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The Commission on the Religious Life and archivum

13/01/2010: General House

Like on a race-course where a sprint has just concluded, the Commission on the Religious Life has just classed 1084 documents which retrace the activities of this Commission since 2000 up until the present day. Gathering together all these documents has been an adventure, even if some relate to facts which date from only ten years ago. It is easy to formulate a first principle; It is preferable to classify the documents as soon as possible after the event to which they refer. In this way we avoid the loss of later time, of the fact of having to look for important documents that can often no longer be found.

Another principle regarding the time of classifying documents consists in avoiding two extremes: “maximalisme” [maximalism] and “minimalism” [minimalism]. Put another way, some would like to classify everything, others classify almost nothing. The “juste milieu” [golden mean] can be found between these two extremes; it is there that can be seen the good sense and not necessarily the subjectivism of the person doing the classification. It was given to me to have to classify some elements of a few renewal courses: I have not succeeded in finding either the list of participants, or the letters addressed to the respective Provincials or participants involved. In these circumstances it become difficult to classify documents which are worth the effort. At another extreme, I have found documents of a certain course which were more personal notes than anything else. Despite all the respect I have for these notes, I have had to reject them for they do not measure up to the minimum of objectivity needed regarding the contents of the course. It would have been a waste of time to classify such notes.

One difficulty encountered in classifying more than a thousand documents , has been the absence of date and author of the document in question. There were some good documents which might not nor should have been thrown in the dustbin: who wrote them? When? In the system that the Congregation wants to establish with the Archivum, the name of the author is not absolutely necessary; on the contrary it is regarded as very useful to know when the information in the document that the programme requires was completed. The date itself is obligatory. I have therefore often been obliged to put an approximate date on documents which are lacking them. The managers stock [le stockage sur l’ordinateur] sometimes provided me with useful information. At other times I had to rely on my intuition, comparing them with other documents belonging to the same dossier which, themselves were correctly dated. Be that as it may, must less time was lost if the date (and the author) were clearly spelt out.

By classifying the documents (and not only the official decisions), I believe that we have done the Congregation a good service, by preserving the memory of what has been and what is, its living history. Historians or simple students, who think to present theses on important moments in the Congregation will find in the Archives a wealth of information which ought not to be neglected. These are first hand [de première main] data.

Strengthened by these 1084 documents of the Commission on the Religious Life, searchers of the future will find answers to their questions. It is here that can be found the most important of these last eight years (2001-2009). Certain dossiers are very well-documented, such as the Year of Spirituality, the experience of common formation with the laity, the seminaries of formation in Africa. Thanks to God and to part-time archivists [archivistes d’occasion] we have been able to keep all that which, in these events, are essential. Other dossiers will appear rather sparse. But each will find some information there especially for future searchers.

I put out an appeal so that we may preserve all the documents which retrace the Congregation’s path. May we at least preserve the documents essential so as to be able to better study subsequent to the event, by avoid, what I have called previously maximalism and minimalism.

Teófilo Minga, fms
Rome, 10th January 2010

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