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    Scent, Oxytocin, Tawas, and Intercultural Living

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Silvester Asa, cicm
     

    Researchers have discovered that bacteria thrive in every nook and cranny of our bodies. For some in the animal kingdom, certain bacteria flourish around their orifice or private parts. This explains why these specific parts of the body become the center of attention in bonding and mating rituals. Interestingly, like lemurs, who can stand on their two feet, we, humans, accumulate bacteria in our armpits. The glands in our armpits produce certain microbes with a particular odor. In the case of lemurs, the odor helps determine whether a lemur comes from the same conspiracy and is related to it. For us human beings, attraction to another person, or the lack thereof, is all about chemistry. Indeed, the scent of our personal wildlife, which can be traced back to our armpits, either binds us together or sets us apart.[1] Perhaps that is why someone may smell like Rafflesia to you, but that same person can be an alabaster jar of overflowing Sandalwood oil to someone else. This might also explain why Adam is attracted to Eve, while Steve prefers Job instead.  

    Interestingly, some studies have also concluded that the human brain is capable of producing oxytocin, a hormone that plays a significant role in our behavior. Also known as the love hormone that makes us feel close and connected to others, Oxytocin helps us heighten our bond with one another. Simply put, oxytocin is responsible for why birds of the same feather flock together. However, it is important to remember that oxytocin only serves to strengthen our bonds with one another. Furthermore, a study on primates’ behavior reveals that their oxytocin levels rise significantly as they enhance their proximity and strengthen their bond. By the same token, couples who are affectionate and bless each other with tender loving caress tend to develop a strong immune system and live a healthier and longer life because of a high dose of oxytocin.[2]

    Intriguingly, even though oxytocin enables us to strengthen our bond with one another, the same hormone can also heighten our animosity against others, turning them into enemies. Oxytocin “prompts trust, generosity, and cooperation towards Us but crappier behavior toward Them. . .”[3]  Indeed, there is a fine line between love and hate. The question is: what do these studies have to do with CICM Initial Formation and our intercultural living as CICM religious missionaries? Can we learn something from these recent scientific findings? Let me address these questions with an illustration that is based on real-life experiences. 

    Together with seven other Indonesians, I spent two memorable semesters at Maryshore Seminary in Bacolod City, Philippines, for our philosophy studies. One day, we were given some “tawas”[4]  as presents. This was the first time most of us saw this crystal-like thing, and we wondered what to do with it. Later, we discovered that tawas is widely believed to be effective in, among other things, neutralizing body odor in the Philippines. This realization made us, the Indonesians, realize that our Filipino brethren were trying to convey a subtle yet essential message to us in order to address this pertinent issue of our distinct body odor. As a result, some of us began using tawas, while others resorted to conventional deodorant or settled for rubbing alcohol.

    Some years later, as a formator, I had to overcome my own predicament in addressing the issue of body odor. Some community members had brought this issue up in their “Peer Evaluation,” thereby needing my assistance. Fortunately, contrary to my fear that this would offend the concerned parties, my carefully crafted feedback was taken in stride.

    While listening to my sharing, a Congolese confrere confided to me about his similar experience in the mission as a formator. Once, he received a call from the school where our students were enrolled for their studies because a student confrere had “a little bit of a strong body odor.” The school thought that he could help them bring this to the student’s attention since he was the student’s formator. Despite the awkwardness of the situation and with due sensibilities, he politely discussed this issue with the said student confrere and the case was resolved amicably.

    While it is true that we tend to be drawn and attracted to those who share our chemistry, our proximity and constant interactions can, in time, increase the production of our positive oxytocin and social bonding. Indeed, love not only happens at first sight but is also nurtured. This should be more than welcome news to us, CICM religious missionaries, who came from different races, nationalities, and cultural backgrounds. And yes, each of us does have a distinct body odor.

    Nobody has ever said that living together in a community is a walk in the park. Yet, despite our fundamental differences, no one has ever systematically attempted to implement discriminatory policies and practices. On the contrary, our vision and policies are crystal clear. Called by the same Lord, we follow the footsteps of our beloved Founder, Théophile Verbist, by leaving our familiar surroundings behind to proclaim the Good News to all creation in the spirit of Cor Unum et Anima Una (CICM Constitutions, Art. 2).  Furthermore, some structures that we have put in place, such as our international formation communities that allow us to be in close proximity to one another even at the very early stages of our CICM religious missionary formation, can actually increase the level of our positive oxytocin. In fact, this is an effective way to embrace oxytocin’s side effects gently. In extreme circumstances, the same bonding hormone can cause animosity, which can lead to hatred and racial discrimination. As a result, forming international and multicultural formation communities and pastoral teams is both necessary and crucial to the fruitfulness of mission.

