Christmas 2021 – Letter of the Coordinator (20.12.2021)

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“Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1, 78.79


Dear confreres,

Dear sisters,

Dear partners in mission,

There are situations and times when we are particularly attentive and receptive to the promise of Christmas. In the Gospel according to Luke, for example, this is captured in the words of the Benedictus, the words of the hymn in which the surprising, human and world-changing closeness of God is promised: “Because of the tender mercy of our God the rising sun will come to us from heaven.” The light that illuminates the darkness is an expressive symbol of the transforming power of God’s presence. I have heard from confreres and partners of the Redemptorists on several occasions that they also experience the pandemic as such a situation, which makes them attentive and ready to listen to the promising words of the gospel.

During the gathering of the Assembly of the European Conference, which we were able to hold in presence in Ciampino near Rome at the beginning of October, we looked back and shared some experiences of the pandemic. These included the stressful experiences of helplessness and of saying goodbye to confreres, friends and members of our ecclesial communities; the concern for the well-being of close people and the distance that had to be kept especially from those who were particularly at risk. All this has made the life of our communities and our pastoral work very difficult. But it was also particularly emphasised in the reports that we have learned to appreciate more the value of direct encounter and conversation with each other again – in the communities and in pastoral work. The drastic reminder that we are not omnipotent has opened us to entrusting ourselves to God anew. The impediments in contacts have made many of us become creative and seek and find new ways of encounter and pastoral work.

During the meeting of the European Conference in October it also became clear that the process of restructuring in Europe was inhibited and greatly slowed down by the pandemic. Planned meetings with confreres and partners could not take place. Working groups could only meet by video conference and therefore did not progress as quickly as expected with their work. The concrete preparations and decisions of the restructuring are currently continuing in the three zones of Europe. The Eastern zone of the Slavic units (the provinces of Warsaw, Lviv, Bratislava-Prague and the vice-province of Michalovce) has already presented a contract in which some points for intensifying cooperation are set out. The North-West zone (the provinces of Dublin, London, St. Clemens and Vienna-Munich) is working on the concrete agreements for a federation of the provinces, which will begin in January 2023. The southern zone (the provinces of Rome, Naples, Madrid, Lisbon and France) has asked for an extension of the deadline due to the pandemic and is preparing the creation of a single new province for January 2024. The more I get to know the reality in the different (vice) provinces in Europe, the more I realise how important this process of restructuring is as a process of renewal. The fact that we have carefully considered the question of our common missionary and apostolic priorities in many meetings and extensive discussions is a good starting point for this. Based on this, we must now also find the appropriate ways to shape the life and work of the Congregation in Europe in reliable solidarity with each other. There are plenty of concrete challenges and opportunities for this.

And there are also successful examples. Our common mission in Albania was strengthened this year by an additional confrere. Fr Zbigniew Kwiecien from the Warsaw Province arrived in Kamez in September and has begun studying Albanian language and culture. Through his earlier work in the mission in Argentina and Poland, he brings a lot of experience for his mission in Albania. So he was able to take on his first duties very soon and is integrating himself into our mission in Albania. Also this year, we started a new missionary presence in the south of the country in Gjirokaster. This presence confronts us with completely new questions. Here in the south, Christians are a small minority and there are only groups of very few Christians. But these are made up of people who have received baptism in a conscious decision and are now looking for ways to live just as consciously as Christians in a multi-religious environment. We Redemptorists are currently learning how to take a good place in this new pastoral field. In doing so, we are also continuing to look for confreres and partners who are willing to work in this common mission of the Redemptorists of Europe.

In the discussions during the Assembly of the European Conference in Ciampino, but also in conversations with the Provincials and individual confreres from the Provincial Councils and the Secretariat for Formation, it became clear how great the challenge to the vocations ministry is for us Redemptorists in Europe. In almost all countries where we are present as a Congregation, we notice a trend towards increasing secularisation and pluralisation. In this context, accompanying young men on their journey of discernment requires special attention in all provinces of Europe. I am therefore glad that we were able to continue our initiatives for the common formation of our confreres well – even under the conditions of the pandemic. The month of preparation for final profession could be carried out together this year and is already being planned again for next year. In the common Theologate of  the Conference of Europe in San Gioacchino (Rome) there are currently students from the Provinces of Rome, Bratislava-Prague and Vietnam; in addition there is a brother from the Province of Rome who has just made his first profession and two candidates. The Secretariat for Formation of the Conference, in collaboration with the Prefect Fr Jacek Zdrzalek, is currently preparing an evaluation of the experience after the first two years of the common studentate.

Through the strong commitment of the Partnership in Mission Working Group, an extended process of reflection on our charism as Redemptorists and on partnership in our mission in Europe took place. We were helped greatly by the collaboration of Mrs Anne Walsh from Canada, member of the General Secretariat for Partnership in Mission. At the meeting in Ciampino it was possible to present a document which was adopted by the Assembly of the Conference and which is recommended for the work here in Europe. This not so extensive text has a special value because it was prepared by partners and Redemptorists together. It also addresses the areas where we should continue to work and gives concrete indications how to proceed.

Looking to the near future, we are currently particularly busy with the preparation for the 26th General Chapter. In Europe, the capitulars and representatives for the first phase of the General Chapter will meet next year from 21 March to 1 April. In the weeks leading up to this, all confreres and partners are invited to study the working document, to consider the questions and suggestions presented in it and to share their own ideas and reflections with the capitulars. Through the conversations at different levels, there is a growing awareness that we are facing similar challenges in Europe. Now it would be important to develop ideas and proposals on how best to move forward, and thus also to continue to work on common responses to the challenges.

The celebration of Christmas helps us to be shaped more deeply by the mystery of the life of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. With confidence and trust we may then enter the new year 2022. I thank you all for the commitment, creative ideas and energy in realizing our mission in the year 2021, and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and God’s blessing in 2022!

Johannes Römelt CSsR

Coordinator of Europe

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