Sunday, May 22, 2022

May 22, 2022 - General Chapter 46

The end is near! While the business of the 46th General Chapter has finished, the official close only happened today, following an hour of photos in front of the Casa Generalizia and a two-hour session in the Aula Magna that provided an opportunity of Br. Armin to share his thoughts and the Capitulants to share their appreciation and thanks.

The morning prayer was held as usual at 7:00 am. It was simple and reflective. We have been so active over the last three weeks that being together in silence was now both familiar and welcome. I lingered a little behind the rest at the end, knowing that the elusive bananas would be gone by the time I arrived to the dining hall. But those things were much less important than the building sense of accomplishment and fraternity.

Brothers start to gather at the main entrance.

At about 8:45 am, I made my way to the main entrance where Brothers and others had begun to gather, because photos were to be taken at 9:00 am. When I got there, about 15 people in the group began to walk out of the front door. They were all casually dressed, and I wondered if I'd read the wrong memo. But then I found out that they were on their way to a scheduled appointment at a nearby pharmacy that was open on Sundays, getting their fast COVID test and certificate so that they could travel tomorrow. Our scheduled photo period would have to accommodate itself, like most things in today's world, to the requirements of the pandemic.

The new Superior General with his predecessors.

Groups took their turn on the steps.

Others waited for their turn.

Or stood around talking to one another.

Between 9 and 10 am, there were a series of photos among different groups and different individuals. Phones made photographers of us all. While the Communcations team took its planned photos of Regional, District, or Chapter service groups, others did so as well on a more ad hoc basis. It was a time of relaxed fraternity despite the fact that some groups would have to wait for others from the COVID test group to return. Just before our formal on-the-steps photo of the entire group was taken, we made a circle and followed instructions as a 360-degree camera in the middle recorded a "wave" of arms and hands that went around for several revolutions. Finally, we gathered for the large group photo, along with another flying drone wave, and then it was off to the Aula Magna for our last session.

The session started with Br. Jorge describing how we would hear from Br. Armin, after which the Brothers would be able to provide expressions of support and encouragement. Then there will be some business to consider, which should not take long, followed by the signatures of the voting delegates which validate their work and their agreement to the implementation of the Chapter's decisions.

But before we started that process, Br. Rodolfo would explain the ways in which we might obtain photos from the Vatican Media office from our audience with Pope Francis. Suddenly people paid a little more attention. They stopped furtively checking their email, confirming their flights, or exploring possible places to visit in Rome or elsewhere. This was important stuff to listen to. 

Checking out the proofs.

There were two ways to get photos; one was online and one was through a process that he would facilitate. All the hundreds of photos that had been taken during our thirty-minute audience were available to be looked at in two binders that would be left in the John Paul II room, along with order forms and samples of photo sizes. Just fill in the order form with the appropriate information and leave it in the provided box. Br. Rodolfo would make sure that the photos were mailed in bulk to each District, and their cost deducted from the the District's account at the Motherhouse. The same was true for digital versions - which were a Euro more costly than the largest print size.

There were many photos taken during the audience.

Vatican Media had an efficient system and a good money-maker here. All during the afternoon, there were Brothers in there - including me - who flipped through the pages and squinted at the small sample images and decided which to order and in which format. As expected, the small versions were too small to duplicate via a close-up shot with your phone camera. There were even some large versions of the photo of the entire group with the pope, as samples. I hope that my phone-camera capture of one of these below, taken in the afternoon, does not lead to my arrest by the Vatican police or a perpetual ban on entering St. Peter's.

The photographer held the camera over his head for this one.

After all these explanations were done, Br. Armin came to the front dais to share his thoughts with the assembled delegates. He started by reading the story of the deaf man healed by Jesus (Mark 7: 31-34), which ends with "he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Ephphatha'! (that is, 'Be opened!')" 

Br. Armin at the start of his talk.