    The challenge remains, however, that we must go beyond international and multicultural living. Bringing different nationalities and cultural groups together in the same space simply because we want to be “multicultural and international” is not enough. That is just the beginning of the journey. It is only when we are able to gently challenge, affirm, and enrich one another because each has been blessed with what is peculiar; can we celebrate our intercultural living.  

    In fact, for many of our Filipino brothers and us Indonesians, I must add, this was most likely our first experience of living with “foreigners” who smell differently. I am sure it was not easy for those Filipino seminarians to find creative ways to address this issue without offending us. Our Filipino brothers could have chosen not to interact with us at all. Instead, they chose to welcome us in their midst. Fortunately, they found the answer to this existential question in, among others, tawas. And so were we, the formators, who were entangled in this delicate issue. It would be horrible if we had to dismiss a candidate solely because he had a peculiar scent. Instead, we embraced our own apprehensions in order to resolve this issue with much sensibility and style. Of course, such creative intervention risks being perceived as a subtle way of imposing a certain standard of truth on others. However, this must be viewed as a genuine effort on the part of some community members to share the wealth of their tradition with those who wish to enter their sacred stable, thus welcoming a stranger as one of their own. After all,

    It belongs to our human dignity that we seek and share the truth. Truth is the basis of all human community. Human beings flourish in the shared pursuit of truth as fish do in water and birds in the air. Without it, we perish, and society disintegrates. To share what I believe to be most deeply true expresses my belief in the dignity of the other person.[5]

    What has happened simply showed such ingenuity in sharing a recognized and time-tested truth. Hopefully, this resourceful and courageous act motivated by hospitality and genuine desire for unity and harmony will help us significantly become interculturally savvy CICM religious missionaries who have “the odor of the sheep.”[6]  

     

    [1] DW Documentary. “Who lives on our Bodies? A Microscopic Safari.” YouTube Video, March 7, 2022. Who lives on our bodies? A microscopic safari | DW Documentary - YouTube

    [2] DW Documentary. “How does touch affect our mental and physical health.” YouTube Video, April 2, 2022. How does touch affect our mental and physical health? | DW Documentary - YouTube.

    [3] Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave, the Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst (Penguin Books, 2017), 389.

    [4] Tawas is also known as Potassium Alum or simply Alum.

    [5] Timothy Radcliffe, OP., “Does Europe Need Missionaries?” in SEDOS Bulletin 2022,

    vol. 54, No. ¾, March-April, 15.

    [6] Pope Francis, Homily on Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013, in 28 March 2013: Chrism Mass | Francis (vatican.va).


    CICM and the Spirit-Soul-Body Trilogy: A Retrospective and Prospective Look

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Jean-Gracia Etienne, cicm
    General Councilor

     

    “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thes 5:23)

    A Fervent Call at the Beginning of the 15th CICM General Chapter 2017

    At the opening of the 15th CICM General Chapter, Father Javier Alvarez- Ossorio, SSCC, was invited to lead the recollection that marked the beginning of the occasion. He focused his meditations and exhortations on the biblical text quoted above. In his exegetical approach, Father Javier emphasized the distinction and function of each element of the Spirit-Soul-Body trilogy. He then attempted to apply the results of this exegetical analysis to CICM.

    He proposed that the spirit is the foundational charism, the formulation of mission ideals, and the promulgation of our Congregation’s Constitutions and Statutes. The soul is the heart of the Congregation. It is the capacity to experience God, inspire and animate others, and transform communities into disciples of faith, hope, and charity. The body is the members of CICM.

    Based on these considerations, Father Javier invited the participants in the 15th General Chapter and all the Congregation members to look mainly at the Congregation’s soul (heart). According to him, it is not enough for the body to be healthy and the spirit to be alive. It is critical that the Congregation’s members take care of its soul.1 Javier’s exhortation had a positive impact on the capitulants during the Chapter and on all the members of the Congregation through the publication of the Acts of the Chapter. These Acts included a summary of Father Javier’s message. What has happened to this message five years after the 15th Chapter?

