December 12, 2017
 
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DR#: 7 Community of Apostolate: A Prayer for Solidarity

Introduction

The General Chapter of 2000 established a priority for the work of solidarity among its members and colleagues. Two of the Chapter’s three major outcomes, called Ordinances, addressed specific aspects of solidarity. Ordinance #1 includes seven supporting elements, the last of which is Solidarity within the Institute (SE 1.7). Ordinance #3 is Financing for Solidarity.

This directed reading focuses on SE 1.7,which states: “To deepen or initiate commitments to solidarity within the institute in favor of young people who are poor and without hope, during the next three years, the chapter or assembly of each entity establishes:

  • programs to form its educative communities to solidarity;
  • programs of partnership to increase solidarity between works of the institute meeting the needs of youth who are poor and without hope.”

Article 50 of the Rule of Life from the section entitled “Community of Apostolate” states: “The brothers actively support the interests of the poor, the oppressed, and the neglected.” This spirit is foundational to the work of solidarity.

Brother Bernard Couvillion, Superior General (1994-2006), developed these concepts in his circular A Prayer for Solidarity (PS), which is the primary document for this directed reading.

Through this experience, the participant will:

  • reflect on practical ways to promote solidarity in their own ministry situations;
  • understand that working for solidarity is integral to the apostolate of education;
  • further incorporate the concerns of A Prayer for Solidarity into their spirituality;
  • reflect on possible resistances within themselves and among their associates that may inhibit the promotion of solidarity.
Readings
  • A Prayer for Solidarity: Circular of the Superior General, pages 17 – 20; 26 – 36
  • Rule of Life, Article 50
Options for Additional Readings

· The remaining chapters from A Prayer for Solidarity

· Lord, When Did We See You, pages 9 – 10; 37 – 42

· Rule of Life, Articles 5, 16, 47, 48, 49, 51, 152, 153

Suggestions for Journal Reflection
  1. In the spirit of Father André Coindre, the evangelizer, and in light of “horizontal solidarity” (PS, page 18), in what ways do you contribute to the formation for solidarity among the constituents in your ministry situation?
  1. In the spirit of Father Coindre, the organizer, through what structures can you promote specific works of solidarity in your ministry situation?
  1. Reflect on any one of the “Guidelines for formation to solidarity in educative communities” (PS, page 33). Describe how it can be applied to your own ministry situation?
  1. In praying the Prayer for Solidarity below, what resistances surface in you? How do you grow beyond them? In your leadership role, how do you challenge others to grow beyond their resistances?
Prayer

Jesus,

   you brought the Father's compassion
   to the earth as a fire
   and caused it to blaze up
   in the zeal of André Coindre.

   Through his intercession
   and that of Venerable Brother Polycarp,
   intensify that same fire in us.

   Though small compared
   to the ardor of vast movements around us,
   it can be focused,
   like the flame of a welder's torch in your hands.

   Fuse us, at the point of suffering,
   to young people in need;

   forge us into a universal brotherhood
   that embraces you in other cultures;

   melt the hard edges of our prejudices
   and cut through the barriers that isolate us;

   structure us into a network
   radiant with the heat of the Beatitudes
   and the spirit of real sharing.

   We ask this through the same Holy Spirit
   who moved you to proclaim the Father's solidarity
   with the weak, the lowborn, the despised,
   and the merest children. Amen.

Brother Bernard Couvillion, S.C.

September 2001

Readings

Christian solidarity

“forge us into a universal brotherhood that embraces you in other cultures”

One of the things that attracted Andrea to overseas adoption was its provision for annual exchanges with his adopted brother or sister. The agency would arrange for him to receive a picture of the child each year along with a simple progress report and a letter from the child, as a personal contact, all of which would guarantee mutual give- and-take. He wanted the kind of solidarity that exists within a family.

Until I took a fresh look at Brother Polycarp's letter recruiting the first missionaries, I had not noticed that it expresses a similar desire for mutual exchange. Early in the letter, he puts forward the motive of “making known the adorable heart of Jesus.” That is the traditional reason for missionary activity: those from a Christian culture bring Christ to non-Christian cultures. But the first of his four questions adds a nuance: “Are you prepared to ... go far away from your native land to discover the inexhaustible treasures of the Heart of Jesus?” He invites us to un-cover – to discover – Christ already present in other cultures.

