PAUL’S GENERAL CHAPTER DIARY
Tuesday 17 September 2013
Once again an early start. We celebrated the Mass for our new Servite saint, Blessed Cecilia Eusepi, the teenager from Nepi who has caught the imagination of so many young people in Italy with her love of life, her faith and her enthusiasm for young people. She was declared Blessed a year ago. A relic of her was placed in the church, and some booklets with her life story. The Brazilian friars led the Mass, with Provincial fr Paulo Sergio Angeloni presiding.
Reports This morning was dedicated to listening to the Reports from the Prior General. We had received it in print some months ahead of the Chapter, which allowed us to study it in detail. The Prior General fr Ángel M. Ruiz Garnica re-presented his report, with respectful attention from us all as he draws to the close of his faithful service of the Order across the past 12 years. It was a long report, touching on every aspect of the life of the Servite Friars in recent years. He made connections with the 2007 General Chapter in Ariccia, Rome and all the decisions and recommendations made there.
As you can imagine, there are many reports as well as the Prior General’s Report. All the general officers make a report, like the Secretary of the Order, the Liturgy Commission Director, the Postulator of Causes for
Saints, the Formation and Studies Co-ordinator, as well as each Prior Provincial (or equivalent Provincial like the Vicar Provincial in the Philippines fr Benito Isip), and each Regional Coordinator for the different clusters of the Order, Europe, North America/Mexico, South America, Far East, Africa. I’m writing these notes as we are working through all those reports.
Secretary After each set of reports, the 8 Study Groups or Tables are given discussion time, based on the simple question: “Which aspects of the Report/s do you think needs further treatment by this General Chapter?” For my sins, as always seems to happen, I was made Secretary for my group, called the ALEXIS GROUP – each group has a name of the Seven Founders, plus one named PHILIP. I’m expected to sum up the thoughts of the group, and send the summary immediately by e-mail to the Secretariate of the Chapter, which will pull together all the contributions. The system is working well so far. The little notebook is running hot!
What I did not expect was to be named one of the three Chairmen for the plenary sessions. Frs Eugene Smith and Gino Leonardi are the others. At first that task is not too demanding, but it will become so, and the chairmen are expected to attend the Presidential Board meetings in the evening as they plan the next day’s activities. There is no shortage of work!
I’m just hearing of the hoped-for outreach of our Philippines Vicariate to Vietnam. This includes involvement with the undergroup Catholic Church there. But the reports from India and Philippines are full of new life and hope.
The reports have continued throughout Tuesday, into Wednesday and doubtlessly onwards into Thursday as well. Some of the friars would like more time for conversation about the reports, but they all reach the evening time thoroughly tired, even with extra meetings for Presidential Board and Liturgy preparation…
Wednesday 18 September 2013
Liturgy The morning Liturgy of Morning Prayer and Mass provided a sad and happy surprise. Obviously the sad part was the absence of fr Giuseppe Xotta (Uganda), who is in hospital in Vicenza. He had prepared the liturgy, but his papers are not here, and extra work was needed to choose music and print the necessary participation sheets. It was done quietly, and guest-friar fr Francis Kawuki from the East African Servite Foundation was invited to preside at the Mass. Wow! He looked like and is considered a quiet-spoken man, deep and solid. He was anything but quiet, and led the liturgy in English most firmly and enthusiastically. Being a young, up-to-date man, he used the new English translation of the Mass. But the booklets for participation are still the old text, which engendered a little touch of Babel-type confusion. No harm – we’re working in a whole variety of tongues and accents. But someone said to me afterwards, “You’ve changed all the words!”. You can imagine my reply, which was something like, “Well, I didn’t, but somebody did!”.
More Reports Sadly I can’t trasmit the vastness and range of the Reports that we are listening to. After Monday’s Study Day we are feeling a bit sore – the chairs are classically hard and unyielding. Yet the Reports cover a wide world of Servite presence. They are presented by real and good-hearted people, and their written version fills very large files and books of documents. The whole point, besides religious accountability, is for us all to be firmly aware of the reality of life in our Servite presences around the world. I hope we finish receiving the Reports in good time before Saturday’s election of the new Prior General, so that we can mingle and ruminate and absorb all the variety and richness of our Order.
I took my turn as Chairman or Moderator of the Assembly in the morning session – nothing too difficult as each official gave his report, usually with headache-inducing powerpoint (the Moderator’s chair is too near the screen!), followed by questions and any brief comments from the floor.
At the beginning of each afternoon session, kindly placed at 3.30pm, there is a Marian Prayer, something from the Vigil of Our Lady or some similar Servite paraliturgy. It’s still very emotional to share and hear 60 men singing the simple Marian anthems together, Salve Regina, or Sub Tuum Præsidium and so forth. On this question of music, we have one friar, Silvo Bachorik from the Tyrolese Province, who plays the guitar and accompanies some of the hymns in the Morning Prayer and Mass. Maybe some folk thought it wasn’t enough, and they’ve sent out for a small electronic keyboard. Our Canadian friars are leading the Mass tomorrow, and they’ve asked me to play the hymns with them. You know that I do that happily and willingly, but it does mean more networking and early rising.
