Words of Welcome: Good morning to you all. It’s certainly a joy for me to welcome all the delegates
Words of Welcome:
Good morning to you all. It’s certainly a joy for me to welcome all the delegates of the 32nd General Chapter, on behalf of the members of the Central Administration, and all the Brothers, Sisters, Priests and lay Collaborators of the Casa Generalizia. I wish to say a special word of welcome to our Facilitator, Bro. Jean-Claude Lavigne OP, our Interpreters, Sr. Lise Le Riche of the Daughters of Wisdom, and Bro. Rémy Ndong, from the Province of Senegal, and our Secretaries, Br. Jenny Kuriakose, from the Province of Yercaud and Bro. John Britto, the District Superior of Madagascar. It is our earnest hope that you all will have a pleasant sojourn here in Rome, and an active and purposeful participation in this historical event of the 32nd General Chapter of our Congregation.
General Chapter: A Sign of Unity and Charity:
The 32nd General Chapter is a unique event, where 50 delegates coming from 14 countries of the 5 continents, representing the 1127 Brothers and 123 Novices, who form the rich heritage of our Congregation today. The group is representative of different generations and varied experiences! The oldest among us is 79 years old, while the youngest is 42 years old. We have one delegate who is attending the General Chapter for the 8th time, another for the 7th time, while 18 are attending for the first time! We have among us 2 former Superiors General and 2 former Assistants General, with their vast experience of the life and mission of our Institute. Indeed a rich variety!
The Code of Canon Law and our Constitutions make it clear to us that the supreme authority of the Institute is exercised in a permanent and personal manner by the Superior General, assisted by the Assistants General, and periodically and collegially by the General Chapter (cf. CCL 631 §1., C 156). Hence the General Chapter is not like any other Executive Body meeting or General Assembly. In Art. 157 of our Constitutions we read: “The General Chapter, a sign of unity and charity, represents the whole Institute. It protects its patrimony and fosters appropriate renewal and adaptation and facilitates the growth in faithfulness to the same patrimony” (cf. CCL 631 §1).
Our Constitutions are clear concerning the spirit that should animate us during this General Chapter, which is a spirit of unity and charity. Whatever our cultural, linguistic or regional differences may be, a spirit of charity and respect for one another should become the hallmark of all our discussions and deliberations because we represent the whole Congregation and not the Province we come from. In the Introduction to the Rules and Regulations of our General Chapter we read, “Its aim is to help the Capitulants to voice their opinions freely, in mutual respect and charity, so that the work of the Chapter may be done in harmony and with efficiency”. As Bro. Jean-Claude, our Facilitator, has been reminding us from the time he began accompanying us in our preparations for the 32nd General Chapter, a General Chapter is a time of celebration, a time when we give thanks for the past, a time when we look for the common good of the Congregation for the future.
As we just read in Art 157 of our Constitutions, the General Chapter’s principal mission is to protect the patrimony of the Institute and to foster appropriate renewal and adaptation, in order to facilitate the growth in faithfulness to the same patrimony. No doubt, we need to protect the material patrimony of the Congregation, but what the Code of Canon Law refers to in CCL 578 as patrimony is the spiritual patrimony: “All must observe faithfully the mind and designs of the founders regarding the nature, purpose, spirit, and character of an institute, which have been sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority, and its sound traditions, all of which constitute the patrimony of the same institute”. Therefore our primary objective in the General Chapter should be to protect our spiritual patrimony, the heritage that we have received from Montfort, namely, his motto “God Alone”, and his spirituality comprising the love of the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, love of the Cross, a tender love towards the Virgin Mary, absolute trust in Providence and his concrete love for the poor and those whom the world rejects!
The Chapter’s mission is also to foster appropriate renewal and adaptation, reading the signs of the times, facilitating the growth with creative fidelity to the Montfortian charism. This is exactly what the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata demanded of Religious Congregations: “Institutes of Consecrated Life are thus invited courageously to propose anew the enterprising initiative, creativity and holiness of their founders and foundresses, in response to the signs of the times emerging in today’s world” (VC 37). Therefore, during the Chapter we should judge whether we are attentive to the voice of God, who is challenging us through the Church and the world!
32nd General Chapter: A Time of Grace:
It is very symbolic that we begin our 32nd General Chapter on the Feast of the Annunciation, the patronal feast of our Montfortian Family, that too being celebrated at the beginning of the Eastertide. Eastertide is a total sign of hope and life in the risen Jesus and in the strength of his resurrection. Resurrection, as we all know, is truly transformation. Resurrection transforms tragedy and heals brokenness. Resurrection is an invitation to each one of us to look around to see the transformation, to look at the future with optimism, to submit ourselves to the Will of God. What we need most today are credible witnesses, who show the beauty of God’s love through their words and their lives. Mother Mary’s ‘Fiat’ at the Annunciation too reminds us that when we submit our lives to God’s will, we allow God to sanctify us, because obedience and commitment are two key principles for spiritual success.
