Saturday, May 5, 2007

Last Day of the First Week of the Chapter

A more full day could not have been asked for or imagined. Today included both a presentation by three members of the Assembly on Mission, a financial report, a consideration of the procedures for the Chapter, and a festive dinner at Via Flamiglia, one of the most prestigious schools that the Brothers operate here in Rome.

First of all, at least for me, it was rewarding to finally sleep all of six hours. Even if I still felt quite tired when I awoke, it was good to know that some of me had had a rest that lasted longer than three hours, as in days past. The fact that the outside water pump didn't kick in once during the night may have had something to do with it. When I got up, and opened up the windows (opaque because the room used to be a bathroom) it was quite nice outside.

During morning Mass (our third, so far, as a language group) it became apparent that we were beginning to feel together as a group - the quiet times were rich and relaxed, the flow was becoming comfortable. Breakfast followed, and so on.

For the opening prayer in the Chapter Hall, when the group began at 9 AM, I chose a quotation from De La Salle's first meditation for the time of retreat that speaks about God "diffusing the fragrance of his knowledge through human ministers...." Just a short couple of sentence followed by the sung "Let us remember..." in the three languages. The point for this morning was to listen to members of the Assembly on Mission that occured last year, and it was worthwhile to recall the universal call to ministry that was part of De La Salle's perspective. Then, three individuals who were key participants in the Assembly on Mission (Br. Fred Mueller, Mr. Gery Short, and Ms. Evelyn Geofroy) made reflective presentations about the experience. Included was a short video that helped to capture the spirit of that event. Afterwards, the Brothers broke up into groups and returned later to pose questions to the panel about some of the things that were covered in the report - available online at for everyone to read.

That completed the morning. During the lunch recess, it was announced (in the three languages) that Gery and Roseann are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and so the whole group sang "Happy Birthday" (we sing that for anything here) to them with mucho gusto. Near the end of lunch, Gery invited me to join them and Evelyn on a quick afternoon jaunt into Rome. Since I knew that I would not be needed for the afternoon session, and since I very much needed a break of some kind, and because they were my good friends, and because I wanted to do so, I said "I'd like that." Years ago I came up with the principle that, as far as possible, I would address questions and situations like this with the question "What would you later most regret not having done?" In this case, the answer was pretty clear to me.

Out of good conscience, I did tell a few people that I wouldn't be there for the afternoon session, and pretty soon the four of us were on the Metro on the way to the "Spagna" metro stop and a vist to the Spanish steps. Before getting onto the Metro, we had encounters of the mysterious kind with the ticket machine - you have to know which buttons to push when, and to know what ticket does what. After all of that effort, we walked to the trains through the wide-open gate next to the subway-style entrances and didn't have to show our tickets anywhere. What a country! (This is a good comment.)

At the Spanish Steps, we stood around trying to decide what to do for a while. Evelyn wanted to buy a dress for her nine-year-old granddaughter and we wanted to wander about a bit and maybe stop for a coffee somewhere. After some pictures, we decided to first visit the Brothers' school right there at the Spanish Steps and then to walk around the area, making our way to the Via Corso. Our school opens out into the plaza through the small non-descript doorway. But once inside, the place opens up into a grand set of buildings. We walked inside and I showed a faded ID card from CBHS in Sacramento to the guard who looked at it, looked at me, said "Brother?" and let us in when I just nodded and said "Si." Since it was Saturday, only a few kids were about. We wandered about a bit, taking pictures, and then proceeded down the main street that leads away from the Spanish steps - jam-packed with tourists of all kinds.

At one point, Evelyn saw some dresses that might fit the bill and she began to take out her glasses to read the prices. I told her "Don't bother," and she agreed after seeing the 3,000 Euro cost. These were some pricey stores here! After a couple of side streets, each one getting smaller than the last, we saw a nice outdoor cafe and sat down for some coffee. It was all quite enjoyable and just the right thing for every one of us.

When we returned to the Generalate at around 5:30 PM, they went off to rest a bit before the dinner at Via Flamiglia while I went up to the Aula Magna to find that the Brothers were still at it, considering the various details of the rules and procedures for the Chapter in some detail. They had been at it since 3 o'clock. I sat in for some of the questions and points and suggestions before making my way back to my desk to process some of the pictures of the day. I wasn't needed in the Aula Magna, either for help in resolving some of the issues (since I wasn't a member of the Chapter) or for prayer (most Brothers were probably already praying silently that they could finish all this sometime before midnight). The process was all very legitimate and good, I must say. It reminded me of Mies van der Rohe's comment about architecture: "God is in the details." This, of course, had been turned into the more catchy "the devil is in the details." But I prefer the first.

