Sunday 15 September 2013 

This is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of the Servite Order (and of our parishes in Kersal and London). The feast doesn’t always fall on a Sunday, but it does so this year, very conveniently. I remember it was the same in 1958 when I was clothed with the habit of the Friar Servants of Mary at Newbury Priory. That was 55 years ago!


Dear Franco  Bad news today. Vicar General fr Franco Azzalli was taken to hospital in Bolzano by ambulance in the night with severe pain. It sounded to some of us like kidney stones. Now two Chapter members are missing, with fr Giuseppe Xotta in hospital in Vicenza.

Free Morning? It was going to be a relatively free morning, but all that was changed. The over-time given to yesterday’s discussion about 3 years or 4, 4 years or 8, meant that there wasn’t good time for

the scheduled Lectio Divina, so this was moved to Sunday morning.


Divine Office As in our communities everywhere, we celebrate the Divine Office – now officially known as “The Liturgy of the Hours” – with Morning and Evening Prayer, with the collection of Psalms, Scripture readings and Intercessions. For the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows we began with Evening Prayer last night, and – looking back – it was probably the most relaxed, prayerful celebration of prayer together. I remember helping to compose the texts for the Servite special Offices during the 1970s and the Evening Prayer of this feast is particularly beautiful. It carries a sense of hope amid sorrow, formed around the Resurrection of Christ, with Our Lady being close to him in everything.


And, by the way, I didn’t go to the classical music concert last night. I heard the call of the duvet and had an early night. Fr Collie McGlynn went to it – he’s mingling with everyone, the way he does, and thoroughly enjoying it. He enjoyed the concert too.

Development at Marianum, Rome  We celebrated Morning Prayer in the Shrine church. And there was a surprise in it. In Rome, our College priory of Saint Alexis is having a major development in what used to be the football area. New library facilities, lecture rooms and archive spaces are planned. The work began recently. The architect came to our Morning Prayer, and we had a special ritual of signing the papers for the project, with blessings and so forth. It was meaningful, and drew everyone into the project, which will be an outstanding development of the Marian University (“Pontifical Marianum Faculty”) which the Order directs in Rome.


Lectio Divina  And so, after breakfast, we held the Lectio Divina postponed from Saturday. It involved silence and reflection, speaking and sharing on a text from the Bible. The one chosen was the Annunciation passage in Luke’s Gospel, where Mary receives the announcement and responds with “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word”. A quite long, profound and helpful presentation was given by fr Stefano Bordignon. Born in 1972, he is a man of deep spirituality. He is also Provincial Treasurer for the Venetian Province.  After his presentation, each of the 8 table-groups of 6 friars were invited to share their reflections. This too was a good experience. On my own table there is fr Lorenzo Tanganelli, one of the senior friars, fr Giuseppe Zaupa, prior at Monte Berico, fr Evangelista Plaza Perez from Mexico, fr Charlie Leitão, General Council from Brazil, and the Mexican Provincial fr Ferard Torres. With me, fr Paul Addison, we’re a good group, and getting to know one another very well.


Walk or Climb?  After the break, at 11.30 I took off up the meadows behind the priory and shrine, into the woods, onwards and upwards. It was a stiff climb, but the return was more uncomfortable, as my knees and ankles groaned down the steep path. Very enjoyable (does that sound masochistic? No, I mean the walk, not the pain!). I took my camera, and enjoyed some more of the wild flowers of the mountains.


Then it was lunch-time, or should I say dinner-time, because this was the principal festival of the Servite Order. I’m not sure, because they had scheduled the solemn Mass of the day for 2 o’clock in the afternoon – probably to link with the many pilgrims and Sunday visitors to the Shrine. That didn’t make for a big dinner! Nor did we starve!

