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VII General Conference - 07 September

09/09/2005: Sri Lanka

Opening address of Brother Seán Sammon
<270.jpg alt=Brother Seán Sammon >In his opening address, ‘A time for decision making!’ Brother Seán Sammon, Superior General, proposed three areas of priority work for the next four years: identity, mission and leadership.
He highlighted that of all the times in which we have renewed the Institute, as requested by the second Vatican Council, the current time is the most perilous encountered in forty years. The cause of this perilousness is the type of decisions that we have to make today as leaders of the Institute. For forty years we have made decisions concerning the renewal of religious life. Today we need to make decisions regarding our identity.

Identity
The members of the XX General Chapter challenged us to clarify the identity of the brother and the identity of the lay Marist. To form an identity or reform the previous one, we have to take options and commit ourselves to living values or indeed choose other new ones.
The Superior General indicated two impediments for carrying forward options that clearly affirm our identity.

First. Our respect for diversity that has been exaggerated and that has paralysed us. Internal differences have grown much in some regions. Differences of perspective exist in reference to the vows, the place and significance of community life, spirituality, apostolic work, the poor, formation, making it more difficult, if not impossible, to form a common identity and to give witness as a group.

Second. The fear of thinking that to adopt new practices that identify us would be a regression to the past. We need to encounter new signs that define our identity and this task is one we need to accomplish together. The evangelical counsels, as well as the ideals of loving God, the compassionate concern for the poor and their needs, and the commitment to community life, should be translated in a unique Marist way of being, manifested in behaviours and practices that are clear and understandable for others.

Mission
Mission is at the heart of our identity. There is only one mission, the same mission as that of the Church: to proclaim the Kingdom of God and its imminence. Our apostolic works are part of this mission and directed at a specific group of people: the young and, among them, the poor. The members of our XX General Chapter reminded us that we need to undertake a valiant evaluation of our apostolic works in which we have been involved during the last four decades. As well, the Capitulants called us to get out of our offices more to be in more contact with young people. There are many valiant works but they are not the works of the Little Brothers of Mary founded by Marcellin Champagnat.

Leadership
A leader is not a good manager or a good administrator except if this helps others to dream as Champagnat did. The young people that the Founder met perceived that he was proposing something to them that was worth the effort of starting in their lives.
The Brother Superior General sees that there are optimistic signs on the horizon and that we are living in times of daring action. But the need also exists to modify the way in which we exercise authority. In some Administrative Units, the Provincial or District Superior has become only a co-ordinator, entrusted with maintaining the welfare and happiness of all. And in other places there is hardly any authority being exercised at all. It is not enough for us to be effective managers, or to assure a pastoral presence or even to be men of prayer. We must take the responsibility of working together in our Institute presenting to our brothers and to our lay collaborators, to the Church and the world, a wider vision than we are capable of leading.
The Brother Superior General thanked the brothers present for all that they do for the brothers, the Institute and the Church. He finished his talk by saying, “I see these as special days that we are spending together where we have the opportunity to fix the course for the next four years.”

Personal reflection on the document
With this proposal, the Brother Superior General opened the work of the Conference to develop proposals and directives for the next four years until the Convocation of the XXI General Chapter.
Each person received a text, written and translated into four languages, and was invited to have some personal quiet time to be open to the gifts that the Lords wants to give us and the grace which we are seeking by reading the text. It was very important that each of the participants would be conscious of the existential aspect of the moment. They were recommended to direct their attention to the signs of vitality in the Institute.
This reflection should give us a vision that is more unified from the calls of the XX General Chapter. For this, it was suggested to the participants of the Conference to revise the calls to see if there were new shades appearing.

Pooling in common
After the time that they dedicated to rereading Brother Seán’s talk, question time was opened.
It was asked why this moment in time is interpreted as the most perilous time during the last four decades. He affirmed that the decisions that we can make now concerning formation, community or government, for example, are going to have decisive repercussions. Historically the decisions of the last forty years have concerned the renewal of religious life. The ones we are making now affect the identity of the Marists. There are young people in the Institute grounded in spirituality. They want a proposal offered to them for which it is worth living the life. The offers in the documents are clear and we believe in them, but we do not manifest clearly our identity.

The brothers’ interventions highlighted some criteria for reinforcing the sense of fraternity in new communities. We are brothers, but that cannot be taken for granted. As well, the phenomenon of structural change experienced in the Institute was alluded to. For some the change is an enigma. But it is a reality that must be taken on joyfully.

