Unity in Diversity

1
140

Communicanda – 1991-1997

Communicanda 2

Rome, January 14, 1994
Prot N. 0007/94

Dear Confreres,

  1. More than two years have passed since the XXI General Chapter. During that time the General Council has joined the Congregation in reflection on the conclusions of that moment of grace. Together with all of you, we have sought to apply the contents of the Final Document to our service of the Congregation, both in Rome as well as during our presence in the (Vice) Provinces and Regions.
  2. We have already offered you our first reflections on the theme proposed for the present sexennium. [1] During our visits we have listened to the experience of different units of the Congregation. We have continued to study the implications of the theme for the day to day living in our own community in Rome. We believe it is time to share our thoughts with you once again.
  3. We observe that the past decades have witnessed a growth in appreciation for the great diversity in the life of our Congregation. The decentralization of our government, the rise of regional cooperation, and the freedom given to local units to attune their apostolic methods and community lifestyles to the cultural demands of their people, have all served to further root the Congregation in the local church and civil society.
  4. The principle of inculturation received strong endorsement by the last General Chapter (Final Document, [2] 13-21) and by the first Communicanda of the present General Government (3.1–3.9). We believe that inculturation is a proper response to the signs of the times and a challenge to the creativity of today’s Redemptorist missionary.
  5. However, we wonder if it is not now time to reflect on what should unite Redemptorists, no matter what their cultural ambient or particular apostolic methods. The question of the unity of the Congregation was certainly put to us by the last General Chapter: “We ask the General Government to pursue this unifying factor of our evangelical dynamism, while respecting legitimate pluralism in pastoral methods” (FD, 14).
  6. In response to this challenge we wish to acknowledge the diversity of Redemptorists, while at the same time promoting what is essential for our apostolic life and working always to safeguard the unity of the Congregation (General Statute [3]0120). Without a clear appreciation of what must unite us, we will risk an unconscious slide into becoming a loose federation of autonomous units and independent monasteries, thereby sacrificing the powerful witness of a world-wide religious congregation that finds unity in the midst of its diversity.
  7. We begin this reflection with a consideration of pluralism in the Congregation and how that pluralism is endorsed, as well as some difficult challenges posed by it. We then propose to offer what we consider to be the basis for our animation of the Congregation: elements of that “unifying principle of our evangelical dynamism”. We ask you to consider seriously these elements, for they constitute the message we wish to carry to all the units of the Congregation and we believe that they can further clarify the identity of all Redemptorists today.

I. Pluralism in the Congregation

8. There is no doubt that the Congregation finds itself spread over an immense geographic area embracing many and varied cultures (FD, 14). Practically every month editions ofCommunicationes and Informationes highlight the vast spectrum of ecclesial, economic, social and political situations in which we Redemptorists find ourselves. General Chapters and other international meetings remind us of the strikingly different portions of the world in which we Redemptorists live and work.

9. The plurality of cultures that we see throughout the Congregation can also be present in a single country (FD, 14), or even a single Province. In the same region the birth rate among some population groups declines, while increasing dramatically among others. The migration of peoples as well as the influx of refugees can suddenly change the face of a single unit of the Congregation. Confreres of the same Province often find themselves ministering in totally different cultural environments.

10. Over the last two decades the effort towards the formulation of pastoral priorities has reflected the pluralism within the Congregation. We have recognized the diversity and plurality of human and ecclesial situations in the various regions (FD, 3). We admit that Redemptorists are moved by the powerful cultural and social movements of our times (FD, 18). It is apparent to us that very different situations call for various and creative responses from us. In his report to the last General Chapter, the Superior General judged that a healthy pluralism of pastoral “urgencies” was a motive for hope in the apostolic life of the Congregation. [4]

11. Furthermore, while there once was a significant degree of uniformity in the community lifestyles of Redemptorists throughout the world, this is no longer so. The order of (he day, manner of dress, forms of community prayer, and other similar indicators of a common Redemptorist identity now vary widely from one area of the globe to the next.

