INAUGURAL ADDRESS OF THE SUPERIOR GENERAL DURING 17TH COUNCIL OF THE INSTITUTE 2017 – BANGKOK, THAILAND
Good morning and welcome to you all for the 17th Council of the Institute. I assume that you all had a pleasant and refreshing weekend, after the three days of intense work during the sessions of the Formation of the Provincial Superiors. I wish to begin thanking the Liturgy Committee, headed by Bro. Michael Thinaratna, for the inspiring Prayer Session that sets the tone for the events of the days that follow. Secondly, on behalf of all the participants of the 17th Council of the Institute I wish to say a big thanks to the Province of Thailand for all the energy and enthusiasm it has spent in organizing the whole program of the 17th Council of the Institute, and the CAFMA Meeting and the General Chapter Preparatory Committee Meeting that follow. One can imagine the amount of time that was spent by the Provincial Administration in planning for the whole event. On behalf of the Central Administration, my special thanks go to the Provincial Administration of Thailand, and in particular Bro. Surasit, the Provincial Superior, and Bro. Phiraphongs, who have been coordinating the whole preparation, right from the issuing of the Letters of Invitation, planning for all the logistics at the location, taking care of the travel arrangements and the accommodation of the participants, who have been arriving at different timings, including at odd hours! So, while extending to you all a very hearty welcome, on behalf of the Central Administration, I wish you all a pleasant stay and fruitful session during the upcoming days. I wish to say a special word of welcome to Fr. Jean-Claude Lavigne, the Facilitator for the 32nd General Chapter, who will be joining us by the end of the week, and to the members of the General Chapter Preparatory Committee: Bros. René Delorme, Jean-Marie Ndour, Mariannan M., and Jimmy Kalapurayil. I do it at this stage as a gentle reminder to them of the need to be alert and attentive during the days of the Council of the Institute!
Objectives of the 17th Council of the Institute:
As stated in the Letter of Convocation, dated 10th June 2016, the Agenda of the 17th Council of the Institute will be: “The Evaluation of the Implementation of the Message and Orientations of the 31st General Chapter and the Proposals of the 16th Council of the Institute, and the Preparation for the 32nd General Chapter scheduled for April 2018”. Let me take the liberty of repeating that our Congregation is truly at the crossroads and the 17th Council of the Institute is an appropriate time “to look at the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope”. During the 16th Council of the Institute, as leaders of our Congregation, we asked ourselves whether the following bold statements we made in the Preamble of the Message of the 31st General Chapter have brought about a renewal in the lives of our Brothers: “We acknowledge the need for an in-depth introspection of our religious commitment and the need to reorient our life and mission… We acknowledge that the influence of the modern world is very present in our personal lives and in our religious communities… Therefore we are called to transform ourselves”. In the beginning of the Council of the Institute itself we take a look at two important elements of the Message of the General Chapter, namely Authentic Leadership and Good Governance, especially in the context of the Circular Letters 1 and 2 from the Central Administration.
Program for the 17th Council of the Institute:
- One of the expectations repeated by several of the participants of these sessions is the opportunity to get to know more about other entities, and the possibilities of interacting with them, not only to learn about their strengths but also to learn from one another the coping mechanisms in moments of difficulties. For over 3 days we have the opportunities to listen to our confreres from the different entities sharing about their life and mission, their efforts to implement the Message and Orientations of the General Chapter, and the Proposals of the 16th Council of the Institute, their hopes and aspirations, their fears and anxieties, etc. This will be followed by Workshops in language groups and in the General Assemblies, in order to further reflect on the positive and negative trends that are emerging in the entities and some of the major difficulties you encounter in discharging your responsibilities as animators and administrators.
- During the Council of the Institute, we will also have opportunities to take a look at a number of practical aspects on Formation, on our Education Mission, on our commitment to the Justice and Peace Mission, on Partnership and Collaboration, on the Financial aspects and on the need to build stronger bonds of solidarity within the Congregation, on the current realities of our “mission ad-gentes”, possibilities of new foundations, on the new Structures of the Secretariats for Education, JPIC and Partnership, established in the different sectors, on the relationship between the Central Administration and the different entities, etc.
- As was already done in the 16th Council of the Institute, as well as in the Provincial Chapters recently, in the light of the new realities of “the influence of the modern world being present in our lives and in our religious communities”, we will also have a review of the present practice of the consultation/election/appointment processes in the Congregation, in order to arrive at some practical proposals to counter these negative trends or influences.
- As stated at the beginning, the 17th Council of the Institute also has a second important objective: to prepare for the important event of the 32nd General Chapter, scheduled for April 2018. Fr. Jean-Claude Lavigne, OP, our Facilitator and the Chapter Preparatory Committee will lead us through this process of arriving at a theme to focus on, and spelling out the strategies needed, in order to make the preparations a truly participatory process, involving all the members of the Congregation.
It is my earnest hope that these two weeks spent together as leaders of our Congregation, will be an occasion to strengthen our bond as members of one large family, to have an experience of living out our fraternity and common brotherhood, and to make a realistic appraisal of our life and mission, against the backdrop of the Gospel values and the Founder’s charism. Let me repeat that we are truly at the turning point of history. 300 years of living out our Montfortian charism should enable us “to look at the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope”.
As Pope Francis reminds us, consecrated life is certainly facing many difficulties like decreasing vocations and aging members, particularly in the western world, but the Holy Spirit continues to guide the destiny of the Church. The Holy Father emphasizes that religious life is not just about doing things but doing things differently and about leading through witness and attractiveness of the quality of relationships and the joy of self-effacing service to the most needy. The Vatican document, “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church” also reminds the Brothers of the prophetic dimension of their lives: “The community of Brothers lives its prophetic mission counter-culturally, because of its lifestyle, according to the Gospel, is opposed to what the world promotes… It should not be forgotten, however, that community is a fragile sign: it needs constant renewal; it must be lived on the path of holiness and with an evangelical dynamism that enlivens and constantly remakes the structures”.
In this context, let me take the liberty of quoting here the statements written on the tomb stone of an Anglican Bishop in the Crypts of Westminster Abbey:
“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it too seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize that if I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would have then been able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed the world.” No wonder, Mahatma Gandhi of India said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”!
As I renew my sincere and warm welcome to each one of you for the 17th Council of the Institute, I take this opportunity thank all the members of the Central Administration, who have been spending days and weeks preparing for these sessions. My special thanks , in advance to the members of the Chapter Preparatory Committee for all the works that await them in the months ahead! Similarly, I renew my thanks to the Brothers, Associates and Collaborators of the Province of Thailand, for their warm welcome, rich hospitality and for providing us with a beautiful ambience for organizing our two international sessions. You can certainly look forward to some opportunities during the week end to get to meet and interact with more number of Brothers of the Province, to get a glimpse of the beautiful mission being accomplished by our Brothers, here in Thailand, and of course, to get a glimpse of their rich and varied culture. Make these opportunities as a learning experience. Thank you and God bless.
Br. John Kallarackal