Interview with Fr. João Nélio Pereira, Provincial Superior of the Dehonians in Portugal.
On July 1st, you will begin your first term as Provincial Superior of the Dehonians in Portugal. You have already some experience in administration, since you have been appointed Provincial Councilor twice. How are you facing this new service to the Province?
Being a councilor is one reality; being Provincial is another one. It is with a certain fear and trembling that I prepare myself to take on this service asked of me. God will be with me and will help me. I am in God’s hands and I hope that He guides me on this path, in this new mission.
In an interview you gave to Agencia Ecclesia, you stated that “We cannot have empty buildings standing still, but we must find in each time and in each situation ways to readapt these spaces for things that are necessary”. What things do you consider necessary for the next three years?
The world is changing. The pandemic is changing our society a little bit. The coming times are opportunities to re-situate ourselves in the context of this new world. One possibility could be to put our structures at the service of the society that is getting older continuously. We can also use them for spiritual support to Christian groups, as it is already the case with our Spirituality Centers. Reshaping our Province according to the present situation is a challenge. Old missions may not be the same as the present ones. It will always be necessary to discern about each structure.
SCJs are celebrating the 75th anniversary of their presence in Portugal, and the 55th anniversary of the creation of the Province. These festive dates raise two questions: The first: How is the Province celebrating this Jubilee?
An account of the “History of the Province” during these 75 years is being prepared. There will also be moments of encounters and celebration. More than celebrating the past, it is important to celebrate the present. After 75 years we need a new challenge that brings us together as a Province. It is an opportunity to define a mission which engages and excites us.
The second: Although you are a young Province, there are confreres – perhaps some Italians who helped to build the Province, as well as the first Portuguese – who are aging… Are you thinking of a model, or a strategy to face this reality of aging confreres?
Aging is a social reality that affects us also. We owe a debt of gratitude to the elderly, and by looking after our seniors we are thanking them for their dedication to the Province. It is very important that in every community the older confreres are cared for by the younger ones. I think that our older confreres can significantly humanize our communities. We must provide comfortable spaces for our old confreres, as well as the presence of the community, so that they will not feel isolated.
You have been appointed at a very important moment for the Portuguese Church and for the world youth (but nor restricted to it). In 2023 the World Youth Day will be celebrated in Lisbon. What will be the role of SCJs in this event? Are you planning something specific to be proposed the SCJs in the world?
Considering our involvement with the Church in Portugal, through our various parishes and SCJ bishops who are stationed in some dioceses, our main contribution will be to encourage the youth to participate in the World Youth Day, which is already being done. As a congregation, along with other Institutes, we will be collaborating with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We have a few priests who are involved in the preparation of the locations and the planning for the sacrament. As usual, we are also planning to host the European Dehonian Youth Meeting in Portugal, where we will be united through our spirituality and charism.
The pandemic has conditioned and still conditions programs and relationships. How is it to be a Provincial Superior in the context of a worldwide pandemic?
The Provincial Superior’s mission is to accompany the communities and to animate our confreres. In a post-pandemic world, which we are beginning to glimpse already, we envision a significant change. My role is to remain attentive to this discernment, so that the Province will not be left behind, but will accompany the change in the world.
Dehonian Family has an important presence in Portugal. Will this be one of the priorities of the new Provincial Government?
More than taking care of the Dehonian Family, it will be to revive the Dehonian Family. We can reach much further with a Dehonian Family that lives out a spirituality.
And to conclude, could you leave a message to the confreres?
There is no Provincial without a Province. There is no Provincial alone, isolated. We can only do something if we are together in a mission with a goal, rooted in this love of the Heart of Jesus that Father Dehon pointed out as the model of our life. Together we can be an asset to the Church in Portugal. I would very much like to count on everyone’s help.