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General Conference - 24th and 25th September

27/09/2005: Sri Lanka

Feast of Our Lady of Mercy
Here is the chronicle of the Conference for Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday, Brother Xavier Barceló, Provincial of L’Hermitage, celebrated his birthday. It was a gift from God for his parents and for him that this future Marist was born of the feast of Our Lady of Mercy and that the Good Mother continues to watch over him lovingly. In doing this, she also looks over us! The brothers at the Conference thanked God and Mary for the gift of this confrère. In finishing the morning prayer, we all greeted him cordially, hoping that God would continue to accord him the grace to serve his brothers in joy.
<296.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 24.09.2005 hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>Today was a time for interiorising what had been heard and experienced at the Conference. At the Mass and the Marial prayer, a heart made out of heavy paper was given to the brothers so that they could write a word or a phrase that reminded them of what the Conference has invited us to integrate into our lives, our communities, our Provinces. At the Marial prayer, these hearts were placed at the feet of Mary to recall the covenant of the Lord with us and our response. Five brothers, one per continent, said aloud their prayer of thanksgiving. All the brothers of that continent then joined the brother to place their hearts at the feet of Mary. This act marked the debut of the period of interiorisation that lasted throughout the whole day. All appreciated this break, even the chronicler.

The task of integration of the chronicler
Today, I needed to put into order all that I have received and experienced during the Conference. I must start by familiarising myself with Marist geography: sixty brothers whom I must situate in each of their countries. I must first reconstruct a map of the Marist world quite different to the one I had learned in the novitiate. Restructuring has occurred and the Provinces do not necessarily coincide with countries: twenty-six Provinces and five Districts for seventy-seven countries. How fascinating it is to hear a Provincial say that his Province extends for more than four million square kilometres! Being a little brother in such a family must encourage humility. The fire of vitality must burn inside. One wonders how many dioceses, about which Champagnat dreamed, could be organised in this vast expanse?
I need to revise and bring my geography up to date! But the problem is that the geographical concepts that used to be my reference points have changed. Before, we used to speak of Provinces of our country, a nation, where there was a common language and where we had Marist maps to situate each community or each house. Today, our Marist geography is different. We have reorganised the continents and oceans by Zones and Regions. We use geometry to define “arcs” and “cones”. New concepts invite us to navigate on interior seas and to animate Administrative Units. And the navigation maps are also part of the indispensable baggage of certain Provincials even if their crafts belong to KLM or Royal Jordanian, and it is necessary to prepare our colour pencils when a hundred brothers start to move towards Asia.
Languages also take an interesting aspect. If four languages are official in the Institute, in some restructured Provinces we find eight or ten different languages, which makes the learning of a language not only a past-time but also a necessity.

The geography of the heart
It is about physical geography, but there is also affective geography. Where <296a.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 24.09.2005 >do we place a brother on this new map? What does he have in common with the brothers of the same Province? There are faces, ethnic groups, family names, languages, functions and responsibilities, etc. Put all that in its place, with electronic mail, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. Make a place for each one in his calendar and his fraternity, and especially that each one has a privileged place in the heart! What good will come from this time of interiorisation? Others could consecrate it to other things, for they have already learnt this new geography of the Institute at the XX General Chapter.

The mission ad gentes
There are papers to be put into order, but especially ideas. The Asian vision of the Church presented during these first days form a mosaic whose pieces can be seen from different angles. The cultures are moving towards a common credo: a doctrine where men and women feel themselves humanised by religions. But all must fit together discreetly.
To be a believer and a Catholic in Asia means belonging to a minority. Despite all, the Institute is launching its invitation to the mission ad gentes to many brothers. The Church in Asia is conscious of its smallness. The new geography of the Institute makes that each brother feels a little lost in the immensity of the mission ad gentes, as a small insignificant grain which does not have any other strength other than that within. Brother Seán speaks of a fire that embraces and impassions.
The mission ad gentes and the International Marist Mission Assembly are clearer in my mind. On the other hand, we will have to reflect more deeply about the General Chapter Solidarity Fund and move into action. It is the same thing for the laity. The question: ‘what is a lay Marist?’ demands an urgent reply. One can guess a new life in gestation which is developing at the heart of the Institute, being nourished by its charism and the Spirit. It is still an unachieved task for the biologists of the spirit.

The internationality of the Institute
The Institute has been international for a long time. Brother Seán affirmed that we have not always made this dimension obvious. However, the Institute has arrived at the gates of the UN. The brothers feel themselves to be in communion in seventy-seven countries and have a better sense of internationality since restructuring. The help at the interior of a Province and the collaboration for interprovincial projects have placed new challenges before the brothers. Contrary to the past, the international communities are no longer the exception and they are no longer temporary as they were in the Second Novitiate. They have brought a new vigour to our fraternity. The internationality expresses itself better in the ecclesial and evangelical dimension where, in love, we share our goods, our talents, our realisations and even our difficulties. Let us love one another, recalled Champagnat, and that must be experienced in our meetings of the Conference as in our simple experiences in the house.
I put a final point to my task today. There remains the community prayer prepared each day in the four languages, rich with symbols and participation. <296b.jpg alt=Sri Lanka – 24.09.2005 hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>There remain the anecdotes with the personnel of the hotel who are surprised that the group do not go out at night, keep their bedrooms in order, do not smoke, do not drink to excess, pray with beautiful hymns, do not waste food and learn new languages so easily. But that will be another episode, if God wishes it.

Mass in the Duwa area
On Sunday, we had to get up early to take a bus to a suburb of Negombo. The destination was Duwa which means island. It is in fact a small island of Catholic fishermen linked to neighbouring areas by a bridge. Father P. A. D. Kingsley Ivan is a good friend of the brothers at Negombo; he accepted with pleasure that the brothers take part in Sunday Mass with his parishioners. The reception was informal, but you could sense the welcome. Some people spoke about how they were helped when the tsunami flooded the area and the church. The brothers shared the Eucharist and exchanged a few simple words with the people, then returned to the hotel to attend to what ever they wanted to do.

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