Placid Mavura, from Marymount Mission, became the first Zimbabwean to become a monk when he made his solemn commitment to live his life in the Benedictine monastery of Christ the Word at Monte Cassino, near Macheke, on 25 January 2014.
In a moving simple, yet solemn, ceremony he was welcomed into the community of St Laurence at Ampleforth, a village near York in the North of England, by the Abbot (father) of the community, Fr Cuthbert Madden. Christ the Word was founded by the community of Ampleforth in 1996 and will remain dependent on them until it attains viability as an independent abbey on its own.
Br Placid spent seven years in the monastery before taking this final step so is now well acquainted with the life of monks in a monastery. It is a way of life that had its origins in Africa in the third and fourth century when Anthony of Egypt first laid down guidelines for those who sought to flee the distractions of the emerging cities of the late Roman Empire by devoting themselves to prayer in the desert.
Monasticism became the seedbed of some of the early pillars of the church like St Basil and three other great “fathers of the church” who were all called Gregory. Benedict himself lived about a century later and he provided a rule which gave identity, structure and inspiration to generations of monks. During the turbulent times of the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth centuries it was the monasteries which provided the only schools then in existence and they preserved all the books where the ancient texts of the bible and commentaries, we now treasure, were preserved.
In modern times monasteries and monks have been frequently persecuted but this “trial by fire” led to a great rebirth of monastic life in the nineteenth century and, despite their commitment to a life of prayer, many of them became great missionaries as they felt the need to combine their contemplative life with some active involvement in the development of the lands in which they settled. In England, for example, Ampleforth and other monasteries ran renowned schools.
Our Marianhill priests and brothers started out as monks but Abbot Francis Pfanner decided in 1882 in South Africa that the needs of the gospel at that time demanded a hands-on-participation in the mission of the Church. Three years later he also founded the Precious Blood sisters with the same intention.
But even if monks did not make such a radical break with their original way of life as the Marianhills, they still became actively involved in different ways in the development of people.