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Beautiful Pictures And Video: The Monastic Community Of Jerusalem
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 14:22
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At the heart of the Catholic Church, the Jerusalem community consists of two religious institutes of brothers and sisters whose vocation it is to provide an oasis of prayer, silence and peace in the “desert” of modern cities.
The community was founded on All Saints’ Day 1975, in the Paris church of St. Gervais, from a desire on the part of the then-archbishop of Paris, Cardinal François Marty and a proposal by Father Pierre-Marie Delfieux, chaplain at Paris’ Sorbonne University and the community’s founder.
With foundations in Paris, Vézelay, Strasbourg, Mont-Saint-Michel, Brussels, Florence, Montreal and Rome
- as well as two guest and retreat houses in Magdala in France’s Sologne region and Gamogna in the Tuscan countryside of Italy – the multi-faceted Jerusalem community lives out the common calling of fraternal life, prayer, work and welcoming others “in the heart of the city”, while striving to dwell always “in the heart of God”.
Particular importance is given to the beauty of the liturgy, an oasis for all to draw from morning, noon or evening, respite from the hectic pace of city life in the heart of God.
. After finishing my studies I became chaplain at Paris’ Sorbonne University, then a monk at St. Gervais church in Paris after having lived as a hermit for two years in the Sahara desert, in Assekrem, above Tamanrasset, in the steps of brother Charles de Foucauld. That was the turning point of my life.
had been a priest for ten years at the time. Then came the extraordinary events of May 1968. It was a time of searching for meaning, when the very fabric of Church life and society in general seemed to be unraveling. As a priest I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical year. Rather than go back to university, where I had just come from, I left for the desert with the approval of the Archbishop of Paris. It was a wonderful time for me, a time of prayer, silence and solitude close to God, with the Bible and Eucharistic monstrance for sole companions, the sun in the day and the stars at night. Assekrem is a mountain peak in the Hoggar chain; there, I built a hermitage of dried stones with my bare hands in a lunar landscape of such strange beauty. “Bare earth under a bare sky, where one is pared down to the bare essential.” I was very happy there! But little by little it came to me that the real desert of today’s world, where people thirst for spirituality and genuine love, is in the heart of urban metropolises. So I came back to Paris wanting to be an “urban monk”. The immediate approval of Cardinal Marty turned that wish into a mission. And everything took off from there.
I turned to the “Sprit who gives out gifts as he sees fit” and built on “the foundation which already exists, Jesus Christ”, as the Bible tells us. I feel much more like a “worker in the vineyard of the Lord” and mason of “the house whose architect is God” than a founder. I was alone in the beginning. I lived a life of solitude in Paris the first year, in a small studio provided by the Archbishop. I had to “look for companions”, as Saint Ignatius would have said. Nine months later, we were a group of twelve brothers, eager to start the adventure. I was 41 at the time. On All Saints’ Day, 1975, we celebrated the first Mass of the foundation in the heart of Paris, at St. Gervais church. One year later, in 1976, a community of sisters with the same spirituality sprung up. Another year later and the first lay community came about. And it just took off from there, with joys and trials, hard times and successes. Everything is grace and grace was certainly present.
We are monks and nuns in the city and an established Religious Institute of the Catholic Church. In the heart of the city we seek to live in the heart of God. We therefore adhere to traditional monastic values while striving to apply them to today’s world, in response to the Church’s needs today. As for defining our activity and spirituality, if that were at all possible, I would say that we have neither a rural life setting nor a cloistered or abbatial one. We take the three religious vows with a view to living a balanced life of community, personal and liturgical prayer (4 hours a day), silence, work and welcoming others, with particular attention paid to evangelical joy and beauty as the subtle reflection of God’s presence. We are therefore city-dwellers, living in and at the rhythm of today’s urban centers, rent-payers, owning nothing, either personally or as a community, wage-earners, working only part-time according to our individual skills, without a cloister, but with real time and places set aside for silence and solitude, closely attached to the diocesan church.
