Communicanda IV – 1997-2003
A reflection on solidarity in the Congregation
Prot. N° 0000 0023/2000
31 March 2002
Resurrection of the Lord
My dear confreres:
I am happy to offer to the Congregation this first Communicanda of the new millennium and ask you to join me in considering a sign of hope that I perceive in the Congregation. While there are surely a number of reasons to face the future confidently, in this letter I am going to suggest only one for your reflection: I see a increasing spirit of solidarity in the Congregation, that is, a growing singleness of heart and mind and a strengthening of bonds that unite the global Redemptorist family, leading us to more effective missionary action.
WHY AM I WRITING THIS LETTER?
This solidarity is both a result of the renewal in the Congregation that has taken place over the last forty years and a product of the globalizing forces that are shaping our world. I think we need to recognize the positive developments now present in the life of our Congregation and look together into the future in an effort to discern God’s will for our Institute.
What is more, a reflection on solidarity should interest us as we continue working on the theme of this sexennium. Our spirituality helps us to answer “basic and often unsettling questions: Who are we? Why are we? How are we to live?” (Communicanda 2 [January 1999], n. 8). So, I think that a consideration of solidarity will lead us to think about how we relate to each other within the Congregation as well as how we interact with the circumstances of our world. Questions like “are we called to be an international congregation or a federation of (vice-) provinces?” or “do we feel ill at ease in a model of global economy that is divisive and promotes discrimination in our world?” are both spiritual questions. They invite us to reflect on who we are, what we value and how we should live.
Finally, I see this letter connected with a crucial project already begun in the Congregation, the preparation of the next General Chapter. I hope that thisCommunicanda will contribute to the reflection that is preparing the Congregation for an exceptional moment of solidarity: the XXIII General Chapter, which will be celebrated in 2003.
THE PREPARATION OF THIS TEXT
The Regional meetings at the midpoint of the sexennium
Let me tell you a little bit about how this letter came about. In 1999 the General Council prepared the agenda for the six Regional meetings of the Congregation that would take place at the midpoint of this sexennium. Over a twelve-month period, from January 2000 to January 2001, the major superiors of each region met with members of the General Council, first in Madagascar, then in the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, Italy and Poland.
The General Council asked the major superiors to consider the same issues in each regional meeting, following the recommendation of the last General Chapter. These topics included the sexennial theme of spirituality, the vocation of Brothers in the Congregation and questions linked to the preparation of the next General Chapter. There was also time dedicated to matters of particular interest in each Region.
In addition to these themes, I presented solidarity as a particular sign of hope that I see in the Congregation and discussed this “sign of the times” with the major superiors. Even then, I hoped eventually to publish the message in the form of aCommunicanda in order to include all the confreres in this reflection. The same draft text was presented at each of the six regional meetings and the superiors offered very helpful suggestions. They enthusiastically endorsed further consideration on the matter of solidarity and encouraged the publication of aCommunicanda about it.
The reflection of the Union of Superiors General
Near the end of the year 2000, together with other superiors general of religious men, I participated in a reflection on the future of the consecrated life in a globalized world. The occasion was the semiannual meeting of the Union of Superiors General (November 22-25, 2000) at which we considered a working paper that had been prepared by the international theological commission of the Union. While at first glance one may feel the need for a dictionary of theological terms to understand it, the document, entitled “Inside Globalization: toward a multi-centered and intercultrual communion. Ecclesiological implications for the administration of our Institutes” (published December 8, 2000), represents the fruit of a three-year dialogue between theologians and superiors general about the rapidly changing horizons in which the consecrated life finds itself today. The text offers a valuable perspective that seeks to situate questions like the inculturation of the charism and decentralization against the background of new sociological, cultural and economic phenomena. At the very least, the debate convinced me that most leaders of international orders and congregations are trying to grapple with similar questions of how to “think globally and act locally”.
The world in 2002
The news reports from around the globe lead many of us to think about how closely the peoples of the earth are linked in totally new relationships. No matter how wealthy or powerful, no state can pretend to live peacefully in splendid isolation. The prosperity of one country can be constructed on the misery of many others. Decisions taken or ignored in one nation have a serious impact on distant lands. The consequences can be terrifying, if we are not successful in globalizing solidarity among the world’s citizens.
