For a month, from October 4th to November 4th, 2014, the general consultors, Br. Jeffrey Rolle and Fr. João Pedro Fernandes, carried out the general visitation, which takes place during every sexennium. Beyond the official service of the visitation, the consultors lived a rich, human and fraternal experience among the confreres of the province and the many lay people they met and with whom they shared life in the eleven communities visited. Bolivia is known for its large topographical variety, with regions only a few hundred feet above sea level and other areas from four to five thousand feet above sea level. Since the first Redemptorists arrived in 1910, the Redemptorist Province of Bolivia has also been defined by a great variety of nationalities and cultures. When the province was formed in 1997, it had French, Swiss, Polish, Colombian and, of course, Bolivian confreres. The latter now make up the majority of the province. There are no longer any Colombians and of the Alsatian French, who were the founders, there remains only one confrere. This diversity is, at the same time, both an asset and a challenge, demanding maturity to accept differences and focus on what is common and essential: the Gospel and the Redemptorist charism.
The visitors had the usual encounters and meetings of a canonical visit: with the provincial council, with each community, with the different provincial secretariats, etc. They also had time for personal conversation with each confrere and participated in celebrations and meetings with lay representatives of the various pastoral areas in the communities visited. The meetings with the lay people allowed us to feel their Christian and pastoral enthusiasm, and also the spirit of co-responsibility that most of the Redemptorists share with the laity – a fundamental principle for the future of the Church.
With Cardinal Julio Terrazas
We had the pleasure of sharing a fraternal moment with Cardinal Julio Terrazas, Archbishop Emeritus of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, currently the only Redemptorist in the College of Cardinals. Curiously, even though the Redemptorist presence has not been very numerically significant throughout the history of the Bolivian Church, yet the two cardinals that the country has had (the first was Cardinal Maurer) were both Redemptorists; and of both we heard very good things, not only on the part of the confreres, but from other priests and bishops as well. The visitors also met with the Redemptorist bishops of the Vicariate of Reyes, Carlos Bürgler, a Swiss, and Waldo Barrionuevo, a Bolivian, and had courtesy visits with some of the other bishops of the dioceses where the Redemptorists work. The visit concluded with the always inspiring presence of Father General, who presided over two significant moments: the meeting with the extraordinary provincial council and the provincial assembly, which concluded with a beautiful Eucharistic celebration.
With a group of lay people (parish of Tarija)
The Province of Bolivia currently has 53 confreres: 3 bishops (including the Cardinal), 41 priests, 2 deacons, 2 brothers, and 6 students in temporary vows. The average age is 46.8 years, which can be considered good. However, the confreres must redouble their efforts in the area of vocation promotion, as the whole Bolivian Church begins to feel a general decline in vocations. By nationality there are 37 Bolivians, 13 Poles, 3 Swiss and 1 Frenchman. In the community of Tarija, we found the Redemptorist oblate, Monsignor Walter Pérez, Bishop Emeritus of Potosi, who lives his community and pastoral life with the confreres.
The main pastoral activities are carried out in ten parishes. Some of these parishes are geographically larger than many dioceses in Europe, with several chapels on the outskirts of cities or in the vast rural areas. The Redemptorist parish mission is a pastoral service greatly appreciated in the Bolivian Church, this being the only established offer for this type of pastoral work. Other ministries of the confreres include: teaching philosophy and theology (one confrere is President of the Theological Faculty of the Catholic University), preaching retreats, doing spiritual direction, etc.
Redemptorists and Missionary Redemptorist Sisters
The visitors are grateful to the provincial superior and council for their careful preparation of the visit, for accompanying them in their moving from place to place and even caring for their health. Gratitude is extended to each community and each member for the warm welcome, participation in meetings and living together fraternally. In conversations with both confreres and lay people, the visitors noticed the admiration for the dedication of the French, Swiss, Polish, Colombian and Bolivian Redemptorists whose work reached both the mountainous regions and the tropics, by difficult roads, by boat or by air, facing dangers and hardships, but totally dedicated, body and soul, to the announcement of plentiful redemption for the poor and forgotten. In many cases, the Redemptorists were pioneers of the Church’s presence and attention to the most socially abandoned people. The Redemptorists of Bolivia should be proud of this history, which continues to be written by the current generation.
Fr. João Pedro Fernandes, C.Ss.R.
(Translation: Fr. Joseph P. Dorcey, CSSR)