REPORT OF THE P. GENERAL TO THE CHAPTER
|According to Constitution 260, the
Prior General must send his report to the members of the General Chapter six months before
the celebration of the Chapter. I sent out my report at the beginning of March 2001 along
with the appendices containing my report to the General Congregation in 1999 and some
statistics. I assume that you will have had an opportunity to read all this material, so I
will not read it out. Instead I want to bring you up to date on some things that have
happened since I wrote the report and I will share with you some ideas that may be useful
for the Chapter.
On page 6 of my report, under the heading of "Solidarity", I wrote , "Another important financial decision made during the General Congregation was that all the Provinces would pay, according to the normal percentages, for all the expenses of the General Chapter 2001, including the expenses of the trips to and from the Chapter." There was some disagreement in the General Council about what actually was decided at the General Congregation. It appears that what was actually decided was that the normal expenses of the Chapter would be paid for in the usual way by percentages but the costs of travel to and from the Chapter would be put together and then divided equally among the participants. Presumably this does not include members of the General Council and secretariat etc. However, this must be clarified during the Chapter.
Still on financial matters, I wrote on page 6 of my report of the setting up of a financial development office to raise funds for the Curia. Due to legal complexities, we have not been able to raise any funds as yet but everything is now in place to go ahead with this project.
The final financial item is the car park project under CISA (see page 7 of my report). In June 2001, the company asked for a meeting with Fr. Pere Soler and our lawyer. It appears that they wish to go ahead with the project. They are claiming that the contract has not expired and are pressing us to agree. We have informed our lawyer that this is a decision that must be left to the incoming General Council. Our lawyer has told us that we are not now bound by the contract but, if the company take us to court, it is impossible to be entirely certain of the outcome. This may be a matter on which the General Chapter would wish to express an opinion.
There have been some developments in Africa since I wrote my report (see especially p. 10). The Province of Lower Germany has bought some land in Cameroon and hopes to begin construction of a novitiate. Contrary to what I wrote in my report to the General Chapter, the novices etc in Cameroon will belong to the Lower German Province. The Italian Province Congolese Commissariat will provide the manpower. A parish in the diocese of Mbalmayo has been accepted and it is hoped to build a novitiate there. Three young men from Cameroon are due to finish their novitiate in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is hoped that they will be able to study at the Catholic University in Yaounde. If possible, another foundation will be made in Yaounde in due course.
In early August Fr. Anthony Scerri and I had a meeting in Nairobi with representatives of the Upper German Province, the Indian Commissariat and the British Province in order to buy land for our foundation there and make certain practical decisions.
During the Provincial Chapter of the Australian Province in May 2001, the Province accepted an invitation of the Indonesian Province to accept responsibility for the mission in Timor Loro Sae (East Timor). Personnel will continue to be provided by the Indonesian Province for as long as necessary. However, there are already approximately 12 young men at various stages of formation from Timor Loro Sae as well as one priest, with two or three more due to be ordained some time this year. The men who come from Timor Loro Sae will be given the opportunity to join the Australian Province or stay with the Indonesian Province.
On p. 24 of my report to the General Chapter, I mentioned the four new Carmelite bishops who were consecrated during this sexennium. To that group must be added, Mgr. Filippo Iannone from the La Bruna General Commissariat. He was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Naples on 26th May 2001.
On the following page, I wrote of the Marian year to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the scapular. After the report was sent out, I received the letter of Pope John Paul (25th March 2001) on the scapular devotion. You will also have received a joint letter from the two Generals written in Aylesford, England, on 16th May 2001, the feast of St. Simon Stock. The letter was entitled, "With Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1,14)".
On p. 25 of my report, under the heading "Possible foundations", I mentioned the case of the two communities of male hermits who wish to be incorporated into the Order as eremitical communities with their own Constitutions. They are already affiliated to the Order. Affiliation is a spiritual bond; incorporation implies also a juridical bond. The Sacred Congregation for Consecrated Life has no objection in principle. It is preferable for the General Chapter to approve this project before it is finally presented to the Sacred Congregation. The proposal is that these two communities, which are both within the U.S.A. and which began independently of each other, would be subject directly to the Prior General. The community in San Angelo, Texas, has 4 members and the community in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, has 8 members. They are both attracting vocations at present. If they are incorporated, clearly the members of the communities would become members of the Order with full rights while retaining their own Constitutions.
