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Ancient abbey where Cistercians were founded continues monastic hospitality, welcoming refugees

Moine cistercien de l'abbaye de Citeaux

© Philippe Lissac / GODONG Ref:367

Louise Almeras - published on 11/15/21

The rule of St. Benedict says that all guests are to be received as Christ.

Since the capture of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15, the international community has organized to save the Afghan population from a reign of terror. France was able to evacuate nearly 2,500 Afghans by air, despite the two explosions that occurred on August 26 at the airport, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.

In all, 50 refugees were expected to arrive in Côte-d’Or, France, at the end of August, to be welcomed in Dijon, a region of France that was among the first to respond to the government’s requests to welcome refugees.

Specifically, they were to be welcomed at the abbey of Cîteaux (which, founded in 1098, is the birthplace of the Cistercian order), perpetuating the monastic tradition of welcoming guests. However, the refugees were not able to arrive when expected because of the difficulty of leaving the Kabul airport.

An abbey used to welcoming refugees

It all started with the 2015 migration crisis and the “Calais Jungle” refugee and migrant camp, where migrants hoping to cross the English Channel to reach England were crowded together. During the evacuation of the Calais camps in 2016, the Abbey of Cîteaux offered to take in some, and buses soon arrived.

The Cistercians thus continued the purest tradition of the rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53 of which is devoted to hospitality:

All guests who come forward will be received as Christ, for He Himself will say: ‘I have been your guest, and you have received me.’ When a guest is announced, the superior and the brothers will go to meet him with all the devotion of charity.

Thus, at the end of August, the monks of the Cistercian abbey were preparing to welcome about 20 Afghans, in a building already made available to house displaced populations in times of crisis. This welcome is being organized with the help of the municipality and its inhabitants, because the arrival of migrants in Côte-d’Or is an initiative of the Dijon prefecture.

However, the management of the logistics is mainly the work of the Adoma Association. It was created to take care of the homeless, and now takes care of refugees. 

Br. Jean-Claude, who is in charge of offering refugees and migrants lodging at the abbey, considers the Adoma association’s way of dealing with the migrants “to be remarkable, with a lot of humanity.” The long building, located 100 yards from the abbey, has a capacity of 30 beds and was initially reserved for youth groups. However, since the crisis in Calais, it has also been used as emergency accommodations, especially in winter, for the many refugees who have fled their countries because of war, climate or religion—”the only thing these families have in common,” comments the Cistercian. 

Instead of the Afghans expected at the end of August, 25 migrants from the large Paris camp came to stay for three days, giving them time to breathe and to have their migration process redirected by the association. Among them are two Afghan families, along with some Ethiopians and Ivorians.

“We welcome mostly families, often single women with children, whose husbands are dead or in prison,” the religious explains to Aleteia. “They sometimes stay for two or three months on site.”

During this time, they rest and work on the administrative processes necessary to seek asylum. They fill out a document “in which they explain why they are here.” Then, the association finds them accommodations or a place at a welcome center for asylum seekers.

“We sometimes have Armenians, and some come to attend services with us,” says Br. Jean-Claude, “but most of them are not Christians.” He immediately adds that they have “never had any inter-religious problems.”

As far as contact with the Cistercian monks is concerned, they “manage to organize celebrations with (the refugees) and soothe their sadness,” and they’ve even celebrated Christmas with them. As for the Afghan refugees, they’re still expected. The abbey of Cîteaux is ready to welcome them. 

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