“Please, could you write something how you, as Secretary General , perceive the relationships between the General Council and the confreres.” This was the request made to me by the editor of the Petit Echo. When I began to reflect about it, two main objections came to mind: How could such a question be answered by someone who has passed the last six years behind a desk, looking at a screen and dealing with documents, bits of paper etc.? Indeed, contrary to the other members of the GC, I have never embarked on long journeys to the Provinces, Sections or Sectors listening to and sharing with the confreres. Then another thought came to my mind: are there not written words, in no matter what form , which are often more reliable than spoken words often used to flatter the listener especially when such a person is a Provincial or a member of the General Council? Then, I had to face up to another objection: how could someone who is bound by a strict rule of confidentiality reply to this question? Maybe I was trying to dodge and escape the question! Certainly, it was out of the question to go into the details of individual cases, but one could always give some general impressions. And that is what I am going to try to do in what follows.
A well-known saying among some old people is that time seems to fly as one gets older. The clocks seem to defy any “ speed limit ” and clock hands always seem to be going around at full speed. In fact, when you read this article sometime after the 1st July, my six years as Secretary General will be in the past tense and “good material” for the Archives of the Society. If you pass and knock at the door of the Secretary General in Rome, another André, not me, will welcome you.
These last six years, four with Richard Baawobr and his team, and two with the present team seem to have been shorter than the one year I spent at the novitiate in the middle of the sixties, which, to put it mildly, was not the happiest year of my life!
I look back with gratitude at the last six years which have helped me to appreciate my missionary vocation more and the marvellous services that our Society and its members give to Africa and “wherever our charism is needed” (CA, 2016, p. 17). One part of my work consists of dealing with all the incoming and outgoing documents such as letters addressed to the General Council (from confreres, Bishops, the Vatican and others), the minutes of the Provincial Council meetings, reports from the institutions etc. In doing so, I realized that our Society is very much like our Founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, very heroic and generous, but also frail and human. I have been very impressed by the devotion of the confreres to the ministries entrusted to them either in leadership roles, formation, pastoral work or in services rendered to the local church. Most of the confreres who write to the General Council share their joys and sorrows often in a very positive way by proposing solutions to existing problems or suggesting ways of dealing with sometimes very thorny questions. However, they also readily accept that at the end of the dialogue the “last word” rests with the General Council. However not all the confreres follow the appropriate procedures and do not pass through the local leadership. I was much taken by the way this General Council respects the local leadership and gently invites the confrere to discuss the matter first with his Provincial! There is no doubt that there is a great deal of mutual trust.
However, it is not surprising that sometimes confreres complain that decisions are not taken as quickly as they would like. On occasion, they have a valid point but I can assure you (the reader) that the General Council takes very seriously every matter presented to them and they do their best to deal with it without delay. Nevertheless, some essential information is often missing or the agenda is so full that some delay is inevitable. Moreover, not all the confreres know about the timetable of meetings of the GC in Rome: they meet for two months, three times a year in January-February, May-June and September-October. The other months are principally devoted to visiting Provinces, Sections, or Sectors.
|André Schaminée with Pello Sala, former Administrative Secretary|
As I have already said above, our Society is also fragile and human. The GC has to deal also with painful even disconcerting problems. Some questions, which go beyond the authority of the local leadership team, are referred to the General Council, which must find time to deal with them, whether it likes it or not! When confreres go astray and become victims of the many temptations that life throws at them, the GC, with the collaboration of the local leadership, do all they can to help them confront their situation, which often seem hopeless, with honesty, courage and determination. Some do not want to admit that ‘they have a problem’ others, thanks to the softly softly and compassionate approach of the local leadership and of the GC, get back on the right track.
|André Schaminée assurant le secrétariat au Conseil général.|
It is not a secret that the Society is diminishing in numbers, although recently, there has been a significant increase in new members, for which we thank God. The average age of the confreres is 67 years. I mention this in order to underline the fact that request for workers in the vineyard is still greater than those available. Such a situation can easily provoke tensions between the GC and local leadership. At the time of appointments, for example, a Province can ask for 15 stagiaires and eight young confreres but they will only receive seven and four respectively because “nobody can give what he does not have.” I am often surprised and impressed that, in the end, everybody seems to be happy with what they received even if they have only got half of what they asked for. This shows that there is high degree of pragmatism and a good sense of co-responsibility at all levels.
|André Schaminée with Odon Kipili, the new Administrative Secretary|
An overall view allows me to conclude that the relations between the GC and the confreres are generally healthy and happy. The key to this success lies in this formula: “Show the greatest respect for others as much as possible.”