We spoke with Fr. Levi and Fr. Stephen who are the members of the General Council helping to prepare for the next General Conference.
Can you give us some background and an update on the General Conference?
One of the duties SCJ General Directory gives each administration is the organization of a General Conference at least once during their six-year term. After listening to the discussion and recommendations of the 23rd General Chapter (2015) the Superior General and Council set the goal of holding a General Conference “on mercy in the social teaching of the Church and in Fr. Dehon.” A planning commission was formed to develop an instrumentum laboris and the program for the Conference. The theme decided upon was: “Dehonians in social commitments. Faithfulness to the Gospel and our Charism, through Formation in response to Social Challenges.”
The Conference was scheduled for July of 2018 in the Philippines but had to be postponed when our Superior General Heiner Wilmer became a bishop. Instead, we needed to convoke a General Chapter to elect a new superior general and council.
Then what happened?
The recommendation of the 24th General Chapter was to continue planning a Conference along a similar theme. The final message 24th General Chapter was:
What characterizes us in part as sons of Father Dehon is the social dimension of our charism. While we sometimes observe among us a worryingly declining focus on this aspect, we want to emphasize once again the importance of a more intense involvement in this activity. The proposed theme of the previously suggested General Conference of Manila as well as the study of the establishment of an office or a commission of “Justice, Peace and Reconciliation” must not be forgotten. The communication of initiatives undertaken by the various Entities in this area is a great help to promote a sharing of projects and social initiatives.
The rescheduling of the Conference was discussed at the meeting of the Superiors of all our entities in Rome in November of 2019. The superiors endorsed the idea. With the Philippine region generously and enthusiastically agreeing to host again, a timeframe between April and July of 2021 was suggested. The superiors recommended members to serve on a planning commission, topics that could be addressed, and possible presenters.
The Philippine Region found a suitable conference center in Cagayan d’Oro and reserved time in July of 2021. A planning commission was established and invited to Rome in March of 2020 to begin the preparation.
But March 2020 was the beginning of the first wave of Covid lockdowns!
Exactly! Past commissions have found it essential to have an extended time together to prepare an instrumentum laboris, develop a theme and begin work on schedule and details. Airlines and borders shut down and no travel was possible.
So what has been done since then?
As we know, the Internet connects us to the world. Since the pandemic tried to paralyze everything and everyone, cyber resources have energized us and led us to keep dreaming about the possible realization of the conference. We created a commission with confreres from different areas of the Congregation.
Who are the members of the General Conference Planning Commission?
Wahyu Tri Haryadi (INA), Michel Simo Temgo (CMR), John Karl Cabaluna (PHI), Grzegorz Piątek (POL) and João Paulo Tabarelli (PAR)
What are some of the ideas from the new commission?
To check if our lifestyle corresponds to what Fr. Dehon thought and if we understand the social dimension of our charism. We carry out diverse and beautiful activities in our many works around the world. Are we doing this in view of our charism? Do the people with whom we work know and live our social spirituality?
The conference can teach us a new way of looking at our social activities and unite us even more in the spirit of “we the Congregation”.
What is the theme of the Conference?
We haven’t finalized the wording, but discussing related proposals – “Being Dehonians according to the SCJ heritage”, “What we do and what we are”, “SCJ social projects and SCJ spirituality”, “Making a difference in social works within our Congregation” and “the social identity of our Congregation”…
When and where (how) will the Conference be held?
It’s difficult right now to confirm where and how it will be held, because of the ongoing limitations of the pandemic. We will let the whole congregation know as soon as we are able to finalize a decision.
What are the expectations of the general conference?
We expect intensive and lively participation of confreres from different Entities. We seek deep contributions and a focus on concrete actions which can be put into practice in the daily life of the Congregation.
What should the participants do in the run-up-to the conference?
We ask that each confrere takes time to read the instrumentum laboris, and attentively follow the presentations about some social project in the congregation we will develop on our homepage (dehoniani.org). This will help people understand each step and give an opportunity to contribute with comments and suggestions.
And those who will not be present at the conference. How can they profit from it, and also contribute to the success of the conference?
They can pray for the conference and follow along through the news, live streaming and other resources that will be prepared to keep the congregation updated.