It is also another sign of grace, and a special privilege, I must add, to be with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on Friday, 27th and to seek his Apostolic Blessings for us, the members of the Chapter, and for all our Brothers, Associates and Collaborators who are in our different entities. We also have the privilege to conclude our General Chapter on the Feast of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. We have an opportunity to celebrate this historical event of the 32ndGeneral Chapter, in the presence of the representatives from the whole Montfortian Family, an opportunity to place all our plans and projects for the future of our Congregation at the feet of Mother Mary and St. Montfort.
The year 2018 is also a significant time and a time of grace for us, the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel, because it is the 250th Birthday of Fr. Gabriel Deshayes to whom the whole Montfortian Family owes a great deal for its growth and development, and we the Brothers of St. Gabriel for giving us a new identity, a new rebirth! We also join with the Daughters of Wisdom, who are celebrating this year the 25th anniversary of the Beatification of Marie-Louise Trichet. We shall join the whole Montfortian Family in praying for the canonization of Blessed Marie-Louise Trichet. We shall also be united with the the Ploermel Brothers, the Sisters of St. Gildas and the Sisters of the Angel Guardian, the Congregations founded or co-founded by Father Gabriel Deshayes, in their prayers for his beatification.
32nd General Chapter: A Turning Point in our History:
The 32nd General Chapter which takes place, closely following the Tercentenary celebrations, have a special significance. A Tercentenary is no doubt an important landmark. The span of three centuries for the Montfortian Family is a long period of time, filled with memorable footprints of God’s interventions. Commemoration of the long journey of 300 years calls for recollections and introspection. It is a call to go back to the spirituality and charism of St. Louis Marie de Montfort with greater dynamism and zeal. The Tercentenary of our history should most importantly be another beginning. As Pope St. John Paul II reminded all the religious men and women, “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (VC 110). Therefore, this Chapter should be a time to reinvent ourselves with the experiences of the past, the requirements of the present and our dreams for the future. It is an opportunity for courage and a prophetic outlook, allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit who will always lead us to the newness of God.
We celebrated our tercentenary in the context of a Church that, led by Pope Francis, wants to renew itself, enter the world and transmit the joy of the Gospel. This is a Church that celebrated the year 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life, where Pope Francis invited all consecrated persons, “to look at the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope”. This is a Church that announced the year 2016 as the Jubilee Year of Mercy, calling every Christian to be merciful like the Father, to be compassionate towards the whole creation. Therefore, our General Chapter which follows these significant events in the Church and the Congregation should truly become an opportunity to recall the past, to rejoice and render thanks to God for all His marvels, and to renew and recommit ourselves to be dynamic followers of this great “Apostolic Missionary”, Montfort. Montfort as a prophet of our time is well expressed in his own words 300 years ago: “I have a Father in Heaven who will never fail me. He has led me this far; He preserved me till now; He will sustain me with His ordinary mercies… I continue to pray to God and abandon myself to His providence” (cf. Montfort’s Letter to Fr. Alain Robert, 20.09.1694).
Dynamics of 32nd General Chapter:
As I mentioned at the beginning, a General Chapter is a time of celebration. It is a moment of collective history, fraternal dialogue, collective orientation, and a time for responsible discernment and availability. Looking at the schedule of events for the coming 3 weeks, you will discover that it is designed to achieve these primary objectives of a General Chapter.
1. As it was stated in the Working Document, a General Chapter is an important event in the history of a Religious Congregation that requires intense spiritual preparation. Therefore it is in the fitness of things that we begin our 32nd General Chapter with the Eucharistic celebration, followed by a day of Retreat on the spirituality of the Chapter, spending time in silent reflections, personal and community prayers. We are invited to be ‘apostles of conversion’. We cannot give what we do not have and we have no business making recommendations to others without taking the same good advice to heart!
2. A General Chapter is a sign of unity and charity. We already had an opportunity to get to know one another yesterday afternoon in an informal fashion. The handbook “LET US KNOW ONE ANOTHER”, and the more organized sharing of convictions and expectations we have in groups, tomorrow afternoon, are designed to help us to know one another better and to make us feel proud of belonging to one international Congregation, with all its riches and limitations.
3.Those of us who have been attending the previous General Chapters will observe that relatively lesser time is allotted for the presentation of the Reports from the Provinces, and more time on addressing the challenges we face and leading us to concrete action, in line with the new action-based approach proposed by our Facilitator, Bro. Jean-Claude. It is said that driving a car is the perfect metaphor for achieving success. All of us will recall what our driving instructors taught us: “Mostly, look ahead out of the front windshield. Your car will follow your eyes. So always place your vision on the road ahead, on where you want to go, rather than where you don’t want to go. But occasionally check your mirrors, to navigate around any possible obstacles. If you look back too long and too often, you could have an accident and never reach your destination”! So, let us be more forward looking than backward looking.
