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Address on Marcellin Champagnat

 


Basilio Rueda -


“I was very pleased to accept this
invitation to speak about my Founder … because here
a Marist feels at home. One would say that there exists
a kind of empathy between the Marist charisma and the people
of this place.


“You can talk about a man’s
life in two ways: stressing chronological facts, or considering
the intimate nature of his life, which describes God’s
basic plan for him and the meaning of his life. This topic
will be divided into two points: ‘Who was Father Champagnat?’
and ‘What is he telling us today?’.


WHO WAS FATHER
CHAMPAGNAT?


“A man ‘who knew how to listen
in a dynamic and effective way to the calls of those around
him and of the world in which he lived’.


“In the afflicted heart of Father
Champagnat, the voices of religious ignorance resounded,
with all the mental blockages, inhibitions, personal and
social frustrations which that entails.


“There came to his ears the call
of a defective teaching system, that is to say of certain
mistaken ways of approaching children and young people,
with the consequent wounds and educational failures which
that implies.


“Marcellin heard the call of country
folk who were marginalised. He saw quite clearly what the
needs were and dedicated himself body and soul to put them
right.


“Champagnat knew how to spread out
the answer he had … this was the echo that came from
those who would be his disciples, from his companions in
the Society of Mary and from the civil authorities.


“Great spiritual artist that he was,
he knew how to sound hearts and read, with clear vision,
the whispered message of God in the souls of young people
to turn them into collaborators in his exciting adventure.


“In a word, Marcellin Champagnat
knew how to train his disciples. And what disciples they
were! If you consider the basic material he used, you have
to agree that the results could not have been better: with
young country lads, almost illiterate, he succeeded in a
few years and with almost no resources, to form teachers
who seemed naturally talented, educators who were appreciated
in all the communes.


“Marcellin started a new kind of
pedagogy. New by the warmth it displayed more than by the
new elements it introduced, but not lacking in these either.


“A pedagogy which puts the heart
in contact with the transcendent: which makes one live in
the presence of God, in friendship with Jesus, in a filial
relationship with Mary, and all that with such naturalness
that those invisible beings come to form part of the life
of the children.


“That pedagogy formed people by teaching
the love of what was good and of values, rather than by
stressing what was sinful or not sinful.


“It formed the social sense. To make
the children good citizens and self-sacrificing collaborators
in social enterprises was a permanent concern of Marcellin
Champagnat. Laziness and selfishness have no place in Marist
pedagogy.


“ The means for attaining these objectives
are at once simple and effective: continual presence, a
deep and healthy love, concern, patience and trust, good
planning, sharing their life, good example, welcoming …
and especially a somewhat paradoxical attitude: difficult
children, those who are suffering, those who are backward
are the ones to whom the teacher must give more attention
and kindness.


“Marcellin was a man who had a great
sense of Church and who knew how to communicate it. How
difficult it is to sum him up, to keep a balance! The dialectic
rocks us from one side to the other and we are left at the
mercy of this pendulum-like movement.


What is this
man saying to us today about our present situation?


In a world where countless calls are being
raised, like the call of hunger, of violence, of injustice,
of drugs, of unemployment … in a world where many
of our contemporaries feel that, while they are glutted
with material possessions and yet are dissatisfied because
of their passive dependence on the paternalism of some governments
which are killing off their sense of initiative, THIS MAN
IS SENDING OUT LOUD CALLS TO US TO TAKE ACTION.


If we limit ourselves to the problem of
hunger and quote one single case, let it be enough to recall
those who are shut up in refugee camps, people who, in the
midst of unspeakable suffering, hope to be welcomed by some
hospitable country … It is essential that there be
some people who are called to give a direct answer in spite
of the serious difficulties that exist. In the present case,
the action to be taken by educators is to make young people
conscious of the need and to prepare them by fostering in
them a spirit that can move them to resolve such problems.


At a time not only of poverty but also
of growing impoverishment, it is necessary to give a powerful
answer to the challenge we face in the present situation.
On this point Champagnat would have acted with great energy,
raising his voice against the attitude of a society which
is being progressively dechristianised and, if we are to
judge by appearances, in an irreversible way. Father Champagnat
would ask all of us to arm ourselves with strength to recommence
the evangelisation of the world, going against the current
in such a fashion that the world may see the glory of God
shining in the countenance of Jesus Christ.


In the dawning of a planetary age, when
the shape of society, in the East as in the West, is in
crisis, even in a state of checkmate, when the excessive
abundance of information is flagrantly and woefully disproportionate
to the real state of things, there is an even greater danger
threatening: “The danger of seeing the birth of a
society of men who say to God: ‘We don’t need
you to in order to be good and organise our history’.
Faced with this situation, “We must be the collective
Champagnat and mobilise with courage to confront such situations.”


We must be faithful to Marcellin and faithful
to the deep conviction that in all the situations which
are doing harm to the world, we have a commitment to give
a prompt and valiant answer.

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