Apostolic dimension

The two motives for solidarity are complementary: to bring Christ to the young of other cultures and to find Christ in them. The general chapter, by using the logo of a window, expressly emphasized the latter. It orients us to embrace the Lord already present in other peoples, in other cultures, in the despised and especially in the despairing young. In taking this orientation, it wanted to remedy a certain complex of self-importance on the part of some sectors of the institute and of dependence on the part of others.

The Pope recognized that the whole Church has some remedying to do in this area. In the Jubilee of Pardon he confessed that men of the Church, “in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel, ... and, yielding to a mentality of power, have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions.” He prayed: “Father of all, be patient and merciful towards us and grant us your forgiveness.”

Both sides have exaggerated their half of the giving-receiving equation. The chapter sought ways to diminish a purely “vertical” approach to solidarity in which good will, faith, and resources are seen to move from the developed North to the undeveloped South. It sought to increase “horizontal solidarity,” seen as mutual giving among brothers and sisters, all with spiritual gifts to contribute regardless of their relative wealth or level of development. Each culture manifests Christ to the other. Each finds Christ in the other.

A brother in India, a full-time teacher, decided to make a gesture of personal solidarity with street children, mostly Hindu. He wrote the following testimony, which expresses intuitively the chapter’s attitude of horizontal solidarity.

“For two years, I went to the train station every evening. My first efforts to be a ‘street educator’ were difficult. The children speak Kanada, the local language, which I’ve never studied. I speak Tamil, the language of Tamil Nadu, the neighboring state. At the beginning the kids didn’t accept me; they’re very suspicious of newcomers. They kept after me: ‘Why do you come here? This is our turf. You don’t belong here. Go away!’ Their aggressiveness put me off, but I held out and little by little they began to accept me.

“I became close to Mandja. He was seven years old or a bit older. He lived at the station with his sister, who could have been maybe twelve. Their mother had abandoned them there and never was seen again. I never learned the reason for her disappearance.

“Mandja’s sister had become one of the prostitutes of the zone around the station. Mandja begged. He knew how to make himself look miserable when he held out his hand. People would respond with small coins. But once someone extinguished a cigarette in his palm and laughed as Mandja cried from the pain. Another time someone stepped purposely on his bare feet with heavy shoes.

“We became friends. We’d buy a cup of tea and drink it together. Sometimes it was he who paid and sometimes me. One day he insisted on buying me a glass of milk. He had the money; it had been a good day. It began to get dark and I told him that I had to go home. He thought my home was a hospice nearby that he called the ‘house of the Fathers’ and he said he would come with me, so we began walking together. When we got to the corner where I began turning toward the bus stop, he was surprised and asked me if I was going to the ‘house of the Fathers.’

“I explained to him that I had to go back to the brothers’ house. He didn’t understand. It was beyond his capacity because he had never heard of our neighborhood. It wasn’t in his world. So he asked me, ‘How will you get there?’ ‘By bus,’ I answered. Then he asked, ‘How much does that cost?’ ‘Two rupees,’ I told him.

“So he reached into his pocket – he was wearing only a pair of shorts – and drew out a handful of coins, saying, ‘Here, use this for your ticket.’ I didn't take them because I had tears in my eyes.

“That was Mandja, the seven-year-old beggar who offered me the earnings of a day’s work so I could take the bus. This is just one story; I could tell you many others that show the hidden grace in the lives of the street children.”

The storyteller didn’t make any allusion to the irony of Mandja’s mistake about ‘the house of the Fathers.” I seize it as a metaphor for “top-down” solidarity between two worlds. But the brother didn’t go there; his was not a paternalistic model. His solidarity was brotherhood expressed as mutual giving based on faith in street children’s inherent goodness.

In the light of this story, for me there is no better summary for the chapter’s notion of inter-cultural solidarity than the phrase “universal brotherhood” in the Rule of Life. (Rule #5)


Formation for Solidarity

“melt our prejudices and help us cut through barriers"

Recruiting for solidarity “at the molecular level” necessarily entails a reflection about formation. But first some thoughts about deformation.

