Growing old with our elders, English-speaking confreres

Meeting of English-speaking confreres in charge of elderly communities

This meeting was held in Rome from Sunday 6th March to Friday 11th March 2022 and was hosted by the Provincial, Gerard Chabanon, and the Assistant Provincial, Georges Jacques.

Unlike previous meetings there was no outside invited speaker or animator.  This had not always proved to be beneficial.  Instead, the meeting would proceed at the pace and in the interests of those present with guidance from Gerard and Georges.

We met on Monday morning for a recollection led by Francis Barnes in which he reminded us that, especially in old age, we come to realise more fully our total dependence on others but above all on God.  The Nunc Dimitus of Simeon in the temple reminds us the peace and beauty of “letting go” and placing the past, the future and all in the hands of the Lord.

Frank led our Eucharist that day and on other days we celebrated together in the chapel of the Uganda Martyrs. It was a special moment to pray for those entrusted to our care.

In the afternoon we began our sharing on the different experiences we are living which would take us through until lunchtime on Tuesday.  There was no hurry and each was allowed time to present their report.  It is clear that the setup of our houses differs in each country.  In the Netherlands and in Germany there are opportunities for collaboration with other organisations, lay and religious.  In Ireland and in the UK this is more difficult.  However, our confreres are the same and the joys and challenges of caring are the same. It was clear that we are all happy in our ministry and enjoy what we have been asked to do.

On Tuesday we spent time, with the help of videos, discussing the signs, causes and effects of dementia which is on the increase everywhere.  This led to a discussion on the importance of every confrere having in place all the legal paperwork needed when one is seriously ill or has died. The decision when to move a confrere from our care to more professional care is a delicate one.

A special mention was made of those living outside community and our duty of pastoral care for them.

On Wednesday time was given to our life in community and how to energise and motivate our communities. Clearly our community and personal prayer is the mainstay of our life together and is well practised everywhere.  It was noted that visiting individuals is an important role of the one in charge and listening to them and their life stories.  Outings and community games are a way of drawing us together and relaxing.  Special mention was made of inviting confreres to write their memoirs, which is not only therapeutic but which can also contribute to the archives of the Society.

The group put relaxing into practice on Thursday by taking a day out together.  We visited the church of Cardinal Lavigerie, Basilica di S. Agnese.  His name and crest are clearly to be seen in the church.  The church stands above the smallest catacombs in Rome and we were able to visit them with the help of an excellent guide.  In the evening we joined the community for the Eucharist and after supper the tradional serata romana.

In conclusion the meeting was one of the most relaxed and positive I have attended.  There were no solutions or striking ways forward but an open and honest sharing of the joys and challenges of our ministry.

We thank Gerard and Georges for their support and their encouragement clearly felt throughout the meeting.  And finally, of course, we thank the community of the generalate for their warm and fraternal welcome.

Jozef de Beeker

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