4. As Art. 158 of the Constitutions states, one of the major responsibilities of a General Chapter is to elect the Superior General and the Assistants General, who will take up the general animation of our Congregation for the coming 6 years. This is a process that requires much discernment from all the Capitulars because as Art 175 of our Constitutions spells out, the Superior General and the Assistants General are expected to collaborate with one another, work as a team, and form a community of government in the service of the Institute. They will be particularly attentive to maintaining the missionary dynamism of the Institute, becoming a source of life and creativity for the Brothers and their communities and strengthening the bonds between the Provinces. Let me take the liberty of quoting here the warning given by Pope Francis to the Nuncios of the world on 17th September, 2016: “Without humility no service is possible or fruitful. Learn to meet, listen, talk, share, propose and work together, showing sincere love, sympathy and empathy with the people… Beware of those who are ambitious, who seek episcopacy, because they will give into the spirit of the world, which leads to acting for one’s own self-realization and not for the glory of God”. We are all aware of the fact that desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. We, the 50 capitulants, are not here to represent our entities, but we are here because we have received a mandate from our Brothers. We are here to discern what the Lord wants for our Congregation in the years to come. It is also equally true that those who will be called to take up the service of authority at the level of the Central Administration require a high level of availability, like Mother Mary’s complete acceptance of God’s plan at the Annunciation, which we recalled at the beginning of this message. As St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata beautifully put it, “It’s very easy to give examples, but it is very difficult to become an example!”
5. We have opted for an action-based Programmatic Chapter, on the advice of our Facilitator. This methodology puts greater emphasis on a common planning for the future of our Congregation, in relation to the major challenges we face as a Congregation. Therefore, a relatively longer time slot is being proposed in the schedule to work on certain priorities for the future, preparing concrete action plans with a time frame, for their implementation. It may not be out of place to mention here the caution given by Pope Paul VI to the Major Superiors of Religious Congregations, in the context of Vatican II: “Multiplicity of laws is not always accompanied by progress in religious life. It often happens that the more rules there are, the less people pay attention to them. Therefore, let the General Chapters always use their right to make laws moderately and prudently”.
Priorities for the Future: A Few Recommendations:
1. On the recommendation of the 31st General Chapter, the Central Administration had set up 2 International Commissions: 1) Vocation and Formation Study Commission (cf. 14 a); 2) Study Commission for the Future of the General House (cf. 35). The Reports of these Study Commissions and the recommendations made by them will be presented during the Chapter, not only as a piece of information but to call for some concrete action plans, on a priority basis.
2. The Report that will be presented by the General Bursar will give a graphic picture of the financial situation of the Congregation and its different entities, showing the evolution during the past 10 years. It will also throw light on the short-term and long-term plans prepared, especially for enabling the African entities march slowly but surely towards financial autonomy. The Report will also spell out the difficulties encountered in managing the financial affairs of the Congregation due to the stringent laws being enforced by the different countries. Over 73% of the participation today comes from the ageing Western Provinces. As I made a clarion call during the 17th Council of the Institute, can the Asian Provinces devise ways and means of slowly taking over a major share of the contributions and pool their energies together to help the African sectors in fulfilling their dreams of self-sufficiency? There is no doubt that finances have a serious problem which cannot be dismissed lightly. I wish to add that every crisis can be an opportunity to be seized by the Congregation, but I must also caution against the financial concerns to condition disproportionately the imagination of the Chapter! One painful lesson we have to learn from all the financial difficulties is an invitation to an increased vigilance in how we finance our missions, and the need for greater transparency and accountability (cf. 31st GC, 19 a).
3. The 31st General had made an avowed resolution “to strengthen the international character of our Institute and to reinforce the International Collaboration” (cf. §36). We are certainly proud of the International Community established in St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre. There are requests coming from ageing Provinces like Canada and Spain to replicate this type of International/Intercultural Communities, with a view to preserving our Congregational presence in the West. The Report presented by the Central Administration and the Statistics presented by the Secretary General will show you how fragile our mission sectors have become, and consequently how a few of them had to be closed down in the recent past. We certainly recall with nostalgic memories the heroic services of our missionaries from France, Canada, Spain, Belgium and Italy, who went as pioneers to the Asian, African and South American countries. Can rekindling this missionary dynamism in our Brothers become a priority for our Congregation in the coming years?