Pluralism is Endorsed

  1. It is apparent that our Constitutions and Statutes encourage Redemptorists to be flexible in carrying out their mission. Our actual circumstances should determine our response: “According to the situations in which they find themselves, they should eagerly try to discover what they should say or do” (Constitution [5] 8). Pluralism is recognized in the people to be evangelized (GS 010-015) and the possible forms that evangelization may take (GS 016-024). There is no doubt that our proper law envisions a variety of missionary responses to particular situations as a valid, even necessary, expression of the Redemptorist charism.
  2. The organization of our local communities should reflect the diversity of the Redemptorist world: “Local norms should be capable of being modified according to what the Church, circumstances of time and place, and the particular culture and character of a nation require” (C 44; cf. GS 041). Even the forms for living our vows take into consideration cultural differences (GS 044-047, 048a),
  3. The general principles of government in the Congregation have dismantled the overly centralized and vertical structure of the past, in the hope of giving “apostolic value to the norms ratified in the constitutions and statutes” (C 91). The five fundamental principles of co-responsibility, decentralization, subsidiarity, solidarity, an4 flexibility (C 92-96) provide ample space for a variety of expressions of the Redemptorist apostolic charism. Furthermore, the General Chapter is advised to choose the General Council so that the entire Congregation is in some way reflected in the General Government (GS 0124).
  4. Pluralism in the life and mission of the Congregation was endorsed during the regional meetings which preceded the most recent General Chapter. One Region noted as a positive development in Redemptorist community life a greater tolerance of differences and acceptance of pluralism in lifestyles. [6] Several Regions recognized the importance of reflecting the particularity of their mission in the way they structure experiences of first formation. [7]
  5. Another Region saw the pluralism within the Congregation as a potential source for our enrichment:

But we must recognize among ourselves different ways of understanding the mission, the Church, the activity of the laity, the option for the poor, etc. That is to say that we are moving under the influence of different ecclesiologies or visions of the Church. That could enrich us in our being and in our actions. [8]

  1. The XXI General Chapter, in proposing its own goal, affirmed the value of the present pluralism in the Congregation:

The major concern of the Chapter is to foster the good of the whole Congregation. The Chapter seeks to promote what is essential for our apostolic life while positively acknowledging the diversity and plurality of human and ecclesial situations in the various regions (FD, 3).

The concern of the Chapter for the principle of inculturation presumes the variety of situations in which the Congregation presently finds itself and calls for missionary responses that are acutely sensitive to the particular circumstances (cf. FD, 13-21).

Several of the Chapter’s recommendations in two areas of particular interest, youth ministry and collaboration with laity, advised sensitivity to the nuances of the local culture (FD, 56d, 59d).

  1. The General Chapter underscored the variety of forms in the community life of Redemptorists: “The Redemptorist community adopts many and varied forms in accord with the socio-cultural pluralism in which the Congregation lives” (FD, 29). It also strongly recommended to the whole Congregation that its search for new forms of a genuine Redemptorist spirituality take into account the social and ecclesial reality of each unit (FD, 34c).
  2. Our initial study of the Final Document led us to affirm that:

This diversity in the Congregation between continents, which is even expressed by different rites, is good and even necessary. It is a sign that we are in communion with the peoples to whom we belong. It reflects the Catholicism of the Church present in diverse cultures. It is an appeal to each one to be open in heart and soul to the Spirit who is present in all the continents (Communicanda 1, 4.1).

  1. Our judgment on the value of the importance of inculturation for our apostolic activity, community life and spirituality, also received extensive discussion in Communicanda 1 (3.1–3.9).
  2. However, our appreciation for the diversity for the Congregation is not simply theoretical. We have a daily experience of both the richness and the challenges offered by the task of building an apostolic community whose members each come from a different culture, have had quite diverse theological formation, as well as a variety of apostolic experiences. Our continuing commitment to grow together in our Redemptorist vocation is itself an endorsement of pluralism in the Congregation.

Pluralism Presents Serious Challenges

  1. The diversity of situations and the plurality of responses in the Congregation is not an unmixed blessing. It was a source of great concern for the General Chapter, as well as for the present General Council.

