Monks were ‘spiritual combatants’ amidst shocks of quake

Father Nivakoff, vice-prior of the Benedictines of Norcia, says the monks remained in peace despite the earthquake, secure in their faith in Jesus Christ

Nov 11, 2016

By Federico Cenci
Heavy plastic tarpaulins protect from the weather the smithereens of Saint Benedict’s Basilica at Norcia, which collapsed following an earthquake October 30. Firemen completed the covering under the gaze of a few Benedictine monks.

The monks’ presence in the city is silent but significant. Established on the territory in keeping with their Founder’s Rule, the monks have given material help and spiritual comfort to the population of Norcia already since the August 24 earthquake and again after the last violent shocks.

No longer in the damaged monastery but rather in safer log cabins, they continue to gather for their daily prayers and to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. The solemnity and rituality of their gestures is the image of the bulwark of faith, hope and charity that they, true and proper spiritual combatants, represent in a context marked negatively by the natural scourge.

ZENIT spoke about it with the Vice-Prior, American Father Benedict Nivakoff.

How is the population reacting?

Father Nivakoff: It’s rather discouraged. The majority of the citizens of Norcia were evacuated, with a forced action on the part of the Authorities, to the area of Lake Trasimeno. Those who remain do not live in the historic center. Their greatest concern is to make Norcia return to live again as it did before the earthquake.

Where, at present, do you find yourself precisely?

Father Nivakoff: We had two monasteries, one in the historic center and one in the country. Both collapsed. However, after the August 24 quake we built log cabins in the surroundings of the monastery outside the city, which we call Saint Benedict in Monte. Therefore, we find ourselves in these structures that, being of wood, are far safer.

Your Community is made up of monks of the whole world. Do they want to remain in Norcia

Father Nivakoff: Certainly. The monks take the vow of stability. When a tragedy of this sort happens, a monk feels himself rooted in the territory more than ever. Immediately after the earthquake of October 30, the priests who were in the monastery went out in haste to give the Sacraments to individuals who were not well and to help the firemen to provide material help. And meanwhile the monks that are not priests, remained in the monastery to pray.

Q: How have your daily commitments changed following the earthquakes?
Father Nivakoff: We moved forward the morning somewhat to be quicker. Before we got up at 3:45 am, now at 3:30 am.

Q: How important is prayer for you, especially in this difficult phase?

Father Nivakoff: (He sighs). It’s essential. Tragedies of this sort aren’t understood if we don’t have God present in our life. It is only by looking at Him and at the long history of Creation that we can understand the meaning of such an event.

Is there a prayer that befits this situation more than others?

Father Nivakoff: During the Masses, from August 24 and after, we are reciting a prayer that requests the protection of the people, the forgiveness of our sins, and protection from the devil.

There is a beautiful image of the Religious and laity kneeling, shortly after the earthquake, to pray before Saint Benedict’s destroyed Basilica …

Father Nivakoff: That image reminds us that to kneel is an act of submission: God is the Creator and we are the creatures. At that moment we addressed to Him a supplication in favor of all those who were suffering due to the earthquake.

The monk’s life is one of combat: a concept that is expressed in a very strong way at this moment?

Father Nivakoff: Yes, the battle is spiritual. The monk’s back must remain straight; the monk has the duty to resist the so-called eight vices. I remember that the monks went into the desert in fact after being tempted. When a fireman sees a flame he throws himself against it. Well, the monk does the same: he enters the trial by going to encounter the temptation, to be purified by maintaining trust in God’s help.

You, Benedictines, work almost as an extension of prayer. With this intention, you produce Nursia Beer at Norcia. In what condition is the brewery after the earthquake?

Father Nivakoff: Mysteriously, the brewery did not suffer damages despite the fact that the building in which it finds itself is totally unfit. This means that inevitably there will be a pause in the production for one or two months, namely, the necessary time to render accessible the red area where it is found, after we will gradually take up again the production of beer.

The businessman Brunello Cucinelli has committed himself to contribute economically to the reconstruction of the Basilica. How did you receive his commitment? Have you met him in person over these days?

Father Nivakoff: Yes, we have met him often and he has assured us of his support and his closeness. Above all, he wants this monastery to live again. He is a man of faith and of prayer. He sees in Saint Benedict a guide in the darkest moments of history.

There were controversies over the statements via radio of a priest who agitated the connection between natural disasters and divine punishments, due in this case to the approval in Italy of civil unions. What is your idea on the matter?

Father Nivakoff: I haven’t followed it much. But that God intervenes in history, in the good or in the evil is part of our faith. Otherwise, He would be a God that is not interested in us. It’s true; sometimes He also sends difficult circumstances, which serve, however, to purify us. The question is more delicate when we have the presumption that “ics” tragedy is caused by an “ypsilon” sin. It’s not excluded, but they are very mysterious circumstances, which we will only understand after our death. In moments such as this it is opportune to ponder and entrust oneself to prayer.

After the August 24 earthquake, some wondered where God was …

Father Nivakoff: I would see as a miracle the fact that, despite the strong shocks of October 26 and 30, there were no other victims. This is the mystery of Providence: after the earthquake of Amatrice, many people left our area and took precautions. If this had not happened, today we would all be under the rubble.

Saint Benedict’s statue, at the center of the Square in front of the Basilica, remained upright. What value does the figure of this Saint assume in today’s Europe, of which he is Patron?

Father Nivakoff: That statue that remained upright offers an analogy. Saint Benedict asks us monks to remain fixed in a territory to convert. At a time like ours, of great physical and ideological displacements, of passing fashions that agitate Europe and not only Europe, Saint Benedict’s message to remain rooted in faith in Jesus Christ is important. This is the only way of salvation.--Zenit

 

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