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General Conference - 19th September

21/09/2005: Sri Lanka

Cultural and religious visit
<286.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 19/09/2005 hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>Saturday and Sunday were programmed for visiting various significant places of the country. The first visit was to an elephant orphanage in Pinnawela. On this reserve there are about seventy elephants, of different ages in semi-freedom. The smallest broods are looked after with special care to ensure their subsistence. The flock is governed by a timetable imposed on them by the caretakers. Mid-morning they are taken to the river through the streets of the town. All the traffic stops to let them pass. Many people come to watch them as they bathe in the river.
The religious visit was to the city of Kandy, one of the paradigmatic places of Buddhism. The temple is famous as it conserves in a special place one of the teeth of Buddha. Hence it is called “the temple of the tooth”. The roof is covered in gold. The visit coincided with the beginning of the full moon which is a holiday par excellence for the Buddhists. For that reason the temple was very packed. It was an opportunity to have a first hand experience of how the people express the philosophy of life of Buddhism in a sacred space.
Another cultural dimension of the day was the visit to the tea cultivations. Sri Lanka is the main exporter of world tea. For hours we could see the extensive fields of tea from the bus. The great care they show in looking after these crops offers a beautiful view of hundreds of hectares appearing like a green carpet on the hillsides. The brothers had the opportunity to have the whole process of tea production explained to them.
In the celebration of Sunday Mass, Chile was particularly remembered due to the celebration of its national day. The brothers and all their works were special intentions during the Mass. Upon our return to the house we enjoyed dinner with Chilean music in the background and a nice red wine from the valley of the Maipo.

Open Forum
The weekend break gave some breathing space to the rhythm of the work of the group. Today the work rhythm recommenced with gusto. The open forum included some questions that had already been submitted in writing. Tomorrow’s time has been dedicated to treating these questions.

Marian dimension of the Institute
The first question made reference to the Marian dimension of the Institute.
When discerning the calls of the XX General Chapter, fruit of a long discernment, many thought about this question: Where is Mary in all this? Brother Seán Sammon, Superior General, remarked that the last Superior General to have written on Mary and the Institute was Brother Basilio. But he affirmed that, in the Institute, Mary continues to be present in the charism, apostolic spirituality, in the apostolate and in vocations ministry. And to confirm this, he gave a quick synthesis of the mariology that is found in the Constitutions. Mary’s strong presence exists in the fundamental documents of the Institute. But he also recognised that there is also a certain fear in many brothers that Mary can be seen to be more important than Jesus.
He recalled some initiatives developed by some Provinces to know Mary better by organising a Marian year or choosing this as the core topic for retreats. Brother Seán promised that after writing the circular on mission and identity at the beginning of 2006, he will dedicate another one to Mary at the end of that same year.
<286a.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 19/09/2005 hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>Some brothers intervened to highlight that it is important to be familiar with the renewed mariology as proposed in the Second Vatican Council in which Mary is seen as being an older sister in faith. Saint Marcellin supported the sentimental dimension of devotion to Mary: I am a son of Mary.

What challenges confront BIS?
The first challenge that must be confronted is the one of balancing the different functions that have been commended: to promote the education for justice in the Institute, to collaborate with other institutions in the field of solidarity, to be present in international institutions that promote solidarity programmes, the defence of fair causes, to help in diverse projects of solidarity and to find financing for these projects.
A second necessity is the one of looking for a coordinator of projects.
And finally, it is indicated that the projects that the Provinces carry out with international organisations would have to be coordinated by BIS because it gives responsibility to the Institute, is more transparent and encourages the trust of the donors.

