Brother Charles-Marie is a monk of the Fraternity of Jerusalem. He arrived in the little city in October 2021 for a period of training in sacred art at the Ave Art Center. This is how he discovered Loppiano and the Claritas school for men religious.
He has the touch of an old master, with his blue apron smeared with paint, a white trimmed beard, and unable to hide a welcoming smile. Feeling at home, Charles-Marie is surrounded by plaster, colored mosaic tiles, dust, and sheets of gold leaf, literally immersed in his present work: a large panel featuring the apparition of the angel in a dream to St. Joseph.
He is 45 years old, French, a monk of the Fraternity of Jerusalem, and a painter of icons. “I like icons very much – he explains – for it is not only a manual work but a prayer, an inner journey. However, I have always been looking for something more “open”, and less controlled. When I discovered the existence of the Ave Art Center, I found its artwork respectful of tradition, profound, and able to relate with today’s world and people.”».
As he continues to set the mosaic tiles in place, Charles-Marie tells us that, for the past ten years, he had set aside his art to accompany the novices of the Strasbourg monastery.
So, thinking of his city, it comes spontaneously for him to explain the special relationship between his Fraternity and urban centers. “In the monastic tradition, the city is seen negatively, as a place of distraction, temptation, noise. A Babylon, in short. The intuition of our founder is to see the city as a place where God himself dwells, where it is possible to live in contemplation. For God, first of all, lives in the world, in cities, with humanity.”
Now, going back to his story, he explains that his community gave him a gift: a year of training in sacred art at the Ave Art Center. They were his confreres in Florence, of the Badia Fiorentina, a suggerirgli di visitare il sito delle artiste di Loppiano. Ricorda: «Mi è piaciuto molto! Allora, abbiamo domandato se sarebbe stato possibile fare esperienza qui. Così, sto imparando nuove tecniche, uso materie che vedo per la prima volta! Di questo lavoro mi piace anche il fatto che è molto “aperto”. Siamo al servizio della Chiesa. Il Centro Ave ha un suo stile ma non è rigido. Si adatta ai desideri delle comunità o delle parrocchie committenti. Siamo in continuo dialogo con loro. For me, it seems this is a service to unity through the beauty of art.”».
While staying here in Loppiano, Charles-Marie also discovered the “Claritas” Center of Spirituality for men religious, and decided to participate in it: “Usually, a religious comes to the little city for Claritas. I took a different path, I discovered Claritas thanks to the Ave Center. Here, I live with a Minor, a Conventual and a Capuchin Franciscan, a Benedictine and a Josephine. We share our charisms, our experiences. We pray together. It’s so beautiful.”
At the end of our conversation, one wonders if it isn’t difficult, amidst the countryside, to live his Fraternity’s spirit of the “city”. Charles-Marie disagrees: “For our community, what matters is the humanity within the city. Today, each city is a little world of its own. I also find such humanity in this small city, in the world of Loppiano”.