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An interview with the Vicar General, Joe McKee

27/01/2014: General House

In December Br. Joseph McKee, Vicar General, visited the Province of Santa María de los Andes. He animated two retreats, one in Bolivia and another in Peru. He was also in Chile, where he met with the boards of Marist ministries, and took part in the Assembly of Brothers and the Provincial Council.

The Marist web site for Chile (http://www.maristas.cl) took advantage of the occasion to conduct this interview with Br. Joe. Following are parts of that interview.

 

How do you view the Institute in today's world, from the perspective of the different countries you have visited?

I believe that for some years and since the Chapter we are in a very interesting moment in the Marist world. I see that we are truly trying to undergo a transformation. We are called by the Chapter to this personal and institutional conversion and we are discovering little by little what this "new land" is. It is an interesting moment in history because, looking at the data, it is evident that the number of Brothers in the world is diminishing. Each year we diminish a bit more. And the average age of the Brothers each year is a little higher. But the truth is that we are more involved in our Marist mission than ever, and with a great number of people, committed laity in the Marist mission, which was not always the case. In the past perhaps there were in a school 10, 12, 15 Brothers and a few lay persons and now, for many years in some countries, there are people discovering our charism, our spirituality, the Marist mission. 

For me this is a cause for joy and I think our mission is taking on a different style. We walk together in all of this, at the same time seeking ways to accomplish it.

Of course, not every country walks at the same page. In Africa, for example, they are just now beginning the discussion regarding the communion of brothers-lay people... In other places, on the other hand, there has been rapid advancement. 

We are living a significant moment, but obviously, we are invited to discern very clearly the direction of all of this and the forms it will take into the future.

 

It's been four years since the Chapter and we are four years away from the Bicentennial of the Congregation. How has this journey been and what expectations you have for the time that remains?

In the General Council we are about to evaluate these four years, the course we have run. I believe that in the Institute in general we are doing well; at times, since there aren't any major changes, one might get the idea that there is nothing happening, but when I travel around the Marist world I see that there are certainly steps being taken, there is direction, there are paths being followed, spiritual journeys that are being taken in many provinces. I see it as yes, we are moving forward. Now, there is much more to do. There will always be much more to do. They say the important thing is not arriving at your destination, but the road you take to get there. And we are on the road, beginning the process of preparation for the Bicentennial. 

In September we will have the Second International Assembly on Marist Mission in Nairobi, a significant event for us, as much regarding the mission, as for the Brothers-Laity relationship. We are also going to begin a revision of the Constitutions of the Brothers, to help us enter more deeply into our spiritual life, our mission, our community life. All these processes are being coordinated. 

Also in the next few years we will be asking ourselves what models of animation, management and government do we need in today's world, because we cannot continue using the structures of the past. We should seek new models that can help us today, to move forward today. Good things are happening, there is a lot of movement and movement in many senses.
 

I believe that we have also empowered community life. We have had gatherings and formation experiences for the brothers. Now we are beginning a program for formators of brothers, one in English and another in Spanish. There are many things that we are carrying out in this sense. I think that more and more, and this pleases me very much, everything is being done in a way that is more international, more intercultural, knocking down walls, internal and external borders, bringing us together more.

It is interesting that the last General Conference was a beautiful experience of dialogue, fraternity, and spirituality, with perhaps more human rhythms in contrast to activism. We are seeing that we communicate more easily than before, that there is more harmony, much more dialogue, more seeking together paths and directions for the future. This conference was a vital experience and I think that many who came with their questions and inquiries, left enlivened by a sense that yes, there is life, there are very valuable and important processes and courses. Perhaps this sense of internationality is what we have to promote in these years leading up to the Bicentennial.

 

How do you see the Congregation within the Church?

Br. Emili Turú in his circular “They Gave Us the Name of Mary” speaks often of the sense of Church, and it is true that we make up part of the Church, but religious life has always had a prophetic part. We have a prophetic role in the Church because we are not part of the Church hierarchy, we are religious brothers, and I believe this is the role that we have to take in the Church, as well as the Marial face of the Church, that John Paul II himself called us to develop, to be a presence in the world, and I think we are taking it very seriously. We have to discover what it means to be the Marial face of the Church, with tenderness and compassion. Pope Francis is giving us directions on how to do this. Every day he speaks of a Church that is welcoming, that is compassionate, that is for the poor. He is helping us a lot in this sense. 

Today we feel ourselves more Church than before, because the Brothers have always been a little on the margins. an experience I had in Peru: one day I went to the cathedral with some other brothers. We visited the museum, but when we wanted to enter the cathedral we were told that only priests and nuns can enter without paying, but they didn't know what to do about our situation. 

I feel comfortable in this role, at the margins, I feel good about it. We are not here to be recognized, to play a role as if we were superior or better for having chosen religious life. We are Christians, brothers. And as brothers we live a relationship of equality; we are brothers to everyone. That is our role in the Church. It is a prophetic role, and very evangelical.

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