Communicanda – 1985-1991
Rome, 30 March 1986
Reflections on the Major Theme
by the General Government
During the last several weeks the General Government “began a process of reflection on the Major Theme of the 1985 General Chapter. Even though our thoughts are still imperfect, we would like to present these to all of you and to invite you to share in this process of reflection.
- The Word of God
We began our process by reflecting on the text in St. Luke’s Gospel which is cited in Constitution 1:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”(Lk 4, 18-19)
Redemptorists should follow the example of Jesus. That is why it is important to pay attention to the preaching of Jesus about the poor.
Another important text for us was Luke’s account of the beatitudes:
“Jesus looked at his disciples and said:
Happy are you poor, the Kingdom of God is yours.
Happy are you who are hungry now; you will be filled.
Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh.
Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man. Be glad when that happens and dance for joy, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven. For their ancestors did the very same things to the prophets.
But how terrible for you who are rich now; you have had your easy life.
How terrible for you who are full now; you will go hungry.
How terrible for you who laugh now; you will mourn and weep.
How terrible when all men speak well of you; their ancestors said the very same things about the false prophets.”(Lk 6, 20-26)
We would not like to comment on these texts, but we invite you to pray and meditate on them and on other similar texts of the Gospel.
- The background to the choice of the Theme
2.1 The giving of a new form to the Constitutions and Statutes 1963-1979
During Vatican II and the years following it, much energy was spent by the Congregation in the composition of the new Constitutions and Statutes. This meant that the Confreres were very much taken up with particular problems and structures. For this reason, perhaps, not enough thought was given to determining the people to whom our apostolate should be directed. In any case the General Chapters grappled less with the task of defining the people to whom our preaching should be directed than with explicit evangelization (Const. 7-10) and with the community dimension of our life and work (Const. 21-22).
This was given expression in the catch-all inventory of: “The People to be Evangelized” in Statutes 09-015, and in a certain manner also in the very wide inventory of: “Forms of missionary work” in Statutes 016-024.
2.2 The determining of pastoral priorities and drawing up of (V)Provincial Statutes in the (V)Provinces 1979-1985
After the Constitutions and Statutes were dealt with by the General Chapter of 1979, the Provinces were obliged to come to terms with their own structures and organization in order to draw up the Provincial Statutes. At the same time they were obliged to produce their program of pastoral priorities which the General Chapter mandated. Both of these operations called for intensive self-examination in the Provinces. To that extent these deliberations in the Provinces were a continuation of the preceding General Chapter,
The planning of priorities brought with it a new factor: namely, the discussion of those to whom our apostolate should be directed and of the forms of our evangelization that could not be carried on in the wide-open and uncompromising manner in which they received expression in the said General Statutes. In the Provinces it became necessary to arrive at decisions for or against particular forms of pastoral practice.
It would be interesting to know now what basic reasons played a decisive role in the determining of priorities. It could be asked whether in some cases the capabilities of the available personnel, the traditions and experiences of the (V)Province, the existing activities, the location of houses, the requirements of the confreres and the special interests of the local Church counted for so much that the discussion about the people to whom our apostolate should be directed was only touched on in passing.
2.3 Involvement with the poor in practice
In some parts of the Congregation a direct and practical Involvement of the confreres in situations of physical poverty, of oppression, of injustice and of exploitation is taking place. For these confreres the question of those for whom they should work appears to be answered unequivocally, and the forms their evangelization ought to take are determined for them by this. These men are increasingly asking questions of the other parts of the Congregation: how are you adhering to the “Evangelizare Pauperibus“? This question was taken up expressly by the General Chapter of 1985.
When all these things are taken together it becomes clear that with the introduction of the Major Theme for 1985-1991 we have began to focus more precisely on a fundamental matter which has been somewhat neglected in the reflection of our Congregation. A community which has set itself the goal of evangelizing the poor cannot for long avoid the question: Who then are meant by these poor? Therefore, our involvement with the Major Theme will lead us into a fundamental debate about our understanding of ourselves.
- Possible difficulties and fears
relating to the Theme
3.1 The life of our Congregation is not so much justified by the observance of rules, as by our missionary dynamism which leads us to a continuous and creative search for the redemption of human “beings. The Theme of the Chapter should promote this dynamism.
But sometimes this dynamism is hindered or even blocked by our fear of change; this could also happen to the Theme of the Chapter.