At 6:45 PM, the buses for our evening journey were being loaded in front of the Generalate and we took off for our dinner at Via Flamiglia. There wasn't enough room on the buses for everyone, so the Motherhouse cars were quickly called into service. At the school, the Brothers there welcomed us with warm hospitality and we had a tour of some of the facilities (indoor pool, fine gymnasium, garden with a lake and swans, and so on) before sitting down under tents for a wonderful Italian dinner. There were five or six courses, each served with efficiency and consisting of some great food. The evening passed very quickly in conversation and fraternal atmosphere. After a long week of work, we were ready for something like this.

A couple of short talks were give by the Visitor for Italy, Br. Donato, who is a member of the Chapter, and Gery and Roseann were again recognized on their 25th wedding anniversary, leading to another round of "Happy Birthday to You" in four languages. (At least I think that's what they were singing in Italian, French, and Spanish - the melody was the same, anyway.) Br. Leonardo was next to me, and we spent some time talking about his work, our families, and various esoteric points related to the life of the Founder (don't ask, it will only bore you). The dinner began around 7:30 PM, and at about 10:45 PM people stood, as if an invisible signal had been given, and began making their way back to the busses. Leonardo had driven here in one of the cars with a couple of Brothers and invited me to join them, so I did. On the way back to the Motherhouse, he negotiated the traffic with a native sensibility (I just hung on), saying that growing up in Bogota, Columbia, had trained him well for Rome driving. He turned here and there and suddenly we were driving down the wide boulevard that leads to Saint Peter's, with the cupola and facade lit up at the end of the street - a great way to return to see the place. He then decided to take a quick jaunt to Gianicolo, a local hill overlooking the city, and with the permission of the other Brothers in the car we drove up to this lookout, which was absolutely filled with people - as if it were noon, and spent a while overlooking different views of the city before making our way back to the Generalate.

From thence to now I've been in communications room in order to put in order to feed the blog beast.

Know that as part of the rules and procedures that were considered today, one item dealt with the "official voice" of the Chapter. There is a "chronicler" who is that official voice. And so I have to make sure that my comments and observations are strictly personal in nature. For any official news about the Chapter, the Brothers' website, is the best resource.

On a sad note, I also heard that Scott Gibbs, the videographer whose work has been a great asset to the district, and who I count as a friend, is nearing the end of his treatments for leukemia and will likely pass away very soon. Prayers for his new wife, Mary, and for Scott's comfort / ease / acceptance in this transition are welcome.

Tomorrow I'll sleep in. Yeah!

More pictures at

Friday, May 4, 2007

Day 5 of the Chapter

Here, first of all, is a picture of all of the official delegates to the General Chapter. Neither myself nor Michael Avila nor Mike Murphy are part of it because we are "staff" and not members of the chapter.

On another note, I wish I could get some sleep around here. Last night I again awoke at around 3 AM. This time I think that it had to do with the dripping water in the air well that's next to my room. Add to that the water pump that kicks in every couple of hours and it adds up to enough unfamiliar noise to keep you awake. Of course, I fell asleep a couple of hours later only to hear my alarm at 6 AM and make the effort to fight nature's inclinations and get up for Mass.

This morning, Br. David Hawke from Austalia was in charge of the Mass - a very direct, simply Mass, comforting in a way in its direct familiarity. Father Dennis told us that he would be going to the doctor to take care of a sore throat situation and that we shouldn't be concerned if he was whispering by the end of Mass (he wasn't).

The presentation today was on the nature of consecrated religious life by the Master of the Dominicans, Fr. Costa, an Argentinian priest who, at 50 years old, must be the youngest leader of a major congregation. He was quite engaging and fascinating, clearly brilliant, and very funny and direct in the mix, making fun at himself and at certain situations in a very clever way. It's obvious that he would be a darn good preacher. One of the main thoughts that I took away from his presentation was the fact that we have to appreciate how important religious vows (or religious commitment, in any case) is both for ourselves and for those around us. He used to be a Marist Brother and he said that when he thinks about the Brothers who most influenced him, he thinks about the retired Brothers who were around to listen to the students, to walk around and interact with them, to take them as they were, non-judgementally. The most frustrating thing was the fact that he spoke in Spanish, and that he spoke so fast that the translators could not keep up; so we caught maybe half of what he said. It's a clear incentive to learn Spanish.

In the afternoon it was time for the prayers that we had planned for the presentation by the Superior General and his Councillors. The session began at 3 PM with me explaining how we would have four prayer movements as part of the afternoon session. Then, Michael French and a group of Brothers began the session by singing an energizing Spanish version of one of the Psalms. After a good 90 minutes of talking by several Councillors, there was a merciful break, and then Ferdinand ("Freddy" to his friends) led an Indian Banyan (sp?), which is a sort of Indian religious chant that is repeated with different verses and is quite captivating. Everyone jumped right in. It turned out to be quite meditative and prayerful. Then another hour of talking heads, after which there was a 30-minute break. After the break, Freddy did another Banyan, accompanied by some musicians and with me leading the singing for the assembly. Finally, the thing that was highly anticipated - the major address by Br. Alavaro. His talk was very, very good. Not only was it right on the mark, but it managed to capture the spirit of where we were as Brothers and inspired a forward movement that I hope will carry through into the rest of the Chapter. At the end of his talk, and at the end of a sustained period of applause, it was my turn to finish the four movements of prayer.

