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The young people share their life stories

 

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Meeting of the General Council with the young people of Arco Norte (2)

20/11/2008: Guatemala - Photo gallery

In the centre of the square framed by the buildings of the provincial residence, there stands a fountain. In the pleasant Guatemalan evening the old brothers walk around it slowly or in their wheelchairs, spending some pleasant hours close to the small cascade that glides over the stone of the fountain. The tinkling and sonorous water cascades gently, while they, unaware of what is happening around them, are always happy to tell their life stories to those of us who visit them. Germán lives on fixed memories. In the space of ten minutes he has asked me. How are things in Rome? Beside him is Alberto. Even at 91 years of age his mind is clearer and more serene than Germán. I will soon be 92, he tells me. I ask him if he is sure. I certainly am, he tells me. It is Germán who is mistaken. He does not remember his age and claims to be younger than he actually is. The conversation with these two old men continues while the young people are discussing their life stories in the groups. These and many other brothers who have preceded us have today made it possible to hold this international meeting of young people so that they can share their life stories with the brothers of the General Council who join in each of the six groups..

The morning reflection is centred on personal experience. It entails looking back on their own history with an interior look and recognising their own path to faith. To accomplish this, before sharing their own experience with the others, the young people took time for personal reflection. A text selected from the document Water from the Rock” served as a reference point. Specifically the text referred to the original, using numbers 44 to 50. They were asked, in the first place, to briefly recount their own process of growth in faith, in which important moments, difficulties or significant landmarks should be included. And having spoken, they should analyse what affected their growth in the Christian life. At the end of this session, time was devoted to highlighting the most significant features of their youth and Marist spirituality.

Firstly in the group and later in the plenary session they recounted their life stories with simplicity and transparency. Some of them were dramatic. Others were beautiful confessions of what they had lived. In some stories the main characters used a language of faith that allowed them to identify at some point in their existence the presence of the Lord in their lives. In the times that they shared their experiences many have highlighted the presence of a brother or a significant person who had illuminated their path at a decisive moment or when they had made important choices.

While the young people explained their spirituality and made a poster to summarise the features of living, youth, Christian spirituality, I continued my conversation with the old brothers. Brother Alberto told me. I rise at five thirty in the morning. I thought that it was very early for an old man who had the whole day before him to live the life of a pensioner. And, why do you get up so early? I asked him. To pray. The first thing I do every morning is to ask the Lord for Marist vocations. And later to thank him for the perseverance of the brothers. We also have Lauds in the morning and in the afternoon Vespers and the Rosary. Just then, Brother H. Arrived and Brother Albert told me: He was my student. Now he will make his perpetual profession. I pray for him a lot.

While I was holding this conversation, one of the groups of young people wrote that their spirituality is a road with many curves. Another group explained that it is like a boat that sustains them in the midst of a turbulent and gusty sea. For others, the Marist spirituality that the young people live is like a Russian mountain with emotional ascents and abrupt slopes; someone, on the other hand, described his experience as a spiral. Within that journey we meet with the Marist brothers who guide us. Without those ascents and slopes shaping our personal history, we would not be the people we are today. Many times we go against the tide because there are circumstances opposed to our wishes. Another group compared its spirituality to a tree. The spirituality has come to us from other hearts, like the sap that comes from the roots of a tree. We were growing as catechists, accompanying youth groups until we ended up being part of the tree. The tree, although it is planted and does not move from its place, has life within it. The birds can settle on the tree representing life that goes beyond the tree, but they need its branches on which to settle. For another, spirituality is defined as service, faith, love of one’s neighbour, trust in God, abandonment, recognition, hope, Marist presence, etc.

The atmosphere created was very cordial and honest. I had the impression of being in a sacred place because everything was shared with freedom and transparency, somebody pointed out. The presence of the brothers in our lives is the main source of everything we do, remarked another. The experiences that we shared in the group were very intense; some were very deep. And in many of them it was very clear that in difficult moments the brother served as a support, remarked another. I also wish to point out the presence of the brothers in a decisive moment of my life because the way the brothers live affects all of us lay people, another person pointed out.

An open forum

Seated in the room in a circle, without any sign of pre-eminence or priority, the young people and the brothers commenced a forum in which any type of questions could be asked. The opening topic was the international Assembly of Marist Mission held in Mendes last September. What projects have emerged from that Assembly? Brother Emili replied to this question by saying that there is no general project since the initiative belongs to the Provinces. The effective and decisive thing is what one lives in specific places. The decisive contribution of Mendes, Brother Emili says, is that we recognized ourselves as Marists of Champagnat. To explain a little what this means, a document is almost ready dealing with the profile of the lay Marist and it is hoped to have it published soon.

A second interesting question was the most significant aspect of being a lay Marist. Brother Seán replied by saying that the presence of the lay people has forced the question of who is the lay person located at the heart of the Marist mission and who is on the periphery. The Assembly of Mendes has shown that what is most significant in the lay people is co-responsibility.

