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1AG - Dehonian bishops gather

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Archbishop Claudio Dalla Zuanna was the main celebrant of the opening Eucharist

Bishops are a part of the Dehonian family

JANUARY 10, 2013: “You are a part of us, you are a part of the Dehonian family,” said Fr. Claudio Weber to SCJ bishops gathered in Rome.

 Fr. Weber, a member of the General Council, spoke to bishops during introductory remarks at their January 10-15 meeting at the Generalate in Rome.

The Priests of the Sacred Heart have among them 25 bishops, archbishops and cardinals. They serve in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, representing large, urban areas as well as small, missionary locations. In one diocese, the bishop is slowed in his travels by seemingly never-ending city traffic while in another, the lack of roads requires the bishop to walk up to 70 kilometers (43 miles) to visit with his people.

The bishops represent a wealth of diversity, yet have a significant bond in their heritage and identity as members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.


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 Fr. Jose Carlos Briñón, postulator general speaks about the work of his office.e.


Exchange of experiences

“The purpose of this meeting is to have an exchange of experiences,” said Fr. Weber. It is not, he clarified, a formal business meeting.

That exchange began with each participant taking a few minutes to talk about himself and his ministry. Mons. Teemu Sippo spoke about his experience of ministering to a diocese that covered an entire country; Catholics are but a small minority of the Finnish population. He is the only Finnish SCJ, and he is the first Finnish-born bishop to serve the Diocese of Helsinki (Finland) since the reformation.

Other bishops too shared their experience of leading a minority religion. In Indonesia, interreligious dialogue and welcoming is vital in a Muslim-dominated country where less than three percent of its people identify themselves as Catholic.

Mons. António De Sousa Braga, bishop of Angra in the Azores (Portugal) was called back to the diocese of his birth to serve as its bishop. He talked about the incredible financial struggles of not only his people but of the diocese itself in the wake of the European financial crisis, which has hit Portugal especially hard.

Bishops in Africa also spoke of financial hardship and the effect of civil unrest, as well as multinational corporations that often use the precious resources of a country without benefiting its citizens.

Many spoke of the challenge of being a religious priest called to serve, sometimes for the first time, outside of his religious community. “My vocation was as a religious priest,” said one bishop. “To live hours away from just one fellow Dehonian is very hard.”

Another said that his identity as a Dehonian permeates all that he does as a bishop. “The people of my diocese know that I am a Dehonian,” said Mons. Carmo Joâo Rhoden of Taubaté, Brazil. “I talk about and live our Dehonian charism.”


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Who are the Priests of the Sacred Heart today?

Fr. José Ornelas Carvalho shared the statistics of the congregation with the bishops and talked about its shifting paradigms. For the past 20 years there has been significant growth in the southern hemisphere. In African countries once dominated by missionary SCJs the challenge is to meet the educational needs of many young people now in formation as well as the transition toward self-sufficiency.

The general superior talked about the congregation’s growing presence in Asia, where a vital region has been established in the Philippines and new entities are developing in India and Vietnam. Later in the meeting, Fr. John van den Hengel talked about the congregation’s hopes for a presence in China.

There are also new efforts in Chad and Angola that are being led by young SCJs from countries that were once mission territories themselves.

In the northern hemisphere, the Priests of the Sacred Heart mirror the situation of many other religious congregations where membership is aging and decreasing. As he noted at other international gatherings, the roots of the congregation are in Europe yet the European-based reality now needs to give way to a new model, including new ways of financial support.

“It calls us all to have a missionary mentality, to truly be international, not just members of an international community,” said Fr. General.

Responding to the presentation one bishop said that the Priests of the Sacred Heart have had a history of going where few would venture. This is a vital part of the congregation’s mission. “However, we must also invest in our future,” said Mons. Bressanelli. “If we don’t, we can’t respond well to the needs of the Church.”

This “investment” isn’t necessarily in location, said several bishops, but by making an even greater investment in formation of religious: initial formation and continuing formation. More must be done to help young people fully discern their vocation.


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Personal stories

After hearing reports from the postulator general, two bishops gave brief, personal reflections on questions given to them by the curia prior to the meeting. Such reflections will take place throughout the gathering

“My response is very personal,” said Mons. Tomé Makhwéliha when speaking about how being a Dehonian affects his experience as a bishop. “It was through the congregation that God gave me the gift of faith and it is through the SCJs that I awakened to my vocation… I am based in the love of the Heart of Jesus.

“The SCJs gave me a missionary zeal; I learned this from the missionaries who ministered to me.”

“It is only within the Dehonian Family that I find my place in the church,” he added, noting that who and what he is as a bishop is because of the SCJs who educated and formed him.

“The social concerns of Fr. Dehon are my concerns as a bishop,” he said.

Mons. Nelson José Westrupp cited various passages from the Rule of Life that impact him in his service as a bishop.

“Fr. Dehon founded the congregation to be of service to the Church,” he said, noting No. 30 in the Rule: “By its very nature our Institute is an apostolic institute; and so we readily place ourselves at the service of the Church in its various pastoral works.”

He went on to cite Rule No. 32 that calls Dehonians to “to contribute to establishing the reign of justice and Christian charity in the world.”

“It is a great sign of grace when an SCJ is chosen to serve as a bishop,” said Mons. Westrupp. It is a way of infusing the Dehonian charism into a diocese. “It is vital that there be a commitment by members of the congregation to pray for our bishops… I love the congregation with all of my heart, I pray for my brothers every day. I am an SCJ. I am a bishop, but I am a Dehonian bishop.”


Click here to view photos from January 10.

Click here to view pictures of meeting participants.