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We need a distinctive identity as Marist Novices of Matola


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22/04/2010: Mozambique


MatoraToday l was helping our novices in class, telling them that Champagnat our beloved Founder had given the pioneer Brothers a distinctive identity or uniform made of a black coat, black trousers, a mantle (a loose, sleeveless cloak) and a round hat. When Jean Claude Courveille became a chaplain, he altered the directive and prescribed a coat of blue sky colour, covered by a blue cape as an innovation. This alteration made the local people to call the early recruits “The Blue Brothers.” Marcellin tolerated the Courveille´s interference. He changed it only when Courveille had gone out of the Hermitage in 1826.

What prompted me to write an article of this nature is the request of the novices, “We need a distinctive identity as Marist Novices of Matola.” Brothers and Lay Marists, here in Matola we have diverse missionary groups and we have several moments when staff and formatees meet from time to time. Each group has a distinctive identity. I told them a story connected with the Precious Blood Sisters Retreat Centre at Namaacha. Brother Norbert had asked me to bring the cassock material there. I did not have any visible identity with me and the mini bus had no label showing Marist. I rang a bell politely and made myself comfortable on a bench waiting for any sister who would come my way to respond to the bell. Unfortunately I did not press my finger in enough to make the bell ring and be heard. After waiting for a while a nun that I did not know came out to answer someone from a mobile. After finishing her answering business, I braved the situation and told her that l had come from Matola to give the novices´ cassocks material. She looked ignorant of the news and went in to verify with Sr. Anne, the Community Superior. When the Superior came, she hugged and embraced me and took me into the house for a cup of water. We had a lively sharing and many others sisters attracted by the warmth of our conversations came in to add force. The phone sister was in the group. It was then that she was told that l am Marist Brother. The sisters asked me to put on an identity so that l may be known. They also told me of having a similar experience of not welcoming well known priest who had no external visible sign but had come to get the seminarians after a day’s retreat.

When novices have encounters with others from different congregations of men and women, they feel struck to see that others have distinctive identities of their mother congregations. They ask themselves why not us?

When Brother Lawrence our Provincial came here one day, he reminded all the novices and us the staff of being visible. Many students had asked him that they need all Brothers to have a distinctive identity and not to hide ourselves in the latest fashions. Is this a sign of the times? The question is open for debate.

I also told them at one time to have a religious identity in France; it meant putting yourself in danger with Revolutionary attackers. High church authorities advised Saint Marcellin not to allow the novices or postulants use a visible mark. Marcellin paid a deaf ear to this advice and continued to give the newly recruited the uniform of religious identity. All this tells us that identity is essential in a pluralistic society. Of course a cassock does not make a monk but to some degree it does especially where we are not yet known. The civil societies have their own distinctive identities which attract some of our dear ones to join them. Uniform has an appealing force to the eye.

My conclusion is that let us not overlook something that makes us Marists. Let the General Chapters and Provincial Chapters encourage visible external symbols that make us Marists. Let the Marist crucifix continue to be produced so that it gives us an identity. Let Marist T-Shirts be many to reach us all so that when we wear them, others would be attracted to know us and maybe it might even be bait that would attract future Marists. If they help others to know us better why not use them. Pioneer Brothers were known as Blue Brothers up to 1826 by the local people at St Chamond, why not us of 21st century? Will the outside symbol betray our hidden and unknown but doing good quietly identity? Are the novices request a sign of the times? These could be good questions to ponder in our hearts as Mary pondered on the response of Jesus after getting lost in Jerusalem. What visible identity do you daily use? Some would say a simple life. Still others would say l am that identity myself and l do not need an external sign. If all were to ignore their particular identities, there will be chaos in our pluralistic society. There will be an identity crisis. Others would say identity is a conservative and progressive debate which will never end but is open for discussion. An identity can be a form of a security for some of us. Of course our big security is Jesus but a secondary security identity is as well important. We can say we realize the different but complementary phrase in the identities of this nature which mean a lot to those who appreciate and admire our works. If identity of a Marist crucifix was not needed, why did the previous General chapter spent thousands of dollars to make a copper one, instead of using that money to help the poor, if we were to ask the question of Judas Iscariot when a woman was pouring an expensive oil on his body while he was about to die. We may have different opinions but at the end of the day, we shall all agree with our novices that we need an identity because our Founders and Foundresess saw them good and powerful visible signs. God bless.

Simeon Banda, fms, Matola, Mozambique.

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