Our prejudices

Here is an excerpt from one of Brother Polycarp’s letters that is not often quoted: “The partisan spirit which has arisen between our French and American brothers certainly is not edifying news. ... What can be said about good brothers who, after having united themselves to one another by the most sacred of bonds, rip each other up with their teeth bared? ... They show that they are still a long way away from the least virtue and that they need to return to the novitiate for two good years.” (American correspondence, 10/21/1858, in Positio, p. 172-173)

Sad to say, often our cultural education – particularly in matters racial and patriotic – is stronger than our religious formation. If truth be told, we still have a lot of prejudices to melt. If Brother Polycarp’s threat to recall prejudiced brothers back for more initial formation had become institute policy, we wouldn’t have any empty novitiates!

There is nothing that bothers me more than to hear brothers in community acting out of intolerance, especially in the parts of the institute composed of brothers of different origins. I have heard the whole spectrum, as have we all: from ethnic jokes to attributing tribal motives to decisions by a superior. From favoring brothers of a certain linguistic or ethnic group to repeating unfavorable stereotypes about another group. From condescendence to violent language. From refusal to visit another place to efforts to exclude an outside group from one’s own.

It’s bad enough that we sometimes treat one another with teeth barely concealed, but for a congregation committed to becoming a universal brotherhood by a general chapter avid to reach out to excluded youth, all racism, tribalism and religious intolerance such as anti-Semitism are hypocritical and odious. Negative attitudes to cultures other than our own are bound to deform the young people who come to us in trust.

In laying emphasis on personal and communal responsibility, ordinance 1 is calling us to ongoing formation in this regard. There could be no better starting point than praying for the desire to be liberated from our prejudices. Such prayer must be reinforced by concrete efforts, communal gestures and words of reconciliation. Only if our own formation is credible will we give credibility to the formation we pursue with our collaborators and in our educative communities. (Chapter 2000, 1.3 and 1.7)
 

Formation in our schools and centers

Andrea did not make his gesture of solidarity out of the blue. The idea was his own, nevertheless it arose in a climate carefully set by effective educators. For one thing, the local assistant pastor who serves as the school’s chaplain is also coordinator for the parish’s outreach to missions in Kenya. He organizes dynamic campaigns in the school to build up awareness and a volunteer corps on behalf of those missions.

Also, just before presenting Andrea and Cecilia with their awards, the bishop who presided at the mass asked the student body to remember young people poorer than they. He drew a dramatic contrast between the values shown in the rave television event Big Brother and the cry of the poor, making the point that the contestants in the TV series accept imprisonment for money, whereas the gospel calls for solidarity which liberates.

Andrea was formed to a mentality, even to a thirst, for solidarity. He was also supported by his father. The general chapter gave us an urgent time line for doing the same kind of formation in our schools and centers: “During the next three years the chapter or assembly of each entity establishes programs to form its educative communities to solidarity ... [and] to increase solidarity between the works of the institute meeting the needs of youth who are poor and without hope.” (1.7)

Just as our chapter booklet went to press, both the United Nations and Pope John Paul II made declarations expressing similar urgency for formation to solidarity. The UN declared 2001 The Year of Dialogue between Civilizations. The Holy Father, in his message January 1, 2001 said, “Faced with growing inequalities in the world, the prime value which must be ever more widely inculcated is certainly that of solidarity. … The present reality of global interdependence makes it easier to appreciate the common destiny of the entire human family, and makes all thoughtful people increasingly appreciate the virtue of solidarity.” (17)

The pope’s message could be a starting point for chapters and assemblies in their work of setting goals for formation to solidarity in their schools and centers. In an adjoining box (cf. below) I offer a digest of the guidelines he proposes, completed with my own reflections and with principles deriving from the general chapter. No one of our educational centers can promote solidarity on all ten fronts. However, each can tune its welder’s torch to one or two which can be a “next step.”

