Christmas 2022 – Letter of the Coordinator (20.12.2022)

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Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.

Luke 2, 14


Dear confreres,

Dear sisters,

Dear partners in mission,

The angels’ message of peace to the shepherds, which is part of the Christmas message, does not correspond at all to the reality of us in Europe this year. Since February, the war that Russia has started against Ukraine has taken on terrible proportions and there is no end in sight. The consequences of the aggression are first felt by the people in Ukraine itself, but then repercussions are felt in all countries of Europe and beyond in many parts of the world. But it is precisely against the context of war that the Christmas message of peace is particularly significant this year: as a promise full of hope that opens up a different future for us – and in its effects in the many actions of solidarity and help of those who believe this promise. That we Redemptorists are one missionary body is also evident these days in our concrete solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Ukraine.

This year, which is drawing to a close, was particularly marked for us Redemptorists by our General Chapter, the first phase of which was held in the five continents in the first half of the year and the second, canonical phase of which took place in Rome in September and October. There have been few, if any, General Chapters where the participation of confreres and partners in mission worldwide has been as extensive as this year. This was also made possible by the preparatory videos through which the General Government and the Central Preparatory Commission invited participation. As in the other Conferences, the delegates from Europe at the first phase of the General Chapter prepared a report summarising the analysis of our situation and with initial proposals for our responses, which is available to all confreres and partners. All the work, especially in the second phase of the General Chapter, was widely reported through various messages and articles from all over Scala News.

We are living in a change of era that challenge us Redemptorists in our identity, in our way of life as religious and also in our missionary commitment. We share this situation and its challenges with the whole Church and – each in our particular way – with the people in our different countries and societies. If we are to make our contribution to solutions and to a common way forward, we need a clear understanding of our identity as Redemptorists and we need to realise convincingly both our way of life as religious and our mission. On the basis of their discussions, the members of the General Chapter have adopted a document in which they offer their reflections to all confreres in the Congregation and to our partners. This document, which will be issued in its final version by the new General Government in the near future, should help us in our process of renewal.

The whole General Chapter was characterised by great seriousness in the discussions and also by a spirit of hope. Hope is not a simple optimism, but the courage to trust with confidence in God’s presence in our time and to set out in response to his call: Missionaries of hope in the footsteps of the Redeemer.

Of the concrete decisions of the General Chapter, I will mention only one here. As in the other Conferences, we Redemptorists in Europe have been given the task of working out a common plan for formation in all its dimensions and various stages: Formation for Redemptorist mission is common formation. This will require some work from us in the coming years. This is particularly evident in view of the decision to suspend the common Studentate of the Conference of Europe in San Gioacchino in 2022/2023 due to the low number of confreres in formation. All decisions of the canonical phase of the General Chapter will also be published by the new General Government in the near future.

That we Redemptorists are missionaries of hope is also shown by a look at the past. Only a few weeks after the conclusion of the canonical phase of the General Chapter, we were able to celebrate the beatification of our Spanish confreres, the Martyrs of Madrid, on 22 October in Madrid. Their lives and deaths were officially recognised by the Church as a special witness to Jesus Christ. In a distressing time of civil war, they professed faith in Jesus Christ and hope in the power of God’s love to transform our world.

Likewise, there are many signs and examples of hope today – in all our (Vice)Provinces in Europe. I am grateful that our new Superior General Fr Rogerio visited our common Redemptorist mission of Europe in Albania already in the first weeks of the General Government’s term of office. Fr General thus made it clear that this mission, which goes beyond the previous borders of the provinces in Europe, is particularly close to his heart. I myself, together with Fr. Gianni Congiu (Consultor of the CRE), had the opportunity to welcome our confrere Gianluigi Colucci (student of the Province of Rome) as a new member of the mission in Albania during a visit to Albania immediately after the conclusion of the second phase of the General Chapter. The presence of a young confrere in our mission is a sign of hope as well.

In the coming months the work on restructuring in Europe will continue. The Provinces of Southern Europe are preparing to create a single new Province, scheduled for January 2024. The newly elected Provincials and Councils of the Provinces of Northern Europe will meet in early May to prepare the Federation of North Western Europe. The war in Ukraine is currently a huge challenge for our Provinces in Eastern Europe.

These days I have returned from a visit to Ukraine. Our Superior General Fr Rogerio Gomes, his Vicar Fr François Stanula, the provincial leaderships of the Slavic provinces of Warsaw, Bratislava-Prague and Michalovce and I were able to take part for one day in the provincial chapter of the confreres in Ukraine in Ivano-Frankivsk and in this context also to meet with the new provincial leadership of the Lviv Province. I was impressed by the hope with which the confreres and the Sisters, who were also present, respond to the situation of war and to the experiences of aggression and violence. They see with realism the threat, which is not diminishing in its force, and the destruction in the country and in the lives of many people. Yet they are not at all resigned or discouraged; on the contrary, they approach the situations of need and seek out people who are particularly affected in order to help as best they can. This is also made possible by the support they receive from abroad; our Polish confreres in particular provide valuable services in organising the transport of relief supplies. Our confreres in Ukraine are very grateful for this solidarity. Likewise, the visit, the personal presence of our Superior General and other representatives of our Congregation in Ukraine, was an important sign that we are closely united with them. Of particular concern to all of us is the situation of two confreres who have been working for years as priests in Berdyansk in the now Russian-occupied part of Ukraine, and who have been arrested by the Russian military. We have had no direct news of them since their arrest and are grateful for the international attention to their fate – and for every prayer for their release.

In preparing for Christmas this year, a quotation of Pope Francis has become important to me. “To believe in a Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that he thereby confers upon them an infinite dignity. To believe that the Son of God assumed our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God.” (Evangelii Gaudium 178) Especially in times of aggression and the threat of violence, this is a Christmas perspective, a faithful view of us as human beings and of our world, which strengthens us in powerful hope. The light shines in the darkness.

I thank you all for your common service in the proclamation of this truly good news. Merry Christmas and God’s blessing in the New Year 2023!

Johannes Römelt CSsR

Coordinator of Europe

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