This is the Basilica of Vezelay
The lay communities came about naturally little by little. In Paris alone there are about 20 of them, counting approximately 800 members. Their roles vary, but all of them wonderfully compliment our monastic life. I would say that they are like an evangelical extension. They remind us that our vocation is essentially baptismal and that, whatever one’s state in life may be, we are all called to sainthood. I like to think of the communities as the petals of a daisy, with the liturgy of the hours and especially the daily Eucharist as the center. Everything revolves around that center and falls beautifully into place. Perhaps therein lies an image of what the Church of tomorrow could be like?
I think that the lay communities lean on us a bit like the secular oblates of Benedictine monasteries. But everything is of course translated into a modern urban context. They play an active role in our liturgy. Every morning, noon and evening the liturgical train goes by and anyone can climb aboard! Beyond that daily liturgy (prolonged with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every day from 7:30 am to 9 pm), our rule, the Livre de Vie, serves as a spiritual guide to many. In the heart of the city, we – monks and nuns – are perhaps “watchers and wakers” for those who live around us, under the loving eye of God
We work in the outside world on a part-time basis, four hours a day five days a week. That leaves 20 hours a day for all the rest of it (community life, life in one’s cell, personal prayer, liturgy, welcoming others, study, solitude) and two whole days per week when we don’t give ourselves over to worldly tasks. Outside work creates a certain bond between us and other city-dwellers, perhaps lending us some credibility in their eyes, and helps to remind us that God orders all of us to earn our daily bread day by day, by the sweat of our brow, as Jesus, Joseph and Mary did in Nazareth.
At first we were known simply as the “brothers of St. Gervais”. But the sisters came along and plans started to be made for other foundations… It was during a retreat that someone said: “You need a name”. That same evening, the brothers and sisters prayed, each one opening his or her Bible, and we all came across different verses but all mentioning the city of Jerusalem. The choice seemed obvious and indeed the vote was unanimous, which is rare in community!
In fact, this name describes wonderfully what we strive to live. Is not Jerusalem the city given by God to men and built by men for God, and therefore the patron city of all cities? It’s the city where Jesus came to teach, give up His life, and rise from the dead; the blessed place where the Spirit descended upon the Church and the first Christian communities prayed together. It’s also, in the book of the Apocalypse, the city which “comes down from God in Heaven” at the end of time and represents the promise of an eternal happiness that our whole monastic life is meant to prepare us for. Strangely enough this very telling name had not yet been used in the Church, almost as if it were waiting for us
Overall, our monastic and apostolic communities, including postulants, count almost 200 people of 30 nationalities. We have about a thousand lay people in the 20 or so lay communities (of which the largest is the Evangelical fraternity), each one living at their own rhythm while respecting professional, societal or familial obligations, but still as a part of the Jerusalem family.
As for how many people we touch, it’s always difficult and risky to say, for only God knows what touches a soul. But concretely, 300,000 people come to St. Gervais per year; 800,000 pass through Vézelay; three million go to Mont-St-Michel… Every day, the Catholic television station KTO broadcasts the liturgy at St. Gervais. Two guesthouses, Magdala in Sologne and Gamogna (11th century) near Florence in the Apenines, propose retreats and a place for solitude. But only God knows who is touched in what way. What is sure is that we are indeed touched by all those who support us and keep us in their prayers.
The two videos illustrate the life of the monastic community of Jerusalem in Montreal, Canada
The next three videos are of Office and Mass celebrated in the style of the Jerusalem Community. The second is in the church of St Gervaise in Paris where the whole thing started. I do not know where the first is celebrated.
Mass is celebrated every day with Vespers in the Basilica of Vezelay which the Jerusalem Community has taken over.Here are two videos of Mont Saint Michel, the first uses plainchant as background music. The monastery is most impressive. It is now home to the Jerusalem Community who replaced the Benedictine monks.
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