Providentially, we had decided to simply have a period of silent reflection on all the words that had been said that day. Within the Chapter Hall, I told the Brothers that we had heard a lot of words today and that it would be helpful to let them settle down, like swirling material in a pond or well, so that we might see the bottom, the depths, of the water. I also showed an illustration from a book by Henri Nouwen that spoke to where the Brothers might be at this point. Then we did a chant, followed by 11 minutes of silent reflection, listening only to soft background music, and then completed by another short chant. It was just the right thing at the right time. Those who spoke to me afterwards seemed to appreciate it.

After a short dinner, it was time for the Central Commission meeting in order to get ready for tomorrow. There were lots of details to cover, and before I knew it 45 minutes had passed and it was time to go to the USA/Toronto Region presentation and party. The theme was a baseball game, complete with baseball hats made for the occasion, a baseball skit, hot dogs, and typical American songs. Lots of fun in one of the large rooms that were made available to us.

While Br. Frank Carr and I left the Central Commission meeting to go to the party, they kept on meeting in order to address a bunch of concerns that had been brought up about the new process that had been introduced for this Chapter. All of this will be covered tomorrow, during the General Session in the afternoon. It could go smoothly (unlikely), but also could get messy (quite likely). It all depends on how the assembly accepts the answers from the Central Commission on various procedural and definition items that have been brought up. Stay tuned.

The party was good. I would say that the Europeans were very impressive in what they did and that we were fine also. Our strength lay in the novelty of what we provided (hats, hot dogs, etc.) and in the energy that the American Brothers put into the effort. I can only imagine what the Latin Americans have planned for next Monday evening.

Later in the evening, I ended up talking with Br. Leonardo, a young Brother from Colombia who is stationed here at the Motherhouse as the Procurator General (the one who works with the Vatican). He is finishing his PhD in Canon Law, and we had a great conversation - only great in a sort of esoteric way - about his research in De La Salle juridical involvements prior to 1690. Great stuff, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

At one point, I took a picture with Br. Thomas Jones, one of the other Brothers here who is from my district. We're wearing those baseball caps with the 44th General Chapter logo on them, and if not for anything else, I'm sure that those who were at the party will remember their time because of those hats. Well, maybe they will also remember Br. Edmond Precourt singing "Hello Dolly" at the top of his voice.

Funny the things that you remember.

For more pictures, go to

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Day 4 of the Chapter

We just now ended the party sponsored by the European Brothers. It's 10:30 PM but I want to get this blog entry done. Now that I'm committed to it, I'll do my darndest to make sure that there's a daily entry. But after two beers from a trappist monastery in Belgium (boy, those guys know how to brew beer) I'm very ready for bed.

This has been a very good day, as far as I'm concerned. This morning's Mass was well-prepared in the CIL English chapel. The Brothers who attend meetings such as this are some of the best in lots of ways. That became immediately evident in how quickly and how deeply they jumped into invited responsibilities like planning a specific liturgy. This morning, Br. Fred Mueller did a great job, including a wonderful "reflection" on the readings. We're trying to get the Brothers to give the reflection on the readings instead of the celebrant (and it very much fine by him). The other "ministries" filled right in. (In the picture, Br. Michael French and Br. Ferdinand Boniface play instruments for the opening song.) In a nice twist, Br. Tim Coldwell, the one whom I asked to be the English Language Group Liaison, applied something that we learned from Eric Law to the need to get people to take responsbility for specific language group liturgies. He asked one person to do so, and then asked him to invite another person to do the next one (and the other person can "pass" if they so wish), and so on. Thereby all the slots are filled by direct invitation - a nice approach.

This morning's presentation on the reality of the Church in the world today was by Cardinal Carlo Martini, who must be about 80 years old but is still a stellar theologian in the Church. He was the Cardinal Archbishop of Turin and is currently in residence at Tantur, a scripture-study center near Jerusalem. He spoke to us for an hour about the contemporary world, the church in the world, and the potential role of education in today's post-modern world. Rarely have I heard anyone express as clearly the parameters of contemporary society plus articulate in very accessibled ways the kinds of solutions that the church, and the schools, can offer in the face of such a society. I was pretty much spell-bound during the entire hour. (His text should be online at pretty soon - the General Chapter link) At the end, he recommended that it will be through Lectio Divina (prayerful reading of Scripture), the promotion of silent times in the midst of the chaos of the world, retreats, and humility that the message of the Gospel will get through.

