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Marist Bulletin - Number 284


Interview with Brother Teo Grageda, animator of a fraternity

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It is now about twenty years since the brothers of Africa inaugurated their academic formation centre, the Marist International Center (MIC). Several hundreds of brothers have already passed through this centre and have been prepared there for their apostolic work. Currently, sixty-nine brothers from eleven different countries are studying there. This human group, which has opted for life in community, is organised in small fraternities of ten to fifteen members who live in the same house. There are seven small houses and each one bears the name of one of the places of our Marist origins: Maisonnettes, La Valla, L’Hermitage, or the name of the Marist saints: Champagnat, Frère François, Chanel, and one of an African saint, Charles Lwanga. At the moment, five Fraternities are in place. At the head of each fraternity, there is a brother who helps and accompanies the group of persons who live under the same roof. This is the case of Teo Grageda, a Mexican brother who has lived for several years in Africa, with whom we had the following interview in order to know more about the life of a fraternity of Marist students.

AMEstaún. You are the animator of one of the five fraternities of students of MIC. What are your responsibilities at MIC?
In the formation group at MIC, there are thirteen brothers who have spent a number of years in the centre; as for me, I am in charge of the animation of a fraternity, the one that resides in the house called “Maisonnettes”. At the same time, I give a helping hand in the animation of different apostolic activities and other works that the scholastics do and I participate in the commissions that animate the community life at MIC.

Br. Teo. I have seen that, in MIC, there are seven small houses occupied by five fraternities.
In reality, six of them are occupied: five by the fraternities of the young brothers and the sixth, which is the house “Champagnat”, is where eight brothers from the formation team reside. This is also where brothers passing through stay.

All those who live at MIC form one large community from a canonical point of view, but practically, you are groups in little fraternities.
This structure is the one that favours the creation of the fraternity. On the site, there are currently eighty-two brothers, sixty-nine young brothers and thirteen brothers in the formation team. One sole community of eighty-two brothers would not be the best solution to encourage a good formation. Such a large group would not be practical for community meetings, for the sharing of prayer life, etc. for it is very easy to become lost in the masses, such that some would remain ignored amidst so many people. That is why we decided to create smaller spaces to develop a better climate of life in common and a more enriching fraternal life. That is what we call the fraternities whose aim is to create a climate of family where each one is listened to and welcomed.

At the head of each fraternity there is a brother formator who is the director.
According to the Marist Constitutions, all the religious present at MIC form one sole community; thus we have one sole superior. But in practice, the animators of different communities hold the role of superiors of the fraternity for everything that concerns permissions, daily life, outings, visits and trips, financial questions etc of the little group; the brother animators look after all that as superiors of the young brothers even though we are not canonical superiors. We have meetings of all the animators of fraternities together with the superior of the community to try to co-ordinate the life of each of the fraternities with the life of the large community. We have, once a semester, the visit of the Superior who shares the life of the fraternity for a week.

Each fraternity has a certain independence from the physical point of view since it has its own house with a community room, a chapel, individual bedrooms for the brothers… How do you manage with this?
In reality, the organisation of the fraternities is very similar to that of the large community. They all have a very similar timetable. At the heart of the fraternity, there are commissions: the liturgy commission which organises the prayer and the distribution of the brothers for the participation in the prayers, the commission for maintenance and jobs which looks after all that happens in the house, the maintenance of the bicycles that we have in each house for going to the city library or to do the shopping; the commission which welcomes visitors and looks after the sick, a commission for organising the celebrations and the birthdays of brothers and the annual outing.

You have meals together, in a large dining-room with one kitchen for everybody, but I also saw that the fraternities have a small place which serves as a kitchen.
I will speak concretely of my fraternity because there are differences in organisation from one fraternity to another. The meals of each day, breakfast, lunch and dinner are taken together. Saturday mornings, each fraternity organises its own breakfast. We have our small kitchen and our small dining-room. Doing the cooking is taken in turn, one week for each brother. In the community life of the fraternity, it is very important to share informally our ideas and our life, while having our meals. In the large dining-room, you can have the feeling of being lost amidst eighty-two people, while in the fraternity, communication and sharing are more personalised. Sunday is a very special day, for the midday meal is taken all together but breakfast and dinner at night are countries, want to do the cooking with the tastes of their country of origin.

From which countries do the brothers of your fraternity come?
In my fraternity, we have fifteen brothers in total, including myself, and we come from eleven different countries: I come from Mexico and the other young brothers come from ten different countries: Congo, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Angola, Cameroon, Nigeria, Zambia, Liberia, Rwanda and Ivory Coast.

The day of your turn to do the cooking, you must be careful with how much hot sauces you make?
Yes, I have to watch that for not everybody likes hot food as much as I do.

What is the language that you usually use?
English. For the prayers, in our daily relationships, all in English. At other times, we use French, for example, some days we pray in French but in reality that has become more a practice of the language than a prayer. It is because of that, that we have decided that all will be done in English. Often, we have songs in French or in vernacular languages, such as Swahili, which is very beautiful. Once a week, we have a singing class where people teach the others the different songs from their countries and thus we can assure the animation of community prayer.