Thursday 19 September 2013
Early And so it came to pass, and I got up at 6 o’clock this morning. I’m glad I did – well, eventually! – because the dawn was a wonderful sight across the mountains. I took my camera across the courtyard to the church, and the west door of the church opens out on to the splendour of the mountains beyond the huge curve of amphitheatre meadow below the priory west front. Anyone touched by the via pulchritudinis – the way of beauty cannot fail to be moved by the setting of this priory and Chapter.
As I mentioned, the Canadian friars led this morning’s Mass, with fr Yvon Chalifoux presiding. Like all the others, they introduced a variety of languages into the psalms and readings, which the friars endeavour to join in with enthusiasm (well, relative enthusiasm at 7.30 in the morning!) and fine voices. They have a French version of the Solemn Salve Regina which I really enjoyed. I must get hold of a copy!
More Reports Lots of other reports continued this morning, with General Officials like the Justice and Peace & Evangelisation team, the Archives team, the Secretariate and Communications teams, and so forth. The Postulator for Saints, fr Tito Sartori, travelled specially from Rome to give his report (yesterday evening, in fact, because he has to catch that famous train the Silver Arrow back to Rome today). He’s been working in promotion of Servite saints for many years, and the Vatican has decided that people over 80 may not hold the job. Tito has continued, well over 80, but all his communications with the Vatican offices have had to go through the personal bag of the Prior General. We shared his delight in the beatification in recent years of the young saint Cecilia Eusepi, following the 2007 beatification of the foundress of my friends the Compassionist Servite Sisters, Blessed Mary Magdalen Starace from Castellammare. Fr Eugene Smith gave his report on the Formation and Studies, encouraging the various leaders around the Order to share with others whatever is happening in Studies in their particular area.
Dear Franco Did I mention that fr Franco Azzalli is back at work with us, after his emergency night-time visit to Bolzano hospital? Yes, he’s back, and this morning he presented his Report as “Procurator General” of the Order – the Procurator General being our link-man with the Holy See (Vatican). He says that it isn’t a full-time role, but he never stops working. Indeed, after fr Gino Leonardi was elected Provincial of the Piedmontese-Bolognese Province last year, his place on the General Council was taken by fr Franco. And that included picking up fr Gino’s enormous work on COSMO, both the printed newsletter COSMO and the very popular monthly COSMO ON LINE. Fr Franco is also the Vicar General for fr Ángel, Prior General, and has presided at some of the principal meeting of friars in different parts of the world. Just the thought of it could make you feel exhausted!
Asking questions After each report there is a time for questions. I’m afraid I’ve been speaking out a bit, because not many questions are being asked. So, for example, with the Treasurer’s Report, I asked, “If you take money from the Basic Fund of the Order to pay for the development work at the College in Rome, surely that means you lose future income from the interest of that Basic Fund?” Fr Chris O’Brien is always remind us of this kind of thing in the Provincial administration. I’m glad I asked, because it opened up a long reply from fr Piergiorgio Mazzoleni about the methods of funding the development. Everyone was satisfied with the replies, and indeed – as with fr Chris in our Province of the Isles – the professional clarity and openness of the Treasurer’s contribution was convincing and very well done.
When it came to the Servite Liturgy Report, I felt obliged to ask what had happened to the careful translations that I had done for his team of the Benedictional of St Peregrine and the Book of Prayers for Vocations? I wasn’t very pleased with the answer – something to do with funds and the hope that local areas would print the translations. So I commented that the whole production of Servite Liturgical texts – which are brilliant, by the way – is heavily biased in favour of providing books in Italian, but quite neglectful of promoting them in translation.
Constitutions and Directory It was my turn to take the stand in the evening. I was asked to present the work we had been doing steadily over the past six years on the Constitutions of our Order (Rule of Life) and the requirement to sort them into fundamental articles and potentially changeable articles. All I presented was the Report I composed detailing the work. But I took the opportunity to advertise the seriousness with which the 6 of us on the Commission had gone about our work – frs Hubert Moons, Gottfried Wolff, Venanzio Ramasso, Miguel Flores, Franco Azzalli and myself. This seemed to go quite well, Now – as I write this Diary early in the morning of Friday 20 September – we will be dealing with the proposed changes throughout the coming morning. It will make a pleasant change from receiving all those Reports, much as they were essential to giving direction for the future.
Discernment I was called into the Presidential Board last night – they have to work quite late to keep the machinery of the Chapter well-oiled! They thought that I would be the Moderator or Chairman for the sessions today. Well I will, but only until lunch-time. But they took their time deciding that, so I was involved in their plans for the afternoon as well. We will be listening to each other, in groups and in the whole gathering of 50 voting friars, on the question of who and what we might be looking for in the new Prior General. I need hardly note that the whole process, indeed the whole Chapter, is wrapped in prayer: just as our Constitutions say, this Chapter Community is committed to sharing prayer, meals, decisions and fraternal consecration. It will show quite noticeably today and tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow is the day for electing the new Prior General.
As you can tell from my photos, the skies are bright with a few clouds. The air is sharp and fresh. The food is excellent and the company really good. It’s not a holiday, but almost as good, even with all the hard work.
I shall finish this part now, and get on with all that is to follow…