Br. Armin followed this with, "Friends, open up! Those last words of the chapter are also for us. A world renewed begins with ourselves, and the very first step is to open up. It’s an invitation given to every man, not just the deaf man, with a groan. ... Open up - our disillusions, our fears, our hurts - that’s what the Lord is asking of us as we begin this journey." I trust that this presentation will be made available to the larger Lasallian family, because it was well delivered and well received. Below are just a few highlights:

  • He mentioned the gallery of Superior Generals that were displayed around the Aula Magna, with no more room for others, except perhaps over the place where the clock hung. "Maybe the era of the gallery of Superior Generals is over, and maybe we have to see things from a different light. Maybe when we look at pictures of gatherings of Lasallians, we don't always have to assume that those who hold responsibilities, not necessarilly power, are in the middle of a photo. And maybe we need to train ourselves to look at things in a new way."
  • "Opening up also invites us to open our ears, and most especially our hearts, to the groans of people who we may not even recognize or spend time with." His example was seeing one of the refugee families he saw on the grounds of the Casa Generalizia. (We provide the two small apartments flanking the main gate to the Sant'Egidio community to use for transitional refugee families that they help.) He tried to speak with one of the children, who ran away the first few times but eventually was approached and said that his name was Khalifa.
  • He spoke of having been distracted, almost depressed, by the happenings in the Philippines, and he thought, "Where does one lodge hope when everything around us seems to have been given up?" The power of money, politics, etc. make it very difficult, if not impossible, for men and women of goodwill to make any changes in our world. But that is invitation of the Gospel today. Open up.
  • The pandemic brought about a fear and fragility that made us feel threatened, and our general response was to hide from the world, to close our doors and protect ourselves. "But that's not the call of the Chapter. The call of this Chapter is to unlock doors."
  • Br. Armin then quoted from the English translation of the recent critical biography of De La Salle by Bernard Hours. (I had given him one of the first 10 copies printed by SMP for the Region. It will be released very soon on the RELAN website.) "It is evident that Jean Baptiste set forth on a new path at the end of 1679. It was a disruption that brought about a conversion in his life. It gradually opened up before him a new path and would lead to decisive breaks with his prior life." He then read a statement by De La Salle's nephew's biography of him, Dom Maillefer, that was in the book. "Since they were reduced by their state to the most modest of means, and since they had no funds, they were at times plagued by doubts. They imagined their distress if they were to lose M. de La Salle. Fanciful thoughts and fears formed in their minds, causing them to slip into weariness and discouragement. M. de La Salle soon realized this, and when he set about to learn the reason, they told him candidly that they saw nothing firm or stable in their situation, that the least misfortune could destroy all his projects, and that they were unhappy at the prospect of sacrificing their youth in service to the public, with no assurance of being cared for after their work was done."
  • Br. Armin then said, "Sisters and Brothers, what we are experiencing even today is not new to our Institute. It was at the very heart, the Founder's own journey. But that key experience was also the yeast, the salt, the light that gave birth to one family in the Church. (The reference to yeast, salt, and light echo the words of Pope Francis to us yesterday.) I suppose that that's what we are called to do; to look at this mystery of God's reign in the light of the groanings that we hear within."
The rest of the talk took the Gospel story of the apostles fishing all night long, catching nothing, and being told the next morning to throw their nets on the other side. (John 21:1-6) Br. Armin said, referring to our audience with Pope Francis, that he had "asked us to throw our nets again into the other side. ... That is the invitation of the Chapter to us." When available (I hope), the entire talk is worth reading, reflecting on, and talking about with others in our community and Lasallian family.

Time was then given for those in the Chapter hall to respond with words of advice, support, and encouragement. There was a rather long pause during which people were thinking of what they might want to say, but once the responses began, they kept coming. In the end, there were 30 individuals who spoke, each expressing their appreciation to both the past central government and to the incoming one. A small sampling of the thoughts expressed:

  • Thank you for these hopeful words. Our tendency is to think of our survival, but we must leave such notions behind.
  • You touched us and encouraged not only us, but also our communities, Districts, and Regions.
  • I wish you every success and am reminded of an incident when my sister asked me how I was doing. "Just going with the flow," I told her. She responded, "Dead fish go with the flow!"
  • I was reminded of the Founder's advice when he was dying, telling the Brother to stay united in community. Indivisa Manent.
  • At a time when people are closing borders, when mistrust and defiance seem to be reigning, it's striking to listen to someone who calls us to open ourselves; to allow ourselves to be touched by others. When we accept our vulnerability, we enter the great adventure of the path of resilience, faith, hope, and charity.
  • I have been to four chapters, and I think that this one is the most hopeful. We must share the best of who we are and of what we can do.
  • We will think of you as our Brother before we think of you as Superior General.
  • Please take the General Council room to the peripheries for your meetings so that you can smell the sheep.
The official signatures attesting to the
credibility of the Chapter's documents.

