Building on the past to embrace the future
Fr. José Ornelas Carvalho, superior general, reflects on six-year program
On Tuesday, December 8, the General Administration released its six-year program, an outline of congregational priorities as well a framework for the operation of the General Administration. To give background to and better explain the program, Fr. José Ornelas Carvalho, SCJ, superior general, was interviewed by Mary Gorski, who many of you may know from her work writing the English reports at the General Chapters. Mary is communications director for the U.S. Province.
Fr. General’s responses are as follows:
QUESTION: Let’s start with the most obvious question: what is the purpose of drawing up such a document? How is it more than simply a job description or flow chart for the general administration?
FR. ORNELAS: It is our hope that the document is seen as more than just a list of tasks. It comes out of a lengthy reflection on the Congregation done not just by the General Administration, but more importantly, by the congregation’s delegates at the last General Chapter. It was there that we asked ourselves again “Who are we in light of the Gospel and our spiritual heritage as Dehonians?” As the General Administration of this international community, we need to seek the answer to this question and share it with all Dehonians, especially with the leadership of our entities throughout the world. We need to work together for a common purpose.
Q: How was the document developed? How were the ideas developed? Who wrote it?
FR. ORNELAS: The General Administration, which includes myself and our five general councilors, Fr. Aquilino Mielgo, the General Bursar, and Fr. Anisio Schwirkowski, our General Secretary, began the process in a quiet spot, away from Rome. We spent five days there in prayer, reflection and conversation. Each of us re-read the final document of the Chapter. We then shared our experiences, plans and dreams for the congregation. From our reflections and discussions we surfaced what we understood to be the primary issues for the congregation at this time. We arrived at a consensus as a group and that consensus was later outlined in the Six Year Program.
The task of putting our hopes and dreams on paper, giving them structure, began with Frs. John van den Hengel and Claudio Dalla Zuanna. They created a draft –– in English and Italian –– that was discussed at length, corrected, enhanced and finally approved by the full council.
We are lucky in that although we represent eight countries (Brazil, Canada, Italy, Argentina, Congo, Indonesia, Spain and Portugal) as a group we can understand each other in three languages. We all have a basic understanding of English, French and Italian. I must credit our new councilors –– their use and understanding of Italian grows daily.
In our own way we are experiencing what the General Chapter called “internationality.” Internationality marks our everyday life; it challenges our habits, enriches our understanding of the world and helps in our role of giving direction to the Congregation. We are living an internationality that we are asking the entire congregation to embrace. We form an international and inter-cultural community. We live the transforming experience of praying, eating, working, reflecting, programming and having fun together. We believe that in doing so we become more ready for the work we have been asked to do.
Q: In comparing the 2003 and 2009 documents there is some continuation of sector priorities. In particular the sectors of spirituality, formation, justice and peace, administration of goods, vocations, formation and missions are repeated. Added are sectors for the youth apostolate, parish ministry and communication. Can you comment on how the ten sectors for the 2009-2015 plan were chosen?
FR. ORNELAS: It’s natural that there is a continuation; we are not reinventing the congregation. We want to build on our past. We recall and reflect on the concrete measures taken by the congregation in recent decades, especially since the Council of Vatican II. These include the new constitutions that were written in the 1970s, the new mission and vocation programs of the 1980s, our focus on “We the Congregation” in the 1990s, and the many developments of recent years. We are challenged to build from these significant moments.
However, we must also respond to the challenges that are unique to today’s world; shifts in our congregation that are a reflection of wider changes in religious life, the Church and the world.
Renewal starts from within. Having three new members on the General Council helps us as a whole to look at things in a new light. Listening for God’s call to us as Dehonians and building communion within the congregation remains our priority. However, we do so now with a greater awareness of the many cultures of our congregation, and with a particular care for new missions.
For example, we look at the importance the General Chapter placed on economics and finance. There was a call for greater self-sufficiency and professionalism in our financial life. However, the chapter also saw finance as a spiritual venture, as an expression of our communion as one Congregation and our solidarity with the needs of the poor.
Q: How will the focus change in sectors that are continued in the 2009 document? For instance, “Spirituality.” This is listed as the first sector in both the 2003 and 2009 documents. How is the approach of the 2009-2015 administration different than that of the last?
FR. ORNELAS: This is a good example of what I said before about continuing a good tradition and find new ways of expressing it.
Of course we need to remain faithful to the spiritual tradition we have received and appreciate it as a gift to be passed on to others. But as times change and we enter into new cultures we see new riches that previously were not open to us. As a community we are based in the faith experience of Fr. Dehon. But now, how do we translate that experience in the “new” Europe of today, or in Africa or Asia? What impact does the immeasurable love of Christ have on today’s faith and hope? It is the foundation upon which Fr. Dehon built the congregation. How does it speak to the world today?
To better understand Fr. Dehon –– and in turn, our heritage as Dehonians –– we study his biographical information and his writings. In the next six years we hope, through the Center of Dehonian Studies, that more of the founder’s writings can be made available to the congregation and others who are interested in studying Fr. Dehon.
