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General Conference - 15th September

17/09/2005: Sri Lanka

<281.jpg alt= >Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows
Today, the participants in the Conference celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Yesterday, before the Mass there was a small procession with the Cross, celebrating the liturgical feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. These are two feasts that remind us of our sorrowful Saviour. And together with the Lord and his Mother we remember all the people who suffer from cruel injustice. Brother Adolfo Cermeño, Provincial de América Central gave all the brothers a beautiful cross made by ex-drug addicts with a seed from the locust tree! And all in detail!

Change of timetable in the calendar
The revision of the first week of work was subjected to an evaluation on the part of the participants in the Conference. The observations made concerning the rhythm of daily work, the work sessions and their organisation and the liturgical session led to a suggestion of some changes in the timetable. From today the morning work session has been shortened by fifteen minutes and it finishes with Marial prayer and the afternoon session will start fifteen minutes later.
The calendar programme also underwent a slight modification. The 21st September had been set-aside for school visits but this happens to be a school holiday. Hence, the morning programme of the 28th will be moved to the 21st and there will be a visit to Stella Maris College on the morning of he 28th September.

Initial formation under seven magnifying glasses
As we said yesterday, we are sharing today some details of the reflection reports from the groups of brothers about initial formation. The total reality of initial formation has been organised into seven themes and each theme has been studied by a group of brothers. In the presentation that follows we start with a reference to Marist documents. Following this there is a summary of the group’s report, followed by the reactions of the Assembly.

Theme 1
The programmes of theological formation (religious identity)

In respect to the Novitiate
the Marist documents propose that the Provinces have to develop programmes of theological formation to help the novices “to deepen their faith and their awareness of the love of God.”
The young men need a good orientation on what this stage means. Sometimes one aspect of formation at this stage is accentuated to the detriment of another. On the other hand, the brothers have verified that the difference of situations in the various countries makes it difficult to have common criteria. The repetition in themes does not signify an obstacle in the process of formation since each stage is treated from a different perspective. Despite the difficulties that are experienced in various places, it can be verified that the formation plan for the novitiate is one of the ones that holds greatest consistency in the Institute.

In respect to the post-novitiate the documents stress that the theological and personal studies occupy a good part of the time during the first stage of professional qualification “for the apostolic tasks of the Institute.” The objective is to form a good Marist apostle, who will be at the same tie a good teacher, capable “of making Jesus Christ known and loved.”
At the novitiate, the accompaniment is close and intense. As the young brother accomplishes apostolic tasks, he must act independently in choosing himself the fields of apostolate and study. During this period, he is not only a student in search of a diploma but also a religious in search of a solid religious formation. The formulas can vary, but the common centres for several congregations, with a theological and pastoral orientation are a valued formula.

Theme 2
The influence of human sciences on formation

Our documents speak of human sciences as a preventive and pedagogical aid; that is the case with psychology that guides the human and professional growth of candidates through accompaniment.
Accompaniment, which is diversely understood in the Institute, was treated first. The group saw the formator as one walking with the candidate: a warm, encouraging and open presence to the young person to support him in his growth. The aim of accompaniment is to help the brother to fully realise himself. As a consequence, the formators need not be experts or therapists.
We then spoke about human development (competence, sexuality, etc). Here also our houses of formation present differences. The group recommends that they exchange more amongst themselves and that their programmes of formation be revised to better take into account cultural differences and to better integrate the brothers.
Finally, the group discussed the need to evaluate the programmes of formation. In seeing the great differences in programmes and points of view, the group suggested revising the Formation Guide, or at least bringing it up-to-date.

Theme 3
<281a.jpg alt= hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>Place of the houses of formation

