GSJP ASIA CONFERENCE: NOVEMBER 9 – 11, 2020
Prophets and Proclaimers of the Good News in a Post-Pandemic World:
Challenges and Opportunities for Religious Brothers.
Inaugural Address by Bro. John Kallarackal, SG, Superior General
Greetings to you all from Rome. It is certainly a joy for me to join you all this morning /afternoon and be a part of this first Online GSJP Conference, jointly organized by GSJP Asia Pacific Secretariat and the JPIC Commission of the National Council of the Brothers in India. I had expressed some doubts to Bro. James and Bro. Varghese about my presence today due to the surgical intervention I had, about 2 weeks back. But, I am happy that by God’s grace, I am able to be present, for this significant event in the Congregation where almost the whole leadership at the Central Administration and the 10 different Anglophone entities in Asia and East Africa are present.
Before I think of a message, let me at the very outset place on record my sincere appreciation to the Organizers of this mega event, in particular Bro. James TK, the Assistant General in-charge of the JPIC dossier, Bro. Irudayam M, the National Convenor of the JPIC Commission, and Bro. Varghese Theckanath, the Executive Secretary of the GSJP Asia Pacific Secretariat. It is indeed very heartening to see such a goodly number of participants, which to me is a proof of your commitment to the cause Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. Let me also take this opportunity to say a special word of thanks to all the Resource Persons, who are coming from the different corners of the world, in order to share their experience and expertise in their respective fields for the benefit of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel and their collaborators in mission, in particular.
Thank you, Bro. Varghese, for your kind words of introduction. Thank you, Bro. James, for your warm words of welcome and for putting this Conference in perspective. I am particularly happy with the theme chosen: Prophets and Proclaimers of the good news in a Post-Pandemic World: Challenges and Opportunities for Religious Brothers. It is a timely reminder of the clarion call given by our Rule of Life and Constitutions: “Your total oblation to God demands a dedicated dynamic love for all men and women. Mindful of the poorer ones among them you will play your part in humanity’s struggle for progress, more particularly through educational activities” (RL 14). All our last four General Chapters, beginning with the 29th General Chapter in 2000, have been giving a new thrust to the Justice and Peace dimension of our mission as Religious Brothers. The setting up of new structures like the GSJP Secretariat in 2000, the Montfort Social Institute in 2010, and the GSJP Asia Pacific Secretariat in 2016, stands as a glowing tribute to the continued commitment of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel for the promotion of truth, love, justice and peace.
In fact, I never get tired of reminding the Brothers that as consecrated persons our primary mission is to participate in the triple common mission of the Church, i.e., Evangelization, Witnessing and Human Promotion, according to the charism of each Institute. From the beginning of human history, as revealed in the salvation history, God is committed to advance His Plan in order that the world will have life in abundance (cf. Jn. 10.10). It is an indisputable fact that today strong links exist between evangelization and human promotion. Today consecrated life requires us to make some unavoidable options in drawing up programs during the initial and ongoing formation periods: an incarnate spirituality, insertion in the reality of the poorest, dialogue and reconciliation as a way towards peace and integrity of creation. This certainly will pose big challenges like, passing from an academic theoretical formation to an experimental formation; changing from stereotyped formation to an inculturated formation of living and experiencing; assimilating attitudes into one’s life that promote changes in relation to God, one’s brothers and sisters, and creation; living the experience of sonship, fraternity, solidarity and commitment. It entails a commitment which requires a gradual and systematic assimilation of the Social Doctrines of the Church, in order to discern God’s call in the challenges of the social reality, and in the responses which need to be given, thereby promoting the values of justice, peace and integrity of creation.
The Catholic Church is undoubtedly the oldest, the biggest and in many ways the most experienced corporation ever in the world. And yet, just like all corporations, COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put all institutions in the Church on the spot. The world is changing so rapidly that the initiatives and solutions that were fresh only a few weeks ago now ring stale in the minds of leaders searching for ideas to keep pace in the changing context. One of the questions that many of us are wrestling with in these days is how to seize this present crisis and make it an opportunity of grace, and for our faith in Christ to shine forth. They feel that now is the chance for the Church institutions to nimbly seize this opportunity, to implement lessons learnt from the best business practices of successful corporations, so as to continue to carry out the Church’s specific pastoral mission in this time of crisis. What does it mean, in these new situations to love our neighbour as the Bible teaches us? We will need to practice the virtues of generosity, open-heartedness, and caring for the weak and vulnerable. This means that we will need to be attentive to those who are isolated, scared and at risk.
The new Encyclical Fratelli Tutti of Pope Francis has come as a timely intervention for us to draw inspiration from, in order to find some solutions to the problems facing us today: How to be prophets and proclaimers of the Good News in a Post-Pandemic world? Though the Encyclical was initially intended to focus on the fraternal relationships between religions, exemplified in the common statement Pope Francis signed in Abu Dhabi with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, as the Encyclical developed, Pope Francis expanded its scope to reflect on the COVID-19 crisis and on the dangers and opportunities created by the need to respond to it. The Encyclical begins by examining the signs of a lack of fraternity in society that contribute to a closed world. This list is long and comprehensive, including the erosion of human rights, the dominance of ideologies of economic self-interest over the common good, the treatment of refugees and the many forms of discrimination.
At the heart of the rich, complex and extensive reflection that Pope Francis offers us in Fratelli Tutti, we find the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-27). It proposes “compassion” and “becoming a neighbour” as the sensitivity and the way of acting that makes it possible to heal those wounded that each person carries, not to cling to the role that urges us to ‘pass by’ wounded people, to renounce all violence that hurts or kills the fraternity and to take responsibility for one another. We accept this invitation when we open ourselves up to the possibility of sharing the same of a better world, in which the dignity of all is recognized, in which the relationships of solidarity are generated to the search for the Common Good. Universal brotherhood is possible only when we all live in peace. Pope Francis insists on the urgency of opening paths of peace and above all of finding ‘artisans of peace’- Peace requires justice that is achieved from the recognition of truth. The path of peace is illuminated by the truth with the reach of all people. Peace implies overcoming poverty and its causes, that is, the cessation of exclusion and the incorporation of all into social, economic and political life.
I am sure that the Resource Persons of these two days will throw more light on these aspects from the different contexts, to help us arrive at some concrete ways of using these challenges as opportunities. For us, the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel who are engaged in the educational mission at different levels, COVID-19 days have given us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the meaning of life and the priorities we have set for ourselves. Looking at our future with confidence and hope, we must reflect on the objectives and strategies of education we need to impart to children in our care. Our 32nd General Chapter reminded us that our Montfortian Education mission should possess the prophetic edge necessary to embrace the marginalized, critique the dehumanising elements of dominant cultures, counter gender discrimination, and offer alternate paradigms (cf. 5.3). If our 32nd General Chapter cautioned us about the possibilities of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Social Media Tools becoming realities of our times, we see that COVID-19 has forced our schools to shift education from physical classrooms to online classrooms, with all the challenges and opportunities it offers. We have to accept the fact that the use of technology in teaching will be inevitable and soon this will lead to a new era where the best of faculty, who are well versed both in their subjects as well as in the use of technology will be available from across the globe to students. Are we prepared for this sea-change in the educational scenario, and use these challenges as opportunities?
Before I conclude, let me on behalf of the Central Administration, renew my sincere thanks to the Organizers of this Webinar, to all the Resource Persons and to you all the Participants. I pray and hope that these three days will help each one of us at the personal level to realise one of the exhortations of our Message of the 30th General Chapter, which reads: “Let us be bold and courageous in facing today’s challenges” (§ 35).