Interview with Father Eli Lobato dos Santos, scj elected Superior Provincial of the BSP
Welcome, Father Eli. Thank you for your availability for this interview. How do you, knowing the reality of the BSP province, hope to start this triennium as provincial superior?
In my response to the Superior General, I quoted Phil 2:12. I begin my ministry with “fear and trembling,” but also with great confidence. I trust in God, the master of the congregation, who is the province’s master. I also trust so many people who expressed their solidarity and prayer to cooperate for the new triennium.
What would be the priorities for this period?
Looking at the big picture that we are going through, it seems to be a challenging period. There is a crisis in society. There is also a crisis within the Church, in the congregation itself, and the province. Therefore, it seems to me that the priority would be a consistent reflection on who we are, as consecrated persons, as elders, and what we should be. This is what Saint John says: we are already children, “what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (cf. 1 Jn 3:2). So, it is about an in-depth reflection on our identity as religious and priests.
Furthermore, the religious identity and the formation of the perpetual vows seem to be a little outdated. We have had some problems with parish administration. But the most important reflection is on what we are and should be in this time of crisis in all social and ecclesial spheres.
Do you believe that this new administration will be a administration of continuity or a government of change. How could you define that?
I like the answer that Pope Benedict XVI gave to a question similar to this one. For some people, when you talk about continuity, you think of the same thing; when it comes to novelty, it seems that one is thinking about the rejection of everything that belongs to the past. Neither of these two ways of thinking serves us. “The new shoot of the tree depends on the old branch.” There is always continuity in the Church. There is the new sprout, but this new sprout depends on what comes before. A continuity, yes, but it is necessarily a new sprout, not only because it is a new administration, but because it is a new phase in the lives of all of us, the province itself and the congregation. Only the elected provincial is a bit old.
In the BSP province, we have great vitality, but we also know that some young people have left religious life. How would you handle this situation?
I have served as a formation director for many years. I have asked myself about it. What happened? What were the problems? It seems to me that the idea of being a consecrated man is present in all of us and in at least a good part of the graduates with whom I had the opportunity to meet. However, along the way, something obscures and frustrates this ideal. The person begins to be enchanted by other things. So, there is an issue that needs to be discerned along the way. We have to reflect and see what is happening. A little of my reflection leads us to believe that there is some contamination in fraternal life in the community. A kind of virus that penetrates fraternal life in the community and contaminates the young religious. A few years later, even though they had embraced the priesthood, they ask to leave.
What is your opinion about the preparation for internationality?
In some meetings, it seemed to me that formation for internationality is understood as sending members of our province to other entities. I think internationality is a little more than that. The Church is Catholic. It means international. We are called to live an international communion before any founder of a congregation or any Chapter. So, the catholicity of the Church is the internationality itself. Secondly, the BSP Province has been sending members to other entities for a long time. If we take the “Elenchus” (editor’s note: a publication that collects the personal data of all SCJs), there are more than twenty religious who are working in other entities: Canada, USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America. So, thank God, this internationality is already being experienced as participation and service in other entities.
Father, talking a little about Brazil, we have three provinces (BSP, BRM, and BRE) and two districts (BSL and BMT). In your view, what are the challenges for the Church in Brazil and our entities?
The challenge is the Church to be, in fact, Church. We are Church and the Church that has a particular mission. We can even discuss, a little, the scope of this mission. It may vary here and there, but our essence is to be the Roman Catholic Church. I hear from some people that not everything called Church is, in fact, Church. We are called to be, here in Brazil, the Catholic Church, and our specificity is this here. That’s what makes the difference for society. We have to keep what is true of Catholic life. By changing a few things and watering things down, we’re not going to contribute as we should. What we have to offer is very valuable, and some people don’t realize it. The Church’s wealth is its spirituality, the Word of God, the catechesis, and the capacity to bring people together.
What message would you like to say to those in the BSP province and the entire SCJ family?
My word is, of course, one of hope and trust. We are finishing another month, and we are going to start another one. This can give us the impression that time spins so independently of us that it feels like we’re hostages, that time dominates us in a way that we can’t do anything about it. Not quite. The succession of time does not prevent us from understanding that time is not a prison. It is a journey that I am taking. The most beautiful thing about our faith is that we believe that there is someone during the journey and at the end. It is not a time that follows one another madly and then comes to nothing. No! There is someone who accompanies us and who waits for us at the end of the journey. This goes for all circumstances, much more for the occasion that concerns me at the moment. I’m not alone. There is someone who accompanies us. The liturgical time shows us this. So my message is one of hope. We do not know when the pandemic will end, how many people we will still lose, or how much we will still suffer, but we know that we are not alone and that in the end, we will reach the destination of our lives that makes all the difference for us, whether in this moment or the future