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St. Benedict’s Monastery feels isolation, focuses prayer during COVID-19

Quiet and contemplative. Solitary and devoted. Simple.

These are some of the words used to describe the monastic way of life. For hundreds of years, Christian men and women around the world have chosen this lifestyle, giving up much of their individual freedoms to live in a monastic community rooted in religious tradition, humility and obedience to God.

St. Benedict’s Monastery in Old Snowmass is one such community. A Cistercian or Trappist tradition, the St. Benedict’s monks aspire to be “transformed in mind and heart by embodying Jesus Christ in ways appropriate to our times” and to share their values and spirituality with interested visitors and regular locals often on a daily and weekly basis, according to the monastery website.

But with the novel coronavirus pandemic and local COVID-19 outbreak, times have changed. The Old Snowmass monastery closed to the public in late March and even though the six monks who call it home are used to being isolated from much of the Aspen-Snowmass area, Father Charles Albanese said it doesn’t really make social distancing for their small community any easier.

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“We have no guests, no one sharing the liturgy we have so we’re by ourselves,” Albanese said. “I don’t feel disconnected but we are isolated. … We’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

For the past 42 years, Albanese has lived at St. Benedict’s Monastery and is its current abbot, or head monk.

Originally from New York City, Albanese said he first became interested in the monastic way of life after visiting 11th century monastery ruins in Europe, which sparked him to learn more about Cistercians, or Trappists.

“It’s a long-term experience of growth in God if I could put it that simply, so I’m not the same person I was 42 years ago. I don’t know who that was. I used to think I knew everything and now I probably know less than I started out knowing,” Albanese said of his experiences as a monk, chuckling.

“Our growth in God is also how we serve those who visit us, mostly through the retreat house and the local people who visit us for liturgy. That’s why it’s so difficult right now.”

According to Albanese, sharing this lifestyle with others is a prominent aspect of St. Benedict’s. Before COVID-19, at least 50 locals attended services at the monastery each Sunday and roughly 10 to 15 visitors on group or individual retreats were at the Old Snowmass site each week.

Retreats also are a major source of income for the monastery, running on suggested donations. However, he said the monastery has financial support from “the generosity of a lot of people” along with the land it leases for ranch operations.

Albanese went on to say the monastery specifically is a “small community that’s going through a vocational challenge” and that has experienced a lot of loss. He doesn’t know what the future holds, especially now as it navigates through the pandemic.

“We’re each trying to understand what this all means and we realize the impact no so many people. We’re praying for all of these people but I think it’s really too soon to know the massive impact that this is going to have on us and everybody,” Albanese said. “You can’t stop thinking about it. It’s traumatic how this has affected people’s lives.”

Spiritually and socially, Albanese said the small St. Benedict’s community is continuing its worship services for those living on site, is devoting its prayers to all those affected by COVID-19 and is optimistic about international, national and local recovery, including its own. Many people have called to check in on the monks and they are all doing their best to stay in touch with their families and friends over-the-phone.

Albanese said he feels all of the monks are in pretty good spirits so far, and is looking forward to a resurrection of sorts for the global community.

“When you have the ability to pray I wouldn’t give it up. I would just pray my concerns to God and to pray for people. Look at the beautiful place we live, not everyone has this experience so I just hope our prayers are spreading,” Albanese said.

“I feel it’s a good idea to do what we can to help each other and I hope we at the monastery can open up again and invite people to experience our life.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com


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