Letters from Spain – Day 12

How do we attract young people to church?  This is a vital question for churches everywhere today, where church is increasingly optional and the options for doing other things abound.

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Follow our rector-elect Marek Zabriskie as he travels around Spain on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage this month.
Read all of Marek’s blog posts here.

I toured the Museo de Burgos, which deserves far more visitors than it receives.  The cathedral, various monasteries and the Museum of Evolution are well attended while this old palace transformed into the city’s history museum receives few visitors.  Yet, inside it tells a story starting with Paleolithic burial tombs and working its way up to the Middle Ages with relics that once belonged in the Monastery of Santo Domingo de los Silos.

The medieval collection includes a rare painting of the crucified Christ wearing a skirt based on a crucifix that hangs inside the cathedral.  A museum docent explained that Christ takes the poor of the world and shields them under his skirt.  Interesting!  Everything here is ancient and tangible, but sadly doesn’t speak to many young people today.

Later in the day, my dear friend Ildefanso treated me to a wonderful lunch and a visit to the most thriving convent in Europe.  I had had an opportunity to return to Madrid and watch el Real Madrid play against their cross town rival Atheltico Madrid.  I was wondering whether I had made the right decision to forgo seeing two of the great soccer teams in Europe go head to head.

But touring the convent of San Pedro de Regalado with Ildefanso, one of the community’s confessors, was a real eye-opener.  For 20 years, no woman had joined this convent.  Then a young woman came to them.  Soon others came and more and more.  Today, there are 210 nuns, the vast majority are between the ages of 18 and 50.  It is staggering to see so many young people responding to God’s call and making a serious spiritual commitment.

We joined them for worship, met with several nuns for conversation and then joined the community for an open discussion.  Other visitors and we were free to ask whatever questions.  The nuns gave wise and articulate answers.  Before and after, they sang incredibly lively and joyful music.

What causes so many young people to join their ranks?  I suspect that young people attract other young people.  The young woman who joined the community after a 20 year drought of vocations is now the abbess.  Young leadership attracts young followers and creates a spiritual community that understands the needs of a new generation.  Every religious community needs this.

The vibrant and joyful singing is another major attraction.  This community exudes joy.  Music plays a key role.  Ten years ago, the nuns wore severe-looking black dresses.   Today, they wear blue denim dresses, which signify a community looking forward and not trying to recapture the past.

Success breeds success.  Word spread about the convent’s joy and liveliness.  Women from across Spain, Mexico and other countries made their way to San Pedro de Regalado.  The growth has been dramatic.  This week, 80 nuns who will move to Valencia to start a new monastic foundation there.

Old churches in Spain and elsewhere are closing their doors, but this community of nuns is thriving in unimaginable ways.  God is something new!

With love and prayers from Spain,