    On the Progress of the Congregation After the 15th General Chapter

    We have attempted to maintain and nurture our Congregation’s spirit, soul, and body over the last five years, with the help of the Holy Spirit. This explains its continued active participation in Christ’s mission entrusted to the Church. The reports of the meetings and assemblies of the eight CICM Provinces, as well as those of canonical visits to the confreres in the field and the Houses of Initial Formation by members of the General Government (GG), as well as positive echoes received from Christ’s faithful and bishops in the places where the congregation’s members are engaged, attest to the congregation’s vitality. Confreres’ witness still needs to be improved. The work of the 2019 CICM General Conference provides a more general overview of our congregation’s current situation.

    The CICM General Conference: A Period of Evaluation of the Orientations of the 15th General Chapter

    Two years after the 15th General Chapter, the GG organized a General Conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, from October 14 to 28, 2019, in accordance with our Constitutions (Art. 105). The Provincial and Vice-Provincial Superiors and the members of the GG of our Congregation attended this meeting. The work of this Conference was centered on the implementation of the 15th Chapter. Furthermore, participants in this Conference reflected on the Congregation’s mission, Initial Formation, consecrated celibacy, and other topics. There was also time to assess the effectiveness of some of our Congregation’s internal structures.

    It was observed that the confreres took the recommendations of the 15th General Chapter seriously from the reports of all the CICM Provinces. These reports were honest and sincere, reflecting what was accomplished and what was not accomplished, as well as the various obstacles and suggestions. Furthermore, these reports highlighted our Congregation’s participatory leadership. In dealing with new challenges in frontier situations, some Provinces and the GG have demonstrated exemplary discernment. This process of reflection led to the selection of Malawi as a new missionary insertion. There was also a greater awareness among the confreres of the importance of being good stewards of the Institute’s material goods and finances. Internal and external audits conducted in all Provinces have contributed to this awareness.

    Moreover, as recommended by the 15th General Chapter, the carbon tax has become a common practice throughout our Provinces. Multiculturalism was also perceived as a fact and a success at all levels of the Institute and in our Initial Formation communities. The Institute’s charism is similarly visible in our preference for the poor. This is reflected in the confreres’ involvement in various ministries, such as those for abandoned children, orphans, migrants, the elderly, drug addicts, and so on.

    Furthermore, new insertions in most of our Provinces attest to the pioneering spirit of our charism, which has become an integral part of our missionary life. Overall, the participants in the General Conference renewed their sense of optimism for the future. This optimism stems from the positive reports and missionary projects of the various Provinces. The sharing during this General Conference had given the participants renewed hope for the future.2

    The General Conference participants also identified some less positive aspects that require attention. It is disheartening, for example, to see some confreres refuse to change their apostolate. They would rather stay in their comfort zone and are unwilling to serve the Congregation when called upon. Also troubling is the fear of Provincial Superiors making difficult decisions, such as applying the decree on dealing with serious cases of fraud and financial mismanagement. Furthermore, it is saddening to see confreres in the process of leaving the Congregation or those who are problematic being sent for specialized studies. It is also surprising to see such a small number of active confreres on the field, despite the significant presence of young people.

    The reports from our Provinces, on the other hand, made the participants realize that there is still work to be done in terms of honesty, truth, and commitment as missionaries and religious. First, we must be aware of sexual and other forms of abuse, as well as how to prevent them. Second, it is critical to support ecological projects and to instill in the confreres the importance of the environmental statement. Finally, we must emphasize lay associate formation, animate the confreres through strategic corporate mission projects, and remind them of the 15th General Chapter’s recommendations, declarations, and decrees.3

    The Mission During the Covid-19 Pandemic

    The Covid-19 health crisis has had a significant impact on people’s lives all over the world. Members of our Institute are called to witness God’s love in the midst of suffering and death. The GG conducted a survey of our eight CICM Provinces through the General Committee for Mission. The GG wanted to solicit reflections on the pandemic’s impact on the confreres and the lives of those around them. The goal of this survey was to gather ideas for what more could be done in the long run at the level of our Provinces and the Congregation as a whole.

    We have retained a few elements from the responses received that stem from the CICM’s initiatives to better cope with this reality. To begin, our CICM Provinces put in place safeguards to ensure the safety and health of our confreres and close collaborators. To ensure everyone’s safety, the confreres did their best to strictly adhere to the directives and health protocols issued by the governments and health authorities of their respective places. Confreres collaborated with religious and non-governmental organizations to provide food and health supplies in an effort to alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable. During the lockdown, steps were also taken to ensure that workers and employees received all or half of their wages.

