CONGREGATIONAL COUNCIL 2016
Feb. 26th – 27th
We are approaching the end of the Congregational Council. Before we addressed our final tasks – the voting regarding the General Assessment and a decision about the number of participants at the next General Chapter as well as some information from Sr. Edith about some of the latest developments in the Congregation – we visited Divine Savior School in Medellin.
We could not have expected what was to come. For the past year, the school had been making preparations for our visit. The reception was overwhelming! Boys and girls from kindergarten greeted us with pinwheels in the colors of our respective national flags. The children wore their traditional dress and the boys (caballeros) rode on toy horses. Each of us honored guests was conducted to the sports hall, where all the students had gathered. Accompanied by applause and peppy music (of course, in full volume, otherwise it is not Colombian!) and escorted by the small Caballeros (riders), we arrived at our special seats. The fact that we come from different parts of the world made an impression on the young people. The program was probably long for children but they remained quiet (definitely in comparison to the volume of the music). The focus of the program was music and dance and the young people who showed us the traditional dances impressed us deeply. For us, this was very entertaining. At the end of the program, we made a culinary journey through Colombia. Students had prepared foods at five different stations, each displaying the food of one of five regions. Of course we wanted to explore the tastes and eat! Everything was designed with great attention and love and the heartly enthusiasm and vivacity was contagious!! Muchas gracias!
After that, the evening offered another surprise. We were invited to have the Eucharist and dinner at the seminary Redemptoris Mater (Neokatechumenat). Of the more than 80 seminarians, about 60 celebrated with us. The “Music Department” during the liturgy was impressive: 10 guitars and 2 quatros (guitars with 4 strings), 2 flutes, a violin, electric organ, drums and strong voices. It was a powerful worship, followed by a very nice dinner in the large refectory with a wonderful view of the golden lights of night-time Medellin.
The morning prayer on Saturday, although prepared before the meeting, summoned in a wonderful way the essence of the Congregational Council. Peace, faith, love and hope were the focus of the prayer. With the prayer came the request that we and the people never lose hope because hope can rekindle love, faith and peace. And we as Salvatorian women want to be signs of hope in the world.
The prayer led beautifully into the morning’s work, an evaluation of our meeting. We first took personal time to respond to questions. The sharing of our insights and experiences and the attentive listening turned into another time of prayer. Gratitude filled the entire room.
In the afternoon, there was time for a little trip to the city or time just to have some more conversations with other sisters.
So on Sunday we celebrated the conclusion of our meeting with the Eucharistic celebration led by Bishop Tulio Duque, SDS, already familiar to us because he had come previously during our time in Medellin. He was with us in a very fraternal way. Now each of us is sent back to her place, strengthened by the experience of this Congregational Council gathering. God is with us on our paths!
THANKS BE TO GOD
– And thanks to the sisters here in Colombia, the translators, the secretaries –
and above all the sisters of the Generalate.
Feb. 22nd – 25th
We started the new week with time for personal reflection centered around three questions, “What insights have I gained?, What have I learned about myself? and What would I say about myself – who am I?” We were asked to answer these questions in light of everything that we have experienced and heard thus far, that is, the unit reports, the generalate report, the theological input, our sharings with one another and the reality we are experiencing here in Medellin. We were also asked to consider the Gospel of the day, the question asked by Jesus, “Who do the people believe that I am?” In response, each sister found a creative way to express her answer. These responses were shared with all. The exchange was touching.
In the afternoon, we started our final step: ACTION. We began by asking ourselves, “What is the next step for me personally as a Salvatorian? What conversion do I need to do to live an authentic Salvatorian life? We exchanged our answers in groups of two. Then we asked the next question, “What is the next step for us as a congregation?” At first glance, the answers were very diverse. Yet, at the same time, we saw a commonality beginning to emerge at our deepest level. We realized we want to live a healing liberating presence as Apostles of the God of Life. Again and again, we heard the invitation of Pope Francis to go to the “existential peripheries.”
As a followup on Tuesday, the proposals for the theme of the next General Chapter moved quickly toward the same focus. Among several possibilities of theme, the members of the Congregational Council gave its recommendations. The Generalate will make a final decision regarding the theme. These remaining days of the Congregational Council are marked by the making of concrete decisions. On Wednesday, the issue of action against human trafficking was discussed and some projects decided. On every continent, the commitment against human trafficking has grown, in part, as a fruit of the international meeting in August, 2015. Concrete projects will continue or are being started in the individual units and at the continental level.
On Thursday the “continental groups” met to evaluate ongoing projects/processes and to consider how we can continue the theological reflection process that will involve all the sisters at the continental level or at the unit level.
The morning prayers in these days reflected the five priorities of the 2012 General Chapter. They were prepared in very creative ways by the sisters. On Thursday, we celebrated Eucharist with Bishop Fidel Leon Cadavid, who served as bishop for nine years in the poor and violent area of Chóco. He worked hard for peace and is very much appreciated by the Colombian sisters. Now he is the bishop in Rio Negro.
