Monday 23 September 2013


Diary and Photos Surprisingly I was up at 6 o’clock. I needed to get going on my Diary, especially the last two days which have been full of variety and activity. By later today I had it completed, Part 4, with a few of my hundreds of photos. I also wanted to process the photos that I took yesterday on that amazing trip into Austria. I must have taken 200 pictures! The General Curia officers had asked me to take photos for their records, and I’ve been passing them loads of photos on their computer memory sticks.


Our Mass and Morning Prayer was directed by the Mexican Province of the Order, with some lively guitar accompaniment from our Slovakian brother Silvo. It wasn’t quite a Mexican band, but what do you expect at 7.30 in the morning. It was prayerful, and is part of our regular daily routine. The regular praying of the Divine Office together is a monastic feature of the friars’ way of life, steady and deep like a life-long swim.

Elections again  After breakfast it was elections time again, to choose the four friars to be with the Prior General as the General Council. There had been plenty of good sharing about the possible candidates. But nobody is proposed: the short list comes out of the first ballot. And for the first General Councillor the overwhelming indication was for my friend fr Paolo Orlandini. He is the master of students at Saint Alexis College in Rome, and is acting as a kind of MC (they call it facilitator, but that’s a bit of an overstatement!) for this Chapter. Paolo worked with me when we were called to do the official appraisal (Visitation, they call it) in the Prior General’s own community of San Marcello in Rome, about 3 years ago. He is a gifted, cheerful person. He’s probably the victim of “rising star disease”, which happens often in communities and collectives: far too much is asked of them and laid on their shoulders. I’m sure it is the religious order’s equivalent of celebrity-cult, and I always warn our brothers about it. Still, Paolo is the best, and I’m really pleased that he has accepted the vote to be the First Councillor.


The Second Councillor’s election was also quite straightforward. Fr Rhett Sarabia from the Philippines has served on the General Council for the past six years. He seemed the best one to have on the new Council for the sake of continuity, and his skills, of course. So, the voting forms went round, were filled in and collected and read out loud one by one. Most of our elections seem to get completed by a second ballot, sometimes a third. Sometimes rarely even on the first ballot. So it came to pass with our dear Rhett!


The Third Councillor is the Novice Master in Mexico, fr Jorge Jimenez. He is not present among us, but his provincial, who presided at the Mass this morning, had hinted that Jorge would be willing to accept the role. And so he did, and was voted in very smoothly.


This is where the smoothness ended. While the assembly was waiting for Mexico to reach dawn and wake up 6 hours behind European time, we had further free conversations about other candidates. The group eventually settled on one African friar and one Indian friar, trying to draw the new areas of the Order into the central leadership and government. But for various reasons, including health in one case, the telephone replies were negative. It’s not easy to be suddenly hit with a vote across the oceans and expected to reply quickly. I suppose in the “old days” people would just bow and say yes, but there is a more mature expectation of collaborative obedience nowadays, and the process is by no means untidy.


Secretary General and Procurator General  The Prior General’s team for this Chapter, called the Presidential Board, decided to proceed with the election of the Secretary of the Order – an easy one, because fr Camille Jacques has been excellent and was more than willing to continue oiling the wheels of central government and leadership. He was voted in more or less unanimously. I suppose they were feeling confident, so the Presidential Board proceeded to the election of the “Procurator General”, the friar who does all the canonical and legal connections with the Holy See in the Vatican. This did not go as smoothly as expected, with the outgoing officer, fr Franco Azzalli running neck-and-neck (that’s horse-racing language!) with fr Hubert Moons through one vote after another. In the end, fr Hubert Moons took the majority, and quietly accepted the task. He and Franco gave a noticeable hug-greeting of peace. I’m sure Franco was surprised at the vote, but…  And the Order has used Franco for centuries as one of the leading History of the Order protagonists. I’m sure his desk is more than loaded with history projects.


Marian Document Another friar was elected to the General Council from East Africa, but the phone contacts are bad and we don’t know whether he can accept the task. That will wait for tomorrow. Meanwhile, the assembly received the presentation of the Marian Document to be issued by this General Chapter. Leading its writing on a team of four is fr Salvatore Perrella, President of the Order’s Marian University College in Rome, the “Marianum”. The Document is long, and still only in Italian. So long, in fact, that we don’t have printed copies. It is available to us on-line, and various friars have  been trying to study it. For today, fr Salvatore offered a 5-page presentation. It was really interesting, obviously filled with aspects of Marian spirituality and teaching. Good emphasis on “openness to the Word of God”, on “sharing with others in listening”, and other vital topics. Some clever people made comments about the process of producing the document, and others about aspects of suffering in the world. Overall, it was a good session, even if everybody finished the day rather weary.


