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News from Ajahn Chandapalo

During the course of this last year we have been reminded of our strong connection and indebtedness to Thailand and its people. In January, at a formal ceremony in Bangkok, Ajahn Preechar Jutindharo was honoured with an ecclesiastical title in recognition of his Dhamma service overseas and received a special ceremonial fan and certificate. The title is Pra Kru (perhaps vaguely comparable to Monsignor in the Catholic tradition) and with it comes a new name – Santidhammavitet – which may be translated as ‘Messenger of Peace’.

Ajahn Preecha Jutindharo
Ajahn Preechar Jutindharo

He has been in Italy almost 16 years and we are currently waiting to see if he will be granted citizenship. Perhaps he will be the first Italian Pra Kru!

In August we held a remembrance service at the monastery for Khun Natcharee Thananan, the wife of a former Thai ambassador to Rome who was instrumental in acquiring this property for the use of the Sangha, and who died ten years ago. Luang Por Sumedho came to participate in this event and to spend a few days with us. It was also an opportunity to remember with gratitude Vincenzo Piga, an important figure in the development of Buddhism in Italy, who donated the original vihara in Sezze Romano and who also passed away about ten years ago, while several of us were in Thailand for Khun Natcharee’s funeral.

Mario Thanavaro, the founder and first abbot of Santacittarama, came to visit while Ajahn Sumedho was here and some of us went for a trip to nearby Fara Sabina, a charming and ancient hilltop town, and to Canneto, which boasts what is reputed to be the largest olive tree in Europe and is estimated to be 2,400 (!) years old. It’s remarkable to think that a tree so close to the monastery has been growing since shortly after the time of the Buddha, and that a tree and a religious tradition have survived while so many individuals, cultures and empires have come and gone. Just as the olive tree, despite its advanced age, continues to bear fruit, so does the Buddha-sasana (dispensation of the Buddha) continue to grow and offer spiritual nourishment.

The Kathina was offered by two groups of Thais from England, Khun Namtip and friends from Newcastle and Khun Chonlada and friends from London, with the participation of numerous Thais, Sri Lankans and Italians from all over Italy, from as far south as Sicily and as far north as Aosta. We were blessed with idyllic weather for the whole time that our guests from England were here, much to their delight as well as to that of our local Thais who came to help. Much of the day-to-day support we receive comes from Thai women living in the Rome area. Several of them visit nearly every weekend, bringing food, getting the kitchen in order and looking after the gardens.

Our three resident Thai monks – together with helpers of various nationalities – have been very active building things. As a result we have two new beautifully built and situated kutis, very well insulated and with small and efficient wood-burning stoves. The men’s guest house has been completely rebuilt, providing much improved conditions for guests. At the time of writing we are waiting to hear the results of our application for an area of the property to be designated for a temple building. If this is granted it will mean that the most difficult bureaucratic obstacle has been overcome, and we can then start working on a detailed design.

A large meeting hall would certainly be put to good use, not only for the major festival days but also for accommodating the regular meditation classes and workshops that seem to bring ever greater numbers of people, mainly Italians. In particular we are witnessing a noteworthy level of interest among young people in their late teens and early twenties, which is very encouraging. Meditation groups are being formed in various parts of Italy, and Ajahn Chandapalo has visited several of them as well as leading retreats in Sicily, Sardinia, Bari and Piacenza. And in the meantime we have been delighted to have both Ajahn Sucitto and Ajahn Amaro teaching retreats in a nearby Catholic institute. 

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