PAUL’S GENERAL CHAPTER DIARY

(NOT OFFICIAL)


Saturday 28 September 2013

 

Spanish Delegation  “Delegation” is a legal word for a group of priories linked with a jurisdiction in another country or region, like the Zululand Delegation is linked with the United States Province of the Order. We had a Spanish fully fledged Province until recently, but their numbers were declining, and they have now been de-designated as a Delegation. Their Prior Provincial fr Javier Badillo is now a “Delegate” in charge. The story has been, including the death of my look-alike fr David Vacquer in 1998. He had gone to Mozambique, where the Spanish Province had made generous sacrifices to promote the people and the Order there. David died of a heart-attack in his 50s. Indeed, Javier showed me David’s bones when they opened his grave recently, to make room for young fr Horacio, killed in a car crash. I was distressed to see David’s mortal remains like that, but it’s not out of order. I just asked, “why did you open his coffin?”. He replied, “we didn’t. The top had decomposed and there he was, just bones and a well-preserved Servite habit.” Yuck… I was very fond of David.


So, yes, the Spanish Servite Friars suffered deaths and losses. Some real sense of loss. And this morning’s Mass was Our Lady’s Mass of the Wisdom of God, “Mother of Good Counsel”. Javier preached a deep and meaningful reminder about how “failure” is often part of God’s plan. “We need to experience and learn from failure, to allow God’s plan to work”. At breakfast afterwards – can you imagine this as breakfast conversation?? – there was John Fontana, Mel Loftus, myself, Bernard Thorne and Collie McGlynn talking at length about success and failure and the plan of God. Wow, that is the sign of a good homily. Thank you, Javier. And Mel said, Javier knows what he is talking about, he’s “been there”. I found myself telling them about the Rohan Book of Hours, a medieval manuscript with a miniature painting of St John holding the Virgin Mary by the Cross as she swoons in grief; John is looking angrily round at a vision of God the Father, and seems to be saying, “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”. I promised to write a book about it… and I told them about Dr. Martin Israel too, and his masterpiece on suffering, “Gethsemane”. Some readers of this Diary will know what I mean.

 

While we were at Mass I took a bit of a risk. Behind the high altar are some steps. I know, because I’ve seen the elderly sacristan climbing up there to light some high candles. So I went behind the curtain of the altar, and climbed these rickety wooden steps to a high vantage point to take a photo of the brethren gathered for Mass. It was a risk, as all those kind of climbs until you are familiar with the steps. But anyway, I succeeded in getting my picture, plus a load of dust on my Servite habit, and a little twinge in my back (gone now!). It reminded me of a church in Wiltshire, where there was a fabulous Marian roof boss, undamaged by the Reformation and Roundheads, but hidden behind the organ. There too I ventured on a hesitant climb, and I was successful for that photograph as well… in my catalogue of Marian Iconograph it reads W564 Assumption boss Lady Chapel hidden by organ and pipes STEEPLE ASHTON St Mary the Virgin church © PMA – I photographed this by climbing the narrow organ maintenance-stairs.

 

Visitors  The visitors are arriving. The first ones I saw were our Philippine brothers from the community in Forlì. The Philippine sector of our Order has been given charge of the Priory and Shrine of St Peregrine in Forlì. They are settled there now, after quite a lot of adjustment, both by themselves and by the local people, who were obviously very attached to the traditional way of doing things, and must have been surprised to receive a whole community of Servite Friars from the Far East! Then another arrival was my old friend fr Arnaldo Donghi, travelling from Servite Priory and Basilica in Bologna. Arnaldo and I were ordained together on Easter Monday 1965. He was a great organiser in our College community, and I think he’s used his talents to direct the Shrine at Forlì for many years. Now he’s at the city-centre basilica in Bologna. It was really good to see him. My colleague, Prior Provincial fr Bernard Thorne, also knew Arnaldo. But Bernard was whisked away from the College in Rome, to complete his theology training in South Africa, as being the only way to get residence in the Republic which at that time was under the rule of the apartheid regime.

 

At 11.00 a big reception was held in the spacious visitors’ self-service restaurant. I met the Mother General of the Pistoia Sisters, Sr Emanuela, whose house I had visited in Rome before travelling here. She wouldn’t have easily made the journey all the way from Rome, but she was “in the area”, as they say, visiting her sisters in northern Italy. Then I met the Mother General of the Chioggia Servite Sisters, Sr Umberta. A whole group of Servite Secular Order members came down from Czech Republic, and they thoroughly enjoyed meeting other Servants of Mary from across the world. Another big group came from Monte Berico, the big shrine near Vicenza. I’ve been there, and it seemed to be not far from Padua. The prior in Monte Berico is fr Giuseppe Corradi, who has been sitting on my table-group for the past two weeks and is a delightful character. He was 60 a few days ago. Other Servites came down from Innsbrück, with the prior who used to be Provincial when we were working together on the North European Conference of Servite Friars. In all there were about 200 people gathered together, full of chatter and friendliness.

 

Thank you Ángel! The different groups were announced on the public-address system in the restaurant, to a noisy round of applause. A special moment was the presentation of a hand-written (= painted) icon of the Mother of Sorrows to the outgoing Prior General fr Ángel M. Ruiz Garnica. Our talented Servite artist fr Wilson had done the icon specially, and fr Ángel was clearly delighted. Then the representative of the Servite Secular Order in the Czech Republic stood up to make him a presentation and gift. She spoke at some length, being translated by fr Fero Bachoric, into Italian. I’m glad some friendly fuss was made of Ángel, because he’s been a good, gentle Prior General for two terms, which means 12 long years. He tells me that he is looking forward to a relaxing break back in his homeland of Mexico.

