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Marist Bulletin - Number 307

 

Marist International Mission Assembly - Final phase
06/09/2007

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All the Congregation’s roads lead to Mendes
From January 2006, when the local preparation phase of the International Assembly of Marist Mission began, more than 1000 local groups of Brothers and lay folk—in total, some 20,000 participants—have trod together a long institutional path which today points towards Mendes (Brazil) as its destination. Already everything is ready in Mendes to welcome a good hundred participants in this International Assembly, to take place between the 3rd and 12th of September 2007.
This event is a novelty in the Congregation’s history. For the first time Brothers and lay people are meeting on an equal footing to share the experiences they have lived in the exercise of their mision as Marist religious and layfolk. On a number of past occasions lay members had participated in Marist General Chapters, but solely as invited guests, since the canonical structure of a General Chapter envisages the participation only of Brothers only as speaking and voting members. The XXnd General Chapter requested the General Council to “create those structures which it deems necessary to assure the launch of an international forum of Marist mission” whose purpose would be to assure within the Institute support for the shared mission of Brothers and lay collaborators, and for their evangelising and educative service to children and young people, especially those who are poor and excluded. This 1st international Assembly of Marist mission is a new space, created by the Marist General Council responding the General Chapter’s request to give an opportunity to the numerous layfolk working with the Brothers in their world-wide apostolic work, and to do this by means of a significant group of representatives. (see Choose Life §48.6)
The Assembly proposes to be the opportunity for life-sharing amongst the participants, and for celebrating together God’s call to Marist mission. There is no intention of producing a document, though the possiblity of drawing up some sort of message, or of presenting some conclusions to the next General Chapter, is not excluded.
It is hoped that the Assembly will offer a favourable opportunity for tabling significant experiences of Marist mission, for sharing convictions, for praying together and for pursuing communal discernment processes—enriched by the cultural and geographical variety represented at such a meeting.
The preparation for this 1st international Assembly has evolved through a succession of local, provincial and regional stages. The specific calendar of events at local and provincial level has been arranged by the provinces, according to their respective needs and possibilities. In addition to the local and provincial meetings, three regional Assemblies have been held: in Europe, Brazil and Ocenia.
Given the interest in this historic event, we shall endeavour to offer daily documentation regarding whatever transpires during the days of the Assembly.

An old country property in the service of Marist formation
From 1903 the Marist House at Mendes, located in the midst of an extensive property, has served as a place of Marist formation. It housed juniors, postulants, novices and scholastics for decades. For a few years it also welcomed retired brothers. In these last decades it has hosted retreats, recollections and encounters. This place has something that from the first moment captivated Brother Adorátor, according to an account in his book “Twenty Years in Brazil,” in which he tells of his memories of the first twenty years of Marist foundation in this country. This work is full of anecdotes related in an elegant and attractive literary style. Today, that this house welcomes an event of great importance for the Marist future in the world can result in stimulating the memory of what the first years in Mendes were like, traced in the spirit of La Valla and the Hermitage.

“All of the brothers who lived the first year of Mendes will never forget it. That first year left us with many memories and we like to recall them. We lacked many things which, in the ordinary conditions of life, seem indispensable. But we didn’t suffer because of their lack, if so, very little. In Mendes, in the months of June, July and August, there are cold days and the nights more so. The thermometer indicates temperatures below zero. For Brazilians, it’s an intense cold. In the city of Río the minimum is 14° C (57° F). To withstand that temperature, the women wore furs and the men capes. These explanations help to understand the need that we had of blankets. Let’s remember that the brothers had hardly more than a doubled towel to protect themselves from the cold and a lumpy mattress of dry grass on a bed frame of iron cross pieces.
The beginners found all of this very difficult. It was necessary to spend almost a month like this. On the 10th of July I was able to distribute to the brothers thirty blankets. For all of them it was a time of great delight; this is the reason that I remember that date. As to the question of food, we made do with what was strictly necessary: rice, beans, a bit of meat and an orange. Bread was very expensive: one franc per kilo. We saved all that we could. For drinking we can say that during hardships we used to drink clear water: many times it was cloudy due to the animals or the rain. In the poverty of our diet we did not lose our sense of humor.
When we read in the life of some saints that they didn’t drink wine and in hardship only fresh water, we could not help laughing. For us that did not seem to be a great example of mortification. During recreation, reflections about our spiritual progress certainly weren’t lacking. How many laughs echo from the Hacienda! Coffee was our luxury. We were well provided for with the basics. The administrator picked up corn, rice and coffee. There were beautiful herds of pigs, sheep and hens. When buying the country property for forty “cuentas” (money of the time), we added forty “cuentas” more to get also all that could be had, including the vegetables and the vegetable garden.
Well or poorly settled in, we began to work; manual work, intellectual work, we attacked everything. We set ourselves to confronting Portuguese and the gigantic vegetation that had invaded the property. There were no fruit trees, nor cultivated land nor grasslands. Part of the house was transformed into a barn, stable and depository of everything because it was necessary to keep everything in good shape.”

