Augustinian friars from 11 countries met at Clare Priory in Suffolk last week

Augustinian friars from 11 countries were at Clare Priory in Suffolk last week for the 2011 conference of the Organisation of Augustinians in Europe (OAE).

The 25 friars represent the religious order’s communities in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Britain.

Fr David Middleton OSA, who is head of the order in Britain, said: “It is a historic moment for the community at Clare Priory to welcome the leaders of all the Augustinian provinces in Europe. The Augustinians put down their roots in Clare in 1248, their first foundation in the English-speaking world. This is the first time that the conference of European provincials has met in this country.”

During the week the friars explored areas of common interest and highlighted some of today’s challenges.

Fr Middleton said: “Among the challenges we face are how to encourage potential candidates to follow their vocation and how to provide their initial training. This will lead to discussion on the need for collaboration between various national groups. The movement among the nations of Europe cannot be ignored, and any talk of our provinces sharing in common tasks will be against the background of modern migration and the needs of the Church now and in the future.

“We are also evaluating the success of our international Youth Encounter held in the UK last August, and looking forward to August this year when the World Youth Day is being held in Madrid.

“One of the most important aspects of the conference is that we are all committed to a common Augustinian tradition, seeking to live according to Gospel values. It means that we can speak our minds freely and share our thoughts deeply. We shall also relax with a day’s excursion to Ely and Cambridge. No need to ask, we’re hoping for a fine day on Thursday.”

Fr Middleton, who was elected president of the OAE for a three-year term at the European friars’ annual conference in Salamanca, Spain, last year, hosted the conference. Fr Robert Prevost, the Prior General in Rome (the head of the order worldwide), attended with some members of his council.

The Prior General was principal celebrant when members of Clare Priory parish joined the European friars for morning Mass on the opening day of the conference, Tuesday, March 1, the feast of St David.

Fr Bernard Rolls, OSA, prior of Clare, took the photograph on the right outside Clare Priory church after morning Mass. That day was the opening of this week’s conference of the Organisation of Augustinians in Europe (OAE).

The Augustinian order had its origins in 1244 when the Pope of the day, Pope Innocent IV, brought groups of hermits in Tuscany into a single religious order to travel and preach in the developing commercial centres of Europe.

Within four years Augustinian friars arrived in England at the invitation of the Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, who made land available next to his castle for their first house. Clare Priory in Suffolk became the friars’ motherhouse in England.