My Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings from the General Council. I hope this message finds you in good health as we prepare to enter the season of Advent. I pray this time of preparation will be a moment to encounter the spirit of God’s presence in your life.
As you may know, the Extraordinary General Council—composed of the Provincials and the members of the General Council—met in Lyon, France from November 7-12. I write to share with you some of the news and deliberations of the EGC meeting held at the Valpre Center in Lyon.
Our gathering began on Sunday, Nov. 7 in Vourles at the parish church. Viatorians and parishioners gathered to celebrate the declaration of Father Louis Querbes as Venerable. Bishop Patrick Le Gal, Auxiliary Bishop of Lyon, presided at the Eucharistic liturgy during which the decree from the Congregation for the Cause of Saints was read. It was most appropriate that this celebration take place in Vourles, the very place that Father Querbes lived and ministered. Following the liturgy, a reception was held that included members of the Viatorian Community of France and all the members of the Extraordinary General Council.
On Monday, Nov. 8 the EGC meeting officially began at the Valpre Center in Lyon. Much of the discussion and sharing throughout the meeting stressed the impact of COVID-19 throughout the international Congregation. The inability to personally encounter each other and the isolation that resulted for so many had incredible impact on Viatorian life everywhere. This theme was every present in the discussions during our meeting.
The initial agenda item concerned a variety of issues relating to the Provinces and Foundations. The Provincials reported on the life of their Province, discussing the major themes and concerns of day-to-day life in their Province. This robust and helpful exchange provided the opportunity for a deeper understanding of the status of each Province as well as reflecting on future concerns.
Long and very healthy discussions followed on the status of each Foundation, including the mechanisms and process for seeking the status of Region. Our discussion stressed the importance of leadership and continuing to develop the qualities we hope to see in leaders and superiors in the Viatorian Community. The EGC confided to a committee of three the task of developing a model of education for leadership, adjusted to each entity, for presentation to the next meeting of the EGC. We also reviewed the conditions necessary for the establishment of a Region (GR 199) and the 2018 Chapter Decision 12-13. The members of the EGC felt that it was important for Foundations to take the necessary time for discernment and preparation when seeking the establishment of Regional status.
Question 35 of the 2018 General Chapter accepted in principle the opening of a new Foundation in a southern hemisphere country and entrusted to the General Council, in agreement with the Extraordinary General Council, to assure such establishment by 2024. This meeting of the EGC held extensive discussion about this question. A consensus emerged that we should examine the possibility of opening such a new Foundation in Africa and the members of the EGC agreed to continue this discernment before the next meeting of the EGC. Questions to be addressed included who would have jurisdiction for a new Foundation, location, international funding, staffing and research into an appropriate country that might welcome the Viatorians and the charism of Father Querbes.
The second major agenda item concerned issues related to the General Direction. We had a very useful discussion about the de-centralized model of operation for the General Council. Including the positive and negative aspects of this model. No one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, but it had a major impact on the General Council and our inability to meet in person for the past 20 months. While ZOOM communication is helpful, it remained very difficult in three languages. The EGC also re-visited the question of whether or not we should return to fulltime presence in Rome for members of the General Council. After considerable discussion, the consensus reached was that the General Council should seek to find space for rent, on a regular basis, that would provide a place to meet —perhaps once a month. There was agreement that we should not purchase property but investigate the possibilities for rental. The General Council will resume in-person meeting within the next month.
The pandemic has prevented any pastoral visits by the Superior General and Council for over 20 months. The EGC discussed a proposed visit schedule and encouraged a resumption of visits as soon as safe and practical. There was general agreement to resume in early 2022 and the General Council will consult with Provincials and foundation superiors in planning these visits.
The third major agenda item of this meeting was to discuss the General chapter of 2024. The Chapter will be held in Arricia, Italy from July 3-24, 2024. Planning for the Chapter is beginning now and the meeting of the EGC included very extensive discussions and reflections. There is need to finalize a theme for this Chapter and there was a long discussion about the methodology and process. Some expressed frustration with the methodology of past Chapters and hope for a different method—perhaps a Chapter of Discernment or the development of an agenda of far fewer questions that would allow for deeper and more developed discernment about the direction and priorities for the international Congregation. Again, the EGC confided to committee of members the task of initial planning for the 2024 General Chapter with the view to submitting their work to the next meeting of the Extraordinary General Council (EGC).
The final agenda item was a discussion of a possible General Assembly—a meeting of professed religious and associates. The last meeting of the General Assembly was held in Spain in 2016. The discussion was helpful and reinforced the importance of continued development of the Viatorian community. We discussed Question 41 of the 2018 General Chapter and the response of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to our proposed amendment of Article 5 of the Constitution. While their reaction was not unexpected, it does seem to challenge us to renewed discussion and, perhaps, a new vocabulary in discussing Association. After considerable discussion, the members of the EGC agreed that it is not opportune now to schedule a meeting of the General Assembly prior to the 2024 General Chapter. The pandemic has prevented any planning for such an international gathering. The EGC did suggest that Provincial and regional gathering in assembly should be encouraged to continue the development of the Viatorian Community.
Finally, the members agreed to schedule our next meeting for May 30-June 5, 2022, in Valladolid, Spain.
I want to thank the Provincials and the members of the General Council for their generous commitment of time and energy; it was almost three years since our last gathering and I very much appreciate their service and ministry to the international Congregation. I hope this message provides you some sense of our discussion and the future planning of both the General Council and the EGC.
My best wishes to you with a prayer that God’s blessings will sustain and nurture you.
Sincerely in Viator and Querbes,
Robert M. Egan, CSV