The General Chapter offers this analysis of the problem:

The Chapter acknowledges that there is presently a marked gap in understanding and appreciation between Regions, especially when their respective concrete situations are discussed. Some Regions, for example, find it difficult to understand the motivation and consequences of the option for the poor, while other Regions can hardly understand and feel what it is like to continue to believe in the Gospel in a secularized world. For this reason there is a tendency for one Region to judge another without sufficient understanding (FD, 9).

  1. We share the concern of our immediate predecessors on the General Council, who commented on the apparently divisive effect of the theme of the previous sexennium among the various Regions of the Congregation. [9] Reactions to the theme threatened to widen a gap in the Congregation along ideological lines.
  2. There is also a type of pluralism widespread in the Congregation that is really a sort of dichotomy that juxtaposes pastoral activity against community life. As the Superior General reported to the last General Chapter:

At times it appears to me that some models of community life say nothing to the world of today. The daily living of our religious consecration as a mission, the acceptance of our religious vows as a way of consecration in the context of the present society and the unfolding of the transcendental dimension of our whole life show serious weaknesses…

We put much more effort into renewing our activities than in renewing our community. [10]

  1. It has been reported that pluralism within a single Region challenges efforts toward collaboration:

It is difficult to arrange common programs involving various units because of the great distances within our region and also because of the diversity of languages, cultures and attitudes of national governments. [11]

  1. It is understandable that tensions within the local Church or among countries of the same region affect the Congregation.[12] But the presence of such tensions within the units of the same Region can have a debilitating effect:

But we must recognize among ourselves different ways of understanding the mission, the Church, the activity of the laity, the option for the poor, etc…not to have a minimal agreement in our way of thinking, leads us to isolated and parallel apostolates which destroy rather than build up the Kingdom of God. [13]

  1. The meeting of different cultures within the same Region may provoke misunderstanding:

There were, inevitably, some concerns which created occasional uncertainties in our meeting, for example, what was seen by some as the negative influence of the Western world on religious life in Eastern Europe. [14]

  1. Finally, it is no secret that several of the Regions struggled to understand and implement the general theme of the last sexennium. As one Region expressed it:

A lack of precision in the sexennial theme gave rise to different interpretations among us, and the continuing debate on “who are the poor” created some further difficulties for us. In part, we have found it difficult to understand the sexennial theme because we are not often living among and with the poor. [15]

  1. Our experience of the Congregation demonstrates to us that the diversity of situations, attitudes and responses that create tensions at the regional level are often found in individual units and even local communities. There are truly diverse cultures within a Province, created by differences in age and theological formation, as well as opposing visions of the Church and the Congregation. There is the continuing debate over the recipients of our evangelization, as well as its appropriate forms. Some confreres clamor for new apostolic initiatives, while others cling steadfastly to present commitments. There are radically different expectations expressed for community life, for common prayer, for the exercise of co-responsibility.
  2. The challenge presented by pluralism in its most extreme form is that of individualism. By this we do not speak of the high esteem that must be given to each confrere and the concern the community must have for the growth in maturity and responsibility of each of our members (C 36). We refer, rather, to the situation in not a few units where a significant number of confreres are practically autonomous, each pursuing his own wishes. The consequences of this attitude are truly ruinous: pastoral priorities of many units remain unfulfilled; local communities become boarding houses; our identity as Redemptorists disappears; young people are unable to sense in us any sort of agreement or common purpose.

II. The Unity of the Congregation

31. A great deal of reflection has been made on the pluralism of our Redemptorist apostolic community, how it is “incarnated” in the various regions of the world. We now ask ourselves: can there be common elements in our animation of the Congregation? We believe that there are. First of all, we sense that there are characteristics that distinguish Redemptorists throughout the world today. It is possible to paint a sort of informal “portrait” of Redemptorists, highlighting our peculiar approach to our pastoral service, the people we serve, our community life, and some elements of our spirituality.

