The members of the Intercapitular Assembly conclude their work entrusting the Institute and its Mission to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
I. GENERAL COUNCIL
1. Fr. Serra Teresino – superior general
2. Fr. Baldan Fabio Carlo - vicar general
3. Fr. Odelir José Magri - assistant general
4. Fr. Tesfamariam Ghebrecristos Woldeghebriel - assistant general
5. Fr. Romero Arias Hernán - assistant general
II. SECRETARIES OF THE GENERAL SECRETARIATS
6. Fr. Guarda Alessandro - finances
7. Fr. Miante Girolamo - vocation promotion and formation
8. Fr. Pescantini Umberto - mission promotion
9. Fr. Zolli Fernando - evangelization
III. IN CHARGE OF GENERAL OFFICES
10. Fr. Cimitan Danilo - coordinator of ongoing formation
11. Fr. Sandri Giuseppe - secretary general
12. Fr. Codianni Luigi Fernando - BRASIL NORDESTE
13. Fr. Munari Giovanni - BRASIL DO SUL
14. Fr. Castillo Matarrita Víctor Hugo - CENTRAFRIQUE
15. Fr. Bernasconi Fermo - CONGO
16. Fr. Altenburger Josef [replaces fr. Schneider Anton who is sick] - DSP
17. Fr. Bordonali Bruno - ECUADOR-COLOMBIA
18. Fr. Tesfaye Tadesse - ETHIOPIA
19. Fr. Rojo Buxonat Laureano - ESPAÑA
20. Fr. Pelucchi Alberto - ITALIA
21. Fr. Tibaldo Mariano - KENYA
22. Fr. Cignolini Luigi - KHARTOUM
23. Fr. Felix Paul Neri Augustine - LONDON PROVINCE
24. Fr. Casagrande Luigi - MALAWI-ZAMBIA
25. Fr. González Ponce Rafael - MÉXICO
26. Fr. Robol Massimo - MOÇAMBIQUE
27. Fr. Gasparini Luigi - NORTH AMERICAN PROVINCE
28. Fr. Bustos Juárez Rogelio - PERÚ-CHILE
29. Fr. Manuel Alves Pinheiro de Carvalho - PORTUGAL
30. Fr. Singer Benno - SOUTH AFRICA
31. Fr. Perina Luciano - SOUTH SUDAN
32. Fr. Ruiz Molina Jesús - TCHAD
33. Fr. Manuel João Pereira Correia - TOGO-GHANA-BENIN
34. Fr. Filippi Giuseppe - UGANDA
V. SUPERIORS OF DELEGATIONS
35. Fr. Glenday David Kinnear - ASIA
36. Fr. Girau Pellicer José Antonio - COLOMBIA
37. Fr. Sánchez González Enrique - CENTRO AMERICA
38. Fr. Lurati Claudio - EGYPTE
39. Fr. Sebhatleab Ayele Tesemma – ERITREA
VI. REPRESENTING THE SUPERIOR GENERAL
40. Fr. Torres Gómez Manuel Ramón - POLSKA
VII. REPRESENTATIVES OF THE BROTHERS
41. Bro. Cruz Reyes Joel - AMERICA-ASIA
42. Bro. Eigner Johann - EUROPA
43. Bro. Della Monica Simone - EUROPA
44. Bro. Parise Alberto - AFRICA
I. FACILITATORS FOR THE FIRST DAYS
1. Fr. Glenday David Kinnear (A)
2. Fr. Sánchez González Enrique (DCA)
1. Fr. Prandina Piergiorgio (C)
2. Fr. García Castillo Jorge Oscar (M)
3. Fr. Guarino Domenico (M)
1. Fr. Valdovinos Valencia Juan Manuel (M)
2. Fr. Pescantini Umberto (C)
3. Fr. Giuseppe Sandri (C)
IV. INVITED (to help for the Ratio Missionis and for press releases in Spanish and French)
1. Fr. Rosich Vargas Enrique Javier (C)
Total of those present at the Assembly: 45 participants
50 people (including the facilitator and Fr. González Ponce Rafael)
Sunday, September 3
The Intercapitular Assembly opened at 11am on Sunday September 3 with brief meeting with Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello, papal nuncio in Mexico. Archbishop is a long-standing friend of the Comboni Missionaries, having previously served in various countries of Africa such as the Sudan, Rwanda, Togo, Ghana and Benin. He offered us a brief description of the delicate situation presently affecting Mexican society as a result of the recent presidential elections, the results of which are contested by the opposition, and of how the Church is responding to these events.