Gery Short and Roseann just walked in. They walked into the communication room and arrived just too late for the European Brothers' party. Pause to talk...

(As Brother George is taking a break now I am taking it from here. The truth is, he has been touring Rome and has not been around for the last few days. He is just making this stuff up, but we love him anyway. Gery Short)

Okay, I'm back. It's now 11:25 PM and I've got to finish this up; so just a few more things...

After Cardinal Martini's talk, there was time for small groups to process what was said and come up with some questions. Since yesterday we had used some of the icon Brothers here at the Motherhouse as the people who would synthesize the small-group questions, today we would ask the youngest Brothers to do so. During the 45-minute meeting and break, I looked around for the cardinal to ask him about vocation ministry in light of his comments. He was nowhere to be found. But about 25 minutes before he was due to come back to answer questions, I found out that he was in the "Cardinal's Suite" in the Motherhouse. Well, it took me 15 minutes to wind up the courage, but I softly knocked on his door and was surprised when he opened it and welcomed me in. Duiring the ten or so minutes prior to when he would go back to the Aula Magna for the question-and-answer session, I asked him about vocations in the Church and vocation ministry. He said two things that stayed with me. First, he said that the vocation situation in the church would not change until there was a radical change among four essential elements: men, women, power, and sacraments. Then he explained that the prevailing structure or system in the church regarding these four elements have key influences in how the Church operates and is perceived in the world. Once they start to shift, the nature of vocations in the Church will shift as well. When I asked him how someone involved in vocation ministry might best spend his / her time, he said that giving retreats to young people, helping them to appreciate and understand Scripture and to become comfortable with / appreciate the gifts of silence would go a long way in gradually developing the life of God in them. (This is my interprestation of what he said to me.) Earlier, in his talk, he has said that post-modernism might best be addressed through the promotion of four things: Lectio Divina, Living Joyously, Silence (at least two 30-minute periods a day and 1/2 a day each week), and Humility. I won't go into the details here, but the way he expressed all of that was very captivating to me.

On a side note, Br. Edgar (from Porto Alegre) was walking around with this strange contraption that I asked him about. It's a South American tea, where you have to keep adding hot water to the "tea stuff" on top. About 3 or 4 Brothers have these things in the Chapter Hall (what I've been calling the "Aula Magna"). I tried it out, and it wasn't too bad - pretty mild, actually. But it sure does look strange to see folks pouring hot water onto this herbal mound on top of a cup, sipping through a metal straw. All part of that multi-cultural thing, of course.

Lunch moved along as usual. It's interesting that for the last 4 - 5 days, when I've come into the dining room (usually late), there's no place left for me to sit. Between the Capitulants, translators, secretaries, and all the rest, all the places are taken. So now the guy-in-charge of the serving staff will see me coming and will know that I'd like him to add an extra place to one of the tables. Maybe they didn't count on the number of people that regularly show up.

This afternoon, I took a good nap for the first time in many days. While I slept for two hours, I missed one of the plenary session (reporting from the groups). But I had given all the group leaders suggestions for their group prayer and they were all set to go - so I was safe, I think. When I showed up for dinner, everything seemed fine.

We finalized the kind of prayer that we would have during tomorrow's presentation by Br. Superior and his Council, but I confirmed it at the evening's (20:15) meeting of the Central Commission. Within the Aula Magna, Michael French will lead the group when they re-assemble after lunch at 15:00 with one of his energizing songs / activities. Then, at two moments during the four (!) hours of presentations, Ferdinand will lead the group in a couple of Bayans from India (prayerful chants). At the end, I will lead a 10-minute reflection period, within the Aula Magna, with some Taize chant at the beginning and at the end, and with some guitar music done by one of the Spanish Brothers in the middle. We'll see how it goes. By that time, I think that the Brothers will be ready for something quiet.

After dinner, there was the meeting of the Central Commission, followed by the presentation from the European Brothers. Boy, they were a lively group! Not only did they share their food and drink (I didn't recognize half the bottles on the table, and most of the food), but they also sang up a storm. A couple of musicians (postulants?) played excellent keyboards and guitar in the background. Both the French Brothers and the Italian Brothers were the most lively ones. Pretty soon, the whole group was singing Verdi arias at the top of their voices. I would say that the French had the reserved passion, the Spanish had the open passion, and the Italian just sang their hearts out. Lots of fun for everyone.

And, of course, when Gery and Roseann showed up, just after the end of the party, it was a great end to a fine day. Evelynn from Paris (a Lasallian educator who will make the presentation with Gery and Br. Fred Mueller on Saturday regarding the Assembly on Mission) was with them, and we had some good conversation in the communications room where they ended up after the party. Since they're staying through the weekend, they will be able to join us for the big dinner that was announced today at one of the local Lasallian schools in Rome on Saturday evening. I'm planning to go to it; it should be terrific.