It could “be said that there is a natural tendency in the great and older religious institutes towards order and stability, which offers a certain physical, psychological and spiritual security to the members. It is understandable that there could be a fear of all this being destroyed through change. Consequently there is a danger that we could consider ourselves as converted and saved and so escape the necessity of conversion and change.
3.2 Another difficulty in the continuing process of renewal could be our pastoral activism. Indeed, too much work can prevent us feeling any need for reflection and prayer about what we are really involved in and what is asked of us by the Congregation today. Perhaps there is a fear of facing the fundamental questions concerning the validity of what we are doing.
3.3 It could be further argued that the Theme does not touch our (V)Province because a lack of vocations prevents us having any hope in our future. But a reflection on the Theme could perhaps be a moment of grace for us, a time to renew our belief in a future given by the lord.
3.4 Because the Theme focuses on the poor and on poverty, some obstacles could arise relating to our personal and community life-style. These obstacles are rather dangerous because in general they remain hidden, and are not faced. A particular reflection especially on this point could lead us to personal and community conversion.
- Our reflection on the Theme
as a process of continuing
personal and community conversion
4.1 Any reflection upon a theme which is central to our life and work will lead us to the realization that we pre reflecting upon our understanding of ourselves as a Congregation, and indeed our personal and community awareness of the meaning of our call today. It is not always easy to accept the consequences and implications of such a profound and challenging reflection. At times we may be acutely aware of all the obstacles in the way of implementing what we feel called to live out. ¥e may also be fearful as to where such reflection will lead us.
4.2 However, while not underestimating the difficulties, we need also in the midst of such reflection to listen to the call of God or, to use a phrase of St. Alphonsus, to obey the will of God. The Spirit will be present in our midst, and will accompany us when we strive to be single-minded in our search for what we believe God is asking of our Congregation today. This invitation of God is simply that we be open to the challenge of personal and community conversion contained in our Theme.
4.3 Our Constitutions continually call us to a conversion of attitudes, way of life, and response in our apostolic ministry:
– if our apostolates are to be distinguished more by their “missionary dynamism than by any particular forms of activity”, we will need to constantly confront the quality and sensitivity of our service and ministry among the poor and neglected of God’s people (Const. 14).
– a continual conversion of heart, especially in relation to the question of poverty, will be required of us if we are to “be truly “free and unimpeded” in the options we make concerning the people among whom we will work, and the ways of fulfilling our mission (Const. 15);
– conversion is not only something personal, but is something the community itself must aim at as it strives for “constant interior renewal” in order to be more faithful to its apostolic calling (Const. 40; 41.1).
4.4 The conversion of heart to which we are called by our Constitutions is surely essential if we wish to approach the Theme of the Chapter with the mind of Christ. Only then can we be more sensitive to the issues we need to face; the positive and negative forces present in our different situations; and the inspiration of the Spirit as we try to translate the Theme of the Chapter into the concrete reality of our life and apostolic ministry.
- The poor in the Redemptorist Tradition
5.1 Alphonsus de Liguori wrote to Pope Benedict XIV:
“Inasmuch as the priest Alphonsus de Liguori, as a member of the Congregation of the Apostolic Missions established in the Cathedral at Naples, spent many years on the holy missions and observed the abandoned state of the poor people, especially in country districts, in the vast territories of the kingdom, he, in 1732, organized the aforesaid priests, his companions, into a group under the direction of the now deceased Mons. Falcoia, Bishop of Castellamare. Their purpose was to help the poor rural people who were the most deprived of spiritual care by means of missions, Instructions and other exercises. Often these poor country people are without a priest to administer the sacraments and preach the word of God to them, so much so that through lack of priests many of them die without knowing even the truths necessary for the Faith; for there are only few priests who dedicate themselves to the task of taking care of these country people.”(Supplex Libellus of 30/3/1748, Lettere di S. Alfonso, Roma 1887, I, 149-151)
5.2 In the Congregation there is no uniform tradition regarding those to whom our pastoral activity should be directed. The poor to whom the Gospel is to be preached is variously understood in different situations.
Nevertheless some particular features, common to the whole Congregation, emerge:
– We have a tradition of preference for the “little ones”. In our case, relationship with the so called upper-class of educated, wealthy and influential people have not, apart from exceptions, been particularly cultivated.
– In this connection there is the decided simplicity and popular pitch of our preaching. This was something promoted by St. Alphonsus at the start and safeguarded all through our tradition. This simplicity extends from the style of preaching to the exercises of piety and popular religiosity.
