From The Washington Post, a glimpse at what life has been like for the last two years at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico:
Outsiders have flocked to this serene abbey for decades in search of spiritual renewal. As adherents of the sixth-century Rule of Saint Benedict, which teaches that monasteries are to treat visitors as they would Jesus himself, the monks graciously welcome outsiders. As many as 30,000 people make the pilgrimage each year, including past notables such as the artist Georgia O’Keeffe and the actor Matthew McConaughey. Guests are an integral part of Benedictine monastic life and have been for 1,500 years. “Monasteries,” Saint Benedict wrote, “are never without them.”
That was true for Christ in the Desert until March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the monks to close their doors to the outside world. For nearly two years now, guests have been prohibited from staying at the monastery, leaving the monks in a position they have never faced before.
“Guests are part of who we are,” said Brother Chrysostom, the monastery’s bearded guestmaster, who joined the fellowship in 2017. “We can only go so long without guests, and not just for financial reasons. For identity reasons. Not having visitors would betray the whole Benedictine charism.”
The monks had little choice. Given their communal living arrangements, monastic communities are particularly vulnerable in a pandemic. Nine monks from the monastic community of Mount Athos in Greece have died of covid-19. Last February, two nuns at the St. Walburg monastery in Villa Hills, Ky., died after 28 sisters were infected with the coronavirus. Outbreaks occurred in monasteries worldwide, including in Italy, the Philippines and Ukraine. With elderly brothers at the Christ in the Desert – the oldest is 95 – a coronavirus outbreak could have proved a death sentence.
To protect themselves, the monks blocked the entrance with a gate. “PLEASE DO NOT ENTER OUR PROPERTY,” a prominent sign pleaded. “WE HAVE HIGH-RISK INDIVIDUALS IN OUR COMMUNITY.”
Some outsiders ignored their request.
“People tried to storm the door, and I’d say, ‘No, you can’t come in here,’ ” Brother Chrysostom said. “They just disregarded the gate and came in anyway. Some understood, and some were very upset about it. It was just what we had to do. If one of us gets covid, we all get it.”