“A blessed presence”

On the fifth day of the general chapter, the chapter members were informed about the Dehonian presence in South America, North America and Europe. In the afternoon, the process of electing the superior general began.

by  Willyans Prado Rapozo, SCJ

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The fifth day of the XXV General Chapter began with the Holy Eucharist presided by Fr. Eli Lobato dos Santos, superior of the Brazil-Sao Paulo Province. In the chapter hall, he reflected on today’s Word of God, emphasizing the homage paid to prophet Elijah for his great deeds. In fact, it important to remember that what matters is not what we do by ourselves, but that all good work is the work of God’s grace in us. Jesus teaches us his prayer, which is, first of all a reminder that there is a bond between all human beings and the entire creation. We call God “Our Father”, therefore, even if we dislike someone, we can never ignore that we are brothers.

Today’s first presentation was given by the geographical area of South America. Fr. Juan Manuel Yépez Barreto, superior of the Region of Venezuela shared that the first Dehonian missionaries came to Ecuador in 1888, sent by our founder himself. Currently, we are present in almost the entire continent, except for Bolivia, Suriname, British and French Guianas. There are 136 local communities where our confreres live and ministry in parishes, missions, the Amazon area, formation houses, education and social centres, such as the Instituto Meninos de Sao Judas Tadeu assisting about two thousand children and youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil. One of the main challenges is the geographical distance among countries, and even between communities within the same entity. Fr. Levi dos Anjos Ferreira, general councilor in charge of South America, added that we are blessed by the gift of internationality which made possible new mission fronts. However, there is still a difficulty in terms clericalism, political polarization, individualism and lack of sharing our goods.

North America was presented by their two major superiors, Fr. Vien Nguyen (USA) and Fr. Gustave Lulendo N’dotony (CAN), accompanied by Fr. Stephen Huffstetter, general councilor. They shared that Dehonian presence in the continent goes back to a long past when missionaries from the Netherlands and Germany came to North America. Since them, internationality and interculturality has been a strength. At the present time 65% of our confreres come from other entities; and this is a blessing. Despite new immigration regulations which difficult the process of VISA application in both USA and Canada, we hope that international collaboration will continue to grow. In the same way, North America is open to collaborate with the entire congregation wherever is needed and possible.

Another good example of openness is the presence of lay people, particularly women, working closely with us in our communities and ministries. At the time, Dehonians are serving in parish ministries, ethnic communities, schools, senior homes, and welcoming migrants and refugees. In terms of social ministry, we are particularly concerned about climate change and threats of nuclear weapons. In the Fall, a North American Conference will take place to educate our confreres and associates in these urgent issues. Ageing is a real challenge, but both entities are committed to ensure that our seniors are appropriately assisted with love and dignity. Fr. Vien concluded saying that, “we are a multicultural and very much international continent, but our charism is our glue. That’s what holds us together.”

The last report was about the European continent presented by Fr. Enzo Brena, superior of the North Italian province, and Fr. Stefan Tertünte, provincial superior of Germany, accompanied by Fr. Artur Sanecki, general councilor for Europe. This continent is the birthplace of our congregation, which one time was blessed with numerous members who have been sent as missionaries throughout the world. In this sense, we are committed to preserving our common history and the places where Fr. Dehon lived and worked.

Although the vocation status of Europe has become scarce, we continue to be the continent with most confreres serving in 21 different countries throughout the world. In Europe, Dehonians are present in 17 countries from East to West; as a result, we are extremely diverse in terms of culture, language, political, social, and economic situation. The fall of the Berlin wall gave us hope that a time of peace, cooperation, and democracy would be established; but we sadly see that, as in other parts of the world, this reality is fragile in Europe as well. Secularization is well spread in many European countries; the Christian religiosity has changed towards a faith not necessarily depending on institutions. Perhaps, it is a call for us to rediscover and return to what is essential in the Gospel. In terms of apostolate, Europe strives to respond to local needs. We have parishes, universities, schools, youth ministry, formation, mission, theological studies and spirituality. It is important to mention the witness of our old confreres in Europe who continue to give a testimony of faithfulness, patience and sacrifice. The last word is synodality; we thank Pope Francis who is teaching us how to walk together in communion and co-responsibility.

After appreciating the report of all geographical areas, chapter members begun the process of electing the superior general for the next six years. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary, we took a first vote to identify candidates. Now, let us pray that God will guide us to choose whoever He wants. May his will be done!

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