He then presided at the celebration of the Mass in the open air under a wide awning: the Mass was concelebrated by the priest members of the Intercapitular Assembly along with confreres from the communities of Mexico City, and was attended by a large group of friends from Xochimilco and beyond.
At the end of the Mass Father General explained how the Comboni Missionaries gathered during the weeks ahead would be engaged in real missionary activity and asked all those present to pray every day for the Intercapitular so that the participants would be pen to what God wanted of them.
The Assembly opened in a more official manner later in the afternoon, with words of welcome from Father Rafael Gonzalez Ponce, the provincial of Mexico, and an introductory talk from Father General. After underlining the importance of the moment that we were beginning, Father Serra described it with five images: bridge (between the Institute and the Mission Dei), cross (accepting the difficulties), heart (discovering all the good that exists in the Institute), well (a time to rest and meet the Lord) and boat (trusting in the Lord and sailing out into deep waters).
Next came some words of introduction from each of the participants, with many taking the opportunity to express the hopes and expectations they had brought with them to the Intercapitular. Fathers Claudio Lurati, Enrique Sanchez and Laureano Rojo Buxonat were then elected as moderators, each representing a continent, and other confreres were chosen to serve in the liturgical and recreational groups and in the press committee. The day ended with the approval of the daily timetable.
Monday September 4
The morning was led by Father Camlo Maccise, former Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, and an expert in Scripture and the religious life. He helped us to understand the situation of religious life in the Latin American context. He spoke first of the history of consecrated life in the continent and went on to describe the present situation and the challenges for the future.
He pointed out that we are living a time of deep crisis (where crisis stands for judgment, purification and decision). To describe the situation he used two images: exodus (a journey towards liberation through a time of uncertainty) and exile (very much what we are living today, a long period when we can sometimes feel that God is absent and where a sense of insecurity draws us to depend solely on God and not on other things. In actual fact, religious life has passed from a time when it enjoyed considerable prestige, leadership and security regarding the future, to a time when everything seems provisional, where the sense of identity has grown weak, there are fewer vocations and we are all but obliged to search for what is essential to our lives.
Father Maccise’s talk was followed by a time for questions during which he underlined the necessity of a good selection of candidates given that they will have to be people capable of living through difficult times and when he also spoke of the possible tension between mission and consecration, of the relationship between religious life and the ecclesial movements, and of religious life as prophecy.
In the afternoon Father General presented the report of the General Council. He began by thanking the provincials and delegates for their cooperation in the government of the Institute and he once again insisted that the Assembly should be characterized by an attitude of listening: to God, who has much to say to us; to Comboni (creative fidelity) and to each other. He summarized the journey of the last three years by reference to a series of priorities: spirituality (moving from doing to being), the imbalance between personnel and commitments, the necessity of providing a good formation which prepares for a difficult and demanding mission, the process of the Ratio Missionis (which invites us to conversion through a deep re-reading of our identity and methodologies), the service of authority (exercised after the style of Jesus).
He concluded with the words of Comboni that “the finger of God is here” in this moment of grace. At the end of his talk he presented each of the participants with a cross bearing the words: Duc in altum.
There followed a time for questions and exchange during which thanks were offered to Father General for calling a spade a spade. Several of those who spoke underlined the need for a deep transformation in the Institute which would not be merely the whim of a few but a real need arising from the grass-roots as well as the necessity of a plan for the future of the Institute which would help us to establish priorities in view of redesigning our various presences and requalifying our commitments in an overall manner. The day ended with a time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Tuesday September 5
The day was given over to the reports of the Secretaries General. The first to speak was Fr Umberto Pescantini, secretary general of Mission Animation. He used a power point presentation to summarize the activities of the Secretariat in the last three years. Highlights: the preparation for the Canonization, the setting up of the comboni.org website, the continental councils and assemblies and the courses for mission animators. Regarding the Comboni Lay Missionaries he pointed out that at present there are about forty such missionaries at work. After mentioning the various successes and failures in this area – he recalled the disappearance of the “Juntos/Together” newsletter – he opined that difficulties persist regarding the identity and financial independence of the Comboni Lay Missionaries.