    Efforts have been made in schools and parishes where confreres work to better extend relief efforts to the most affected communities. For their part, the young confreres in our Houses of Formation have found ways to be creative and helpful during this pandemic. Confreres, particularly those involved in parish ministry, had been celebrating Masses online in order to continue providing liturgical service to the faithful during their confinement. Professionals from universities and our schools were encouraged and supported to provide counseling and psychological support to those suffering from trauma and stress. Confreres in some of our CICM Provinces offered their facilities as temporary shelters for frontline workers such as doctors, nurses, and so on. Individual confreres and communities reported they experienced intense moments of prayer and realized more the value of community life. Finally, meetings and other gatherings were held using Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, and other similar platforms.

    The pandemic’s impact on human lives continues unabated. As a result, some proposals were made in order to develop long-term strategies for dealing with this crisis. It was proposed to establish a “Covid-19” fund and, if possible, allocate a substantial budget for emergency relief to parishes and other CICM entities. This would allow continued assistance to vulnerable people needing food and health care. Cooperation with faith-based organizations, government services, and non-governmental organizations was also contemplated. This collaboration would help most people suffering from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic by creating alternative livelihoods. We must continue to take adequate measures to protect the Institute’s vulnerable members, particularly those in our retirement homes. And, if possible, consider adequately training Institute members to assist people suffering from psychological trauma and stress due to the pandemic. There is also a strong desire to ensure appropriate training of young confreres for mission in the post-Covid-19 context. Finally, there is an urgent need to manage available resources better and strengthen congregational solidarity. We hope that the necessary steps will be taken to implement some of these proposals.

    So far, we have attempted to present some of the actions taken by Institute members within the framework of the mission in order to revitalize the Institute in the spirit of the body-soul-spirit trilogy. However, we must not overlook the explicit call to pay special attention to the Congregation’s soul (heart). Can we say that the confreres have responded to this call and that the next General Chapter does not need to revisit this critical aspect of our trilogy?

    The Link Between the 15th General Chapter’s Call and the 16th CICM General Chapter in Preparation

    We are not satisfied with the attention given to the Congregation’s soul thus far. Nurturing our Congregation’s soul is a never-ending task. Therefore, the following theme has been chosen for the next Chapter in order to further encourage Institute members to fidelity to religious vows, intense individual and community prayer, contemplation, reconciliation, community life, and a new missionary thrust: “Witnessing to the Gospel in a Changing World.” The three memos, which were sent to Institute members for personal and community meditation, reflection, and small group sharing in preparation for the Provincial and Regional Assemblies for the next Chapter, are entitled: “Spirituality and Mission: to Evangelize is our Joy”; “Reconciliation as a Gift from God and a Missionary Task”; and “Interculturality as Witnessing.”

    The contents of these memos were not only applicable to the preparation and conduct of Provincial and Regional Assemblies. They should constantly remind all Institute members to work on improving the soul (heart) of the Congregation. In this regard, we would like to reiterate St. John Paul II’s words to the religious of London on May 29, 1982:

    Most people know what you do, and admire and appreciate you for it. Your true greatness, though, comes from what you are. Perhaps what you are is less known and understood. In fact, what you are can only be grasped in the light of the “newness of life” revealed by the Risen Lord. In Christ you are a “new creation” (cf. 2 Co 5:17). . . This “newness of life” is a gift of Christ to his Church.

    We hope that these words may well guide us in our efforts to improve the quality of our lives and our commitment every day in order to fulfill better our role as religious missionaries in this changing world.  

    _______________

    1. Cf. CICM, Acts of the 15th General Chapter, Rome, 2017, p. 11-12

    2. Cf. CICM, General Conference Report, Santo Domingo, 2019, p. 23

    3. Cf. Ibidem, p. 25.


    Evangelizing in a CICM Spirit

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Jozef Matton, cicm 

     

    In this article, I would like to share some experiences that have caused me to reflect and question myself. These experiences are rooted in the last few months’ events, personal encounters, and visits to some of our beloved Congregation’s Provinces.

    Covid-19

    We have all been living under the health crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic for more than two years. This pandemic has had and continues to have a significant impact on us. Many restrictive measures have been implemented worldwide to limit the spread of the virus and ensure that we live as healthily as possible in society. Restriction measures have also been implemented in our communities, particularly those with elderly and disabled confreres. This has necessitated a great deal of creativity and flexibility on the part of the confreres and staff.

    Some specific measures or arrangements, which were only temporary, have remained permanent in some communities, such as table arrangement in the refectory, the way meals are served at the table, and eating alone in one’s room.

    I also noticed that some confreres wanted to return to the situation before Covid-19. They felt that community life was deteriorating, and physical contact became even more limited. However, many other confreres wished to keep the provisional as the permanent. And for what reason? Was it because the temporary fit them best? There is indeed a need to consider a balance between each confrere’s physical health and healthy community life.

