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1AG - To be with the poor, to be in mission (June 2)

DSC 0532bEach day's session begins in prayer.  


The “Preferential Option for the Poor” and  “Mission” were the final themes to be fleshed out in the small groups at the General Chapter.  As noted previously, the work of developing these themes is vital for the new general administration as it sets priorities for its work and the needs of the congregation in the future. 
 
Each theme continued to receive a three-fold review: what gives inspiration to the theme, what commitments does the theme require, and what practical steps can be taken to further it?
 
DSC 0598As with prior themes, inspiration for living a life with a preferential option for the poor is found in scripture, the writings and life of Fr. Dehon (“He wanted us to be bothered by the poor,” said one delegate) and in Church teachings.
 
A commitment to the poor requires Dehonians to go out to the peripheries, to treat the poor not in a paternalistic way but with dignity as equals. It means basing oneself in a sober lifestyle. It requires professional training and coordination with others to define the needs of the poor and actions to address them. Also, a preferential option for the poor means not only having concern for the economically poor, but for all who are on the peripheries, such as the elderly and immigrants.
 
“A commitment to the poor starts with a commitment to listening to the poor,” said a delegate.
 
What needs to be done? Formation, education and professional training were stressed. Immersion experiences with the poor at the earliest stages of formation can have a strong impact. Commissions on Justice, Peace and Reconciliation on all levels (entity, continental and general) should be established or re-established.
 
Several of the groups called for a conference or congress on the social doctrines of the Church, a gathering that would bring together a variety of people, not just Dehonians. The congregation should explore possibilities for collaboration with other religious communities, different faith traditions and secular organizations, as well as with laity in general.


 
Mission
 
In regards to the theme of “mission,” again inspiration was cited in scripture, the magisterium, the founder (“Get out of the sacristies!”), and most recently, Pope Francis who has said that the missionary dimension belongs to the very nature of the Church and is intrinsic to all forms of consecrated life. To have a passion for Jesus is to have a passion for his people.
 
As with prior themes, formation is key. There was a call for greater missionary animation in parishes, and again, collaboration with laity. The need for international and intercultural exposure, including second and third languages, was again stressed. There needs to be an openness to the sharing of resources, including personnel.


 
Paraguay
 
DSC 0551Prior to its discussion of mission, the chapter heard a report about one of the congregation’s more recent mission efforts: Paraguay. Fr. Arildo José Ferrari spoke of the Dehonian presence there that began in 2010. There is now an international group of eight SCJs split between three communities in the country.
 
The Dehonians in Paraguay have done much with very little. They turned around a woefully neglected parish that serves 170,000 people into a vibrant faith community. “There had only been one mass at the parish on Sunday,” said Fr. Arildo, “and maybe one mass a year at each of the parish’s 44 chapels.” With a Church that seemed out of touch with its people, few attended the liturgies that were offered.
 
That same church now has four well-attended Sunday masses, as well as regular liturgies at its chapels.
 
The Dehonians also have a number of initiatives for youth, vocational training for young mothers, and adult formation. The community is involved in media –– television and radio. Also, one of its members is a part of the coordination team for Pope Francis’ visit to the country in July.
 
“What you have done is admirable, you have made a strong impact with few resources,” said one of delegates.
 
“That’s because we have some very good men representing the community in Paraguay,” said Fr. Arildo. “It is a reminder to send your BEST to the missions.”


 
A critical biography of Fr. Dehon
 
DSC 0591The day ended with a short presentation by Dr. David Neuhold, an assistant professor in history at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He was hired by the congregation to do a critical biography of the founder; he began work on the three-year project in March, 2014.
 
“What has interested me is how Fr. Dehon was involved in the conflictual themes of his era,” said Dr. Neuhold. The founder’s perspective on many things was often in conflict with those around him, including members of his own religious community.
 
“But he never gave up,” said Dr. Neuhold.
 
There have been other biographies of the founder, but this one is unique in that it is being written by someone outside of the congregation.  “Turning to someone from the outside is a sign of openness,” said Dr. Neuhold. “It is an opportunity to develop another image of Fr. Dehon.”
 
The biography will not be a definitive nor exhaustive effort, he added, but another view on history, “which is continually open to review and assessment.”


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