The SCJ General Conference, planned for July of 2021 in the Philippines, has once again been postponed due to ongoing complications and uncertainty caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. However, the work of the General Conference Planning Commission continues. Through videoconferencing they began a series of meetings with the General Council to give direction and life to the theme of dehonian social charism and engagement, which was mandated and reaffirmed by the last two General Chapters.
While it is yet not known when, where, or even how the General Conference will be held, it is important to begin a process of defining the theme and developing an Instrumentum Laboris that can be discussed throughout the entities and will be helpful to the Congregation.
Members of the Planning Commission are: Fr. Wahyu Tri Haryadi (INA), Fr. Michel Simo Temgo (CMR), Fr. John Karl Cabaluna (PHI), Fr. Grzegorz Piątek (POL) and Fr. Joao Paulo Tabarelli (PAR). They shared some of their initial thoughts and ideas.
Fr. John Karl recalled that the idea is to develop social awareness in our mission, particularly in the younger generations. A theme emphasized in the previous preparation was developing a greater sense of the social nature of dehonian charism during formation. This includes not only initial formation of the new generations, but also ongoing formation for all members.
For Fr. Grzegorz, the current world situation is so different from the time the previous preparation was done. This leads to asking different questions and seeking to understand the effects of the pandemic. The theme of identity is fundamental, and perhaps the Conference can be an opportunity to develop what our social commitment should look like today, learning from the past, and above all looking toward the future.
Fr Michel suggested reviewing how reflection about social issues in the past have led to changes in the life of our Congregation. He also recommended using a synodal model of preparation that asks each Entity to reflect on the meaning of the social within our charism.
Fr João Paulo pointed to Fratelli Tutti, and the image of the good Samaritan, who saw, had compassion, and took care of the one in need. Seeing and knowing the reality can lead to the development of effective pastoral practice which demonstrates social sensitivity. Collaboration with the laity and particularly with young people is very important, especially in our mission to help form consciences, overcome indifference, and develop a passion for transforming society.
Fr. Wahyu affirmed Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”. The current pandemic challenges a General Conference to develop a theme and process that leads to greater solidarity with the suffering world, which is integral to dehonian charism.
Because of the internationality of the Congregation, there can be many different approaches to developing social commitment on both the local and global level. Fr. Dehon gave the example of using education as a means of addressing social problems of his time. Instead of remaining something theoretical, he put his ideals and values into concrete pastoral organization and practice.
The Superior General, Fr. Carlos Luis Suarez noted that the General Conference’s most important purpose is to deepen our way of being in the Church and in the world as Dehonians, strengthening the links between our spirituality and social commitment.
The planning commission has scheduled three more meetings before the end of the year to continue preparation.