The prophet Joel tells us that young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams (Jl 3:1).
As brothers in the Congregation, I hope that we can dream the same dreams so that together we can bring them about. Let me share with you some of my hopes for the Congregation over the next several years.
1. I would like to see the Congregation of the Mission, as a whole, grow to be much more missionary, mobile, flexible, responsive to the needs of the world-wide Church.
To that end, as you know, I made appeals in October 1992 and 1993 for volunteers for the missions. I was delighted with the response. We have begun new missions in Albania, Tanzania, the Solomon Islands, China, Bolivia, and a new territory in Mozambique. We have also strengthened significantly the Province of Cuba and the Vice-Province of Mozambique.
Next year we hope to focus on the Ukraine and parts of Eastern Europe as well as reinforcing the missions in Tanzania and Bolivia.
I want to say publicly that the confreres have been most generous in their response to my appeal and that the Visitors as a whole have been wonderfully cooperative and supportive.
But this renewed flexibility involves not only the willingness of Confreres to go to new, unknown places. It involves a supple mentality in regard to evangelization itself. Today more than ever we are conscious that lay people have an essential role in announcing the good news1. One of the principal tasks of the priests and brothers of the Congregation is to form lay people to participate more fully in the evangelization of the poor (C 1).
2. I would like to see all the Confreres of the Congregation engaged actively in on-going Vincentian formation.
All our recent documents emphasize the need for on-going formation. The Constitutions affirm that formation in the Congregation is a life-long process (C 77).
The last four General Assemblies have discussed it at length. The most recent Assembly states that “the Congregation and each Province should be committed to putting in place as soon as possible plans for ongoing formation, which will be paths of conversion that can lead Confreres to deepen their Vincentian charism and vocation and acquire the competency required by new evangelization.”2
To that end, we have established an International Center for On-going Vincentian Formation in Paris with a learn whose members come from various continents.
This project has been greeted with warm enthusiasm not only in Paris, where it has brought about considerable change in the life of the Mother House, but by the Visitors as a whole, whom we consulted about it.
Each year we will sponsor two four-month programs. Two groups of thirty to fifty Confreres will take part in them. We hope to offer a program of integral formation, embracing the various aspects of Vincentian life: our heritage, our spirituality, apostolic life, community life, human development.
3. I would hope that the Congregation could open several significant works among the clergy.
We receive many requests, particularly from Africa and Asia. Flexibility is crucial in our response to these requests.
The new mission that we are undertaking in the Solomon Islands involves the opening of a seminary. The mission in Tanzania has possible links with formation in that country too. The appeals that we have received from Russia and China, moreover, are also linked to our involvement in the training of priests.
One of the principal problems we face, however, is that those who have been trained for formation work come, for the most part, from other cultures and speak other languages. Is there sufficient flexibility within the Congregation to make the adaptation that is necessary if we are to respond to the appeals that we receive? I think so, but we will have to work hard at it.
Beyond these appeals from Africa, Asia, and sometimes Latin America, within each culture we must ask ourselves: What are the deepest needs of the clergy today here and now? Can we Vincentians minister to those needs in some significant way?
4. I would hope that the Congregation could respond to Pope John Paul’s call to us “to search out more than ever, with boldness, humility and skill, the causes of poverty and encourage short- and long-term solutions”3.
Some of our provinces, because of their very significant resources, particularly in the universities, can be an effective instrument in responding to that call. For example, St. John’s University in New York City has just established a Social Justice Chair.
Along the same lines, I would hope that many individual Confreres would develop an expertise in regard to the social teaching of the Church (S 11 §3) and would develop effective methods of communicating it.
Do the diocesan priests whom we train come to sense that Vincentians are “experts” in the social teaching of the Church, and do they leave our seminaries well prepared to share it with others?
5. I would hope that the Congregation could develop prayer forms which are “something beautiful for God” and attractive to the young. What do I mean concretely when I say this?
My experience in several years of visiting the provinces is that our common prayer leaves much to be desired. It is often far from beautiful, far from attractive to young people. On the other hand, I have visited new communities whose prayer is strikingly beautiful and to which young people flock.
