For the first time, in the history of our Congregation, lay partners from the five (5) different Conferences around the world, participated fully, in the canonical phase of the 25th General Chapter Meeting held in Pattaya, Thailand.
As Lay Representatives, nominated by each of our own Conferences and selected by the General Council, we represent many thousands of lay collaborators, lay associates and lay missionaries – amazing women and men, who continue to work tirelessly for the Congregation, with a shared missionary determination like that of St Alphonsus, being his open hands and ears in the world, as he constantly listens for and responds to the eternal cry of the poor and those who are most abandoned in our society.
As lay partners, we are called into a deeper reflection of life and partnership with our Redemptorist confreres – God has called us to be of service to the Congregation, working alongside our professed priests and brothers. Our participation with them in this ‘Shared Partnership in Mission’ extends the Redemptorists family involvement, through which we come to realise and live out more fully, our vocation as lay people in the world. From this “home” we are truly empowered to offer our gifts, talents, skills, experiences, and training to the Church and to the world.
We each have been in relationship with the Redemptorists in our Units or Conferences for more than 25 years, and some even as many as 35 years of collaboration. This authentic journey with our professed has often, at times, brought great joy, sometimes pain, and certainly always, many challenges or obstacles along the way, as would be the case with any Christian family desiring to deepen their love, understanding and respect for one another.
Each lay representative was invited by the Superior General to participate fully in the second week of the General Chapter, which dealt with the main theme of “Renewal of Mission”. It was wonderful to participate in the work, group discussions and plenary sessions – we not only had an opportunity to listen, but also to share our personal experiences and viewpoints with each of the capitulars, which was very well received. Even more special, was the election of the Superior General and his new General Consultors – to witness this and to observe the outcome thereof, the great joy and fraternity, which was so evident among those present.
On one of the mornings we were asked to make a combined lay presentation to the group, on our experiences of our relationship with the professed and also to share our vision for the “Shared Partnership in Mission with the Laity”. It was our opportunity to be sincere and frank about what was working, and also not working, in this partnership, and further what was necessary to be improved or changed, to take full advantage of this joint collaboration.
There was a mutual belief and urgent plea from both lay and professed members at the meeting, that for the ‘shared partnership’ to be truly effective and life-giving, and for it to continue well into the future, that it required some formal approved structure and undisputable place within the Congregation, in the form of a postulata (decision) which would express fully the commitment of each to this partnership and the importance thereof in our very secular world of today. Many of the capitulars felt that this decision could not be held over until the next General Chapter meeting in 2022 and needed for be shared with every lay partner and professed member. As lay representatives, this was so encouraging to hear – our ‘halleluiah’ moment – it is what each of us have been yearning for, to not only share in the partnership of the Redemptorist mission, but to be fraternally embraced and accepted at every level within the Congregation (at Community, Unit, Conference and General Government level) as lay partners in every sense of the word.
So in many ways this has been a ground breaking General Chapter, born out of the ‘Lay Missionaries of the Most Holy Redeemer’ as formulated at the General Chapter meeting of 1991, and now giving life to every aspect of that initial vision, in a mature and directed manner.
“The Lay vocation is there for the world”, and we each have a Christian duty to share that with others and not keep those gifts, talents and resources to ourselves, especially where we feel we share or identify with the charism and spirit of St Alphonsus in his service to the poor and most abandoned in the world. It is through this same poor, that we are called into a deeper union with Christ, as together with our professed priests and brothers, we share God’s love and mercy generously with them.
Our presence as Lay Representatives at this General Chapter, was described by so many professed members, as: –
“an important milestone or moment in the life of the Congregation”
“a threshold, a turning point”
“truly a time of grace” and also
“a great inspiration and encouragement to them”.
Words cannot begin to express our overall gratitude to all those who have supported us, welcomed us and encouraged us during these days of the General Chapter especially. We move now forward with renewed hearts and minds, ever willing to be of service and witness to one another and those who are most in need.
As lay and professed members of this ‘one’ Redemptorist family, let us continue to dialogue with each other in a spirit of humility and openness, guided by the Holy Spirit and fervent in prayer, through the example of our lives, as we intimately acknowledge our own human fragility.
May our witness, work and service be a great encouragement to many others to pick up their crosses and tools daily, and to join in this “Shared Partnership in Mission” so that it is truly a celebration of Alphonsus’ own abundant love for the poor and most abandoned…
In closing, our vision in closing for the sexennium is that “We long for the realisation of a truly charismatic family, a true communion, one missionary body of lay and professed Redemptorists”.