Too much stuff, I know. But I think that I covered most of it. Good night.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Day 3 of the Chapter

There are three "blocks" of housing on the Motherhouse grounds. The "A" block is the main building where the offices are and where the main communities reside. The "B" block is the "La Salle Hotel" which functions fully as a hotel, offering fine accommodations for a very reasonable price, with breakfast thrown in. And the "C" block is the block for Lasallian Studies, which is usually filled with Brothers or other Lasallian groups involved with programs of study or reflection that last anywhere from a week to five or six months or more. My room is on the top floor of the "C" block. The whole place was converted some time ago, and they tried to make as much room as possible. So I believe that I have a converted bathroom, taking a clue from the windows. (Subsequent questions confirmed it.) The living space is about six feet wide by 10 feet long. It's a bit crampled, but as they say, "All rooms are the same once the lights go out."

The only cause for concern is the rather generously sized bathroom (about 40 % of the whole room). Well, not so much the bathroom, but rather the shower. I'm not complaining, of course, but it seems that the water-pressure on this block is extremely sensitive to the vagaries of use by the other 65 occupants of the block. And being on the top floor isn't any help. When I take a shower in the morning in a shower that's like a circle quadrant, not only is there limited maneuverability (I won't get into details) but there is a sort of water-dance that you do, depending on who else happens to be turning faucets on and off, who's flushing a toilet, and all the rest. Both the water pressure and the temperature of the water changes quickly and radically. One minute things are fine, then it becomes a warm trickle (literally a trickle) untill suddenly a burst of cold water shoots out before you have a chance to jump out of there way (and where could you jump?). Then you're fumbling blindly with a jock-stick sort of faucet, trying to get find a temperature a little more bearable, and three seconds later the whole thing starts again. I'm seriously considering sponge-baths.

Enough about domestic matters. This morning we had our first English language Mass in the CIL Chapel. It was very nice - a more intimate group speaking in a language we all knew, some nice songs, a good presider, all the elements were there. (Sorry that some of the pictures are fuzzy - I try not to use the flash.) I did have to scramble between the main chapel sacristy, guarded by the presence of Vincenzo, and the CIL sacristy in order to get things in place (I had also been assigned as sacristan for the English language group) and make sure everything was ready. But it's fine and I'm happy to do it. This is where we will have all of our language group Masses. Later in the morning, I found out that the Spanish group was not as happy with the teacher from a nearby Spanish seminary who said their Mass. We'll have to see what can be done about that. There must be a few priests around here somewhere.

The main speaker for the day was Mrs. Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland (some years ago) who served as High Commissioner for Human Rights for the U.N. and is now involved in all sorts of world groups and affairs. She gave a good overview of where the world is situated in terms of human rights, education, the political sphere, etc. She made some very good points and didn't hesitate to take some jabs at the United States, where she currently lives and which she fully appreciates. For example, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by every single nation in the world except of two - Somalia (where there is no government to speak of who could ratify it) and the United States (because a couple of details - like not being able to execute criminals under eighteen years of age). Education and fostering a culture of human rights is a big part of the answer, she told us. And we could do alot by simply advocating for the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights as we approach the 60th anniversary (next year on December 10th, I believe) of its genesis after World War II.

After her talk, the members of the Chapter were invited to break up into ad hoc talking groups and come up with some questions for President Robinson, which would be collected, collated, and then presented at the next session. She subsequently spoke for another hour, answering those questions along with others from the floor.

In the early afternoon, I had a meeting with the Liturgy Commission, where we addressed some of the upcoming events on the calendar (the Discernment Week next week; the Friday prayer during the Superior's presentation, etc.) and looked as logistic concerns (e.g., how to facilitate prayer in the small groups; solution... I'm preparing a prayer structure guide that group leaders could use with the Liturgy Resource book).

During the afternoon there were small-group meetings, according to language, where they addressed a series of questions on the topic of the reality in the world today. Later in the afternoon we all came back and there were reports from each of the language groups, which had collated the small-group responses into single reports.

By that time we were ready to stop and get ready for supper. At the meal, I sat at a table with John Johnston (who's here for a week of the chapter before returning to Memphis to address his serious medical concerns) and his good friend Claudio, whom he'd met in 1971 here in Rome. Claudio has been a member of the Sant'Egidio community in Rome since his student days and has dedicated his life to them and their mission. He was a fascinating conversationalist and an example what a dedicated Catholic can do with his life. He and his wife live in Trestavere, where the community's main church is located. They are all lay people who study the gospel, do service, and pray once a day together in a single location. Their influence is now worldwide, and they are called in to serve as mediators for various governmental crises throughout the world.

