2021-01-07 COLOMBIA

Br. José Miguel Caballero Hierro: 7 years as Master of Novices in Medellín

The novitiate in Colombia is a house of international formation, where young people from various provinces, especially from the Arco Norte Region, begin their journey in consecrated life; it is an expression of the Global Charismatic Family, putting into practice the call of the last General Chapter.

We asked Brother José Miguel Caballero Hierro, from the Province of Norandina, to tell us what it was like to live in this community for 7 years, as Master of Novices.

Some of the experience of 7 years in the Interprovincial Novitiate La Valla in Medellin

 It is good to look back at the landscape of the road travelled and, above all, to enjoy once again the encounter with so many faces, the passage through certain places and unforgettable experiences.

Today I would like to recall (to pass through my heart) this time at the Novitiate La Valla in Medellín, and to do so by looking at some unique experiences and faces.

Although I find my family roots and Marist origins in Spain, where I lived my initial formation until the novitiate, after my first profession in 1986 I began to be part of the Province of Venezuela. This was not the only land in which my life was planted and which I began to love as my own, since, after 17 years there, I moved to Colombia – already a Province of Norandina . After four years accompanying the scholastic brothers in Bogotá, I spent three years in the novitiate of Medellín, as administrator and sub-master of novices.

My journey in Medellín, to serve as Master of Novices, began in 2014 and ended this 8th December 2020, in both cases at the invitation of the Provincials of México Occidental, México Central, América Central and Norandina. The interprovincial novitiate project aims to open up to a greater number of provinces in our Arco Norte Region to make the journey together.

It is a real challenge because the novices come from diverse contexts and different styles of formation. These years have involved close dialogue with the postulancies, welcoming the diversity of opportunities that each place has and, at the same time, making a joint journey from certain common points of reference.

Global charismatic family

Speaking of the global family, I have been able to see that, by situating ourselves from the heart of our being brothers, we can pass from multiculturalism, expressed in the cultures of those of whom we are part of the fraternity, to interculturality, in openness to others as a richness that is welcomed and enjoyed; diversity makes possible an incarnate face of our vocation as brothers for the varied mosaic of our nations. For this reason, it is more important than ever to strengthen communication, the knowledge of others, forgiveness and the appreciation of those who are different as part of myself.

Personally, I am convinced of internationality, because when it was not yet spoken in the language we have in the Institute today, I was able to live it in the first person, especially in my novitiate, which was interprovincial. To feel that we are brothers, called to be a compassionate presence in the wide range of places where we live, opened up for me a horizon of availability from the very beginning. But beyond this, I can say that the closeness to the stories of the novices that we accompanied during this time in Medellin and the day to day life of fraternal living together have also touched my life and made me ask myself what must die and be born in the vital stage in which I find myself as a religious brother.

The challenges of initial formation

I believe that, in initial formation, today we need to listen to the new sensitivities of the present generations who are in formation, to make them participants in Marist life through decision making, to personalise formation, to accentuate an experience of fraternity as an ecosystem where the joy of meeting, faith, life and tenderness are shared, to stimulate us to be seekers of God in our own history, from the experience of the Father’s love of mercy towards each one, to make us brothers of the smallest of our countries with new realities that cry out: migration, domestic violence, extreme poverty, child labour…

In the novitiate I discovered the need for a dual listening to the great intuitions of the Gospel and of our Marist origins, and, on the other hand, to the visions and perceptions of the novices, allowing them to transform the face of the brother into one that can dialogue more with the world of today and that lives an experience of faith that sustains life.

In this regard, I have much to thank the novices with whom I have shared life. The novitiate has changed a lot during these seven years, thanks in large part to them, their new perspectives and concerns.

 Another thing that has evolved has been to consider formation as a team effort, a community effort, of the brothers who have accompanied the formation. For me it has been a motive for joy and support in the discernment to share these years with Brothers Rafael (from Norandina), Hugo Pablo and Quillo (from México Occidental), Juan Carlos and Alejandro (from América Central) and Enrique (from México Central).

Part of our mission has been to foresee the processes that were developing in the novitiate, involving the novices; but, above all, I emphasize the quiet and fraternal presence, the testimony of unity from our diversity as persons, sharing life with the rest of the community from the simplest things. For us, something central has been the personal accompaniment and being close to what each novice might need, discerning, in some cases, itineraries appropriate to their moment.

We have already begun to experience that the Constitutions and the Rule of Life are becoming a very valuable reference in the task of initial formation; also the process, which is beginning, of revising the Formation Guide.

Experiences that remain in the heart

From this time at La Valla Novitiate, I highlight five experiences that I carry in my heart:

  • The openness and transparency of the novices to be accompanied and to welcome the challenges of growth that they were discovering. Their love for the charism and our vocation as religious brothers.
  • The closeness of the provincial brothers of the Region, as well as of many brothers, from the provinces involved in the novitiate and others, who have supported us with their presence, animating retreats and workshops in our house, or welcoming the novices in theirs during the periods of regional apostolic experience.
  • The opportunity to live, in 2017, in the forefront the General Chapter of Rionegro, which opened us as a community to the Institute, through the proximity and contact with the brother capitulants and the lay participants. The impact of the Chapter is reflected in the laity of Medellín and Colombia who lived it closely; also in the novitiate community which, every year, from the Community Project, has tried to energize its life from one of the Calls: to be a beacon of hope, face and hands of your tender mercy, builders of bridges
  • The course in training which I was able to attend in Rome in 2018. In addition to a time of international fraternity, of renewal, and of promoting the work of formation, for me it was an authentic time of God that allowed me to re-launch my personal project of life.
  • The joint journey that we have been making as Arco Norte Region in the initial and ongoing formation of the brothers.
“In a spirit of availability”

It is incredible, but after seven years in the Novitiate, one gets used to it. Certainly, I have never been in a community for so long. Now I feel again that I must put myself back into “availability mode” because we are itinerant and the journey continues for me in other provincial horizons. With the certainty that the Lord and Mary are with us, I only ask them to allow me to arrive with “open eyes and bare feet”.

Br. José Miguel Caballero Hierro (Province of Norandina)

December 2020


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