Pre-Chapter Preparation: East Africa Reflections

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WP East afirca reflections

XAVERIAN BROTHERS  |  East Africa Regional Meeting  |  Xaverian Centre  |  Nairobi, Kenya  |  11—12 May 2013

Following an opening prayer in the chapel, 18 Xaverian Brothers and 5 International Postulants of the East Africa Region gathered in the community room of Otunga House at Xaverian Centre, Nairobi on 11 & 12 May 2013 to reflect on the Xaverian charism and to consider suitable practices in different areas of Xaverian life, in preparation for the 27th General Chapter.  Brothers David Mahoney and John Mary Oketch agreed to serve as secretaries.  A letter from Br. Larry Harvey the General Superior was distributed, inviting the brothers to try to reach some consensus on practices they can support or others they would like to include, and to note any other practices or agenda items that are particularly pertinent to the Region.

 

I. Charism 9:25 a.m.
Br. Raphael Wanjala chaired the discussion of Xaverian Charism.

  • The addition about public commitment of vows was noted as helpful.
  • Some see the notion of “margins” as unclear. Being with the people may be more important than being on the margins.
  • Being put in one’s place raises the question, “What is that place?” It can mean to be with those who are the last and the least, and to give support to the margin.
  • Brothers are comfortable with the proposition that education takes many forms.
  • It is important to understand that “we are sent.”
  • A caution was raised: we must not simply rise in status with the people, but we must go down; and there comes a time when we must start over with others.
  • Being a brother, as we are, means leading people to become brothers.
  • Our backgrounds and the African cultural context need to be incorporated into our religious life.
  • We must not forget the spirit to move on, to let go, to let the people continue, to be ready to leave the comfortable, ready to move.
  • It is beneficial when community members visit the brothers’ homes, and the practice should continue.

