St. Benedict, patron saint of Europe: his "vision of peace" is not utopian

The Church celebrates St. Benedict of Nursia (Italy) on July 11, founder of the Benedictine Order and declared patron saint of Europe in 1964 by St. Paul VI. Pope Francis and his predecessors have turned to St. Benedict in search of peace and human coexistence in a wounded Europe.       

Francisco Otamendi-July 11, 2024-Reading time: 5 minutes
saint Scholastica sister saint Benedict

St. Scholastica, virgin, sister of St. Benedict @VaticanMedia

Although the Rule of St. Benedict ['ora et labora', pray and work] does not contain an appeal on the theme of peace, "it is an excellent guide for a conscious and practical commitment to peace". In fact, its message goes beyond the walls of monasteries and shows "how human coexistence, with God's grace, can overcome the dangers arising from disputes and discord".

This was stated by the Pope in a Message addressed to participants in an ecumenical symposium at the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma in western Hungary in September 2023, which emphasized two other ideas.

The first is that the patron saint of Europe knew "the complexity of linguistic, ethnic and cultural traces, which represent both a richness and a potential for conflict". However, he had a serene and peaceful vision, because he was fully convinced of the "equal dignity and equal value of all human beings". This applies especially to foreigners, who should be welcomed according to the principle of "honoring all men".

Pope Francis: "Search for peace without delay".

This also means "knowing how to take the first step in certain difficult situations", because "discord must not become a permanent state". Establish peace "before sunset," said St. Benedict. This, the Pope reminds us, "is the measure of the availability of the desire for peace". 

And the second, the Holy Father pointed out, is that "the search for peace in justice cannot tolerate any delay, it must be pursued without hesitation." "The St. Benedict's vision of peace  is not utopian, but is oriented towards a path that God's friendship towards mankind has already traced out and which, however, must be traveled step by step by each individual and by the community".

The Hungarian ecumenical event delved into many aspects of the theme of peace, at a time when "globalized humanity is wounded and threatened by a gradual world war which, waged directly in some regions of the planet, has consequences that damage the lives of all, especially the poorest," said the Pontiff according to the official Vatican agency, and in which "the war in Ukraine has dramatically called us to open our eyes and hearts to many people who suffer because of the war".

St. Paul VI called him 'pacis nuntius' (herald of peace). 

"I believe that St. Benedict, called 'pacis nuntius' (herald of peace) by Pope Paul VI when he was proclaimed patron of Europe, would address us with this word: peace! It is not an obvious word, it is not an abstract concept but a truth to be pursued and lived", he said. Mr. Fabrizio MessinaDirector of the State Library of the National Monument of St. Scholastica [twin sister of St. Benedict].

A library that owes its origins to saint Benito, because it is, in fact, the library of the Monastery of Santa Scholastica of Subiaco, one of the twelve monasteries that were founded near the city, in the valley of the Aniene, by St. Benedict himself. 

"The peace that Benedict brings us is the peace of Christ. It is the peace for which Christ gave his life. If we do not open our doors to Christ, we will remain without peace," Don Fabrizio Messina added to the Vatican agency, which asked him how it is possible, in the current European scenario devastated by the war in Ukraine, to walk paths of peace in the footsteps of St. Benedict.

For Ukraine, for Russia...

The library director's response was as follows. First of all, the historical fact: "St. Benedict, when he began his personal search for God, did so by going up to Subiaco and seeking the Lord. This happens to him in an early hermit-like experience. As St. Gregory the Great reminds us, Benedict lives alone with himself under the gaze of God. It is a search for God which is, therefore, a search for peace". 

Then, the illustrious Benedictine entered into the question. "The true search for peace for Europe, for Ukraine, for Russia and for all the countries involved in this senseless slaughter is precisely to find in Christ the source of peace, of light. Just as St. Benedict did. A peace that is not only intimate, but personal. But it is a peace that can truly be given to others because it is the peace of Christ. He himself said it: 'I leave you my peace', not as the world gives it".

Benedict XVI: "From his spiritual leaven Europe was born".

On April 9, 2008, the then Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the faithful of St. Benedict of Nursia in a General Audience. He began by saying. "Today I am going to speak of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism and also patron of my pontificate. I begin by quoting a phrase of St. Gregory the Great who, referring to St. Benedict, says: 'This man of God, who shone on this earth with so many miracles, shone no less for the eloquence with which he knew how to expound his doctrine'."

"The great Pope [St. Gregory the Great] wrote these words in 592; the holy monk had died fifty years earlier and was still alive in the memory of the people and above all in the flourishing religious Order he founded. St. Benedict of Nursia, by his life and work, exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture".

Continuing with the thread of the argument, Benedict XVI added: "The work of the saint, and in particular his 'Rule, were a true spiritual leaven that changed, over the centuries, far beyond the confines of their homeland and their time, the face of Europe, giving rise, after the fall of the political unity created by the Roman Empire, to a new spiritual and cultural unity, that of the Christian faith shared by the peoples of the continent. Thus was born the reality we call 'Europe'.

Years earlier, in 1999, St. John Paul II wrote a letter to the Abbot of Subiaco, in which he expressed his joy on learning that "the great Benedictine monastic family wishes to remember with special celebrations the 1500 years since St. Benedict began in Subiaco the 'schola dominici servitii', which would lead, in the course of the centuries, countless men and women, 'per ducatum Evangelii', to a more intimate union with Christ".

Heroic virtues of Robert Schumann

On July 11, 2021, Pope Francis, hospitalized at the Gemelli, remembered St. Benedict on social media: "Today we celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, abbot and patron of Europe. An embrace to our protector! We congratulate Benedictines and Benedictine women all over the world." In addition, the Holy Father sent "best wishes for Europe" so that it "may be united in its founding values."

A few weeks earlier, in June, the Pope had recognized the heroic virtues of the French politician and founding father of the European Union, Robert Schuman, by declaring him venerable. On that occasion, the priest Bernard Ardura, promoter of Schuman's cause, gave an interview to the Pope on the occasion. interview to Omnes on his canonization process.

 "Europe must cease to be a battlefield on which rival forces bleed out," Schumann had said in a speech. "On the basis of that realization, which we paid so dearly for, we want to go down new paths that will lead us to a united and definitively pacified Europe," words that are considered vital for the reconciliation of France and Germany.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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