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Bishop Frank Marcus greets the VII General Conference

 

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VII General Conference - September 5th

07/09/2005: Sri Lanka

<267.jpg alt=VII General Conference - September 5th >The morning of white soutanes

Today was a day of the portico, of the beginning. The day of the white soutanes, yes! The participants in the VII General Conference had an appointment in the entry hall of the house at nine o’clock in the morning dressed in formal wear to receive the authorities. The space was filled with white clothing. A good number of brothers were wearing a white soutane. Not only brothers from Sri Lanka, which is usual for them, but also from other parts of the world. Also a large group of children from Stella Maris College were dressed in white which is usual in this country for a gala day. The college is not mixed. Only boys attend classes here. Their teachers attended to the finest details so that everything was perfect. Each student carried betel leaves in their hands for the brothers.

The arrival of Bishop Frank Marcus was punctual; there was no need to wait. He is a former student of Stella Maris College and the brothers of Sri Lanka wanted him to be present at the start of these working days of the Conference. The brothers who work in this country were also present. After the acts of protocol with the bishop, various teachers with their students won the hearts of all the participants when each brother received a child who accompanied him, hand in hand, from the door of the house. The little ones treated the brothers with betel leaves and a deep bow before each one with both knees on the ground. Ancient tradition between these welcoming, happy and close people!

Welcome with the flavour of the house

With the sound of the “hakgediya”, a sea conch, song and dance was convoked to greet the visitors. A group of musicians and dancers in their festive attire accompanied all the participants from the door of the house.

In the Conference’s meeting room, the wicks of the candelabra were lit culminating in a rooster, repeating a gesture similar to that which welcomed Brother Seán Sammon on the first day.

Following this, Brother Mike De Wass welcomed all to the General Conference in Sri Lanka. He highlighted, in the first place, the history of the country where the brothers have realised their missionary work. He thanked everyone for the help received from the Institute to overcome the consequences of the tsunami. He gave a description of the attractions of this country and invited the visitors to enjoy his country and the welcome of its people. He welcomed all to the VII General Conference on behalf of all the Provincials of Asia and thanked the General Conference for having chosen Sri Lanka to represent Asia.

The colour saffron

A procession was organised from the session hall to the chapel, with the statues of Mary and Marcellin with the local tradition of being accompanied by musicians and the voices of students from Stella Marist College. They enjoyed the use of liturgical vestments, their colours and symbolism.

Vestments: Saffron robes. The colour saffron is the traditional colour of the religious in South Asia.
Lotus flower: The most cherished flower in religious observances in the island.
Blue Lotus ‘Nil Manel’: National flower
Naa: National tree
Arriconut flower: Peace, Tranquillity
Coconut flower: Prosperity

Two young people carrying the lit fire and burning aromatic wood approached Brothers Luis García Sobrado and Seán Sammon at the start of the Mass to place on their foreheads the “potu”, a custom coming from India, a saffron coloured mark that symbolises the reception of the person.

<267a.jpg alt=VII General Conference - September 5th >In his homily, the bishop highlighted his personal links with the brothers from when he was a child until he became a priest. He remembered how on the first day that he arrived at the college as a priest, the Brother Director accompanied him to all the classes and asked the students, “Who wants to be like him?” He also mentioned how the brothers always promoted priestly vocations. Following this, he shared some anecdotes about his personal relationship with the brothers. He stressed the need to promote the Marist vocation more, underlining that the vocation of a brother is not always well understood. The vocation of a brother has meaning on its own and within the Church. He then shared some of the difficulties that the Church in Asia experiences, concluding by wishing everyone the best for the Conference.

Exchange on the visits to Asia. Light and shade

The planning of the first two weeks was based on the following principles: That there be sufficient time to situate oneself in this new cultural context (Asia, Sri Lanka) and that the brothers be able to start to share amongst themselves about their experiences. It was clear that we have not come to Sri Lanka exclusively to listen to presentations or expositions from the General Council but to offer significant contributions from one’s own personal experiences and as leaders of the Institute.

With this objective in mind, the afternoon was set aside for one of the two sessions planned for the visits that the brothers had undertaken in various countries.

The objective of these two sessions was to ensure that the brothers could speak amongst themselves about these experiences. It was an opportunity to share experiences, impressions, etc., but above all else to centre our attention on Asia and to have questions to pose to the assembly in a later session.

The brothers were divided into six groups. The following are some of the contributions: Some highlighted “the style of life of the brothers for its austerity and simplicity of life” and the “sense of communion and integration of towns of various cultures and religions”. The felt they were “treated nobly and humanely” during their visits. They had visited countries ranging from the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Korea, Cambodia, Japan and continental China.

“They have so much youth, so much life”, affirmed another group, but “the Marist presence is quite small in this immense continent”. Nevertheless, “the dream of Marcellin lives on in Asia” in relation to the millions of children and young people who need education.

The communication media and the thirst for power on the part of many international organisations “is undermining the cultural and religious values” for all young people.

Through the larger religions and the multi-secular traditions of Asia, “the mission is a challenge for the Asian brothers and also for the Institute”. There was a testimony that “the religious community is called to present” Christian communities.

Two significant anecdotes

One of the brothers who visited continental China shared during one of these meetings, “It impressed me to be with a brother who had been in prison many times for having evangelised.”

And another time, there was this observation. In the visit to continental China we could only communicate with a few small gestures, especially with the older brothers who did not speak English. But all participated when we sang “Salve Regina”.

The family of the day

All the community celebrated the birthday of Brother Lawrence Ndawala, Provincial of the Province of África Austral/Southern Africa. During the evening, the animation team organised a small feast.

Help on the web page

In the section of the webpage, champagnat.org, dedicated to the General Conference, are included the prayers that are being used each day. The leaflet prepared for each day gathers together texts in the four official languages of the Institute. The brothers and communities who so desire can find in this place some resources in order to share the prayer of the brothers who are participating in the General Conference.

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