Redemption in the Formation of the Redemptorist Missionary Identity: Retreat of the Collegio Maggiore in Rome

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On 3, 4 and 5 November 2023, the Redemptorists, who are pursuing their licentiate and doctorate at the various universities in Rome, and who reside at the Collegio Maggiore, had their annual retreat, which took place at the Pallotine House of Spiritual Exercises of Sts. John and Paul, and was preached by Fr. Joseph Ivel Mendanha, C.Ss.R., a member of the General Council. The ambience of the retreat centre is very welcoming, with good facilities and a historical setting. The retreat was a well-needed break from studies, and a time of rest and reflection on our Redemptorist Identity.

The retreat had as its starting point the Final Document of the XXVI General Chapter of 2022. Following the internal structure of the document as a guide, namely: Redemptorist IdentityRedemptorist MissionRedemptorist Consecrated LifeFormation for Mission and Redemptorist Leadership, and in the light of the Word of God and of the Constitutions, Fr. Ivel, using the expository-reflective method, tried to identify and explain the central nucleus of Redemptorist Spirituality, which is intrinsically linked to the Apostolic Mission of the Congregation. The propositions and questions asked, encouraged the members of the Collegio Maggiore to review their identity as Redemptorist missionaries, and also their vocational path.

Among the topics covered, the theme of Redemptorist Identity permeated all the talks. In a constantly changing context, the concept of ‘identity’ appears ambivalent. To characterize it, the purpose and objective of the Congregation is generally highlighted. Following this path, however, means running the risk of remaining in a theoretical perspective. The starting point must not be the end in itself, understood as apostolic action, but the principle, that is, the reason for being a Redemptorist. In this perspective, the person of Jesus occupies the centre of the Redemptorist vocation and mission. It is He who calls and forms the disciple (Mt 4:18-22). The Redemptorist has his identity forged in the existential experience with the Redeemer. Thus, the act of following the Redeemer (Const. 1) takes the form of an explicit and tacit announcement, not of a theological idea, but of a real encounter with a concrete person – Christ.

During his reflections, Fr. Ivel also recalled the Redemptive and Missionary experience of the Redemptorist Saints and Blessed, highlighting the fidelity of the Congregation to Christ. In the fertile soil of history, several Redemptorist missionaries, talented, intelligent men, endowed with tireless zeal, aware of their humanity, allowed their lives to conform to Christ, thus continuing His Redemptive work. The holiness achieved and the legacy left by these bold men carries with it a fundamental principle of consecrated religious life – Creative Fidelity. They were great apostolic men and became saints because they were faithful to the Gospel, to the Church and to the Congregation, thus opening their eyes, hearts and hands to the creative action of the Holy Spirit (Luke 25-32).

Another theme addressed was that of community life, understood as the heart of consecrated life and the realization of the Trinitarian dimension of faith. For the Redemptorist, living in a community is a sine qua non for carrying out missionary work (Const. 21). In a context in which individualism is underlined as an imperative of human relationships, community life reveals itself to be a prophetic sign for the world. The community thus presents itself as a fruitful environment for experiences of redemption, because it is a space of sharing, care, welcome, respect, forgiveness and sacrifice. The confluence of dreams, talents, weaknesses and anxieties in the community invites the Redemptorist to open himself to discipleship and to recognize the Most Holy Redeemer as his only master and Lord.

Redemptorist leadership was next addressed, a theme of great importance in the XXVI General Chapter. The complexity of the current context challenges the Redemptorist to discover and form a new model of leadership, the foundation of which must be the Redeemer. By opposing unhealthy manifestations of power, clerical or otherwise, the new model of Redemptorist leadership places itself on a horizontal plane of co-responsibility, dialogue, modesty, compassion, optimism and anointing for the mission (Is 42.1-5). As Pope Francis insists, this must be the leadership of a shepherd, that is, of a leader who walks in front to guide, in the middle to listen and feel, and behind to support the weakest.

On Sunday, during the Eucharistic celebration, Fr. Ivel, in his homily, summarized his reflections, underlining the importance of continuous formation in the life of the Redemptorist missionary. In his words, “the members of the Collegio Maggiore will be the new leaders of the Congregation and, for this reason, it is necessary to prepare for a leadership that identifies itself as service to others, and not as power”. Then, as a concrete gesture, everyone was invited in pairs, to go to the altar and wash one another’s hands. Thus, the retreat ended as an experience of encounter with God and with oneself, with the explicit message that the Redemptorist must be a man of discipleship, open to the creative experience of redemption in his own history.

Fr. Rimar César Diniz, CSSR