    Covid-19 also introduced the ZOOM videoconferencing application. We have all had the experience that ZOOM can be an effective means of communication for meetings, etc. For example, the SEDOS (Service of Documentation and Study on Global Mission) sessions through ZOOM have drawn a larger global audience. Many of these participants would not have been able to attend these sessions if they had been held (only) face-to-face in Rome because of travel costs or visa issues.

    However, we were also aware of Zoom’s limitations. We all felt the importance of physical and personal meetings. We must cherish our personal and physical encounters in Europe and also elsewhere. We all learned how confinement was a painful and challenging experience for many people. Fortunately, we religious have a community. We must take care of it.

    Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our Congregation. To begin with, some confreres died directly or indirectly as a result of Covid-19, even in countries where the existence of Covid-19 was denied.

    Second, for more than a year, members of the General Government have been unable to travel to visit confreres in several Provinces and countries where CICM is present due to the Covid-19 pandemic and all of its restrictions.

    Finally, many young confreres also had a challenging experience. Some, for example, had to wait two years before entering their mission countries. Others did not even make it to the countries where they were appointed as missionaries. The mission assignments were even changed for the latter. It took a lot of patience and effort to adjust to new realities. To face these new realities, patience and creativity were required. Having a missionary spirit and conviction aided greatly in the adaptation process. Perhaps this experience will be helpful in the future when other challenges and difficulties arise that require the same adaptation. Dear confreres, let us not be afraid of challenges. This is not a missionary attitude. It is not a CICM attitude either.

    In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, Europe is facing another crisis. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe has realized that the dream of permanent peace in its midst is a pipe dream. What a horror in Ukraine! Thousands of dead and wounded on both sides! No call for peace has been heard. What is the role of the churches that claim to be Christian? Religion should unite and build rather than divide and destroy. What is the future of ecumenism?

    During this time of war in Ukraine, we see conflicting reactions in Europe. On the one hand, the European Union responds by sending arms, supposedly “to protect itself,” while on the other hand, it expresses deep support for the Ukrainian people. Large sums of money have suddenly become available for humanitarian aid and the refugee reception. As a result of the European Union’s stance, some question why there is such strong solidarity with the Ukrainian people and a refusal to accept Syrian and other refugees.

    All can work together to build

    a more peaceful world,

    starting from the hearts of individuals

    and relationships in the family,

    then within society and with the environment,

    and all the way up

    to relationships between peoples

    and nations.

     

    Pope Francis, Message for the celebration

    of the 55th World Day of Peace. January 1, 2022

    Experiencing Hardship

    Earlier this year, my cousin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The doctors told him he only had six months to a year to live, depending on the tumor’s development and the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

    When I visited him, I was struck by how calmly he and his wife deal with this painful reality. I congratulated them and inquired how they were dealing with this unfortunate experience. After looking at himself and his wife, my cousin said, “Would getting angry, rebelling, or letting go change anything?” It wouldn’t make me live any longer, let alone better. But we both have to deal with these trying times. It is each other’s support and encouragement that allows us to succeed. We are married not only for the good times but also for the bad.”

    I was pensive when I got home. I was mostly thinking about the difficult situations that many confreres face from time to time. I also reflected on my interactions with confreres who had received devastating health news. I also considered how I would react in such a situation.

    How about the CICM? Are we truly brothers or confreres? Are we capable of supporting one another in the spirit of Cor Unum et Anima Una when we encounter difficulties? Our Cor Unum et Anima Una is more than a slogan to be printed on T-shirts; it is a mission to live.

    In View of the 16th General Chapter

    The theme of the Provincial Assembly of the CICM Province of LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean), in which I participated, was: The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord (Jn 20:20). This theme was very well reflected in the Assembly’s logo. And it gives me great pleasure to see how many young and not-so-young confreres working in the Province’s various countries are joyful missionaries. While they are realistic and aware of the challenges in each country, they also recognize that a permanent conversion is required for each member of the LAC Province.

    I would like to close with a few words about the memos in view of the preparation for the 16th Chapter. I have heard some comments and remarks about the three memos that the General Government sent to all CICM Provinces to help prepare for the 16th General Chapter.

    “The memos are very Ad Intra oriented,” was one of the comments. We don’t see much about our “core business,” namely our mission. What should be the missionary presence today and in today’s world? “Indeed, these questions are not explicitly asked in the three memos. However, I believe that these memos should be read in light of the theme of our 16th General Chapter, which is "Witnessing to the Gospel in a Changing World." The term ‘witnessing’ is important to me. It is the key to understanding all three memos.

