Let us save the convent of San Marco (Florence) from the new shutdown order
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SUMMARY OF PETITION (full text to follow)
To the Master of the Dominican Order, Bruno Cadoré
After four years, the situation has come full circle: the Provincial Chapter of the Dominican Friars of central Italy again decided, in July of 2017, to close the Convent of San Marco in Florence; the part of the convent that is the state Museum and the church will remain open, but there will no longer be a community of friars, and a convent without friars is no longer a true convent. After the great mobilization - of people, of artists, of intellectuals - to save the convent, embodied in various initiatives and especially in the Petition on www.change.org the archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, and the Master General of the Dominican Order, Father Bruno Cadoré, had entered into an agreement that required the Dominicans to keep the convent open at least until the end of the beatification process of Giorgio La Pira, the famous mayor of Florence connected for so many reasons to the convent of San Marco. But the Dominican Province, disregarding this agreement, asked the General to close the convent, just like four years ago. Cardinal Betori tried to remediate by contacting General Cadoré, and a dialogue was begun from which emerged the General's willingness not to close the convent. This willingness, however, has not been translated into concrete decisions and the convent (together with the friars who reside there) remains in a situation of complete uncertainty.
We ask the General to find a solution as soon as possible, so that in the convent of San Marco there may reside a community with enough friars to to enhance and increase its activities.
Let us recall here the unique importance of the monastery: since the fifteenth century San Marco has been an integral part of the history and identity of Florence, San Marco is the most famous Dominican convent in the world and one of the richest in works of art, one of the main centers of the Renaissance, a laboratory where Catholic religion, culture and art have enriched each other. Over the course of nearly six centuries, many illustrious figures (in holiness, culture, art, politics) have lived at the monastery or have been frequent visitors. Even today, although it has been left with few friars, the convent is a point of reference for the many people who want to be in contact with the Dominican Order, for scholars religion and art who attend the church, the library of spirituality, and conferences organized by the friars.
Florence, December 20, 2017
COMPLETE TEXT OF THE PETITION
It has been a while since the first big petition (2013-14) to save the Convent of San Marco from shutdown (thousands of signatures collected, thanks also to www.change.org and a while since the 2015 agreement between you and the archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, an agreement that, as far as we know, required the Dominicans to postpone the suppression of the convent, at least until the end of the beatification process of Giorgio La Pira. We thought that the crisis had passed and that wee were about to witness a new phase in the convent’s long and glorious history, and instead... it is as if the clock had been turned back to 2013 and to the first decision to close San Marco, as if there had not been that whole mobilization to save the convent, as if a greater awareness of the indispensable role of San Marco in the city of Florence, in the world of culture and art, in the Church, had not developed.
We are disturbed by the decisions made by the Provincial Chapter (San Domenico di Fiesole, July 1/18 2017): 1) the convent must close within a year; 2) the “Arrigo Levasti” Library of San Marco must be downgraded to a spirituality endowment and consolidated with the “Jacopo Passavanti” Library of Santa Maria Novella; 3) the glorious “Rivista di Ascetica e Mistica” must change its name and be turned into an exclusively digital publication to be read online; 4) the recovery and reopening (and relative proceeds) of the ancient Pharmacy of San Marco must be managed by the Dominican Province (and no longer by the convent).
With these decisions the Province has intentionally ignored the agreement between you, Master General, and Cardinal G. Betori. Two reasons have been adopted for such a revolution. The first is the one most often used in recent years, namely the lack of vocations; but this justification does not stand up to careful examination. In fact, if the lack of friars is an incontestable fact, a minimum of reflection is enough to understand that, if one really must close some convent, it is advisable to start with the less important ones and not with the most prestigious, namely that of San Marco. The second reason is expressed by the Provincial Father in a vague and hardly comprehensible way: “The choices of restructuring [...] are intended to create the conditions for greater freedom in preaching, to live itinerancy in concrete ways, with greater dynamism in the communities” (Proceedings of the Provincial Chapter, page 5). It seems that the presence of friars in a convent like that of San Marco would be an obstacle to “freedom in preaching”; but since 1435 the apostolate and preaching of the Dominicans has made San Marco a visible pole of radiance and attraction, an absolutely indispensable instrument and not an obstacle to the freedom of the mission!
If we examine the measures individually, we find incongruities and aspects that we are unable to reconcile with the framework of the common good, that of the Dominican Order and that of the Church, Florentine and universal.
