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General Conference - 13th September

15/09/2005: Sri Lanka

The service of Vocations Promotion
The first working session today presented objectives and a plan for the day which was to be entirely devoted to Vocations Ministry in the Institute. The day was directed by Brothers Théoneste Kalisa (General Councillor) and Ernesto Sánchez (from the Commission for Vocations Ministry).
<278.jpg alt=General Conference – 13th September hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>Today’s objectives were intended to foster reflection on vocations ministry starting from what has already been achieved in the Administrative Units and what is required for the future. Hence: the sharing of experiences and reflections among Provincials and District Superiors, offering an improved service of animation to the A.U.s, and the sharing of reflections and projects.
The personal call which each of us has received from God is a gift freely given. Jesus and Champagnat insistently beg us to develop and share it, transmitting from one generation to the next. Nowadays we experience great difficulty in transmitting this gift. This is a generalized phenomenon in the Church. What worked almost spontaneously during much of our past, no longer works in today’s world, in spite of the great efforts that are being made in the Institute.
Attempts to explain this situation have habitually concentrated on external reasons. But currently there is growing insistence on reasons which penetrate to the inner life of the Church, of religious institutions, and to the personal life of the religious themselves.

In our Provinces and Districts
The General Council’s Commission on Vocations Ministry singles out with gratitude the interest and great effort which many Brothers have brought to bear on vocations in all the Institute’s Provinces and Districts over the last four years.
Generally speaking we could say that during the “Marist Year of Vocations” the sensitivity of the Brothers regarding vocational animation has noticeably increased, and many are those who have committed themselves to it. A good number of communities are showing enhanced openness to welcoming young people in their midst.
Information and testimonies coming to the attention of the Commission from Provinces and Districts, give evidence that Brothers are reaching out to the young in order to listen to them, and they discover in these young people a genuine appreciation for religious life. At the same time, Brothers are questioning their own vision and strategies for vocational promotion, and are showing themselves open to change.

The Commission’s Point of View
Considered from the Commission’s perspective, the work of vocations ministry in the Provinces has achieved three major results. It has animated us all to keep working in spite of our own reduced numbers, and—in some regions of the Institute—the fewness of candidates entering. It has also revealed the weakness of our vocations ministry. And, finally, it has moved us to invite our agents of vocational promotion to engage in a profound and serene reflection on what has happened in the past, and from there to engender new creativity.
The Commission would like to thank Brothers Provincial and District Superiors for their commitment and work of animation in this general movement which is observable across the Institute. It is a very clear sign of the vitality which our Institute retains.

Contribution of the Groups
The Brothers have now brought to conclusion a labour of long personal reflection concerning the signs of hope they observe in their A.U.s, on the obstacles they are encountering, and on the challenges that are currently presenting themselves as they face the future.
Each Provincial and District Superior shared his reflection in the interregional groups, until the end of the morning. The dynamic of the meeting allowed for the group sharing to be presented during the afternoon plenary, with all Brothers present. This was to be organized around three significant contributions as outlined by the group.

Contribution of the Brothers
The Brothers’ contributions feature echoes of the Marist Vocations Year just finished, and many allusions were made to the experience of it. It was certainly a grace-filled event for the Institute and there is a generalized satisfaction regarding its results.
<278a.jpg alt=General Conference – 13th September >The first and second groups seemed to complement one another in their presentation. One the one hand, the importance of giving visibility to the vocation of “Brother”, utilizing all possible means to make it present in the Church was underlined. One the other, the need to vigorously present the Marist alternative as a valuable solution. For them, the issue of where to exercise presence and accompaniment of the young is precisely where the Church has ceased to be meaningful.
The third group brought out the pastoral challenge facing a Brother who would dare to launch a direct and personal invitation to young people to commit themselves vocationally. Such a gesture provokes an important support for a possible candidate in clarifying his vocation, since it places before him the question of what God wants of him. And for the Brother himself in his turn, it surfaces the fundamental changes he needs to make in his heart so that his involvement may have authenticity.
The fourth group emphasized the idea that we must make Marist vocation openly visible in the midst of the Church and the world. If we remain shut up in our communities we are not giving ourselves to be known. So if people do not know what a Marist Brother is, it is not their fault. Hence they singled out the importance of work with families through youth movements, the Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family and other similar apostolates, in order to make Marist Brotherhood attractive.
Those in the fifth group brought out the importance of a systematic province plan for Vocations Ministry with well defined strategies for attending to young people in their vocational development. Such a plan must explicitly include tertiary students. Also pointed out was the situation common today where young people will say: “Why be a Brother if I can be Marist without being one?”
The sixth group summarized their reflection with an idea which complements that of the previous group. Provinces need to have a Province plan for Vocations Ministry which includes structures of welcoming in the Brothers’ communities, allowing candidates to live with them for a time. Secondly, that there be provision for Vocations Ministry teams—made up of Brothers and lay associates—whose functioning is coordinated with all the apostolic movements of the Province. And, finally, that there be opportunities for work with the poor and marginalized.