These respondes ended at 11:50 am. Then Br. Antxon made some announcements about trips to the airport - the first one leaving tomorrow morning at 4:15 am. After this, Br. Jorge introduced several organizational efficiency proposals. One would allow the General Council to review and revise any minutes of our meetings that have not yet been approved. The other asked the General Council to create a drafting team which would put together all the final documents of the Chapter. Both of these passed quickly.

Finally, a few minutes before noon, Br. Armin, as President of the Chapter, was invited to close our gathering, and he did so with the words, "Partners and Brothers, I am very happy to make this last announcement and to close this fraternal and hopeful 46th General Chapter. Thank you very much!"

The 46th General Chapter comes to an end.

In the afternoon, people went for a walk or simply rested or packed up for their travels tomorrow. At some point, most of them went into the John Paul II room to review the photos and place their orders. These would be one fine memory of their time in Rome, although I think that the best memories will be of the fraternity and accomplishments of these last three weeks.

A blessing by the former General Council
to the members of the new General Council

At the Mass that evening, the cardinal scheduled to be there was not able to show up. And so our house chaplain, Fr. Adriano, was the main celebrant and provided a short, insightful, sincere homily in English. The Mass had all the major languages included, both in song and prayer. For the Prayers of Intercession, Brothers spoke their petition in eight different languages. And at the end of Mass, the former General Council and the new General Council were invited up to the sanctuary, where a blessing was prayed while each former Councilor (or Superior General or Vicar General) stood behind his successor and placed his hand on the new person's shoulder. This was a nice surprise. Afterwards, they were all given small wooden cross with strings to hang around the necks of those at the Mass, which they proceeded to do throughout the church before the final blessing. A nice touch.

The small crosses are blessed and distributed.

After the Mass, there was a social outside of the dining room, a very nice dinner, and a social afterwards that had been set up in the community dining room. Some time later, many folks ended up in the Den for several hours of further conversation - in multiple languages - as the Chapter came to its true ending.

The closing dinner in the dining hall - Sala 2.

It has been a privilege to have been part of this 46th General Chapter, and it has been a pleasure, if a bit ardous, to have been able to document it for others during these past three weeks. As someone who is responsible for the retention of history at the Casa Generalizia, this was done partially out of duty, habit (since I'd done the same back in 2007), and the knowledge that others might participate virtually through these observations. It is hoped that the years ahead will actualize the commitments we have made here, and the new central government will be supported in its efforts to release the hope of Lasallians and the substance of the Lasallian mission in ways yet unknown.

A closing social in the Den - much appreciated by all.

Check back in 2029 to see how we did. Better yet, get engaged and light the spark that can make the difference. I'll end with the Lasallian prayer that Br. Armin used at the start of his talk. It was written in the Philippines and has justifiably grown in popularity. The sentiments it contains are my own, and I hope that they may be yours.

This seems to be a good photo to summarize our Chapter.

One La Salle Prayer

Let me be the change I want to see
To do with strength and wisdom 
All that needs to be done..
And become the hope that I can be.

Set me free from my fears and hesitations
Grant me courage and humility
Fill me with spirit to face the challenge
And start the change I long to see.

Today I start the change I want to see.
Even if I’m not the light
I can be the spark
In faith, service, and communion.
Let us start the change we want to see.
The change that begins in me.

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

May 21, 2022 - General Chapter 46

FAIR WARNING: This is a long one, and should be.

Yesterday's activities carried a theme of thanksgiving and completion, with many delegates merely thankful that by some miracle - here I recall the Br. Rodolfo effect - we were able to complete our work within the planned time period. In most contexts, Brothers would now be packing up and singing "leaving on a jet plane; don't know when I'll be back again." But this is Rome, and the Vatican's cupola may be seen from the roof of the Casa Generalizia.

Through well-established Church channels, arrangements were made for the members of the General Chapter to have a private papal audience in the Apostolic Palace at Vatican city. Today was all about that visit and experience, and no other activities were planned for, except for an evening 6:45 pm prayer service. The arrangement was for 100 places, and therefore some others from the Casa Generalizia were able to come as well.

On the bus with Brs. Michael, Ghebre, and David.