Father Fernando Zolli, secretary general of Evangelization, indicated the points on which his secretariat had worked during the past three years. Among them all special emphasis should be given to the process of the Ratio Missionis: a helpful journey of renewal and, at the same time, a time for deep reflection on all aspects of our life. The novelty of this process is that we have got down to work together to reach also together a goal: a missionary Plan for our Institute which responds to the challenges of our times.
Fr Zolli insisted on the importance today of networking and of becoming more involved as an Institute in justice, peace and the integrity of creation and in those organizations to which we belong and which can lobby at the UN (VIVAT) or in Brussels (AEFJN).
The morning concluded with the presence of Bishop Samuel Ruiz, emeritus bishop of Chiapas who spoke to us of the religious life. We had been hoping that he would share his rich experience of inculturated ministry among the indigenous peoples, but we had to make do with just a brief reference to this in answer to a question from one of the participants. Bishop Ruiz presided at the Mass and lunched with us.
In the afternoon Father Alessandro Guarda, treasurer general, gave his report. He did not refer specifically to the Institute’s accounts, but preferred to deal with various aspects of our missionary witness: finance and mission in community (our finances are truly for the mission when this aspect of our life is lived in community); the Common Fund (this is not a way to have more money, but to change our perspective and te way we live and think about mission); ethics and transparency (no one should be left on his own in the economic field, not because of a lack of trust, but rather to favor corresponsability); he insisted on the need of training treasurers.
Wednesday September 6
The morning was once again given over to reports from the secretaries. Father Girolamo Miante, secretary general for vocation promotion and first formation, insisted on the following points: the preparation and ongoing formation of the formators and vocation promoters, the corresponsability of all in the formation of our candidates through the witness given, the importance of community in formation, the professional formation of the brothers. He said that the process of the Ratio Missionis is, in his opinion, the first response to be iven to the lack of vocations, in the measure that we revive our identity and sense of belonging we will give witness of a vocation which it is worth living.
Father Danilo Cimitan, coordinator of ongoing formation, spoke of how the process of the Ratio Missionis had placed the Institute in an attitude of ongoing formation giving greater importance to being rather than doing in our missionary life. He underlined the importance of an attitude of respect and love towards confreres who may be passing through a time or situation of personal difficulty and advised against the use of terms such as “special cases”. From his long experience in this field he insisted on the necessity of receiving our wounded confreres with patience and affection.
The last to speak was Father Joseph Sandri, secretary general, who once again underlined the importance of drawing up the various official documents such as minutes with precision and clarity, of maintaining updated archives and of collaborating with the Institute’s various publications (Familia Comboniana, MCCJ Bulletin, etc). Several participants spoke to express the appreciation of all for Fr Sandri’s fidelity and efficiency in his somewhat thankless task.
The Eucharist had been prepared by the provincials of Europe and was marked by a special remembrance of the ordination anniversaries of Fr Rafael Gonzalez (26 years) and Fr Jose Girau (31 years).
The afternoon was given over to work in continental groups for the preparation of the continental reports.
Thursday September 7
A proposal to make a change to the agenda was accepted by the assembly: instead of giving time to the presentation of brief reports from each of the individual circumscriptions it was agreed to dedicate more time to a reflection on some of the points raised by the Superior General in his presentation of the General Council’s report. Among these points were the following: a tendency in the Institute to avoid difficult missions; how to respond to a certain mediocrity gaining ground in the Institute; corresponsibility and style of government; the missionary Plan for the Institute promoted by the Ratio Missionis.
Father General first spoke in order further to explain and clarify what he had said. Regarding difficult missions, he said that the mission given us by Jesus is absurd from the human point of view, full of difficulties and dangers, and we have to face it traveling light, placing our trust in the strength of the Spirit and not in things. In the end, our mission is not an excursion but a struggle… He then spoke of the “signs of the places” and said that to speak simply of the “poorest and most abandoned” is a commonplace used by nearly all religious Congregations. Our specific mission has to do with going to places where no one else wants to go: in certain areas of Africa, for example; and we should leave without delay those places where our service is little more than that of diocesan priests.
