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MESSAGE FROM THE EUROPEAN ASSEMBLY IN VERONA 20th-27th August ’14
We send you warmest greetings from the magnificent setting of Sezano near Verona where, surrounded by vines and olive trees, our assembly brought together, from 20th to 27th August, 19 delegates from 10 countries representing 1600 members of our fraternities in Europe. The following are some of the main conclusions we want to share with you.
1. We are walking with the Church through changing times:
– our Churches in Europe are facing the religious indifference of their people, either because these have gradually lapsed from their faith or because they are ignorant of the basics of Christianity. The Church has been relegated to the margins of society.
– our societies themselves have been shaken by the assaults of financial capitalism that has neither regard for human values nor care for the environment.
– the reality of migration in search of work or asylum and the growing presence of Islam in our societies are a challenge and sometimes a cause for concern.
– the style and the gestures of Pope Francis give us new heart and summon us back to the simplicity of the Gospel.
2. As priests walking with the Church in new situations, we rediscover the relevance of the charism of Br. Charles de Foucauld
– his passion for God led him to put Christ at the centre and to make God’s Word in the Scriptures his essential food.
– his discovery of the saving implications of the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth led him to a life of great simplicity and closeness to the poor.
– his passion for the Gospel ‘to be cried aloud with the whole of his life’ led him to give priority to encounters, conversations, friendships and the duty of understanding the other person’s culture as a way to mission.
– he anticipated some of the great intuitions of the Second Vatican Council which point the way for our Church today: the Word of God (Dei Verbum), the Eucharist as source and summit (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the mission and the mystery of the Church (Lumen Gentium), human beings to be loved (Gaudium et Spes).
3. In the footsteps of Br Charles, we feel called to boldly take the road Pope Francis is showing the Church.
– called to be rooted in Christ so that our lives re-echo the Gospel.
– called to play our part in being a Church that ‘goes forth’ and becomes more missionary.
– called to give first place to encounter, dialogue, listening to others (especially muslims) and so draw close to those on the different ‘margins’.
– called to keep a simple life-style, making us accessible to the poor, close to the people and ‘smelling of the sheep’.
– called to keep our hearts open to the joys and sorrows of our vast world, attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit.
– called as fraternities to be an influence for unity in our presbyterates, marked by diverse pastoral options and the presence of priests from other countries.
During the assembly we were filled with joy and thanksgiving for the presence among us of our brother Gianantonio Allegri, recently set free after 57 days of captivity in the hands of Boko Haram. He recounted this terrifying episode which also turned out to be ‘the treasure hidden in the field’.
We listened to the experience of the fraternities in French-speaking Africa which had just held their Month of Nazareth. Here was an invitation to strengthen our ties with fraternities of different continents which can teach us much in the face of common concerns like the dialogue with Islam and how to establish fraternity in a context of violence.
Sharing too with other visitors from the wider family of Charles de Foucauld (lay, religious men and women) brought home the importance of keeping in touch. Br. Charles considered the role of the laity as vital in evangelization.
Finally, a visit/pilgimage to the monument on Monte Grappa commemorating the 25,000 soldiers from all over Europe who lost their lives there during World War 1 came as a call to our fraternities to work tirelessly for peace at a time when ‘the senseless massacre of war’ (Pope Benedict XV in 1917) is again at the gates of Europe. (Ukraine, Middle
Priestly Fraternity Jesus Caritas
LETTER FROM PARIS
of the International Assembly from 6th to 21st November 2012
Having just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, at the beginning of the Year of Faith, 47 brothers from 28 countries and four continents assembled at the Foyer de Charité in Poissy near Paris. Among us were two older brothers, Mariano Puga and Jacques Midy, members of the Fraternity for over 50 years. The delegate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was unable to get a travel visa and the Canadian delegate had to leave the meeting early because of his brother’s sudden death.
The choice of France as host country evoked the memory of Blessed Charles de Foucauld as did some significant places connected with his life: the Church of St. Augustine where his conversion in 1886 followed his meeting with Abbé Huvelin and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur at Montmartre where he spent a night in adoration with Louis Massignon. France is also the cradle of our priestly fratenity, founded in the early 1950’s and also of other branches of the Foucauldian spiritual family such as Little Sisters of Jesus or Little Sisters of the Gospel who shared personal testimonies at our Assembly.
