We are brothers…
Through the Tutti Fratelli (ALL BROTHERS) session, I have realized that we must deepen this call to stop focusing on ourselves and to center instead on our mission in the Church and in the world; to grasp our specific identity that differentiates us from the priest, the layperson, the couple, and to be proud of it; to seize the opportunity to bear witness in our world to the importance of brotherhood and communion among all; not to let ourselves be turned off by the crisis of confidence and credibility that we are living in the Church today and that invites us with full force to humility and to truth; and finally, to count on God who lives within us and who, like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman who was completely astounded when he asked her for a drink, was the beginning of a new life for her. Yes, we are invited to this life-changing experience of Jesus Christ!
As you know, the Tutti Fratelli session brought together religious brothers from institutes that have a general house in Rome. We were 60 participants in three language groups, including eight Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the most numerous of the participating communities. We were gathered from everywhere as one big family of brothers, to deepen our identity, to give birth to a new intercongregational space among the communities, and to offer an opportunity for ongoing formation that includes an initiation to community leadership and animation.
From the start of the adventure on the evening of 8 September 2019, we were invited to shake hands, to accept one another in our differences with the challenge of languages, the nationalities represented, and with a bit of trepidation on my part and surely for some of the others. Thus, the call to unity in diversity was heard. Each one striving to establish the first contact with the other, while also being disoriented … this other who, by his choice of life identical to mine, ultimately resembles me. So why be afraid? Phew, it takes effort to let go and to stop navel-gazing! And voilà, the session was launched even if we did not all speak the same language and we could sometimes be without a word, or grasping for words, to make ourselves understood.
The four weeks of formation included more than nine different and complementary themes at the same time, given by very good professors or speakers who were religious brothers for the most part. Here are a few words on the themes that struck me most: identity (who am I in the Church, recognition of our state of life); the spirituality of the religious brother (my life, my work, my relaxation, my relationships, and my prayer must be connected to God who is not far off, but within me); community leadership (qualities of a good leader, Jesus’ own attitudes in the Scriptures, the necessity of discernment in our lives); secularization and interculturalism (our world is secularized and pluralistic). We are invited to see secularization differently, as a positive phenomenon (states Jean Baubérot), we are “Sons of a common Father” (Mt 5:46), our fraternal life as a witness, the Church should remain a critical voice in the midst of the world (states Johann Baptist Metz). The Pope says that the Church must undertake self-criticism and remain in dialogue with the peoples; the protection of minors by a rather young German Jesuit, Hans Zollner, named by the Pope to take charge of this area (the crisis through which we are passing, to face it with humility and respect for victims, the various forms of abuse, the protocols to develop, to work together institutes/Church (canonical) and according to the law of the country, programs of religious life formation, ethic of vigilance, quality of formation teams, selection of candidates, accompanment and the psycho-affective dimension (maturity) which is among the most important. The culture of vocations in a changing world was also addressed by a specialist who made reference to the synod on young people and the publication (papal exhortation) that followed from it in 2019, Christ is Alive. I recommend the exhortation for your reading.
All that interspersed with very interesting encounters. The papal audience in St. Peter’s Square on September 25. The visit of Cardinal Braz de Avis (Brazilian), prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life on September 27 (an encounter striking for its humanism, its simplicity, and its realism in the face of our current challenges and difficulties). A short trip to Assisi on September 28 to be inspired by the life of St. Francis. Finally, a meeting on October 4 with the superiors general of five different congregations (another high point, although too short, which allowed for an interesting mutual exchange). Our superior general, Brother Mark Hilton, would have liked to participate in this Tutti Fratelli meeting, but he was visiting the brothers in Oceania.
There was good humor in abundance. The good spirit of each and every one assured the success of this intercultural session. Together, we were invited to brotherhood and communion. Aside from some troubles due to French translation (we were only about ten Francophones in a largely English-speaking world) and the occasional lack of clear directions, everything went very well and aroused my interest despite my personal limitations at the level of languages. We were well accommodated at the general house of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (Via Aurelia), a community that celebrates its 300th anniversary of foundation in 2019. We were surrounded by different groups, since the residence is extremely big and very busy. On Sundays, with other Brothers of the Sacred Heart, I would pay a fraternal visit to the brothers at our own general house.
At the end of this distinctive intercongregational session, I want to give thanks to the Lord, to the organizers of Tutti Fratelli, and to you, my brothers in the general council and the provincial council, who offered me this opportunity. As the session came to a close, the rite to send us forth in mission was very striking. Each participant received an apron as a symbol of service. In turn, we had to tie a confrere’s apron as a sign of support and commitment.
My brothers, our identity calls us to bear witness to brotherhood with a spirit of profound joy, as Pope Francis asks us. For him, the real joy of religious is the best invitation for the future of consecrated life and for challenging young people.
I ask him who is the SOURCE and CENTER of our lives, Christ, to help me to relive this intensive month through the questions, the realizations, and the calls that it has sparked in me. And who knows, perhaps it will awaken something in you?
Brother Dominique Savard, SC
Rome, 8 October 2019