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18 June

St. Elizabeth of Schoenau
1900: the first Brothers leave for Bom Principio, Brazil

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Marist Bulletin - Number 300


Interview with Sérgio Luís Schons

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Sergio Luís Schons was born in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. He is a lay Marist. Married for fourteen years to Silvana, they have a daughter, Mariana. He is a mechanic and works in the business built up by his father. He actively participates in the ministry of the Marist laity of the Province of Rio Grande do Sul and is a member of the International Commission that is preparing the writing of a document on lay Marists.

AMEstaún. How did you come to know the Marists?
My first contact with the Marists was in October 1974 when I was still a child. At this time, I used to serve Mass and we had an annual excursion. When it came time to do this in 1974, the parents asked the brothers to take us on this excursion. The one who drove the Marist community‘s bus was Brother Antônio Silva. What I saw in this religious touched my heart in a way that I cannot explain, as I was only a ten year old child.
But my true experience of the Marist “well of Jacob” was later when I was fourteen; I was with the brothers in their various pastoral activities in our parish: preparation of catechists, family prayer groups, ministering to people in the countryside, etc.
Champagnat’s spirit impregnated these religious; it was shown to us through their welcome into their community with great simplicity and family spirit. The witness of these men who really lived as the first Christians did was moving. Their prayer in common, the shared tasks, the simplicity of their being, their indifference to material things, their Marial spirituality. And especially this pleasure in being together and building together.

What are some important moments of the process of your lay vocation?
I would say that this was the moment of the “well of Jacob”, because since then we have always asked for more of this water. I say our moment, because it was not a uniquely personal experience. The young people who had this experience with me felt it also and today we form a life communion in our fraternity Memorare (MChFM).
However, it seemed to me that my heart burned in a more particular way than with the others. At eighteen years of age, this ardour was so intense that I felt God was asking me for more. I resolved to save some money in order to be able to have an experience of Marist religious life. In 1984 and 1985 I followed the stages of the pre-postulancy and the postulancy in the formation of the brothers.
At the end of 1985, realising that the admirable state of consecrated life did not respond to the anxieties that inhabited my being, very sad and frustrated, I left the formation of the brothers and I returned to my town. I felt the affection of friends whom I had left there and the unconditional support of many brothers whom I had known during the last two years. They encouraged me and they made me look ahead, showing me that God, the Lord of our history, always has a loving plan for each of us.
Amidst various pastoral activities, we started to hear news about the new winds that were blowing on the Marist Institute: it was the Holy Spirit who in penetrating our minds and our hearts was declaring to us that there was a special place for lay people with Champagnat’s Marist charism.
So it is thus that we have reflected by this shared life, always amidst temporal things proper to the laity, until we arrived at this time of grace through which we all become Marists today, laypeople and brothers.

Personally, how do you feel in the Writing Commission of the document “VOCATION OF A LAY MARIST”?
The entire world has its eyes turned towards the phenomenology of the laity. We have seen how courageously the Church and our capitulants have advanced in this sense, how many documents and circulars touch on this subject with courage and hope. Knowing that Brother Seán Sammon and his Council were going to constitute a commission whose specific aim was to write a document on the VOCATION OF A LAY MARIST was for us an extraordinary fact. I think that I do not deserve such deference. My wife, my daughter, my fraternity and my parents have played a deciding role in my accepting this service for the Church and the Institute that I love so much. In the Commission, I feel totally as though I am in a family, in the interpersonal relationships and love of the Marist charism. It is difficult for me to distinguish a religious from a layperson: we are all truly brothers and sisters, Champagnat’s Marist children.
I have felt this same integration and interaction at the General House, with the amicable and stimulating presence of Brother Seán, his Council, the community of the General Administration, the International College; in fact, I feel profoundly welcomed, attached and engaged with each one of them.
I feel very much at ease in this commission. It is as if many parts of our personal stories, of our cultures that are so different, have been mixed throughout the years with out us knowing each other beforehand, it is fantastic! It is the beating, living and active heart of Champagnat.

Describe the atmosphere and work of the Commission.
We have many amiable participants in the work of the Commission. One of them is our Director, Brother Pau Fornells. Another is the friendly presence of Brother Pedro Herreros and of Brother Juan Miguel Anaya. We work with a lot of good will and the spirit of collaboration. There are seven laypeople and three brothers, and our dialogues are passed on by our four translators who are fully integrated in our work.
We arrived with the events and the sensations lived in our personal histories. By looking at the Marist world, we obtained the first outline of the laity today. We then gathered the life testimonies of ninety-two laypeople who live out their Marist vocation. Finally, in this second stage of work, we structured the document and chose the writers of the first project.

Hopes and challenges that are present in this new document?
I think that our greatest challenge is to try to offer laypeople and brothers, in the most universal way possible, this divine gift that is there, which is a reality and invites us to build community by sharing life, spirituality and mission. This new dimension of profound unity from the foundations of our baptism and from the sources given to us by Marcellin exhort us to implement processes capable of replacing the old structures “Me-God” by new relationships “We in God”.
A short while ago, I gave a talk on the subject of the VOCATION OF THE LAY MARIST. A young person who works in a Marist work looked at me and said: “Since I listened to your conference I have wondered if I am really a lay Marist…”
Among all the hopes that our commission has gathered in its objectives, I would highlight one: the desire that this document be an instrument that will help people to discern like this young person and all the Marists who want to understand and live this grace from their understanding, but especially with their heart and with all their soul.

How do you see the movement of Marist laypeople in your Province and in the world?
When I had the opportunity of entering into contact with the life of tens of lay Marists in the world, I realised how much I must personally grow on this vocation pathway. How many examples of admirable laypeople who have made a journey of holiness thanks to their affirmed Marist lay vocation! The richness that the Institute has today represents a veritable missionary potential which must be added to the potential of consecrated people.
In my Province, as in many parts of the world, this pathway regarding the process of discernment and the rediscovery of our baptism is just at its beginning. We cannot imagine what great missionary force we would offer the Church of Jesus Christ today if we laypeople become aware of this ardour that burns within us. We have a lot to build and to build rapidly because life is short.

What are the great challenges that the charism and Marist mission have today?
I would say that our challenge today is precisely the one that our Founder left us: “to make Jesus Christ known and loved”, in the way of Mary especially by the children and young people in most need.
This challenge that touched and moved the heart of Champagnat is still very current; in fact it is the challenge of every Marist today! So what has changed? What has changed are some aspects in time, since, if on one hand we have family disintegration, disillusionment in relationships with God, inhuman structures that mistreat children throughout the entire world, on the other hand each time there is a greater and greater number of people who are called to fight against these structures together, being above all a sign of the values of the Kingdom here on earth. In this way as I see it, our Marist family of Champagnat has the grace of this challenge: to be, through the strength of our baptism and united in the heart of Marcellin, a fruitful sign for the world.

A message for the laypeople and brothers of the entire world?
Our mother Church has told us for forty years that the time of the laity has arrived for us. I have noted very numerous holy efforts to realise what the fathers of the synod wrote to us, especially following Vatican Council II.
In my point of view, the phenomenology of the Marist laity does not suppose anything new. For me the great news, the good news, is that we have discovered a style to realise a communion. We have discovered in our heart that we are really the sons and daughters of Champagnat’s dream and consequently all of us are brothers and sisters independently of our explicit consecration. For me the good news resides in the fact that, in discovering this, we are more Christian, we are more Church, we are Marist and it is that together we can be more! New domains of mission, new forms of vocations, a new understanding of our common formation. In total, a new life that is born for all of those who want to dream about this new time.


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