The afternoon tasks
During the afternoon reflection, there was a synthesis of the responses to the questionnaire sent to the Provincials by the General Conference’s Preparatory Commission concerning the calls of the XX General Chapter. All the responses from the Administrative Units were received. In a certain number of Units, it was the Provincials or District Superiors who responded personally; in others the response came from the Provincial and his Council.
Concerning the fist capitular call, there was an impressive unity detected in the thirty-one responses, even though there were some important differences according to the continents. There were strong expressions that appeared practically in all the responses. For example, the following: In respect to the first call: “we are centred in Jesus Christ”- “This call is current, urgent and necessary. It is our reason for being. <270a.jpg alt= Remembering Brasil on its national day hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>It is an essential point in our lives. Our identity must essentially speak for itself and we must appear as witnesses before the world. People must see us as men of God, marked by Christ’s presence. Not to live this call is not to give meaning to our vocation, our apostolate and our relationships. In this call we encounter the roots of our Marist Apostolic Spirituality. And the inverse, if we live it, we will have Christ at the centre of our lives.”
The first part of the session was dedicated to a personal reading of the document and then during the second part the participants shared their findings.

Remembering Brasil on its national day
Today’s sessions started with a sincere and heart-felt greeting to all the Brazilian brothers present at the Conference. Today Brasil celebrated its national day.
Brother Claudino Falchetto, Provincial of Brasil Centro-Norte, summed up the meaning of this day for Brazil. The people present then received a little souvenir. During the community prayer, we remembered the activities in which the brothers participate and the works that they support in this large country.


An Ecclesiology for Asia (Part II)

Read Part I

We continue the synthesis of the vast exposé of Father Aloysius Peiris S.J. on the challenges posed to the Church by Asia.
An objective of the United Nations is to eliminate illiteracy by 2025. Half of the adults in South Asia can neither read nor write and a quarter of the people do not have access to a basic education. Every serious educational programme should be radical enough to eliminate the cycle of poverty and illiteracy and their consequences, such as the exploitation of women and of children. The adventurous amongst us who dare to take a basic education of children as their sacred mission hold the future of Asia in their hands. The illiteracy of the majority is the human sacrifice offered on the altar of Mammon in exchange for the riches produced for the world’s leaders.
On the contrary, the type of Christianism that appeared with the revelation of the God of Moses, such as the Abba of Jesus, would tolerate no form of creation of riches that meant at the same time the multiplication of poverty for the masses. But he would demand that we change our policies and our educational techniques in a revolutionary way to allow the poorest to participate in the production of the riches without allowing others to steal the fruit of their work.

The new instruction creates new forms of poverty
Basic instruction means the study of reading, writing and arithmetic in one’s own mother tongue and an emancipation of the masses. But the industry of knowledge is now monopolised by electronic technology which uses English as its means of communication. A worker in Bangladesh needs an income of eight years to acquire a computer while an American can acquire one with the salary of one month. The objective of the year 2025 will be unrealisable because each time more people are excluded from this form of instruction.

The techno-science and the religions of Asia
The technical capacity of mankind to improve his good fortune on earth was not a European discovery, but an eastern one. Europe learnt from Asia, even though they say that Asia is lagging behind. Asia has always united religious wisdom with science and technology, whereas on the other hand Europe has separated science and faith with disastrous consequences.
Today the world is hoping for a rare species of humankind to unite science and faith. This will be the moment when East and West meet.

The Magisterium and the poor
The ideal of the first Christian communities was to share so as to eliminate the class of the rich as much as of the poor. God chose the poor not because they were holy but because they were poor. They start to become holy when they accept and live the call of God to unite themselves to Him and to construct a society where only God reigns. The mission to teach all nations or educate all nations, in other words evangelise the gentiles, reaffirms the call to holiness. But the people were unfaithful and copied unjust social practices. The same happens amongst we Christians.
Three principles guide Christian education: education (evangelisation) “for” the poor, education (evangelisation) “of” the poor and Education (evangelisation “of the rich for the poor”.

Science and technology united in education in favour of the poor
Father used in his conference the example of Latin America where the poor are described in the Universidad Centro-americana (UCA) as a group of men of great faith capable of moving mountains yet at the same time aware that the culture invasion is also Christian. The Christian professors of UCA suggest that all university or para-university activity have an effect on society in general and especially on the least educated. This model wants to go further than the liberal western model. Our apostolic intentions are often corrupted when we do not note the pernicious link that exists between liberal education without a social conscience given to the privileged classes and the social services without a free education given to the poor.
The challenge of the educational social project of Christian education is to offer a service that liberates the poor and the rich at the same time: the poor from their poverty and the rich from their wealth.

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