Tag Archives: Monte Cassino

70th Anniversary of the Destruction and Reconstruction of Abbey of Montecassino

MontecassinoToday, the Holy Father was represented by Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family to be his Special Envoy at remembrance celebrations at the Abbey of Montecassino on March 21. As papal envoy, the Cardinal will attend the 70th Anniversary of the Destruction and Reconstruction of Abbey of Montecassino. The date is the anniversary of the death of Saint Benedict of Norcia.

Montecassino as a community of Benedictine monks founded in 529 by the saint, suffered several destructions and reconstructions of the centuries, the last one being 15 February 1944 bombing by the Allied troops in the Second World War. In four months, the Battle of Montecassino there was about 200,000 causalities (on both sides).

The monks oversaw an immediate and exact reconstruction at the war’s end between 1948 to 1956. Joseph Breccia Fratadocchi led the reconstruction.

The Benedictines still live at Montecassino.

Pacis Nuntius: St Benedict as “exemplar and type of absolute beauty”

Why is Saint Benedict so important for us today? Why spend so much energy trying to promote his cause and to recall his influence upon civilization? One answer is: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” You may want to read “Translating St Benedict” by Dom Hugh of Douai Abbey (UK) who does a fine job at locating a piece of our interest.

I also think it’s a good day to remember that Europe –and the USA– needs its heavenly patron to get it out of the moral, political and human confusion that is wreaking havoc today. I wonder what life in the USA would be like if we had a “new” Benedict? The Servant of God Pope Paul VI wrote Pacis Nuntius (1964), an Apostolic Letter by which he names Saint Benedict as the principle patron of all of Europe. In this document we read in an abbreviated form why Abbot and Saint Benedict was important not only to the Pope, but to a continent.

In everlasting memory

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Messenger of peace, molder of union, magister of civilization, and above all herald of the religion of Christ and founder of monastic life in the West: these are the proper titles of exaltation given to St. Benedict, Abbot. At the fall of the crumbling Roman Empire, while some regions of Europe seemed to have fallen into darkness and others remained as yet devoid of civilization and spiritual values, he it was who, by constant and assiduous effort, brought to birth the dawn of a new era. It was principally he and his sons, who with the cross, the book and the plow, carried Christian progress to scattered peoples from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, from Ireland to the plains of Poland (Cf. AAS 39 (1947), p. 453). With the cross; that is, with the law of Christ, he lent consistency and growth to the ordering of public and private life. To this end, it should be remembered that he taught humanity the primacy of divine worship through the “opus Dei”, i.e. through liturgical and ritual prayer. Thus it was that he cemented that spiritual unity in Europe, whereby peoples divided on the level of language, ethnicity and culture felt they constituted the one people of God; a unity that, thanks to the constant efforts of those monks who followed so illustrious a teacher, became the distinctive hallmark of the Middle Ages.

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Pietro Vittorelli, abbot of Monte Cassino needs prayers

RD Pietro Vittorelli.jpgThe 191st abbot of Monte Cassino Pietro Vittorelli, 50, needs our prayers for his recovery from a stroke he suffered recently. He’s recovering and doing therapy at a clinic in Switzerland.

Born in Rome, Abbot Pietro graduated in 1989 from La Sapienza (Rome) and later that year he entered the Archabbey of Monte Cassino. He was ordained a priest in 1994 following studies at Sant’Anselmo; Dom Pietro served as novice master, a consulter in bioethics as well as authoring articles in the area of Church’s Social Doctrine.
With the move of the Abbot-bishop Bernardo D’Onorio to the Archdiocese of Gaeta, Dom Pietro was elected abbot in 2007.
Members of Communion and Liberation ought to make Dom Pietro’s intention for good health particular in the daily prayer since the founding of the Movement has its spiritual paternity with a prior abbot-bishop of Monte Cassino, Dom Martino Matronola (+1994). We in CL are still inspired by the Rule and charism of Saint Benedict.
Saint Benedict and all Benedictine saints and blesseds, pray for Dom Pietro and us.
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A bold abbot, Communion and Liberation, the BVM and Saint Benedict

CL logo.jpgToday is the 31st anniversary of the foundation of Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. The narrative of the Fraternity’s founding is told in “The Greatest Grace in the History of the Movement” by Giorgio Feliciani (Traces, February 2007). Here’s the story.

