CNS PHOTO | HENRY DAGGETT
A statue of St. Benedict is seen between a bottle of "Extra" dark beer and the "Bionda" blond beer at the brewery of St. Benedict's Monastery in Norcia, Italy.
Even before retired Pope Benedict set up a pontifical council for New Evangelization and convoked a world Synod of Bishops on the theme, a new group of Benedictine monks was using Latin and liturgy to reach out to those whose faith was weak or nonexistent.
Now they've added beer to the blend, and people are flocking to the monastery in Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, about 110 km northeast of Rome.
But for the 18 members of St. Benedict's monastery, life is still about prayer.
"If the prayer doesn't come first, the beer is going to suffer," said Father Benedict Nivakoff, director of the Birra Nursia brewery and subprior of the monastery.
The monks in Norcia initially were known for their liturgical ministry, particularly sharing their chanted prayers in Latin online – osbnorcia.org/blog – with people around the world.
But following the Rule of St. Benedict means both prayer and manual labour, with a strong emphasis on the monks earning their own keep.
After just a year of brewing and selling their beer in the monastery gift shop and through restaurants in Norcia, financial self-sufficiency seems within reach, and the monks are talking expansion.
"We didn't expect it to be so enormously successful," said Father Cassian Folsom, the prior of the community.
"People come to the monastery for the beer," said Father Basil Nixen, the novice master, but they leave realizing God brought them to Norcia to meet him.