After dinner it was back to work for a while, with a meeting of the Central Commission (which today I was asked to attend daily) at 20:30 followed by a visit to a presentation / party by the Pacific Asia Region, with singing, slide shows and even some dancing. Finally back to the office to do this blog and then I'll go to bed too.

Here I thought things would lighten up a bit. But it looks as if starting at 7:00 AM for Mass (which means getting up at at least 6, of course) and attending a nightly meeting at 8:30 PM will become my new pattern. Then there are the prayers in between to prepare for. I'll save that information for later. That's it for now. I'm a bit tired.

And there's that shower tomorrow to think about.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Day 2 of the Chapter

Here it is the second day and already it seems as if we've been at it for a week. Thankfully, last night I slept like a log until my alarm woke me at 7:00 AM, and then I scrambled to get ready for the first session, which started at 8:30 AM with the Liturgy of the Word. We had as our guest today, Rev. Eric Law, an Episcopal priest whose expertise is in the area of cultural diversity. He had suggested that we shape the whole day as a Liturgy, and so we would start with the Liturgy of the Word in the large Chapter Hall.

I ran around getting last-minute readers and people to read the psalms (in different languages), also finding out that Eric Law had shaped his comments around the readings of the day, instead of the Feast of St. Joseph - this was an option for today and one that we, as Brothers, would have chosen since St. Joseph is the Patron of the Institute. (Are we starting a theme here of ending up with the "wrong" readings for our Masses?)

Before I knew it, 120 people were in the hall, the place was called to order, and we were off. The Liturgy of the Word went fine.... We started out with a sung version of "Let us remember..." in three languages and went right into the readings, singing the responsorial psalm (Taize - Ubi Caritas) and singing the Alleluia (tune of "Seek Ye First"). The "homily" would be the rest of the day. Eric Law did four 0ne-hour presentations, interspersed with small group discussions. He was okay, but most of the information was fairly straightforward, and the material not as engaging as I had hoped. The Brothers likely enjoyed the small-group sessions more.

The Secretariat staff, and Br. Lorenzo (on the right in the picture, talking with his sister, whom he invited from Mexico to be an assistant secretary), have been putting in lots of hours in order to make sure that things run smoothly. They've set up office space right outside of the room where the four communications people (and myself) are located, and they seem to be busy about many things. Lorenzo maintains a calm in spite of all the demands and impresses me with his efficiency, generosity, and fraternal spirit. I guess that's why he's the Secretary General.

When we finally finished with the presentations at 6:30 PM (I'm falling back into Western time measurements, I know), we adjourned to the Main Chapel where we went right into the Offertory and the rest of the Mass. This time, it was considerably shorter than last evening. During the doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, my Indian compatriot, Br. Fernando, had organized an Indian devotional segment. It lasted maybe 4 minutes - while Father Dennis held up the body and blood of Christ, three Brothers walked out, knelt down, and offered fire, incense, and flowers, as Fernando sang prayerful Indian phrases (Blessings to you; We offer you...) to the accompaniment of a guitar. It was all very new, but also quite impressive, to most of the people there. And good old Br. Vincenzo again served the Mass and helped to give out communion. He knows some French and lots of Italian. Somehow, we seem to communicate with gestures, facial expressions, and smatterings of English, French, Italian, and God-knows-what.

After dinner, a couple of Brothers told me that we needed to provide more language variety - so far, both Masses had been in English, and tomorrow the talk would be in English, and my instructions have been in English. If we keep it up, there's sure to be some sort of negative reaction by the other language groups. Although we didn't have much choice regarding the celebrants - and the 35-minute homily by Archbishop Miller didn't help - I will make a conscious effort to diversify the languages from now on. Starting tomorrow, Masses will be held in language groups until May 15th, the Feast of the Founder, which will be celebrated in French. So we should be good until then.

Fernando and I also gathered up the Liturgical Resource books and the Magnificat volumes from the Main Chapel and the Chapter Hall in order to distribute them among the various prayer spaces for the three language groups. Already, the number of liturgy resource books has been reduced by people "borrowing" them for different purposes. We'll see how long it will be before we run out of enough copies.

During one of the breaks, I ran across the street to get something from the grocery store, only to find out that the place was closed, along with every other store. Apparently today was Labor Day in Italy, and so they took both Monday and Tuesday off. And Thursday will be another holiday (which, of course, must mean that Friday is free also). So I think that Wednesday will be the only day in Italy when anything is open for shopping. What a country! I'm not being critical here; just bemused.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The First Day of the Chapter

Okay. This has been a very interesting day. It was the first day of the General Chapter, and lots of things happened. It was probably providential that I awoke at 2:58 AM, with all kinds of thoughts running through my mind. After an hour of just laying there, I decided to simply write down all the things I was thinking about (most things to do) and see if that worked. Around 4:30 AM or so I fell asleep again and got up around 7 to get ready for the day.