Thank heavens it’s been a beautiful day, like almost all the days while we have been here: pink dawns and sunsets, bright clear days with wholesome fresh air. Silence, too, and mountains all around in this early autumn of South Tyrol in northern Italy. Since the company is good, and even better than good, it really is a great blessing.


Tuesday 24 September 2013


Future of the Order Our Philippines brethren took charge of the liturgy this morning, and we tried out best to sing in Tagalog. Vicar Provincial fr Benito Isip’s homily reflection spoke about each one being “the future of the Order”, not just the younger brothers or new areas of the Order. He spoke in English, with fr Rhett Sarabia translating into Italian. As ever, the prayers were in all our languages – probably with the exception of German, but plenty of English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. We’ve had a tiny little bit of Gaelic and Zulu, and more Tamil.


Elections again  It was back to the elections after breakfast. Another of the East African brethren felt obliged to say ‘no’, to his election as Councillor. I can feel some sort of problem here, not easy to identify but something to do with the growing presence of younger friars in new parts of the world. I wonder if they feel unable to move to Rome for that kind of leadership. They certainly know our set-up in Rome well enough. There may be a message here…

So, we returned to the ballot box. And a couple of Indian names began to emerge, to represent newer parts of the Order. And another equal “horse-race” was underway, with half the votes to former Vicar Provincial in India, fr Xavariappam, and the other half to the Canon Lawyer and student Master
Souriraj Arulandasamy. Souriraj is present at the Chapter. Perhaps this was just about the determining factor, because he came across more than very well in meetings. Anyway, he received the majority vote and said, “Yes, with the help of God and Our Lady I accept this task.” Everyone was happy enough with the outcome, and the General Council is now formed, with frs Paolo Orlandini, Rhett Sarabia, Jorge Jimenez and Souriraj Arulandasamy. Along with the new Procurator General, fr Hubert Moons, they will make their oath and be confirmed in office at the weekend. Add the Secretary General, fr Camille Jacques, to the group, and of course the Prior General, fr Gottfried Wolff, and you have a very fine community for the General Curia in Rome.



Commissions and Group Work  All the eight table-groups contributed their thoughts and hopes about all the Reports and Presentations to the Chapter, and these were collected together by a skilful committee and printed out for everyone. The thoughts and hopes were gathered into separate areas, to do with (A) Constitutions and Directory, Rule of Life; (B) Community Life; (C) Servite Family and Church; (D) Formation; (E) General Houses; (F) Structures of the Order.  I mention these, because they show how wide our deliberations have to go.


Each of us signed up for one of the six commissions. I naturally went to the Constitutions and Directory Commission, having worked on those things so much over the past six years. So did fr Hubert Moons and fr Franco Azzalli, who also worked on those things over the years. Mind you, we were given an extra task as well: to study the Decrees of the previous General Chapter 2007; see which of those decrees are already incorporated into our proposed Directory, and then hand out the remainder to the various other Committees for them to appraise and evaluate, and then indicate what further action might be needed. My Committee spent 90 minutes doing that, and then passed the results to the other committees, who groaned appropriately but then thanked us for helping them plan their work.


For ourselves, we went back to our own work, checking the revised Rule of Life and the re-arrangements that we had been working on over the years. We got stuck on one or two points, especially where the Order seems to want local leaders and officials to serve four year terms instead of three. It sounds easy enough, but we will still be holding General Chapters every six years, and some considerable juggling seemed necessary to make sure the two sets of Chapters were not going to take place in the same year. You don’t have to follow all this. Just say “we got stuck for a while, but found a way forward.” There were other things like that, and we worked through until evening prayer.


