It is good to look at the General Chapter as at a new Pentecost from which to come out like the apostles, namely as witnesses!
“The Spirit of truth will lead you to the complete truth
and tell you of the things to come” (Jn 16:13)
In a year’s time we will be celebrating the XVII General Chapter. In the meantime, the different commissions are already at work. In truth, the preparation of a Chapter should begin the day the previous Chapter ended. It is from that day, in fact, that the journey of fidelity and commitment begins in order to implement the orientations of that Chapter for the good of the Mission and in view of the next Chapter. A General Chapter, obviously, is not just a human organisational event. Comboni reminds us that as “the Institute is the work of God, it is with God that we have to deal for every small or large matter about the Mission and the Institute” (see W 3615). In order that a General Chapter may then be an event of the Spirit, God has to take the first place, while the Chapter delegates have to be in a listening attitude to God’s word and to the Founder’s inspirations.
1. Preparation. A General Chapter can be said to be successful only in the measure it has been well prepared. And it is not simply a matter of technical preparation – which is also important – but of preparation of the minds and hearts for which all the members of the Institute must feel responsible. The General Chapter is not “something” for the elected delegates, but a missionary event for the entire Institute. The Chapter members are “delegates” who exercise their function in the name of the whole Institute. A Chapter is a deeply community act because it expresses the life of all the confreres, of all the communities and circumscriptions of the Institute.
2. Listening. In the case of a General Chapter an Institute places itself in an attitude of listening. The very same Spirit who spoke to the Founder continues to speak to the heart of each member of the Institute and to question them in their concrete and different situations. It is important, then, that a General Chapter, in its preparation as well as in its realisation, gives voice to all that is being experienced in the Institute and the Mission. Listening, moreover, means mutual enrichment. It is perfectly normal that, during a Chapter, different perceptions and tendencies are displayed. Chapter delegates with experience in Asia, for instance, would not necessarily have the same views as those who come from America; African confreres might find the “problems of religious life” experienced by European confreres rather artificial. A Chapter delegate, who has always been a professor or a secretary, may not have the same reading of a local situation and of its needs as a confrere who lives in a slum area. But such diversity and complementarity in perception means richness to a General Chapter. The challenge does not consist in making tensions or diversities disappear, but in experiencing them as providential and generating light, inspiration and grace for the Mission.
3. Participation. We have already said it but say it again: A Chapter will have no impact unless it is accepted and celebrated by all the members of the Institute. Generally speaking, it will be accepted only so far as all the confreres had the opportunity to actively participate in its preparation and celebration. From a General Chapter, an Institute must come out newly evangelised and renewed, namely, again and solidly founded on Christ, the corner stone, and on Comboni, the founder of the Comboni spirituality. And it is good to look at the General Chapter as at a new Pentecost from which to come out like the apostles, namely as witnesses!
4. Prayer. We all desire that during our General Chapter the very experience of Pentecost, which launched the apostles and the entire Cenacle towards the Mission, may be repeated. The General Chapter summons us to take a risk based on faith, so that we may walk by the unexpected ways of the Spirit.
It will certainly be an experience of Pentecost if we allow the wisdom of the Spirit to make res novae, new things according to God’s will and for the good of the Comboni mission. And, for the good of the Comboni mission, we hope that every confrere, every community and every circumscription will prepare themselves for the General Chapter by frequent prayer. In the last meeting with the Provincials and Delegates in Rome at the end of February and beginning of March 2008, we suggested a community prayer for the General Chapter 2009. We propose it again:
Father, we praise and we bless You
for choosing Daniel Comboni
to be the apostle and witness of your love
for the peoples of Africa.
Bless our desire to carry forward
the mission you first entrusted to him.
Open our hearts,
as we commit ourselves
to a deeper understanding
of the mission to which you have called us.
Guide our steps,
as we follow our Founder
in sharing the love with which
you call us to be Comboni Missionaries.
Send Your Spirit upon us,
to make us able of taking on
the new challenges of mission
with courage and creativity, so that
your Kingdom may come in the world today.
We ask this through Christ Jesus,
the Good Shepherd. Amen.
May the Good Shepherd and St. Daniel Comboni accompany us.
On behalf of the General Council,
Fr. Teresino Serra
14 September 2008
Exaltation of the Holy Cross