The “A. Levasti” Library was created by the will and testament of the scholar Arrigo Levasti (1886-1973), who donated his books to the convent of San Marco on the condition that they constitute the inseparable endowment of a library open to the public; from this first legacy the library has risen and grown, with its own identity and history, completely independent from the Dominican Library located at Santa Maria Novella. From the beginning the “Levasti” Library was more than a simple library, it was a place of meeting and discussion, in other words also a privileged place of apostolate. To reduce it to the spirituality endowment of another library means distorting its physiognomy, or rather erasing it. Finally we point out that, being two physically distant libraries, unified management will greatly complicate every activity, for librarians and users.
To wipe out the paper version of the “Rivista di Ascetica e Mistica” (founded in 1929 with the name “Vita Cristiana”, one of the most illustrious journals of spirituality) and post the journal on the web may seem very modern and open to the future, but to us it seems simply unrealistic. Journals of philosophy, theology, and especially of spirituality are very different from those of science: the latter can find an appropriate place on the web, while the readers of the former prefer, de facto, to have the publication in their hands, perhaps while they are doing reflection or meditation, with the computer turned off. This is the reality, and not taking it into account will mean losing the vast majority of subscribers without acquiring new ones. Equally unfortunate is the decision to change the name of the journal, returning to the original one, “Vita cristiana”, which was not used for as many years. By now the magazine is known as the “Rivista di A. e M.”; changing it is a way to create confusion among readers and scholars, who will believe that they are dealing with two completely different journals. And then one must not overlook the reason why, in 1956, the move was made from the generic name “Vita cristiana” to the more specific name of “Riv. di A. e M.”: the director at the time, Father Innocenzo Colosio, had wanted to convey a leap in quality, from an educational-devotional journal to a more cultured scholarly-philosophical-theological journal open to the study of other religions. What should we think, that changing the name would mean a return to the origins, even when it comes to the slant of the journal? Another serious inconvenience that would come with getting rid of the paper edition is the loss of all the exchanges, meaning all the other journals of spirituality and theology and philosophy that come in the form of an exchange with the “Riv. di A. e M.”.
The Pharmacy of San Marco, opened in 1450 and closed in 1995, was one of the glories of the convent; the friars have long waited for entrepreneurs to come up with a valid proposal to be able to reopen it, but when it finally arrived the Dominican Province rejected it without providing any convincing reasons. The Province had already decided to close the convent and was prejudicially hostile to any proposal that could, in some way, set the sap flowing at San Marco again. In deciding to close the convent and take over the project of reopening of the pharmacy, the Province is going against the principle of subsidiarity and taking away from San Marco what has been, for centuries, one of its most famous activities.
When Cardinal Betori became aware of these measures, objectively aimed at wiping out San Marco and its activities, he was disturbed, in part because he trusted that no one would ignore the agreement signed with you, Master General. The cardinal, who has always expressed his interest in the convent, wrote a letter to you and from this a dialogue was born with the declared aim of assuring a future for San Marco. On the occasion of the Mass for the anniversary of the death of Giorgio La Pira (Church of San Marco, November 5, 2017) Cardinal Betori told journalists what proposals he made to you, Master General; at the same time he reiterated that he respected the autonomy of the Dominican Order and that therefore the choice among the various proposals lies with the Dominicans. The cardinal, satisfied with the harmony that has been created with the Dominican General Curia (the convent, enlivened by a community of friars, must continue its history), at this time can do nothing but wait for your decision, Master General.
This situation of waiting is not a tranquil experience for the friars of San Marco, because their condition is objectively of great uncertainty. At this moment it is not clear if and when the convent will close, and what will be the fate of the friars who currently reside there. Thus the Fathers can not do any long-term planning, they must limit themselves to ordinary administration and the apostolate and pastoral care are inevitably damaged. No, this must not continue, for the good of all a way out of this situation must be found as soon as possible.
Here then is the meaning of our Petition: to implore the Order to speed up the solution of the problem, so that in San Marco there may reside and work a community with enough friars to enhance and increase its activities.
To you, Reverend Master General, we turn, confident that you will be able to make the right choice to protect the convent and revive its apostolate. Excuse us for our insistence: do it soon! All of Florence, and not just Florence, are waiting for you to find a solution worthy of the glorious history of the Convent of San Marco.
Florence, December 20, 2017
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