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Meeting on Lay Association and Belonging

09/04/2014: General House

If not now, when? If not us, who?” was none other than the challenge launched by Br Emili to begin the meeting on Lay Association and Belonging (Rome, 26-29 March 2014). A challenge which appears to have been anticipated by the  participants before the meeting, considering the significant presence of a good part of the General Council, eight provincials, a good group of provincial councillors, and 21 lay people, representing 20 Administrative Units, altogether with members of the Secretariats almost sixty participants.

Emili gave focus to the meeting by recalling the original project of the Society of Mary, formed by religious, lay persons and priests. He emphasized that the time had come to complete this project of the Marist origins. If the first century, he said, was one of foundation and structuring, the second meant refoundation and restructuring. The third century should open with a new beginning for the Marist charism, where both brothers and lay persons are the protagonists. 

At the end of the meeting, recommendations were sought for the General Council and the Administrative Units, but the first part was an attentive listening to the testimonies of lay Marists, the experiences of other   Congregations and the processes of communion within our Institute. We heard about the forms of lay association (Marist Missionaries of Ciudad Juárez, the processes of Santa María de los Andes…), lay association with some presence of brothers (Champagnat Movement, Laity of Canada…), legal association of brothers and laity (Australia…). On the basis of these experiences, innumerable questions surfaced about charismatic and structural, public and private association, autonomy and communion, canonical and civil, unity and diversity, international and local…  But we arrived at the conclusion that the time had come to offer processes of vocational discernment for the laity and to envisage some structure allowing recognition for those lay Marists who opt for adhesion on the charismatic level.

The course of the four days strengthened the commitment of laity and brothers to contribute to the birth of a new epoch for the Marist charism, in line with that expressed by the XXI General Chapter. No consensus was reached, but there was serious motivation for continuing reflection, with the conviction that the road of communion is a road without return.  There were resonances of the “new tent”, “new beginning”, ready to “destroy in order to build”, as has happened with the house of the Hermitage. The new epoch requires the acquiring of the spirit which comes from the meaning of the “tent”, which speaks to us of the provisional, the uncompleted journey, the search, the itinerary. 

Despite the diversity of processes, cultures, and experiences, the meeting made us aware that we feel ourselves Marists beyond our state of brothers and lay. We are united by the same following of Jesus, the same spirituality, the same fraternity, the same Marist mission. In any new future structure, these elements cannot be missing. On that basis, as Marists, we journey together, enrich each other and complement each other. The result is a journey of communion. The future of the charism is a future of communion.

In the evaluation, it was emphasized that the experience lived on the basis of a simple and efficacious methodology helped provide a common language and develop a spirit of fraternity and dialogue. The round tables, with sharing on a basis of equality, helped towards the listening, fraternal and respectful dialogue, openness and sincere searching of the group.

The Marist warmth of those present, the organization, the atmosphere, contributed to ending the meeting with strong motivation and hope for the future. Someone stated: “I feel that we are alive because we are open to the Spirit”. This openness marked our meeting.

______________
Br Javier Espinosa, Secretariat of the Laity 

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