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A new language for a responsibility that will last forever

 

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Some peculiarities of the VII General Conference

05/09/2005: Sri Lanka

b>The meeting’s location

The meeting’s location for this convocation will not be Rome, or Europe, but Asia. The VII General Conference will take place in Sri Lanka, also known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” to bring the brothers closer to this part of humanity sometimes so unfamiliar to us than our own. This follows the criteria with which the V General Conference was organised in Veranopolis (Brazil) for the first time in the history of this type of meeting away from Rome and in Latin America.

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The mission ad gentes as the background

The VII General Conference is taking place in Asia, the largest continent on Earth, under the banner of mission ad gentes. It was in Asia where God, from the beginning, revealed and realised his plan of salvation. Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour, who was incarnated as an Asian, who was born in a small part of western Asia, who knew and loved this earth, is still not known. The presence of Christians on the Asian continent, inhabited by about two-thirds of the world’s population, is a minority considered very often as foreigners and they represent foreign powers, but at the same time promise and hope. The number of Marists on this continent is a small grain of mustard, a presence, day-by-day, insignificant, but alive.

The mission ad gentes that summons the Church to “go and teach all nations”, according to the Superior General, “has grown steadily weaker in recent years” in the Institute. “A waning of the missionary spirit… needs strengthening today… and warrants further study at next year’s Conference.” Brother Seán Sammon foresees in his letter of convocation for the Conference that an upcoming circular will treat “mission, the works of the Little Brothers of Mary, and the Jean-Baptiste Montagnes of today”.


We will not have invited laypeople

During the last two general Chapters and in the 1997 General Conference, a small group of laypeople participated as observers and advisors. But the Brother Superior General has decided “not to invite a small group of laymen and women to next year’s Conference”. He is conscious that “lay participation in those three gatherings was a good beginning but something more is needed today.”

The work with laypeople has travelled other paths, promoted by the General Conference from the Chapter mandate, with the aim of proposing “a new vocabulary” and of promoting “new structures” that foster “more effective representation” than was obtained when they were selected by the Brothers Provincial and their Councils and when they were not allowed to be “invited”.

On these previous occasions during which laypeople were present, due to the nature of the meeting of the General Chapter and of the General Conference “and the directives of our Marist Constitutions and Statutes the role of these lay groups was often limited”.

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It is to be hoped that in the meanwhile the presence of laypeople in Marist works is not valued only as “a positive element”, as noted in the minutes of previous events, but as a participation with their own character shared with the brothers.


A new language for a responsibility that will last forever

The language of Brother Seán Sammon has been new since his first written message; new in its form and in its contents. The letter of convocation for the VII General Conference, which was not sent exclusively to Superiors and brothers, as can be seen in the opening greeting of Brother Superior General to “all who cherish and hold dear the charism of Marcellin Champagnat”, is offered to us with a double title: “Life–giving Leadership” and “Fostering vitality in Marist life and ministry today”. Two proposals that concern us all but that, in the development of the letter, puts the emphasis on the responsibility of the Superiors, called here, in this document “leaders”. This is a new concomitant to the Conference that is not used in the language of the Constitutions and Statutes.

Brother Superior General, in describing “the mission of leaders in the Marist Institute” states that it must be seen in the light of faith as a choice of the Holy Spirit “to lead”. “If you are a Provincial, District Superior, or Superior of a local community {and we could add Superior General, General Councillor, etc.} God elected you to lead, to have the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and to like it”. I found myself asking “What is it that the others (those who are not leaders?) do not want to do? To get them to do it and do it with pleasure are two challenges for a “mission of the heart” that can be translated as “providing a vision for our brothers and lay partners” and as “extending mercy and care to them”, “to confront them” and “to encourage them”.

With this promise of the Brothers Provincial and District Superiors to “carry in our hearts the very same spirit of charity” we hope to meet Brother Superior General with his brothers in Sri Lanka so that “our time together there will give us even more reason to hope that a new day is dawning for our Institute and its mission”.

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