Sunday! A day of rest for all of us. Time to read, to pray, to talk and to absorb the experiences of the last few weeks.
Some of the sisters went to the city although it was raining. As one passes through the city of Medellin, many opposites can be seen. We went to a parish of the Salvatorians, “Mary, Queen of the Apostles.” Ten years ago, this neighborhood was afflicted with great violence, especially among youth gangs. Three to four deaths per week were not uncommon. With the cooperation of the city, the church and other organizations, conditions have improved considerably. Through a city building project, many families now have simple housing. Two families live together in one house. By central European standards, the
houses are tiny and very simple. The Salvatorian Fathers live in one of these houses. We doubted whether we 18 visitors would fit into this house where the parish office is also located. But it was possible. F. Gabriel, the parish priest, welcomed us with fruit, coffee and tea. He also showed us the simple but very welcoming church and told us a little about the situation.
From there, we went back to the city and to the cathedral. On the way, we again saw the great contrast between the rich and the poor. Finally, we arrived at the beautiful Cathedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción. With 5000 m² and a height of 53 meters, it is the largest clay brick building in the world. The first plans for a cathedral date back to 1868. The cathedral was consecrated in 1931. We arrived just in time for the final ten minutes of a wonderful organ concert. On the way back to the bus, very close to the cathedral, some women were standing who work as prostitutes. Again and again, we could see poverty and smell the drugs. Yes, this is a very contradictory city.
Feb. 17- 20
The morning prayer on February 17th presented once again the theme of the Congregational Council: “We Salvatorian Women – Apostles of our Time”. The calling of the disciples in the third chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel accompanied us: Jesus calls those whom he wants to be with him – and he sends them out to teach and to heal. The message is always this movement of “to be with HIM” and “to be sent” – and then again return to HIM. This movement marks our lives.
On this day, the Generalate gave an overview of the Continental Meetings and what was developed there. Everywhere the cooperation was intensified. The collaboration of the four American units even opened up the opportunity to start a new mission in Guatemala, where the Fathers/Brothers and Lay Salvatorians are already present. Later, by collecting the “pearls” of the past ten days, we completed the first step of the process: to see, to hear, to perceive. The afternoon in silence was a good time.
On February 18th we started the second step of our meeting, to judge. We are working to have a common picture of what we have heard and what this means. The day began with a Bible sharing in small groups of Luke 4:16-22. In our diversity, that was a great gift.
Then we studied, depending on the continent, an article which describes the current developments of the theology of religious life in each context. This input was very helpful and important. The conversation with sisters from other continents was enriching. And we tried to name the common and distinctive elements.
The next day took us one step further. Sr. Annette Havenne, SM, shared her insights with us. Originally
from Belgium, Sr. Annette has now been living for the past forty years in Brazil. During the morning prayer, she presented five biblical figures to us that can accompany us as icons for our situation. For Europe, she introduced Naomi, a sign of hope, even if Naomi has grown old and she has lost both her husband and her two sons. But ultimately she keeps a child once again on her lap. Rebecca accompanied the sisters in Africa as an icon of courage in the challenge to let go of many things, and, for the sake of the kingdom of God, to cross borders. The sisters in Latin America have Lydia at their side. She stands for mission, for listening to the Word of God. She is a woman who initiates community. The Samaritan at Jacob’s well, is proposed to the sisters in Asia as a sign of intercultural relationships in which differences are accepted, are indeed welcomed. And for North America, we see the women following Jesus. They stand for a new way of leadership and for lovingly sharing what they have. It was a very touching prayer and flowed into the work of the morning. Sr. Annette gave us a frame of reference for our discussions by briefly outlining the development of the Church and of religious life since Vatican II. And she also pointed out developments in the various continents.
With this input from our outside speaker, we continued our work. When we look at the reality that surrounds us, especially the “existential peripheries” (to which Pope Francis calls us), what are we called to do or to be in order to be prophetic witnesses of the Gospel in the world of today? Of what do we need to let go? What needs to be strengthened? What needs to be started?
In the evening, we had a special meeting. The Lay Salvatorians of Medellin had prepared the Eucharist with lively music. The provincial of the Salvatorian Fathers in Colombia presided over the Eucharist.
The heartfelt celebration was continued at dinner, accompanied by typical Colombian music. It seems that musical rhythm is “inscribed in each cell” of a Columbian. The Salvatorian Lay in Colombia celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. They try to work for reconciliation in their country.
The symbols of the way and the cross stood in the middle of our morning prayers – and these symbols also stand for the different units of our congregation. The Generalate gave its report yesterday – followed by the financial report today.
The revision of the last three years showed, that we as a congregation are on the way. We are on the way to the people – especially to the poor and to those searching for meaning. The younger units are on the way to make great progress towards self-sustainability. We are on the way to a growing solidarity among ourselves.
The Generalate gave the report according to our 5 priorities from the 20th General Chapter.
