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Marist Bulletin - Number 266


The Mission ad gentes programme seeks favourable land for sowing - Interview with Brother Michael Flanigan, member of the team encouraging the project

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Brother Michael Flanigan is a member of the Team that the Superior General and his Council appointed in January 2006 to implement the “Mission ad gentes” project and he has the responsibility of seeking places, particularly in Asia where the brothers who have offered to participate in the project can carry out their apostolic work. Brother Michael belongs to the Province of the United States of America.

AMEstaún. The first group of brothers who are participating in the “Mission ad gentes” project have already spent one half of the programme which is being held at Davao. What is the current situation of the project?
Michael Flanigan.
Yes. The brothers are doing a course of discernment. In reality, Davao is the second phase of their personal discernment. Of the sixteen brothers who are currently at Davao, it is possible all are not destined to a mission if they discover in the process of discernment that it is not their call. A very important thing in the course of Davao is that as well as courses on the Church in Asia, on culture, etc. … personal discernment has great importance as in any process. That is why Davao is a phase of the process.

How do you think it will be organised once this stage is finished?
Once these six months have finished on the 15th December, they will return to their countries of origin to spend some time with their families and especially to take the steps necessary to get the necessary visas for the country to which they are destined. Some countries grant visas easily, while for others it is more difficult; in some countries we do not have the security of being able to enter as a religious. Once each brother reaches his country of destination, it is anticipated that it will take a year or more to learn the local language, to get to know the people, their customs, their culture, etc....

Do you already know the countries they will be going to?
No. We have not yet decided the countries they will be going to. In the month of October, the Brother Superior General, the Brother Vicar General, who is responsible for the “Mission ad gentes” project and the General Council, once they know and analyse the information on the countries and the dioceses that have been visited, will decide the destination that is the most suitable for each of the brothers. I anticipate that this will be in three countries where we are going to start.

And once you know the countries of destination?
Once the Council has made the decision, I will go to Davao to have a meeting with each of the brothers. This will be during the month of November. In this meeting, we will share the characteristics of each of the destinations and we will also analyse the advantages and disadvantages that could be found there. From this information they will be able to make a discernment on something concrete in order to decide to join, in December, the option that suits them the best.

In a short time you have made two trips to different countries in Asia to try to find the most suitable places for our brothers to start their mission. What news can you give us about this?
Yes. To start, it is important to note that we are already in ten countries in Asia. During these trips I have visited seven countries of which five are new and in the others we are already present in two but with a very small number of brothers or where there are difficulties to grow in the country; the brothers are asking for more numbers to consolidate their presence.

How do you see the Church in Asia?
In a simplified way, I would say that in many places it is a Church that is already in place, a little traditional, but with the traditions of Asia. Nevertheless, in many other places where I have been, it is a very young Church, young in its members, because among the faithful there are many young people, and young institutionally because it is in the process of creating new dioceses. During my last trip, I found four dioceses with less than ten years of existence. The Church in Asia is in the process of increasing and that is why the dioceses have many needs, because they have started practically with nothing. One of the dioceses that I visited had forty-four priests; all were missionaries, except one. They do not have local clergy; it’s one of the things they lack. One of the desires of the bishops is that the brothers come in the first place to promote the mission but also so that they can promote local vocations in order to consolidate the local Church.

With what expectations will the Church of Asia receive our brothers? What perspectives are opened for Marist missionary work?
In each country that I visited, the Church is opening its doors with a great deal of enthusiasm, particularly due to the fact that we are brothers. Many dioceses only have one congregation of brothers or they do not have any so they see our presence with a great deal of satisfaction. In one diocese, if the brothers were to arrive tomorrow, the bishop would immediately offer them six distinct occupations.

What needs have you detected?
In general, you can clearly see the needs that you must cover, and in a number of places education is the priority need. I have presented our charism to them as a charism destined to serve young people in whatever place or situation in which we find ourselves. But in the majority of the places in the countries of Asia that I have visited, the priority need is education. One of the bishops said to me: “If we do not obtain education for the young people, they will be poor for the rest of their life.” One of the most repeated requests from the bishops is that of education.

What are your lines of action in these countries of Asia for the coming months?
I have two programmes of work open. One is to serve the brothers who have decided to participate in the “Mission ad gentes” project. I am collaborating with them in order to make a preliminary discernment before heading to Davao. In some cases I must find a way for them to learn English because it is a required condition before going to Davao, as English is the second language that the people of Asia learn. During my trips I have only had problems having myself understood in English in one country. A second responsibility is seeking places where the brothers will be able to carry out their mission. I have visited different countries of Asia to be in contact with the bishops, but also with the superiors and the members of other religious congregations. In Asia, the religious and priests know each other very well and they help each other. For me that has been a very gratifying discovery. Through these visits, I have been able to detect the needs of the dioceses and the offers of work that they have made. When the brothers arrive in their respective country, they are going to find themselves with people available to help them. That is why this second activity could be summarised by saying that I am seeking places where the brothers will be able to carry out their mission and I am in communication with the dioceses and the bishops.

Has it already been decided who is going to participate in the second group going to Davao?
The anticipated number is seventeen, but I really think there will be less. Currently, we do not know exactly how many are going to participate in the course that will start in January because some are finding difficulties in obtaining their visa or reaching an acceptable level of English. And if they do not obtain it, they will need to join the group that starts in July. I am a bit concerned because we have many brothers on the waiting list and if the first groups are small in the following years we will have to have very large groups so as to serve everyone. For the moment I am staying in contact with them and on the 30th October the General Council will decide the names of those who will participate in the next course.

When you present the “Mission ad gentes” project to the authorities, how do they receive it, what is their reaction?
The project has been received well, firstly among the brothers who have given an excellent response, but also in the ecclesiastical communities of Asia. This initiative of the General Council, encouraged by Brother Seán, is a gift from the Spirit to the Institute. Among the bishops and the religious of Asia there have been attitudes of surprise and some have been disconcerted. One asked the following question: “The Marists are going to have more than one hundred and fifty brothers to send to Asia? From where are they going to take them? Surprising!” Really, it is admirable that so many brothers have such confidence in God and have placed their lives in the hand of Providence. We should really rejoice.

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