A priest in the direct service of the Holy See, Monsignor Mariano De Nicolò, currently Bishop of Rimini [he retired 3 July 2007], happened to review, as part of his official duties, a file that illustrated and documented the Movement’s desiderata. Feeling that these aspirations deserved attention and further study, he suggested to Father Francesco Ricci, who at the time was sharing responsibility for the Movement with Father Giussani [for more about this priest, who died in 1991, see Francesco Ricci. Una passione, cento passioni,
San Martino in Strada
, Lit. Citienne,  1996], that he consult with Monsignor Giuseppe Lobina, an expert in Canon Law who, along with a solid formal training, had an unusual amount of experience with ecclesiastical praxis.

This advice was promptly taken and, only a few months later, Monsignor Lobina, after acquiring all the necessary information in various meetings with CL figures and Father Giussani himself, was drawing up what would soon be the Statute of the Fraternity, which has remained largely unchanged up to now.

Monsignor Lobina also undertook to find the ecclesiastical authority willing to approve the Movement, and found him in Abbot Martino Matronola, who, as provost [abbot] of the monastery of Montecassino, had the same powers over the surrounding territory as the bishop of a diocese. This acceptance was even more welcome because Father Giussani felt that the concept of his Movement was very close to that of the Benedictines (see Giussani, op.cit., pp. 74-75).

The formal establishment of the Fraternity came shortly thereafter in a very discreet, unassuming way. On July 11, 1980-the solemnity of Saint Benedict, Patron of Europe, on the fifteenth centenary of his birth-a small group of twelve stood together with Father Giussani in front of the Abbot to be constituted as a canonical association. On that same day, Monsignor Matronola,* by a specific formal decree, granted juridical status in the Church to the ecclesial movement called “Fraternity of Communion and Liberation” and approved its statutes and “works of apostolate and individual and social formation,” placing it under the “protection of the Immaculate Virgin and our Patron Saint Benedict” (see the Bollettino Diocesano di Montecassino, no. 3, 1980, pp. 223-224).

Thus, the Fraternity was born as a reality in the Church, recognized to all effects by the ecclesiastical authority and by virtue of this formal empowerment to act, in communion with its respective bishops, not only in Montecassino but also in the other dioceses. Indeed, in the same decree, the Abbot expressed his “fervent wish that wherever the Association exercises its apostolic activity, it may be benevolently welcomed, aided, and encouraged by their Excellencies the Ordinaries.”…

Despite the lack of any kind of organized promotion, adherence to the Fraternity was growing rapidly, to the point that within a year the number of members went from the original 12 to almost 2,000. …

The Abbot of Montecassino was certainly aware that his decree would provoke harsh criticism from those bishops who did not view CL with a favorable eye. One of the leading figures in the Italian Bishops Conference went so far as to state that the decree had been illegally extorted from him. And, realistically, an attentive Canon lawyer noted, “The Abbot of Montecassino was brave (some would say bold) to approve an association that is not diocesan, but evidently multi-diocesan.” In this situation, the recognition generously and courageously granted by the Abbot of Montecassino was no longer sufficient to give the association a juridical form that corresponded with its actual reality. By now, the approval of a higher authority was needed, which could only be the Holy See, and more specifically the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the dicastery set up by Pope Paul VI to handle matters concerning the participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.

Consequently, as early as April 7, 1981, less than a year after the decree issued by the Abbot of Montecassino, Father Giussani, with the continued encouragement and advice of Monsignor Lobina, sent the President of the Council, at that time Cardinal Opilio Rossi, a formal application for pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. …

In the end, the Holy Father, John Paul II himself, intervened: after being fully informed about the question, he encouraged the Pontifical Council to proceed to grant the desired approval without further delay (according to the Decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, p. 235).

Thus, we come to the Decree, issued on February 11, 1982, the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which “establishes and confirms as a juridical entity for the universal Church” the Fraternity, “declaring it to all effects an Association of Pontifical Right and decreeing that it be recognized as such by all.”