    Modern man listens

    more willingly to witnesses

    than to teachers,

    and if he does listen to teachers,

    it is because they are witnesses

    Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 41

    We are all convinced, and we say with great conviction, that the testimony of life is the most important aspect of our lives and missionary work. I am also completely convinced of this.

    Indeed, questions like ‘What missionary work?’ and ‘Where?’ are important questions. But, if we lack the necessary missionary dispositions, if we are not faithful to our missionary and religious lives, if we live a double life, what witness can we give wherever we are?

    Instead, we must dare ask ourselves: Is evangelizing in a CICM spirit still our joy? Are we here to serve the mission, or is the mission at our service? Are we, as CICM, ready to be reconciled on many levels of life? What kind of missionary witness is provided by two confreres who live in the same community but never speak to each other? Are we prepared to live and commit in an intercultural context while witnessing the universality of salvation? What are our criteria when we are consulted in view of appointments within our Province?

    I am convinced that spiritual renewal is also required for this. Beautiful structures and large sums of money are insufficient. In our Congregation, there are considerable Ad Intra challenges.

    To be honest, it is excruciating to see that personal ambition, personal enrichment, power, and influence are sometimes more important than our corporate commitments to the mission and greater congregational solidarity for some confreres. Our three religious vows risk losing all of their religious significance.

    During the Province of LAC’s Provincial Assembly, a young confrere asked me, somewhat unexpectedly, if I still had hope for the Congregation’s future. Certainly! Why should I have any doubts? However, the Congregation’s future will be determined not only by the Superiors at all levels of the

    Congregation but also by each of us. Regardless of our shortcomings, each of us has a responsibility. Beautiful structures and finances are secondary considerations.

    I wish you all the best in your missionary endeavors. Please pray for the success of our Congregation’s upcoming General Chapter. We are all participants. Cor Unum et Anima Una.


    Disturb Us, O Lord

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Adorable Castillo, cicm 
    Vicar General  

     

    This prayer of the late Bishop Desmond Tutu that figured in the Acts of the 15th General Chapter is intended to inspire CICM confreres to continue dreaming and hoping for a mission that is pioneering, daring, and creative. Our Constitutions say that the General Chapter is held regularly “to renew the apostolic thrust of the Institute and encourage its members to be faithful to their religious missionary vocation” (Art. 110). Allow me to contribute my two cents’ worth to this ongoing reflection as we prepare the 16th General Chapter and renew our commitment to the worldwide mission of the Church.

    Authentic missionary renewal presupposes a conversion, both personal and communal. As in the case of prominent biblical characters, conversion happens in many different ways, at times bizarrely, concomitant with unexpected happenings.

    Jonah was called by Yahweh to preach conversion to the Ninevites, but he continuously refused and deliberately ran away. Shipwrecked and thrown into the sea, he was eventually swallowed by a whale and made a reluctant missionary inside its belly.

    The frustrated, exhausted and fear-stricken Elijah was fed by ravens and a widow. And in the mountain of Horeb, the Lord appeared to him not in the strong winds, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a sound of sheer silence.

    Simon, the seasoned fisherman from Capharnaum, was awed by a miraculous catch and became a disciple of Jesus. And later, the proverbial cock crow reminded him (also known as “Peter the denier”) of his great sin but also of God’s great mercy.

    Saul of Tarsus was a zealous Pharisee, a fanatic defender of the Torah, and an avowed persecutor of Christians. Along the way to Damascus, he suddenly fell down and a flash of light struck him blind. It was indeed a conversion experience to reckon with for it changed the course of Christianity’s history.

    Bizarre happenings coupled with natural and cosmic occurrences such as flashes of lightning, miraculous catch, cock’s crow, and turbulent storms are occasions of disturbance, dissonance, and rupture that play a crucial role in any conversion experience. May this prayer lead us to conversion.

    Disturb us, O Lord,

    when we are too pleased with ourselves,

    when our dreams have come true

    because we have dreamed too little,

    when we arrived safely

    because we sailed too close to the shore.

    At a recent occasion of the profession of perpetual vows, I addressed this message to the confreres concerned: “Does this perpetual profession mean having the inviolable rights and privileges enjoyed by all perpetually professed members of CICM? Does it mean perpetual “entitlement”? Not at all. Rather, it means perpetual service to the people of God and long-lasting commitment to the mission entrusted to us by the Lord.” Are we too pleased with ourselves when we have finally made it to the final vows and been ordained to the orders of deacon and presbyter? Have our dreams come true when we finally enjoy the inviolable rights and privileges of a perpetually professed CICM and acquired the honor and dignity of an ordained minister? Have we arrived safely, “sailing too close to the shore,” when we prefer to dwell only in our comfortable and familiar surroundings?