II. Leadership 10:15 a.m.
Br. Louis Calmel chaired the discussion on Leadership.

  • Some of the practices suggested in response to statements from the Description that touch on governance were thought to be inadequate, impersonal, and in need of simplification.
  • By explaining the notion of horizontal leadership, Br. Louis responded to uncertainty about the meaning of the call “to involve more of the brothers in planning and decision-making.”
  • While brothers agree that all areas should be reflected in the Council, the imposition of very specific requirements — as in where councilors should come from or live— is not desirable. Practicing subsidiarity and having local leadership would be more important than mandating that a Vicar General live in Africa.
  • Currently, a General Councilor in Africa is called to be collaborative rather than supervisory in relation to Regional Coordinators. A VG in Africa would be “a lightning rod.”
  • A disadvantage of electing Regional Coordinators is that popularity could win out over competence, and a man’s health and mobility might not be taken into consideration.  That the General should delegate responsibility to Coordinators is acceptable, but their pastoral role must be re-emphasized.
  • Communication must be two-way, and members must communicate with leadership and with the congregation.  An example was cited of a missionary aid organization from Austria that has not received reports from the missionaries it aids.
  • Two practices judged appealing were that “Brothers in leadership positions strive to be alert to possible areas in which individuals or groups of brothers may be able to provide assistance or presence” and that we need to “Revitalize area coordinators, who would be the “face” of the GS and would begin again the practice of area meetings.”
  • The interplay of communication and leadership was underlined. Leadership in a region must take an interest in a brother’s progress. The proposal that “Brothers in leadership positions strive to get to know each of the Brothers personally by private conversations at least yearly” speaks to the very meaning of Leadership.
  • A region would benefit from a monthly bulletin, with a monthly calendar, a reminder of birthdays, the promotion of upcoming meetings, etc. It could be an “electronic regional bulletin.” The Viewpoints edited by the late Br. Fred Murphy were mentioned as an example.
  • In fact, some brothers don’t check their mail very often, which inhibits communication. And leaders must check theirs.
  • Striking a proper balance between Management and Pastoral Leadership is challenging. Sometimes the Kenya Regional Council has been delayed in meeting because of other activities that arise.
  • When leaders are being chosen, the salaries that brothers can bring to the congregation if they are not in leadership positions must also be taken into account.
  • The first statements on p. 3 of the Governance document say more about ministry than about governance. Still, the affirmation of the importance of education stimulated some discussion: Bishops are building their own schools; RSCK is planning a meeting on the topic of contracts with bishops; we are not just teachers, but educators, and we’re not doing it only for the money; schools are improved by the presence of religious, and our impact is major.
  • The proposal on p. 3 (second statement) that we have a “Mission Coordinator” sparked considerable interest. He could be expected to encourage brothers at regional gatherings to develop other interests and he should invite more brothers to work other areas.
  • The third statement on p. 3 must not be taken literally when it calls the General Superior to Africa “three times a month.” It is supposed that it should say “three times a year.”  Either way, the General ought not to devote most of his time to Africa. It can be left to the leader to judge what is appropriate and to be present as the needs arise.  Mandating too frequent visits would transform the General’s role from pastoral to dictatorial.
  • The proposal on p. 4 that the Regional Councils meet every five weeks was judged impractical. At present, both Congo and Kenya have co-chairmen and one General Councilor in the country. An Executive committee of the Regional Council may sometimes act in an emergency, but its role is not to veto what the Council has passed, and it important that this be understood. The only veto power belongs to the General Superior.
  • Whether Regional Councilors and committee members should simply be appointed by the General or elected by the members was not determined, but there was interest in a proposal that brothers be “vetted” and their names presented to the General.
  • The brothers like having a Regional Council with one or two coordinators and councilors who are vetted in the region and approved by the General.  Councilors would chair the committees, and the number of councilors should correspond to the number of committees.  The chairman of the session perceived consensus.
  • Concerning local community government, whereas Congo envisions superiors, a number believe that that is not necessary in Kenya; rather, if a community desires to have a director, it can.  Although the need to decide is not yet there, it is good to be ready.  The word “animator” is preferable to “superior.” A formator asked how we can “manage people so that they can become leaders.”
  • The proposal from the General Council on p. 5 concerning the composition of the General Council elicited several viewpoints. Brothers see that having regional representation on the General Council is certainly good; however, it is the General Chapter that should decide this question. Having a Councilor for Mission should also be considered. It is more important to have Councilors with expertise in areas such as Ministry, Formation, Finance, etc., than to focus on nationality or region. It may be better to speak more of functions than of countries; and to emphasize competence, as revealed by “vetting,” rather than just willingness.
  • It was pointed out that while Br. François Musongo is Councilor for Congo and Kenya, Br. Louis’s role is at-large, not just for Kenya.

III. Community & Spirituality 2:30 p.m.
Br. Placide chaired the discussion on Community and Spirituality.

  • Much of the first section of the paper focuses on the role of Intentional Groups, which many find more pertinent to the U.S. experience.
  • Our most important link as Xaverians is TJR, not Intentional Groups, and our most important structure is brotherhood.
  • Spiritual life will depend on context, and prayer life may be integrated with that of other communities, so that the community’s prayer life might not be exclusively Xaverian.
  • Being kind and helpful to outsiders is an element of our spiritual life.
  • No. 8 in the first statement addresses an important question, that of aid to members of a brother’s family. Noting a reticence about this question, one brother said, “We tend not to concentrate on our own families.”
  • Someone is always asking for help and it is important (1) to listen, (2) to see if we can help, and (3) not to take it all upon ourselves.
  • Many religious pass problems on to the community, without dipping into their own personal budgets.
  • We must be ready not only to be hospitable but to “give up DSTV” and perhaps to move.
  • The suggestion in No. 16 on p. 3 that Africans might be brought to the United States for leadership training met with much negative response.

“Is leadership necessarily developed in the States?”
“Patronizing.”
“An ‘International’ Formation Committee with only Americans.”
“Delete it.”

  • The suggestions on pp. 2-3, Nos. 10, and 15, on the other hand, were favorably received: frequent community meetings, getting together to be ‘brothers’ to one another, and sharing and celebrating Brothers for what they do and who they are.