He also said that when our style of life is distant from what we proclaim this inconsistency cancels the words our lips pronounce. The Institute in this regard has moved in the direction of a privileged life style (comfortable houses where nothing is lacking, regular vacations like the rich, the best of medical care, frequent absence from the place of work, etc). Another aspect touched upon by the Superior General was the fact that very often we are engaged in dealing with coping with emergencies which arise in the life of the Institute; we need to take time to stop and refresh ourselves spiritually to see if what we are doing is adequate, since the Institute today is not what it was before: there is new blood and there are new expectations. To respond to mediocrity, we need to favor a group-spirituality, to create groups which act as leaven, favoring encounters for ongoing formation both among ourselves and also in cooperation with other Institutes.
Regarding the government of the Institute, Father General said hat we need to govern together. Hence, corresponsibility and cooperation, and avoiding referring to Rome whatever “hot potato” comes along. He concluded asking: what are the priorities we can carry forward with the resources we have at our disposal?
Friday September 8
The day was given over to the reports of the continents. The first report was presented by the provincials of English-speaking Africa who began by describing the socio-political and economic situation of the sub-continent. They gave us good news such as the fact of recent elections (more or less transparent) which had taken place in various countries, peace agreements, some progress in the economic field. They did not hide however the problematic aspects: widespread corruption or dictators causing the suffering of their people, and they also spoke of the future. In this regard, Father Giuseppe Filippi briefly presented Uganda’s plan for the requalification of its commitments in the coming years with the expectation that the number of confreres working in Uganda is bound to decrease. He insisted that all renewal must begin from the Spirit and hence needs a strong spiritual foundation and the acceptance that we have to work together with others, like Comboni.
During the Mass we remembered especially the 32nd anniversary of the first profession of Fathers Laureano Rojo Buxonat and Enrique Javier Rosich Vargas.
The afternoon began with the report from Europe. Without denying the positive aspects (in some ways, missionaries present an aspect of the Church which people in this secularized situation are able to appreciate; the Churches need the mission ad gentes to renew themselves), the European provincials were not afraid to call things by their name. They posed a number of pertinent questions: what is our response as exclusively ad gentes Institutes in Europe today? In the Local Churches are we guests or full members? Why is there a continuous increase in the number of confreres in difficulty? Why is there so much resistance to returning to work in the provinces of origin?
The next report came from the provincials of French-speaking Africa, who presented how they had worked together in this sub-continent (the process of the Ratio Missionis, first formation, ongoing formation, justice and peace, common fund…). They shared their conviction that in the future it will be necessary to find ways of lightening provincial structures (for example, considering only one treasurer for the whole region, a single province with four regions, unified formation structures). Other proposals they made were: an overall missionary strategy for the Institute, greater corresponsibility in government (consultation for the appointment of the secretaries general and formators of scholasticates…).
Saturday September 9 and Sunday September 10
On Saturday afternoon we went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Archbishop of Mexico City, presided at the celebration of the Eucharist. In his homily he encouraged us in our missionary work and asked for the strength of the Spirit for the Intercapitular Assembly.
On Sunday we visited the pyramids of Teotihuacan: the place where, according to the Aztecs, “men become gods”. In fact, the size of the place and the balance of precision of the various structures is truly impressive, witnessing to Mexico’s long and rich cultural history.
Monday September 11 and Tuesday September 12
Monday morning was given over to beginning a review, both in language groups and plenary, of the implementation of the 2003 Chapter Acts. After lunch, the Assembly began its work on the Ratio Missionis, hearing reports from the team in charge as well as from the continents. Various dynamics were also roposed as an introduction to the next stage of the Ratio process.
All the various reports presented from the beginning of the Assembly had given rise to various questions and proposals, and some members of the Intercapitular felt that it was time to stop and consider how these questions might be answered during the Assembly. As a consequence, on Tuesday afternoon there was a pause in the agenda to allow clarifications regarding this. The various points made were noted by the co-ordinating commission and General Council and some adjustments were made to the agenda.
The Assembly then moved to offer its evaluation on the Ratio process so far as well as to complete its consideration of the implementation of the 2003 Chapter.
Celebration – and mourning
On the evening of September 15 we celebrated the independence of Mexico with a full-blown Mexican supper, with music provided by the postulants and with the famous “cry” led by Fr Rafael Gonzalez. Mexico’s national day together with the Sunday which followed presented us with a weekend of relaxation, welcome enough after five days of sitting and intense dialogue.
