6 months ago, I told my mum that we’d settled on the Verdelot Priory as a location for our new monastery and she sighed with relief «O’ Lord, my long-standing wish has finally come true».
My mother is actually a practising Catholic and has been for a long time. She always hoped my father would convert to Catholicism when they got married. My father never did, choosing instead to stick with his own ancestral Vietnamese religion. My brothers and I were therefore all baptised in the Catholic tradition at birth but gradually, as we grew up, we moved away from the catholic church. It was rather a big shock for my mum when I chose to get ordained as a Buddhist monk within the Plum Village tradition. For her it was like a direct opposition or even an act of treason (which was not entirely untrue actually). Even if my mum has, in the last couple of years enjoyed visiting me in Plum Village, I know deep down she would have preferred me to become a Christian monk.
It has therefore been a relief to her to know that I, along with my 12 brothers (half from Vietnamese origin, the other half made up of French, European and non-Vietnamese Asians) will be settling in Verdelot. Finally, her son will, from now on, live in ‘the house of God’. She’s even expressed her desire to come and stay for long periods of time at Verdelot.
In the middle ages, Verdelot was a major pilgrimage site, centred around the Black Madonna of Notre Dame de la Pitié (this pilgrimage still takes place every year). Our new Healing Spring monastery was built on the grounds of the Priory of Verdelot and used to be a convent where « Augustines de Meaux » nuns lived. Prior to that, from the 11th ot 17th century, it was inhabited by Benedictine monks.
As for me, although wearing the traditional Buddhist brown robes, I have always felt comfortable accompanying my mother to church or meeting her priest friends. I’m now happy and proud to be able to display, above my bed -and not far from the altar dedicated to Buddha- Jesus’ cross. This particular one was found in the basement of the convent by Sister Giác Nghiêm Elisabeth, the abbess of the ‘Maison de l’inspir’ in Paris during a surveying visit prior to the purchasing of the building. But this is a story for another time… )
Since the start of our fundraising campaign and throughout our settling in process in Verdelot, I have been very aware of the obvious blessing of the ancestors of the place. We can actually all sense the energy of prayer and contemplation left in the building by generations of spiritual ancestors over the centuries.
This peace and love which infuses the building is also evident when looking at the face of the Virgin Mary on the beautiful statue located on the facade of the convent. Mary is fully present and kindly watches over us.
We should soon be receiving, as an offering from a lay sangha in Vietnam, a large statue representing the boddhisatva Avalokiteshvara, known for her great compassion. It will be placed somewhere special in the garden of the Priory. That way, Mary and Avalokiteshvara will be able to accompany us, hand in hand, in our daily walking meditations.