We also need a critical biography of our founder so that we can better place him in his own time and culture, especially in the political culture of France. Doing so will help us better understand how his charism speaks to us today.
Our tradition –– who we are as Dehonians –– is not a stagnant museum exhibit. We are a living, growing reality. Our tradition can be a real center of communion. The Dehonian tradition can speak to the growing reality of “interculturality.”
This is the main task we have before us, to be faithful to our roots, to share it with fellow Christians in the Church and to use it to motivate and inspire us in our common life and ministry.
Q: Are the sectors listed in an order of priority? If so, how were priorities determined?
FR. ORNELAS: Yes, there is an order of priority that was determined by the objectives we set for the next six years. The primordial interest was to the One who could transform us from the inside. Christ, our faith in his love, is the model of our individual and communitarian life. That’s why the sectors dealing with our spirituality, common life and formation are mentioned ahead of those that deal with the different ministries included in our mission.
Q: Before getting into the operations of the general administration, the document has a chart that begins with the headings of “Christ, Communion and World.” Can you explain the chart? What does it represent? Also, you have chosen “Communion in Christ at the service of a new world” as the motto of this administration. Why was this chosen? Can you elaborate on its meaning?
FR. ORNELAS: This was the starting point of our reflection: “Who is the Dehonian of today?” “Where do we feel that God is pushing the Congregation?”
The three words: Christ, Communion and World summarized this for us.
First of all Christ. He is the center, the motivation, the model of our lives: He is the essential relationship in a life of discipleship.
Then, Communion. Our communion is the consequence of our adherence to the Gospel. Right from the start, the Gospel began a new kind of relationship among humans, inspired by the attitudes of Christ. We want, however, to insist upon two features of this communion for us; namely, sharing and universality. That’s how we want to live out our solidarity of Christ. In sharing our human condition, Christ shared with us the richness of God. We want to partake in this generosity of God. And, secondly, like Christ, we want to make this love and solidarity be without boundaries. This is expressed for us in concrete experiences of the universality of this project. We want to find it in the international and intercultural composition of our communities and of our mission.
Finally, World. We don’t want to live just for ourselves. We want to share what we are and what we live with the world. Our world – even the world of the Congregation – has become a diversified and rapidly changing world. This brings new opportunities and challenges for us. We need to prepare ourselves and be generous and be open to these challenges. These are important new attitudes.
Within our spirituality, these three dimensions interact with each other creatively. That is the meaning of the two terms love and reparation. Love and being loved is the well-spring of our bond with Christ. That love seeks to repair whatever divides this world and bring us into relations of solidarity with the men and women who are divided from us. These are very rich expressions of our tradition, love and reparation. Love and reparation are the life-giving thrust of our spirituality and our mission.
We put this all in a motto for this administration: Communion in Christ at the service of a new world.
Q: From the general administration’s viewpoint, what are some of the most significant challenges that the Church overall faces in the next six years and in particular, the Priests of the Sacred Heart?
FR. ORNELAS: Some of the challenges, I think, are expressed in the document. The previous administration tried to do the same in its report to the General Chapter. I’ll give a general perspective that, in my opinion, summarizes the situation we are facing.
Our main goal, as a Congregation, is to be actively present in this world as people who accepted the calling of God, to live and bring to others His love and life. From this comes the fundamental challenge of being real men of God and of living as brothers in Christ. It means deepening our spiritual life.
But, as we said earlier, the Congregation, the Church and the world have changed geographically and culturally. We may be smaller in number, but we are now spread to more countries and cultures than before. From these countries, mainly in the southern hemisphere, now come the majority of our young confreres. This situation requires from us a new mentality. We must move forward with international and intercultural collaboration. This, for sure, is one of the great tasks we have before us.
Each one us must be part of the Congregation beyond the limits of our entity of origin. It means preparing ourselves to live with brothers from different cultures. It means being able to communicate and collaborate in an international mission. It means being available to expand the boundaries of ourselves, our security and cultural protection and to join others in building a better world.
At the general level of our organization, this means maintaining the healthy principle of decentralization, but at the same time, developing new ways of collaboration at inter-provincial and continental levels. We must enhance our communion and mission without centralizing our administration. The new Dehonian presences in the world need the support and attention of all so that they can be strengthened and developed. And for that we need solidarity and hope.
But in facing the challenges of the new presences, we must not forget our historic presence in Europe and North America. These areas are dealing with the aging of their members, and with the difficulty of being God’s presence in a secularized society. This is an extraordinary challenge. I’m happy to see how these entities are working together to find new ways to proclaim the Gospel in these countries. For me, this is a project not only for Europe and North America, it is also a project for the confreres in the more recent foundations. It is important that they too take part in these initiatives.
The challenges are big, but I think that, in our needs, in our faith and in our hopes, we are becoming more like brothers, more Dehonian. And, in this time of Advent, I see these signs as a concrete form of paving the way for the coming of the Lord. We haven’t arrived yet, we are just trying to walk together in the direction pointed out by the Gospel of Jesus, through Fr. Leo Dehon.