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Musings from the 17th General Chapter

Once every six years, Society of the Divine Word members from around the globe gather in Rome to elect a superior general and set the future direction for the world's largest missionary order of Catholic priests and brothers. This meeting is called the General Chapter.

This year, the Chicago Province is
represented at the General Chapter by Provincial Thomas Ascheman SVD and elected delegates Fr. Bang Cong Tran SVD and Brother Bernard Spitzley SVD. In addition, other Chicago Province members will participate in administrative roles: Fr. Gary Riebe-Estrella SVD will moderate and Fr. John Szukalski SVD will act as secretary.

We invite you to follow "Musings from the 17th General Chapter" as Brother Bernie, Fr. Tran and Fr. Ascheman share their experiences of what it's like to be involved with this important event.

For official news from the General Chapter and videos, please visit the Generalate's blog at svdgc2012.blogspot.it.


Friday, July 13
Proud to be an SVD
Father Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Since we are ahead of schedule, yesterday we had a day off so there were two organized excursions: one to Assisi and the other one to Pompei. During the formators course, I got to know Assisi already, so I signed up for Pompei. We had a good day.

This morning, we had our Eucharistic celebration comemorating the four Polish SVD Martyrs. The Eucharistic celebration was organized by the Europe Zone. The presider was Fr. Henry Barlage, the former superior general. What he said at the introduction of the Mass struck me so much and made me very proud to belong to this group of mem.

Fr. Barlage, in his introduction of the liturgy, said that it is only normal for a Polish confrere to preside over the Mass since the four martyrs were Polish; however, the members of the zone invited him to celebrate the Mass—he who is German. (The four martyrs were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War.) He said, "I am not very proud that we Germans produced these four martyrs, but I am proud that we SVD have four martyrs."

These words of his struck me so much that I have to share them with you in this blog. Where in the world can you find a countryman of the oppressive side celebrate the memorial and the lives of the oppressed? My answer during the Mass was with us—the SVD—and that is why I am very proud to belong to this group of men. Fr. Henry’s point was that it is not that the four martyrs were Poles or that he is German but that we all are SVDs and that is enough for us to celebrate their lives and their witnesses.

We are at the end of the 17th General Chapter, only two days left. This is my first experience of the chapter, and through this experience it makes me even prouder to belong to this group of men.

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Tuesday, July 10
A Really Good Day
Father Thomas Ascheman, SVD

I’m taking a few moments out of our day of recollection to share a thought or two about Monday’s events at the chapter. As we tried to sum up the day in a few words, many chapter participants came to the same conclusion: "This was a really good day."

It started with the excitement of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. We were all supposed to gather in the chapel by 11:30 a.m. to prepare for the Holy Father’s arrival at 11:45. I figured I’d go down to the chapel a bit early – at 11:15 – and the place was already half full.

That was unusual for two different reasons: first, so many were showing up EARLY. (We’ve all been dragging a little bit lately – three weeks of meetings is tiring….) Second, the front pews were already full! As you know, we Catholics tend to favor the back benches. That is also true during the General Chapter. NOT SO when the Pope comes to visit!

There is a video of the visit on the Generalate blog site, so you can see what we saw. View it and many photos at: http://svdgc2012.blogspot.it/

There was a sense of graciousness and joy that was evident throughout the papal visit. Fr. Pernia’s opening comments hit all the right notes. It appears that Pope Benedict had a prepared text, but he put it aside and spoke to us directly; apparently feeling quite comfortable in our gathering.

One of his major points was that joy in the Gospel is an essential attitude for every Christian, and especially for every missionary. I think he was naming the "something extra" that was in the air yesterday. You might capture it on film, but more likely you’d have to spend some time in prayer to find what was so apparent yesterday.

We should not overlook the amazing gesture of the pope coming to visit us! It is almost unheard of that Benedict would visit a general chapter. I think he wanted to remember his presence 50 years ago when he worked on the document AD GENTES for the Second Vatican Council at our house in Nemi. It was evident that the young faces of SVDs from all over the world gave him a lift.