“Sometimes our gatherings are too technical.”
“We have to help those brothers who don’t take enough time with cooking, for example.” We need meetings for “capacity-building.”
“We do need a presence with each other, both in mission and in prayer.”
“We need to commit ourselves to help brothers having problems. Although we may not have skills, we still must deal with problems as they arise.”

  • Much of the impulse to have meetings, it was pointed out, comes out of the experience of the many American brothers who do not live together.
  • No. 2 on p. 3 (top) was dismissed by one brother as “micro-managing my spiritual life.”
  • No. 1 on p. 3 (top), promoting silence, was welcomed, in spite of whatever noisy habits we may have.
  • Continuing formation is to target everyone.
  • To be complete, formation must include formation for mission.
  • “A band of Brothers who work together…” raised questions about what are specifically Xaverian apostolates, and who are the poor that they address.
  • “We need to be clear that vow celebrations are important times to be together.” “Birthdays are important – to do well.”

“Accompanying a brother who has lost a loved one.”
“Take an interest in brothers’ family problems, sick relatives, etc.”
“The mandate of mourning is often left to the brothers in Bungoma.”
“We must realize that our gathering represents support.”

  • P. 4, on participating in the Church’s mission:

“We don’t participate fully in Church programs; it is a challenge.”
“We need to work with Muslims, without converting them.”
“Bring Good News.”
“Stress growth of spirit, not just initial conversion.”
“Invite parish young people so we can become better known as Xaverian Brothers.” “Some parish priests see Xaverians as disengaged from the Church; we’re trying to remedy that.”

  • Br. Bill Cushing asked whether anything has come up in local a community that has not been mentioned here. “Respect the calendar.” “Brothers need refreshing moments.”

 

IV. Ministry at all stages of life 10:00 a.m.
Br. Bill Cushing chaired the discussion of Ministry at all stages of life. He began by explaining the allusion to Jane Thibodeau’s workshops

  • No. 1 is more relevant in the U.S.
  • No. 2: “Apple pie.” “Common sense.”
  • No. 3: “Regional meetings are feasible and whenever we have gatherings we should look at Mission.”
  • No. 4: “A good topic for local and regional gatherings, although we don’t have Associates.”
  • No. 5: “Yes, mission is to do good where you are.”

“We are all missionaries.”
“Do hard work in places where people don’t go.”
Sent is a verb: go away.”
“Go somewhere, not necessarily to a different country.”
“The work of those at home makes it possible for others to go away. It is all the work of the Congregation.”

  • No. 6:  OK.
  • No. 7, on the Xaveriana and ministries regardless of income.

“For sustainability, can we encourage brothers to take jobs earning more money?”
“We must maintain our identity as brothers where we work.”
“We need houses in other places to be able to form communities.”
“We have already invited a group to rent a house and form a community.”
“Brothers need to be encouraged to work in ministry.”
“Let’s open the box. Someone could work at Light Academy.” [A private school behind Xaverian Centre.]
“There must be a balance: an approved work and living in community.”
“Are we formed to live in community or to bring in money?”
“We have to sacrifice homogeneity of lifestyles and be willing to live at a lower lifestyle, one that is linked to the people we work with.”
“I can’t use a vehicle to travel 10 minutes to school; I want to live a simple life.”
“There is not necessarily a uniformity of community life.”

  • No. 8, on living our mission on the frontier.

“Who is to clarify the distinction between community and mission?”
“It’s not how much money you earn [that is important], but how you serve.”

  • No. 9, on the Church’s mission of evangelization.

Point 3, “African brothers can become more aware of our sponsored schools by studying their websites.”
“More awareness is needed of the role of the brother in the Church.”
“A life of service and witness.”
“How can we help in the parish?”
“Your lifestyle is a sign, a witness.”
“How keen are we at giving information?”
“Can all Xaverian Brothers meet?” / “Only through a Skype conference. Jim Kelly was present at Council meetings via Skype.”

  • No. 10, on giving witness and embracing practice of the vows.

“Motherhood and apple pie.”
“Ready to give witness to all, however, what’s missing is the tendency of some brothers to be racist or tribalistic.”
“We must welcome each other for who we are.”
“Example: people speaking in their own tongues.”
“Tribalism exists in Kenya and Congo and needs to be addressed.”
“We need to edify and correct.”

