Holy, Holy, Holistic

By URSULA SAUTTER/KoblenzThe Arenberg convent’s once somber guesthouse and sanatorium are being transformed into a bright and airy “wellness and meditation center.”

an increasing number of Germany’s 3,300 Catholic monasteries are opening businesses — and finding willing customers. “More and more people, especially from high-pressure professions, feel the need to escape from hectic everyday life,” says market researcher Joachim Scholz from the German National Tourist Board in Frankfurt-Main. The Arenberg sisters hope that people from all faiths will flock to their center. The visitors will find a peaceful, shady herb garden and candle-lit chapel overlooking the rolling, wooded hills of the Eifel region, beckoning them to sit, relax and think. At a 70% occupancy rate, they could bring the order €2 million a year.

Some monasteries simply allow guests to take part in daily prayers, while others offer meditation and bible classes, physical exercise courses and spiritual counseling. “The cloisters have realized that they have a product they can market: a meaningful way of life,”

“We live on tourism,” says Brother Georg, the website’s administrator. “That’s why we want to show people the beauty of the monastery.”

The five brothers at the St. Franziskus monastery in Dietfurt, Bavaria, offer a variety of Zen, qigong [a form of Chinese exercise and meditation], and tai chi classes as well as Christian contemplation. Father Nathanael, St. Franziskus’ guardian, thinks Eastern wisdom and Christianity go well together. “Zen is a form of meditation that can lead to other levels of consciousness,” he says. “We supply the spiritual basis.”

Critics argue that making a business out of spirituality demeans the faith. But the clergy say there is much more than their own financial welfare at stake. The mission of the Dominican nuns, for example, is “the salvation of the world.” If saving the world means a convent needs a pub, phytotherapy sessions and a jacuzzi, then Arenberg’s Sister Maris Stella says so be it. “We tried to find out what people need today and then offer them new forms of spiritual guidance and assistance to find it,” she says. God does work in mysterious ways.