However, when we began to return to Xochimilco on Sunday afternoon, we were taken aback by the news of the death of Bishop Franco Masserdotti in Balsas. Those who had known him personally spoke of him as a man with a human touch, a great sense of humor and always in search of a truly missionary, Comboni spirituality; needless to say, we wondered what God might have to say to our Institute through this sad event. The two provincials from Brazil, Fathers Luigi Codianni and Giovanni Munari, will leave Mexico on Wednesday evening September 20 to be able to take part in a memorial Mass for Bishop Masserdotti this coming Saturday.
The home stretch
We have now begun the final week of the Assembly; it is time to think about leaning. Father Teresino explained how our formative system is in crisis, and illustrated the seriousness of the situation with several examples. The time has come to intervene with a “surgical knife” wherever this might be necessary.
We discussed the proposals of the commission for first formation. In the Assembly the majority agreed in affirming that structural changes, even though probably necessary, will be of little help without a true personal and community renewal in the Institute. In the end, it is life and mission which form and staying too long in artificial structures can easily be counterproductive. At times we give the impression of being more concerned about quantity than quality and run the risk of “formative paternalism”, i.e. much permissiveness and little challenge.
In the ongoing discussion of the commission’s proposals, some consensus seemed to emerge regarding the idea of making the scholasticates and CBCs basically continental as well as the advisability of having a period of missionary experience at some point after the novitiate.
Developments in first formation
As mentioned in Release 5, the assembly gave its substantial support to some of the proposals of the commission for the revision of our first formation and encouraged it to continue in its work. As a contribution to the ongoing reflection in view of decisions to be taken by the General Council, various suggestions were aired in the assembly, for example: that the periods of apostolic activity during the novitiate should be more challenging so as to lead to deeper reflection and a deeper compassion for those who suffer; that the longer period of missionary experience to be inserted into the formative journey should be placed immediately after the novitiate and before the study of theology so as to facilitate the learning of necessary languages and impinge upon the theological studies; to have small groups of two or three scholastics living with Comboni communities during the time of theological study; a more rigorous evaluation of the scholastics after the first two years of the scholasticate so as to assess the formative journey, especially the impact of inculturation; to evaluate the “scholasticates of the South” so as to avoid their becoming “Northern islands transplanted to the souther hemisphere”.
As the Assembly has progressed, it has become more common to hear interventions underlining the need for a shared concern and common vision on the part of all for the good of the whole Institute. Various proposals have emerged with the purpose of joining forces, beginning to think beyond the limits of one’s own circumscription, and seeking a shared fidelity to the Comboni charism.
A strong desire is felt of having a missionary Plan for the whole Institute so as to allow priorities which concern all to emerge, this in its turn leading to shared decisions on the investment of personnel, as well as on what decisions must be taken urgently so that the whole Institute can journey in the right direction. There is a deep felt wish to face situations of stagnation and impasse out of love for the Institute and its renewal.
The final days of the Assembly have been given over to a consideration of some points which had emerged frequently in our discussions but for which time had not at first been budgeted in the agenda. The principal of these were: corresponsibility and the style of government in the Institute, an overall vision of the Institute and a common missionary Plan, and the criteria for choosing areas of work. We also discussed the Common Fund, some new proposals about the Comboni Brother and the 2009 General Chapter.
We considered what are the essential elements of our common Comboni vision which would help us to formulate a missionary Plan for the Institute. We indicated values that derive from Comboni spirituality and which found our identity and activity. There is still some way to go in this, but there is no doubt that Ratio Missionis will help us to focus on this overall vision of the Institute.
Regarding the criteria for choosing fields of work we need to ask: where is mission happening today? To invest personnel there, we need to know how to leave other things. We can’t do everything, but we need to have the courage to choose a limited number of ad gentes challenges so as to be more efficacious.
Regarding the Common Fund it was said that it is a help in the direction of a shared mission, where there is an agreement on dialogue, sharing and applying a more rigorous methodology. It also requires treasurers capable of making the system of the common fund work.
The Assembly agreed that the next General Chapter in 2009 should be “special” to respond to the changes we are living through. Clearly, the Ratio Missionis will also contribute to this process.
The common denominator of all these themes is, in the first place, a serious desire for renewal and then the will to act in unison. There are so many challenges and they are so complex hat good intentions are not enough; we need to be courageous and take appropriate decisions together.
On Sunday September 24 we will conclude the Assembly with the Eucharist, giving thanks for everything we have lived and received, this experience of grace.