4. We had made some bold statements during the 31st General Chapter about our education mission that it is the most suitable means for creating a just and fraternal world (cf. §10), about the need and importance of strengthening Partnership with the Laity in our mission (cf. §26), and that the strengthening of fraternal life in our communities is an essential condition for making our mission more effective (cf. § 13 b). The fact that the same is reiterated in the main challenge identified for our reflections and deliberations during the 32nd General Chapter, is enough reason to make us give top priority to the community of relationship we build with our Brothers, our Associates, Collaborators, the local Church, with all people of good will and with different organizations who are working for the common good of humanity and for the advent of the Kingdom. As Pope Francis told the Marist Brothers in 2017 during their Bi-Centenary celebrations, “Society today needs people who are solid in their convictions, who can give witness to what they believe in, and in this way, build a better world for all”.
Words of Appreciation:
I wish to close this Inaugural Message with a word of thanks, with a heartfelt petition and a sincere prayer. The preparation for the 32nd General Chapter began with the 17th Council of the Institute held in Bangkok in 2017, and I wish to place on record my sincere appreciation to all those individuals and groups, who contributed towards the meticulous planning for this important event. In the first place, I wish to thank the members of the Central Administration for all the time and energy spent in preparing the different documents, and all the Brothers, Sisters, and Lay Collaborators of the General House, for their generous availability to take up the different tasks. In the same breath I wish to express my sincere thanks to the Chapter Preparatory Committee, headed by Bro. René Delorme and ably assisted by Bros. Jean-Marie Ndour, Mariannan M., and Jimmy Kalapurayil, who along with our Facilitator, Brother Jean-Claude, worked for days with dedication and efficiency in preparing the Working Document, the Logo and the motto, the Wall Calendar and the Prayers for the 32nd General Chapter. We owe a special thanks to Bro. René Delorme, who spent a lot of time and energy in translating the different documents, in synthesizing the contributions from the Provinces, editing and formatting the Province Reports, etc., with great commitment and competence.
Before I proceed further, I wish to thank our efficient Liturgy Committee, comprising Bros. Bernard Guesdon, Marcel Chapeleau and Sébastien N., for that beautiful and inspiring Opening Prayer Service we just participated in and for all the animation they would be taking up during the coming 3 weeks. Fortunately, their task has been made simpler, thanks to the generosity and good will of Bro. Ronald Brissette (CAN), who has, well in advance, prepared all the prayers for the Morning and Evening Prayers, in a booklet form.
Preparing all the different documents that you had and that you will have, all meant lots of translation from one language to another, lot of editing and formatting, and we are ever grateful to our translators, Bros. René Delorme, Georges Le Vern, Marcel Chapeleau, Marcel Barreteau, Sébastien Ndabunganiye, Corentin Le Bot and others, our technicians, Bros. Michael Mathew and Sebastian Antony Samy, and our Secretary, Stephania, for joyfully taking up these laborious tasks. Our thanks also go to the Secretaries, the Interpreters, the translators, and other volunteers, whose availability we greatly appreciate.
On behalf of the Central Administration, I also wish to place on record our sincere appreciation to Bros. Marcel Bregeon, Jayapal Reddy and Ambroise Ndougou, who rendered valuable services to the Casa Generalizia, performing multiple tasks, during our mandate, and Bros. Bernard Guesdon and Paul Texier, who still continue with the same old energy and enthusiasm.
Finally I wish to thank all the Brothers in the different Provinces for their active participation in the preparatory stage of the General Chapter. Similarly, I also wish to thank all the members of our Congregation, all the members of the Montfortain Family, and all our Associates, Collaborators and friends who have been accompanying us with their prayers. We appreciate their spiritual closeness with us because, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders toil” (Ps. 127).
So, dear Brothers, while extending to you all, once again, my sincere and warm welcome, on behalf of the Central Administration, I invite you to make this 32nd General Chapter a true celebration, in the spirit of unity and charity. Let us ask God’s Spirit to accompany and enlighten us throughout the 3 weeks of the Chapter. As we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation today, let us repeat with Mother Mary, “Here I am Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (cf. Lk. 1:38). Let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask of us, whether we let ourselves be surprised by God, like Mary, or do we remain caught up in our own safety zones, in the form of material, intellectual, or ideological security, taking refuge in our own projects and plans?
I wish to conclude with some extracts from the Prayer for the 32nd General Chapter: God our Father, we entrust our 32nd General Chapter to your infinite goodness and mercy. Send us your Spirit of light and wisdom, And grant us that we may discern your will for the good of your people and the glory of your Name. Holy Mary, our dearest Mother, help us to be like you, open and docile to the inspirations of the Spirit. St. Louis Marie de Montfort, Blessed Marie-Louise of Jesus, Father Gabriel Deshayes, and you, Brothers, who preceded us in the Father’s House, intercede for us.
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