    In Evangelii Gaudium (#20), Pope Francis exhorts us “to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” Our comfort zone is not just our familiar and cozy environment. It also includes being stuck with non-updated theologies, outdated missionary methods, and old “habits of the heart.”1  We are challenged “to move from maintenance mode to a new missionary paradigm.2  With meager resources at his disposal, Théophile Verbist dreamt “big”. He dreamt about a mission in China. He died after only 27 months in one of the most difficult missions in the hinterlands of China, without seeing the fruits of his labor. After 160 years of our existence as a missionary congregation, let us do a reality check. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (#33), identifies 3 missionary situations: (1) where the Gospel is not yet known, (2) young churches that need pastoral care, and (3) “post-Christian situation,” particularly in Europe. Needless to say, more than 80 percent of our active missionary personnel are located in situation no. 2. While we do pastoral work in many local churches in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, we are barely present in situations no. 1 and no. 3. Today, the clear and present challenge for our Congregation is to move from situation no. 2 to situations no. 1 and no. 3.

    Disturb us, O Lord,

    when with the abundance of things we possess,

    we have lost our thirst for the waters of life.

    We have ceased to dream of eternity

    and in our efforts to build a new earth,

    we have allowed vision of the new Heaven to grow dim.

    According to a recent issue of Forbes magazine, “a record number of billionaires, about one new one every 17 hours, have been created during the Covid-19 pandemic.”3  Billionaires are created in good and bad times. While 6 million people have already died and still many more millions have been suffering since the outbreak of Covid-19, particularly in many developing countries, billionaires are actually doing well during the pandemic. Our own investment portfolio has registered record high returns. “It was indeed a fantastic year.” This positive result will more or less assure us sustenance for ourselves and for our mission work for the next few years to come. While we rejoice and congratulate our investment managers for a job well done, shouldn’t we think more of sharing our resources generously and working closely with those who have been severely affected by this present pandemic?

    One of the great lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is the “globalization of solidarity”. We may not be “infected but we are all affected”. We found ourselves belonging to one species called Homo sapiens. As Homo sapiens, we are the most successful among the primate species because of our brain. However, we are also the most dangerous because as a species we are capable of murder, and even much worse, of planning genocide.4 Likewise, we are capable of destroying our own natural environment. Our intelligence turns out to be “our weakness.” It is the source of violence, manipulation, and self-destruction. Conversely, as a species we survive more successfully than the dinosaurs, not because of our “bigger brain” but because of our bigger “heart”. Matthew Fox5 once argued that the “original blessing” is “more original” than “original sin.” Human beings are “blessed” from the very beginning, because contrary to the tenet: “the survival of the fittest,”6 we are endowed with a “bigger heart” to care for the weakest and the most vulnerable. That is what the Bible (and the Qur’an, for that matter) teaches–to love one’s neighbor. Human beings are capable of self-giving and self-sacrifice. That is the kind of morality that allowed the fledgling community of the disciples of Jesus to survive and flourish as a community of believers amidst the domination of pagan Rome.

    Two thousand years ago, Christianity was a tiny, insignificant Jewish sect on the fringes of the Roman empire. Several waves of epidemic were recorded during the heyday of the Roman empire. Thousands, possibly even millions, died of unknown infectious diseases. According to sociologist Rodney Stark7, many Christians also died but a considerable number survived during the epidemic. While many ran away and went to a safer haven, the Christians remained in the city, took care of the sick and buried the dead, and showed much compassion and solidarity to survivors. To say the least, survival is the by-product of the Christian values of self-sacrifice and self-negation. A good number of Christians who took care of the sick acquired a certain immunity from the disease and eventually survived. In hindsight, we can conclude that Christians survived not because they were strong, healthy, and fit; but because they cared for one another.