  • No. 11, on Evangelization.

“Common sense.”

  • No. 12, on service to others.

Others are far away. Let our own brothers be the first others.”
“Discernment and dialogue do not just mean finding affirmation.”
“We must see the needs of the Church and the congregation, not just our own needs.”
“We must discern with the community. We must dialogue, and no try to convince.”

  • No. 13, on retirement.

“What is the meaning of retirement home? How else can we describe these houses?”
“Young brothers must be integrated to take up leadership.”

  • No. 14, on ministries in Kenya.

“In Kenya, we have gone where we were needed.”
“If we think only of going where we own, we limit ourselves.”
“Moses is doing an excellent job at St. Kevin’s”
“But we must not think only of St. Kevin’s.”
“Form of our ministry may change.”
“If Mike dies, can we maintain a corporate commitment to Turkana and South Sudan?”
“We have a way of thinking of a place as belonging to one person.”
“In the 1970’s, Xaverians stopped moving, and leadership let us stay longer.”
“We owned Tindinyo and we gave it away.”
“Yes, we can have a place of our own, but we don’t have to be there forever.”
“You can get stuck.”
“There is a dichotomy between being available to fulfill needs and being associated with an institution. One can be in South Sudan temporarily, but in 10 years a South Sudanese will be qualified to do the same work.”
“We should change our name to something pronounceable.”

  • No. 15, on trying new ministries.

“Some of us are at the beginning of our ministries, some are ready for retirement.”
“To what can we welcome new brothers.”
“Have our brothers who are students been engaged in ministries?”
“If not, is it their choice or the congregation’s?”
“It is painful when brothers are sent somewhere with You’ll find something to do,”
“Ministry must be connected with talents.”
“Something has changed. I wish scholastics could look around to find work.”
“But brothers are in school Monday to Friday.”
“And they must still spend time with the community.”
“The one-year break caused an outcry.”
“We mustn’t send people without an idea what they’ll do.”
“There can be weekend ministries. Involvement in local parish. As part of our training, we must set priorities. Perhaps 2 or 3 hours on the weekend.”
“One student ministers through Focolare and in choir at school. AT the start of studies, some still went to Kibera.”
“Two or three months as a teacher or social worker won’t make you a professional. But exposure to different ministries helps you to decide.”
“The experience of living in a working community is important.”
“Away Ministry has to do with engaging and being part of a community.”
“Our responsibility is to engage brothers in building community.”
“Some avoid Away Ministry. When will they engage?”
“Away Ministry has been poorly run. Brothers must understand what the ministries are about.”
“You’re losing something if you just become a professional student.”
“These are formational issues—why haven’t they been discussed here?”
“We have to solve the problems here.
“The director at Marist says to join clubs for ministry.”

  • No. 16, on giving two hours per week.

“Concerns the retired.”

  • No. 17, on the sense of being missioned by the congregation.

“To help brothers understand what being missioned means, let them visit our missions.”

  • No. 18, on the meaning of many forms of education.

“During 3rd –year postulancy and Novitiate, brothers are helped to make choices.” “Sometimes we block their choices.”
“We need to have a plan. What plan do we have in Kenya?”
“Three options: formation, social word, and education.”
“This is something for another meeting.”
“Younger brothers need to talk with those going to school.”

  • No. 19, on the poor and the marginalized.

“Advocacy is important.”
“RSCK has a Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation commission that meets monthly, in which a brother could participate. The group is interested in advocacy.”
“South Sudan Solidarity is a good organization.”

  • No. 20, on meeting to discern nature and quality of hospitable sharing…

“Not just twice a year, but every time we meet.”
“Let’s encourage communities around us to share in our lives.”
“An examen of consciousness is helpful.”
“Yes, an inventory of topics.”
“Our community shares prayer with another community that has some intentions repeated every day. We need to make intentions part of our communal prayer life.”

  • No. 21, on fraternal presence to brothers and others:

Agreed.

