Nemi, Italy. September 9, 2021. The Chapter has only a few days left but our community does not lose the vigor of working together and the joy that comes from God. This was announced in the opening hymn of the Eucharist, animated by our brothers from Colombia-Venezuela: joyful morning, which speaks to us of you. And so, we have been able to experience it throughout the day. Truly today has been a time of joy in the Lord, the One who has welcomed us into his boat to be with Him and to call others to the service of his Kingdom.
With our sights set on St. Peter’s at the Vatican, where the audience with Pope Francis awaited us, we made a first stop before leaving Nemi in the atrium of St. John the Baptist Church of the Ad Gentes Center to take the official group photo of this XXVI General Chapter. Arriving in Rome, like so many pilgrims from all over the world, we walked along Via della Conciliazione (Avenue of Conciliation) to St. Peter’s Square. Once there – the first time for some of us – we crossed the famous Bronze Door and the sunny Courtyard of St. Damasus to enter the Apostolic Palace. There we met our brother Card. Aquilino Bocos Merino, CMF, and some other Claretians from the communities of Rome. The splendid Clementine Hall was opened for us: everything in it – the color of the frescoes, the brightness of the marble, the play of lights, the fraternal conversation – created the atmosphere of great occasions.
After a patient wait, with careful punctuality, Pope Francis entered the hall at the stroke of midday. After a brief greeting from Card. Aquilino Bocos and Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, the latter thanked the Holy Father for his closeness and encouragement, recalling the great good his message did us at the previous General Chapter, the path of transformation followed by the Congregation during this six-year period, the synodal and appreciative perspective from which we wanted to approach the present Chapter and the challenges that are now open to us in terms of rootedness and audacity. The Pope himself then took the floor to address the Chapter. He began by congratulating and encouraging the new Superior General and his Councilors in the task entrusted to them, also reserving an affectionate mention for our sister Jolanta Kafka, RMI, whom he described as a woman who, in addition to speaking several languages, seeks to master the language of God. He then went on to invite us in various ways to weave a life of deep relationship with the Lord to become daring missionaries of the Gospel, who do not allow themselves to be discouraged either by the aging of the body or the aging of the soul. “You must be rooted in Jesus,” he told us, through “a life of prayer and contemplation that leads them to be able to say like Job: ‘I knew you only by hearsay, but now my eyes have seen you’.” For only a life of intimacy and adoration allows us “to speak, as friends, face to face with the Lord, and to contemplate the Mirror, which is Christ, to become yourselves a mirror for others”. Only by being adorers can we become witnesses.
Pope Francis also alluded to the beginning of the Definition of the Missionary, by St. Anthony Mary Claret, and quoted some parts of our Constitutions. In particular, he called us to let ourselves be set on fire by divine love in order to set on fire in the desire for God those who come across us, thus being men of hope who, without fear of their frailties, let us see in them the strength that comes from above: “How beautiful it is when a consecrated woman or man feels fragile, because she or he feels the need to ask for help. Do not be afraid of it. Be afraid, yes, of falling into spiritual “schizophrenia” and spiritual worldliness”, the Holy Father continued.
Finally, he gave us a triad of advice to carry out the missionary task in the style of Jesus: closeness, compassion, and tenderness. Those that God always had with the people of Israel and those that should guide every consecrated person in his mission. In the same vein, and displaying his wisdom and spontaneity, Francis concluded with a praise of good humor: “Do not lose your sense of humor, please; laugh in community, make jokes. A sense of humor is a grace of joy and joy is a dimension of holiness”.
The Pope’s dense words were followed by his cordial handshake for each of us who had the joy of being with him. Through us, his impulse and warmth reached the whole Congregation and all those who are on pilgrimage and accompany us on the paths of the Gospel. The echoes of so much joy were felt among us as we enjoyed a simple outdoor meal in the garden of the General Curia, whose members welcomed us with warm fraternity. From the Chapter community, with enormous gratitude, we ask the Lord that all that we have received today may be translated into fruits of good works, that he may grant Pope Francis all that he has wished for us and that the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary may continue to struggle joyfully in the boat of the Church.