 

Charlie Talking of moving on, the outgoing General Councillor from Brazil, fr Charlie Leitão (you could say “Charley Leyton”, but he says Charly-eh Ley-ee-tón!) is asking to go to Mozambique. Now Charlie is the first vocation to have come from the Amazon forest area of north western Brazil, the State of Acre-Purus. That mission has grown very well, but I thought he might be moving there after his 6 years in Rome. But no, the Brazilian Servite Friars have “adopted” the Mozambique foundation, which fr Javier’s Spanish companions founded and carried through hell and high water in the time of the vicious Civil War in Mozambique. (I remember reporting the aftermath of that, after visiting there just after the end of the war while I was Provincial in the mid 1990s. The scene was horrific, but the friars had set to work rescuing the boy-soldiers and setting up a basic school and agriculture centre. They were amazing and I’ll never forget it. That’s why I’m so emotional about fr David Vacquer who died there). Anyway, fr Charlie hopes to go directly to Mozambique and set himself firmly at home there, and then take a short break in his native Brazil. Impressive these Servites, huh?


Confirmation of Council Team  We gathered in the church at midday, for the impressive celebration of the confirmation of the new Procurator General and General Councillors of the Order. The church was packed to capacity, as we filled it up while the 11 o’clock Mass pilgrims were filing out. The Prior General, fr Gottfried Wolff, took his place, with his new team around him at the high altar. There was fr Hubert Moons, Procurator General, and Councillors frs Paolo Orlandini, Rhett Sarabia and Souriraj Arulandasamy; fr Jorge Jimenez was still back in Mexico. There was also the re-appointed General Secretary fr Camille Jacques.


The service began with a hymn, followed by Scripture readings in various languages. Then up stood the Prior General to give his Homily and address. I had slipped away up into the choir loft to take pictures for the curia records and media, and I also slipped into the elevated baroque pulpit overlooking the whole church for another photo. I was listening, of course, and the Prior General’s address was truly encouraging and moving. I hope to get hold of a copy in due course; otherwise this Diary just carries news without the essential content. The same goes for some of the documents produced at this Chapter – I’m sure some readers will want to look at them.

 

Each of the officials made a vow or oath of honour to the Gospel and our Rule of Life, and received a brotherly greeting from the General. The General had promised everyone that he would strive to create a good community with this team in the priory of San Marcello, and give good example as well as leadership to the rest of the Order, and its other components from the Servite Family of Nuns, Sisters, Secular Institute vowed members, Secular Order members, Lay Deaconate members and Friends of Servites.

 

David  It was soon one o’clock and everyone was ready for lunch. We had to queue for ages to get our meal, but everyone was in a good mood, and there was plenty for all 200 people. One feature of the meal I’m pleased to record is the time I spent across the table with fr David Mejía. He is from Colombia, which is linked with the Mexican Province of the friars. He accepted a call to found the friars in faraway Indonesia, and has been there for several years. In a very Muslim land, the Christian enclaves, if they observe the basic laws, are free to grow. And they have exploded with vocations to the religious life. Many religious orders have founded communities there. Our own is blossoming. It’s always a delicate matter, transplanting ideals and life-callings to new lands, always at risk of exporting cultures instead of nestling into the culture of the new place. That’s no reason not to try. Anyway, I’ve been trying to talk to a few people involved with our Indonesian foundation, because I care about “getting it right”, and we haven’t always succeeded in doing so. So I spoke at length in Rome with the former Prioress General of the Servite Compassionist Sisters; they have a blossoming foundation in Indonesia. I was told of the serious dangers of bringing the young candidates out of the Far East into a setting of prosperous Western culture. She had ensured that the transition was closely governed, and she felt that many dangers had thus been avoided. Others had encountered big problems. I also spoke with the United States Prior Provincial, fr John Fontana, about the same subject, because there is a plan to bring Indonesia students to Mexico, Canada and the USA, partly for their ongoing education and even, perhaps, for some of them to find a new home there. I’m not going into too much detail, but I did wish to speak to people about it, and David turned out to be just the right person. He was more than sympathetic to my hesitation, and I was convinced that he would make sure things were done properly.

 

Sergio Here’s another man I’d like to mention fr Sergio Mendoza. When I first saw him I thought he was a double for fr Giuseppe Benassi, now deceased but one of the founding friars of the Philippines Servite communities. Giuseppe was a musician, and I remember how he and I alternated in playing the organ at the General Chapter of 1983, at the De La Salle Brothers’ Conference Centre in Rome. I remember Giuseppe with affection. So here came this man from South America, looking so like the old friend. He had the same quiet approach to life as well. But it took him 10 days before he hesitantly accepted to play the guitar at some of the liturgies. Fr Silvo Bachorik had been doing this, among many other activities. And what a surprise was Sergio! He is a master of the instrument, and has a happy, well-trained voice too.  I must take his picture tomorrow, so that older friends of Giuseppe Benassi can see what I meant about a double…


Now it’s Saturday evening, and the visitors and pilgrims and hill-walkers have all gone home. It’s quiet on the mountainside. There hasn’t been any bright sunshine today – it’s weekend, of course, when everyone wants to get out and about. But it’s just like an English Bank Holiday: not very bright weather at all, and our visitors couldn’t even see the splendour of the mountains that we have been enjoying all week…