The letter below was sent via email to the Delegates of the 27th General Chapter on June 21, 2013.
In one month we will be gathering in Rome for our 27th General Chapter. At this time, I want to communicate the general outline of the Chapter and also let you know about some of the practical logistics of our time together in Rome.
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE CHAPTER
All delegates will arrive by Sunday, 21 July – lunch and dinner will be available at Casa LaSalle for those arriving on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, since many will still be recuperating from their travel, most of the day is unscheduled. This will allow you to relax a bit, perhaps to become familiar with the surroundings and to visit some important sites, like St. Peter’s or the Church of the Gesu. (Maps will be available for you at Casa LaSalle when you check in.) On Monday evening we will formally open the Chapter with the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit at 6pm. The principal celebrant for this liturgy will be Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, the former Archbishop of Baltimore who now serves as the Grand Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher. Following the liturgy we will have a reception and dinner to celebrate the start of the Chapter.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we will enter into some reflective days with a focus on Xaverian Spirituality. Joining us for these days will be Jesuit Father Robert Faesen, of the faculty of the Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Antwerp. Fr. Faesen is an expert on the spirituality of the Middle Dutch Mystics and has authored or edited many books and publications. In addition to his teaching in Belgium, he has also served as visiting lecturer at universities in the US and England. Fr. Faesen will be able to provide us some of the “foundations” of the spirituality of the Middle Dutch mystics, and he will highlight some of the themes we see present in Ryken’s writings: ordinariness, turning toward God, and the integrated life of action and contemplation (“the privilege of following the life of Martha and Mary”). While he will be providing us with some important background information, we will be able to reflect on this information in light of our research on the Founder, as well as the call for us today to understand, appreciate and practice elements of this spirituality that are at the heart of our foundation and intimately connected with Ryken’s charism. These days will provide time for personal reflection, small group sharing as well as dialogue with each other and with Fr. Faesen.
On Thursday morning, Brother René Stockman, the Superior General of the Brothers of Charity of Ghent, will be with us and will speak to us about the role of the Religious Brother in the Church Today. On Thursday afternoon, with the experience and insights of the previous days, we will turn our attention to the Description of the Charism. While there seems to be a general agreement among the Brothers regarding the Description, the Chapter will need to review the Description and decide if it can affirm it. A writing committee will most likely be needed to prepare the final draft of the Description for action by the Chapter. The affirmation of the Description of the Charism is a critical element of the Chapter, as the remainder of the work of the Chapter – the developing of practices and call to leadership – should flow from this Description. The remainder of the afternoon on Thursday, as well as Friday and the first session of the day on Saturday, will be devoted to our work in committees. Later in the morning on Saturday and on Saturday afternoon we will hear reports from the working committees and discuss the recommendations and practices related to each committee’s work. We should be able to hear from three of the working committees on Saturday.
On Sunday, 28 July, we will have a pilgrimage to Assisi for prayer and relaxation. While we hope to have our Sunday liturgy at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, there will be time for the delegates to walk the streets of Assisi, pray in some of the other churches and convents, and share a simple meal. Hopefully, in the beautiful setting of Assisi, despite the tourists and other pilgrims, we will each find time to reflect on the ways God’s Spirit is guiding us and urging us on in our work at Chapter.
We will conclude the working committee reports and discussion on Monday morning. In our afternoon session, we will have an opportunity to review the recommended practices presented as a whole, to seek clarification where necessary, and, if it is the will of the Chapter, to approve the practices in principle. On Tuesday and Wednesday we will enter into our leadership discernment phase of the Chapter. Some of this discussion should be informed by the report and discussion from the working committee on governance, as well as the practices that the Chapter has endorsed. However, we should also consider the obstacles/challenges to leadership today, as well as the call to all members of the Congregation to be accountable for how we live out our charism in the future.
Thursday and Friday morning will allow us time to do the necessary enactments of the Chapter, such as recording the vote on the Description of Charism, Practices, any other recommendations or policies submitted to the Chapter, as well as to hear from the newly elected congregational leadership and to discuss the implementation of the Chapter decisions. We will conclude the Chapter on Friday afternoon with a liturgy and the inauguration of the newly elected General Superior and General Council.
