Monday, March 08, 2010

Archbishop Ranjith and Heilgenkreuz Abbey: Collaboration in the Founding of a Monastery in Sri Lanka

by a Monk of Heiligenkreuz Abbey for the NLM

When His Excellency Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith was appointed Archbishop of Colombo, some of his admirers were sorry to see him leave the Congregation for Divine Worship. In Heiligenkreuz, however, the appointment was greeted with joy. This was because Archbishop Ranjith’s appointment gave new hope to a long standing project to found a monastery in the Cistercian tradition in Sri Lanka.

In just one week, on March 14th, a group of monks will set out from Heiligenkreuz to start living the monastic life in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has thousands of Buddhist monks, but no Christian monks. When an Austrian bishop visited Sri Lanka in 1985, two Sri Lankan priests, one of whom was Father Malcolm Ranjith, discussed the idea with him that the most practical thing that could be done for the evangelization of Sri Lanka would be to bring the witness of a Christian contemplative monastery to the Island. They asked him for his advice about how this could be brought about, and he suggested contacting Heiligenkreuz.

Heiligenkreuz had long been interested in the witness to the Gospel that a contemplative community could give in the predominately Buddhist country. In fact the Abbot of Heiligenkreuz had hoped to found a monastery in Tibet in the 1950s. So when the two priests contacted the Abbey, their idea was welcomed, but the circumstance that Heiligenkreuz was engaged in making a foundation in Germany in the late 1980s prevented it from taking any steps at that time. The idea lay more or less dormant till 1999 when Ranjith, who had become bishop of Ratnapura, tried to persuade Heiligenkreuz to try the project again. Unfortunately, however, the chapter of Heiligenkreuz was not ready to risk founding a daughter house at that time. Bishop Ranjith was not discouraged: “Throw out your nets again,” he wrote to the monks, “but this time on the right side!” He proposed that while Heiligenkreuz would not send monks to start a daughter house of its own, it would help him to a found a monastery as a diocesan institute. Bishop Ranjith would send young men to Heiligenkreuz for monastic formation, and who could then found a monastery under his own direction. In 2001 the first young Sri Lankan candidates arrived in Heiligenkreuz.

Bishop Ranjith, however, was called to Rome that very year, and without his leadership the project had to undergo many years of frustration through difficulties of various kinds. A few years ago the project was moved from the diocese of Ratnapura to the archdiocese of Colombo, but the difficulties continued. Then came Archbishop Ranjith’s appointment to Colombo and the project received new life. On Saturday, a small group of Sri Lankan monks and one monk from Heiligenkreuz will set out for Sri Lanka. It is possible that more monks of Heiligenkreuz will be sent after the initial stage to help the young community, but once the community is able to sustain its own life they will return to Heiligenkreuz.

Although it is now a diocesan institute, the hope of the new monastery is to eventually join the Cistercian order. The new monastery will be more contemplative than Stift Heiligenkreuz; its statutes do not allow it to take on parishes or similar apostolic work. In liturgical matters it will follow Heiligenkreuz, with the divine office chanted in Latin, etc. Unlike Heiligenkreuz, however, the new monastery is to celebrate Mass ad orientem -— a particular request of Archbishop Ranjith’s.

The new foundation asks for prayers for its flourishing. The following prayer was composed by the youngest of the Sri Lankan monks:

O Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, you were blessed to bear in your womb the Salvation of the whole universe, as the Handmaid of God the Almighty, intercede for us with your divine Son, the Mediator of our reconciliation with the Father.

O Mary Immaculate, we who are gathered here, consecrate the foundation of the new monastic community of St. Bernard, for the Cistercian Life in Sri Lanka, to your Immaculate Heart. Guide and assist all who are involved in this special mission of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Preserve them in Faith, strengthen them in Hope, and increase their Charity towards this special task.

Through your intercession we pray that God might bless their labors with abundant fruit especially for the young, devoted men, to discern their call to holiness and to surrender themselves totally to our Lord Jesus Christ as monks in the footsteps of St. Bernard. May the new monastery bring all souls to your Immaculate Heart and may it bring peace and harmony to the whole land through your intercession and the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Almighty and Merciful God, by the intercession of our Holy Mother Mary, of St. Bernard and all the Saints, grant our prayer through the Eternal Shepherd, Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Please join in offering your prayers for this worthy and important endeavour - SRT]

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