In the afternoon, the chapter participants took up a difficult question. We discussed the crisis of sexual abuse of children and the ways in which we are attempting to respond as a congregation. The experience of our own Chicago Province figured prominently in the discussion.

We can thank Fr. Mark Weber for his hard work in bringing this issue forward for us and for our Society.  His name was mentioned more than once in our discussions. The really important part about this discussion was not about the details. The important part was to break the silence which can so easily allow abuse to continue. This discussion alone would have made it a "really good day."

So, how did we finish off the day? Well, the Holy Father was presented with a few gifts when he came, including a book bag containing our chapter materials and a chapter tee-shirt! We also gave him an Indonesian statue of the Virgin Mary with Child. Benedict sent us a gift in exchange – a refrigerator full of German beer! We drank it last night – and we all agreed, it was a "really good day."

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Tuesday, July 10
"The Pope is in the House!"
Father Bang Cong Tran, SVD

When I was here in Nemi for the formator course in April, I heard that Superior General Tony Pernia had invited his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, to come to Nemi for the blessing of the newly renovated Ad Gentes Centre during the General Chapter.

And I also heard that the pope had at that point not answered yet. During our first week of the General Chapter there was talking that we have to go to the Vatican for the general audience on one of the Wednesdays since Pope Benedict does not often give a private audience.

During our second week, Fr. Tony informed us of the good news and asked us to keep it as a "pontifical secret" that Pope Benedict XVI would come and visit us on the 9th of July. As we heard the news, we gave "pontifical and solemn" applause with great joy. We kept the secret until the Vatican publicly published news of the visit.

Yesterday was July 9. We had the morning off to prepare for the welcome of his Holiness. A few days before, we saw the presence of Vatican officials and security agents walking around our campus in preparing for the pope's visit.

We even replaced the stairway that leads to the chapel because it is where we would welcome the Pope. The carpenters worked until late on Saturday to have the steps ready.

Early Monday morning, more Vatican security officers and local police officers were around the Ad Gentes Centre. Seeing them, I could feel that the presence of Pope Benedict was coming.

By 10:30 a.m. the chapel was full of security agents (who made sure that everything was in order), our confreres (who wanted to have a place in the chapel that was as close as possible to the pope), and Ad Gentes Centre employees (who wanted to see the pope up close).

According to the program, Pope Benedict would arrive at the center at 11:45 a.m., and exactly at that time, his Holiness walked into the chapel, accompanied by the outgoing superior general, the superior elect and father procurator.

We were singing, clapping and standing to welcome his Holiness in our midst. "The Pope is in the house," I said to myself, "in OUR house." Wow! What a great joy!

Last Easter, the group of us SVD formators went to the Vatican to participate in the Easter Mass presided over by his Holiness. We were so far from the altar that if I want to see the pope I had to use binoculars. From where I was I saw only a small figure dressed in white.

Yesterday, however, was different. We number about 150 confreres who are here for the General Chapter, but because of time and his age, the pope could greet only 30 of our confreres. These 30 confreres had a chance to kiss the hand and ring of the pope, or as we say in Italian, "Bacio Mano."

Brother Bernie was chosen to represent the U.S. subzone. These 30 confreres had their places in the sanctuary of the chapel. As for me, I was in the fourth pew, but I was be able to see the features if his face, clearly, without using binoculars.

We welcomed the pope through the words of our Superior General Tony Pernia. Pope Benedict addressed us without using his prepared speech; he did it, spontaneously.

We gave the pope a wooden statue of Our Lady of Indonesia. We prayed together with his Holiness, and afterwards, he gave us his apostolic blessing.

Just to end this long blog, I just want to let you know that I got an unofficial "Bacio Mano" when his Holiness was on the way out of the chapel. I got out of my seat and moved quickly to the door, I was lucky since the Vatican security officer didn’t stop me and was be able to hold and kiss his Holiness’ ring. For the rest of the day, the topic at Ad Gentes Centre was Pope Benedict the XVI.
 
Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Monday, July 9
Jamaica 2012
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

Greetings from Rome! Yesterday, we went to the motherhouse of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSps). There, Superior General Maria Theresia Hornemann and I hoisted a new sign: Jamaica 2012.

Some of the SSpS sisters have been assigned to work with us in Jamaica! Oh, I have to run. The pope is coming here today!

(Editor’s note: To see Sister Maria Theresia Hornemann and Brother Bernie’s impromptu sign dedication, go to www.facebook.com/divine.word.missionaries.chicago.province.)

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Friday, July 6
The Septumvirate
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

The General Council is ready to go!

(Editor's note: Check out the latest participant in Brother Bernie's campaign: www.facebook.com/divine.word.missionaries.chicago.province)

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Friday, July 6
The Team
Father Thomas Ascheman, SVD

Today, the members of the General Chapter elected the final two councillors for the new General Council. Again, the principal concern of the voters was to have wide representation of all parts of the Society of the Divine Word.
 
Fr. Arlindo Dias (Brazil Central Province) was elected on the first ballot today. He has served on the General Council for the past six year. Arlindo was provincial in Brazil and a communications specialist before beginning his service at the Generalate. His election further solidified the continuity on the new council. Three return from the previous six year term—Robert Kisala, Gregory Pinto and Arlindo—and there are four new members on the council.
 
Fr. José Antunes da Silva (Portugal Province) was elected on the second ballot. He has been provincial of the Portugal Province since 2007. After serving in Ghana, he began studies in Religion and Culture. In the early 1990s, he lived at the Washington House in Washington, D.C., while completing work on a master's degree. It was there that he first met Fr. Heinz Kulüke, our new superior general. He is just now preparing to defend his long-delayed doctoral dissertation in Portugal. His gentle spirit and his long-term commitment to both study and missionary outreach will be important strengths for his service on the council.
 
The last step in the election process was to elect one of the councillors as the admonitor. The duty of supporting the Superior General (through kind admonishment) went to Gregory Pinto from India.
 
The impression of the capitulars is that the General Council not only has a lot of talent but that it also seems very well-balanced in terms of experience, personality and interests. They should make a great TEAM.
 
Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we turn our attention to some new business and look forward to the visit of the Holy Father on Monday, July 9.

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Thursday, July 5
A Blessing for the Superior General
Father Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Today, I'm sending photos. After the election of Father Heinz Kulüke, SVD, as superior general, we celebrated Mass. Father Kulüke presided at the Mass while the most recent past superior generals, Father Tony Pernia and Father Heinrich Barlage, concelebrated.

After Communion, we traditionally bestow a blessing upon the new superior general. Four confreres, who represented the four zones, processed to the altar. Each one lay a carpet that symbolized their respective zone in front of the altar.

Then, we asked Father Kulüke to take off his shoes and come and sit on the carpets. Because the carpets represent holy ground, he took off his shoes. We all raised our hands to bless him.

(Editor's note: To see Father Tran's photos from the Mass and of the new General Council members, go to: www.facebook.com/divine.word.missionaries.chicago.province)

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Thursday, July 5
Circle Dances and Salutes
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

Today the PANAM Zone was responsible for the morning liturgy. Anyone who has experienced such a liturgy knows that PANAM Zone-planned liturgies are creative, long, and usually include a circle dance.

Well, today's Mass lived up to those expectations! We received rave reviews for our ability to glide around the altar effortlessly and in a meaningful prayerful manner.

After Mass, we went to work and elected a fine man in Brother Guy Mazola from the Congo Province; Gregory Pinto, who will be serving a second term on the General Council; and Paulus Budi Kleden, a new face from Indonesia. With a Ph.D. from Germany and years of teaching experience in Indonesia, he has a bright future ahead.

As always, we gave each one an "I love you, man" salute!

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Thursday, July 5
Three of Five Councillors Elected
Fr. Thomas Ascheman, SVD

Today at the General Chapter, three more members were elected to the General Council. Now the focus of the elections is on forming a team, so that the various zones, language groups, and brothers have a representative voice on the Council.
 