The first major thing was the Opening Ceremony at 9:30 AM. The night before, Ferdinand (by liturgical committee partner) went outside on the front steps to make an Indian symbol with sand - one that would insure that only good things would pass that way. He and a couple of sympatico Brotehrs worked on that into the night. The next morning, even though it was cloudy, the design remained and was a fine multi-cultural element in the opening ceremony.

The closer it got to 9:30 AM, the more things I discovered that needed to be done (move the books to the foyer, get the new "staff" to its right place, arrange the sanctuary for the choir, etc.). At the same time, I had to make sure that the workers' cars that were parked in front of De La Salle's statue (where the French group would meet) were changed, that Br. Rodolfo knew about the last-minutes changes to the music plans, and that the Superior General knew that we had made a couple adjustments to the plans.

But 9:30 AM arrived, and the language groups went to their area to "journey" in reflection to the front of the Motherhouse, where they ascended the steps and were individually greeted by Br. Alvara, after which they received the Indian sign of welcome (sandalwood paste on the forehead, along with being sprinkled with rose water). The group gathered in silence in the foyer. After all had arrived, Br. Alvaro took the staff made for the 44th General Chapter, raised it up high, and then turned to lead all into the Chapel, singing Laudate Gente Omnes from Taize.
Within the chapel, we had a series of readings, songs, and reflections, ending up with a rousing version of "Honneur a Toi" in honor of the Founder. Then there was the first meeting in the Aula Magna - the large room in the Motherhouse built just for occasions such as this (and rented out to other religious congregations for the same purpose). The meeting lasted until past noon.

In the afternoon, the Superior did his official welcome, and others made various speeches. This was one of the few formal occasions of the Chapter, so you can see from the picture that everyone was dressed quite formally. This session lasted about two hours. At the end of it, we had a bit of time before the opening liturgy. I ran around making sure that servers, the set up, the ministers of the cup, the lights and microphones and so on were all ready for the liturgy. Br. Lorenzo, the elderly Italian Brother in charge of the sacristy, was quite helpful despite the fact that he did not know any English. Through gestures, smiles, hand gestures, and grabbing me by the arm to show me something, we managed to communicate enough to set things up correctly.

The fun began when Archbishop Michael Miller showed up. Since this was the weekend of a holiday, traffic had been light from the Vatican, so he was there about 45 minutes ahead of time Folks were scrambling to make sure that he wasn't left alone in the room that would used for him to get ready. I got there soon after, and had a very nice conversation with him. He's a Basilian priest on the fast track at the Vatican, obviously very smart, and quite charismatic as a personality. When I showed him our program, however, he immediately saw that he had prepared his homily based on different readings. Big problem!

After talking about it for a bit, I decided that it would be best to simply change the readings. So I had about 15 minutes to go to the computer, find online the NT texts that he was using, in Spanish, and get them to the Spanish reader. (Of course, my computer and the printer decided to have problems just then, so I had to go to another Brother and unceremoniously kick him out of his computer station in order to get the job done.) Then there was a bit of running around and looking for the reader in the church, etc. It was determined that two of readings in the program would be changed. And so we had to change the lectionary, find the readers, and generally get a little hot and bothered just 5 - 10 minutes prior to the start of the Opening Mass. When we did get to 6:30 PM, I was sliding into the choir area in the front of the chapel, the bishop and the procession were starting to come down the aisle, and the Brothers were bemused at the fact that the music had not started. Soon, however, Br. Rodolfo kicked in and we sang the first song. (I'd have pictures of this, but my mind was on other things.) When the Kyrie happened, I was searching through my binder for the right music, finding it just in time. Then for the responsorial psalm, I again had to go to my backup binder to find it. Anyway, the whole Mass was a combination of little changes and last-minute adaptations. Nevertheless, it went along pretty well, and the Brothers seemed to appreciate it. When it came time for the closing song, I nodded to the organist and he started on the postlude (?). The bishop gave me a quizzical look, I nodded to him with a gesture to start processing out, and like a good trooper he did, looking at dignified as I'm he always does in situations such as this. All in all, the Mass lasted 90 minutes (a long 25-minute homily and a 15-minute ceremony of accepting the credentials of the Capitulants).

You can imagine that at the end of all this I was a bit tired. However, dinner was a great affair, with the Brothers in fine spirits. I sat next to Aad van Bentem, the Visitor of Holland, and we had a great conversation about Holland, with him speaking Dutch most of the time and me switching back between Dutch and English, depending on the topic and the difficulty of the ideasw that I was trying to express.

