Bruno Hussar's memorial and
a meeting with Abbot Paul Saouma

February 15 2003: We commemorated today the memorial of the death of NSWAS founder Bruno Hussar (1911-1996). At first we gathered in the house of Anne Le Meignen and from there several people went to pay respects at Bruno's grave despite the pouring rain.

This was followed by a special activity organised by Doumia ~ Sakina: a meeting with Father Paul Saouma, the abbot of the nearby Trappist abbey of Latroun.

The meeting took place in the White Dove hall of the Guest House. It opened with the singing of some of Bruno's favourite songs, accompanied on the harmonica by early NSWAS resident Reuven Moskovich. (Reuven now lives in Jerusalem, but is a frequent visitor.)

Dafna Karta Schwartz told a famous inspirational tale about a monastery, and Father Paul began to speak about the history of the abbey and his own life there.

Fr. Bruno Hussar

Father Paul,  Reuven

Some highlights

The Abbey of Latroun was established in 1890 by monks from France. Of the 380 Trappist abbeys around the world, it remains the only one between Italy in the west and India in the east, although the abbey is now working to establish a sister abbey in northern Lebanon.

The abbey today is populated by about 25 monastics from 11 countries. Trappist monks generally commit themselves to an abbey over the long term. The abbot himself has lived at Latroun for 58 years.

Like the surrounding region, the abbey's history has been turbulent – its lands changing hands between various nations. In the 1914 – 1918 war five monks were killed. The Turks occupied the abbey and expelled the inhabitants. The buildings sustained extensive damage, including the loss of all furniture (even doors and windows). It was restored, but suffered again in 1948 when warfare ranged all around it.  Scores of shells rained on the abbey while the monks hid underground. One monk was killed.

The current situation in Israel has brought its own difficulties. The northern border with Lebanon is now closed, making journeys to the young sister abbey difficult. The abbey is inaccessible to young people from other Arab countries, who would like to join it.

Life at the abbey is based on prayer, work and study. The monks rise at 3 AM, and retire at 8 PM. They have four – five hours of prayer each day, take part in all the manual labour of maintaining the abbey and its winery, and also spend much time in study. The abbey has a library of 40,000 books including many rare and old manuscripts. The abbey is a self-sustaining community which does not receive donations or help from outside. The monks own no personal possessions and live a life of austerity, but the abbey provides charity to others in need. Currently it supports 35 families in Bethlehem (Moslems and Christians) and has also donated generously to the NSWAS primary school.

Asked how the monks succed in living together as a community for so many years, the abbot said that “When problems come up I always manage to solve them.  My counsel is usually that instead of looking at each other, we should try to look forward in the same direction.”  He also said that the tremendous problems faced by the abbey over the years have helped to bring the community together. Silence, which is preserved by the monks during most of their activities, also contributes to remembering the goal.  Finally, he emphasized that in his view “the shortest way to God is always through one's fellow human beings.”

Since NSWAS is also a community, it was inspiring for us to hear these ideas and solutions offered by the abbot from his own experience of community life, though one that naturally is quite different from our own.

Neve Shalom ~ Wahat al-Salam has enjoyed good relations with the abbey in recent years. Father Paul asserted again his great belief in the village and its goals. He too tries to work in a way that will bring the various peoples of the region closer, and mentioned a dream he has to create a joint monument to St. Bernard, Salah ad-Din and the Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak) – who were contemporaries in the 11th century.

Various people thanked Father Paul for his visit and support. Diana Shalufi Rizek mentioned the inspiration she receives personally at the regular peal of the abbey's bells and the knowledge its supporting spiritual presence.  She also expressed hope that in future meetings the use of Hebrew and Arabic would be more balanced (the meeting was conducted entirely in Hebrew). The Abbot said that, in the spirit of middle eastern hospitality, the next such meeting should take place at the abbey.