Brother Guy Mazola from Congo was elected by a wide margin as first councillor. He has been serving as the chief editor of Verbum Bible, a center for Bible studies in the Congo Province. He also has served as the formation coordinator for the AFRAM Zone. His considerable experience in both Bible ministry and formation will be very valuable for his service on the Council.
 
Fr. Gregory Pinto from India was re-elected to the General Council as the capitulars selected a second councillor. Gregory's ministry has long focused on counseling and spiritual direction. His return to the Council will help to assure some continuity in the new sexennium.
 
Fr. Paul Budi Kleden from Indonesia also was elected to the General Council today. Fr. Budi is from the Ende Province and has been working in formation at Ledalero, the largest SVD seminary in the world, for the past ten years. He did doctoral studies in systematic theology in Germany. Given the huge number of young confreres who come from Indonesia and are trained at Ledalero, his presence on the Council will be especially helpful.
 
Tomorrow, the General Chapter will complete the election process by selecting two additional councillors. Please continue to keep all of us in your prayers as we work to prepare the general government of the Society of the Divine Word for the coming six years.

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Wednesday, July 4
The 4th of July in a Foreign Land
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Today we had a lighter day since we are a head of our schedule; however, for us, the members of the three U.S. provinces, we were busy.

First, we started our day, our Independence Day, with a liturgy presided over by the provincial of the U.S. Western Province, Fr. Briccio Tamoro. The homilist was the provincial of the Chicago Province, Fr. Thomas, the three delegates from the three U.S. provinces served as musicians and cantors.
 
Since it is our Independence Day, Brother Bernie led us in prayer before we began our morning session. In this very session, Fr. Bob Kisala was elected as vice superior general. Lastly, I was asked to say a prayer before lunch.

We are not in the United States, but we had our own ways of celebrating the 4th of July. The best part of it all was the dinner that we had at a local pizzeria.

We—20 people in all, including three American SSpS sisters—celebrated the 4th of July in Nemi. Instead of barbecue, we had pizza; instead of hamburgers and hot dogs, we had pasta and wild boar meat; instead of beer, we had wine. Well, many of us did have a beer or two.

We filled that small restaurant not only with our presence but also with our laughter, our joy-filled conversations (some were quite loud too) and our good time together.

At dinner, we took the time to congratulate Fr. Bob Kisala, and we also celebrated the 25th anniversary of priesthood of Fr. Dennis Callan, who is working in Korea, by presenting to him the jubilee cross.

We had a wonderful time and a memorable celebration of the 4th of July on the foreign land. To top it off, Fr. Dennis treated us to Italian gelato after dinner; yes, that's right, we could not go home without gelato.

Many thanks to Fr. Tom and Fr. John Szukalski, SVD, who organized this wonderful event. Happy 4th of July to all!

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Wednesday, July 4
Happy INTERdependence Day
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

Today we began with a prayer, celebrating our interdependence as confreres from many nations, languages and peoples! Of course, some of us also celebrated the U.S. Independence Day 2012. As days go by, we will remember it as the day that we elected Bob Kisala as our new vice superior general. I was happy to give him some love!

(Editor's note: Brother Bernie's quest to make the fist bump the universally recognized gesture of goodwill and brotherly love continues! See www.facebook.com/divine.word.missionaries.chicago.province)

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Wednesday, July 4
Vice Superior General Elected
Fr. Thomas Ascheman, SVD

On the 4th of July, many in the United States will be remembering independence and celebrating liberty. Robert Kisala, originally from Chicago, will remember the 4th of July for another reason. He was elected on the first ballot as vice-general superior of the Society of the Divine Word at Nemi, Italy.

Bob will assist the new Superior General, Heinz Kulüke, in guiding the Society for the coming six years. After years of service in Japan, Bob was elected to the General Council in 2006. His experience and acquaintance with the many parts of the SVD world will be particularly helpful as a new General Council is formed. Those of us who are members of the Chicago Province take pride that one of "our own" can offer this service for the sake of our confreres all over the world.

