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Trappists: Holy stewards of the earth

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There is a place where the drone of traffic turns to the sound of birds and the tops of buildings are replaced by the peaks of the Blue Ridge. It is in Clarke County that the Trappist monks of Holy Cross Abbey have made their home for more than six decades. Time has not dulled the land's beauty or the brothers' devotion to it.

What first drove these men to the banks of the Shenandoah was the devastation of a fire that consumed their Rhode Island monastery on the night of March 21, 1950. After the fire, the Diocese of Richmond invited the Trappists to start over again in Virginia and bring their way of life with them. Abbot Dom Edmund Futterer chose the more than 200-acre property known as Cool Springs Farm as the sight of the monastery, and they have lived here ever since.

"(Abbot Futterer) could not have picked a more fortunate space," said Father Robert Barnes, current abbot of Holy Cross. "It sounds like a John Denver song."

For the past 65 years the Holy Cross community has lived out its contemplative monastic life in the midst of God's creation. As members of the Benedictine family, they follow the Rule of St. Benedict, living a life of prayer, work and community.

"We find that this life is a way of worshiping God, giving ourselves to God but also being connected to the church, both the local church in Arlington with Bishop Loverde and also to the universal church," said Father Barnes.

Unlike some religious orders, the Trappists do not take a vow of poverty, which means they can own property and work the land to support themselves. Today the brothers operate a bakery to produce their popular bandy-glazed fruit cakes for the Christmas season. Demand for the cakes has increased so much over the past years that they had to temporarily stop production last year to upgrade their baking equipment. This year they are back in action but will sell them only through their gift shop until their Internet ordering system is up and running.

Included in their daily lives of prayer and work is another aspect of their vocation, which focuses on their growing concern for the environment.

"We are taking very seriously that part of our life that is living in God's nature by being stewards of God's creation," said Father Barnes. Over the past 10 years, the brothers have embarked on a number of ecological improvements. These include putting all the land in conservation easement, using natural vegetable farming and raising grass-fed beef cattle. The monastery also provides a new service to the community in the form of their green cemetery where families can give their loved ones a natural burial.

The brothers welcome members of the community to take advantage of the wonderful gift of God's creation and come visit them at Holy Cross Abbey. Visitors can stay for a short visit for vespers or daily Mass or even stay for a week in their comfortable retreat house. They encourage those who need a break from the stress and noise of urban life to trade it in for a day - or a lifetime - for the beautiful simplicity of the Shenandoah.

Buyers can be reached at abuyers@catholicherald.com

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015