Prior to their affiliation, the General Council studied their Constitutions and approved them. They have now worked out common Constitutions for Carmelite hermits. They exist only in English in draft at the moment. If anyone would like to look at them, there are a few copies in the secretariat. If the General Chapter wishes to approve this project and I urge you to do so, one point that we must decide upon is what rights to give to the members regarding representation at the General Chapter. I will make a proposal later in the Chapter and my suggestion is that we use the model which already exists in our Constitutions, i.e. if a group has twenty or more solemnly professed, the superior has the right to attend the General Chapter. I suggest that below twenty, discretion is left to the Prior General whether to invite the superior to the General Chapter or not. I propose this so that if the numbers are very small, the legislation does not require that the Prior General invite the superior to the Chapter or other meetings.
The other possibility of a Byzantine foundation in the United States has not gone any further. Perhaps some suggestions may come up during the Chapter.
Towards the Future
Towards the end of my report to the General Chapter and also in my report to the General Congregation in Bamberg in 1999, I shared some of my ideas about the future of the Order. I am very hopeful about the future. There are no major divisions within the Order and we have managed to enunciate clearly in our official documents what is our charism. We have many wonderful apostolic commitments and we are becoming more and more open to the mission ad gentes.
There are obvious challenges which we face in the future, some of which I have mentioned in my reports and which I do not want to repeat here. I believe that the biggest challenge for us is to respond faithfully to the vocation given to us by God. We are most faithful to God when we are faithful to the vocation to which we have been called. What is the point of giving God one thing when God is asking something else of us? God asks us to be Carmelites and the Church needs this of us also. We can be Carmelites in and through all sorts of apostolic commitments. There is no dichotomy between the service to which we are called and the contemplation to which we are equally called. A serious challenge for us is to integrate these two essential elements of our charism along with the commitment to fraternity in a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The way the Carmelite life is actually lived should give life to the individual members of community, helping them to continue the journey of transformation. It should also be a vibrant witness to the people in whose midst we live.
According to our Constitutions (14), Carmelites live their life of allegiance to Christ through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through fraternity and through service in the midst of the people. The experience of the desert is a crucial factor in unifying these values. The Ratio puts contemplation at the heart of the Carmelite charism. Of course contemplation and the desert experience, as understood in the Constitutions, are one and the same thing. Constitution 15 says, "Through this process, when we come to see reality with Gods eyes, our attitude towards the world is transformed according to his love, and the contemplation of the loving presence of God will be seen in our lives of fraternity and of service."
The Ratio is entitled, "Carmelite Formation: A Journey of Transformation". The theme of this General Chapter is of course, "The Journey Continues". We are all on the journey and therefore we are all in the process of formation as long as we are alive. This journey involves us in a gradual transformation of our limited and imperfect human ways of thinking, loving and behaving, transforming them into divine ways. (Constitution 17). This is obviously a journey which lasts a lifetime and every aspect of our lives is involved in this process of transformation, which is Gods work.
Carmel is inextricably connected in most peoples minds with prayer and with Our Lady. She is our Patroness, our Mother and our Sister, who accompanies us on this journey and nurtures the divine life within us. In his letter of 25th March 2001, the Pope points out that Carmelite devotion to Our Lady involves an awareness of her constant presence in our lives and a commitment to follow her example. She listened to the Word of God and gave space to the Word to grow within her.