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Tuesday, July 3
An Invitation
A loose interpretation of what Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD, said

Some people say that the clothes make the man. Although most SVDs would disagree, many would accept the premise that apparel can say a thousand words. Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD, gave a congratulatory gift to Fr. Kulüke, the new superior general. The gift came with an invitation to visit the Caribbean District.

(Editor's note: For a peek at Brother Bernie's gift and other photos, go to www.facebook.com/Divine.Word.Missionaries.Chicago.Province.)

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Tuesday, July 3
Superior General Elected
Fr. Thomas Ascheman, SVD

Fr. Heinz Kulüke, SVD, has been elected the 11th superior general of the Society of the Divine Word.  
 
The election results were very clear. Fr. Heinz was elected by an overwhelming majority on the first ballot this morning, Tuesday, July 3. He has been serving as the provincial of the Philippines South Province. He is best known for his work to help street people and sex workers in Cebu City.
 
Fr. Heinz has a bit of a connection to the Chicago Province. In the early 1990s, he did a year of graduate studies in philosophy at the Catholic University of America and was part of our community in Washington, D.C. That was where I first met him.  I know him as an outstanding missionary, and I know that he will make a wonderful leader for our Society.
 
Please continue to keep us in your prayers as the elections for the General Council continue tomorrow … and pray also for our confreres and the many others affected by the recent storms, power outages and excessive heat in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic States.
 
In the Divine Word,
Thomas J. Ascheman, SVD

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Monday, July 2

Day 14—the Beginning Process of Election for the Superior General
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Last Saturday was the beginning process of election for the new superior general, the worldwide leader of the Society of the Divine Word. We began our process at the level of the four zones by brainstorming what are we looking for or expecting in the new superior general.

The PANAM Zone representatives came up with a long list. Among other qualities, we are looking for a man:
•    who is not only an administrator but also a man with missionary experiences
•    who is not only eloquent in his speech but also a man who can listen to his confreres
•    who has not only a world vision but also knows the reality of local communities
•    who is not only a contemplative person but also a man of action
•    who is young enough but not too old so that he can endure the hard work of his office
•    who has good health
•    who is not only unique in his ideas but also a team player

After hearing the list of quality that a new superior general has to have, Brother Bernie suggested one more quality: that he can walk on water.

Where do we find such a man?

After each zone shared what we are looking for in the new superior general, Father Tony Pernia, the present superior general, shared with us his thougths on what the new superior general has to possess.

He has two lists—the first one is the qualities needed and the second list is the skills that the superior general needs to have. Here are his lists:

Qualities
•    A spiritual person. He has to be a deeply spiritual person so that he can animate others.
•    A strong commitment to the SVD.
•    A good knowledge of the founder, St. Arnold Janssen, and the founding generation.
•    Collaboration leadership. He has to exercise his power together with his General Council.

Skills
•    Listening. Not only in regards to the province, region and mission but also to individual confreres.
•    Languages. He has to know at least English, Spanish, Italian and some knowledge of German.
•    Good health since he will be traveling a lot. During his terms, Father Tony made 90 international trips.
•    An ability to reflect and not just get things done.
•    Administrative abilities and team building skills.
•    Last but not least, he has to know how to live with problems since 70 percent of the time, he has to deal with problems.

What Father Tony shared was very personal, and it came from his heart and his experiences. After he finished speaking, all the capitulars gave him a very long applause. He had to make signs for us to stop.

I was very touched and very proud of our Father General. By this time tomorrow, we will have the new superior general.  Stay tuned.

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Friday, June 29
Day 10 - Stories and Best Practices in Intercultural Life and Mission
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Using video and PowerPoint presentations, confreres from provinces throughout the world shared stories about their ministries that illustrate our intercultural life and mission.

The Netherlands-Belgium Province shared details of the celebration of their 101 years in Belgium. In the 1970s there was talk of "the end" of the Netherlands-Belgium Province. Rather than die, they invited confreres from other provinces. The Netherlands-Belgium Province became much more intercultural. They started several new ministries; the newest one is in Amsterdam. The old province is now very young!
 
The Mumbai Province from India presented a music video entitled "Sangam," which means "Unity." It was very touching and meaningful. They gave each chapter member a DVD to take back to their own province.
 
