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The Cascina San Benedetto Vision

Italian Benedict Option parents are building a Catholic future for their kids by going into the Catholic past

I hear from some of you readers that you are weary of all the bad news on this blog, and would like some good news about what Christians and others are doing to resist this culture of decline. Well, here you go. I received the following letter, with lots of photos, from my Catholic friend Giovanni Zennaro, in Italy. He and his wife Alice, their little children (four of them — baby Zelia was born a couple of weeks ago), and a group of other young Catholic families are building the Benedict Option in a concrete way: the Cascina San Benedetto (St. Benedict House). Read on:

Dear Rod,

Only a few months ago, in late June 2019, I gave you an interview to present the project I’ve been working with my wife and some friends for over the past two years – to create a place of fraternal life for families inspired by the monastic life of St. Benedict, as it is better explained in our Manifesto on www.cascinasanbenedetto.it. A few days later Costanza Miriano – a well known Catholic blogger – published the same interview in Italian.

The effect of this interview has been enormous, and many people from Italy and the United States have asked us how they can participate in our project. Someone from the US told us he was waiting to be able to sell the house and then eventually move to Italy and could join us together with his whole family — now the house is in the process of being sold. Many families from various cities in Italy have visited us at our house in the countryside outside Milan – some of them are really interested in joining us and creating together the “monastery of families” we dream of. We also have met even some bishops and cardinals. A number of priests have come to celebrate Mass at our home for these community gatherings.

All this is beautiful, but it is not enough. We are realizing that it is not our good will alone that can maintain an experience of this kind. Organizing a Sunday gathering, with lunch in community, Mass and vespers… this is a beautiful thing, but the quotidian life is different. We want liturgical prayer to mark the rhythm of our ordinary days too. Young families, with young children and very demanding jobs, cannot do this – not alone, at any rate.

For this reason we are seriously considering living close to a Benedictine monastic community, specifically the one in Norcia – St. Benedict’s hometown – who have warmly supported this idea. Norcia is a very remote place, isolated from big cities and still suffering very much from the 2016 earthquake, and life there would be very difficult in many respects. But there we would see every day the example of people who choose in life to do one thing: Quaerere Deum. [Search For God — RD] Every day we could participate in the monastic liturgical prayer. The reality of a living monastery would be the main instrument for education in the faith: both for us and for our children.

We are giving ourselves a (rather short, actually) time to weigh the two hypotheses: whether to establish the community of families here outside Milan or near the monks in Norcia. Here are some pictures of what I experienced in recent weeks with our families and our (old and new) friends, both in Norcia – where we recently rented a house as a base camp for some trial periods – and at our home in the Brianza area, near Milan.

As you know, in Norcia the monks are building a new monastery after the earthquake. It is wonderful every time we return to Norcia, a few months after the previous time, to see each time a new bit of the monastery has been added.

The liturgy is a very beautiful thing to live for us and for our children. Contrary to what one might think, the children are very good at church when there is some solemnity to the celebration: Gregorian chant and the use of incense attract them, and the monks then explain to them that in these signs there God is, and also our search for Him.

Our house is located specifically in Legogne, a small mountain hamlet 15 minutes from the ancient town of Norcia. Less than 10 people live there presently, but it’s a beautiful place and we dream of reviving it with the presence of a small group of families and other lay people interested in joining us.

As soon as we arrived, the people of Legogne gave us the key to an ancient church dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The church has not been used for many years but could be the place where the community prays daily in the morning and evening, when we do not go down to the monastery.

During the days spent in Legogne, the monks came to visit us, to visit the church, and to bless our home.

 

A few days after returning to our house back here near Milan, in the place we started calling “Cascina San Benedetto”, we hosted a gathering of some of the families and friends of the project: a few of them had come to visit us in Norcia during the previous weeks, and for others it was the opportunity to know how the journey had gone thus far.

After the Angelus prayer, lunch together, and a time for Confession, Don Giorgio – the priest who was with us – used our bedroom as a sacristy and place to bless some new sacred vestments and prepare himself for the celebration of the Holy Mass, which we accompanied with some Gregorian chant.

The day after, some of us did a one-day pilgrimage in Loreto, to pray at the house of the Virgin Mary, entrusting our path to her, asking to be enlightened as to our next steps.

This is what we are currently living, as a strange group of lay Catholics looking for a life more shaped by prayer and the example of contemplative life. We are praying to understand in the coming months where should be the place for us to begin this kind of life in a more permanent way. I would like to ask you and your readers to do the same.

In Christ,
Giovanni

Readers, isn’t that amazing?! These young families — orthodox Catholic Millennials in Italy — are not just talking about the Benedict Option, they are building it. Read more about the St. Benedict House project at its English-language website (an Italian version is also there).

What can you do to help these visionary young Catholic families?

  • First, you can pray for them, and their success, and divine guidance.
  • Second, you can go to Italy to visit them, and find out more about their mission, and how you and your family and friends might participate in it. Write to Giovanni at mail – at – cascinasanbenedetto – dot – it to arrange a visit.
  • Finally, you can give them the financial support they need to launch successfully. Note well that they ideally want to move to a town close to Norcia, so they can be close to the Benedictine monastery in St. Benedict’s birthplace. Many rural regions of Italy are depopulating, and the Norcia area is no exception — especially since the great earthquake of 2016. The investment of human capital, and spiritual capital, that these young Christian families want to make in this forgotten region of empire is worth a financial investment, for you readers who sympathize with them, and have the money to support their mission. There’s a donate link on the Cascina San Benedetto website. 

Sure, I’m biased, because these are my friends. But I didn’t get to be friends with them until after The Benedict Option book came out, they read it, and felt inspired by its vision. We need to help each other, across borders, across oceans, and across ecclesial lines. Not everybody can give them something, nor can everybody go to Italy to visit them. But everybody can pray for them — and I know they would appreciate it. These are devout young people who are willing to sacrifice material prosperity to build strong Christian families in a post-Christian world. It’s so courageous and admirable. If they succeed, then there will be lessons not only for their fellow Catholics, but also for we Christians who are not Catholic, but who are united with them in prayer in trying to build something solid and lasting and countercultural for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, in a world that no longer values what — and Who — we love.

Here’s a selfie I took with Giovanni and his cherubic son Pietro in 2018, when I first visited his family, and met the core members of what would become Cascina San Benedetto:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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