A REASON FOR HOPE
Two years have passed since the earliest draft of this letter was shared at the first Regional meeting in January 2000. Many events have occurred since, and some of these could engender within us real doubt and foreboding about our future as missionaries and, indeed, as world citizens. Yet the central concern of this message remains that of hope and the struggle to explain the hope we have within us – not an easy task, as we noted in the first Communicanda of this sexennium (Communicanda 1, February 25, 1998, n. 17). How dare we hope today? Together with the Apostle to the nations, Redemptorist missionaries continue to work and struggle because our hopes are fixed on the living God who is the savior of all people, but especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4, 10). The reason why we do not shrink before the difficult or the disappointing is because we are rooted firmly in the conviction that we have been given a Mission and that the Giver is worthy of trust. God, who in Jesus Christ, has united himself to us for all time. Can there be a more dramatic act of solidarity than our redemption?
As we grow in a deepening appreciation for the particular Mission that has been given to our Congregation, there is an increasing willingness on the part of many confreres to work together. This willingness translates into a way of living that can be called solidarity: a union of purpose and sympathies among the global Redemptorist family, which is leading to more effective missionary action. How do I perceive this spirit at work among us?
SIGNS OF SOLIDARITY
Most Redemptorists want to know what is happening in our Congregation in the different countries in which we live and work. The members of the General Council agree that a highlight of every visitation is the moment in each local community when we discuss the current situation of our global mission. Almost without exception, the confreres are eager to hear detailed accounts of the lights and shadows on the Congregation today. The sharing of this information is accomplished in other ways as well: international meetings, the newsletters published by the Office of Communications, increased travel between (vice-) provinces and communication through the Internet. All this serves to increase the understanding of the struggles lived by confreres in vastly different situations and to reduce the apparent indifference or lack of sympathy that sometimes existed between provinces and regions primarily because we Redemptorists simply knew less about each other.
Solidarity is more than simple interest or knowledge of the situation of others. Understanding should translate into concrete action. I am happy to point to some of the “facts” of our brotherhood at an international level. It is worth noting that many of the newest missions ad gentes are projects supported by the mutual aid of several units of the Congregation. Our missionary presence in Nigeria, Siberia, Korea and Bolivia are examples of such cooperation. When I visited Korea in 1999, the Archbishop of Seoul observed that the success that the Redemptorists are having in attracting new members is due to the fact that we offer young people the image of a community with an “international face”, that is, a community of brothers who come from different nations and cultures yet are bound together by mutual love and missionary zeal. The Korean mission began as an expression of solidarity among the units of Asia and Oceania, many of whom contributed funds and personnel to bring our charism to that nation. I am happy to see how this founding spirit continues. Today Korean, Thai and Filipino Redemptorists live and work together, offering a powerful message of brotherhood to the Korean people.
Of course, in many other units there is a long tradition of Redemptorists of different nationalities who witness to a sense of communion between peoples, races and cultures, a testimony which is even more significant in an age characterized by the globalization of problems and the return of the idols of exaggerated nationalism, racism and xenophobia (cf. Vita Consecrata, 51). Among the many religious families in the Church, this sort of witness is a contribution that can best be made by international congregations like our own.
Recent years have seen new experiences of solidarity in the formation of Redemptorist missionaries. This cooperation can be found at the level of initial formation as well as a shared responsibility for programs of continuing or permanent formation. Some units work together at a particular stage of formation, such as sharing a novitiate, while others welcome to their own program the candidates from other (vice-) provinces. Some Regions sponsor programs for the continuing formation of Redemptorists.
Some units are willing to share an abundance of young members, thus supporting the ministry of aging (vice-) provinces and making possible entirely new initiatives. There is also greater sharing of financial support among Redemptorists. While there is no doubt that dramatic differences in lifestyle and living standards still persist in the Congregation, we cannot ignore the praiseworthy generosity that is practiced by a good number of the units with greater financial resources. Some of these units make regular contributions to the Solidarity Fund and also quietly assist brother Redemptorists in distant lands. Whenever the General Council has asked these units to help a province or vice-province in economic distress, the response has been almost always positive and magnanimous. Many (vice-) provinces have made helpful contributions to projects such as the restructuring of the general house, the Alphonsian Academy and, most recently, the effort to increase the patrimony of the General Government (cf. XXII General Chapter, Postulatum 9.5). We still need, however, to discover effective ways to implement the so-called “solidarity through development assistance” that was called for by the last General Chapter (Postulatum 9.7).
A TRIPTYCH FROM THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
The Word of God shows us that solidarity is an essential quality of the apostolic life. We can discover a rich source for reflection in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in its description of the apostolic community. Let me propose three scenes from Acts as a sort of triptych for our meditation. On the left side we see the apostles and Mary at prayer (Acts 1, 12-14), the central panel portrays the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (2, 1ff) and finally, the right panel depicts the common life of the first Christians (4, 32-35). What can we glimpse in these three icons?
