On September 20, the Superior General of the Marist Brothers, Emili Turú, gave a prophetic address at the Chapter they are having these days in Rionegro, Colombia. In his speech he addressed the group with 5 themes: an Institute on departure, protection of minors, dancing with dinosaurs, training and lay people.
Brother Emili’s contribution offered further insights for this part of the Chapter process where there is “an edge of waiting”, where the aim is (a) to try to understand the current reality and (B) to listen attentively to the voice of the Lord in the midst of what is being lived. Emili made it clear in his introduction that his intervention was not a presentation of what the Institute is from the point of view of General Government, a vision that has already been presented in the General Council Report. Instead, Emili chose to reflect on 5 aspects central to the vitality of Institute.
1. An Institute ‘going forth’
Brother Emili assumed that a healthy body cannot live in isolation, but must be in touch with reality. It must be ‘going forth’. The Institute, therefore, needs to get out of its comfort zone and responding to the call of Pope Francis. “each time someone manages to move out of his/her comfort zone and heads down an untried path, marvelous things start to happen, unhoped-for things, surprising things”, said Br. Emili. He continued: “To move out of your comfort zone does not always mean going to some frontier mission or to another country. Geographical and existential peripheries can be found in the place where you are currently working or within a radius of a kilometre.”.
In this regard, the Superior General wanted to emphasize two realities.
a) Displaced children and young people
Emili pointed out to the assembly that 50% of displaced people in the world are under 18 years of age. If we added up all the displaced people in the world, and put them together, they would be the 21st most populous country in the world. If this trend continues to grow, as it has in recent years, by 2030 the total number of displaced persons would become the 5th most populist country in the world.
Children are the most vulnerable group among migrants and asylum seekers. While the Institute is doing something, it is not enough.
“The question I believe that we have to address now, as a Chapter, goes much further than various one-off initiatives. Is there something that we could and should be doing as a global body to provide a response to this emerging situation in our world, either by ourselves or with other institutions?”
b) Caring for our common home
Every year we consume more than the planet can generate in that same period. This is alarming! Immediate action is urgently needed. In line with the Institute’s slogan, the Pope in his Encyclical ‘Laudato Si” on ‘Care for our Common Home’ says that we need “to leave behind a period of self-destruction and make a new start”. Brother Emili put this question to participants, “In what way can we contribute to this new beginning of humanity?”. Ecological education and spirituality is the road indicated by Pope Francis. Some Marist schools are applying the principles of permaculture to educate in a way that is truly integral, with three ethical principles – care of the earth, care of people, and sharing resources.
Brother Emili said that, “The reality of our planet demands urgent action. There is no choice. We cannot simply continue as always as if there is no threat. Further questiosn he put to participants was: “What contribution will we make to protecting our common home? How are we going to live out and spread a new culture, a culture of care?
2. Safeguarding of children
According to some studies 1 in 4 adults have suffered abuse during childhood. Children cannot stop the abuse, adults do.
Br Emili recalled that, “today, as an institution, we are trying to be, in one way or another, part of the solution to this social problem of enormous proportions. Still, we must acknowledge, with great remorse, that in the past we were part of the problem and that we might continue being so unless we make a serious commitment to both its prevention and the struggle for its eradication in our societies.”
Looking at the history of the Institute he says: “The very existence of victims is a permanent reminder that we failed them as an institution. If this was the case in the past, we cannot fail them again, not under any circumstances.”
He recalled the request for forgiveness he made in the bicentennial message of 2nd January. He went on to say: “If in the past we failed victims and society, today we must be seen to be especially committed in the struggle against this social plague, beginning with our own institutions, but not only them.”
3. Dancing with dinosaurs
Dinosaurs were creatures that were most successful among all the inhabitants of our planet. They are examples of survival. Institutions grow and become dinosaurs; and this is the only possibility of survival.
“If we contemplate the history of the Institute across its 200 years, we could say that we have become a little dinosaur. What began very simply at La Valla has been growing more complex with each passing day, especially in those places where we have been present for a long time”..
Br Emili said that there is a lot of complexity inside the Institute: many works to manage, few brothers … “When faced with such complexity, our temptation is to pretend the issues do not exist and continue to do what we have always done, that is, when things were much simpler, or to set about managing complex matters without any preparation, as if religious profession automatically gives us what is needed in a professional world. In both cases, the dinosaur produces victims, frequently among the young Brothers.”
What do we need to do to deal with this complexity? Brother Emili responds: “Not necessarily; rather, what it means is that we have to learn to dance with the complexity.’’ It is necessary to continue with “audacity and creativity”, seeking suitable structures for the historical moment that is lived. The New Models Project is a response to this situation.
4. Formation: New wine, new wineskins
Br Emili gave statistics that compared the total number of Brothers, and their average age at the time of General Chapters of 1958, 1967, 2017: In 1967 there were 9,704 Brothers with an average age of 39 years. In 2017, the Institute has 2,985 Brothers with an average age is 65.9 years. Some don’t like disclosing this data because they say it causes pessimism. The Superior says: Is it better, then, to bury our heads in the sand… simply because we find it depressing? There was a time that the success of religious life was judged from the numbers. Does it still have to be like this today?
It is easy to see from the statistics that the number of Brothers has declined drastically. However, despite this, some Provinces continue to live in structures designed for the 1960s “and it does not seem to me that this has helped us to understand the new reality, or to adapt to it”, says Br Emili.
Applying this situation to formation, he wonders “whether our initial formation has not been a reflection, in one way or another, of what has been happening in our communities.”
Brother Emili then suggested some practical proposals:
- If we think that a Marist Brother is someone with ‘global availability’, a Brother for the world, what programs and houses of formation do we need?
- Would we accept the Superior General to appoint Brothers to their mission after their final profession?
- If we are called to be mystics and prophets, what process of initiation is required?
- If we imagine our future as linked to lay Marists, what are the consequences of this for our formation?
- If we believe that Marist Youth Ministry is a privileged means for promoting vocations for the Church, why is it that it is not a priority in some administrative units?
- How can we improve the process of screening candidates, especially when there are bigger groups of them?
- And care of our Brothers in the second stage of post-novitiate formation look like if we really took their life mentoring seriously?
- Isn’t now the right moment to rethink formation as a whole, from initial through to ongoing, in the light of the experience of recent years and the profile of the Marist Brother we want?
5. Being lay Marists
Today there are more than 5 thousand lay people who have a relationship with the Institute that goes beyond an employment contract. Among these about 3,500 belong to the ChMMF. How do we continue the process of building relationships between the Institute and laity?
Brother Emili referred to the document “Being a Lay Marist”, which is being presented to the Chapter by the Lay Secretariat. He said that several important documents underpin this relationship. But he wanted to emphasize that the aspect that helps the growth of the charism of Champagnat among lay people is the personal relationship. We must continue, then, on a daring path, creating spaces of dialogue and encounter, that foster mutual growth.
For Brother Emili, the Holy Spirit is behind this process. He is sure “that there is no turning back in this process”.