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," says Arnulf Salmen, press spokesman for the Association of Superiors of German Orders, an umbrella organization for German monasteries.
The people who come to Frankfurt's I-Punkt, an information center run by the Catholic Church, are in search of a meaningful way of life — at least for a long weekend. At I-Punkt, clients "wish to have some quiet and peaceful time to find themselves," says Sister Dolores, a Franciscan nun who works at the shop. Several hundred people book a cloister stay each year, she says, but demand has increased so much that some monasteries have begged to be taken off the agency's list.
Monastic entrepreneurs are using the Internet to reach customers. The busy Benedictine monks at the Ettal monastery in Upper Bavaria are not only selling their famous beer and herb liqueur online, they are even planning to install a couple of webcams so customers can see the splendid Baroque basilica. "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.