Solidarity in prayer
The first panel reveals the importance of prayer in the apostolic community. The Mission the apostles will undertake is not their own creation; hence Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1, 8). From the very beginning the Mission of the apostles is international and cross-cultural. The Mission is bigger than they, so they must wait expectantly for the arrival of the Spirit, the gift of their Risen Lord, who will give them power and “guide them to all truth” (cf. Jn 16, 13). Together with the Mother of the Lord and other women, the apostles gather “in constant prayer” (Acts 1, 14).
The initial experience of solidarity among the disciples is prayer. Is it possible to imagine a truly apostolic community in which prayer is absent or simply routine? Without constant prayer, we risk reducing the Mission to bite-size portions that correspond exclusively to what we want to do or think that we can do. How much do we depend on the gift of the Spirit to instruct us where we are to witness to the Risen Lord and for the power to accomplish our Mission? Does Mary accompany us in our prayer? Does our community prayer open itself to include other disciples, our coworkers?
Solidarity in Mission
The central panel of the triptych reveals the day of Pentecost, when the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit propel the fearful disciples from the security of the cenacle to embrace a worldwide mission. The apostles speak a language that can be understood by everyone and, from the very beginning, it is clear that the Church is not the private property of any single race or nation. Rather, the Holy Spirit “globalizes” the Gospel and, through the apostles, makes salvation available to all.
A vast array of social, economic, political and ecclesial situations constitutes the reality of the Congregation today. Is it reasonable to promote a sort of Redemptorist “culture” amid such diversity? I believe that it is possible and that, in fact, common characteristics can be discovered in the life of Redemptorists across the world. In the previous sexennium Father Lasso noted some of these qualities in his second Communicanda, Unity in Diversity (14 January 1994; confer especially nn. 32-36). The source of this unity is the Spirit. It is the Spirit that unites the many peoples who hear the Gospel preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2, 7-12). The text, however, does not suggest that all these people sacrificed their culture at the moment of baptism. Rather, the different races and tongues of the first Christian communities discover a force for unity that connects and enriches them: the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit helps the members of our Congregation be “of one mind and one heart”.
Solidarity in all they possess
The third and final panel in the triptych displays the idyllic description of the early Christian community, where all members share their possessions and remain united in prayer, in faithfulness to the apostles’ teaching and to the breaking of the bread (Acts 2, 42-47; 4, 32-35). We should admit that the depiction of the unity enjoyed by the Jerusalem community might also be a bit romantic and the book of Acts is honest enough to recall more painful moments when the community is divided along ethnic lines (cf. Acts 6, 1ss) or when Peter and Paul square off, first at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15, 1) then later at Antioch (Gal 2, 11-14). Such misunderstanding does not contradict the truth that community enjoyed a remarkable unity, clearly attributable to the action of the Holy Spirit).
The primitive community could share what they had because they were “of one heart and one mind” (Acts 4, 32). The members were not coerced to be generous but did so freely because of a union of purpose (“one mind”) and a union of sympathies (“one heart”). This unity, brought about by the Holy Spirit, produced a charity that was sufficient to meet the needs of the community (Acts 4, 34). This effective solidarity is not simply a moral imperative. The apostles have prayed expectantly (the cenacle) and the Spirit has been poured out and leads them forth for their Mission (Pentecost). The sharing of their goods and their very lives is a necessary response to the gifts of the Spirit and intimately connected with the apostolic Mission.
Isn’t it true that the more we allow the Spirit to produce in us “one heart and one mind”, the more willing we will be to share what we have? Notwithstanding the vastly different cultural situations in which the Congregation finds itself today, the Spirit offers us a stimulus for unity. It is the common vocation all of us share: to follow the example of Christ in the apostolic life, which comprises at one and the same time a life specially dedicated to God and a life of missionary work (Constitution 1). Acceptance of this basic principle of unity, whose values will be made manifest and nuanced throughout the rest of the Constitutions and Statutes, makes true solidarity possible among Redemptorists.
DIRECTIONS FOR THE FUTURE
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the apostles provoke a question among the crowds on the streets of Jerusalem: “What are we to do, brothers?” (Acts 2, 37). The rapidly changing face of our world, the same world where we are to proclaim the Gospel, should lead us to ask each other the same question: “Brothers, what are we to do?” If the answer is: “we will do what we always have done”, we are tragically mistaken.
