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General Conference - 23rd September

26/09/2005: Sri Lanka

The Laity Commission
<294.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 23/09/2005 hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>The morning started with an African chant: “Mtakatifu Mtakatifu Mtakatifu Bwana!”, led by Brother Théoneste Kalisa. Its captivating rhythm was easy to follow.
The Laity Commission, with Brother Pedro Herreros as President and Michael Flanigan as Secretary and Brothers Emili Turú and Antonio Ramalho completing the team, animated the reflection for this morning, starting with some contributions from the Provinces and Districts.

The objectives of this session
The objectives of this session were; 1) to be aware of the pathway travelled by the Institute in the field of mission shared with laity; 2) to share what has helped and what has hindered progress in this journey; 3) to share about the proposals of the General Council as communicated through the Laity Commission; 4) to offer a space where each Provincial or District Superior can look to future pathways adapted to the reality of his own Administrative Unit.

Work dynamics
Brother Pedro presented the work methodology for this morning divided into two parts. In the first part, the brothers responded to this question: Where are we as a Province, as a Region, as an Institute? And the second: Where do we want to be?
After this, based on a report on the laity developed from the questionnaire that was sent to the Provinces and Districts, everyone broke into five groups to look at five different areas: programmes of formation, Champagnat Movement, lay participation, belonging and being linked and the Marist lay identity.

Formation Programmes
Brother Pedro Herreros informed the total group that 74% of the Administrative Units have developed formation programmes of different types. There are eighty-one different programmes for the formation of laypeople, sixty of which are educational and the others are for fraternities, co-workers, auxiliaries and former students. These courses treat such topics as mission, solidarity, sharing, spirituality and mission, personal growth and prayer. Most of the programmes aim to present content to those participating while there are some programmes that are more experienced based. The participation is mainly voluntary and the duration of these programmes varies greatly from two years to one weekend.

The Marist Family Champagnat Movement
Brother Pedro Herreros noted that the Marist Family Champagnat Movement was directed at adults and so cannot be considered as a youth activity. The Institute is currently in seventy-seven countries. There are approximately 50,000 brothers and lay people having an influence on over 500,000 people. There are 257 fraternities that are part of this global picture. They are not equally distributed throughout the world with 75% in America and 19% in Europe. They hardly exist in Africa, Asia and Oceania but other types of groups do exist here.
The type of support they receive from the Provinces also varies greatly. Some Provinces have a Provincial team to accompany them whilst in other Provinces there are no structures at all. In ten Administrative Units there is a bulletin or type of publication to keep in contact with them but there are only two Administrative Units that work in a co-ordinated way with them.
The types of activity in which the fraternities are involved include prayer, solidarity, Marist education and evangelisation.

Participation of laypeople
There is a great diversity of situations in the Institute in the way laypeople hold positions of authority. Laypeople are present on teams and Provincial commissions, present at assemblies and Provincial Chapters, as volunteers and co-workers, and some are living in community with the brothers.

Interest for the participation of the laity
There is widespread interest throughout all Administrative Units in the participation of the laity in the Marist mission.

Participation and links
The link to the Institute or to the Marist charism is not the same throughout the entire Institute. In some places, they are looking for ways of being linked to the Congregation, but they are not sure about who should decide the manner, the duration and the extent of this linkage. Some Provinces have sought the permission of the Provincial for these links to occur.

Identity
The General Chapter used the term ‘ lay Marist’ but what does ‘lay Marist’ mean? In nineteen Administrative Units there have been attempts to clarify the identity of a lay Marist through written material, meetings, dialogue, etc. Twelve more believe it is urgent that these concepts be clarified.
At the end of Brother Pedro’s talk, Brother Michael Flanigan presented some global impressions on these themes. He affirmed that there is a great vigour in the Institute in relation to the laity, but also a great diversity. There is no agreement on the identity of the lay Marist. In the Extended General Council meetings there has been discussion on the identity and participation of the laity. In some brothers there is still some mistrust of the commitment of laypeople.
Following this, the brothers met in interregional groups to analyse together what helps and what hinders in this area.

The Identity of the laity
The second work session this morning, under the direction of Brother Pedro Herreros, was dedicated to sharing the steps that the Provinces and Districts are taking. The most outstanding was the interest shown in the formation of the laity and the sharing of mission. But the theme that had aroused most interventions was the identity of the laity. Who are these people that are called lay Marists? Who can be lay Marists?
The XX General Chapter made fairly wide reference to lay Marists, but without eliminating any ambiguity. It is a bit like an unknown pathway that you have undertaken and on which you are making progress. Since Brother Charles Howard published a document on the Marist Family twenty years ago, nothing has been written since on the laity. It seems that the moment has come.
The brothers of the Laity Commission hope to prepare a document on the vocation of the lay Marist in order to deepen this subject. It is said that we need to recognise the character of the lay Marist but what does recognise mean?
It was emphasised that the XX General Chapter said that laypeople are a new living face of the charism and that lay people have taken it up seriously. Laypeople are asking themselves what they must give to the Institute, what the Institute will give them in return, what is a lay Marist and how to be one. We need to take what is new seriously and give hope to the future.
Brother Seán concluded the morning session by saying that we need to advance in the discussions, with a new vocabulary and new structures.

Report on the procedures
Brother Juan Anaya, Procurator General, occupied the first session of the afternoon informing the brothers of the Conference on the procedures to follow in the special cases of Exclaustration, leaving the Institute, not renewing temporary vows, etc.

Inter-religious meeting for prayer
Father Hayalah Balagalla, Dominican, presided over this prayer that brought together the Venerable Madanpagama Assaji Thero, Buddhist, the Reverend K Kukeswara Kurukkal, Hindu, and Mohamed Shereef De Alwis, Muslim.
<294a.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 23/09/2005 >Brother Joseph Peiris, Superior of the Community of Maris Stella College, set the ambiance for us by describing the religious plurality of Sri Lanka through a projection entitled ‘One Truth, Many Ways”, realised by the Vocation Ministry Commission of the Province.
At the start, Father Balagalla thanked the organising committee of the Conference for having included “an event as important as inter-religious prayer” on its calendar. He emphasised that the reflection on the vitality of the Institute that the brothers had done during these days “demonstrates that they pay a lot of attention to the interior spirituality of their confrères.” He invited “the Institute, destined to education, to make an effort to dialogue with the religions of Asia, since education is the best domain for this apostolate.” He wished “that this VII Conference enlighten especially the brothers who work in Asia that they make an important effort to continue this dialogue with other believers.”
A Buddhist prayer was then recited for peace, praising the Lord Buddha and his sacred teachings, because he is the guide and the glory of the holy monks who follow his teachings. The Hindu rite invoked God by the vinakaya mantras. Then we heard an extract from the sacred Muslim book, the Koran. Final the Catholics chanted a religious hymn from Sri Lanka.
Brother Seán thanked our esteemed visitors and gave them a medallion of the Founder’s canonisation. He recalled that it was religion, that had often incited to war, that had brought us all together today before God to ask for peace for all.

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