Postponed for several years by the pandemic, the Dehonians’ IX General Conference took place February 13-18 in Rome. In-person participation was limited primarily to entity superiors (again, due to the pandemic), but many others took part via Zoom and livestream events.
The theme of the conference: “Dehonians in Social Commitment.”
“When our founder, Venerable Fr. Dehon, faced the society of his time, in communion with the Church he loved, in the face of what he saw as a departure from God’s will, he did not let himself be carried away by a discouraging catastrophism,” said Fr. Carlos Luis Suarez Codorniú, SCJ superior general, in his opening remarks to the conference. “By the gift of his faith, by his careful intimacy with the Lord and his passion for his Kingdom, by his nonconformity and his perennial restlessness, he remained certain that the world before him was not outside the Heart of God.”
These opening lines kicked off a week-long exploration into the roots of the Dehonian idea of social commitment, and how the congregation can continue to live that commitment today.
Conference presenters included Cardinal Peter Turkson, who until recently, headed the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He outlined the social doctrine of the Church.
Following the cardinal was Br. Albert Parise, a member of the Cambonis’ General Secretariat of Mission who spoke about putting the call of Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí into action; taking concrete steps to “care for our common home.” In particular, he presented the action platform www.laudatosiplatform.org.
“What I think is it is important is to START, even if you start with just one thing,” said Br. Alberto, who linked the health of the planet to the social and physical health of those who live on it. “Once you have taken that step, you will see what is next. Because you acted on that you will begin to see more clearly and discern something that in the beginning you could not possibly see.”
Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ, US provincial superior, summarized the week:
“The IX General Conference, Dehonians in Social Commitments, brought together in Rome more than 40 participants from various parts of the Congregation. The six days together allowed us to: 1) Reflect on the rich legacy of Fr. Dehon; 2) Appreciate how different entities live and share our Dehonian charism; 3) Reaffirm our social commitment to the people at the margins; and 4) Stress the importance of handing Fr. Dehon’s charism to the future generation of SCJs and laity.”
Conference participants created a final message that will soon be shared with fellow SCJs for reflection and discussion.
The congregation’s future
On Thursday, Fr. Carlos hosted a Zoom gathering of Dehonians in formation. Approximately 130 students, representing Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America (including the US novitiate), came together to discuss the General Conference theme.
“Social commitment is a gift,” said Fr. Carlos, adding that Fr. Dehon knew that “our life is to be with others, to try to do our best for the dignity of all human beings.”
Fr. Carlos emphasized the need to be in dialogue with society in order to serve it. “The first step in social commitment is proximity,” he said. “You have to be close to others to learn about them… Others help me to understand my vocation, my spirituality.”
“You need to be creative and have courage and go to the people,” he continued. “We need to collaborate with others. Our way is to build bridges, to collaborate with sisters, other priests, civil organizations and other people who work for the same purpose: human dignity.”
Fr. Carlos ended by giving thanks. “It is wonderful to see you all, you are a gift from heaven, from your families and cultures,” he said. “Thank you for being SCJs, for being Dehonians.”
Videos, photos and reports
A wide variety of material from the conference is available on the general website, and social media channels.