As is known, February 11, 1982, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes,  is recognized as the establishment of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. It is this date that CL prays the Mass for the good of the Fraternity. Historically, as noted above, the Archabbot of Monte Cassino, on Saint Benedict’s 1500th birthday, recognized the CL as an ecclesial movement, an act that caused much criticism for being perceived as taking authority not his own. Two years later Pope John Paul II addressed the criticism, and on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes had the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation recognized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity under the leadership of Opilio Cardinal Rossi. Hence, Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Benedict are patrons of the Fraternity Communion and Liberation.

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*Martino Matronola (1903-1994) was born in Cassino, Italy, the city below the great Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino where he was elected the archabbot in 1971 and appointed bishop in 1977. The Abbey of Monte Cassino is known as the archcoenobium because it is the one of the monasteries founded Saint Benedict; the abbey is also distinguished for being an abbey-nulius (a territorial abbey, meaning the abbey is responsible for a number of parishes). Therefore, the man elected the archabbot of Monte Cassino is also the Diocesan Ordinary of the Diocese of Cassino which has 53 parishes, 68 priests and 79,000 faithful to care for (according to 2004 stats). He retired from the position of abbot-bishop of Monte Cassino in 1983.

Christ is the answer, Pope reminds the Benedictines and all peoples

montecassino1.jpgIn speaking to the Benedictines at Montecassino, the Pope was speaking to all Benedictines, solemnly professed and oblates, and to the laity, in general. He proposes once again the person of Saint Benedict as a person who knew well that Christ is the answer to all things. The Pope’s homily at Vespers follows:

Almost at the end of my visit today, I am particularly pleased to pause in this sacred place, in this abbey, four times destroyed and rebuilt, the last time after the bombings of World War II, 65 years ago. “Succisa virescit” [in defeat we are strengthened; when cut down, this tree grows again]: the words of its new coat of arms represent well its history. Monte Cassino, just as the secular oak tree planted by St. Benedict, was “pruned” by the violence of war, but has risen more vigorous. More than once I also have had the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of the monks, and in this abbey I spent many unforgettable hours of quiet and prayer. This evening we entered singing “Laudes Regiae” together to celebrate the Vespers of the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus. To each of you I express the joy of sharing this moment of prayer, greeting everyone with affection, grateful for the welcome that you have reserved for me and those who accompany me in this apostolic pilgrimage.

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In particular, I greet Abbot Dom Pietro Vittorelli, who has made himself the spokesman of your common sentiments. I extend my greetings to
the abbots, the abbesses, and to the Benedictine communities present here.

Today the liturgy invites us to contemplate the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. In the brief reading taken from the first letter of Peter, we were urged to fix our gaze on our Redeemer, who died “once and for all for sins” in order to lead us back to God, at whose right hand he sits “after having ascended to heaven and having obtained sovereignty over the angels and the principalities and the powers” (cf. 1 Pt 3, 18.22). “Raised on high” and made invisible to the eyes of his disciples, Jesus has not however abandoned them, but was: in fact, “put to death in the body, but made to live in the spirit” (1 Pt 3:18). He is now present in a new way, inside the believers, and in him salvation is offered to every human being without distinction of people, language, or culture. The first letter of Peter contains specific references to the fundamental Christological events of the Christian faith. The Apostle’s intention is to highlight the universal scope of salvation in Christ. A similar desire we find in St. Paul, of whom we are celebrating the two thousandth anniversary of his birth, who to the community of Corinth, writes: “He (Christ) died for all, so that those who live, live no longer for themselves but for him, who has died and is risen for them.” (2 Cor 5, 15).

To live no longer for themselves but for Christ: this is what gives full meaning to the lives of those that let themselves be conquered by him. The human and spiritual journey of St. Benedict attests to this clearly, he who, leaving all things behind, dedicated himself to the faithful following of Jesus. Embodying in his own life the reality of the Gospel, he has become the founder of a vast movement of spiritual and cultural renaissance in the West. I would now like to refer to an extraordinary event of his life, which the biographer St. Gregory the Great relates, and with which you are certainly well acquainted. One could almost say that the holy patriarch was “lifted up” in an indescribable mystical experience. On the night of October 29 of the year 540 — reads the biography — and, facing the window, “with his eyes fixed on the stars he recollected himself in divine contemplation, the saint felt that his heart was inflamed … For him, the star filled firmament was like the embroidered curtain that revealed the Holy of Holies. At one point, he felt his soul felt itself carried to the other side of the veil, to contemplate the revealed face of him who dwells in inaccessible light” (cf. AI Schuster, History of Saint Benedict and his time, Ed Abbey Viboldone, Milan, 1965, p. 11 et seq.). Of course, similar to what happened to Paul after his heavenly rapture, St. Benedict, following this extraordinary spiritual experience, also found it necessary to start a new life. If the vision was transient, the effects were lasting, his very character — the biographers say — was changed, his appearance always remained calm and his behavior angelic, and even while he was living on earth, he understood that in his heart he was already in heaven.

