evangelical poverty is full of hope, grounded in the beatitude that the Lord announces to his disciples, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’”

The pope told the Cistercians that there was no communion without conversion, “from a closed self to an open self, from a self-centered heart to a heart that goes out of itself and encounters the other.”

By analogy, Pope Francis added, this also applied to the order moving “from a self-referential community to an extroverted community, in the good sense of the word, welcoming and missionary.”

The pontiff concluded his remarks by imparting a blessing on the religious, saying: “May the Virgin Mary accompany you and sustain your journey always. From my heart I bless you and all your communities.”