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Marist Bulletin - Number 214

 

Interview with Marist Father Joaquín Fernández
22.09.2005

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Brother Antonio Martínez Estaún

Father Joaquín Fernández, a Spanish Marist Father, was a General Councillor from 1981 to 1989 and the Superior General from 1993 to 2001. Gifted in languages with a fraternal allure, he is ideal for our General Conference of which he is the chaplain. We can sense his discreet presence, authentically Marist, as a brother amongst brothers. He responded with simplicity to our questions.

Father Joaquín, we are finishing the work of the second week of the Conference. As an observer, how do you see the group, the work, the planning, the atmosphere?
From the start, the group has seemed to be to be well integrated, coming from very different experiences and places. It is a sign that this is not the first time that they have been together, or at least for the majority of them. What has attracted my attention is the number of Brothers Provincial and District Superiors with a relatively low average age, and the predominance of brothers from the Spanish language, not only among the Superiors, but also among the translators and the support people.
The timetable of the meetings is precise to the minute and it is obvious that the topics and their documentation have been well prepared with good information, reflection and discussions. During the first week, I thought that the work would be difficult, because the times for personal reflection and in groups was short according to my experience of similar meetings. I think that a lot of participants thought the same thing. But during the second week, we saw that this rhythm had been thought only for the first week, as an introduction and general presentation. This second week is a lot more balanced with a better allotment of time.
The atmosphere is thus pleasant, serene, with frequent exchanges. I am very interested in the country where the Conference is being held: its history, monuments, clothing and consequences of the tsunami, etc. I see here that many brothers are residing and working away from their country of origin or have done so. I consider this aspect very important in international meetings.

The Conference had started with an expose offering a vision of the Church and of Marist life in Asia. What was your perception of the service that the Church and Asia expect from the brothers?
In his second talk, Father Pieris gave a lot of importance to the education of children and young people, and this is essential for a very young continent. It is the immense domain of the specific mission of the Marist Brothers. It was important for me to discover that the brothers are present in many countries of Asia. It is not a massive presence as in other parts of the world, but it indicates that they are in places adapted to their mission and that their school and their other educational works must integrate the children and young people of different cultures and religions. Asia should be currently the continent that gives an example of co-existence, of respect, or interaction and of learning between different cultures and religions. The world needs this.
The brothers cannot perhaps accomplish all of this on their own, but as they have done in other countries, they can undertake this other important work of formation of lay teachers, who can imitate their energy and spirit. It is a multiplying factor which must be considered.

According to you, what challenges does this continent posed for the brothers?
The first refers to the mission of evangelisation of cultures. Sometimes we want to undertake the mission by presences and by works that are limited and even marginalised by the culture, attitudes and values of the people or social groups. These are sometimes important actions, but with provisory results which do not have a long-term effect. Education, on the other hand, acts in the long-term, not only in forming results, but also ensuring that they last.
This reality represents important challenges for the brothers; what type of education must they give or where should they be present? We are not talking about academic matters that are generally fixed by governments. These are other domains of the formation of the person which must nourish what Father Pieris called the spirituality proper to these cultures, faced with the predominant technique in the other countries. The reality is very different in developed countries or of the western culture, and that is why we do not have to repeat the same schemas and arrive at the same results.
There are the places of this presence which, according to Marcellin Champagnat, will not be in the environments that have sufficient means, but where they have no other possibilities of personal and social development. The brothers originating from Asia have a very important and decisive task in this domain and must dedicate sufficient time to it.

The Marist Fathers were born with a very clear missionary vocation. According to you, what worth does the project ad gentes have as proposed at the Conference?
I at first reacted with surprise and envy. The brothers are advancing in a domain that we the fathers have had as a priority for many years, and which has been part o the mission and the dynamism of our congregation. All of that was lost or reduced to a minimum with the maturity of the mission in Oceania in the seventies. I know that our General Council is studying the possibility of relaunching this aspect of mission in local missions and in the countries who have been evangelised but are no longer so.
The plan presented is ambitious, but not impossible. The preparation programme must be revised but that is of little importance.
What concerns me in what was said at the Conference is that many young brothers leave their period of formation not very aware of the values of internationality and of mission outside of their country. The concrete formation plans perhaps need to be revised. As well, during the period of formation, we should make them aware of the presence of many brothers transplanted in different countries and the richness that that supposes for them and their Provinces or origin.

How do you feel as the Conference chaplain?
I feel very much at ease and happy to be able to offer this small service to the brothers. Let us hope that this will be an example for us to help each other more as members of the same family. I knew some of the participants before and others had met me during the celebrations of the canonisation of Saint Marcellin at Rome.
On the other hand, the Eucharistic celebrations are very well prepared in the booklets, which makes the work very easy. It suffices to follow the directions in the booklets and those given by the brothers looking after the Eucharist for the day. With a bit of obedience and a bit of preparation of the readings and prayers in the language of the day, my work is done!
The most important thing for me is the fraternity with the brothers coming from all parts of the world and listening to what the brothers are saying and sharing. I remember some things and I am learning new things. I am very grateful to the General Council for their invitation and to my brothers in community who made my response easy.

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