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"Carmel - The Journey Continues"

This title describes our 2001 General Chapter. In an effort to create an overall picture of the current situation of our Order - its experiences, desires, disappointments and setbacks - we, the members of the Preparatory Commission, have sent out a questionnaire.

The answers we received were evidence of the wealth of resources to be found in our communities. In the past few years the provinces have undertaken many new projects and initiatives. The Order’s documents - especially the new Constitutions, the RIVC and the Prior General’s various letters have been read, studied and discussed at all levels - local, regional, provincial and in formation. On the whole these documents have evoked a positive response. Many friars, however, have voiced the opinion that the documents are too long, too theoretical and written in a style that is difficult to read. Almost all the responses agreed that we have enough documents. Our charism has been sufficiently and adequately documented, explained and described. Now we need means, methods, examples and strategies to put into practice what the documents describe. We must bring these inert words to life on all levels: in our personal life, in our communities, in our pastoral and social commitments and in every phase of formation. The answers revealed that there is too often a gap between theory and practice.

The Order’s extensive and engaging documents are often of little import for every-day life in the face of certain problems: individualism, decreasing vocations in the older provinces, higher percentage of older friars, concern for the future. One sometimes hears the complaint that certain communities are petrified, nothing ever changes. Individuals have neither the strength to attempt change or they have a personal interest in seeing that things do not change. They block any change others attempt.

Against this background the Preparatory Commission thought it would be a good idea to draw up an "itinerary" during the General Chapter of 2001: From the documents to daily life, points for reflection, discussion and fraternal exchange.

We would like to like to prepare this itinerary with reference to five specific themes: the apostolate, the community, work, formation and social communications.

We have chosen the steps of Lectio Divina: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Collatio, Operatio, as a framework for our discussions. 

The first part of the Lectio will concentrate on some particular activity of the Order that will serve as an example of how to translate theory into practice, documents into daily life. These examples are not held up for imitation, but in the spirit of Lectio Divina they will serve as material for Meditatio and the subsequent steps of the Lectio. It is not a question of copying or imitating but rather finding insights, discovering processes, becoming aware of problematic situations and developing strategies that will allow everyone a chance to offer ideas and suggestions from an individual and a spiritual point of view, on how best to translate theory into practice.

Many of our friars are involved in the parish apostolate. According to the Constitutions our mission can be carried out in parish work (Const. 100 and 101). We do not ask if parishes fit in with our mission but rather how can we make our parish work Carmelite, how can we advance the goals of our apostolate, in what way does our parish work differ from that of the diocesan clergy? We have invited the friars from Dordrecht (Holland) to come and present their method.

Another crucial point that comes up frequently in the Prior General’s documents, letters and talks is the concern for the communities that exist in our Order. There is an increased percentage of aged friars, an atmosphere of resignation, large houses and the reasons mentioned earlier are often an obstacle to growth.

The Constitutions speak of the Rule of Carmel and the first Christian community. They are a frame of reference on the path to living communities. They are examples of how to overcome differences and privileges, share responsibilities and pursue a style of life that allows different charisms to flourish. These examples teach us to be attentive to the spiritual and mental welfare of others through dialogue and reconciliation (cf. Const. 19).

In many countries our communities are becoming more international: friars of different cultures live and work together. Some provinces have made arrangements for women to live in our communities as non-canonical members (Holland and England); in Florence three friars live with four families in an ancient Carmelite priory. These examples taken from the replies of the provinces are evidence of the creativity, flexibility and courage that correspond to the vitality of our charism in the concrete structuring of Carmelite communities today.

We will ask the Florence community to present a Lectio, an example that will help us reflect upon our efforts to form communities based on our charism.

Working with people, seeking the face of God in the world, "spirituality with eyes wide open" (J.B. Metz) is part of our charism (see Const. 21). The answers to the questionnaire were impressive for the variety of social welfare and charitable projects in which our friars are engaged throughout the world. We work for justice and peace, for alleviating physical, mental and psychological suffering, we offer concrete assistance to the poor and the vulnerable. As an example of this aspect of our charism we have asked the friars of the House of the Suffering Servant in Curitiba (Brazil) to prepare a Lectio. In this case too - and here it is very clear indeed - the question is not to found similar institutions in all our provinces but to sensitize, to refine our sense of discernment for the demands of every day life through by working among the people.

Emphasis in the fourth section of our work is on intellectual commitment education and on the institution and proliferation of intellectual establishments and their inter-connection. We made this choice because the Ratio has provided a solid foundation and good direction to our formation; in addition an extensive and detailed proposal on education from the Titus Brandsma Institute in Nijmegen (Holland) will be made available for discussion in the chapter.

This Lectio will consist of two parts: reflection on work already accomplished through various documents (oral and written); presentation and explanation of the proposal from the Titus Brandsma Institute.

We would like to approach "social communications" in the same fashion. A presentation of the international commission will serve as the Lectio. We have also asked Father Camillo Maccise OCD, Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, to present suggestions based on his own international experience.

We chose this method of presentation and discussion based on Lectio Divina, not just for its obvious advantages and efficiency, but because of the growing number of communities that practicing Lectio Divina. This particular method underlines the contemplative dimension of our Order. On the whole the General Chapter is a fraternal, contemplative encounter and an integral part of our charism as a democratically structured international Order. For this reason we celebrate the General Chapter as an important part of our permanent search for the living God, a journey that must continue until we are all things to all people.

General Chapter Preparatory Commission
Via Giovanni Lanza, 138
00184 Rome, Italy