The two buses were waiting for us in front of the house by 8:30 am, and at 8:45 am we drove away toward the Vatican. I am constantly amazed by the drivers of these giant buses who are able to negotiate the smallest gaps between cars and streets with apparent ease. We ended up in an underground designated bus garage that I had never known existed, a vast space right next to the Vatican but entirely underground. When we emerged, we were a short block away from Saint Peter's square, and we made our way to the middle of the square because Br. Alexander from the Communications Office wanted us to take a group photo there.

The whole group gathered in front of the Basilica.

It took some organizing, but soon the entire group assembled itself into a large group with Saint Peter's as our background. Perhaps the efficiency of doing so is because most of us had done this with student groups for years. As he was taking the photos, many tourists in the area came over and did the same thing, impressed with the large group of religious. And at the last minute, he handed the camera to a nearby tourist and ran over himself to get into the photo, with the rest of us cheering him and the instant volunteer.

Waiting to enter into the Apostolic Palace

There was a very long line of visitors waiting to go through the metal detectors, but we were shepherded to a section behind the columns where eventually we all went through one of the detectors, dutifully emptying our pockets of metal that was sent to the scanner and walking through the detector. Many Brothers set off the sensitive alarms as they walked through but were waved through anyway. 

Starting up the stairs

And more stairs.

When everyone had made it through - this took some time - we went into Saint Peter's through the great doors on the right side of the square, escorted by a Swiss guard who took us up many stairs. He walked quite slowly, and I soon figured out why. There must have been about 200 steps that climbed up, each set a little more slowly than the last. They were wide and we were crowded together, but we all came to realize that this was a very large place.

Br. Antxon negotiates.

When we arrived at an ornate hall at the end of the last set of steps, we were stopped and had to wait until Br. Antxon arrived from the back of the crowd to speak with the usher (?) about previously made arrangements. Some Brothers, including the new and former Superior Generals, had come to the Vatican with Br. Rodolfo and had already been escorted in by some other means; he does have his connections. But this hall, it turned out, would not be the location of our papal audience. When we were let in, we were led through a few other rooms and finally came to a very ornate smaller corner room with large windows and very impressive decorations. It is called the Sala del Concistoro. Look it up. It has a long history and is used for major gatherings of cardinals, bishops, and other groups.

Walking to the audience hall through several other rooms.

As planned and announced yesterday, the former and new General Council members would sit in the first two rows, and the next two rows on the left side would be occupied by the "choir", those of us who volunteered to lead the rest in singing "Honneur a Toi" at the very start. The others in our group spread out as they wished. We had been told that no photographs were to be taken by our phones during the papal audience, although we could do so from our places beforehand.

Br. Antxon provides detailed instructions.

Having arrived in the hall at 9:45 am, we now waited until 10:15 am, the scheduled time for the visit. The Brothers talked among themselves, photographed the walls and ceiling and each other, or simply quietly contemplated the room and the upcoming event. The feeling in the room was like the semi-anxious expectation during the election of the Superior General in the Aula Magna, but with the added elements of quiet excitement and awe to be able to be with Pope Francis.

Here is a man who is probably the most photographed person in the world today, and the leader of over a billion Catholics. Yet not only would we be in the same room with him, but it was announced that he would greet each one of us at the end, and those wearing masks could take them off as we came forward. 

Waiting a little longer than we had anticipated.

When 10:15 came and went, and 10:30 came and went, we began to wonder what was happening, since usually the efficiency of these visits is impressive. At one point, someone who like the master of ceremonies, complete with tux and medallion chain - probably an ancestral position of Roman nobility - came in and spoke with those in front. It was announced that he was running late because there were two other groups that he was speaking with (and probably greeting personally). As a result, we would now NOT sing the Honneur a Toi, and the visit would consist of Br. Armin's speech, the Pope's talk, and the greeting with each person.

A panorama photo of the room.

There was a tripod with a video camera set up in the front corner. When a well-dressed man came in and began activating it - everyone here is either dressed very formally (Master of Ceremonies), formally (videographer and photographers), or uniquely formal (Swiss guards and the pope) - we knew that something was afoot. Then a couple of folks popped their heads in to look around. This was followed by two photographers loaded with sets of cameras and other gear that would be the envy of any SWAT team. Now we knew that that our wait was over. The doors closed ... quiet, somewhat tense anticipation ... briefly opened slightly ... and then were opened. Some 3-5 seconds later, Pope Francis was brought into the hall in his wheelchair, quickly followed by two bishops or archbishops (I'm not enough of a Catholic trivia fan to be able to tell from their outfits). Pope Francis was placed in the middle, and the two bishops sat on either side.

