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    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.


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