In a revision of our prayer, I would envision:
a. a form of morning and evening prayer adapting the structure of the breviary to our own tradition (one could also think of having this approved by the Church, if that seemed advisable)
- using a modified cycle of psalms that might be grouped around certain themes linked with our tradition and the needs of the universal Church
- using some readings from Saint Vincent
- providing time for meditation and sharing after the readings
- modifying the petitions to focus on some of our Vincentian concerns
- integrating some of our traditional prayers, like the De Profundis and the Expectatio Israel
b. models for sharing our faith and our prayer, as recommended in article 46 of our Constitutions
- meditating on readings from Saint Vincent and then sharing our thoughts, as in a above
- meditating on the Sunday readings and preparing the Sunday homily together
- some form of revision de vie
c. a compendium of Vincentian hymns, of revised Vincentian prayers
d. suggestions as to ways in which our Vincentian prayer would be open to others
We have named an international committee, which has had two meetings in recent months and is developing a book of prayer for the Congregation.
6. I would hope that we can develop renewed forms of community living.
My concern is this: In recent years, it seems to me, we have been able to find a considerable number of renewed, creative ways of serving the poor. But, along with many other Congregations, we have had much difficulty in finding ways of significantly renewing our community living.
Many of the practices and structures that gave shape to community living in an earlier era have disappeared. In the majority of cases, we could surely not now return to those same structures. Most of them served their purpose in their own time, but gradually became over-formalized, inflexible, and out-dated. Still, they often aimed at values that have abiding validity: unity with one another, common vision and energy in the apostolate, prayer, revision de vie, penance and conversion.
With the passing away of former practices, we have not yet, unfortunately, come up with sufficient contemporary means for forming “New Communities.”
What do I envision might be some elements toward a solution?
One of the principal means that our Constitutions propose for the building up of a living community is the local community plan (C 27). This plan is, in a sense, a covenant entered into by the members of the local community, by which they pledge to work toward certain common goals and engage in certain common practices. It is to include: apostolic activity, prayer, the use of goods, Christian witness where we work, on-going formation, times for group reflection, necessary time for relaxation and study, and an order of day. It is to be evaluated and revised periodically (S 16).
Beyond this legislated structure, our experience too, both in the past and in the present, teaches that some of the means that have been most highly valued in community-building are: communal prayer, faith-sharing, regular meetings, meals together, simplicity in the use of material goods, communal penance, times of relaxing together.
But often the concrete forms for revitalizing these means are lacking in local communities. To find or create those forms we need creativity, the ability to listen to each other, and fidelity to the common plans we agree on.
In some ways I find this the most difficult of the challenges to come to grips with.
7. I would hope that the Congregation will develop active, vital contact with the various Vincentian lay groups and that we will be able to contribute to their formation, as has often been requested of us.
There are between 1 and 2 million people in our lay groups. That makes for quite a large Vincentian family! There are more than 240,000 members of the A.I.C. (International Association of Charity), the group Saint Vincent called the Ladies of Charity. There are more than 850,000 members of the Vincent de Paul Society in more than 122 countries. Besides that, there are very numerous Vincentian Youth groups. The one in Spain has at least 30,000 members.
Our Constitutions call us to be involved in the formation of the Laity and to assist them toward a fuller participation in the evangelization of the poor (C 1). Are we actively involved with these lay groups? Do we play a significant role in their formation?
8. I would hope that the Congregation would learn to use the media effectively in its evangelization.
Is this a vain hope? Maybe. But I think we should give it a try! There are countless documents on the need to use the media in evangelization, catechesis, teaching. Catholics were certainly pioneers in the use of television as a tool for ministry. Most of us remember the days when everybody (Catholic and non-Catholic) was glued to the TV to watch Bishop Sheen.
Since that time, however, we have made little progress. Evangelical groups now certainly outshine us in the use of the media. Even more significantly, those who have values contrary to the Gospel use the media very effectively to communicate their point of view. They consistently communicate the need to have more, the need for immediate gratification. They communicate a concept of love that is frequently overly romantic, overly casual, and quite irresponsible.
If we were half as effective in using the media to communicate the values that are most important to us, we would make enormous progress in the new evangelization.
We have named an international committee with members from five continents to suggest ways in which the Congregation can use the media more effectively.
Those are my hopes. Will you join me in making them become a reality?