Challenges and Goals
After the break there was time to hear observations and suggestions from the Provincials relating to vocations promotion in their A.U.s in the future.
Paramount amongst the concerns expressed was the need to make our saintly Brothers known, since they are the models to be imitated. Also raised was the possibility of organizing at international level a clearly identified Marist youth movement with well-defined processes. This approach remains open, and it is suggested that options be taken in its regard. A further possibility was raised: that, in view of the upcoming World Youth Day fixed for 2008 in Sydney, an Institute-wide meeting of all Youth Ministry animators might be held.
The day’s timetable had set aside some minutes for the Commission itself to offer reflections. Br Théoneste Kalisa emphasized that the General Council, in forming the Vocations Commission, intended to foster the search for new paths and harmonious collaboration with the Provinces. He asserted that the biggest limitation encountered so far has been the lack of adequate reflection on what is going on in the field. The Commission has stimulated networks which strengthen exchanges, regional workshops, youth meetings, and information exchange via the web (old.champagnat.org ) as well via the print media. The most significant achievement, without doubt, had been the organization, popularization and completion of the “Marist Vocations Year”. Before concluding his presentation, Br Théoneste expressed his gratitude, on behalf of the Commission, to all the Brothers for the effort of vocations promotion which has been achieved across the Provinces. Finally, he presented a power point synthesis of the events which the “Marist Vocations Year” had stimulated throughout the Institute.

Open Forum
This was one of the richest moments of the day. The Brothers were able to express their personal vision of vocations ministry in relation to the apostolic challenges of the future. God is present in our world challenging us to undertake a complex and demanding evangelization. Our mission “ad gentes” of tomorrow will have no comparison with that of yesterday. The Marist charism is going to adapt itself to a better response. A new focus may be glimpsed, seen with new eyes. Since the final success is not ours, and does not depend on us but solely on God, we have to remain open to hope.
Our attitudes regarding the future of vocations ministry demand a revision of the criteria which are guiding us right now. The centrality of Jesus must prevail in our lives and in our passion for humanity. Bravery in making the Marist charism visible through our lives. Bravery in presenting ourselves before society with our own identity. Many times, the very ones with whom we work do not know we are Marist Brothers.

The “Marist Year of Vocations”, a year of grace
After a brief pause, the open forum continued with the sharing of reflections and experiences.
<278c.jpg alt=General Conference – 13th September hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>The General Council had met with young people from all over Europe in Sigüenza (Spain) in order to listen to them. In what does this “listening” consist? What were its results? Br Seán replied as follows: “We were with this group of young men and women to listen to them sharing their experiences on Church life and their spirituality.” One girl said to me: “In the group setting you [Brothers] are very different from Church authorities; you listen to us rather than preach to us.”
Revisiting the statement made by some young people that “to be Marist they don’t have to be Brothers”, one Brother added the following comment: “This is true. One Brother in my Province went so far as to say that ‘the charism has passed from us to the lay people, and that’s how it will continue.’ Sure, it is possible to be Marist without being a Brother! Witness the numerous Fraternities which has sprung up in recent years.” But the Brothers need to have a very clear identity. The best means of vocations promotion is the shine on the face of the Brothers.
Another Brother observed that times are changing, for sure, but young peoples’ criteria for judging who is authentic have not changed. He continued, noting that Br Seán’s circular requested 20% of our time for vocations promotion. “For me this was a big challenge. I made up a plan, and promptly abandoned it. From this effort, one experience remained. For the first time I began to write regularly to my nephews, who are very secularized. One of them replied to me: ‘Your proposal interests me. I want to understand it.’ The influence of the vocations year in my life teaches me three things. To live the tension of vocational dialogue in a secularized society is one of the deepest sources of living my own vocation. I begin to understand that vocations apostolate is an integral part of all apostolate. I can’t live my vocation unless I communicate it. If I don’t speak to my nephew of why the Marist Brothers exist, he loses interest. But when I tell him that we dedicate ourselves to youth, he replies that any NGO could do this. The great centre of interest in all his questioning is ‘what sets my heart on fire?’ My reply is that what ignites my heart is the presence of Jesus and Mary. When that flame goes out, I lose my happiness. This vocations year has been a great grace for me.”

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