A Redemptorist Portrait

  1. The purpose of our Congregation is “to follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the word of God to the poor” (C 1). Preaching the word of God has been a hallmark of Redemptorists since the very beginning and we have jealously guarded this legacy. Whether the particular context be parish missions, retreats or other spiritual exercises, or a homily at a Sunday Eucharist, the zeal we bring to the task as well as the simplicity of our style seem to distinguish Redemptorists in all parts of the world. We often seek to be very flexible in searching for new and more adequate methods in presenting the revelation of God.
  2. Redemptorists display a preference for ordinary people, especially for those whom we have traditionally named “the poor and the most abandoned”. We still want to go where the institutional Church cannot or will not venture. We strive to be close to our people and generally display a high degree of sensitivity to their popular forms of expressing their faith.
  3. Community life is highly prized among us. More than a requirement of our proper law (C, 21), it is so basic to our self-understanding that even when our community life is seriously deficient or practically non-existent we are troubled by the absence of something we perceive as absolutely vital.

We esteem a family spirit in our communities, we love our celebrations, and we are practically indefatigable in story-telling that unites a particular community with the wider family of confreres that have gone before us.

  1. Redemptorists generally eschew esoteric or arcane forms of spirituality, preferring methods of personal and common prayer that are more familiar to the people we serve. In the quest for renewal in our common prayer we try to maintain a spirituality that is centered on Christ the Redeemer, with a special love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  2. These are some characteristics common to us Redemptorists today, no matter how different are the circumstances in which we live and work. We sense that such distinguishing marks of Redemptorists, which we believe to be our heritage from the foundational insights of Saint Alphonsus, are in danger of becoming obscure or even lost, perhaps irretrievably so. Because of some of the factors cited in the first sections of this communicanda and for many other reasons as well, we believe that vital aspects of our identity as Redemptorists are threatened.

The Theme of the Sexennium and Coherency

  1. We feel that this same concern motivated the members of the XXI General Chapter when they proposed the theme for this sexennium. We have chosen to find the foundation for our inspiration and our stimulus of the Congregation in the interpretation of this theme:

In accord with the theme of the sexennium, the Chapter asks to underscore the interconnection between the tasks of evangelization, community Life and the spirituality proper to the Congregation; as well as the need to incarnate this three-fold dimension of our life in historical forms which express the option of the Congregation for the most abandoned and especially the poor (FD, 12).

  1. We believe that a key word to understand the theme iscoherency. Simply stated, the theme teaches us that there are three necessary elements of our identity as Redemptorists and there ought to exist a vital interconnection between them. Put another way, the absence of one or more of these elements destroys our Redemptorist identity; while we may arguably be fine religious or priests, we no longer are faithful to the legacy we have received. As we affirm that God is calling this General Council to promote a clear coherency between the three constitutive elements of our Redemptorist identity today, we also invite the (V)Provinces and each local community to consider the necessary interconnection in the three-fold dimension of our life.

Our Mission

  1. The point of departure for our animation is always the Redemptorist mission. We are called to “continue the presence of Christ and his mission of redemption in world” (C 23). Fidelity to that mission demands the establishing and implementation of apostolic priorities in every unit. In a given region, we must respond to those urgent pastoral needs which are consonant with our charism as it is expressed in our Constitutions and Statutes (cf especially C 3-5).
  2. It follows that not every apostolic endeavor, no matter how praiseworthy in itself, can be accepted as a valid expression of our missionary charism. Nor can the category “the most abandoned, especially the poor” be so broadened as to include every possible form of pastoral service. We Redemptorists cannot absolve ourselves from the often painful choices to be made.
  3. The priorities of each unit must be subjected to review and revision. This demands of us mobility and flexibility (cf. Mk 1: 38-39), as well as a spirit of detachment (distacco) from our past successes. Clinging to institutions or pastoral methods that no longer respond to contemporary situations seriously blunts our effectiveness.
  4. The missionary dynamism of our Congregation takes precedence over its juridic structures, including the present demarcation of Provinces and Vice-Provinces. In fact, new pastoral initiatives may be possible, even for ageing Provinces without a great number of candidates, provided they are open to the process of collaboration and restructuring to which the Final Document refers (FD, 62).

Our Community Life

  1. It is not enough simply to renew our work and make it more consonant with our charism. The last General Chapter reminds all Redemptorists that our community life and spirituality are not afterthoughts to our pastoral activity, but together with our particular dynamism form indispensable parts of our mission in the Church.

