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Two brothers have opted to become missionaries to Canada



The “Mission Ad Gentes” programme and the Province of Canada

04/04/2007: Canada

Perhaps a certain number of you are wondering what link can exist between this programme and the Prov-ince of Canada. The question is not without importance.
What is the current situation of the Province of Canada? Why has this Province asked the “mission ad gentes” programme to come to its aid?

The average age of the brothers of the Province of Canada is about seventy-two years of age. There are one hundred and ninety brothers in our Province and the youngest are more than fifty-five years of age. How did we arrive at such a situation? Obviously, we must give some answers to this question. I am go-ing to try to give some solutions to this question in the following lines.

The civil province of Quebec where all the Canadian Marist Brothers are located was a very Catholic province until the sixties. Everyone, or nearly everyone, was Catholic. Thus, we did not have to struggle for our faith. It goes without saying that the people practised the Catholic religion, that the environment in which they lived bore evangelical values. The Church occupied an important place in the Quebecois soci-ety. When the bishops spoke, the people listened, even the politicians, and aligned themselves to the mes-sage that was being delivered.

With the arrival of the sixties when profound social changes occurred throughout the world and also in Quebec, things changed radically. It was a time when the individual became important, when you were allowed to have feelings of any kind and to express them, even if they conflicted with what the majority of people thought. Authority was easily challenged. It was the time of “It’s the start of a new era. The land is at year zero, etc…” It was the time when everything was allowed sexually speaking, the time of great scientific discoveries. In a few words, everything was questioned.

These social changes occurred at an accelerated speed, particularly in Quebec, taking everybody by sur-prise, as much the Church as other institutions. These changes were not expected. We did not see them coming. For example, in Quebec, the male religious communities had just made the decision to regroup their forces by founding intercongregational scholasticates. Two had started: one in Montreal and the other at Cap-Rouge, in the region of the city of Quebec. People were thinking big, telling themselves that many young people were going to opt for religious life. Large buildings were thus constructed, able to accommodate several hundreds of young religious.

But it was totally the contrary that occurred. From 1965 onwards, entries into religious communities di-minished very rapidly to be reduced to a few units ten years later for some communities. For others, it was a complete desert, including the Marist Brothers. The last temporary religious profession in the Prov-ince of Iberville was in 1970, with the exception of a confrère who joined us recently when he was al-ready more than sixty-five years of age.

The communities had difficulty in reacting, but that does not mean that they did nothing to counter the general tendency. The brothers continued to look after vocations ministry, holding weekend camps for young people, looking after youth movements. However, the young people no longer responded to the invitation to become religious. The new social order allowed them to choose so many new attractive things that they put aside religious life with its demands.

With the years, no longer being renewed, the religious communities lost nearly all presence with young people. The brothers aged and a gap deepened between them and young people.

Does this mean that there no longer are young people who have the vocation to religious life? I do not believe this, but it seems that we do not know how to meet them. Where are these young people? In the same milieux where we were recruiting before? It seems not since we have had no response.

I think that we must seriously question ourselves and turn ourselves towards the categories of young peo-ple who were entering community during our foundations. They were not rich, they lived simply and as the brothers had a significant presence with them, they responded to the call of religious life.

What does this mean? We must turn ourselves towards the underprivileged young people, the immigrants, the abandoned ones, to give them some meaning in life that can respond to their expectations. If we be-come meaningful for them again, some will opt for religious life.

Obviously, if we want to be present to them, we have to go to them, that is to say to accept to change our way of living so that they do not perceive us as vocation collectors…! To go to them means to live amongst them, thus to leave our current residences to be with them. It is not our residences that we must leave, but probably a lot of other things that the poor do not have and that create a barrier between them and us if we do nothing about it. I will not take the time to enumerate these things, but each person can thing about this.

To be with them to respond to their needs and not to create needs for them. That will mean a lot of time for getting to know them, for knowing their needs and trying to find with them the means of responding by respecting them as they are. Probably that will take some years before there are some who will ask to know us better in order to make the choice of religious life. A life plan is built with time. Becoming firstly human before thinking about becoming a religious.

Thus, why make this call to “mission ad gentes” for Canada? As I said earlier, the average age of the Ca-nadian brothers is above seventy years of age and the youngest are older than fifty-five years of age. If we want to take time with the young people of these milieux, we must think in terms of several years. With-out the help of younger confrères, coming from elsewhere, however we invest ourselves close to them, we will not be able to do this in the long term. Simple logic shows us this. Thus, it is in this context that the Province of Canada asked the General Council to come to their aid by providing younger brothers to par-ticipate in this new project.

Already two Spanish confrères who were in the first group of brothers at Davao for the experience of “mission ad gentes” have opted to become missionaries to Canada. The General Council has spoken to us of three or four other confrères who will join their ranks without doing the experience at Davao in the Philippines. Thus, there will be seven or eight, including two Canadian brothers, who will be involved in the new project.

What is this new project? To leave the beaten track in order to go towards the unknown and become in-volved with underprivileged young people, the poor, immigrants; by living amongst them to travel with them and to help them build a meaningful future. With time, if we are significant to them, we hope some will make the choice of Marist religious life.

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