Solemn Mass and Procession  When we cross the broad esplanade from the Conference Centre to the Church, we saw the gathering crowds of pilgrims. And tents had been set up for everyone, because the Mass was going to be outdoors. A brass band was in place, with all their glorious Tyrolese outfits and uniforms. Flower-girls were beautifully decorating the square. Lots of happy people. The friars in their habits were given those flags of the nations to carry, as the opening procession of Mass came from the church out to the square. There was plenty of music, although not much singing really. And everything was in three languages, Italian, German and a local language dialect called Ladino. We prayed the Solemn Mass, and the Prior General fr Ángel gave the homily, followed by a German equivalent from fr Gottfied Wolff.

Clouds The sky looked unfriendly by this point, and it started to rain – very gently but noticeably, and the backdrop of the mountains just disappeared in combination of mist and fog. That was the cue for Our Lady’s Procession, with elegant young men carrying the White-Stone Pietà around the hillside, with people ahead, a brass band nearby, and the friars with their flags following. Seven times the procession halted, to pray the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady with the Via Matris. It was beautifully done, with radio-linked speakers carried in the procession to enable everyone to join in the prayers. Yes, we got wet – not very wet but noticeably so. And, after a mile or so, we were back in the square for the final prayers, applause, greetings for visiting civil dignitaries, and a final prayer to the Mother of Sorrows for the world we live in.  Everyone was invited to a little refreshment in the guest-bar.


Football Team  I was grabbed by one young man who said, “please will you bless our football and our team?”. I was delighted, and they were fine young men, full of good humour and very interested in Manchester United and Everton. We had a blessing, right in the middle of the square and drew a lot of attention from onlookers.

Lively conversation  The rest of the day was tranquil enough, with evening meal, time for conversation and so forth. I sat around with a whole group of friars where were sharing memories of  “former times”, with folk like Yvon Chalifoux, Provincial from Canada and Salvatore Perella, President of Marianum Faculty. I joined in all the chatter, but it became obvious that they were all much younger than me, and their memories only went back to the 1980s. It was good fun, and I added my own more ancient memories of the 1960s! As we shared a glass of good drink the conversation became more lively. Then it was time for bed…

Monday 16 September 2013


Early Mass The regular schedule of 7.30 Morning Prayer and Mass came into effect today. I had slept well and rose early enough to see a lovely pink dawn across the mountains. But you know the old saying about “Red sky in the morning is shepherd’s warning”. And sure enough, the clouds came back and there was quite a lot of rain during the day. I hate to say this, but the clouds and temperature have been just like Manchester! How common!

Fr Leo Spicer from Perth in Australia led the liturgy, a mix of Italian, Spanish and English. Later in the day I sat down with frs Bernard Thorne and Colm McGlynn to finalise our preparation of the morning liturgy for next Saturday.


Good News  As we suspected, fr Franco Azzalli had a vile kidney stone screaming inside his system. With held from the hospital it has been passed, and he sent a text to say he was “coming home” tomorrow, hopefully. We still pray for Giuseppe Xotta, and for John Fontana’s father, as well as fr Peter Conniffe’s mother, and many other people mentioned in the intercessions. And I’ve had a few responses from the Diary Part One, where people have told me that they’re praying for us. One of those is Swazi friar Stephen Sibanda who is in our priory in Syracuse, Sicily.


Penitential Day  I know today was not planned as a penitential day, but it felt like that. It was planned as Study Day, with top-range input from a variety of people, to make what was described as “Formation for the Chapter Community”. It certainly was that, but the lectures were back-to-back all morning and all afternoon. We were shell-shocked by evening! Still, I must do justice to the speakers, because I was seriously interested in their contributions. My old friend fr Ermanno Toniolo, now 84, was first. Engaging and enthusiastic as ever, he spoke on “Servite Input at the Second Vatican Council”. He’s published a detailed book on the subject after much research. As he spoke, he also gave out a booklet containing his lecture. I also had the English version of it, which had been e-mailed to the Chapter members by ever-efficient Secretary fr Camille Jacques. So I may have looked distracted as I followed the English version on my notebook computer, even though Miss Esther was reading the translation through the simultaneous translation equipment. Lots of wires, but a fine presentation.


