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Marist Bulletin - Number 212

 

VII General Conference
09.09.2005

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As many would be aware, the General Conference started on the 5th September in Sri Lanka and will last until the end of the month. You can find a great quantity and variety of material on the site www.champagnat.org: from the Conference programme to the prayer booklet for each day; from the daily chronicle to the official speeches (some of which appear in the reserved area); from photographs of various moments to messages that you yourselves can send…
The information that you will receive in this month will focus on this important event in the life of the large Marist Family. We are sending you some notices, but we are also inviting you to be united in prayer with all Marists that the Spirit guides the hearts and minds of all the participants.


What is the General Conference

The Marist Constitutions describe the General Conference as a consultative assembly that has two objectives: to strengthen the unity of the Institute and to study questions of general concern and to propose ways of answering them.
The custom of gathering a significant group of brothers in order to look at important matters of the Institute was one of the practices introduced by Marcellin to encourage the unity of the brothers. The origin of this structure at the service of the general government, as such as we know today, started to take shape and define its function as a form of a renewed style of government of religious institutes as called for by Vatican II.
Brother Charles Raphaël initiated this practice in 1961 and repeated it in 1965. From these initial experiences it has evolved into a convocation between General Chapters once during the mandate of the Superior General. It gives an opportunity to evaluate the implementation of the Chapter decisions and it is included in our new Constitutions in the chapter concerning Government.
The General Conference is a consultative assembly and its function differs from that of the General Chapter. The latter has full autonomy regarding the General Council and constitutes the supreme extraordinary authority of the Institute. On the contrary, the organisation of the General Conference, its programme, its daily agenda and its duration are subject to the wishes of the Superior General and his Council. The Chapters generally resolve all the affairs by voting and present documents to the Institute. In the Conferences, there is no voting on decisions, but consensus is sought on the aspects that are to be encouraged in the Provinces or in the Institute, without expressing them in documents or official statements. These differences explain why there is a different way of working, of pursuing distinct objectives and adopting other means of attaining them.

Some peculiarities of the VII General Conference

The meetings location
The meetings location for this convocation will not be Rome, or Europe, but Asia. The VII General Conference will take place in Sri Lanka, also known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean to bring the brothers closer to this part of humanity sometimes so unfamiliar to us than our own. This follows the criteria with which the V General Conference was organised in Veranopolis (Brazil) for the first time in the history of this type of meeting away from Rome and in Latin America.

The mission ad gentes as the background
The VII General Conference is taking place in Asia, the largest continent on Earth, under the banner of mission ad gentes. It was in Asia where God, from the beginning, revealed and realised his plan of salvation. Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour, who was incarnated as an Asian, who was born in a small part of western Asia, who knew and loved this earth, is still not known. The presence of Christians on the Asian continent, inhabited by about two-thirds of the worlds population, is a minority considered very often as foreigners and they represent foreign powers, but at the same time promise and hope. The number of Marists on this continent is a small grain of mustard, a presence, day-by-day, insignificant, but alive.
The mission ad gentes that summons the Church to go and teach all nations, according to the Superior General, has grown steadily weaker in recent years in the Institute. A waning of the missionary spirit… needs strengthening today… and warrants further study at next years Conference. Brother Seán Sammon foresees in his letter of convocation for the Conference that an upcoming circular will treat mission, the works of the Little Brothers of Mary, and the Jean-Baptiste Montagnes of today.

We will not have invited laypeople
During the last two general Chapters and in the 1997 General Conference, a small group of laypeople participated as observers and advisors. But the Brother Superior General has decided not to invite a small group of laymen and women to next years Conference. He is conscious that lay participation in those three gatherings was a good beginning but something more is needed today.
The work with laypeople has travelled other paths, promoted by the General Conference from the Chapter mandate, with the aim of proposing a new vocabulary and of promoting new structures that foster more effective representation than was obtained when they were selected by the Brothers Provincial and their Councils and when they were not allowed to be invited.
On these previous occasions during which laypeople were present, due to the nature of the meeting of the General Chapter and of the General Conference and the directives of our Marist Constitutions and Statutes the role of these lay groups was often limited.
It is to be hoped that in the meanwhile the presence of laypeople in Marist works is not valued only as a positive element, as noted in the minutes of previous events, but as a participation with their own character shared with the brothers.

A new language for a responsibility that will last forever
The language of Brother Seán Sammon has been new since his first written message; new in its form and in its contents. The letter of convocation for the VII General Conference, which was not sent exclusively to Superiors and brothers, as can be seen in the opening greeting of Brother Superior General to all who cherish and hold dear the charism of Marcellin Champagnat, is offered to us with a double title: Life-giving Leadership and Fostering vitality in Marist life and ministry today. Two proposals that concern us all but that, in the development of the letter, puts the emphasis on the responsibility of the Superiors, called here, in this document leaders. This is a new concomitant to the Conference that is not used in the language of the Constitutions and Statutes.
Brother Superior General, in describing the mission of leaders in the Marist Institute states that it must be seen in the light of faith as a choice of the Holy Spirit to lead. If you are a Provincial, District Superior, or Superior of a local community {and we could add Superior General, General Councillor, etc.} God elected you to lead, to have the ability to get other people to do what they dont want to do and to like it. I found myself asking What is it that the others (those who are not leaders?) do not want to do? To get them to do it and do it with pleasure are two challenges for a mission of the heart that can be translated as providing a vision for our brothers and lay partners and as extending mercy and care to them, to confront them and to encourage them.
With this promise of the Brothers Provincial and District Superiors to carry in our hearts the very same spirit of charity we hope to meet Brother Superior General with his brothers in Sri Lanka so that our time together there will give us even more reason to hope that a new day is dawning for our Institute and its mission.

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