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San Francisko: A Swedish Benedict Option

The idea of a Christian village in Sweden -- and in rural eastern Oklahoma
A church in Sweden (RPBaiao/Shutterstock)

You never know what’s going to turn up in e-mail. I received this week a letter from a priest-monk in the Nordic Catholic Church. [UPDATE: I linked to the wrong Old Catholic Church; the priest is not part of the very liberal Utrecht church. I have corrected the mistake. — RD] He has discovered The Benedict Option, and writes, in part:

What you are writing in your book is exactly what I have been writing and preaching for the last years. I’m an Old Catholic priest and Cistercian (Benedictine) monk. Within my vocation, I serve as managing and writing editor for “Gammalkatolsk idédebatt” (Old Catholic thought and debate). One of our (and my) tasks is about bringing forth knowledge about relativism, modernism and secularism. And to make awareness about how to cope with this. As human beings and as society and civilization. As I said, I just got your book and hasn’t finished it just yet, but I felt it right to write to you, just to establish a contact. I am responsible for four books myself and I wanted to say thank You and God Bless! Yours in Christ / P. Franciskus Urban OPR

Father Franciskus added that he was delighted to learn that I am from a town called St. Francisville, because he had just published a short reflection on “San Francisco: The Little Church Village. A Vision For Survival.” Here is a link to the piece, in Swedish. I put it through Google Translate, and this is what I got:

Ever since I was a young boy, from a few different horizons I have a dream of establishing a new city. Then, at the age of twelve, when I and my friend during one of our strolls in the Småland nature discovered a large meadow, half hidden in the forest, the thoughts were created to create another civilization. A new town on a seemingly unused plot of land. With its own currency. Incidentally, a separate system for the village is included to provide self-sufficient care of the surrounding community.

What did I know about the way the world would look today, almost forty years later. Now the threats hanging over us neatly worn out clouds from whose interior we have to wait tough things to handle. What was then a boy’s dream still lives, albeit with a sudden insight into some kind of necessity. Then a childish thought. Now a vision for survival.

What are we talking about today? That the unhealthy number increases; That democracy, even as a concept, is obsolete. We are talking about the demystified and rationalistic contemporary. About Christianity. That everybody owns their own image of what the truth is. Partial winnings and big-scale operations in all areas are lodestars. We are talking about the climate. A rather polarized debate on global level about what is true and false rage in whose context it was reported yesterday that the Arctic will be ice-free during the summer in just twenty years. We talk about bidden, monocultures and “peak phosphorus” as a threat to food security. We are talking about the perpetual economic growth.

And if this were not enough, an increasingly troubled and unstable world with threats of nuclear weapons efforts from North Korea back on the wallet.

Despite this, we seem to continue as if nothing has happened. Are we blind or we just cannot get it? Is it about denial or stopping all the negative into the mental compartment labeled “propaganda”? Is it “fake news” that it does not actually look so bright. That many people experience stress not only in their own soul but also in a common plan?

We can do this too, little friend. Sit still in the boat, be positive and keep calm!

What is currently updating this text is the program that was broadcast on Sweden’s television yesterday (“The Last Harvest”). It’s about one of our most important ecosystems and a prerequisite for our survival. The planet’s soils are threatened. Industrial food production impoverishes our food soil, it affects the nutritional content of our food and nutritional deficiency can be the cause of what we call welfare diseases. We empty our land account on its capital when we need it most. Without earth no life and no life no earth.

Maybe it is time to realize the boyhood dream?

And now, from my horizon as a Christian, priest and monk (and a number of years older), I understand that we must put the pneumatic (spiritual) ecological perspective. It is not only the earth and the lands that are depleted but also we who will live from it. Man is in the rational, positivistic and desacralized way of spiritual death.

The vision of the small church town

Can not we just start over? If a life-loving, warm and generous person raised ground for a full-scale attempt to resume, I would be the first to join in. I also believe there are more volunteers. No listener (thank you!) For this, I understand, about hard work. But it’s about restoring the order that holds the same order to preserve us.

The first thing I would do on this field would be to build a church. A true church. Well, for the little church town, a church has a central location. Then the village would have a soul-care and life-giving institution – and here I speak of eternal life! The next project would be the construction of a monastery, which means a hub for knowledge, healthcare and welfare. Hopefully there is a lake that can provide fish. The low ground at the sea I had not been sad. Small-scale cultivation of small-scale crops can begin immediately and then this small church town grows organically. Hop poles and a brewery. Beehives. Goats and sheep for cheese production. Greenhouse with vines?

In the village there will be a square to be built; A central meeting place next to the church, where the worldly things are dealt with. Some form of direct democracy should be applied which is practiced at this agora (square). And bigger than everyone can gather there, the village can not be, I think. Yes, what did I know as a twelve-year-old boy. Maybe I was before my time or just a dreamer. But the more I think about it, the better it is. So the question is now asked: do you want to join? Or is it you who has the ground where it will happen? And you can be completely calm because the monastery has libraries as well as WiFi. Because we live after all in the 21st century.

You might remember my blogging a while back about a lovely light novel called The Awakening Of Miss Prim, by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. It’s a fantasia about a little town like Father Franziskus’s village. It has Distributists, homeschooling, an abbey, good books — and believe it or not, a visit to Norcia! Here’s a short passage from the book:

“I’m surprised you’re one of them. I’d never have dreamed you were a utopian.”

Horacio took a generous gulp of brandy and regarded her affectionately.

“It would be utopian to imagine that the present-day world could go into reverse and completely reorganize itself. But there’s nothing utopian about this village, Prudencia. What we are is hugely privileged. Nowadays, to live quietly and simply you have to take refuse in a small community, a village or hamlet where the din and aggression of the overgrown cities can’t reach; a remote corner like this, where you know nevertheless that about a couple of hundred miles away, just in case” — he smiled — “a vigorous, vibrant metropolis exists.”

Pensively, Miss Prim placed her empty glass on the table.

“This does seem like a very prosperous place.”

“It is, in all senses.”

“So you’re all refugees from the city, romantic fugitives?”

“We have escaped the city, you’re right, but not all for the same reasons. Some, like old Judge Bassett and I, made the decision after having got all we possibly could out of life, because we knew that finding a quiet, cultured environment like the one that’s grown up here is a rare freedom. Others, like Herminia Treaumont, are reformers. They’ve come to believe that contemporary life wears women out, debases the family, and crushes the human capacity for thought, and they want to try something different. And there’s a third groups, to which your Man in the Wing Chair belongs, whose aim is to escape from the dragon. They want to protect their children from the influences of the world, to return to the purity of old customs, recover the splendor of an ancient culture.”

Horacio paused to pour himself another glass of brandy.

“Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you, Prudencia? You can’t build yourself a world made to measure, but you can build a village. …”

Here’s a link to buy the book. And guess who is going to be at this year’s “Idea Of A Village” conference in the shadow of Clear Creek Abbey? Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera herself! Look at the line-up — and get your tickets now for the June 10 event. If you read the Wall Street Journal piece on the Clear Creek Abbey community of Catholic agrarians (or my blog about it; the WSJ piece is still behind the paywall), this is your chance to go see for yourself what life is like there. The great homeschooling leader Andrew Pudewa is one of your hosts. And you’ll meet these folks:



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