Contacts I should make a little mention of a big communications matter. Lots of Servites – Nuns and Sisters, Secular Institutes and Lay Groups – have been sending messages of prayer and support for our community and Chapter. It is very encouraging. Because I’m sending this Diary all over the place, I am receiving numerous e-mails of gratitude and support. It certainly is good to “be in touch”, networking across the world. I had received a very funny short video from friend fr Mike Pontarelli in California, so I put it on the big screen in the meeting assembly at the end of Evening Prayer on Saturday. We prayed very devoutly, sang our Marian Anthem, and then I said, “there is a short video for you to finish the evening.” They were all very respectful and devout, so you can imagine their reaction when I projected one of the funniest little 2-minutes videos I’ve ever seen. Thanks, Mike! It was the video about the man on the scooter… It’s a little too big to send with this Diary, but, you never know…



Wednesday 25 September 2013


After an early night, I was up and about well before 6 o’clock, not anxious but buzzing with many thoughts. After the rituals of shower and shave, I sat down to send my weekly reflections on the internet for next Sunday’s Scripture readings at Mass.  Because no-one else was using, or should I said overcrowding, the internet at that time of day, I was easily able to send out messages, so I made sure that people received information and pictures about the newly elected General Council. Then I went for a quiet walk and prayer, although the usual bright dawns were missing, with plenty of mist on the mountains and in the forests.


Our Morning Prayer and Mass were led by the Piedmontese/Bolognese Province of the Order, which now includes the friars in France. They invited fr Noël Rath to preside, which he did mostly in Italian. It was impressive to me, but I thanked colleague Colm McGlynn afterwards for his much lighter appreciation of the liturgy. “Hearing Noël, I couldn’t help hearing and thinking of detective Hercules Poirot,” he said.


In his homily, Noël said that the reading from the Book of Esdra, from the time after the return from Exile, is very penitential, acknowledging great weakness, limitations and sins, even – and especially – at a time of new beginnings. He told us to apply the text to ourselves, because it brims with the compassion of God, which is stronger than all our fragility and smallness. The Gospel reading from Luke was about accepting a mission to announce Good News and to travel light when doing so. Noël linked the text to Mary as the first to welcome Good News and the first to go out to others with it in her Magnificat journey to Elizabeth and Zachariah, “the first to be evangelised, the first to evangelise others”. He took us then to the Epiphany scene, with Mary presenting the Word of God, Jesus, to the outside world in the persons of the Wise Magi. He was urging us to be open to people of different places, cultures and attitudes. “Each and every Servant of Mary must be the Star which draws people to find the Word of God, borne by Mary, Jesus Christ”.  He gave his simple, precise and profound homily in French, English and Italian. That’s why I remember what he said! I found it very uplifting, especially the bit about the Star.


Commissions  The various commissions were given all morning to complete their studies and proposals. My own commission on the Constitutions and Directory had finished early, partly because we’re all wonderful, and partly because over half of us had been working on these things for several years. So I took advantage of some free time to do some hand-washing – the sun had come out by then, melting the mists, and to write to Sister Marie-Thérèse Connor OSM in Canada, where she is holding the Sisters’ extended General Council Meeting on their future restructuring. Marie had written to me a few times, always encouraging and promising prayers. I even had a welcome e-mail from her brother Bill, who receives these Diaries, and he is always encouraging as well.


First Commission Presenting  The first commission presented its work in the afternoon session. This was “my” commission, the one for Constitutions and a new General Directory made up of parts of our Constitutions that are variable or changeable by a General Chapter. Fr Hubert Moons did the presenting, with his usual sharp clarity. Time for questions followed. Then each of the 8 table-groups discussed anything they would change. I was secretary for my own table-group, as always, and sent our deliberations to the Secretary’s office by e-mail. Each group gave its feedback, the presenter gave a final summary, and then we went to the vote. Remembering that this was a very complex project with six years of work behind it, the votes were smooth and positive. Yes, there was a mixed result about two features that had come up in discussion. But the overall New Directory was approved without any negative votes at all. Everyone applauded, and I was genuinely moved. I went up to Hubert to share congratulations and he read my thoughts and shared a brotherly hug. I went to Gottfried as well, and to Franco (now fully recovered) because they too were on the 6-year commission. I must write to dear Venanzio in Turin…


System  That system of table-group discussion is a new part of the Regulations for this General Chapter. It has proved most successful, enabling lots of people to have their say, which just wasn’t happening in the large assembly in previous General Chapters. Great thanks to General Councillors frs Rhett Sarabia and Eugene Smith for promoting this good change.