Brother Adorátor – Vinte anos de Brasil – p. 207 – 207

A new ecclesiastic expectation
As we come closer to the celebration of the Assembly I imagine that most of us will have built up our expectations or made some reflections on it. My personal reflection has wandered about, with varying intensity, on several topics that the event raises, looking to highlight the informative point of view that could raise great interest. But, on the other hand, there has arisen in me the fear of entering in a land under cultivation and of seeking to pick fruits that have not yet matured. Nevertheless I can advance some personal contributions on this great Marist world meeting.
The first idea that came to mind is that all the participants in the Assembly take part as equals. It is a very positive and very interesting fact. The General Council has decided to create this area of international encounter where everyone, Brothers and laity, laity and Brothers, will have a voice and a vote on the topics under discussion. Perhaps for many this fact is a significant one, highlighting this realization. I do not doubt its great importance. Nevertheless this circumstance must not be an occasion to decrease things to pure legalese as a way of regulating relationships and the work to be carried out by the participants. On the other hand, I think it is more important to highlight the fact that the first principle that has promoted the summons to this Assembly is the fact that, laity and Brothers, as members of the same Church, feel themselves to be together, for the first time at this level, to meditate on how to respond to the challenges that outline the Marist mission today.
The fidelity to the commitment of baptism is a fundamental responsibility of all Christians. Brothers and laity share the Christian vocation. Baptism and confirmation have been the common expressions that have forever summed up the option for Jesus Christ and his Church. To affirm that Brothers and laity meet on equal terms shows the maturing of some very significant processes of ecclesiastic life. The adherence to Jesus Christ and the dedication to his Church are the sacramental expressions of the rights and the fundamental obligations acquired by those participants in this Assembly put their ideas and their experiences in common. I certainly believe that this is important news that reflects the vitality of the Marist charism in todays world. For that reason the expectation that is raised in me is eminently ecclesiastic.

Brothers and Laity in the presence of the Marist Mission today
A significant aspect of this Assembly is the honoring of the vocation of the layperson and the brother. Just by participating, and participating in an intense and broad way in what is being done, indicates to us that we live in a Church that has advanced greatly along this road. I read in the first volume of “The History of the Second Vatican Council,” by Giuseppe Alberigo (p. 188) that in the preparation for the Council only one layperson participated on the commission for studies and seminaries; in spite of the efforts of the president and secretary of the commission not one layperson was named, not even to participate on the commission on the apostolate of the laity. More than forty years have passed. Surely many of the participants in the Assembly arrived in this world and began to take notice of what was occurring around them in the years that followed these events. The Church in which we live today, in a large part, is the one that evolved from the meeting of the Council Fathers during Vatican II.
In numerous writings that have been published before this Assembly, some of them on this website, there are dozens of “life stories” of lay people who have shared their personal Marist journey. Add to that dozens of “life experiences” of brothers who share together with the laity the extent and depth of their Marist life. In many of these “life stories” that have been told one can observe the ecclesial road they have traveled joined to the Marist charism shared with many brothers. We live a beautiful reality of Church. The Assembly is a great celebration of this quiet happening lived for so many years.
Introducing the Marist Mission inside the heart has been a great success because it’s there where faithfulness to the charism is forged. While sharing together in the Assembly, brothers and laity, the transcendence of the vocation of the brother and of the layperson to the service of the Marist charism is once again manifested.

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