Each of our communities must feel challenged to be in itself a manifest proclamation of the Gospel, as well as an efficacious presence of the Reign of God in the midst of men and women (FD, 23).

  1. While there is a widespread desire to improve the human relations within our communities, we do not feel this effort to be the only criterion for our community life. We note that the pastoral activity of the first Redemptorists was tremendously enhanced by the witness of their community life. The preaching of Alphonsus and his companions was tremendously credible on account of the simplicity, the prayer, the austerity, and the openness of the first Redemptorist communities. There was a recognizable coherency between their pastoral activity and their community life. When the Final Document speaks of our community as an “efficacious presence of the Reign of God” as well as the “power of the community witness as a sign of the presence of the Kingdom” (FD, 23, 29), it reminds us of the vital relationship between our mission and our community life.

Our Spirituality

  1. In calling for a coherency that includes our own spirituality, the Chapter warns against a dangerous sort of dualism that would lead to attitudes unacceptable for Redemptorists (FD, 35). It calls us to discover a real consistency in our lives that is nothing less than a coherent integration of our faith and our personal and communal experience. The person of Christ the Redeemer connects our spirituality with our mission (FD, 36). We are called to work creatively in order to make our spirituality the “soul of our communities” (FD, 41).

In Summary

  1. We see the pluralism in our international religious family as a “sign of the times” that is absolutely necessary, but at the same time a source of concern. We feel that the search for the type of unity that both respects the particular human and ecclesial situations of Redemptorists today while fostering in us a faithfulness to our common legacy from Saint Alphonsus must begin and end with a real coherency among the constitutive elements of our vocation: our particular mission, our community life, and our spirituality. In a real sense, to the extent that individuals, local communities and (V)Provinces discover such coherency in themselves, to that extent will we remain united as a global religious congregation.

Conclusion

47    The elements we have chosen to highlight form our response to the “signs of the times”: what we have seen and heard in our Congregation, considered in the light of the word of God, our Constitutions and Statutes, the recent General Chapters, and the reflections of our predecessors. We recognize pluralism in our apostolic directions, expressions of community life, and spiritual paths. This is the work of the Spirit, who is the source of all gifts. But, we also feel called to underscore that which should unite all confreres in all parts of the world, elements of that “unifying factor of our evangelical dynamism, I while respecting legitimate pluralism in our pastoral methods” (FD, 14). We propose that this “unifying factor” is to be found in the sexennial theme, especially in its insistence on a real coherency in Redemptorist life today. In our animation of the (V)Provinces, we want to search with you for this coherency which is a clear sign of our faithfulness to the will of God for our Congregation.

In the name of the General Council,

Juan Manuel Lasso de la Vega, C.Ss.R.
Superior General

The English version is the official text of this Communicanda.

[1] Communicanda 1; Vitality and Essential Growth in Our “Apostolic Life”,Rome: 1 August 1992.

[2] Hereafter Final Document = FD.

[3] Hereafter General Statute = GS.

[4] Acta Integra Capituli Generalis XXI, (Roma: Curia Generalis C.Ss.R., 1992), p. 210.

[5] Hereafter Constitution = C.

[6] Meeting of the Asia-Oceania Region, 1.2.1e, in XXI Capitulum Generate: Reports of Regional Meetings, (Roma: Curia Generalis C.Ss.R., 1 June 1991), p. 8.

[7] Asia-Oceania Region, 2.3.3, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 13; North American Region, 1.2.3.c, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 17.

[8] Latin American Region, 2.2.6, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 25.

[9] General Council, Report on the State of the Congregation to the XXI General Chapter 1991, (Roma: Curia Generalis C.Ss.R., 1990), 2.3.10.1-2.3.10.2, pp. 19-20.

[10] Acta Integra Capituli Generalis XXI, (Roma: Curia Generalis C Ss R 1992) p. 213.

[11] Asia-Oceania Region, 1.4.2a, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 10.

[12] Latin American Region, 1.5.j, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 23.

[13] Latin American Region, 2.2.6, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 25.

[14] Europe-North Region, 1.1.5, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 40.

[15] Europe-North Region, 1.2.2e, Reports of Regional Meetings, p. 41.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email