TASK FOR WORKING COMMITTEES
As you can see, a major focus of our work will come from the working committees on Community Life and Spirituality, Finance, Ministry, Associates and Governance. I hope that all of us come to Chapter having spent time these past few months reflecting on the material received from the various regions of the Congregation, discussing the major issues with fellow Brothers, and reflecting on all of this in prayer. While there are many thoughts and ideas expressed, some of which may seem contradictory, it is important, I believe, for each of us to listen to the directive that may be contained within the heart of the suggested practices, recommendations or suggested agenda items. Please come to Chapter having a sense of what the Brothers in your region believe are the practices we are being called to incorporate into our way of life; but, also realize that one of our goals is to discern a shared vision that is consistent with our Charism as it being described and that advances our mission, not to agree on some least common denominator generic practices that may make everyone feel his opinion is expressed, but do not necessarily reflect the deeper aspirations we have for our life. I do not believe that our work will be easy. It is difficult to have discussions about the foundational elements of our life given our various ages, our cultural differences, and our different experiences of formation. The tendency could be to say that what is good for older Brothers in American or Belgium is so different from the Brothers in Kenya, Congo, Haiti or South Sudan that we can never agree on shared practices. This, I believe, would be a shame. In your preparation for Chapter, please try to dialogue what you are hearing or reading from the Brothers at large, from our Associates and Collaborators, with the aspirations Ryken expressed in his own writings as they are found in the Working Papers published last July for the International Assembly or as re-articulated in the short video presentations on Xaverian Spirituality, Life form, Ecclesiality and Mission. Another practical exercise would be to look at the suggested practices related to your own working committee assignment and begin the process of seeing which practices are redundant or what themes you see emerging from those suggestions. This exercise will make your work at Chapter easier so that more time can be spent really listening to each other and discerning the way God’s Spirit is calling us today. I will be asking various Brothers from each working committee to serve as the committee chair (or co-chair in some cases), coordinating the work of the committee at Chapter. I will also ask them to serve as a steering committee for the Chapter to provide the flexibility we need to plan the specific schedule of each day and make adjustments to the flow of our work as needed.
Some practical items: As you know, the Chapter will be held at Casa La Salle, the guest house on the property of the Generalate of the De LaSalle Christian Brothers (Brothers of Christian Schools). The street address is Via Aurelia, 472 00165 Rome, Italy (phone: +39 06 666981). With the assistance of the staff at Casa LaSalle, I will arrange airport pick-up for the majority of delegates. For a few it will be more practical to take a taxi from the airport to Casa La Salle, but I will notify the Brothers for whom this is the case. Likewise, we’ll arrange return trips to the airport on 3 August. I have arranged with the staff at Casa La Salle for laundry service on two occasions during the Chapter, so laundry will be done on Wednesday or Thursday of the first week, and again on Monday or Tuesday of the second week. (Most likely the laundry service will do half of the group on one day and the other half on the second day. Laundry is turned in on one day and returned on the other. ) Regarding attire, for most of the sessions the dress code will be casual (expect hot weather), but for at least two of the liturgies – the opening on 22 July and the conclusion on 2 August, it would be more appropriate to be a little more “business casual” – no shorts, t-shirt, etc. There is no need to have a suit or blazer (sport jacket).
We will follow the “Roman schedule” for our sessions. This means that we’ll have morning sessions from 9 – 12:30 (with appropriate breaks), lunch at 1pm each day followed by a long rest. The afternoon sessions will begin at 3:30 and conclude at 6:30. The evening meal is served at 8pm each day. Since July and August are usually very warm days, please be aware that the main meeting rooms and individual guest rooms have air conditioning. Wi-Fi is also available throughout the facility. You are welcome to bring your own laptop computers or iPads, tablets, etc. We will also have 3 workstations available in the workroom. Please note, however, that the priority for those workstations will be given to the Chapter Secretaries and the Liturgy Committee. A printer/photocopier is also being made available for our use at a fee.
In addition to the maps available when you check in at the Casa LaSalle, I plan on having some bus tickets/passes available as well. The bus ride from Casa LaSalle to Vatican City is approximately 15-20 minutes. A metro station (subway) is also a short walk from Casa LaSalle, which can bring you into the center of Rome. Tourist guides and maps for the metro system are on display or available in the main lobby of Casa LaSalle.
Finally, some of the sessions and liturgies of the chapter will be live-streamed so that Brothers in other parts of the world can view certain moments of the Chapter. Regular posts will also be made on the Living the Charism website, on Facebook and Twitter. Obviously, some parts of the Chapter, such as the leadership discernment phase, are more private and sensitive and so we will maintain a different level of confidentiality and privacy at those times and would ask the delegates to respect that as well in your own social communication or emails/messages to Brothers who are not delegates or staff at the Chapter.
Brothers, I think the schedule for the Chapter is paced well, allowing us time for prayer, reflection, rest, significant discussion and definitely periods of time when we will work very hard. I have no doubt that we will be able to create a real spirit of fraternity, from which we will call each other to various roles of leadership and accountability. I believe that we have important and very significant work to do at this Chapter, work which will determine the future of the Congregation, and work against which history will judge us as to how faithful we have remained to our founding charism. I shy away, however, from using words like re-foundation, or renewal, because to me those words are more about ego projects, creating our personal or individual legacy, than they are about the work of the Spirit. We need to be about the work of the Spirit. We need to be about a kind of creative fidelity to Theodore Ryken’s vision and charism, not about imposing our ideology or positioning ourselves (or our friends) for places of power, privilege or esteem. With all my heart, I believe that our Congregation, our sponsored works, our Associates and Collaborators, our Church and our world need the witness that only we, Consecrated Religious laymen who are followers of Ryken can give. There are challenging times before us; I believe we are up to the challenge. Let us pray for each other during these final days of preparation, and may we also encourage our Brothers, Associates, Collaborators, family and friends to pray for us as well.