Common Life  All six working commissions had finished their work and sent it in for printing. The second to offer its presentation was the Common Life Commission. Obviously they weren’t going to re-write the Rule of Saint Augustine or anything like that. There’s almost too many wonderful documents available already! But their task was to take the views of the friars around the Order, which had been condensed into the Instrumentum Laboris (Chapter Basic Working Document, on which I had to privilege to work with frs Hubert Moons, Ángel Ruiz and Ermes Ronchi) and the Reports to the Chapter, and produce a projection for the future. As the presenter read out their document, I was taken aback. It was really inspiring, well designed and … well, delightful!  At the time for questions, a few people hinted about features that were not there, but you could tell that everyone was pleased. We went back into table-group discussion, presented our contributions, and then there was a short chance for any speeches (formerly called “interventions”, now called “reactions”). This was brief, because people had been able to say their piece in their table-group. So it came to voting. A few people voted for re-touches here and there, but the overall vote was again positive and convincing.


By evening, therefore, I shared with others a feeling that today had been a very good day for this General Chapter. Already we could say that the spirit of fraternal community among the 55+ people present has grown and will bear good fruit around the Order. But there is also some excellent future projection happening, shown in the elections and in these texts that are being composed together.


Characters  Talking of “fraternal community”, I must make a note of our dear fr Colm McGlynn, prior of Benburb and felow Delegate at this Chapter. Yes, he’s a very outgoing person by character, jovial and friendly. But he has spent the last 12 days constantly meeting new people, listening and talking – “networking” is the modern phrase for it – and everybody has taken to him. Of course he has received umpteen invitations to here and there: “bring the friends of Servites; bring the Secular Order”. And knowing Collie, he will! There are others who are showing the best face of younger Servite friars , including Francis from Uganda, Souriraj from Bangalore, Benito from the Philippines, Antônio from Brasil… oh, the list could be much longer. And I’m particularly pleased to have the company of the two elder statesmen present, fr Lorenzo Tanganelli from the Annunziata Province and fr Barnardino Zanella from the Andes Province. Lorenzo, who has been opposite me in the table-group, is a lovely man, full of good humour. Bernardino is still full on enthusiasm and fire in his senior years. Yes, the Order is well-blessed in its fraternal community.


Thursday 26 October 2013


Good morning  You couldn’t see the mountains this morning, for a fairly dense cloud cover and mist in the valleys. But it cleared later, to offer yet another beautiful day. And there seemed to be coach loads of visitors to the Shrine and walkers heading off into the hills and mountains. Our Mass was led by the Santa Maria de los Andes Province of the Order, a fairly new jurisdiction of the Order which includes Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The second oldest friar here is part of the group, fr Bernardino Zanella.


Commissions again  The arduous work of hearing the documents and explanations from the various commission continued. Today, right through the day, we followed the pattern: receive the document produced by the commission, ask any questions, discuss it in the table-groups, feedback to the assembly from the groups, offer any significant comments, and proceed to a vote. We covered the documents produced by The Servite Family Commission, the Formation Commission, the Structures of the Order Commission, the Solidarity Fund Commission, and the Commission on Monte Senario. Mostly it moved forward well. But we got bogged down with the Formation Commission’s presentation, mainly because the Presenter read the whole document, which was quite long, very slowly translating it into Italian – it was an English original document because that commission was mostly English-speaking. The document was mostly a simple re-working of a very successful document from the 2007 General Chapter. He should have just read the changes. After about an hour everybody was completely brain-dead – or so it seemed, and I was the Moderator for that session and I could see everyone. The few adjustments to the old document were soon approved, after group work.  The other Commissions’ documents also received good approval, obviously with amendments being offered for a second reading later.



Goodbye Salvatore  The Marianum President fr Salvatore Perrella was returning to Rome today. He’s quite a character, loving to appear brusk and aggressive, but beneath the surface very dedicated to the Order, to studies and to Our Lady. His farewell went on for several hours, because he was taking an evening train from Verona to Rome. He reminded me of those farewells in the opera, where the sing keeps singing goodbye but never reaches the door for ages! Anyway, we have received the Marian Document presented by fr Salvatore, and we will vote on it soon. The whole Order rightly expects a lot of this document, just like the previous ones “Do Whatever He Tells You”, and “Servants of the Magnificat”.


