Brought Together By the Spirit of Pentecost
One of the fascinating aspects of the General Chapter at Bagamoyo was the cultural diversity of the participants: of the 75 delegates, 35 originated from Africa (5 of them representing circum-scriptions in the Northern hemisphere), 27 from Europe, 6 from the Caribbean, 4 from North America, 2 from the Indian Ocean and 1 from South America; the four invited Spiritan Lay As-sociates came from four different continents. This diversity, of course, was reflected in the elec-tion of the members of the General Council which now consists for the first time of seven con-freres all of different nationality.
A brief analysis of the statistics of the Congregation over the years makes very interesting read-ing. In 1980, 146 (3.9%) of the total membership (3769) were from Africa, representing 4 cir-cumscriptions of origin, and 22 (0.6%) came from South America; by 1992 this had changed to 521 (15.8%) from Africa representing 8 circumscriptions of origin, 47 (1.4%) from the Caribbean, 32 (1%) from South America, 10 (0.3%) from the Indian Ocean, with the membership from Europe and North America at 72.9% and 8.6% respectively. The latest statistics published on December 31, 2012 show that 1452 (52%) of the confreres now come from 24 African circum-scriptions, 1068 (38.3%) from Europe, 129 (4.6%) from North America, 63 (2.3%) from the Car-ibbean, 44 (1.6%) from the Indian Ocean, 29 (1%) from South America, with 4 from Asia and 1 from Oceania. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that today 478 (92.8%) of our 515 professed students in formation are from Africa, 13 (2.5%) from Europe, 12 (2.3%) from the Indian Ocean, with the remainder originating from North and South America, Asia and the Caribbean.
This remarkable evolution in the demographic composition and cultural spread of the membership of the Congregation is in itself an extraordinary testimony to the relevance of our Spiritan charism in the contemporary world. “Our Congregation is truly a gift that God has given, and continues to give, to the Church and to the world. Today, and even more in the future, the Church and the world have need of the charism that has been confided to us – the evangelization of the poor, in the light of the spirituality that characterizes us.” Our Spiritan Rule of Life rightly points out that the diversity of our membership is the work of the Spirit of Pentecost who brings us together into one large family, “from different cultures, continents and nations” [SRL 37]. Much more than an inevitable consequence of the geographical spread of our missionary endeavors or a testimony to the success of those who have preceded us, the cultural diversity of our membership is truly inte-gral to our charism in the contemporary world. “Conflict, racialism and the cult of the individual are all too prevalent in the world of today. By coming together from so many different places and cultures, we are saying to our brothers and sisters that the unity of the human race is not just an impossible dream. In this way, our community life is an integral part of our mission and a powerful witness of the Gospel” [Maynooth, p.117]. International community living is a “response to the call of the Holy Spirit to all of us, to witness to a new quality of human solidarity, surpassing indi-vidualism, ethnocentrism and nationalism” [Torre d’Aguilha 2.1]. This reality was brought home to me in a striking way some years ago when, on a visit to Auteuil, France, one of the lay employ-ees said to me that the single most important contribution made by the Spiritan international com-munity to the students they served there was the witness given by the confreres to the possibility of living together in joy and harmony.
One of the important consequences of the change in the demographic composition of the Congre-gation is that it is leading us to a new understanding of Spiritan mission. We have tended to con-ceive of the older circumscriptions as comprising principally members of the country of origin, albeit more recently with some assistance from the newer circumscriptions as internal resources age and diminish. The fact is that in a number of such circumscriptions their principal missionary commitments now depend significantly, if not uniquely, on confreres originating from other cir-cumscriptions. We are being invited to move away from a nationalistic understanding of Province – where there are those who belong and those who have come to help – to the concept of interna-tional Spiritan presence and mission in a particular country. Already a reality in our present inter-national groups, this is a much more inclusive notion from the point of view of creating a true sense ownership of the Congregation’s mission. It also presents a major challenge to both the re-ceiving circumscriptions in terms of fostering a genuine sense of belonging for those who come from ‘outside’ and to the confreres concerned in terms of identifying fully with the mission to which they have been appointed.
If, as Torre d’Aguilha stated, our international and intercultural living is a call from the Holy Spirit to witness to a new quality of human solidarity in a globalised world, our circumscriptions and our communities must be “places where the truth is spoken and lived, where domination and subjugation do not occur, where differences are acknowledged and affirmed without compromis-ing unity.” In his address to the Dominican General Chapter on “Preaching the Gospel in the 21st Century,” Robert Schreiter stressed the vital importance of community witness: “Your emphasis on community, too, plays a role in all of this. First of all in mirroring the kind of communion to which we are called, a communion which can encompass and value our differences, yet make them a source of challenge and enrichment rather than one of division and diminish-ment…community must find today its deepest roots theologically, in a Trinitarian God where difference and unity find their deepest communion.”
This vision has a number of practical consequences for us as Spiritans who are called to live in community by the very nature of our vocation [SRL 27, 28]. In the first place, it is a call to de-velop a style of leadership in our circumscriptions and communities that fosters equality and in-clusiveness, participation in decision-making and shared responsibility. This, in turn, means that we have a responsibility when we gather at Chapters or Assemblies to choose our leadership not merely on the basis of their organizational skills or human qualities but on their ability to embody the mission we are called to live and to preach. Our communities should be places of openness and mutual respect where diversity and difference of opinion are valued rather than seen as a po-tential source of division and conflict. In this regard, the Bagamoyo Chapter has invited us to reflect on the issue of “Spiritan culture”; this is a mutually enriching exercise in sharing and lis-tening with a view to greater understanding of the inspiration we hold in common but which is expressed in such a wide and ever-increasing variety of cultures. Should tensions among us arise, as inevitably will be the case, it is imperative that we work for healing and reconciliation in our own midst; otherwise our ministry is seriously undermined and our witness hollow.
Francis Libermann stressed that our most effective homily lies in the quality of our own lives [N.D. XIII, 144, Letter to Mr. Lairé, 8 May 1851] and that, if there is a perceivable gap between what we preach and what we live, others will easily see through it and say that “we are simply doing a job” [Provisional Rule, Text and Commentary (ed. F. Nicolas), p. 12]. His words continue to have profound implications for us in terms of the witness we are called to give as an inter-national congregation in an increasingly fragmented and individualistic world. May the Spirit of Pentecost who brought us together into one great family continue to fashion us so that we can truly give effective witness to the message we preach.
John Fogarty, C.S.Sp.