The General Chapter asked the General Council to encourage the brothers to create new presences in the works for the poor, so that the houses of formation, while respecting the proper objectives of each stage, can be situated in neighbourhoods favourable to a style of life that facilitates the communion and co-operation with the local Church.
Our documents specify that the postulancy house must be simple and adapted to the work of formation, and that the novitiate must be simple, welcoming and favourable to reflection, to prayer and to community life. Finally, the house of the post-novitiate must be in a place where one can easily access study centres, where one can engage the poor face-to-face and where there is a relative autonomy between the two groups of the community, there where a community in formation and an apostolic community co-exist.
The participants in the Conference reflected on the directives of our documents. The group that discussed this theme is of the opinion that we need to give priority to a poor and simple style of life, rather than the choice of a place. The place certainly has importance, but it is not an objective of formation. Since the objectives are different at each stage, the place must also be a way of serving these objectives. The important thing is to be able to achieve the objective at each stage without expecting the young person has every possible experience; there needs to be an balance the ministry, the studies, the immersion, the psychological equilibrium, etc. in order to create the conditions that will permit him to face the great challenges as an adult brother. The houses need to be simple and in a poor area, but without necessarily being immersed entirely among the poor as for an apostolic community.
As a reaction, the members of the assembly posed a question without answering it: What did Champagnat have in mind when he constructed the Hermitage as a house of formation?
Another intervention recalled that we have the experience of a great variety of houses of formation: some co-exist with other communities, sometimes with elderly brothers, others group together novices from different Provinces, sometimes they live in small house, in a rural environment or in an apartment in the city, etc. All of this has negative and positive points. It seems that the choice of place of the house responds more to the worry of formators than the needs of formation.
The majority of speakers highlighted that the atmosphere and spirit of a house are more important than the geographical situation and its architecture. It is the style of life that must guide our judgement.

Theme 4
Ongoing formation

All the stages of formation follow the objective of forming men capable of giving their life to God at the heart of a Marist apostolic community. The Institute is concerned that this be solid and adapted to the personality and culture of each person.
The group that reflected on this subject saw a problem in the lack of criteria demanded to pass from one stage to another, visible at the same time in the objectives and contents of the stages. This lack of co-ordination is still more apparent when the candidates are poorly prepared or when the formators work too independently.
The brothers added the lack of follow-up during the period of the novitiate to perpetual profession. People are not aware what is done in the other novitiates of a same region. Sometimes, there are divergences between the Provincial Council and the team of formators as to the type of formation.
The assembly recommended following the Formation Guide, at least to evaluate it. It is basic to have a Provincial formation plan, with objectives, contents, method and clear criteria, as well as regular meetings for the formators.

Theme 5
Post-novitiate – First Stage
To harmonise the studies and the apostolic activities with prayer life and community life. Duration of the first stage.

Our documents propose that the brother continues during this time to reflect on the meaning of his consecration, in a systematic and balanced way, until final profession. The brother adapts himself to the needs of the Church and of people according to his personal qualities and the charism of the Institute.
The Conference participants stressed that the post-novitiate stage is the most decisive for forming the identity as a religious. One notes that sometimes there is a rush to send young brothers into community as soon as possible, once they have finished their novitiate, without being well prepared. Upon leaving the novitiate, the professed are not usually prepared for the apostolate. The balance needed in each preparation is the responsibility of each person, but it is also part of the formation that the young brother must assume with the help of his formator.
On refecting on the conditions necessary to bring the Marist identity to maturity and to live an integrated life, one realises that it is necessary to have a minimum number of brothers in a group. How can an identity be formed in a novitiate with only one novice or in a “scholasticate of individuals” inserted in a community?
We need brothers specifically formed to accompany the young people who leave the novitiate, as well as communities motivated to welcome them at the start of their apostolic life.
The assembly expressed the wide spread conviction that we need to be prepared to adapt whenever faced with changes.

Theme 6
Post-novitiate – Second stage

The first years of apostolic activity are of premiere importance for the temporarily professed brother when he assumes his formation in a responsible manner in an appropriate community. He participates fully in the life and mission of his community. During this stage, he prepares himself seriously for perpetual profession.
The group stressed the need to integrate the young brother in the activities of the community and to those of the Administrative Unit as far as possible, to help him to evolve his own personal prayer style to forms more adapted to the apostolate, to admit him to vows after dialogue with the community and to invite him to stay in periodic contact with the Brother Provincial.

Theme 7
Inculturation

While respecting the values of a culture, formation helps to liberate yourself from some of these values in the concrete expressions: attitudes, gestures, customs, and symbols.
The team presented two experiences of the Administrative Units: one in the novitiate at Medellin (Columbia) and the other at Cochabamba (Bolivia). Found in well-populated areas, these houses receive young people from different countries of Latin America. The international and multicultural aspects are highlighted. In the area of Chipas (Mexico) some young autochthones feel attracted by the vocation to be a Marist Brother. Their integration in the process of formation demands from them a very strong uprooting.
The advantages of having formators who share the same culture as those in formation were stressed.
The role of the Provincial or District Superior is to build and prepare good teams of formators (because it is these who mark the young) and to assure that the programmes of formation are serious. On considering inculturation, we need to know that there are aspects that one cannot negotiate no matter the culture, for example in that which concerns sexuality.
Today’s afternoon allowed the Provincials and District Superiors to work in Regions or by Conferences of Provincials. The General Council held a regular meeting.

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