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    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.


    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.” ( › 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.

    Towards the 16th General Chapter

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Charles Phukuta, cicm 
    Superior General  


    The Convocation of the General Chapter

    A few months ago, I sent a letter to all confreres introducing the theme and the process to prepare our coming 16th General Chapter. This General Chapter will be held in Rome, Italy, at the Centro Ad Gentes from June 4 to 30, 2023. In this month of February, the letter convoking the 16th General Chapter was sent out to all the Major Superiors of the Congregation. However, the preparation and the celebration of the Chapter is not a concern for them alone. We are all urged to be involved and to contribute to its success. But what is a General Chapter? Why is it so important? How is it connected to the whole Church, and what does it have to do with you? 

    The Practice of Holding General Chapters in Religious Congregations

    Holding general chapters in religious congregations is a long-standing and originally monastic practice. It can be traced back to the sixth century when St Benedict gathered the monks in his monastery each week to read and consider a chapter of the Benedictine Rule. Benedict held to the importance of each monk’s opinion being heard. The room where they met became known as the chapter room, and the gatherings themselves were called chapters. As the number of Benedictine monasteries increased, it became customary for representatives of the different monasteries to meet together for similar reading and discussion. By the early 13th century, church authorities declared that gathering representatives to review their lives was mandatory for all religious congregations.

    In later centuries, attendance at general chapters became limited to those holding leadership positions, and it was only after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that the style and outcome of general chapters changed significantly. In recent times, it is customary for all the members of a congregation to be involved in the preparation stages of the chapter. They have the right to send wishes and suggestions for consideration by the chapter. As one friend told me, a general chapter is like a big family meeting or a papal conclave without the white smoke. It consists of a series of meetings where representatives of a whole religious community discuss the central aspects of their way of life and make important decisions. 

    The General Chapter in Our Constitutions

    Article 110 of our Constitutions states: “The General Chapter seeks to renew the apostolic thrust of the Institute and to encourage its members to be faithful to their religious missionary vocation.” Our present life and mission should be animated by the power of the Holy Spirit; animated by the same ardor with which our predecessors let themselves be imbued by the original inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without this missionary ardor and capacity for renewal, the Congregation would be unfaithful to its mission.

    Accordingly, on the occasion of our 16th General Chapter, we are urged to reawaken our specific charism and take up our path with courage.1 Our Constitutions specify the framework to arrive at this goal. The General Chapter evaluates the state of the Institute. It makes an effort to recognize the missionary needs of the world (see). Considering the state of the Congregation, the Chapter makes an effort to recognize the missionary needs of the world and the concrete demands these needs impose on the Institute (judge). The General Chapter will also have the task of formulating proper guidelines and making the necessary decisions (act) based on the outcome of our discernment process.2

    Thus, the whole Congregation confronts itself with the Word of God and the demands of the Gospel, our missionary goal and the challenges of the world, the expectations of the people of our time, and the aspirations of our confreres. Two attitudes are crucial in this process: availability and collaboration to bring to fruition the promptings and the projects of the Spirit.

    Many of us could easily be tempted to say, “the Chapter is not my problem; it’s the concern of the Provincials and the delegates.”  However, the preparation and the success of the Chapter are not a matter for them alone. Each confrere is to be involved and to contribute to its success. The participation of all the confreres in the preparation makes the Chapter representative of the entire membership of the Congregation (Const., Art. 109).

    Our Constitutions and other documents describe who we are, our mission, and how to fulfill it. However, our lived experience is not always in harmony with the ideals of our documents. Therefore, the General Chapter does not have to spend itself on analyzing our CICM vision. It must question itself based on the facts of our lived experience. In addition to essential topics such as Initial Formation, Finances, and Religious Leadership, we sent you three memos focused on some situations that merit particular attention: Spirituality and Mission, Reconciliation as a Gift from God and a Missionary Task, and Interculturality as Witnessing. Our reflection on those situations led the participants to the special meeting of the General Government to choose the theme of Witnessing to the Gospel in a Changing World for our 16th General Chapter.

    The 16th General Chapter as a Spiritual Event

    As I said at the beginning of this reflection and in my convocation letter, the 16th General Chapter is a spiritual event. Therefore, the first action to be activated is that of prayer: gathered around Mary, in prayer, attentive to the voice of the Spirit (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4). Let us allow ourselves to be inspired by the attitude of our Patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary: trust, fraternal solidarity, and an open mind will help us attain the goal of the General Chapter: “to renew the apostolic thrust of the Institute and to encourage its members to be faithful to their religious missionary vocation” (Const., Art. 110).

    The 16th General Chapter is for us a time of rekindling the fire of the original CICM charism and sincere search for God’s will for the future of our CICM mission. So, in our preparation, we should reflect honestly on how we are living out aspects of our charism, as well as our CICM spirituality and mission; how we make known God’s merciful love to our brothers and sisters to whom we are sent. In other words, the General Chapter is a time to ask ourselves: what does God ask of us CICM at this moment in the Church? What do God’s people ask of us, CICM, today? Who are the poor today? What does evangelization mean in the Church today?

    As we prepare for the General Chapter, may we continue to witness to the Gospel by the integrity of our faith and the holiness of our life. As we seek the mind and heart of God, we humbly pray, through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that our Chapter may be a profound work of the Holy Spirit and be life-changing for each one of us. 