I believe that people today are searching for meaning in their lives. Many, especially in the west, have rejected organised religion, because they have not found there what they are looking for. The danger is that they can be led astray into all sorts of strange sects. There is also the danger of fundamentalism, which I believe arises from the basic sense of insecurity of human life. We all search for security. True security can be found in God alone and not in any human ideas. I believe that our charism is desperately needed in our world. We have the vocation of living in allegiance to Jesus Christ as communities of brothers. Wars and divisions among peoples lacerate our world. We bear witness to the power of Christs love to break down the barriers that human beings erect. We have the vocation to humbly serve our brothers and sisters, which is a quiet witness against the exploitation of millions in our world. We have the vocation to seek the face of the living God, as individuals and as communities. We do this firstly by listening to the Word of God in Scripture and in daily life and we are inspired by the example of Our Blessed Lady and the Prophet Elijah. The daily practice of Lectio Divina helps us to do everything in the name of the Lord (Constitution 82 quoting St. Paul as cited in the Rule). The daily time for silent prayer (Constitution 80) helps us to move beyond our own ideas and thoughts, and to meet God in sheer silence (cf. I Kings 19,12). It is only from the experience of encountering God in the Word and in silence that we can perform our prophetic duty of calling the people to stop hobbling about first on one foot and then on the other (cf. I Kings 18,21).
As an Order we have a serious need to prepare more experts in various aspects of our spirituality. In the Middle Ages, Carmelites were known as "Masters of the Sacred Page". Our history is filled with examples of men and women who became great friends of God and whose teaching is revered wherever Christian spirituality is known, both inside and outside the Church. We need to prepare above all our formators so that they will be able to pass on to future generations of Carmelites what is the heart and soul of our Carmelite charism. We all know how important are the first years of formation. If a solid foundation of Carmelite spirituality is not given during these years, it will be very difficult to pick it up later.
People have certain expectations of Carmelites. We have something to say to people who are searching for meaning and yet who have lost faith in the Church as an organisation. Perhaps this is one of the new areopaghi that the previous General Chapter mentioned. We also have something to say to members of the Church who are seeking the face of the living God. We cannot all be experts but we can all be intimate friends of God, who see with Gods eyes and love with Gods heart.
I urge you to give direction to the Order during this General Chapter. It seems to be a general feeling that we do not need any more beautiful official documents. We already have beautiful documents in which our vocation is clearly stated. What is needed from this General Chapter, I suggest, are practical proposals as to how this beautiful theory can become a reality in the different cultures in which the Order is implanted. I hope that we will be able to move from the various examples we will hear about to the practical reality of the Provinces and Commissariats. We need to have a frank exchange of experiences as leaders and representatives of the whole Order, without trying to present the best face. We are all human and we all fail often, but how can we help all our brothers and sisters to live this Carmelite vocation to the full?
We know the theory of community life but why does it so often not work in practice? Why is the community meeting often not a life-giving experience of brothers seeking together the will of God? In the Provinces are our communities really prayerful or do they just say prayers together? Does the way community life is actually lived help the individual members of the communities to be faithful to the journey of transformation? How can we encourage the individual friars to be faithful to prayer and community life?
Is the service we are offering the Church really what God is asking of us? Are we offering to the people of God what they need and want? How do we present our Carmelite spirituality in our various apostolic commitments? What is the general level of knowledge in the Provinces of our Carmelite spirituality? How can we balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the community and our apostolic commitments? Are we offering our candidates the best possible formation for the Carmelite life? Most Provinces prefer to have initial formation within the bounds of the Province. Can we continue to supply well-prepared men as formators in every Province? What are the alternatives? Do we put ill-prepared men into the work of formation out of desperation because there is just no one else?
All of us are on the journey together. Let us encourage one another to continue and let us help all Carmelites to make our charism a living and vibrant reality in the midst of the people. I remind you of what the General Chapter is:-
Constitution 255 - "The General Chapter is the supreme authority of our Order; it is also the principal sign of the unity of our Order, in all its diversity. It is the fraternal gathering in which we reflect together, in community, to strengthen our faithfulness to the Gospel and to our charism, and our sensitivity to the needs of time and place. By means of the General Chapter, the entire Order, allowing itself to be guided by the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, seeks to know the will of God at a particular moment in history, so that we may best serve the Church."
I want to end by thanking you all for your support over the past six years. It has been a privilege to serve the Order as Prior General. I want to thank all those who served the Order in the various international commissions and most of all I want to thank the members of my own community at the Curia, the Secretary General and the members of the General Council. We have worked together and shared much during the past six years.
May Our Lady be our companion and our guide as we seek the way ahead together. May she help us as we continue the journey together.
Commissione Preparatoria Capitolo Generale 2001