Fr. José Ornelas Carvalho, superior general, wrote the following letter to the major superiors of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in anticipation of Christmas:
2014 Christmas Letter
“In the fullness of time”
Rome, 10 December
A date signals the beginning of a new way of God’s presence: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.This was the first enrolment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.(Luke 2: 1- 7). A date, which has become almost habitual, marks our next Christmas. Many dates have marked the progress made by our congregation this year.
The gift of deepening growth. This birth and this night cut through history. They hold out the promise or at least the need that this can also be the history of salvation. The Son, par excellence, accepted and wanted despite difficulties, was guaranteed to grow by the courage of the woman who nursed and raised him. Our Congregation too has this possibility of continued growth. Thanks to the contributions of many, many more have the possibility to better know Father Dehon and to gain a deeper understanding of him. On the occasion of the 171st birthday of Fr. Dehon, an extraordinary gift was presented, the website www.dehondocs.it where many of the writings of our founder can be found. When the site opened there was a vast selection of the writings of Fr. Dehon. As the project develops, there will be a gradual increate of works available on-line, eventually including all of his writings. We did this to honor the motion of the 21st General Chapter (2003) that recommended the digitalization of Fr. Dehon’s writings to make them accessible to all. The Dehonian Study Center has been enriched by new members on its staff.The development of the International Dehonian Theological Commission gives a new impulse on the reflections of our spirituality.
A child came to change life. The promise of peace, the announcement on this night, was and continues to be blatantly denied. It is difficult to say whether the baby has won or lost the challenge. Christmas gives new hope to hearts, dares to recognize the reasons that make life worth living. Also from this perspective, a date has shown that our small lives can be changed into something better. From 15 to 20 May, 37 members of the Dehonian Family (laity, consecrated, religious) met at the General Curia in Rome. They reflected on our heritage to seek a better understanding of how to invite a greater number of baptized persons to share the heritage of Fr. Dehon, and how one can be a servant in the fullness of the Church of our times. The theme of the meeting was “One Dehon, many Dehonians.” The gathering was a continuation of other moments of the Dehonian Family from 1990 – 2000, culminating with the presence of lay Dehonians at the XXI General Chapter of 2003. In a meeting in 2000, a “Charter of Communion” was written and approved. At the same time, a “Proposal of Life” was formulated on how lay persons can live the Dehonian charism. The reality of the Dehonian family has been seen in light of the General Chapter of 2003; this year we have the gift of the “Iter formativo”. This is a formation resource for laity to learn about the Dehonian charism.
The Presence of a God child that accompanies. Because the world has so much suffering and injustice, it is necessary to have effective and lucid formation. As we celebrate Christmas in the ever new presence of God and of His love, the question of formation is critical. A new series of dates indicates a transition for new requirements for our time and for our world. The 65 participants of the III International Meeting of Dehonian Educators held in Valencia (Spain) from the 21 to the 25th of July 2014, had representatives from 34 education centers (schools, social centers, and universities). It showed the wealth of the work of education in the great diversity of our works. Attention in the world of education began to be seen and visited in Salamanca (Spain) with meetings in 2001 and 2008. The General Conference of Neustadt (Germany) 2012 indicated the need to create a network of Dehonian education centers. Out of this work came Valencia. The desire for a network of education centers was marked by three objectives: to know each other, greater formation in the Dehonian identity, to share strengths and resource. It is a good way to offer new perspectives.
A meeting ground for new hope. Christmas, today more than ever, speaks of hope. For this appeared “the grace of God, that brings Salvation” (Titus 2:11). On September 8, 2014, there was a meeting with a person of hope, and it is my pleasure to repeat the words that I used to describe the richness of that meeting: “Dear Brothers, this morning I was received in audience by Pope Francis in the Vatican…Pope Francis told me of his great appreciation of the congregation. He fondly remembered his relationship with Marcello Palentini, the now deceased bishop of Jujuy, and Bishop Virginio Bressanelli. He listened with interest to my presentation about the steps taken in recent years to clarify issues related to the beatification of Father Leo Dehon… Pope Francis urged us to continue on this path of study and writing to continue to clarify the issue. When we stood up Pope Francis took my hand and told me seriously, “And I ask you very earnestly to promote the study of the Apostolic Exhortation Egangelii gaudium. You will find yourself in the center of change: change of mind and heart!”
A God that comes and dies for life. Even the child of Bethlehem was born to die. He died rather early. Jesus chose to accept death because, although he loved life, he knew that sometimes we may be called to lose it as a gift of love for others. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22: 39) it is written. This is a message that comes to us on Christmas. On 23rd of November in Kisangani, and in Wamba on the 26th of November, The Congolese Province celebrated the 50th anniversary of its canonical erection and commemorated 50th anniversary of the Martyrs of the Congo killed in the rebellion of 1964. The result of this memory is the opening in Wamba of the cause for the Beatification of Msgr. (Bishop) Joseph Albert Wittebols. On November 22 in Asten, in Holland, there was a day to remember the martyrs that came from this region.
The memorial of the martyrs reminds us that this year 36 men completed their earthly journey. What identifies a year are not only meetings and events but also the people who make possible the Reign of God. The Missionary Company of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has seen the death of its founder, Fr. Albino Elegante: “…he gave to us a beautiful testimony of the transformation of the love of God at work in those who are led by Him,” is what we shared with the Missionary Company at the time of Fr. Albino’s death. They are words that reflect the style of life of all of our confreres who have died.
Towards a new discovery. Each year under the Christmas tree you’d expect to find gifts less imaginative and more suited to our age, the age of the Congregation. Certainly the Chapters of the entities were important gifts. A series of chapters began with the first being the Dutch-Flemish Confederation 9-11 April, and were concluded with the Portuguese Province 24 – 29 November. All were undertaken with an eye toward the XXIII General Chapter. Perhaps it is presumptuous to look under the tree to find the gift of love, but that is why the Child came. It is only right that our General Chapter focuses on the theme: “Merciful, in community, with the poor.” The theme opens up broad prospects.
Mercy, the first element of the chapter theme, gives specific attention and reflects on the call of Pope Francis. For our Congregation, we can have the strength to return to a reflection on our spirituality and our necessity to have formation in it. The worldwide Church calls to the entities and to the Congregation, a multicultural focus and a multi-directional mission from community. Do not miss the signs of interest in this regard. Under the tree we find a gift of new fervor and a promising road in Asia. This encounter with the world becomes effective when you are on the side of the poor. With the poor we rediscover the social dimension of our charism. We have embodied this in the many initiatives of the various entities. The road of Justice and Peace for the Congregation is alive. In Quito (Ecuador) representatives of the South American Continent met from 22 to 26 September to give a concretized shape to the social apostolate. As a congregation we give a sign of our preferential option for the poor by promoting solidarity with the Christians of Iraq.
In the fullness of time. We must love all as ourselves, feel concretely that each one we meet, each we have encountered this year, claims the same rights and the same dignity as we do. We must respect each one, including our adversary or enemy, and those to whom we are opposed. Christmas is the “surprise” of learning respect for one another, to love each other in the service of the common good, with particular attention to those who are weakest and suffer the most.
Therefore, I do not hesitate to ask the Divine Child, for all and for our entire Congregation, for the gift to come to each one of as an of the anticipation of future hope, dependable and reliable, trustworthy and beautiful, which no one else can give to our heart. During the Year of Consecrated Life, the desire of Pope Francis, and of the XXIII General Chapter of the Congregation, is to ask that Christmas and the New Year will be a true encounter with Him, who is Himself the light of the world, the light of life, and that the Church shines on in the world.
Fr. José Ornelas Carvalho
and his Council