Like other missionaries, I have been engaged for many years in Ongoing Formation programmes for our confreres and for many other individuals and institutions. I would like to thank God because of the wonders I have witnessed by Him among very different kinds of people. On being asked to write on this subject, I realised that I had so much to say…so I will limit myself to some major points. The first essential thing – and this is obvious, but it is something worth remembering – is the need to take regular time out and, with the eyes of God, to look deeper at our life, our vocation and to review our activities and our encounters. In daily life, we need time to pray and do some conscientiousness awareness. Similarly, we need to set aside regular times for weekly renewal and reflection and have a day off; on a monthly basis, to have a recollection day, and annually, take a holiday and do a retreat. In addition, we should enjoy a sabbatical time on one or two occasions in our missionary life.
Many people from other congregations and institutes have told me that we, the Missionaries of Africa are lucky to have the possibility of doing all these things in an organised way: during the First term of Mission at Provincial level, during the Second Term of Mission, at Regional level, at Jerusalem the Session/Retreat for those between 10 and 15 years of Missionary Oath and the Bethesda Session There is also the possibility of doing sessions at mid-life and there are Transition and Senior Sessions at Rome, not to mention the other special sessions, such as the Renewal for Mission and others organized by the Society or at the local level.
Each session is an opportunity to deepen our missionary vocation and the way we live it, not only for the effectiveness of our commitment but for our own personal well-being. We each have a particular missionary vocation which needs to be assessed constantly. My happiness will be to live the personal project that God has for me. It is still necessary to discover it, to welcome it and to live it fully!
My experience in Jerusalem
For the sessions in Jerusalem, I asked each participant, whether it is the Session/Retreat or the Bethesda Session, to prepare for it by taking time to look again at their life. I asked them to write down their reflections in a more or less long text and send it to us in advance. It is not a CV, but the story of one’s spiritual life. Many confine themselves to one or two pages, some don’t send anything, others, on the other hand, take it seriously.
At the beginning of the session, I asked the participants to take some time to look at it again. One of the first exercises was to share in small groups of five or six what they desired from this life story, “the river of my life.” The participants had the opportunity, after listening to the others’ life stories, to reflect again on their own life at a deeper level. I suggested to them that over the next three months to let all their memories wash over them, to reflect on their importance, be their positive or negative, and to put them in writing. At the end of the session, they often have a fairly detailed life story from the spiritual point of view.
Just as the First Testament is fundamentally the history of the vocation of the people of Israel, that of God’s revelation in its history, so it is important, I think, to become aware of the way which God has revealed himself to us in a very personal way all through our life.
During these sessions, on the working days, we begin by reviewing what happened on the previous day or days. Each one was invited to share an element which had affected them in a particular way, an episode, and/or a word which they considered as coming from God for him, for her, personally. What a wealth of sharing! Each team prepared the Saturday Eucharist (integration of the week) in the same spirit by decorating the chapel in a sometimes original way. (cf Photo).
From the very beginning of the session, it was proposed to each participant that they choose a spiritual friend and to meet him/her regularly in order to share his/her personal spiritual journey. I considered this to be the most important element of the session along with the directed retreat at the end.
The success of the sessions
Of course other elements have contributed to the success of these sessions: A good team of M.Afr animators and others (each animator accepts a maximum of 5 people), the mix of outings, courses and talks as well as the time for common prayer, for sharing in small groups and for some personal time!
For the outings I had the benefit of some previous experiences: well-chosen sites, preparatory documents, and the well organised week in Galilee at the half way stage, meeting with persons of interest, films and videos. Likewise, the Biblical course was progressively organised to meet the needs of the different sessions thanks to those who gave them: Walter Vogels, Joseph Doan, SJ, Bill Russell and myself.
In my experience, it is the interaction of the small groups which has contributed most to the success of the sessions. The positive result was more or less authentic according to the commitment of everyone in the team. As animators, we contented ourselves to providing the methodology and the framework. The participants benefitted to the extent that they committed themselves personally. The final evaluations that I asked each participant to fill out in a detailed way show this clearly!
The sessions in Jerusalem have existed since 1976. Frs. Jan Deltijk and Tom Wijffels and myself have prepared statistics that show that we have welcomed in the course of 40 years, 2,487 participants: 1,570 M.Afr. 40 Bishops, 386 Diocesan priests, 389 other religious or laypeople and 102 sisters. Sisters and lay people have been welcomed since 1999!
I wish for just one thing. Once the renovation of the buildings in Jerusalem is finished, that the sessions begin again with new renewed team of leaders!
Local Superior, Rome