Our school in Vitoria-Gazteiz, Spain made a successful weld joining solidarity awareness to its literary magazine. It recently published a booklet entitled Literature and Solidarity containing nearly 100 compositions written by students in literary competitions over the last few years. The booklet calls these contests “a concrete way of participating in the building of a culture of solidarity.” Here is one story, written by Miriam Ruiz, 13 years old:

Hero of the bush

The sun was coming up. Far away the sky was red. Toni was nine years old but had never seen it that way. Today he was sleeping near the window and the special light glowed on his face. He woke up but didn't move.

He thought, “What a beautiful color the sky has turned. I need to wake up the others because it’ll never be like this again.” All of a sudden his voice broke the silence,

“Look, everybody, the sky changed colors.”

“No, stupid, that happens every day, it’s …,” answered Sheila.

Ana, their mother interrupted, “Sheila, don't insult your brother. And Toni, that’s the dawn. Both of you get up. I have to go get the water.”

“I want to go today,” said Toni, excitedly.

“You’re too little,” his mother answered.

“I'm not little! And I'm going to go.”

“Okay, but be careful at the river.”

Toni’s family was poor and lived in Africa. Once he got to the river he drew out a bucket of water and saw a mother calling to her little children. As he turned to leave he heard: “Oh no! Help! My son fell into the river!” she was screaming.

Toni stood there paralyzed, not knowing what to do, but no one else was around except the mother, her son, and himself. He grabbed a branch, but he didn’t know how to swim. So he started to run downstream. When he got close enough, he jumped in and grabbed the little boy, about three years old. But he knew there was a waterfall coming up.

Toni said, “Hold on tight to this stick with me.”

“Okay, but what’s happening?”

“Further down there’s a waterfall and we’re going to fall. But it’ll be into water, not to the ground. When I say ‘Go,’ do this: take a deep breath. Okay?”

“Okay.”

They were at the point of going over and the little boy said, “I'm scared.”

“Don't worry. You won’t get hurt,” Toni said. Then, “Go!”

In a minute they were safe. The mother was extremely grateful, but had nothing to give him. Toni’s family is still poor, but felt rich in their hearts because Toni had saved a boy’s life.”

After having re-read the story in light of the ten papal guidelines, I discovered how sophisticated it is as an outcome of formation to solidarity. The young author stretches her point of view; the protagonist is an African boy created by a Spanish girl. If Toni’s sister Sheila is her spokesperson, the author confesses her condescending attitude to another culture. She also accepts self-criticism in the form of her mother’s reprimand: “Don't insult your brother.” The saving hero is not a European, but an African, who finds a local resource – the branch – and uses local conditions – the pool under the waterfall – to resolve the crisis. The two pairs of hands holding onto the branch is an effective symbol of horizontal solidarity. Toni doesn’t just study the crisis, he lives it equally and risks it alongside a neighbor.

The young author’s educators must have taught her some central values of African cultures: the primacy of the family, the mother’s key role, the simple lifestyle, the constant work required to find necessities such as water. Her characters have names and personality traits instead of statistics and stereotypes. I was also struck by the fact that no money exchanges hands. In the North and in the South, solidarity is often misunderstood to mean only material giving. Miriam knew that before being financial, solidarity has to do with human relationships.

With all that said, the thing I like most about Miriam’s story is that Toni personifies a model of solidarity which chapter delegates from the Southern hemisphere insisted upon. As the story opens, his mother tells him he is too little to fetch water. She has a “mother province” mentality. Toni insists that he is not too little, that he can be responsible. The story associates him with the dawn, so that he personifies a new mentality on the part of developing entities, one described by the bishops of Africa and Madagascar as “the capacity to identify, use and administer our own spiritual, human and material resources.” (Chapter 2000, p. 41) Leaders of the Church and of the Institute from the South are denouncing a foreign aid mentality which expects all resources to come from elsewhere. It is Toni’s fire for self-reliance that makes him hero of the bush.

His message, “I'm not little!” – which is the bishops’ and the delegates’ message too – is one that is finally getting through. Thanks to efforts by the South to form the North, it is even reaching unlikely audiences “Whether they live on the plains or in the valleys, whether they live in slums or isolated villages, whether they speak Hindi, Swahili or Uzbek, people have one thing in common: They do not want charity. They want a chance. They do not want solutions imposed from without. They want the opportunity to build from within. They do not want my culture or yours. They want their own. They want a future enriched by the inheritance of their past.” So has learned James Wolfenshon, World Bank President.      
 