– It is furthermore our tradition to go to people and not wait for them to come to us. Hence no place is too large or too small for us to evangelize. The grounds for this characterization are provided “by the old formula of “the most abandoned souls in country places” and “by the system of itinerant preaching. This characteristic shows up also in our readiness to take over difficult mission districts.
– More recently, we have begun to see a growing thrust in certain regions towards the socially poor and marginalized.
- The special Mission of the Congregation
in the Church today
As Redemptorists we share the mandate given to the whole Church, “which, since it is the universal sacrament of salvation, is missionary of its very nature “(Const. 1).
Within this mission of the whole Church the Congregation has its particular mission which is expressed under three different aspects:
– evangelization in the strict sense: the explicit, prophetic and liberating proclamation of the Gospel;
– the preference for situations where there is pastoral need;
– and within this a special preference for the poor, the deprived and the oppressed.
These three aspects taken together are “the very reason why the Congregation exists In the Church, and are the “badge of its fidelity to the vocation it has received”(Const. 5)
6.1 The explicit proclamation of the Gospel
“Indeed Redemptorists have as their special mission in the Church the explicit proclamation of the Word of God to bring about fundamental conversion.” (Const. 10)
The General Chapter of 1979 focused on this aspect and gave it as a Major Theme to the Congregation for the sexennium 1979-1985: “The explicit proclamation, especially in the extraordinary forms, of the Word of God.” (Comm. 41/1979)
Connected to this Major Theme was the special mandate given to the Congregation to draw up the plan of pastoral priorities.
6.2 The preference for situations where there is pastoral need
The Redemptorists concentrate their activities on “the pressing pastoral needs of the most abandoned” (Const. 1); the Congregation is sent to “people more in need of spiritual help” (Const. 4). “The members of the Congregation must be tireless in seeking out people who are more deprived of spiritual help” (St. 09).
“The most abandoned, to whom in particular the Congregation is sent, are
– those for whom the Church has not yet been able to provide sufficient means of salvation,
– those who have never heard the Church’s message, or at least do not receive it as the ‘Good News’,
– and finally those who suffer harm because of division in the Church.”(Const. 3)
6.3 The poor
“Among (these) groups of people more in need of spiritual help, they will give special attention to the poor, the deprived and the oppressed.”(Const. 4)
Within the pressing pastoral needs of the most abandoned the Congregation directs its activities especially to the poor (cf. Const. 1). So the preference for situations where there is pastoral need is specified further by “the choice in favor of the poor” (Const. 5), “the powerless and the oppressed” (St. 09).
- The mandate given by \
the XX General Chapter 1985
“The General Chapter of 1985 wants to continue the Theme of the pastoral priorities decided on by the Chapter of 1979. Now we want to put the emphasis on the explicit, prophetic and liberating proclamation of the Gospel to the poor, allowing ourselves to be called by the poor (EVANGELIZARE PAUPERIBUS ET A PAUPERIBUS EVANGELIZARI), in accordance with the charism of our Congregation expressed in Constitutions 1, 3, 4, 5 and in Statutes 09 and 021.”
This new theme is meant to prolong and to continue the one from the preceding sexennium. The Chapter of 1979 put the emphasis on the proclamation, especially the explicit proclamation, of the Gospel (EVANGELIZARE). Now we put the emphasis on our special attention to the poor (PAUPERIBUS).
The central question to be faced now by every unit of the Congregation is: who are these “poor” mentioned in the text?
7.1 Situations of poverty and oppression
The Chapter placed before our Congregation the question: “Taking our Major Theme as a basis, to what situations of poverty and of oppression do we want to direct our particular attention?”(DF, 09)
The confreres live and work in different countries, and in different social, political and ecclesial conditions, and therefore our experiences of poverty and oppression will differ. Nevertheless each one of us is called to be keenly sensitive to the situation of the people and the society in which we live, and to discover the conditions of poverty and oppression which call for our response.
This sensitivity is highlighted in St. 044: “Therefore, since the members belong to an Institute devoted to the Evangelization of the poor, they must be keenly sensitive to the poverty of the world and to the grave social problems afflicting practically all peoples. Poverty of every kind, whether it be material, moral or spiritual, must challenge their apostolic zeal. The legitimate aspirations of the poor will be their aspirations.”
This challenges us to deepen our awareness of the reality which exists in our midst. This confrontation with reality has a spiritual meaning because God speaks to us through it. Therefore we must “be open to the world in such a way that, through contact with people we may learn to understand the signs of the times and of places, and adapt ourselves more fittingly to the demands of evangelization” (Const. 43).