Do the brothers carry out some apostolic work outside of MIC in the district, the neighbourhoods or the suburbs of the city?
Yes. There are practical activities which are part of the Centre’s General Plan of formation, planned for apostolic formation. All the young brothers must commit themselves and work in different milieux.

What are some of the characteristics of these activities?
I am going to tell you about what we do in the area of Vocations Ministry which is my domain. It is because of this that I participated in the meeting of young people of Africa and the General Council, which took place last weekend, in which a group of young brothers from MIC also participated.
What we do in vocations ministry is we go to different parishes and we join other ministry teams, animate groups of young people and youth ministry in the schools. Thus we make ourselves known. As well, we organise reflection days during the year and we ensure that all the aspirants or all those who are interested in our Marist lifestyle can attend.

What is the most frequent challenge which you must face in the area of vocations ministry?
Discernment. The promotion of vocations in this centre is a question that requires a lot of attention on our part, to help the young people to discover their vocation to the religious life and not so much the vocation to study, work and reside at MIC.

The student brothers, do they go to the poor districts of the city?
Yes. We go there to do the first evangelisation, that is to say to prepare for baptism, first holy communion and confirmation in two parishes. The parish of Saint Michael is in one of the suburbs where nearly one million inhabitants live, one of the greatest human concentrations of the world in horrible hygienic conditions. The other parish with which we collaborate is the parish of Christ the King, led by missionaries of Guadaloupe in which Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity also work. These are the two places where our brothers go.

What is the age of the brothers who are part of your fraternity?
The ages range between twenty-two for the youngest and thirty-five for the oldest.

I saw that each house bears the name of one of the Marist places of our origins. How do the Africans perceive the link with the Marist places that are so far away geographically speaking?
We broach this subject in the postulancy and during the novitiate they know a little more.
We try to ensure that each fraternity creates an ambiance with some elements in relation to the name of the fraternity. “Maisonnettes” was the fraternity of the brothers in the beginning. It was a brother from Cameroon who gave it its name thinking of Brother François. “Maisonnettes” was the first construction of the group. It is different to the others. On entering, you have the impression of being in the house of a large family. The others were constructed in a more practical style. “L’Hermitage” is more welcoming and more comfortable; it was conceived as the residence for teachers who resided with us or for welcoming brothers who spend a few days with us.

How does life unfold at the heart of each community?
We have a life project of the fraternity. To do this, we adopt a slogan common to all the fraternities which serves as motivation for the whole year. This slogan is chosen by the brothers who are members of the formation team.

What is this year’s slogan?
This year, the slogan that motivates us is this: “The love of Christ urges us on.” Once the objective has been proposed, each fraternity decides the way it is going to put it into practice in the life of the fraternity throughout the year and fixes in a concrete way the strategy to follow and the means to adopt. This year, in our fraternity, we have taken the initiative of forming on some days small prayer groups of three brothers. The last Wednesday of the month, we have an intention for the families of each one of the brothers; thus each person is up to date with what is happening in the families of his brothers and thus we know each other better and we strengthen the fraternal links between us.
We have also planned a time for fraternal sharing: Wednesday evening at 10:00pm all the members of the fraternity come together to have some tea, to speak, play cards or other table games, as you can see life here risks being dominated by studies and it can happen that one stays in his room or office all day and remains isolated from the others. A house such as ours with so many doors encourages distance and separation and thus you only see each other rarely. It is because of this that we agreed to make spaces where we could share and speak about what is happening in our life in common.

What kind of studies do the brothers of your fraternity do?
The studies that they do are in the setting of the programmes of MIC. They all study to be qualified in Education to be teachers. There are different branches: the Mathematics branch to become teachers of Religion and Mathematics; the History branch to become teachers of Religion and History, or that of Geography, or of English. They all finish as qualified teachers being able to teach in two subjects: Religion and Mathematics, Religion and History, Geography, English and Religion. In all the careers there are two catechetical subjects.

Are these qualifications recognised in all the countries of the brothers?
Not in all the countries; in the majority, yes; in certain countries they have to validate certain subjects. Before, our diplomas were recognised by the Urbaniana University in Rome; now that they are recognised by a university of Kenya, the recognition is more vast and the qualifications are recognised in all the countries, especially the countries that group the bishoprics to the centre and to the south of Africa.

Is the recognition of qualifications more to do with the Church than with the States?
Yes. The Church recognises the qualifications. Our University in Nairobi has seven thousand students and never stops growing: it is well accepted everywhere, but more in the ecclesial or private domain than in the State or public domain.

Up until now this centre of studies was the Marist International Center; from now on it will be called the Marist International College. What consequences result from this?
Yes; it is easy to make the difference. What we have here is a Centre. The Centre includes the community and the College. The College deals only with academic affairs. In the Marist world, when we speak of MIC we refer to the international centre and that is legitimate; while the term refers exclusively to its academic structure. Currently, the College is open to a number of people from outside as well.

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