The "rebellious" Poor Clares leave the monastery of Ravello.
(Rome) They have resisted for a long time: Now the "rebellious" nuns Massimiliana Panza and Angela Maria Punnacka have left the monastery of Santa Chiara in Ravello after Pope Francis had made an example of them.
The town of Ravello is located in the enchanting countryside of the Amalfi Coast in the southern Italian region of Campania. The city with the great panoramic view was able to survive as a Byzantine territory for a long time. It was not until the 11th century that it briefly came under Lombard rule, which was replaced by the Normans in 1073. It was also the Normans who made Ravello a diocese.
At the end of the 13th century, a Poor Clares cloister was built on the outskirts of the town. Since then, cloistered nuns have lived there, whose charism is worship. The small three-nave church and monastery were given their present appearance in 1722. The high altar is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and shows representations of St. Francis and St. Clare. The oldest fresco, a blessing Christ, dates back to the presumed founding year 1297 or shortly before. In the right aisle, a door with a grille allows conversation with the nuns, who adhered to the strict cloister until the end, which is why the monastery cannot be visited. For many of today's mostly hurried tourists, a visit to such a place would be nothing anyway. They are more drawn to the famous Villa Cimbrone, which adjoins the monastery just to the west.
"We take a discreet look behind these walls, where silence is sacred," wrote the Ravello-born minorite, historian and archaeologist Fr. Oreste Maria Casaburo in his description of the monastery and church. When he entered the novitiate of his native town in 1942, life and the cultural landscape on the Amalfi Coast were somewhat different, but life in the Poor Clares monastery of Ravello hardly changed. The square in front of the church is as sun-drenched as ever. The monastery complex on the ridge offers a fantastic view over the Gulf of Salerno and into the Vallone del Dragone, the dragon valley, in the northwest.
For more than 700 years, the Poor Clares have lived on this mountain and have survived all attacks, turmoil and natural disasters. The monastery is thus one of the oldest continuously inhabited monasteries in the country. In its heyday in 1577, 41 sisters, three novices and two converses lived here. The large dormitory was then located above the nave.
When the Tridentine church reform was implemented in the 17th century, the monasteries of the Augustinian hermits and the Minorites in Ravello were closed. The monasteries of the Benedictines and the Poor Clares, however, remained. The Poor Clares monastery also survived the anti-monastic Napoleonic turmoil, because at that time there were more than twelve sisters in the monastery, which were prescribed by the French rulers as a minimum number. When, later in the 19th century, Italian unification was carried out under anti-Church auspices and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861, the hour seemed to have struck for the Poor Clares monastery of Ravello in the course of the great abolition of the monastery. The decree of repeal had already been signed by the new rulers, but it was never implemented, because even now, despite the ban on admission, the number of sisters never fell below the minimum limit that would have allowed their expulsion.
Now, 150 years later, under Pope Francis, a wind is blowing in the Church that is not very friendly to the cloistered monasteries. Like the "Enlightenment" thinkers of the late 18th century, Santa Marta does not seem to see any "benefit" in adoration sisters shut off from the world.
Three Poor Clares lived in Ravello. Too few, said the Roman Congregation of Religious, to "justify" the continued existence of the monastery, and last year decreed the abolition of the convent and the division of the three nuns among three other monasteries. In order to save their convent, the two younger sisters Massimiliana Panza and Angela Maria Punnacka and their 97-year-old sister Maria Cristina Fiore, who has lived in the convent since 1955, resisted. The citizens of Ravello formed a committee to support the sisters. However, negotiations with the ecclesiastical authorities were inconclusive. In the diocese and in the order, reference was made to Roman requirements.
In order to save the convent and to prevent the monastery from becoming the object of real estate speculation, the sisters donated the entire complex, whose value is estimated at 50 to 60 million euros due to the fantastic location, to Pope Francis. In a petition to the Pope, they announced the donation and asked him for his protection. What was intended as a saving anchor in desperation, however, turned out to be the opposite. Pope Francis did not think of taking the nuns under his protection. However, the donation was accepted by him and makes him the owner of a considerable fortune. As soon as the transfer of ownership was completed, the resistance of the nuns of Rome was classified as a "rebellion" and answered with maximum severity.
On February 3, the two younger sisters left the convent after all, because the Holy See made a hard example of them. Both were released from their vows because of their "disobedience" and dismissed from the religious state. The penal decree was personally signed by Pope Francis.
When the sisters were shown the Pope's signature under the decree last week, their world collapsed. Pope Francis expressly prohibited the sisters from appealing the decision. Then they capitulated. The 46-year-old Sr. Massimiliana, who lived in the monastery in Ravello for 18 years, returned to her family. For the time being, she also accommodates her younger sister Angela Maria there.
From their 97-year-old sister, the two said goodbye on Friday morning only briefly. To spare her a stir, they didn't tell her about their personal tragedy. According to the Vatican decree, Sr. Maria Cristina is allowed to stay in the monastery because of her old age. The absurd thing: For their care, two other nuns were transferred to Ravello by the Congregation of Religious, which means that three sisters continue to live in the monastery.
"It's a piece of Ravello's history. Although only three nuns remained, it is important to preserve the monastery (...) We are disappointed and confused by the Vatican's decision, especially after they threw out these two sisters, only to let two others move in," Gino Schiavo, who heads the citizens' committee to save the monastery, told the press.
A group of people said goodbye to the now former sisters on the short way from the convent to the car that took them away. "We promise them to continue fighting for the preservation of the monastery," Gino Schiavo said to the two women and presented them with a ceramic bowl with a thank you and a dedication.
Sr. Massimiliana explained to those present that they had not been transferred, but dismissed, and said goodbye with the words:
"We came with nothing and leave with nothing. We don't want anything for ourselves. We were born Franciscan poor when we entered the Order and we want to die that way."
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: MiL/Wikicommons/SalernoNews (Screenshots)
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