In recent times our General Chapters have insisted on the necessity to appoint more confreres for specialised formation. This insistence is due to the rapidly changing nature of our world and to the fact that our globalised world has become more complex. Therefore, the aim of specialised formation is to help us respond to the missionary needs of our times. In the past, confreres have been appointed for specialised tasks without having been prepared for them and it has to be recognised, they did an excellent job. However, while it is true that the Society has always appointed some confreres to specialised studies, the majority of confreres did not receive such appointments. In the past, it was possible to spend the time of specialised studies doing personal reading and research in specific academic disciplines or fields of interest without having to prepare for university degrees. This approach has produced some great experts among our confreres in their particular fields of research, and even without academic grades, they have contributed immensely to the mission entrusted to our Society.
Today specialised formation is a prerequisite for some missionary commitments. In certain situations an academic qualification is necessary and this is gradually becoming the order of day. University degrees have become an ordinary requirement for some missionary commitments. Most of the institutes where our candidates study prefer to appoint confreres with doctorates as teachers rather than those with licentiates. Moreover, certain apostolic activities need special skills that can only be acquired through appropriate training. Hence, more and more confreres will have to be appointed for specialised studies.
In fact, since specialised formation is a way of developing our human resources, it can conveniently be said that all confreres should be given the occasion to do so in their life time.
Inasmuch as Ongoing Formation, therapy and sabbatical periods are meant primarily for personal healing, growth and renewal, they differ from specialised studies since its main focus is to enhance and empower the person for a specific task. Specialised formation could take several forms such as classical studies, professional training as well as scientific and technical formation. It has also become necessary to diversify not only the places where the studies take place but also the type of studies the confreres undertake. Therefore, it goes without saying that the means as well as the level of studies will also have to be revised. The Chapter of 2004, in order to make sure that most Formators are also qualified to teach, invited the General Council ‘to appoint enough confreres in different disciplines and places in view of obtaining recognised diplomas (including doctorates) after their second term on mission.’ (AC n°4d p.94)
For a better coordination of specialised formation in the Society and in the spirit of chapter 17 of the Vade Mecum of Initial Formation, a discernment dialogue is normally begun between the Provincials and the General Council. This dialogue also requires the collaboration and availability of the confrere to be appointed. The practice requires that the confrere should have had at least a term of missionary experience after completing his Initial Formation. However, before the appointment can be finalised, there is always the need to ensure not only the continuity of our missionary commitments but also their proper management. In certain cases, it could take a long time before a confrere can be released to undertake the proposed studies. A lot of planning and adjustments need to go into preparing a confrere for such a venture.
Our needs in specialised studies are enormous but we have limited human resources. Hence, there is a need to make a wise and proper use of resources: this has been demonstrated in the case of some confreres who are doing specialised studies while taking on other responsibilities on behalf of the Society and other confreres who have to forego higher studies in order to ensure that certain important responsibilities are carried out for the common good of the Society and its missionary commitments. The aspirations of each confrere are legitimate; however the missionary commitments of the Society are essential for its visibility. In fact what is at stake is the very future of the charism our Society.
Experience has shown that in such delicate situations it is not a panacea to quickly reduce or discard some commitments but rather to patiently handle them with tact and prophetic vision. It is true that practical wisdom will concentrate on the need to answer immediate urgent requests but foresight focuses the attention on the importance of long term planning. Times have changed and as a result, the apostolic ministry has become complicated and more demanding, all of which requires innovative solutions. Our last Chapter rightly recognised this when it stipulated that ‘an intellectual formation of quality is needed for Mission in a complex world.’ In order to be up to the missionary task in our complex world, specialised formation of our confreres is a necessity. It should be planned taking into account the aspirations, availability and capacity of our confreres in the light of the missionary needs of the Society and the Church at large.
Ignatius Anipu, M.Afr.