A third concern: What can we lay people do specifically to share the mission? Brother Seán remarked that co-responsibility depends on the identification of the brother and the lay person with the mission. And he added that one of the dimensions that the lay people can develop is community life. He illustrated his statement with some examples of cases that are happening in the Institute. The new community that is preparing to live in the Hermitage, made up of four lay people and eight brothers, can be an interesting reference point.

Another young voice asked: What do the brothers do so that there are more vocations? Brother Seán again answered. He said that this topic preoccupies the brothers of the General Council a lot because if there are no brothers there will be no shared mission. And he pointed out as a specific action to solve this problem the dedication of brothers in promoting Marist vocation. He cited the case of a Marist province of Brazil where five brothers are dedicated to the vocational pastoral.

A representative of the Province of Canada spoke saying that in his country before speaking of vocation we must speak of faith and he underlined the need for the presence of brothers. Brother Kalisa made it clear that one of the objectives of this meeting is to listen and to learn from what the young people feel. The young people like the work that the brothers do. The young people realise that brothers are needed, but there are few who commit to that vocation. If they appreciate their work, why do they not commit? What is it that alienates me or prevents me from becoming a Marist brother or sister, or what is it that fails to attract me to the vocation? The answers were transparent and honest. The young people agreed that in general it is not the brothers problem, but that of the young people themselves. The brothers accompany, although a closer accompaniment or a more intense presence would sometimes be desirable. Most of the time the problem lies in the young people who are afraid of commitment or of disappointing the expectations of their families concerning their future and they have to choose between career and vocation. The brothers are admired for the work they do, but to be a brother is a strong commitment, and, on the other hand, to be a committed lay person is also very valuable.

What happens when a brother realises that he has to stop being a brother to form a family? Brother Luis Sobrado García, Vicar General, responded to this question using a specific case. Of 22 professed Marist brothers there are now four. What happened to the others? Ten of those who left the Marist Institute went recently to visit Rome. In the evenings they spoke of many things. All of them said that during their years in the Institute they had received something very special which helped them to be good parents and husbands.
Brother Seán added that often he associates the life of the brothers with the mission, but life is different from the mission. People need and look for intimacy and friendship, and so it is with the brothers. When the sexuality of a brother is lived through relationships that allow him to manifest his feelings and his intimacy he does not have to fear loneliness.
Brother Emili, in turn, remarked: That a brother falls in love is a sign of normality and therefore a sign that it is valuable for the religious life. But those cases do not need to be solved by abandoning religious life.

The topic of vocation continued to hold the interest of the young people. How does a person choose to be a Marist?, asked another participant. Several interventions took place and a number of personal experiences were mentioned which highlighted the fact that they had decided to follow their vocation because they had discovered the presence of brothers who irradiated happiness.
Brother Kalisa concluded by saying: I have listened to you attentively and I have heard very diverse views. In other times the word vocation was a term habitually used, but today it has disappeared. It is necessary to implant a culture of vocation in which that term is significant.

Another young person was interested in the priorities of the Institute. Brother Seán pointed out the great difficulty in identifying priorities, because that option depends on countries and circumstances. But he recalled the priorities pointed out by the General Chapter for the whole Institute.

And a last question: Would you like to send us missionary brothers to assist the emigrants? Seán pointed out in his answer that there is a tradition in the Institute showing that the brothers have assisted emigrants in many occasions. He recalled that the French brothers began their activities in the United States with emigrants. This indicates that to send brothers to evangelize emigrants would be nothing new for the Institute.

The forum lasted longer than expected, but the organizers, with great diplomacy, postponed the evening prayer, having it before bedtime.

Some finishing touches to parallel activities

At the start of breakfast, Mexican melodies could be heard, especially playing Las Mañanitas for Brother Peter Rodney on his birthday. During lunch he sliced a flavourful cake and Brother Seán Sammon said a few fraternal words. Peter is a wonderful companion for the members of the community of the General Council. We know that he is very skilled in solving problems. We feel that he is the heart of our community because it is he who brings us together. The young people honoured him with a round of applause.

After supper Nevis, stole some time away from the celebration with his friends and began typing on the computer with great gusto. I have to send the assignments to the university, he tells me, because if I dont do it now I will be behind and I have accumulated work. Something similar happened to Ana who is a professor of mathematics in another university. I am responding to my students’ mail she tells me. When I finish reading this message I have to send them their assignment for this week.

The day ended with the evening celebration. In practical terms, we took a walk through the wide spaces of RUM (Marist University Residence). The meeting next to the fire signified the Marist charism that had lit up the life of brothers and lay people. The flame that the young people carried signified the interior fire that the Marist charism lights up in the life of each person. Being next to the source of water, our personal commitment was expressed by dissolving a portion of salt in the water of the fountain. In this way the commitment was expressed of giving a new flavour to the concrete reality in which each one of us lives. And finally, in the chapel, each participant was able to express his or her personal commitment to the Marist mission, describing in one word what it was to which they were called.

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