In conferences we learned about French society and about the place of the Catholic Church in France today. Visits to parishes and to particular places of pastoral activity allowed us grasp the reality of a living Church in secularized surroundings. Liturgical prayer, daily adoration, celebration of the Eucharist, and our Day in the Desert gave the Assembly a spiritual and fraternal atmosphere. Besides, the conviviality, the sharings and common meals supported that climate.
After having heard the echoes of different world regions, we felt in a powerful way how faith is ‘in genesis’ engendering a new way of being Church and helping our fraternities by calling and giving new orientations.
1. Echoes of World Regions
The different reports of various countries and continents enriched us. They allowed us to connect with each other and to have a sense of our complementarity. They created a mutual respect for the different realities of our lives and a humble awareness of the multiple challenges which face us.
The African fraternities are affected by political instability, economic weakness and social insecurity. Our presence as priests sharing the life of the people is often considered as a calming influence that gives them confidence. The long distances, the poor state of roads and the scarcity of financial and material resources that affect African fraternities make communications and meetings less frequent. Far from this being a source of discouragement to the fraternities these particular difficulties seem rather to empower them . The fraternities continue to deepen their own identity and grow in number by welcoming new young priests.
Europe and North America enjoy a certain material prosperity, but at the same time are experiencing a deep economic crisis affecting the stability of many families and causing a feeling of great insecurity. There are many fraternities, but like the clergy in general, they are ageing due to a lack of young priests.
Latin America is experiencing a certain economic growth, but also an increasing social insecurity in a religious context marked by different evangelical currents. Linked with other branches of our spiritual family, the fraternities enjoy a great deal of support and are growing.
Asia has a rapidly growing economy. It is also a continent of great religions, like Islam and Hinduism. The Church is in the minority but fraternities are attracting young priests. Inter-religious dialogue is developing and preserving the identity of the Christian faith.
2. Proclaiming the Faith
Depending on the different places in the world and different faith situations, the proclamation of the faith has to be presented in different ways.
In the first place, faith takes the form of courage to live and exist. In the various stages of personal and common life, faith is a matter of believing that life keeps its promise. That elementary form of faith meets the universality of the Gospel since all human beings face the same challenge: to believe that life is worth living. Faced with all sorts of evil, which strike at humanity, we announce the Good News of radical goodness. Together with Jesus in announcing the Good News, we believe that evil does not have the last word. That is also a condition to enable faith and the freedom to trust people so that faith may be born in them.
In fact, Jesus of Nazareth, his way of being and living is the example to present the Gospel to all human beings. Jesus always said what he thought and did what he said. He expressed his compassion through his actions and always put himself in the place of the other while being true to himself in actions that gave expression to his compassion and he went to extremes in facing his opponents. Making the gospel humanly plausible, Jesus freely gave up his own life. This is echoed in the life and destiny of Brother Charles who sought to imitate Him in his own life and death.
This imitation of the life of Jesus in closeness and hospitality, engenders a Church always ‘in genesis’. The Church is born where faith is sown. In basic encounters, in hospitality and in welcoming attitudes, the figure of the disciple is revealed. Rereading the Scriptures the disciple, who can be one of us, gives a visible dimension to the faith and this connects the sacraments with Jesus’ messianic signs. Even a poor and small community discovers that its lived fraternity crosses the frontiers of time and space. If this community crosses the threshold of contemplation to reach liturgy and adoration, it will be revealed that the Body of Christ is built in it and that it is inserted into the immense people of God, the Church, advancing towards God.
We have now better understood that the responses to the world’s greatest challenges are to be found in the gestures of daily life. If Christian communities are open to the Gospel, they put aside their personal cares and, motived by the Incarnation, witness their solidarity with the weakest of people. Respecting everybody’s individuality, through bonds of friendship and closeness, they live this respect for the other without fear and are open to the universal. These enable hospitality to be a place of God’s self-revelation. God reveals himself in the unknown of the other person whom I meet, and expecially in the encounter with the most marginalized.
While the Church may disappear in some places or areas, it reappears in other places as a community ‘in diaspora’. It cannot fail to be born where faith emerges anew. The Church allows faith to serve the common good. Here we can find the expression of Jesus’ good news for today. He calls us into fraternity. We want to live fraternity in response to his continued calling.
3. Calls to and Directions for our Fraternity
In the International Assembly, we experienced the diversity, differences and originality of representatives coming from different national and regional fraternities and cultures. We have lived with joy our communion and communication in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. But what about those who do not know Jesus Christ? And if they do not know him or have not heard him spoken of, how can they take him into their daily life?