Constitutions Next was another old war-horse of our Order, fr Luigi De Candido. He is now caring for the sick friars in the Missioni Priory at Monte Berico. He was at many previous Chapters, and in his enthusiasm he used to mesmerise us with rapid speeches on every kind of topic. I was afraid he would do the same today, but no! His paper was on the Renewal of the Constitutions of our Order, a topic of much personal involvement for myself. And I have to confess that it was the best of all the presentations. I told him so, and I think he was pleased. Once again I have that paper in English on the computer. If you think you would like it, you only need to ask. Long live modern technology! Some people know that I worked on the Communications Secretariate for the Constitutions from 1966 to 1969, receiving and translating and printing everyone’s contributions to the revised Rule of Life. As Luigi De Candido said, these are the first Constitutions of the Servite Order to be written by the friars themselves.


Restructuring  After Luigi came former Prior General fr Hubert Moons, giving a presentation on the re-shaping of the Order over the past 50 years. We have all lived through that history, but it was amazing to hear it in a single picture.  Here are some of Hubert’s “Observations”:


1.  In 1950 there were 1378 friars in 183 communities with an average of 7.53 friars per community.  On December 31, 2012 there were about 800 friars in 141 communities – an average of 5.67 friars per community.

2.  From 1950 to December 31, 2012 approximate 195 communities/foundations were opened and 235 closed.  The majority of communities opened and closed were parishes or educational institutions (study houses, professories, schools), some sanctuaries or prayer communities and others that helped immigrants.

3.  The first impression is that there were many communities opened and closed.  A large number of young men entered formation in the Order and then left. 

4.  The number of friars has shown a strong decrease and the average age of these friars has risen.

5.  There is a growing number of temporary professed in our newer foundations (Mexico, Asia, Africa, …).

6.  Something very new: the Order has moved into Asia and Oceania.


We were getting dizzy by lunch time with such intense presentations. I’m glad I had my little notebook with me, to dance through some of the texts in English, while keep an ear open to the speaker. I must say that the speakers were not able to make any visual contact with the 50 Chapter friars in the room, all of them in sixes at “separate tables”, with headphones and papers all over the place. I would much rather that the texts be distributed and the speakers give a much more informal, direct-contact kind of presentation. Oh well… It’s like a cold shower or a walk in the mountains – arduous but beneficial in the end.


In the afternoon we had a presentation on Marian Studies among Servites by the President of the Marianum Faculty in Rome, fr Salvatore Perrella. Here was another one I was dreading, because he can be loud and forceful. I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth and depth of his presentation, and how well he spoke of so many Servite Friars who have contributed to world-wide Marian studies over recent years. Again, his text is available in English for those who want.


Servite Family  Then came Mexican Sister Elizabeth of the Naples Congregation of Servite Sisters. She has spent years in the Philippines too, and is well versed in the development of UNIFAS (Union of the Family of Servites) over the past 50 years. I had received her text some months ago and translated it into English. Her presentation was well-received, highlighting the togetherness of the many branches of the Servite Family, friars, nuns, sisters (over 22 different congregations!), secular institutes, secular Order, Lay Diaconate Servites, Friends of Servites…


Missionary Outreach  The final speaker was fr Lino Pacchin, now the Provincial of the Venetian Province, but I knew him when he worked on communications in Rome in the 1980s, and he also worked extensively on Missions matters. He used some slides on a Powerpoint presentation, which was interesting, as we saw pictures of well-remembered people. There was one of the founding friars of our presence in the Philippines, and – to my surprise – I myself was in the picture! It was February 1986, when I was in Manila with the Prior General fr Michel Sincerny, doing the official visit to the communities there. I’ll never forget it, because the elections were happening, those historic elections where President Marcos was voted out of power, but took a long time to accept his demise.


It rained a lot during the latter part of the day, with no mountains to be seen. Everyone seemed ready to close the day quietly, somewhat overcome by so many presentations.