Cost of the general Conference
The third question made reference to the convocation of the VII General Conference in Sri Lanka. This question alluded to three types of problems: the cost of the Conference; the use of evangelical goods; and the socio-economic ambiance of the meeting.
Regarding the first aspect of the question, the criteria for choosing Asia as the place for the Conference were recalled. An itemised account was given of the steps of consultation and programming taken by the General Council, the Preparatory Commission and the Brother Provincial of the Province of Sri Lanka and Pakistan and his Council that decided the place for the Conference. This hotel has been used by the Episcopal Conference of Sri Lanka for its meetings. The last meeting of the International Organisation of Catholic Education was held here. On the other hand, Brother Mike de Waas had shown the brothers of Sri Lanka were very happy for the Conference to be held here. A comparison was made between the costs of the VI General Conference held in Rome and the proposed budget for this General Conference and the costs for Sri Lanka did not appear to be superior.
Regarding introducing this realisation to the programme of reflection on the evangelical use of goods, it was said that the project of holding General Conferences began before the institutional reflection of the evangelical use of goods.
Finally, some figures were managed on the social indicators of the economic reality of the environment where the Conference is taking place.
The brothers were satisfied with the explanations that had been given. Also mentioned was the great welcome offered to all and effort of the inhabitants of this country to overcome the consequences of the tsunami.

The “hermanitas” (little sisters) and the Conference
Some brothers from the Province of Norandina, working in Ecuador, have noted the desire in some women “to be Marist Sisters in the style of the brothers.” They asked if anyone had thought of this possibility.
The brothers of the General Council, who have the responsibility of pursuing these initiatives, shared some situations where this is the case. All of these experiences had in common that there are women who have shown the interest to consecrate their lives according to Champagnat’s charism. At the present time there is a group of six women in Guatemala who are known as “las hermanitas”. Three are professed, two are novices and one is a postulant.
The sisters at Guatemala are taking steps in personal and communal maturation. They base their consecrated life on Marist community and have contact with the brothers of the Province of América Central. They participate in the life of the Province and in some retreats with the brothers. This experience of consecrated life may well respond to the wishes that the brothers have noticed in some women in Ecuador.

The organisational management of the General Council
Sometimes the General Council has organised numerous activities for the whole Institute. But each Province has its own activities. On some occasions, difficulties can arise in trying to find a balance between the activities of the Institute and the Province. Planning and exchange of information through the established channels are needed as well as ensuring that there is a flexibility in the programmes.

Second visit of the General Council to the Administrative Units
The afternoon session started with a summary of the activities realised by the brothers in the visits they have made to the Regions, looking forward to the second round of visits. At the start and end of the visit, meetings were held with the Brother Provincial and his Council to programme the meeting with the communities, the fraternities, the governing Councils of works and their leaders. At the end of each visit a report was written and delivered. These are some figures that reflect the activity of the General Council during this first round of visits.

Retreats

Region

Dates

Retreats

Participants

Africa

08 – 09 2002

10

320

Asia

December 2002

6

160

South America

12/2002 01/2003

11

650

Europe

07/08 2003

18

1250

North America

07/08 2004

6

340

Arco Norte

December 2004

9

580

Total

60

3.300



Evaluation of the retreats
In the evaluation that was done at the end of the visits, it was noted that the retreats encouraged the renewal and deepening of the calls of the XX General Chapter.
The brothers felt strengthened in their faith by the closeness and simplicity of the Brother Superior General and his Council and the sharing of their convictions.
They offered a wider vision and hope for the future on the mission and life of the Institute.

Extended General Council Meetings

Region

Place

Date

Brothers

Africa

Nairobi

October 2002

45

Asia

Hong Kong

February 2003

36

Cono Sur and Brazil

Cochabamba

May 2003

59

Europe

Madrid

November 2003

72

Pacific

Mittagong

May 2004

32

North America

Maryknoll

November 2004

25

Arco Norte

Guatemala

May 2005

36



Evaluation of the Extended Council Meetings
Particularly evident in this evaluation were the closeness and simplicity of the Brother Superior General and his Council gathered with the Provincial Councils of a Region looking together to the future.

Preparing the second visit
Brother Seán finished this session by explaining the style of the second round of visits that the General Councillors will make in the next four years. He also added that a letter explaining these will be sent to the Provincials later this year.
The brothers dedicated a period of time to responding to two questions: “What was the greatest help that you received for your Province or District during these visits by the General Council? What would you change?
The valuation of the visits on the part of the brothers has been very positive.
The report made at the end stood out as being very valuable. One obstacle that was noted was the speed of the visit.
The afternoon concluded with regional group meetings to contribute concrete suggestions for the organisation of the second round of visits from the General Council to the Administrative Units.

3651 visits