On Sunday, February 13, the IX General Conference commenced in Rome with the theme, “Dehonians in Social Commitment.” It is a special conference from several points of view: from the theme, to the participation, to the different means of communication.
After a long process of preparation that lasted for almost five years, it was finally possible to hold the IX General Conference whose theme relates to the Dehonian commitment to social issues. Several reasons forced the postponement of this important gathering of the congregation, of course, the pandemic is still underway. It is precisely because of this that only a small number of confreres from various parts of the world are present. In spite of this and thanks to live-streaming media,there has already been a high level of participation and positive interaction from various parts of the world on this first day.
Dehon and Blancal’s Skepticism
“How does our history inspire us today?” was the question that characterized the assembly and small group work today. It was a question that required taking a dive into history today in order to understand the reasons that led Fr. Dehon to social commitment, an indisputable and well-documented fact. His social commitment was not a personal affair, but made use of the collaboration of various people and was at the service of the Church.
However, among the first Dehonians, he encountered strong resistance, especially from Fr. Blancal, and was almost branded as a traitor to the true cult of the Sacred Heart. Unfortunately, this sort of skepticism (Blancalism) seems not to have been completely overcome within the Congregation.
The turning point of the General Conference
Today’s work day unfolded with many suggestions, brainstorming; however, without really answering the question of “how” our history inspired social commitment. The general perception is undoubtedly positive about seeing social engagement as a point of no return for the congregation. Over the next few days, the participants will perhaps better clarify some of the issues on the table today: the relationship between community projects and personal projects, how to collaborate with the laity, being re-interpreters of the Church’s social doctrine, and formation.
An attempt was made to recontextualize and give a precise name to social commitment today: ecological and technological challenges, proximity to the neglected and marginalized, support of minorities, refugees, and immigrants, commitment to social justice, education. But we will understand more in the coming days.
Carlos Luis Suárez Codorniú, Superior General, stated “When our founder, the Venerable Fr. Dehon faced the society of his time, in communion with the Church he loved, in the face of what he saw as a departure from the will of God, he did not let himself be carried away by a discouraging catastrophism. Through the gift of his faith, through his attentive intimacy with the Lord and his passion for his Kingdom, through his nonconformity and his perpetual restlessness, he remained certain that the world before him was not outside the Heart of God.”
“A work that must continue” This is what Fr. Dehon himself hoped for in light of Pope Leo XIII’s praise of him as a faithful interpreter of his social encyclicals (Souvenir 48). A challenge and an appeal.