- Deepening of our apostolic salvatorian identity
- Holistic and contextualized formation in all phases of life
- Collaboration within the congregation and with others
- Development of structures that serve our mission
- Financial plan and financial self-sustainability of all units in a culture of solidarity
Progress could be achieved in all units– and of course there are always challenges remaining. In everything it became obvious: the cross is not the ending point – resurrection has the last word.
These last two days evoked a great thankfulness. Thankfulness towards the sisters who give themselves in the service of leadership to the congregation: Sr. Edith Bramberger, Sr. Maria Yaneth Moreno Rodriguez, Sr. Lilly Kurian, Sr. Marion Etzel, Sr. Teresa Schlackl – and Sr. Martha Gloria Mesa Garcés.
February 11-13, 2016
Nice that we have already received requests of those, who are interested how our journey continued. Very concentrated and intense we went on. In our morning prayers, our attention was brought to our suffering planet and our striving: to care for the integrity of creation and to help people who are suffering. We, as Salvatorian women, are called to answer to the signs of the times.
As we try do so, was shown in our visits: to Poland, South Tyrol, Rome, Belgium, to the Holy Land and to Jordan. Then we plunged deep into the African continent to Tanzania and to Congo (the report was given by Sr. Yaneth from Generalate since Sr. Melpomène was still somewhere between Lubumbashi and Medellin). We went on to Asia: we visited the Philippines and ended our trip with Sri Lanka and India. Again, another sister from the Generalate had to step in because Sr. Rani and Sr. Deepa could not be here because of visa problems.
This Salvatorian world tour showed the commitment of the salvatorian sisters worldwide in a very lively manner. Our charism of universality allows us to respond to the distress of the people we meet. More and more the sisters find ways to support people to be able to help themselves. We also see the fruits of a good education (both religious education and vocational training).
Saturday afternoon was free: some took a rest while others wrote reports or simply took time to talk. Others explored a little more the city of Medellin. Here much has turned for the better in the last 15 years. But still a lot of people live in great simplicity and many in great poverty. The city has built a cable car and an escalator (!) to help to connect the poor areas on the hills with the city. And in a once very violent district, the violence could be greatly reduced by involving young people in art projects (Graffiti).
Ash Wednesday. Was it by chance? Today the element of fire was in the center of our morning prayer. F. Jordan told us: “Prayer is where you should get fire and increase it on earth” – that means inspiration, energy and passion for life. Ash Wednesday, the start in the season of lent, invites us to pause and to turn to God – to deepen our relationship to him. Otherwise we kindle ashes, not the flame. The prayer touched our desire, that we open us more and more to the presence of the Holy Spirit – and that we will be kindled by him.
Our salvatorian journey led us today to Austria and to Malaysia. On the first sight, very different units – but they also show similarities.
The afternoon was free – and some took the opportunity to explore Medellin a little – with the help of our Colombian sisters. Ash Wednesday was very present in the city – quite a number of people still had the cross of ashes on their forehead. Our short outing lead us through very different parts of the town: the rather poor area, with the school of our sisters, we visited the city center with the characteristic sculptures of Fernando Botero and went on to a hill with a great view over the city and ended in rather rich quarters, where the apartment houses are protected by walls and securities. Life was to be found in the city center and in the place of our sisters.
9th of February
We start our journey: around the world – and in our “inner world” as Salvatorian women. In our morning prayers we deepen our understanding our salvatorian identity. Today we look for our biblical roots: Jn. 17,3; Mt. 28,19; Mk. 16,15 and Dn. 3,8 (who is interested to read).
The reports of the sisters led us from Colombia to Brazil (Sao Paulo and Santa Caterina), to the USA and on to Italy and Germany. From the question, what will help us to deepen our Salvatorian identity and to live our solidarity with the suffering world, we seek for elements, which will strengthen our life and mission.
8th of February
What comes to your mind, when you think of Colombia? Of Medellin? Sr. Edith Bramberger, the General Superior made us recall the declaration of the Latin-American bishops. It was declared in 1968 in this city and carries the taste of a “New Church”. A poor church for the poor. To be here in Medellin is like a promise and at the same time a challenge for our meeting.
And so we start the meeting with a prayer: we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us; we share what is essential for us in our Salvatorian identity and how our sisters in all continents describe our identity. Sr. Edith handed us over the so called “pact”, which F. Jordan had made with God. In the path, He surrendered completely to God – and trusted in God to guide him and to support him.
Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck FSPA (USA) will accompany us as facilitator in this meeting. She brings a lot of experience and knowledge. To start she invites us to listen. To listen in a way that requires humility and the suspension of certainties. – so that the collective wisdom of our group – the inner knowledge can find its way. In other words, that the Holy Spirit will be able to flow through us.
A good start in our meeting – especially since Sr. Sophia from Tanzania and Sr. Alona from the Philippines have arrived. Three more sisters (from India, Sri Lanka and Congo) are still fighting to get their visas. Hmmm – the nice, big, free world is only for a few. We still have a lot to go …. With all those, who also want to defend the same dignity of all people.