  • No. 22, on mission on the frontiers:

“How ready are we to leave the familiar and comfortable? Are we willing to go where there is no Nakumatt?”
On volunteering by retired brothers:
“OK, no comment, but mostly for the retired.”

  • No. 23, on religious lessons being given by brothers in Congo:

“We need qualified teachers of religion, and not all brothers have done religious studies. You have to be prepared.”
“Our formation should prepare us to teach religion.”
“In Congo there is no specific program for religion.”
“In Congo, laity qualified to teach religion are rare, and many young people are disturbed by the sects.”
“Brothers in any school have to be actively engaged in the religious culture of the school. “Brothers, whether qualified or not, can bring something special that others can’t bring.”
“Brothers should all be prepared to teach religion.”

  • No. 24, on CEVs in Congo:

“Very specific, in reference to Congo.”
“What is our relation to the local Church? The Chapter could say something.”
“This pertains to ministry.”
“We need to organize sharing on mission needs.”
“We need to be open to different ways.”
“Understand the people we minister to.”
“How much preparation is needed?” / “Francis Xavier wasn’t prepared. He didn’t know the language. Trust people, but be prudent.”
“Don’t engage in a way that keeps people dependent.”

V. FINANCE 2:00 p.m.
Br. Dan Ongeso chaired the discussion of Finance.

  • No. 1c, on meetings in Kenya and Congo:

“More meeting material for us.”
“We must live with what we need and not what we want.”

    • No. 2, on disposal of property:

[Explanations were given about several places we are selling.]

“Here we have to be careful when disposing of appliances and vehicles, tables, etc. They might be useful in another house.”
“Sometimes communities want to buy the best. It can be hard to live simply.”

  • No. 3, on community discernment about poverty:

“Some gifts must be spent according to the donors’ wishes.”
“Let the community decide.”
“Some donations are restricted.”
“When we help people, we shouldn’t pay all.”
“In time, at Lodwar or Bungoma, you can see people becoming dependent.”
“Our place is on the margins. Giving money is prestige.”
“We need to reflect on our understanding of our vow according to the social situation.”
“Certain bicycles attract people’s attention.”
“Do not act autonomously. Get the concurrence of superiors.”
“We’re not ‘entitled’ to Ksh 3500 per month. It’s community money, not ours.”

  • No. 4, on witnessing to ideals of first Gospel community:

No comments.

  • No. 5, on manifesting God’s care and compassionate love…:

It’s happening already.

  • No. 6, on practicing the vows:

6.1 — 6.8 drew agreement, except 6.7, which threatens still more meetings.
6.9a drew spontaneous laughter because of what had been exchanged earlier about going to the US for “proper” training.
6.10 & 11 sparked conversation on other sources of income:
“A petrol station in Lodwar.”
“Sustainability was topic at a recent meeting of Superiors’ Conference. It is everyone’s concern.”
“Key is commitment.”
“Local bishop will always want 10%.”
“One congregation takes 10% from every program grant it receives.”

  • No. 7: the suggestions here aren’t for a General Chapter.
  • No. 8, I think the present situation is quite good:

A joke?

  • No. 9, a statement from Congo:

“Some of these suggestions are governance or formation.”
“It paints a realistic picture.”
“Tapping the potentials of our families. We are at different levels. So are our families. Suppose a family want to pay a brother’s school fees?”
“Good things to talk about.”
“As a brother, I should be able to generate money.”
“Brothers who work can generate incomes.”
“We don’t have trust among ourselves.”

At 3:50, the pages entitled “Further Reflections” were considered.

  • P. 3, the section on Community, presents two different priorities for religious community, ministry supported by community life and prayer or spiritual practices and growth along with community, expressed in ministry.
  • P. 3, the section on Contemplative Stance:

“Hard work.”

  • P. 3, on Internationality

“We need facilitators and conveners.”
“Bring people together and get results.”
“Discover what can be done with Skype.”
“CUEA does teleconferencing.”
“You have a right to write to Baltimore.”
“One week for the secretaries’ report.”

The meeting ended at 4:47, with a prayer from Br. David

Br. David P. Mahoney, CFX
Br. John Mary Ouma Oketch, CFX
One month later, 10 June 2013.

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