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Inauguration of the 21st General Chapter

08/09/2009: General House

Opening celebration

The inauguration of the 21st General Chapter began with a ceremony symbolizing the end of the course traversed by the whole Institute in its time of preparation. The capitulants, following different routes and carrying in their hands the letters written in each region of the Marist world, arrived together at the door to the chapter hall. The long road of preparation for this encounter has passed through the paths and hearts of the Marist world for nearly two years. Having gathered the concerns at the heart of the Marist works and communities, they made their entrance into the chapter hall like the waters of different streams joining into a river or like the grains of wheat scattered through the fields being gathered into one.
At the door of the hall, the chaplain blessed the water and Brother Sean Sammon, Superior General, sprinkled it over the heads of all present as a sign of purification, acceptance and welcome. Then the delegates from each region entered the hall carrying the letters. Brothers and lay people placed the contributions from all the administrative units in a designated place in the hall and then turned to one another in a welcoming and brotherly embrace.

A brief intention made by a representative of each continent introduced a period of prayer. At the same time, each one lit a candle and then altogether they lit the paschal candle symbolizing the presence of the Lord in the midst of the assembly. The word of God, taken from the Acts of the Apostles 1: 12-14, 2: 1-4, centred the thoughts and hearts of those present, and accompanied the singing of the Veni creator Spiritus.

Brother Tony Leon, taking the part of a messenger, appeared in the hall laden with parcels, representing the contributions from the regions during the time of preparation. As a sample, he opened one of the boxes to display other smaller packets. Each of these carried a label referring to the content of the major themes the members of the Chapter have to deal with. By means of beautiful images, projected onto the four walls of the hall, an overview was provided of the road traversed by the Institute in preparation for this assembly, which begins today in Rome. This reminder of the road travelled served to keep the assembly in tune with the work already achieved.
The members of the assembly spent some time sharing with one another what had been most significant for them in the preparation period.

Dynamics of integration

The second morning session, after a brief interval, was dedicated to promoting relationships among the participants and letting them come to know one another better. A good length of time was given to the sharing of personal characteristics and interests, the experiences and expectations each brought to the chapter.
The second phase was the composition of a jigsaw by those sitting at each of the ten tables in the room, which placed before the eyes of all present the key words summarizing the themes of most concern to the Institute. On the pieces of the puzzle, each brother or lay person stuck the name of one of the participants. The pieces were then placed on a logo of the Chapter set up in a designated place in the hall. The dynamic concluded with the announcement: As Champagnat placed the names of the brothers in the heart of Mary, we place our names in the heart of the Chapter.

Challenges and questions

The afternoon began with Marial prayer. Today, the feast of the Nativity of Mary, is also the anniversary of the reception of the habit or the first religious profession of many brothers. The assembly placed in the hands of our Good Mother all the work the Chapter will do in the coming days.
Time was then given to defining personally the questions raised by this Chapter and sharing them with the people grouped around the same table. By way of summary, a member from each table provided for the whole assembly a summing up of the thoughts shared. Some of the sentiments expressed were: we are hoping something new will be born; God is with us and He is the one generating life; we feel the responsibility of not letting this opportunity slip by; we are hoping to construct a new world; desires that the heart may prevail over the word; we want no hidden agendas to emerge; a great desire to enter into a spirit of discernment; responsibility for responding to the desires of so many persons who look to the Chapter with expectation; there are themes which already announce a birth, etc. Someone finished with the question: How will hearts become new for the future?

Questions of regulation

In the second part of the afternoon, the Chapter received the report of the Committee charged with verifying credentials, which concluded “recommending to the capitulants to accept all the elected delegates as validly elected”. The assembly voted approval of this recommendation.
At the conclusion of voting Brother Sean declared the 21st General Chapter open. His words were received with warm applause. The time was 17.30 (5.30 pm).

The capitulants also voted on the presence of the experts at the Chapter. The proposal included the chaplain, Fr. Jesús Pedro Alarcón SM, the facilitator, Mr. Bruce Irvine, the four brother secretaries, one for each language, and Br. Teodoro Grageda, who co-ordinated the works.

Eucharist

The day’s work concluded with the eucharistic celebration. The chaplain thanked the assembly for their acceptance of his person and his services. “I am not so nervous now that I can count on having been officially accepted by you all”. At the offertory, the presence of the Good Mother was emphasized by the placing of her statue in the middle of the assembly by one of the lay women invited. At the same time, four brothers, representing the four official language groups, brought up copies of Brother Sean’s circular on Mary.
The day closed with a festive supper served in the central garden of the house, followed by some national songs. From the room where this chronicle is published can be heard manly voices singing enthusiastically the chorus: “Ay, ay, ay, ay! Sing and do not weep”.

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