Pope Francis enters the room.

When he came in, he gestured to us and smiled, then settled into a relaxed pose. I was struck by the fact that he looked serene but also smaller than I'd anticipated, distinctly frail and older. We had stood and applauded when he came in, and after he was placed in front, the ushers gestured to us to sit down again. Br. Armin walked over to the microphone and read a short speech that is no doubt posted on the Institute's website. It was informative and personable. The pope smiled and brightened up when Br. Armin reminded him of his visit to the Philippines and the shouts of "Vivo Lolo Kiko!" that greeted him everywhere. As instructed earlier, the talk was not more than a page, but it was rich in imagery and well crafted. Afterwards, he walked over to the pope and warmly shook his hand.

Br. Armin greets the pope after his short speech to him.

Then it was the pope's turn. The bishop on his left had been carrying a formal, large, red fuzzy folder which he now opened. He brought out about five pages with large print, handed them to the pope, then quickly turned around to bring a portable microphone stand forward and adjust it for him. Pope Francis then delivered what turned out to be a very good, encouraging, and inspiring talk in his usual style. Once he went off-text to extend part of his message, looking directly at us and wagging his finger in a style that all of us are familiar with from seeing him at similar events on television. When he did that, his personality suddenly emerged, and he did not seem as tired (weary?) as he had seemed at some points. We do have to remember that he is over 85 years old, and he may be experiencing what old Br. Wilfrid had told me once: "You know what's so bad about getting old? You die in parts!" The world knows that it is his knees that are being blaimed. But it appeared to me that the general effects of age were beginning to manifest themselves.

Pope Francis delivers his talk.

The strange thing, of course, is that most of those in the room, including me, did not know Italian. The folks who were or knew Spanish could probably get the gist of what he said as he said it, and those who had worked in Italy had come to know conversational Italian well enough. But for the rest, it would be tone and delivery that conveyed his message. And I was just happy to be there to witness his presence with us, appreciating his dedication and courage as his literally never-ending role continued.

Acknowledging the applause from the Brothers.

At the end of the speech, we applauded of course. And then suddenly four or five other ushers came into the room. Quietly, at the front of the small aisle on the left wall, another chair had been set up during the talk, and a tall priest came to sit there. The ushers set themselves up to guide us up to the front for our greeting with the pope, one of them had a basket of rosaries and placed himself at a position where each Brother could be given a rosary as he made his way back to his place, and the mystery priest stood next to the pope, perhaps to interpret or make sure we didn't do anything funny. The whole thing was orchestrated as if they did this all day - which they probably did - as smoothly as silk, the photographers poised to take yet another set of photos at yet another papal event, much more busy than any SWAT team member ever is.

At the end, he gives us his apostolic blessing.

Starting with Br. Armin, the first two rows lined up, had their 3 secons of contact, with four flash photographs taken in quick succession, and were ushered away and back to their chairs. The Master of Ceremonies was the one who would touch the elbow of the next person who was to go forward and greet Pope Francis, while the sub-ushers guided us into the line or away from the greeting. These guys would have been welcome at any high school liturgy for their professionalism, efficiency, and no-nonsense disposition - even sophomores would be cowed.

Junior, from Brazil, greets Pope Francis.

I was in the third row, and so my turn came fairly early. Funny enough, I don't remember much about the actual handshake except seeing a quiet, unruffled, one might say holy face of someone who knows how important this greeting is for people and is doing his very best to make sure that he can be present for that person, even while by this time he must have done this thousands and thousands of time. The enjoyment of the papacy, if it even exists, is likely to soon be challenged by constant obeisance, close attention, high expectations, and the knowledge that every gesture is seen, interpreted, and impactful. The fact that this pope does not take any vacations, as far as I know, is evidence alone of holiness and the effective power of grace. The one thing I said to him, although it's unlikely to have been understood, is "I pray for your courage." The priest next to him didn't blink, so he wasn't an interpreter. But then this also didn't qualify as funny business, so I was safe to return to my chair, having dutifully picked up my rosary.