Today’s globalisation and its zones of destruction means we can encounter the other as different from ourselves, provoking reactions of welcome, but also of rejection or of fear. So how can we come together?
Today ethical discussions reveal that a great many people have resistance to one another, especially towards those who exercise power. To build a world which may be a home for all, setting out from our own situations without either exclusion or domination of one another, what is our contribution as Fraternity?
Our ideal is to live the absolute of God, the love of Jesus Christ in the manner of Brother Charles, as a fruit of the Spirit, in closeness to and with respect for the other, setting out from littleness, from the ordinary, always in relation to the weakest, the poorest and the most marginalised whom God loves and on behalf of whom he appeals to us.
As diocesan priests we must recognise the reality which is ours in certain countries: we are few, ageing, and may be misunderstood in certain priestly circles and by some young priests. However, we also see huge commitment, self-giving and faithfulness among our brothers in so many parts of the world. Everywhere we feel called to exercise fraternity with all our brother priests.
This demands that we strengthn our community life – in the Review of Life, in listening to and sharing the Word of God, united in Eucharistic Adoration, in the Desert Day and with the simple witness of daily life, wherever the Church has sent and placed us as diocesan priests.
It is important that younger priests get to know us, not in order to gain prestige or reputation, but as a sincere service to the spiritual life of the Church, in fidelity to her and to bishops. That much we owe to the poor.
Elderly brothers belong to our fraternites and are for us witnesses to the mission that they have lived. We need their witness and their support in prayer. We also know that the brothers who have gone before us are still in communion with us.
• To enhance our solidarity and our missionary awareness at a local and international level, as universal brothers especially when today’s culture favours and values individualism causing both isolation and loneliness in so many of our brothers.
• To not become inured to reality but rather to let ourselves both question and be challenged by it starting from the Gospel and the wisdom of the poor. To take the way of Jesus in the exercise of authority as service.
• To be signs of gratuitous and loving welcome towards migrants, refugees and exiles which today’s world system generates, recognising the contribution they offer us more than the difficulties that they cause for us. To recognise all the new forms of slavery which appear, crushing and alienating so many of our brothers causing them to be devoured by the prevailing system which privileges only the few.
• Our great suffering and shame in relation to sexual abuses by some priests has made us more humble and more faithful to God. “Be alert!”
• To mature, to grow and to live life in fraternity – the fact of being alone or isolated ought to be only an exception spurring us on to address this promptly. That is our greatest strength, helping us discern with others what Jesus is calling us to do today. It is the most effective help for affirming our own vocation in the Church and in the world and in our own milieu.
• To give silent witness, with a real presence, by a life of prayer that links faith and life, and daily actions of even simple solidarity, is the most appropriate response to all forms of fundamentalism which obscure the love of God the Father and prevent real and meaningful encounter with respect to our own identity. It is precisely there that we find ourselves with the Risen Christ.
• We are serious about planning the Month of Nazarth so that all brothers of our fraternities may have the possibily of living this experience, in the spirit of Brother Charles, in the intimacy of the love of Jesus Christ who steers our directions and actions, both in fratenal life at the service of the poor and in allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit in solidarity with them.
• Finally, to deepen, and hold regional and continental meetings so as let us get to know and live communion with each other, in the service of the poor, in the manner suggested to us by Brother Charles, in love and faithfulness to Jesus Christ who gives us life, who restores us to our dignity as children of God, and so as brothers bearing responsabilty for each other.
We have elected Aurelio Sanz Baeza of Spain as General Responsible and approved the international team he has chosen for this task: Jean Francois Berjonneau (France); Emmanuel Asi (Pakistan); Félix Rajaonarovelo (Madagascar); Mauricio da Silva (Brazil) and Mark Mertes (USA).
Special thanks were extended to French fraternities for organising the assembly and to the outgoing international team.
In these years when we commemorate Vatican Council II let us remember how much the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld has inspired several council texts and how much the Foucauldian family, of which we are part, contributes to the birth of the Church of our time spread throughout the world, making itself accessible to all people. Both as witnesses and bearers of the Gospel of goodness, in ever evolving fraternities with the original place of our charism and our vocation, we present this God of love, who became incarnate as a brother to us in Jesus of Nazareth.