Or, as Const. 19 expresses it: “In a spirit of brotherly concern they should try to understand people’s anxious questionings and try to discover in these how God is truly revealing Himself and making His plan known.”
7.2 “The poor are individual persons with human faces” (DF 05)
Considering situations of poverty could remain rather abstract unless we make this human and personal by actually meeting the poor as fellow human beings as we are invited to do by the Final Document.
An example of this approach could be the following text of Puebla:
“This situation of pervasive extreme poverty takes on very concrete faces in real life. In these faces we ought to recognize the suffering features of Christ the Lord who questions and challenges us. They include:
– the faces of young children, struck down by poverty before they are born, their chance for self-development blocked by irreparable mental and physical deficiencies; and of the vagrant children
– in our cities who are so often exploited, products of poverty and the moral disorganization of the family;
– the faces of young people, who are disoriented “because they cannot find their place in society, and who are frustrated, particularly in marginal rural and urban areas, by the lack of opportunity to obtain training and work;
– the faces of the peasants; as a social group, they live in exile almost everywhere on our continent, deprived of land, caught in a situation of internal and external dependence, and subjected to systems of commercialization that exploit them;
– the faces of laborers, who frequently are ill-paid and who have difficulty in organizing themselves and defending their rights;
– the faces of the underemployed and the unemployed, who are dismissed because of the harsh exigencies of economic crises, and often because of development-models that subject workers and their families to cold economic calculations;
– the faces of marginalized and overcrowded urban dwellers, whose lack of material goods is matched by the ostentatious display of wealth by other segments of society;
– the faces of old people, who are growing more numerous every day, and who are frequently marginalized in a progress-oriented society that totally disregards people not engaged in production.” (31-40)
If we look at our reality in this way we will meet these faces wherever we live; our search will not end in discussion but in discovering “the most abandoned, especially the poor” (Const. 1).
- Called and challenged by the poor
For many of us the first part of the Chapter Theme, i.e. focusing on the poor as the preferred people we are to evangelize, is challenge enough. The second part expressed by the Latin phrase: EVANGELIZARI A PAUPERIBUS and translated as “called and challenged by the poor”, goes further still.
8.1 Missionary Dialogue
At a first level, it implies that we view evangelization as a two-way process, “a missionary dialogue” (Const. 19) in which both parties are mutually enriched. This is now a generally accepted norm in the work of evangelization, especially in the field of culture and pastoral psychology. Indeed, most of us have experienced being enriched in our various types of pastoral work by the people we serve and work with.
But what about the poor (in the sense understood here)? In what way do they evangelize us? How do they call and challenge us? And what has been the effect on us in making a response?
8.2 Effects of Dialogue
It has happened in certain parts of the world that the poor, the deprived and oppressed have turned to priests and religious, among them our own confreres, for moral support in their struggle for economic betterment, social justice, or even liberation from political oppression and tyranny. In the process of responding to this call, our confreres have found themselves challenged in many ways.
Some have found the theology they had learned to be inadequate, including their knowledge of Scripture. Many pastoral approaches could no longer be maintained, such as remaining neutral in the face of social conflict. Manifestations of popular religiosity they were inclined to scoff at turned out to have immense social value and depth of faith.
Certain attitudes like the quest for security, whether personal or institutional, have had to change In the face of the freedom-to-risk shown by the poor in their struggle for justice.
Some have been led to discover dimensions of human life to which they had not given enough recognition in the past, like the role of structures in conditioning the attitudes, values, and behavior of people in society, including their global dimensions.
It has also happened in certain countries that “the cry of the poor” has led religious communities to a profound re-thinking of the forms and structures of their religious life. In some instances, it has led them to re-discover the original charism of their founder and to a greater fidelity to this charism in their choice of pastoral priorities and in the forms of their religious life, resulting even In an Increase of vocations. Some of our own confreres have experienced this in certain countries.
8.3 Theology of “the poor”
These and similar experiences have provoked theological discussions on “the mystery of the poor as agents of salvation”. Some of these are only “musings” and “elements” of a theology and spirituality that are still in process of maturation.
An example, perhaps, is the theology of liberation which could have arisen only from the double experience of poverty and oppression on the one hand, and the experience of faith in the Lord of History on the other.
Thus, while church people today debate “certain elements” of this theology, its basic validity as a theology is no longer in question, as Pope John Paul II has recently affirmed. It is a theology born in the Third World setting which has spawned ramifications in other countries, including those of the First World.
