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Marist Bulletin - Number 105

 

Marist Brothers of Europe return to the life-giving roots of their charism
25.11.2003

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NEW DREAM OF CHAMPAGNAT FOR TIME-HONORED EUROPE

“There are three important qualities for leadership in our Congregation today. The first is an ability to keep alive the ‘vision’ that inspired our Founder and the first brothers. At the heart of this vision is a dream, the dream of proclaiming the word of God to youth who are poor, in dire need of the Good News. One of the most important tasks for leaders today is to keep this vision alive wherever we are. Second, as leaders in the Congregation today, we need the ability to tell the truth. It isn’t necessary to express the entire truth all at once, but we need the ability to label events, experiences, and different points of view correctly. We must realize that true charity means being honest with ourselves, our brothers, and everyone else. When we don’t tell people the truth, it means we’re treating them like children. And third, as leaders in the Congregation, we should be signs of hope. A Scripture professor of mine once defined myth as a true story that never happened. Hope is like that – believing in a specific future although there is little evidence to support your point of view.

With these words, part of his opening address, Brother Seán Sammon, our Superior General, began the meeting of the so-called expanded General Council of Marist Europe, being held at the General House of the Mary, Gate of Heaven Missionary Sisters in Aravaca, near Madrid, Spain November 24-27. 63 brothers are taking part in this gathering: 8 from the General Council; 41 from Provincial Councils, 10 delegated by Brother Seán to visit the Provinces, 2 from the General Administration, and two translators (English and French). Prior to this, at the same location, the General Council met with the ten delegates for three days to draw up the final reports of their visits, which took in all communities and included a personal interview with each brother.

The General Council set three objectives for this week’s meeting: to finish up the visitation process, help one another build a new Marist Region of Europe that fosters the closest and most effective cooperation possible, and identify common strengths as well as the challenges that need to be faced.

The meeting is taking place in Spain (194,881 sq mi, 504,780 sq km; population 40 million). The Marist brothers first came to this country in 1886. Four brothers from France arrived in the city of Girona to learn Spanish, intending to move on to Latin America. The welcome they received and the beckoning call to educate children and young people made them decide to put down roots, and thus began a presence that covers well over 100 years. The political and social turmoil that Spain lived through in the 1930s tore apart the nation, culminating in the Civil War of 1936-1939 in which 176 brothers were killed, giving rise to the largest number of martyrs in our Marist Congregation. Their blood, as in the early days of the Church, became the seed for an increase in vocations. According to information as of 31 December 2002, the Institute has 4,439 brothers, 1237 of them born in Spain (27,87%). This seedbed of vocations has a remarkable missionary character, since more than 400 Spanish brothers are working in different countries, especially in Latin America. Nowadays, the Spanish Constitution, coming after the forty-year regime of Francisco Franco, guides a democracy that is a member of the European Union. Robust economic development, a low birthrate – offset in recent years by an upsurge in immigration, a strong tendency toward secularization, a steep drop in vocations… are precipitating new and challenging times.

On 2 January 2004, with the first Chapter of the Province of Compostela, the process of Marist restructuring in Europe that began in 1999 will come to an end. 15 Provinces have become five: West Central Europe (Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, and Ireland); the Hermitage (Catalunya and France, with Algeria, Greece, Hungary, and Switzerland); the Mediterranean (Italy, Lebanon and Syria, and Bética and Levante in Spain, with the District of West Africa); the Iberian (Norte and Madrid in Spain, with Romania); and Compostela (Portugal and León and Castile in Spain, with Honduras) – producing a truly international map, replete with diverse languages and cultures.

Looking out the windows at this meeting center, you see the luxuriant, ocher-colored foliage of autumn. The leaves can be viewed as signs of an inevitable decay or as forerunners of a future springtime that the Marist brothers want to see for Champagnat’s charism on the European continent. In line with the 20th General Chapter, choosing life remains our challenge. A time for hope – just as our Church’s liturgies of Advent remind us, beginning next weekend.

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