The new missionary project of the Society in Brazil began with three confreres in 2011. In September 2012, we were four confreres. Then we had just one community living in the same house. One or two confreres could be absent for mission work or holidays while the other two remained together. In February 2013, we started two communities of two confreres in the hope of receiving new confreres. Unfortunately, the following March a confrere had to leave Brazil for health reasons, leaving one confrere by himself. In the other community, when the Vocation Director was away, the other remained alone. In April 2013, a young confrere arrived. He was expected to take part in different programmes and training experiences for the mission in Brazil. This, in turn, meant long periods of absence outside community. In May of the same year, an elderly confrere, 84 years of age, came to strengthen one of our communities. His fragile health meant he was a place of mission itself. Another confrere needed a sabbatical time to recharge his batteries. Constant coming and going is the experience of the communities in Brazil. Since 2011, one confrere has remained alone because of the travelling and other activities of one or another of the community. This meant a great deal of instability and in such a situation, a confrere gets used to living alone and doing things in his own way without reference to others. Even before the Chapter demanded the application of the rule of three, we had decided to regroup into one community because we were so few in number. We are realists. We will only consider a second community when we are six confreres or more.
This was the situation when we recently welcomed two young confreres and two stagiaires. The young confreres arrived at a time of uncertainty. They did not receive all the attention they needed because the confrere to whose community they were appointed continued his work as before. Even if one is an adult, when one is completely new in a country, one can feel a bit lost in the beginning. Aware of our weaknesses, we had to reorganize our communities so that one young confrere had a positive experience of building up a new community with another confrere who was living a more regular lifestyle. We took care that the two confreres (one young and one older) did not have too many responsibilities so that the absences of one or the other from the community was not too long. Our main preoccupation was to offer the confreres the possibility of being together or living together for as long as possible. However, the experience in Brazil has been that only two confreres, from 2014 to 2017, have been able to experience regular community life. The other community continues to experience constant coming and goings of confrere’s, right up to the present time.
Welcoming young confreres very much depends on the type of young confrere. There are the street confreres who are out and about in the neighbourhood right from the first day. They are the upstanding confreres. Others head for the chapel. They like to pass their time at the church or the chapel where they pray and meet the devout parishioners. They are the kneeling confreres. Others are the housefathers. They like the intimacy of the house, the meals and the coffee breaks and the interminable gossip. These are the sitting confreres. We have the e.confreres. They are in contact with the whole world from their rooms by their computers, internet, and various social networks. Finally, the reclining confreres, flying about in their virtual world. A missionary of Africa is little bit of all of them. We have to welcome him such as he is and help him to develop his gifts and talents. In Brazil, our young confreres profit from a first year free from any pastoral responsibilities. They receive pastoral training through various programmes organised through missionary pastoral experiences here and there in the country. We have learnt to give them the time that is necessary so that they can integrate at their own pace and become aware of a new missionary awareness.
Regarding the stagiaires, we have received two. The first one arrived at the time when we were reorganising the communities. He had a few problems in the beginning to get used to his new confreres. Nevertheless, he had the experience of beginning a new community with his confreres. It was a big challenge. The second stagiaire joined an already established community. In fact, he became the pillar of this community because of the continuing absence of one of the members. The presence of stagiaires has consolidated our communities to a certain extent. They have been the missing pawn in the rule of three.
Our communities in Brazil are unstable by their form and constitution. We need to strengthen them from the inside. In order to do that, we need to be faithful to a certain structured style of life. Community life cannot depend on feelings, emotions, philosophy, or personal spirituality. It needs to be based on a regular style of life, a certain ritual. The rule of three guarantees such a structured community. A community of two confreres very quickly becomes a couple of mates who do what they want, when they want or two warring chiefs imprisoned in the same prison unable to go to war apart from firing barbs at each other. To avoid this, we have insisted in Brazil on the faithfulness to the traditional structures of community life such as the weekly house council, monthly recollection, weekly recreation, monthly outing, and daily liturgy. One could argue that such structures are no good without friendship or love between confreres. However, these structures do serve precisely because they have the advantage of bringing together confreres who get on with each other and/or confreres who do not and get them to focus on the common project that brings them together. This common project had nothing personal or sentimental about it. We must emerge from a too personal, human, and idealistic approach to community life. It is by dancing the same dance that one finishes by mutual acceptance and getting to love one another.
Because the community is the place where we learn to love and to love our enemies, we have taken the initiative in Brazil, during community recreation, to ask a confrere to let us discover the beauty of his culture and his country over a drink. We laugh, we wonder, sometimes, we even dance. It is a way of ridding ourselves of those interminable conversations criticizing the state of the world, the church, the Christians, and others. It frees us from conversations where we preach to one another or take advantage to hurl hidden barbs at each other. The time of community recreation is not the time or the place to vomit up frustrations or to gossip about others. The house council is the place for that. We come together to enjoy one another’s company and we do it to uplift the confrere and the world he carries within himself.
For the stability of our communities, long live the rule of three.
Moussa Serge Traore
Provincial Delegate of Brazil