It took a while for everyone to go up for the greeting. At one point, apparently there had been a change of mind regarding the singing of the Honneur a Toi - perhaps it was the rustling quiet of the room - and Br. Jacques, our designated singing director, squeezed into the main aisle, raised his arms, began the song, and directed the group in singing the refrain, first verse, and refrain - all in French, of course - with those going up to greet the pope walking around him and his directing gestures. I must say that we all sang with enthusiasm.

The group photo with Pope Francis in the middle.

At the end of all the personal greetings, the very very large man who had pushed the wheelchair into the room - it looked like he would be capable of picking up the chair with the pope in it and carry him away - returned and began to push the wheelchair out from the front. We stood and applauded, thinking that he was leaving. But the pope looked up, gestured for us to sit down and indicated that the chair would be placed between us in the center aisle, facing the front, so that a group photo (of sorts) could be taken. This was another very thoughtful gesture that had evidently been pre-planned. This pope is savvy enough to know that such a photo would be widely shared and appreciated.

We sat very still, although this is not a 1920 camera, as the photographer raised the camera up high and took a few photographs. Then Pope Francis reached over and shook hands with Br. Armin again before being rolled away to his next gig, with all of us standing up and applauding once more. When he had left, it was as if the room were suddently and noticeably more empty in some strange way. In any gathering, each person contributes a presence, a bundled locus of experience and attention, that enlivens that of others according to the degree of interaction. In this case, this small interaction with Pope Francis had been such that each of us was deeply touched by his presence, and we missed that piece already because we knew that it was very unlikely to be ever repeated.

On the way out. Br. Rodolfo is on the right.

The group was ushered out via a different set of doors at the back, and the phones came out once more to take photos of whatever we could as we were escorted down sets of stairs and through one long hallway with windows overlooking the internior plaza below. One of the rooms that fascinated me was the chapel of Redemptoris Mater, entirely covered by mosaics in the oriental (Byzantine) style, but in a rather modern way. After I came back to the Casa Generalizia, I went online and found its history, even taking a virtual tour. There is a lot of packed history and artistic beauty in evidence at the Apostolic Palace.

Swiss guards were popular photo ops.

We also ran into any number of Swiss guards. Some Brothers were keen to pose next to them, eager to bring back photos to their native countries. And the guards were quite tolerant about this, until finally they made us take the next set of stairs down to the Saint Peter's square, especially since I was in the last group to leave, with a plain-clothes Swiss guard behind us to make sure that all of us had left. Once in the square, there more more photos, of course, among small groups of Brothers, or selfies with another Brother, like any other tourist might do. A couple of Brothers had brought backpacks, stuffed their robes into them, and took off for a walk in the city.

Photo opportunities in the piazza.

I found myself with some of the Brothers from Africa, Lebanon, and France. One asked Br. Antxon when we would have to be back at the bus in the underground bus terminal. He shouted to us as he was walking away, "Noon!" (in French). This meant that we had forty minutes to wander around. One Brother said that he would like a beer, and so we walked around in a group, finding an outdoor table where the Brother Visitor from France and I had a small beer while the other three first went to find some religious souveniers to bring back to Africa. Earlier, I had spoken to him about coming to Paris to learn French, and we began to communicate in my bad French and his rather better English, although haltingly, which included helping me understand some basic French phrases. When the others came back, it was 11:40 am, and therefore we would have to start our way back to the bus.

Sending a text to the folks on the bus.

On our walk back, Br. Louis sent a text to Br. Julio, a member of his liturgy team, letting him know that we were on our way back. Br. Julio texted back, saying that he was on the bus and they were on the way back to the Casa Generalizia. After some further frantic texts, it became clear that both buses had left for home, having left a half hour after the conclusion of the audience. (It turned out that Br. Antxon had not known this either, and he also missed the bus.) Now what?

A place to rest and have some lunch.

The only reasonable thing we could do was walk to the Ottaviani Metro stop and make our way back to the Casa Generalizia that way. About halfway there, I suggested that we might as well have a nice lunch somewhere, since there was nothing scheduled for the afternoon, and the noon meal was nothing to write home about. They quickly agreed, and so we ended up at one of outside restaurants, happily having pizza and another beer. Conversation flowed in mostly French and some English.

