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A school of silence in the heart of Rome

 Scuola di silenzio  DCM-004
06 April 2024

“Can silence be learned? And what role does it play in self-awareness?” With these questions in our minds amidst the cacophony of city life, we find ourselves standing at a door in the heart of Rome, adjacent to the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles. Here, the “School of Silence” is about to commence—a meditation gathering inspired by the teachings of Sister Marisa Bisi.  This is not the sole path offered; indeed, there are several options available. Whether weekly or fortnightly, in-person or online, each session follows a practice developed by Sister Marisa, a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross. Her method draws inspiration from the spiritual journeys of revered mystics such as St. Ignatius, while also integrating modern insights from psychology.

As a pedagogist and author of numerous books, Sister Marina Bisi has dedicated herself to the education and development of both religious and lay individuals. Roughly two decades ago, she founded the Christian Meditation Training Center, which was, officially recognized by the Church in 2018. Though Sister Marina now resides in Parma, her method continues to resonate and inspire followers worldwide.

As we step into the room, our eyes are drawn to a striking vertical icon adorning the background—a depiction of the Madonna, delicately pressing the index finger of her right hand to her lips, a gesture beckoning for silence. Carla, one of the earliest disciples of Sister Marisa Bisi, elucidates, “The essence of her method lies in the endeavor to harmonize all facets of our being—body, emotions, mind, and heart—in order to cultivate inner peace. It entails shedding the burdens that disturb us, allowing us to activate our innate capacity for attentive listening”. A pivotal term within her method is “mindfulness”. The core insight is that in order to attune ourselves to God's presence, to speak truthfully, and to truly hear the words of others, we must first be present to ourselves. This presence is attained through a heightened awareness of every dimension of our being—physical, emotional, and mental—enabling us to embrace a state of profound mindfulness.

Following the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the facilitator guides participants through a preparatory phase aimed at clearing thoughts and fostering heightened awareness. Subsequently, a passage from the writings of St Augustine is read aloud by a woman. With hearts and minds attuned to the teachings of the saint, the time of sharing commences. Each participant, in turn, has the opportunity to voice their reflections on the passage, articulating what resonated most deeply with them.

After the conclusion of the hour-long meditation session, we linger to engage in conversation with some of the women who co-founded the center alongside Sister Bisi. They illuminate the purpose of this meditation, explaining that its aim is to reach the “heart” in the biblical sense—the very core of the person where God’s voice resounds. In this sense, “silence serves to convert the heart, to make it able to welcome the Bridegroom”. However, it is not just meditation. “Sister Marisa used to say: enter to pray, leave to act”, says Paola, “but this is possible only starting from this deep center of being, which you reach through a detachment from the mind, from emotions”. “Silence”, said Marisa Bisi again, “is not muteness, but savoring”. We go out. And the noises of Rome, now, seem to recede into the distance.

by Elisa Calessi