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    Called and Sent to Be Witnesses of Faith, Hope, and Charity

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    Charles Phukutaby Charles Phukuta, cicm

    Next year, we will celebrate our 16th General Chapter and the Bicentennial of the birth of our Founder, Theophile Verbist. In the July-August 2022 issue of the Chronica, Jean-Gracia Etienne reflected on the Spirit-soul-body trilogy, to which the facilitator introduced the participants of the 15th General Chapter. The facilitator explained: “The soul of the Congregation or its heart is its ability to experience God, to inspire and animate people, to transform the members of its communities into witnesses of faith, hope and charity.”1  This part of the trilogy remains a challenge. So, as we prepare for the next General Chapter, we have been reflecting on the themes of spirituality and mission, reconciliation, and interculturality, as we seek to renew the apostolic thrust of the Institute and encourage one another to be faithful to our religious missionary vocation (Cf. CICM Constitutions, Art. 110).

    Now, I would like to invite you to reflect further on the importance of reconciliation and our universal brotherhood in proclaiming and witnessing the Gospel. Indeed, brotherhood is constitutive of the Church and our faith. So, it is not surprising that Article 2 of our Constitutions gives us the key to proclaim and witness the Gospel:

    Religious missionaries of different races and cultures, we live and work together as brothers. ‘One heart and one soul,’ we witness the Father’s will that all men and women be brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a sign of solidarity among the particular Churches in their universal mission.

    Article 45 realistically adds: “Knowing that we are sinners, we trust in God’s mercy and respond to Christ’s call to be reconciled with the Father and one another. We regularly turn to the sacrament of reconciliation and take the steps necessary to heal any broken relationships.”

    As CICM, we like to talk about our universal brotherhood and multiculturality, which correspond well to our longing for fraternal communion, the heart of the Gospel message of reconciliation. As religious missionaries sent to proclaim and witness the Gospel, there is always the possibility of living with the illusion that evil is only out there and not within us. Yet, we do not always act as brothers and children of a loving God and cause disruptions in relationships. Thus, we regularly need reconciliation with God and others and the life-giving words of forgiveness. When we experience brokenness in a relationship with a confrere or with others, we are to reach out, apologize or offer our friendship. When it is the community itself that suffers from brokenness, we are to heal the situation.2

    Reading the various reflections and reports on the Memo on Reconciliation, I realize that our journey moves us toward renewed relationships among us and with our brothers and sisters. As we move toward the 16th General Chapter, I wish to share some reflections that may help us tune in to the great call to reconciliation and fraternal communion in order to proclaim and witness the Gospel in our changing world.

    Christianity is the proclamation of the Gospel as a message of universal brotherhood. In the current context of globalization, we Christians must encourage and spread a spirit of universal brotherhood that transcends all borders while respecting the differences between cultures. Thus, communal fraternity contributes to the proclamation of the Good News. No one can claim to disengage from fraternal life in the community for apostolic reasons. On the contrary, it is integral to our commitment to proclaim and witness the Gospel.

    Jesus is right when he tells us, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand” (Mt 12:25). Unfortunately, sometimes, we experience frictions that make reconciliation and forgiveness difficult. Yet, both are important since fraternal life is crucial for bona fide proclamation and witness. Pope Francis has also made a similar observation and speaks of it in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG).

    Those wounded by historical divisions find it difficult to accept our invitation to forgiveness and reconciliation, since they think that we are ignoring their pain or are asking them to give up their memory and ideals. But if they see the witness of authentically fraternal and reconciled communities, they will find that witness luminous and attractive. It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act? (EG, # 100)

    It is common for hostilities to break out between members of the same community. No one is immune to the wounds that make it difficult to live in the community. During our canonical visits, we have noticed that very old events, some dating back decades, are still open wounds. I am sometimes surprised to see old quarrels persist in some communities. We should always ask ourselves what could open a way out. Our Christian faith urges us to find strength in the attitude of Jesus, for whom, where the means of justice and law have been exhausted, there is no other way to end the cycle of conflict and hostility than to oppose it with nothing other than forgiveness.

    Genuine brotherhood can only exist where forgiveness is given and received. We are talking about a brotherhood that, even with all the possible differences, is an experience of love that overcomes conflicts because community conflicts are inevitable. In a certain sense, they must exist if the community truly lives sincere and trustworthy relationships. To dream of a conflict-free community is not realistic and does no good. It might mean something needs to be improved if there is no putting up with conflicts in a community.3

    Evil can only be overcome by good (Rom 12:22; cf. 1 Pet 3:9). Living in a community that is reconciled and open to diversity makes our interculturality an eloquent testimony to our capacity to live as brothers and sisters, and therefore to proclaim and witness to the Gospel. Today, many of our communities are rich in different cultural or national sensibilities. Confreres live together in respect of their differences. But we must remain vigilant because the human tendency is to create borders to protect ourselves from differences.

    The Pope’s appeal is a call to examine our conscience about our brotherhood’s quality and capacity for reconciliation. Do our communities promote and leave enough room for forgiveness and reconciliation? How can we have true community joy if there is little or no room for reconciliation? Sometimes we are too inclined to criticize our brothers freely. Are we aware that this attitude, which can go as far as denigration, is an attack on our brotherhood?

    The time of preparation for the Chapter is a crucial moment of prayer and joyful hope. The General Chapter and the Bicentennial celebration of the birth of our Founder allow us to deepen and reappropriate the essence of our charism, listen to what people are asking today of a CICM religious missionary, assess and discern our witness, proclamation and community life, and give new vitality to the Congregation.

    To prepare for the twofold celebration, let us seek reconciliation with any person or persons with whom we now have a ruptured or unhappy relationship. Additionally, where the hotbed of conflict is present, a spiritual retreat of reconciliation during this coming Lent 2023 before the General Chapter could be beneficial - a retreat facilitated by a competent resource person who can encourage and challenge everyone to admit their part in the conflict, express it openly in the community, and be ready for sincere and genuine reconciliation.

    The challenge of reconciliation is to keep at it; to keep opponents talking, encourage compassionate listening, invite forgiveness, find the middle ground for peace, and never give up. As Saint Paul exhorts us,

    Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection (Col 3:12- 14).

    Let us not grow weary in doing what is right (Cf. Gal 6:9). Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love (EG, # 101)!  Finally, I wish you a good journey in communion toward the Chapter and the Bicentennial celebration of the birth of our Founder.  

    We too are sinners.
    We cause disruptions in relationships.
    We do not always behave
    as children of a loving God.

    We too regularly need reconciliation
    with God and with others.

    We too regularly need to experience
    life-giving words of forgiveness.

    CICM Constitutions. Commentary, p. 85


    1. We have a Good and Beautiful Mission. Acts of the 15th General Chapter, pp. 3-4.

    2. CICM Constitutions Commentary. Chapter I: Our Institute. 2nd Édition, 2007, p. 85-86.

    3. « Réveillez le monde ! 29 novembre 2013, entretien du pape François avec les supérieurs généraux, » in Documentation catholique, n° 2514, p.12-13.