After the meal, we made our way to the Metro stop and so back to the house. All of us were in our robes, of course, but this didn't seem strange either to us or to others. Romans have seen religious habits for centuries, although probably less so in the last fifty years. Some clearly had known the Brothers or attended one of their schools, based on their smiles or quick photos. One couple called out to Br. Louis and turned out to be his former students from Lebanon; like him, they were in Rome for a short trip. Small world.

This evening, we had a final prayer service that includes some active involvement. Papers and scissors were distributed so that we could create paper images of our hands, which were then filled with words representing the things that had contributed to our vocational growth over the last year. Many of the Brothers failed to remember their kindergarten training and had a hard time following the instructions about how to create these paper hands. But it was a nice way to end the day.

Reflection by way of a bodily-kinesthetic exercise.

Perhaps this blog has been a bit lengthy, but the day's events deserved greater attention. It's good that nothing else had been planned for the afternoon, because it would have been useless to do so. The experience at the Vatican deserved some time for processing, absorbing, appreciating, and settling in. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022 - General Chapter 46

The primary focus for today was to elect the General Councilors for the Central Government. According to the Rule, six Councilors are elected by Chapter delegates, which includes the Vicar General. This meant that we would vote for and choose five of them today.

The RELAN regional group meeting.

By pre-arrangement, the first meeting of the day was in Regional groups at 9:00 am, at which we were to provide "up to three" names to add to the list of people that Br. Armin had provided yesterday as those whom he thought would be good team members. Since Br. Chris Patino had been on that list, we spent some time talking about that inclusion. (Chris had absented himself from this part of the meeting to allow for a free discussion.) The conversation we had reminded me of a vow chapter, a well-articulated, observant, and essentially supportive consideration of this particular moment in a person's life journey. Questions about age, experience, work ethic, possible challenges over time, etc. circled around a genuine respect for both his character and his maturity. The positive greatly outweighed the possible negative. When he was invited back into the room, via text, we simply moved forward to consider whether we would recommend an additional name and eventually settled on Br. Ricky Laguda for a variety of reasons.

Back in the Aula Magna at 10:00 am,  Br. Jorge described the process for election - an absolute majority of 36 out of 70 votes is necessary for appointment - and indicated that none of the Paths of Transformation groups had asked for specific Councilors, although there are some responsibilities that were specified. Since the Superior General requested a shared responsibilities approach to the General Council, we will not be voting on Councilors for the Regions or ones with a specific charge. This allows the General Council to develop its internal organization as they choose, in line with the provisions of the Rule.

After passing the minutes of a previous meeting - a very tedious process that could use be done more efficiently with a different method than scrolling through the French text on the screen - each Region reported the names, up to three, that they wanted to add to the list. One added none, and the others added from one to three names. The final list included 16 names. While the ballots were being prepared, different procedural questions were answered and the assembly confirmed that they did not need to meet in language groups.

Br. Rodrigue from Benin, who sat next to me, votes.

Voting commenced at 11:00 am. Ballots were distributed, and delegates were told to check off "up to five" names. These were collected by the Scrutineers, who brought them to the room behind the Aula Magna for counting. During this time, those in the Aula Magna remained in restful anticipation, working on their laptops, chatting with neighbors, or visiting with those in other parts of the room. At 11:30 am, the tabulated votes were read out by Br. Jorge, who first said that there were two Brothers who had acquired 36 votes or more and therefore would become Councilors. The first was Br. Anatole Diretenadji from Central Africa, and the second was Br. Joël Palud, a French Brother working in Lebanon and not present at the Chapter. Great applause as each name was said. The other names and vote counts were also read out for our reference.

Br. Anatole is congratulated by Br. Julien from
West Africa and Br. Ghebreyesus from the Lwanga District

The next ballot with the remaining names was quickly produced, and instructions were given to vote for up to three names this time. The same process was repeated, and at noon the Scrutineers returned with the results. Br. Jorge announced that this time there was no one who had received 36 or more votes. There was a collective sigh as the names and numbers were put on the screen, and another ballot was distributed for another vote.

Much applause after Br. Chris Patino was elected.