Friday 27 October 2013


 St Vincent de Paul  Our Mass was led by the United States Province and Provincial fr John Fontana. He asked fr Dennis Kriz to preach the homily, which took a very long time, with references to the saint of the day, St Vincent de Paul. Afterwards I was talking with fr Collie McGlynn about our former parish St Vincent’s in Dundee, and the good folk there who are very important people. In the morning sunshine the two of us began singing the little ditty that the school children at St Vincent’s always sing, “…father of the sick and pui-oor!”.  Love to our friends in Dundee who read this Diary.


Back to Work  This morning we finished voting on the first version of the Structures of the Order text, making amendments as required. Once again the overall document was approved by everyone, obviously with amendments being offered for a second reading.  Then all the commissions went back to their meeting rooms, to revise their documents in the light of all the proposed amendments. I mentioned earlier, but I’ll repeat here: the commissions are (1) Constitutions; (2) Community Life; (3) Servite Family; (4) Formation; (5) General Houses; (6) Structure of the Order.

As the Prior General said to everyone, “Buon lavoro!” – Work well!


Feeling guilty  My own Commission No 1 really had very little work to complete. We sat down and looked through the various amendments offered with regards to the Rule of Life of the Order. As I mentioned before, we had worked on this since 2008, so that everyone appreciated that the task was almost complete. We introduced a few re-touches as required. Fr Franco, the retiring Procurator General with all the contacts in the Vatican, had phoned an official in the Vatican for a clarification. He asked, “if we change our three-year term for Provincials, Priors, Parish Priests and other officials to a four-year term, would the Holy See accept for the present officers to do 4 years instead of 3?” This would mean, for example, that I would remain Assistant Provincial until 2016 instead of 2015. The reply was helpful, “it all depends on the mood of the officer you ask”. It was a typical and true reply, and convinced our commission that we could not be sure of such a change coming into effect at once. And so, we changed our proposal to this Chapter to have such changes coming into effect after 2015. It will be interesting to see the assembly’s reaction to this next time we gather.


All the other commission had a lot of work to do, but ours was complete by 11.30. It meant some free time. We’ve been in a busy rhythm of work, so that this free time left me feeling relaxed and a little guilty. Why guilty? Well, I used the time to re-order a lot of paperwork, to update and send my Chapter Diary. No. 5 went off on the internet, which was uncluttered because everyone else was busy in their commissions! I did some more washing, and wrote some e-mail letters. I went for a walk, too, as the cloudy start to the day had turned into quite bright sunshine. 

Frs Venanzio and Reinhold  I had written to fr Venanzio Ramasso in Turin. Well, not quite Turin. He lives in the huge basilica of Superga, on the hilltop above Turin, which is a national shrine and the burial place of the Royal Family before Italy became a republic., Superga is also where the national football team died in a plane crash in the 1940s, a national horror which is remembered there in a fitting memorial on the hillside. The brothers in Superga belong to the priory of San Carlo down in the city, and there’s some talk of them having to move house down to the city. This morning I received a lovely long e-mail letter from Venanzio, who is like a godfather to me and always very encouraging. I had told him that I missed him at this assembly – he had been present at many such Chapters over the years. “You must be one of the most frequent Chapter participants,” he wrote, “perhaps catching up with fr Reinhold Bodner.” He’s almost right: this is the 7th time I’ve been part of a General Chapter, dating back to 1968. But fr Reinhold has been present at 10. He’s now living in this priory of Pietralba, so he didn’t have to travel far this time, just across the courtyard.  But fr Venanzio reminded me that he was also officially present, on behalf of the friars, at 12 General Chapters of Servite Sisters over many years. So maybe he’s quite glad to be taking a rest in his 80s.


Talking about getting old, I stood up in the assembly on Thursday and remonstrated with one of the commissions about a phrase in their document. They spoke of new hope for the Order in new parts of the world, while in the older parts of the Order the friars were run-down and worn out. “Don’t talk like that,” I declared. “That is suggesting that being old is some sort of disease. My community has an average age of 81, but the brothers give good witness by who they are, and how they are, not just by what they do or cannot do!”.  The reply was, “we were not very careful in our choice of words. We will find another way of describing the contrasts across the Servite world.” Hmmm…


Those commissions went on working into the evening and night. Some of them got bogged down, and I thought, this always happens when a few strong personalities are showing off instead of joining in!


As we went to the evening meal, visitors began arriving for tomorrow’s Open Day for the Servite Family. Anna Blasi, the President of the Regnum MariæSecular Institute had to travel all the way from Taranto in the deep south of Italy. Now that’s dedication!