Montenau is situated in the German speaking part of Belgium, in the picturesque region of the Amel river. This area was part of Prussia until World War I. In 1928 the SVD settled here and the house is therefore the oldest one of the SteylerMisionaries in Belgium. Since 1987 SVD’s missionary contemplative community has lived in Montenau, and considers itself fortunate it can rely on more than 80 years of SVD presence in this region. Thanks to its magazines the Steyler are very well known, especially amongst older people.
In the 1980’s, when it was considered to hand over ‘Montenau’ to other institutions, a committee was set up to take over the ‘Bildungsstätte’ (meeting place/ formation centre). For this reason, since 1987 there have been a wide range of activities in the large building on the premises, while the contemplative missionary community lives in the old villa Grisar.
From the start, this community has been a mixed group of Sisters, Brothers and Fathers, who had lived and worked in various countries in- and outside Europe, and brought along all their experiences with a range of cultures and languages.
What brought these people to ‘Montenau’, and what do they do there? ‘Ora et labora’ has been one of the pillars of religious life since its beginnings in the Near East, North Africa and Europe. Prayer and labour are pillars of Christian life, and certainly of religious life. Depending on its founders, sometimes the contemplative aspects were emphasized, at other times the active aspects. In the family of the three Steyler congregations one can see elements of this tension. In ‘Montenau’ one does not try to live as Carthusians or shoeless Carmelites, but efforts are made to remain open to events in the modern world. The tensions this sometimes causes, is very healthy: ‘The best hermit is the one who is a good pastor in his heart and the best pastor is in his heart a hermit’.
These elements are important: Silence and prayer; A modest way of life; Passing on Christian values to contemporaries; Providing opportunities to participate in silent life. This is possible through contemplation and personal talks. To be able to do so it is important to engage in contemporary world view of God and humankind. Therefore we must keep looking for prayer forms and -language that is understood by modern man. When the Praeses once asked Marcel Légaut ‘What is important in our time?’, he answered: ‘Small groups, inspired by the inner strength of its members and frugal in their manifestations, that put everyone on his or her way to deepening their own life.” Or, as Bishop Eugenio Rixen (Goias, Brasil) put it: ‘Charles de Foucauld succeeded in living with the tension of two poles: social commitment and prayer. Without prayer, the struggle might become grim and violent. Following de Foucauld is a different road than making making a career for oneself in church or society. He stands for humble work and a well cared for life of prayer.’
Nowadays the credo is: ‘Only speak of Christ when asked, but live in such away one is asked.