Ten Guidelines for formation to solidarity in educative communities

Guidelines

Source: World Day of Peace, John Paul II

Comments
1. Cultural identity: Enable students to contact their cultural origins as a way of forming a sense of their nationality.
Jesus himself, by becoming man, acquired, along with a human family, a country. He remains forever Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazarean. Making the link between culture and nation is a natural sociological and psychological process with results that are normally positive and constructive.

2. Respect for differences: Challenge students to look beyond their immediate personal experience to accept differences and discover richness in other people's history and cultural values.

Knowledge of other cultures can lead students to a deeper awareness of the values and limitations within their own culture.
3. Cultural self-criticism: Show students that their culture, as typically human and shaped by history, necessarily has its limitations.

The sense of belonging to a specific culture can turn into isolation or smugness; an effective antidote is thoughtful and unprejudiced knowledge of other cultures.

4. Dangers of globalization: Point out the limitations of today's dominant market- based culture. Detached from their Christian origins, western cultural models are often inspired by secularism, practical atheism and radical individualism.

Western cultures are enticing because of their remarkable scientific and technical cast, but regrettably there is growing evidence of their deepening human, spiritual and moral impoverishment. This is a vast phenomenon which often erodes the richness of less powerful cultures and civilizations.

5. Nonviolent approaches to conflict and punishment. Model nonviolent ways of resolving conflicts, including disciplinary cases and tensions between students

From daily experience we all know how hard it is to settle differences when racial hatreds and serious problems with no easy solution create an atmosphere of anger and exasperation. Violent language and name-calling increase the difficulty of confronting conflicts in nonviolent ways.

6. Welcome of immigrants. Give students insights into how the movement of large numbers of refugees from one part of the planet to another is often a terrible odyssey for those involved. It is also a nonviolent response to injustice.

In Colombia alone nearly 2 million persons have been displaced in recent years by armed conflict. In other countries immigrants are made into scapegoats. The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being fleeing injustice with the rights of local inhabitants. Both deserve a dignified and peaceful life.
7. Communications: Establish direct communication. Language study, international correspondence, and twinning relationships are tried-and-true means of solidarity, especially among educational centers in the North. These can be increasingly developed between the North and the South.
At the Jubilee of Young People in 2000, the bishops of Argentina and Chile pressed organizers to group their delegations together as a way of promoting direct personal contact between youth of countries with a traditional rivalry. As educators today, we need to invest – and to help those who can ill-afford it – in new technologies which facilitate global communication to provide accurate and up-to-date information about other cultures.
8. Motivate with models: Present heroes of solidarity from all countries. It is good to recognize expatriates from the North whose sacrifices have gone even so far as martyrdom, but young people in both hemispheres need to have models of solidarity from the South as well.
An example: one person who did not survive the recent Ebola outbreak in Uganda was the one perhaps most responsible for saving the lives of victims. Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, 41, head of St. Mary's Hospital in Lacor, died a martyr of solidarity. A male nurse who had taken sick and was covered in blood fell out of bed. Nurses on duty declined to pick him up, so Dr. Lukwiya did. A short while later he had the fever. His death set off grief and tribute from Pope John Paul II, foreign governments and the people he treated through three horrific months.
9. Inter-religious dialogue. Welcome young people of all faiths into our centers and study different religions.
The pope's many encounters with representatives of other religions show that mutual openness between the followers of the various faiths can greatly serve the cause of peace and the common good of the human family.
10.Promotion of Justice. Put the promotion of justice at the heart of a true culture of solidarity.
Illustrate the gap between rich and poor nations as well as the social imbalance within each nation between those living in opulence and those offended in their dignity since they lack the necessities of life. Make students also aware of the degradation provoked by the irresponsible use of natural resources. Justice requires more than awareness; it also demands a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of unfair structures which govern some societies.

 

Rule of Life, Article 50

50. The brothers actively support the interests of the poor, the oppressed, and the neglected.

 

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