    In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, we should be “disturbed” by both the “fantastic result” of our “gains” and the “enormous loss” of lives and economic opportunities of millions of human beings worldwide. Our missionary Institute began when the Founder embarked to found a “new Heaven and a new Earth” in the far-flung mission in China despite financial constraints and meager resources. Let us be reminded of a passage in the Acts of the 15th General Chapter:

    What they lacked in financial resources, they made up for with their faith and enthusiasm. Verbist, in his letter of October 20, 1867, wrote that: “our spiritual resources must exceed by far our physical ones.” The example of Verbist and the first missionaries in China reminds us that it is precisely when we are weak, small, with limited resources that we all witness to God’s power when we do mission.8

    The 15th General Chapter explicitly states that “the loss of pioneering spirit is a major obstacle to start something new.”9 Taking a cue from André De Bleeker, it is not too late to recapture our pioneering spirit:

    What we need now is for CICMs to undertake what few are willing to do-to be pioneers. Pioneers abandon the status quo and create a “new normal”. Pioneers have a fire in their hearts that drives them to share the Good News in challenging and difficult situations... Our memory replays our past, but our imagination pre-plays our future. Our pioneers have energized the imaginations of thousands of confreres. May our imaginations inspire confreres to undertake pioneering work once more in this century.10

    Let the memories of CICM pioneers “replay” our past. After the Founder and four companions ventured into Inner Mongolia, four confreres led by Albert Gueluy left for the mission of the Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC]) in 1888. They covered huge distances using the available means of transport through treacherous rivers, thick forests, and inhospitable terrain to preach the Gospel to the indigenous people of Central Africa. Nine CICM confreres led by Peter Dierickx landed in the Philippines in 1907 and opted to go to a vast territory in the mountainous region of Northern Luzon to preach the Gospel to the non-evangelized tribes of the Cordilleras. A good number of Dutch CICM pioneered missionary work among the Torajas in Indonesia. Jerry Galloway dedicated his whole life and his medical expertise to serving the indigenous people in the forests of Mai Ndombe, DRC. For a good number of years, CICM confreres have worked closely with the marginalized people in the United States such as the Afro-Americans, the First Americans, and Hispanic migrants. The confreres in Brazil ventured into the territories of the indigenous people in the Amazon region. In 1992, three CICM missionaries founded the Catholic mission in the vast territory of Mongolia from scratch. In Guatemala, confreres have been engaged in the missionary apostolate among the native population in Cobán and elsewhere. In Belgium, a CICM multicultural community has been doing missionary apostolate in an urban area of Deurne, Antwerp. The district of Indonesia has recently started a pastoral ministry among the indigenous people in Kalimantan. The present General Government unanimously decided to start a new missionary venture in Malawi. The first four CICM missionaries arrived there in the last quarter of 2020.

    Let our imagination “pre-play” our future. Are we ready to take up the cudgels for the sake of the Batwas and other indigenous tribes in DRC? Are we prepared to work among the Dumagats of Sierra Madre, the Aetas of Central Luzon, or the Lumads in Mindanao? Are we daring enough to accept the challenge of the Prelate of Marawi (in RP) to once again involve ourselves in Muslim-Christian dialogue? Are we willing to “pitch our tent” among the secularized people in Europe? Are we bold enough to again respond to the call of Pope Francis to go to the peripheries of the Amazon in South America? Are we capable of putting into good use the new information technologies and social media for evangelization? Are we present in the new Areopagus11, the cultural spaces in the post-Christian and post-secularized world that need to be permeated by the Gospel?

    Perhaps, the disturbance, the rupture, and the dissonance that are made manifest in our day-to-day existence may lead us to conversion. May the Spirit of the Lord guide us in our efforts to become faithful witnesses of the Gospel in the changing world.

    ______________

      1 The phrase “habits of the heart”, popularized by Robert Bellah, is borrowed from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. It simply means the sum of ideas, opinions, and notions that shape our mental habits.

      2 Acts of the 15th General Chapter, p. 14.

      3 “The magazine’s 35th annual list of the world’s wealthiest hit an unprecedented 2,755 billionaires, 660 more than a year ago, worth a total of US$13.1 trillion, up from US$8 trillion on the 2020 list. Another 63 women became billionaires, totaling 328. As a group, the women on the list are worth US$1.5 trillion, a nearly 60 percent increase over the past year.” ( www.dw.com › en › forbes-a-new-billionaire-every-17hours.)

      4 See Jared Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee (Sta. Fe, NM: Radius, 1991).

      5 See Matthew Fox, The Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality (Santa Fe, NM: Bear, 1983).

      6 It was originally coined by Herbert Spencer in 1864 after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

      7 See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1997).

      8 Acts of the 15th General Chapter, p. 33.

      9 Ibid., p. 13.

    10 “Pioneering Spirit in CICM: Brief History and Future Perspective,” unpublished paper delivered on November 6, 2018, in the meeting of the General Committee on Mission, p. 7.

    11 See Redemptoris Missio, no. 37.


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