This Friday, the anniversary celebrations of the 750th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz reach their climax. Year of foundation of the Cistercian monastery of Neuzelle their climax. Heiligenkreuz Abbey has founded a daughter monastery there. Abbot Maximilian Heim on the new start.
CBA: After 750 years, the Cistercian order dares to make a new start in Neuzelle. What made you accept the invitation of the Bishop of Goerlitz, Wolfgang Ipolt, to refound the church??
Abbot Maximilian Heim: The firm belief that the Gospel should be taken to the periphery, as our Pope Francis would say. In a country where faith has been suppressed or concealed for decades, there is less indifference than in regions with saturated Christianity. We want to open up a perspective of hope for the people that makes them curious. A resident there said to one of our monks: "I am so happy that you are coming now." Father replied, "Then, please, pray for us." To which the man replied, "I can't, because I'm an atheist. But I am glad that you are coming!"
CBA: The monks want to go to the people, but at the same time distance is also important to you. How do they fit together?
Home: "Monachus" means "the lonely one.". We need solitude and in it the experience of becoming one with God. From this space of silence, where we meet God and also wrestle with Him, we can go out to proclaim the Gospel to people out of love for God and neighbor.
CBA: Is that the reason why you want to build a new monastery – outside the historical complex of Neuzelle?? Is it to them with over 120.000 tourists annually to be secularized?
Home: We do not reject the tourists. We have that in Heiligenkreuz, too. That would not be a problem for the location. The real problem is that in this whole ensemble we don't have a place of retreat that allows for some seclusion. This is difficult to do in the building complex with all its interconnections and resident institutions from the museum to the school.
CBA: Now the six monks live on the monastery grounds in the old rectory. What function will it still have when the convent moves to a more distant new building?
Home: I think the rectory will be home to the monks for years and will remain a rectory at the same time, because it will take longer until the new monastery is ready one day. In this I also see an important sign: That we do not sit down in a made nest, but go step by step and perhaps first build a guest house, simply to show the people: We are walking a path here as monks of the 21st century. It's not a question of people from the early twentieth century coming to the historic monastery buildings with an attitude of entitlement and saying, "We have a right to this!"
CBA: Going from the magnificent abbey in Heiligenkreuz to Neuzelle in the diaspora – that is not an easy step to take…
Home: It is not. It is not easy for the six founding monks. Among them there is not a single one who was dissatisfied in Heiligenkreuz. I would never have sent a malcontent either.
Home: Because he would take his discontent with him. It is a good condition for a new start if I have been satisfied at the place where I have been so far. If God then calls to another place, then I can accept it more easily as the will of God.
CBA: What criteria – besides great satisfaction – were important to you in the selection of the founding monks??
Home: That they stick together and are resilient. That is why the prior of the Neuzell community, Father Simeon Wester, was also involved in the selection of the other founding monks.
CBA: What did you give to the monks as a marching baggage?
Heim: The cross, the Bible and the Rule of St. Benedict. And I told them: really live from the power of the Word of God, live in community, and trust each other, bear with each other – then it can only go well. You can't copy a monastery – like Heiligenkreuz, for example. Something new develops with every founding of a monastery. I am curious to see how it will be here.
CBA: Do you think that Heiligenkreuz can profit from the experience of your monks in the dechristianized Brandenburg??
Heim: I really believe that the new foundation has a deep meaning also for Heiligenkreuz. In the past decades, our abbey, for all its attachment to tradition, has always been ready to innovate. We are monks of renewal. How quickly our house implemented the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council in the celebration of Holy Mass and in the creation of a new monastic Book of Hours.
When our teaching institution was on the verge of collapse in the 1970s, we turned it into a successful university with a new concept. After the fall of communism, we gave the long-suppressed monasteries in the former Eastern Bloc the opportunity to have young vocations trained at our university free of charge. Our CD "Chant: Music for paradise" with Gregorian chant was certainly a risk, but it too was an international success without detracting from the monastery's character.
The interview was conducted by Karin Wollschlager.