8.4 Our own dialogue with the poor
Our Constitutions and Statutes urge us to “be tireless in seeking out people who are more deprived of spiritual help, especially the poor, the powerless and the oppressed”, since “Redemptorists can never be deaf to the cry of the poor and the oppressed” (St. 09).
Perhaps the answer to the questions we have posed here can only come from actual experience of working among these people. So we turn to the confreres who have such experiences to share their reflections on how they have found themselves called, challenged and enriched by the poor. We have no doubts that what they have to offer will be more profound than the initial thoughts we have expressed here.
- Questions for reflection
9.1 Sensitivity and awareness
“Therefore, since the members belong to an Institute devoted to the evangelization of the poor, they must be keenly sensitive to the poverty of the world and to the grave social problems afflicting practically all peoples.” (St. 044)
The consideration of the Major Theme should lead us to global awareness as well as to a more profound consciousness of our own particular situation. Because we are a worldwide Congregation, so also must our concerns be.
Therefore we should ask ourselves:
– “What do we know about the different situations of poverty and oppression in the different parts of our world? Are we truly interested in this issue, and how do we acquire information about such situations?
– Who and what is influencing our political or ecclesial opinion on political issues, and the situation of the Church in different countries?
– What do we know about our Redemptorist confreres subjected to conditions of poverty and oppression, or even persecution?
– How do we show our fraternal solidarity with them?
9.2 Poverty and apostolic zeal
“Redemptorists can never be deaf to the cry of the poor and the oppressed, but have the duty to search for ways of helping them.” (St. 09)
“Poverty of every kind, whether it be material, moral or spiritual, must challenge their apostolic zeal.” (St. 044)
In addition to the global awareness mentioned above, we should have a special sensitivity towards the poverty of those among whom we live and work. As Redemptorists we don’t have to wait for the poor to come to us; our traditional charism challenges us to meet the poor and to concentrate our apostolic zeal on their special needs.
– Who are the people in our area who live in material, moral or spiritual poverty? Do we recognize them? Do we meet them?
– What inhuman and oppressing structures or systems exist in our country? Do we meet the people subjected to them?
– Who are the abandoned and neglected by the local Church in our country?
– What place do these poor have in our pastoral priorities?
– What place do they have in our prayer-life, and in the content of our preaching?
9.3 Community life and solidarity with the poor
“The common life of the members must be truly adapted to the mentality of each region and give effective witness to poverty and solidarity with the poor.”(St. 046.2)
Our life-style in community must correspond with the situation of the people among whom we live and work; this calls also for inculturation. Our option for the poor asks, in addition, for simplicity in lifestyle which will make authentic our evangelization among the poor.
– Does our style of life indicate our solidarity with the poor to whom we preach the Gospel?
– Are our communities open and responsive to the people to whom we are committed?
– Do we see any possibility of sharing the actual destitution and insecurity of the poor in lowly conditions, as proposed in St. 045?
– How do we deal with money (collecting, investing, and spending)?
– How do we practice solidarity with the poor within our Congregation?
9.4 Formation and our option for the poor
“Very particularly the Chapter asks that the formation of the students be connected to the pastoral priorities….Besides, the Chapter asks those in charge to organize a style of life and a formation for our students which take account of our option for the poor and which do not isolate them from the life and the problems of the poor.”(DF, 13)
In addition to first formation we must direct our ongoing formation to the deepening of a spirituality which takes account of our option for the poor.
– What influence do the poor have on our programs of theological, spiritual and human formation?
– Is there a relationship between these programs and the pastoral priorities?
– What provision is made in ongoing formation programs for developing a consciousness of our commitment to the poor?
- Concluding Remarks
At the end of this presentation we would like to place these reflections before you and to ask you to continue this process in your communities, chapters and (V)Provincial Governments.
We realize that further studies must be made on the Issues which are contained In the Theme, e.g. the biblical meaning of the “poor”, the “poor” in our Redemptorist history, the analysis of poverty and oppression In the different situations of the world, the theological significance of Evangelizare pauperibus et a pauperibus evangelizari etc.
We are convinced that there are specialists in the Congregation all over the world who could contribute to a study in depth of these main issues in the Theme. We would appreciate the special contribution they can make.
Because this is a process in which the whole Congregation is involved, we would like to receive your response to our first reflections which have been offered in this Communicanda.
With fraternal greetings in the name of the General Council,
Juan M. Lasso de la Vega, C.Ss.R.