Thursday 28 April 2011

Provincial Chapter

Prior General opens the Chapter
On Tuesday 26th April the second part of the Chapter of the British Province of Carmelites began. The Chapter is a meeting of the friars of the Province. For some years now the British Province Chapter has also included those working with the friars in collaborative ministry, as well as representatives of various different branches of the Carmelite Family. The meeting, which takes place every three years, is being held at "The Friars", the Carmelite Priory at Aylesford in Kent founded in 1242.

The first part of the Provincial  Chapter, known as the Electoral Assembly, took place at Aylesford in February. Fr. Wilfrid McGreal was re-elected as Prior Provincial (senior brother).

The Prior General of the Carmelite Order, Most Rev. Fr. Fernando Mill├ín Romeral,  presides at the second part of the Chapter, and meetings are being facilitated by American Carmelite friar Fr. Quinn Connors, O.Carm.

The Provincial Chapter will conclude on Friday. In the coming days the friars will discuss matters of common interest, and receive reports from various officials of the Province.

Approximately thirty friars and those in collaborative ministry with them gathered in the Conference Centre for Evening Prayer which took as its theme the title of the Chapter: “Listening to God, listening to one another, listening to our world”.

The Chapter Secretary, Fr. James Moran, O.Carm., then welcomed the participants, especially those who had come from abroad, including the Prior General, Fr. John Keating (General Councillor for Europe), and Fr. Quinn Connors (Facilitator). The Chapter Officials were then confirmed in office.

The Prior General then gave a talk designed to put the Chapter of the British Province into its wider international context within the Order and to inform and inspire subsequent discussions. The talk was first given at the Council of Provinces in 2009, and the Prior General stressed that not every point made is pertinent to every part of the Order. In the talk the Prior General stressed several areas of Carmelite life today – concerns, hopes and challenges – that he feels need reflection by the whole Carmelite Family.

The first issue raised by Fr. Fernando was that of formation, which must be a priority for Carmelites even when faced with the sometimes urgent demands of pastoral apostolates. The General Council believes strongly that common novitiates between Provinces are the best way for introducing young men to the friar way of life. The Prior General praised the richness of the current Ratio document which sets out the principles for formation, but said that it needs slight revision every 10-15 years and therefore it must be looked at afresh. He lamented that the culture of ongoing formation has declined within the Order and the wider Church, but is essential if friars and other Carmelites are to be aware of cultural, sociological and political movements within the world that we are called to serve.

Secondly the Prior General addressed the issue of vocations to religious life, which are in major decline in most parts of Europe but inceasing in other parts of the Order giving a stable figure of roughly 2,000 Carmelite friars of the Ancient Observance across the world. The Prior General encouraged Chapter delegates to live with faith and hope rather than stress and anxiety about numbers, and even to find joy in the present situation because God may have plans we do not perceive or understand, and perhaps is calling us to have smaller communities to meet the needs of the Church in our day.

The third issue addressed by the Prior General is the relationship between the friars and the cloistered nuns of the Ancient Observance (of which there are none in Britain, though close relations exist with many Discalced Carmelite monasteries). Fr. Fernando spoke of the nuns as a blessing for the Order, but said that in some parts of the world there is a lack of attentiveness to our sisters; not that friars need to dominate or patronise the nuns but rather there should be a familial and friendly relationship between companions on life’s journey.

The international government of the Order was the fourth issue addressed by the Prior General. He said that it is hard to recruit people to serve the Order at an international level, for example in Rome at the Curia, Saint Albert’s International Centre (CISA), and in academic studies. However, Fr. Fernando praised the generosity of the British Province in its willingness to provide men for service to the Order internationally.

The fifth issue highlighted by the Prior General was that of the missions. Within the last fifteen years the friars have spread to countries they probably never expected to enter, such as Cameroon, Vietnam, Mozambique, Trinidad and Kenya. Now the Order must consolidate its missions, build study houses, and so on. Fr. Fernando said that the Order has a right and duty to dream and to create new missions, such as in Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Cuba. Comparing the situation to the Roman Emperors Trajan (who said the Empire must grow or die) and Hadrian (who said it must not grow without consolidation), Fr. Fernando said that a careful balance must be struck between expansion and consolidation.

The Prior General then turned to the question of Carmelite identity. Since Carmel has no founding figure and no single apostolate of service, the charism is flexible and open. This can cause tension and uncertainty, but this can be positive. Fr. Fernando spoke of some tension between younger friars and those of the ‘post Vatican-II generation’. Some younger friars say the Order is too committed to apostolates in parishes and elsewhere, and want to focus on community life rather than living as secular clergy. Older friars are committed to the service of the Church in pastoral roles. Both groups are right and there must be a culture of listening to one another. The Prior General stressed that Carmelite friars are indeed friars, not diocesan priests or monks. As such Carmelite friars must find a balanced contemplative life in the midst of the people.

Finally the Prior General spoke of the need that Carmelites have for self-esteem as members of Carmel. We cannot just compare ourselves to other orders, but must find pride in our own communities and tradition. Other orders may seem to us bigger, richer, and better organised but we must declare that “Carmel is my family and I am proud of it”. He spoke of his tremendous pride in the Order, having travelled to communities around the world which serve God’s people with generous love. Fr. Fernando spoke of being contemplative as finding the presence of God – the Word made flesh – in the small, the humble, the frail. He said that if ‘the Word became flesh’ then we need to accept that the ‘flesh’ of human life is the way to God, otherwise our ‘other worldly spiritualism’ is not Christian spirituality, which seeks for God’s presence in the most ordinary and everyday situations.

Finally, the Prior General encouraged the Provincial Chapter to be open to ‘the God of surprises’, and invoked God’s blessing on the forthcoming deliberations.

Source: British Province of Carmelites Website

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