April 10, 2020

Saint Meinrad monk relies on faith and prayer while in Rome during pandemic

Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, stands on March 29 in a courtyard of the Collegio Sant’Anselmo in Rome, which is a residence for Benedictines from around the world studying or ministering in Rome. (Submitted photo)

Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, stands on March 29 in a courtyard of the Collegio Sant’Anselmo in Rome, which is a residence for Benedictines from around the world studying or ministering in Rome. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, is living at present in Italy, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe.

Although the country is under a tight lockdown to stem the spread of the virus that has taken the lives of more than 16,000 people there, Brother Lorenzo said in a recent interview with The Criterion that he relies on his faith in God and monastic vocation to get him through this trying time.

He lives at the Collegio Sant’Anselmo in Rome, a residence for Benedictine monks from around the world who are pursuing graduate studies or ministering in the Eternal City. Brother Lorenzo is studying liturgical theology.

Although no visitors are allowed to join them in prayer, the monks at Sant’Anselmo gather daily for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours and have periods for personal prayer and eucharistic adoration.

“With all of these,” Brother Lorenzo said, “it’s as if we’re saying, ‘Lord, we know that the world is hurting right now, but you are still in charge. We continue to sing of your praises. We continue to pray for the world. We continue to sanctify our time with prayer, knowing that you are still with us.’ ”

He’s also edified by the way that the people of Italy have responded to the trials of living under lockdown.

“Even in this dire situation, there are glimmers of hope,” Brother Lorenzo said. “There’s the now iconic image of Italians looking out from their balconies or windows, singing, playing music and applauding health care workers at certain times of the day. I can hear them even from my own window.”

Some who lived with Brother Lorenzo at Sant’Anselmo have returned to their home countries. For the time being, he will stay in Rome.

“At this point, going home is close to impossible for many due to limited train and flights, closed borders and the high risk of catching the virus while traveling,” he said.

A transitional deacon, Brother Lorenzo hopes to return to Saint Meinrad later this year for his priesthood ordination, which is scheduled for Aug. 30.

“It’s still about five months away, so we hope and pray that the situation will improve by then,” he said.

In the meantime, while he wishes he were back at Saint Meinrad, he keeps in touch with his fellow monks through digital messaging and video chats.

“The livestreaming of liturgies in the Archabbey Church also gives me a lot of consolation,” Brother Lorenzo said. “Overall, although I can’t be at

Saint Meinrad right now, I am grateful for my community here at Sant’Anselmo.”

As a monk who has a deep love for the Church’s worship, Brother Lorenzo sees its liturgy as a way for Catholics to find hope in this difficult time.

“I’ve been very touched to see so many priests and religious communities livestreaming their celebrations of Mass and prayer. It’s during this time of social distancing that we feel our hunger for the liturgy, for a deeper connection.

“ … The entire Church prays together at every celebration. It’s ironic that even with social media and instant communication, many people still feel isolated. I pray that this time may reawaken in all of us our thirst for communion with God and our brothers and sisters.”

He noted that Evening Prayer on the first four Sundays of Lent include a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians that speak about athletes competing for a perishable crown of leaves while Christians strive for an imperishable crown. The word for crown in Latin, Brother Lorenzo noted, is “corona.”

“Over here, it’s impossible to hear the word corona and not think about the virus and our situation,” Brother Lorenzo said. “In many ways, I think it’s providential that this verse appears in the liturgy at this moment. It’s a reminder that this coronavirus, too, will wither and pass, but we are called to the imperishable crown awaiting us as sons and daughters of God.” †

 

Related story: Cloistered religious in archdiocese offer wisdom for those ordered to stay at home

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