I returned in 2011 to find it in much better condition: the winery was in full swing, lavender fields were rendering bath and beauty products, its chapels and main church had been restored. And it had received a new addition: Otto von Habsburg, the last crown prince of Austria-Hungary. Part of him, that is. Following centuries-old Habsburg tradition of burying the heart separate from the rest of the body, he had willed to have his buried here (the rest of his body lies in Vienna’s Capuchin Crypt). Mainly because monks from the abbey followed his family into exile at the end of WWI to educate the young heir apparent. Another reason was to show that Austria and Hungary both belong to a united Europe.
Indeed, the abbey, founded in 996, is an integral part of European civilization, having run a boarding school almost continually since that date. Despite several temporary closings over the centuries, and one in 1948-1950, it even became a rare example of a Catholic school allowed to operate in the former East Bloc.
Now, the monastery has shown the charitable side of its Christian mission. Last Saturday, September 5, Pannonhalma took in an as-yet undisclosed number of Syrian families, along with two unaccompanied minors. Volunteers escorting the group along the highway had brought them there, where they were sheltered in the gym.
This action was in apparent contradiction to a widely publicized, and criticized, suggestion by Hungary’s Cardinal Péter Erdő that housing undocumented refugees could be a violation of the country’s laws against human trafficking or smuggling (the Hungarian Helsinki Commission denies this claim). Vienna’s Catholic archdiocese, by contrast, is preparing to take in 1000 refugees.
Although the Benedictines of Pannonhalma were approached rather than making an offer, they performed this charitable work before Pope Benedict’s call on Sunday for all European Catholic parishes to take in at least one family. “We cannot leave anyone outside because doing so would contradict the Gospel,” Archabbot Asztrik Várszegi has been quoted as saying. The monastery also protected a considerable number of Jews during WWII.
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