St. Benedict received this gift of God not to satisfy his intellectual curiosity, but rather because the charism with which God had endowed him had the ability to reproduce in the monastery the very life of heaven and reestablish the harmony of creation through contemplation and work. Rightly, therefore, the Church venerates him as an “eminent teacher of the monastic life” and “doctor of spiritual wisdom in the love of prayer and work; shining guide of people in the light of the Gospel” who,”raised to heaven by a luminous road” teaches people of all ages to seek God and the eternal riches prepared by him (cf. Preface of the Holy in the monastery to the MR, 1980, 153).

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Yes, Benedict was a shining example of holiness and pointed the monks to Christ as their only great ideal; he was a master of civility, who proposed a balanced and adequate vision of the demands of God and of the final ends of man; he also always kept well in mind the needs and the reasons of the heart, in order to teach and inspire a genuine and constant brotherhood, so that in the complexity of social relationships the unity of spirit capable of always building and maintaining peace was never lost sight of. It is not by
chance that the word Pax [peace] is the word that welcomes pilgrims and visitors at the gates of the abbey, rebuilt after the terrible disaster of the Second World War, which stands as a silent reminder to reject all forms of violence in order to build peace: in families, within communities, between peoples and all of humanity. St. Benedict invites every person that climbs this mountain to seek peace and follow it: “inquire pacem et sequere eam” [seek peace and follow it.] (Ps. 33,14-15) (Rule, Prologue, 17).

By its example, monasteries have become, over the centuries, centers of fervent dialogue, encounter and beneficial union of diverse peoples, unified by the evangelical culture of peace. The monks have known how to teach by word and example the art of peace, implementing in a concrete way the three “ties” that Benedict identifies as necessary to maintain the unity of the Spirit among men: the cross, which is the very law of Christ, the book which is culture, and the plow, which indicates work, the lordship over matter and time. Thanks to the activity of the monastery, articulated in the three-fold daily commitments of prayer, study and work, entire populations of Europe have experienced a genuine redemption and a beneficial moral, spiritual and cultural development, learning in the spirit of continuity with the past, of concrete action for the common good, and of openness to God and the transcendent aspect of the world. We pray that Europe always exploit this wealth of principles and Christian ideals, which constitutes an immense cultural and spiritual wealth.


This is possible but only if the constant teaching of St.
Benedict is embraced, the “quaerere Deum,” to seek God, as the fundamental commitment of man. Human beings cannot achieve full self-realization or ever be truly happy without God. It is your special responsibility, dear monks, to be living examples of this interior and profound relationship with him, implementing without compromise the program that your founder summarized in the “nihil amori Christi praeponere” [put nothing before the love of Christ.] (Rule 4.21). In this holiness consists, a valid proposal for every Christian, more than ever in our time, in which the need to anchor life and history to solid spiritual principles is felt.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, your vocation is a timely as ever, and your mission as monks is indispensable.

From this place, where his mortal remains rest, the patron saint of Europe continues to urge everyone to continue his work of evangelization and human promotion. I encourage you in the first place, dear brethren, to remain faithful to the spirit of your origins and to be authentic interpreters of this program of social and spiritual rebirth. The Lord grants you this gift, through the intercession of your holy founder, of his holy sister St. Scholastica, and of the saints of your order. And may the heavenly Mother of the Lord, who today we invoke as “Help of Christians,” watch over you and protect this abbey and all your monasteries, as well as the diocesan community that lives around Monte Cassino. Amen!

Pope Benedict XVI
Homily at Vespers II
The Abbey of Monte Casino
May 24, 2009

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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