Switzerland’s ‘part-time’ friar

Members of the Capuchin Order in Switzerland have a problem.  The population of Catholic friars is getting older, and younger generations are finding it difficult to give up modernity for life in a monastery.  But one Swiss man—the only one—is now half-way through a trial period with the Capuchins.  He signed up to live, work and pray with the brothers for three years and then he can return to life as before..or stay on for another three-year-term.  WRS’s Tony Ganzer caught up with this part-time brother in the medieval Rapperswil Monastery.

Rapperswil’s cobblestone streets are the best pathways from the ducks on Lake Zurich to the towering stone walls and medieval castle.

Past a rose garden, a small vineyard, and a pair of water fountains is the entry to the city’s monastery—formed to keep a Catholic presence in St. Gallen on the border with protestant Zurich.  Overlooking his garden stands Brother Fridolin.

BR. FRIDOLIN:  “We grow here flowers for the church, and also vegetables, and fruits…and kiwis…we have kiwis.”

Brother Fridolin has spent the last year and a half as a Capuchin Friar with a limited contract.  For three years he agreed to give up his work in Lucerne economic development to live with a Catholic order.

BR.FRIDOLIN:  “It was my 45 birthday, and I realize the first part of my life is over.  And I travel a lot.  I was always traveling with the bicycle—more than 70 countries.  This was also the point that for me religion became much more important.”

Brother Fridolin was raised Catholic, but his religious interest really picked up during the last few years.  He spent time with a religious community in Neuchâtel to distance himself from his past life, and to begin anew.

BR. “It was not so difficult because I was always interested in news things.  So after 10 years, after 15 years it is necessary to make change.”

Though he had dated, Brother Fridolin was never married, perhaps making the choice to leave Lucerne less difficult.  To join the monastery even for a short-time he took vows, which he admits probably deters some prospective friars.

BR. FRIDOLIN:  “A lot of people especially in this time, they are afraid for the future.  And a second part is also because we have here no sexuality, and so I think also a lot of men my age the want to be married, they want a relationship.  This is indeed a problem for the project, yes.”

BR. FRIDOLIN:  “When I am outside I see a lot of people who is a little bit unhappy.  And I am thinking, people must thinking about why we are unhappy, and what can we do against it.  Not everybody can go to the  monastery, that is also clear, but this could be a possibility to give to your life a new change.”

Brother Fridolin is the only short-term friar in Switzerland, though he hails the benefits.  He says he doesn’t have stress anymore, because work gets done when it gets done.  He gets a day off to see friends, or ride his bicycle.  He interacts with the public too, running the monastery store and caring for customers at the monastery guest house.  But he admits there are challenges.

BR. FRIDOLIN: “Our average of the age here in Rapperswil is 68.  So my brothers a lot of them they could be my father.  It is not a problem but sometime I miss people in my age.”

And that is a problem facing religious orders all over the country—attracting the next generation.  To Brother Fridolin, though the community provides all he needs.  He says now, he feels free.

Brother Fridolin isn’t sure yet he will sign up for another three-year term with the Capuchins, but he says the experience has been worth the change.

On the Web:  http://www.kapuziner.org/sprov/de/bruder_auf_zeit/bruder_auf_zeit.php
(German page explaining the program)

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