A foot soldier hardly ever gets to meet his General and a blue collar worker has no idea who his C.E.O. is. This is more or less how I perceive our General Council. They live far away somewhere in Rome and always seem to be on the road like fire-men trying to solve burning questions. They are definitely needed and useful to maintain some coherence in our worldwide activities. They probably also exercise some influence on my way of life and work, although I am not aware of it. Therefore, a clear answer to the question of my perception of the General Council is difficult to give.
That is why I addressed my 35 confreres here in the house with a poster, asking for their enlightenment. After three weeks, not a single reaction was registered. So there seems to be a problem of communication or information. Of course, the official documents give a rather detailed description of their role, but the question raised was one of perception. Where do I see the Council at work? Where do I receive information about the evaluation of their journeys, the problems they encounter and the solutions they found? Where do I experience their teamwork and their impact on the progress of the implementation of the Chapter Documents? My perception remains rather vague!
During 2017 most members of the General Council introduced a topic for information or discussion in the Petit Echo. There I saw them at work, not as a team but expressing their personal thoughts or knowledge on a given subject. Unfortunately, we never read much about the outcomes of these reflections. The key words of the Chapter were Justice and Peace, the Integrity of Creation, Dialogue and Encounter. I rarely discover explicit references to these subjects. In my own missionary experience, I discovered that our impact did not depend on the number of schools, churches or hospitals built, nor on the amount of money invested or the development of projects. Our simple presence in love and dedication was the decisive factor that made people discover that the Gospel revealed a totally new vision on life that freed them from fear and death. It is a physical, daily presence that is not transmitted by Internet or social media, disillusionment with which becomes obvious every day. A more critical approach to our missionary practice that, in my view, should be perceived through the journeys of the members of the General Council does not appear very clearly in the few contacts available to me for the moment.
Living in a rest-home in Europe I would like to hear or read about the obstacles in the implementation of our vision. How do we live out our spirituality in the field? Is the rule of three in communities a dream or a reality? Is Internet and the social media a blessing or a curse? How much time do we devote, spend or waste every day in front of the screen? Is it still meaningful to discuss authority and obedience ? Is the missionary task still a community exercise or a private undertaking? These are some of the questions I put to myself and to which I would love to get some answers from the Council.
The Strategic Plan in the Chapter papers devotes a special column to evaluation. The foot soldiers would love to receive some more detailed information about the successes but also about the failures of what is happening in the Society today. The successes make us grateful, but the failures make us pray and meditate on our shortcomings. They help us reflect on our own way of doing or give us inspiration to adjust our approach. Don’t call the positive developments a trend and the failures, individual exceptions. The personal letters sent to Rome are also a possibility to gauge the atmosphere and to inform us all about what seems to be happening. Don’t keep too many skeletons in the cupboards or sweep dirt under the carpets, if there are any left in your offices.
Geert Groenewegen, M.Afr.