At 12:25 pm, the results came back from this third set of ballots, and Br. Jorge announced that there were two Brothers who had acquired 36 votes or more and therefore would become Councilors. The first was Br. Chris Patino from the San Francisco New Orleans District. He had come to Rome to serve as one of the secretaries but stepped in as a Chapter delegate when Br. Donald Johanson, the Visitor of that District, was unable to travel due to Covid exposure and the first alternate could not come due to other responsibilities. When Chris Patino's name was announced, there was strong applause all around. Br. Nick later said that, like the widow's mite story in the Gospel and in line with the theme of the Chapter, the SFNO District was giving from its necessity rather than from its abundance ... an appropriate insight. The second was Br. Ricky Laguda, who would be the only Brother from the last General Council who would now serve on the new General Council. Again there was strong applause. (He told me later that he had packed up his things a few days earlier, anticipating his return to the Philippines.)

The Scrutineers collect the filled-in ballots.

The assembly immediately moved to yet another vote with a new ballot, this time instructed to vote for just one name. The results were quickly tabulated, and it was announced that Br. Martin Digilio from Argentina had received a majority of votes as the last Councilor to be elected. Again there was solid applause and congratulations. During the waiting periods, those elected had accepted the sincere congratulations from many others in the room, who lined up to do so. Some of the other candidates did so with a sense of relief, but all did so with a genuine sense of appreciation that there were some very fine Brothers who would take on this 7-year responsibility. Right after these results were announced, we broke for lunch.

Br. Martin is congratulated by Br. Alvaro.

At 3:00 pm, the assembly gathered in the Aula Magna once more. Joining us was the entire house staff; everyone who worked at the Casa Generalizia, from CBIS, Communications, Business Office, Maintenance, to those working in the Lasallian Research and Resources Service (Archives, Library, Museum) which I oversee. It was a very full room that held a peaceful, appreciative energy all around.

The Casa Generalizia staff is recognized and thanked.

We started with the singing of Honneur a Toi, the text having been given to us on small pieces of paper, although many of us knew it by heart. Br. Antxon took the portable microphone to the front of the dais and told us that we all should be very satisfied with what we had achieved. Hen then asked all those who worked in the house and who had arrived to line up in front. Then, he did a great job in recognizing each department and person there, describing their vital roles in making the General Chapter possible. The Chapter participated showed their appreciation with regular and steady applause. Br. Jorge asked the new General Council to stand up, so that those in the Casa Generalizia could see who the members of the new central government were. Applause seemed to be the punctuation points for this part of the day. Baseball hats from RELAL were distributed as a small gift, and those from the Casa Generalizia left the room.

Translators, Secretaries, and others are thanked.

Br. Antxon then highlighted the translators, secretary, liturgy team, etc., asking them to come to the front for a proper recognition of their labors. We all were very aware of the key role that they played in this successful Chapter, and our level of appreciation was evident. Then the members of the central committee were recognized for their work, often meeting early in the morning or late at night to deal with the various situations that inevitably occur in Chapters such as this one.

Rita, from the Finance office, deserved special
recognition, since she was retiring after 42 years.

Finally, it was time to do some remaining work. Two sets of minutes were reviewed and approved, and the letter from the Chapter to the AIMEL III participants was brought back for approval. Time was given to read it, and there were questions regarding certain words that might be misconstrued. But Br. Jorge pointed out that the key approval text was what the resolution that the Chapter had passed earlier, and this was simply a letter of appreciation for their work and an encouragement of the work that was still to come when they gather to create their lines of action. It was approved.

The new Vicar General with the former Vicar General,
who had been in formation together.

Now that the business of the day was done, there were still a couple of things to cover. The Visitor of France gave a description of the plans to upgrade the facilities at Parmenie and make it into a place where a variety of activities could occur, including a place where Lasallian fraternities, a new Lasallian movement among small groups of teachers in France, could meet for retreats, etc. After him, I encouraged participants to see the new display of photographs from all of the previous nine General Chapters that have been held in Rome, from 1946 to 2014. And then Br. Antxon walked through the details for our meeting with Pope Francis tomorrow morning at 10:15 am in the Apostolic Palace. We don't know if each person will have a chance to greet him. "We will deal with whatever they tell us to do." The afternoon tomorrow will be free, a welcome respite.

Br. Olavo from Brazil joined us in the Den,
along with Br. Aiden and Br. Michael.
Brs. Claude and Jean-René from France join us in the Den.
And yet another photo of the folks in the Den.
It was a great gathering at the end of a long day.

Hence the day was long but very rich. In the evening, the "Den" was filled with people from all language groups enjoying the fact that we had completed a complicated process with a finesse that was unique to our Lasallian character. We celebrated the complex and multifaceted grace of our shared identity, experience, and community.