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    1 Redemptoris Missio, # 66

    2 CICM, Constitutions. General Directory, Roma, 1988, Art. 110.

    Moral Imagination: from Internationality and Multiculturality to Interculturality

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Silvester ASA, cicm 
    General Councilor  


    “Moral Imagination” has been employed in the worlds of peacebuilding and community organizing since 2005. John-Paul Lederach, a world-renowned authority on peacebuilding, defines moral imagination as the “capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.”1 According to Lederach, an innate ability to weave a web of inclusive relationships is critical to realizing peace in a peaceful realm.2  He furthermore contends that moral imagination reveals itself in boldness and creative fidelity, which contribute significantly to the success of the peacebuilding and change processes.3  Moral imagination is also an artistry of networking and collaboration combined with optimism, patience, courage, creative fidelity, and risk-taking. Surprisingly, as an artistry, moral imagination permits serendipity to play a key part.4

    Moral imagination is essential in establishing and maintaining peace. But, in our quest for more constructive community living, I believe we may benefit from Lederach’s marvelous work and appropriate moral imagination. One might reasonably wonder how this relates to CICM community life. To answer this topic, I propose that we look at the terms internationality and multiculturality, which have been commonly used in our everyday language for decades. The fact that we came from many nationalities and cultural groupings demonstrates that we are international and multicultural. This is stated explicitly in Article 1 of the CICM Constitutions, which states that “the Congregation is an international religious missionary Institute.” In 2010, the CICM General Government (GG) published a document titled “Guidelines for Multicultural Living in CICM,” which it hoped would become “a tool that will help all the confreres (to) live better this gift of multicultural character in our dear Congregation.”5  Furthermore, the 15th CICM General Chapter referred to “our universal and multicultural brotherhood” as an efficient way of vocation animation.6  In addition, while assigning formators to Initial Formation Communities, the current GG takes into account internationality and multiculturality. 

    Internationality and multiculturality have undoubtedly become a part of our everyday life. However, the same may be true of every other place on earth. When you enter an airport like Chicago’s O’Hare, you are surrounded by international and multicultural people. Indeed, we cannot rule out the prospect of an intimate encounter taking place in such a public setting. However, without wishing to pass judgment on anyone, we might estimate that contact among people in such a space is likely to be superficial. For example, you can have a cup of cappuccino at a Starbucks at O’Hare International Airport without having to consider if the coffee beans are fair trade. The love symbol, on the other hand, is prominently visible on the surface of your cappuccino. You also do not have time to wonder if the person pouring you such a rich coffee is a Lakota or a Latin American, European, or Asian immigrant who happens to live on Chicago’s South Side, or “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother.”7

    But, if you do ask yourself these questions about the social location of the individuals you meet and they lead you to a whole new way of understanding reality and inspire you to behave with empathy and compassion, you may have just crossed the threshold of interculturality owing to your moral imagination. One may be living in an international and multicultural environment where everyone is striving for peaceful coexistence and conflict avoidance at all costs. Internationality and multiculturality are, after all, realities that may be taken for granted. However, in an ideal-typical intercultural setting, everyone strives to “enter a mutually enriching and challenging relationship of understanding, acceptance, and care–to the point of sharing worlds of meaning in the deepest sense–with a person of a culture different from one’s own.”8  Therefore, we would leave our comfort zones in intercultural living to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness and be challenged and enriched by our encounters with holy different others.

    “But, if you do ask yourself these questions
    about the social location of the individuals you meet
    and they lead you to a whole new way
    of understanding reality and inspire you
    to behave with empathy and compassion,
    you may have just crossed the threshold
    of interculturality owing to your moral imagination.”

    The story of Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24,13-35 exemplifies moral imagination in its purest form. The two despondent disciples could have just ignored the apparently curious stranger and returned to their mundane lives. However, they opted to engage fully with the stranger and let moral imagination take its course. Because of their providential encounter with a stranger on the way, Cleopas and his companion finally understood everything correctly. Whatever the case may be, the truth is undeniably apparent. Our meeting with a stranger, as well as our readiness to use our moral imagination, can help us (re) discover our true calling and deepen our relationship with the risen Lord. The outcome of such an encounter is what is so unique about it. Cleopas and his companion were re-energized by their encounter with the Stranger, who turned out to be none other than the risen Lord, and they rushed back to Jerusalem exuberantly to tell others about it.

     foto articolo Silvester Asa

    CIFA receives the visit of two General Councilors in November 2021 (Cameroon)


    Like Cleopas and his companion before their encounter with the resurrected Lord, some of us may get tired of hearing about internationality and multiculturality. But I believe many more are like Cleopas and his companion after their encounter with the risen Lord. Many of us continue to be grateful for our Congregation’s international and multicultural nature despite our flaws. This is only the beginning of the intercultural journey. The open-ended invitation remains for us to let our moral imagination flow freely and let our encounters, with the holy different others, challenge and enrich us mutually. When this time comes, I hope you have just finished your coffee at O’Hare and left a hefty tip for the person who served you. For Christmas pasalubong to your community, don’t forget a pack of andouillette or a bottle of Johnny Walker of any label. Rejoice, for when you get home, your choice of mosselen-friet or Argentinian beef served with Moutarde de Dijon or couscous and okra, complete with bangus and piri-piri sambal, will be waiting for you. 


    1 John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 29.

    2  I am appropriating Eric Law’s terminology, ‘Peaceful Realm.’ Eric H.F. Law, The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community (St. Louis: Missouri, Chalice Press, 1993), p.3.

    3 Lederach, The Moral Imagination, p. 5.

    4 Lederach, The Moral Imagination, p. 19.

    5 CICM, Guidelines for Multicultural Living in CICM (Roma, 2010), p. 3.

    6 CICM, Acts of the 15th General Chapter (Roma, 2017), p. 5.

    7 Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, ’The Hill We Climb’ – Harvard Gazette

    8  Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, SVD., Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011), p. 72.

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