Solidarity within the (Vice-) Province
The challenge is to globalize solidarity within the Congregation for our worldwide Mission. When I shared the first draft of this text at the Regional meetings of 2000-2001, however, a good number of the major superiors asked me not to think of solidarity in worldwide terms only; a singleness of heart and mind should characterize the life of Redemptorists within each province and vice-province. Sadly, there are units where dialogue and discernment are not part of the life of the Congregation. In these cases, a shared vision for the future and a sense of corresponsibility, itself an essential principle of our government (Const. 92), are usually missing. The result is the fragmentation of the (vice-) province, together with a stagnation of missionary zeal. Is it consistent to expect to have a sense of solidarity with Redemptorists working in other units, if we feel little real responsibility for the future of our own?
Solidarity in formation
There is an increasing need for greater collaboration in the initial formation of Redemptorist missionaries. I have already noted that cooperation in this area has grown among some (vice-) provinces, evidenced by a sharing of responsibilities among different units for the same formation house or program. I think we need to go even further. The last General Chapter recognized the need to provide an adequate preparation for directors of formation (Orientations, 5.2), to offer programs in our history and spirituality (Ibid., 5.3) and to give special attention to the transition from initial formation to other apostolic communities (5.6) as well as encouraging interprovincial meetings of formators and the exchange of professors (5.5). These expectations call for a greater collaboration among the (vice-) provinces and the assistance of the General Government.
The first formation of Redemptorists offers other challenges that are best addressed through some form of solidarity. For example, a few units struggle with the burden of a great number of future Redemptorists while many other (vice-) provinces have only a handful of candidates. I am concerned about both situations, but particularly the latter. Is it fair to continue a formation program in which the students have very limited contact with other Redemptorists of their own age? And, let us not ignore the phenomenon of immigrants and refugees that are creating multicultural societies, frequently situations of great pastoral urgency. In a world where one out of every forty-five people is a refugee or immigrant, there is a critical need for missionaries who can function in cultural circumstances different than the one of their birth. The program of initial formation should prepare our young men for these changed conditions. I believe that the future of the Congregation will be better served if we are able to discover new ways to collaborate in the first formation of Redemptorist missionaries.
The structures of the Congregation
It is my belief that the Mission of the Congregation will eventually require that we discover new internal structures. While the present system of provinces, vice-provinces and regions has served us very well for approximately a century and a half, I wonder if these structures will be adequate for the future? Will we not have to discover new paradigms for government that will enhance our mobility and flexibility? There are certainly cases in the Congregation today where the maintenance of an existing structure, such as a province or vice-province, exacts a terrible cost in human and material resources. Can we imagine a different way to organize the General Government so that it will better serve the unity and plurality of the Congregation? Beyond the system of provinces, do we need some sort of intermediate structure that will coordinate the missionary work of Redemptorists in the same geographical area? A unity of purpose with and sympathy for Redemptorists beyond the boundaries of one’s particular unit will help us discover new structures that will support our Mission in the twenty-first century.
The units of some Regions have begun to look beyond their own individual boundaries to recognize the value of a particular apostolate that is responding to a situation of pastoral urgency and which will continue only if several (vice-) provinces work together. These units are beginning to develop Regional priorities, which are commitments of the confreres of a Region to a work that originally had been the project of a single unit or to collaborate in an entirely new initiative. The leadership of the (vice-) provinces in North America and Europe-North has already begun a conversation about the feasibility of shared priorities in their respective Regions.
The last General Chapter expressed support for the establishment of international communities of Redemptorists in service of our Mission (XXII General Chapter,Postulatum 3.2). Though not a panacea or universal solution to problems like aging provinces with few new members, I firmly believe that international communities is a powerful expression of our charism in a globalized world. Should we not be searching for new forms of solidarity, including international communities, aimed at preaching the Gospel to Hispanic and Asian communities in North America? Can we ensure that our charism will contribute to the new evangelization of Europe? Life in an international community is not always uncomplicated but it can be tremendously enriching. I know. I am privileged to live in one.
The changed situation of the world and of our Church invites every Redemptorist to look beyond the frontiers of individual units and to consider the wider needs of our Mission. I believe that promising examples of solidarity now exist in the Congregation and that these provide a foundation for future efforts. Our trust is in the Spirit of Christ who makes it possible for us to cry out Abba, who continues to send us forth to preach the Good News and who makes us aware of our need for one another in accomplishing the Mission he entrusts to us.
With the icon of Mary and the apostles in the cenacle before our eyes, I invite you to deepen our solidarity in prayer, trusting that the Lord will open us even more to the work of the Spirit, so that we may be of “one mind and one heart”, in name and in fact, for the sake of our Mission.
In the name of the General Council,
Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
(The original text is English.)