Summary of Topics dealt with by the General Council – September to December 2012
It has become a tradition for the General Council to publish a summary of the topics it has dealt with at the end of each of its sessions. The content of this last session might appear not very conclusive because we have started reflections on various topics and often not reached final decisions. However, we give you here a glance at what has been for us our first months of life and work together.
From the 12th to the 19th of September we carried out the handover between the two teams, the former one (2004-2012) and the new one. Jean-Paul Hoch emphasized the mission of the General Council in concert with the Superior general: “He confirms his fellow members in their Spiritan calling, in keeping with the spirit of the Founders and the living tradition of the Institute. He makes the unity among all Spiritans a reality. He assures the unity of all with the Church. He strives for the common good and the vitality of the Congregation”. (SRL 193) “To confirm the vocation” of each one, “make the unity a reality” and strengthen the sense of belonging will be the essential aims of our mandate.
We then shared out responsibility for the circumscriptions and the portfolios, as was already communicated. The councillors spent a lot of time with their predecessors discussing the situation of the circumscriptions and the various responsibilities to be undertaken. The new team had to absorb an enormous amount of information in a short space of time. One councillor recently reflected: we are beginning to see better what our mission is and the reality of the Congregation at present and it would be good at this point to be able to consult with those who have been accompanying the confreres over the last eight years. Which all goes to show that there is no ideal way of making a handover.
We spoke much about animation, about the support to be offered to circumscription Superiors and about the annual meeting of new Superiors held every year. Already during these first days, the question of “confreres in irregular situations” was raised. There is a lot of energy expended by local councils as well as the General Council in dealing with such situations and finding solutions to them.
At the beginning of October we went on retreat to Tor San Lorenzo, which is beside the sea. We took some time for prayer and sharing in order to build our team. We also began to reflect together and to share our ideas on what we see as priorities for the Congregation. Of course we brought with us the texts of Bagamoyo (confided to the editing committee for the final version to appear soon) and we touched on all kinds of subjects: our life as a team, the content and form of Visitations, our way or working together when in session, ongoing formation and animation, finances and so on. Already a different way of conducting the Visitation of circumscriptions arose in our exchanges. We took up this theme later in the session and hope to produce a practical guide on the subject in February. We would like to see the Visitation having more community-based events, circumscription or regional meetings with some processes that would allow us to listen to the lived reality of the confreres and circumscriptions as well as attempt to arrive at the point of “confirming our vocation” and “make unity a reality”.
Someone said that an important aspect of our service to the Congregation must begin among ourselves: it is important for the whole Spiritan family that the General Council be a team that is united and that lives in a true spirit of communion. Up to now we have not had to make too many efforts to sense that there is a good atmosphere of true fraternity within the council and in the community. Crises and tensions are sure to happen, but we really want to develop this communion. Every day, we need to learn to receive it as a grace.
Then we had a few weeks during which we were learning Italian; for this important step in adapting to our new environment, some councillors went to Assisi and others stayed in Rome. All of us appreciated this kind of pause in the handover process as we returned to the schoolroom simply to learn how to speak.
We received several invitations to various Congregational events – chapters, anniversaries – to which we replied without looking too carefully at our calendar. This led us to send to the circumscriptions a reminder about our calendar which is found in the Administrative Guide. Circumscriptions are requested to take this calendar into account when they are planning events at which they would hope for a member of the General Council to be present. The General Council itself has to keep strictly to this arrangement because the time for working together is very important and it passes very quickly.
The safeguarding of minors
We succeeded in producing the document on the safeguarding of children requested by Bagamoyo; this was our first experience of producing such a document and going through the various stages – editing, consulting certain confreres, correcting the text and the translations, another round of corrections, the formatting and the final sending out of the document. We also lived through a very intense and moving time when a man who had been abused in one of the Congregation’s establishments, stayed for a week in the house. We had very deep discussions with him and some of the insights from these are reflected in the final document.
Each General Council session begins with a round-table discussion on the recent happenings in the Congregation whose heartbeat we can feel. Confrere’s letters, invitations, appeals for help, news of the death of confreres, movements of personnel, political events, natural disasters, telephone calls (today more on Skype), health situations of confreres, reports of visits… all these are dealt with, sometimes briefly, from time to time more deeply. We have also received many visitors from all corners of the globe and heard echoes from the Synod on the New Evangelization. All this forms part of our discussions and feeds in to our daily prayer.
We have though, managed to make decisions on several matters; the General Council has:
• Approved projects like the setting up of new mission-communities in circumscription Europe in Belgium (in Brussels and Charleroi) and a project for financial autonomy in Kenya
• Approved the chapter decisions of Netherlands, Alto Juruá, Great Britain and also the election or re-election of Superiors: Sebastião Bonjour for Alto Juruá, Philip Marsh in Great Britain and Jude Emeka Nzeadibe for Circumscription Europe
• Examined many requests for help from circumscriptions in difficulty or those having new projects
• Examined and confirmed circumscription council decisions in cases of dismissal and of resignation
• Approved the 2013 budget for the General Council and the General House
• Thought about the future of our Council. Officially appointed were: Michael Kilkenny (Ireland) to the post of Secretary General from the 1st of September 2013; Joachim Abellan (France) to the post of Assistant General Bursar from the 1st of September 2013 and Jean-Marc Sierro (Switzerland) to the post of General Bursar from the 1st January 2015. José de Sousa has generously accepted to continue his term until that date. These decisions entailed a long process of consultation and discernment. (SRL 241.1).
The whole process for deciding on the mission appointments was a work apart, requiring a study of the requests received, an initial consideration of the requests in relation to the needs and priorities (set out by the preceding administration), then several meetings to finalise the decisions (without mentioning the need to contact all parties concerned in order to arrive at a final decision). In this regard we will soon be proposing some changes in order to make the whole process easier and better thought-out.
The official chapter texts are almost ready. The Vatican has still to send us its final approval of the changes proposed to SRL.
We hope to begin an animation plan with themes. It will be based on a meditation of the Rule of Life spread out over the eight years of our mandate, which will bring us up to the chapter of 2020. We thought of a programme such as the following which still needs to be fine-tuned:
1. Spiritan vocation (chapters 1 and 5)
2. Life in the Spirit (chapters 4 and 6)
3. Community life (chapter 3)
4. Mission (chapter 2)
We hope to provide some materials, as much for ourselves during our visits as for the circumscriptions looking for means to strengthen their mission plan. We hope to engage various Spiritan experts to help us in this. We want the visitations to be an important part of this programme. As you can see, we have many ideas which still need to be concretised.