This wasn't all. Towards the end of dinner, a huge cake with the seal of the 44th General Chapter was brought out, and we sang "Happy Birthday" to one of the young Brothers. Afterwards, there was a meeting of Central Committee at which lots of issues were raise - some liked the liturgies, others thought that we sang too much, etc. (the usual liturgical suspects).

Now it 11:30 PM and I'm ready to turn in. Tomorrow morning we will have an all-day Mass as part of the presentation on multi-culturalizm. I'll provide the details later.

Conclusion. Lots of work, lots of activities, lots of surprises, lots of worries, lots of interesting things. I'm glad it happened and I'm glad it's behind me.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Rush to Complete

Today the Brothers from around the world arrived at the Motherhouse. Some had been here before, some had not. There were lots of greetings among old friends - in the hallways, in the dining room, in the garden paths - and there were at least also as many introductions to new friends.

By 6 AM this morning I couldn't sleep anymore, as thoughts of all that had to be done today flashed through my head. So the best thing was just to get up and get going. A couple of documents still had to be prepared on the computer, there were Masses at 7:30 AM (for the community), 10:00 AM (for the school - another confirmation with crowds of parents, kids, and hand-waving Brothers keeping them all organized), and at 6:30 PM Mass (for the Brothers who arrived later in the day, and a Mass that I was responsible for), plus there was a practice with Br. Rodolfo for the festivities tomorrow, a meeting of the full Liturgy Committee to finalize opening-day plans and see what could be done about the request for a 25-minute prayer next Friday, a choir practice at 4 PM, and the evening Mass itself. So here are only some highlights.

This is a picture of the "tent" entrance into the chapel. It's larger than shown here, but the effect is quite nice. The parents and kids at the Confirmation Mass seemed to like it, with some parents posing their kids beneath it for pictures. All in all, it was worth the effort. We'll see what the Brothers think.

The practice with Rodolfo went well. He's a fine organist who is able to play an accompaniment simply from the melody line. That makes things much easier for me, because it means that I don't have to find the music for anything that folks might want to sing at a future service.

I stopped by the confirmation, just to see what the place looked and sounded like when it was full. It was a typical Italian festive event. The Brother in charge was talking loudly into the microphone, trying to get people to sit down, settle down, and get serious. They just kept visiting one another, going outside for a cigarette, and keeping an eye on the entrance just in case the bishop actually was there. It was only when the Brother announced the beginning of the Mass that people really settled down quite quickly. Then, here came the modern procession - first the photographers getting pictures from every angle; then the videographers trying to get the dramatic movement shots, then the 20 or so kids being confirmed, and then the bemused Italian bishop appearing quite at home and content at the end of this entourage, accompanied by someone in what looked like academic dress. Maybe they were throwing in a graduation for good measure.

The Liturgy committee meeting at noon was very helpful to me. All of the Brothers whom I had asked to attend did so, and they were on time. I suppose that it's a characteristic of these particular Brothers, ones who are used to meetings, to know that showing up on time is as important as showing up at all. We worked out the mechanics for the opening ceremonty and went over some new details regarding the opening Mass. Regarding next Friday's prayer service request, we decided that we would counter-propose a shorter, simpler prayer that either began the session or that would be spread throughout the 3-hour session. We will address specifics about it on Wednesday. In the picture here are Br. Tim Coldwell, the Secretary for Formation at the Motherhouse and the English language liturgical liaison, and Br. Paulo Petry from Brazil, the Visitor, who is the Spanish language liaison for the committee. He took up my guitar and played around with it for a bit; with some success. I may tap into him later.

The afternoon included a number of preparations for the choir rehearsal in the Main Chapel - setting up chairs, bringing in an electronic keyboard, hunting for an extension chord and a plug (finally found one when I crawled right under the the shelf that holds the relics of the Founder), putting together the music sheets, and so on. I was happy to see that almost 20 Brothers showed up, and for the next hour we had a fine practice. In fact we sounded so good that afterwards I made up a new instruction sheet for Br. Rodolfo, telling him that we would not be using the organ for some of the musical selections, since the choir sounded so good and would lead the singing.

Soon afterwards it was time to prepare for the evening Mass in the JPII Chapel. When 6:30 PM arrived, it looked like we had just enough chairs there (about 70). But then the late-comers started drifting in ... first 5, then 10, then 20. Soon we were dragging in chairs from all over the place. When we finally settled down, there must have been 90 - 100 Brothers in the room. It was a bit cozy. The Mass was in Italian and the readings were in Spanish and French. The music was in Italian, Greek, and English. Welcome to Rome. But everything went off well, I think, considering what it could have been like if we had not had that morning Mass also.

The dinner afterwards was another fine affair, with lots of greetings and introductions all around. At times you could hardly hear yourself talk. But the energy in the room was great.

Tomorrow will be the bear of a day. But I think that we're as ready as we can be. Now to bed and see if I can put all this out of my mind for a couple of hours.