Collaboration with the laity, formation, sharing: these were some of the key words of the day’s work. In the afternoon, Fr. Carlos, Superior General met via Zoom with young Dehonian religious from all over the world, chatting with them on the topic of social commitment.
Who are you, Dehonian?
At the beginning of the assembly each day, a biblical reflection from the daily liturgy is offered to the participants. Jesus’ question to the disciples in the Gospel of Mark (8:29) “But who do you say that I am?” was a provocation about one’s own Dehonian identity: Who are you as a Dehonian? With what heart do you commit yourself to social issues?
The morning’s work began by reflecting on two social projects. In the United States, Dehonians in Mississippi are doing enormous social work for the vulnerable and the poor alongside many lay people and volunteers; while the Polish Dehonias presented a social project involving entrepreneurs, following in the footsteps of Fr. Dehon and his engagement with employers.
These are different levels of intervention: in the first case, more welfare, responding to people’s more immediate needs; whereas in the second case, the emphasis is on a medium and long-term path of awareness, trying to affect the structures of power. In both cases, the protagonists are the laity.
For or with the laity?
From the earliest days, it became evident and obvious that it is impossible today to carry out social work without the laity. However, collaboration with them is not as obvious as it might seem. The sharing in the assembly focused on the relationship with the laity, without showing a clear and unequivocal vision of their role: are they partners? recipients of our training? unavoidable necessity? At what moment should collaboration with them be implemented? Should guidelines be given for defining a lay Dehonian working in social engagement? This is an impasse that has not been completely resolved.
In collaboration with the laity, it is necessary to avoid a clerical attitude, “an important aspect to recover – it was said in the assembly- is that we are religious, consecrated and, therefore, lay people, even before being priests. Ours was a choice of consecrated laity.” Sometimes, however, we reason with a clerical mentality, always wanting to be authors of social actions. We must learn to reason as brothers and sisters, ready to welcome and collaborate with the initiatives of the laity, even if they do not start with us. “At the end of life,” he added, “we will be judged on love” and not whether we have made Dehonian plans.
The Social Engagement Survey
In the second part of the morning, the results of the online survey on the social commitment of SCJs were presented. There were very few responses (44), although the communities sent their opinions in other ways. The reasons for this lack of attention are many: lack of time, alternation of festivities and provincial events, langage, technological inability or simply a lack of interest. In our opinion, this is a topic that deserves further study.
Young religious and social commitment
On the sidelines of the conference, a special meeting was organized between Fr. Carlos, Superior General, and the young Dehonians in initial formation, through a live broadcast. All continents and almost all the houses of formation were represented, with the participation of 130 young Dehonian religious. As Fr. Carlos said in the assembly – rather than offering courses on social commitment, religious themselves should later be witnesses of social commitment. And on this, it must be recognized that there is little information in the Congregation.
From words to actions?
A day full of stories and reflections, but without reaching shared results and insights. Only words? Certainly the facts are realized by many SCJs and anonymous laity. For them and with them, we expect from the conference a prophetic word that will help us move with determination from words to deeds.