The Spanish Province focused on its ministry with immigrants. Ten percent of the population of Spain is immigrant. There are 12,500 Filipinos in Madrid. Last month, I had a chance to visit this community. The church was filled to standing-room-only for the Sunday afternoon Mass. Other confreres serve the Polish and African immigrant communities.
 
The Argentina East Province made a presentation on their work in education. What impressed me the most was that one confrere founded 22 schools for children of agricultural families and indigenous peoples. The province now ministers to 10,000 students every academic year.
 
The Zimbabwe Province showed us a powerful and moving video about a workshop on human rights issues. They made this video to informed people about their rights in choosing their leader.
 
The "Down Under" (Australia) Province featured their ministry with refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom come from Iran, Iraq and Bangladesh. The Australian government asked churches to help with the detainees. In the PowerPoint, my ordination classmate, Thomas Quoc Tran, was shown and mentioned for his ministry as a case worker assisting these people in need.
 
Finally, the Southern Province (USS) presented a video entitled "Melodies from Heaven," a Gospel music video, showing their work with African Americans.
 
Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Thursday, June 28
The Work Continues
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

Yes, we are working hard. I can assure you that we will NOT issue a lengthy General Chapter document as has been done in the past. Rather we are working hard to create – what shall we call it –   Congregational Directions? Congregational Directives? Congregational Orientations? Action Plans?????

Stay tuned as we continue to grapple with the intricacies and meaning of each word and phrase, and as we strive to come to an agreement that rings true and has the same meaning across cultures and around the world.

Oh, by the way, did you hear that we will be electing a new Superior General? This Saturday, June 30, we have the straw ballot. Some of the front runners are…. Well, let’s just say that for now we will leave it in the hands of the Holy Spirit!

Check back here for big news!
 
Blessings,
Bernie

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Wednesday, June 27
The Arnoldus Family
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

The presence and presentations of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and Holy Spirit Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at the General Chapter enrich this international gathering. Moreover, it reminds us of their collaboration with the Divine Word Missionaries throughout the world.

(Editor's note: For a visible sign of the unity of the three religious communities, go to www.facebook.com/Divine.Word.Missionaries.Chicago.Province.)

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Tuesday, June 26
Cause for More Celebration
Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD

Today, we hit the books hard, getting an in-depth, philosophical and sociological understanding about interculturality and mission from Alex Zatyraka, SJ. He lived up to his Jesuit charism and gave a most esoteric, edifying presentation.

In the afternoon, we were brought down to earth with our own Sister Maria Cristina Avalos, SSpS. Her presentation on intercultural competencies and working with intercultural communities was practical and beneficial to all.
 
On Monday, we gathered together to hear the wisdom of our spiritual sisters as the  leadership team of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (SSpSAP) and Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSpS) again were most insightful.

On Sunday, June 24, we were allowed a day to relax and play tourist. As noted in Bang  Tran's blog, on Saturday, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ad Gentes Center.

We gathered for a social in which all were asked to celebrate with the cultural food, dance and drinks of one's country. Since I live and work in Jamaica, I was happy to come as the reincarnation of Bob Marley to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's freedom from England. If I do say so myself the Chicago Province won in best cultural dress, presentation and the giving of examples on how to live interculturally!
 
Blessings,
Bernie

(Editor's note: to see a photo of Brother Bernie as Bob Marley, go to www.facebook.com/Divine.Word.Missionaries.Chicago.Province.)

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Tuesday, June 26
Day 8—The AJ Family
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

On Monday, we had the honor and the privilege of welcoming our SSpS (Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, or Blue Sisters) and SSpSAP (Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, or Pink Sisters) to our General Chapter.

It was a rare experience for the AJ (Arnold Janssen) family since our Pink Sisters are cloistered nuns. They rarely go outside of their monastery, so their presence at our General Chapter completed the three branches of the AJ family.

One thing that many SVDs did not know is that our Pink Sisters wear pink habits at their monastery; however, when they are outside of their monastery, they wear grey habits.

In terms of multiculturality, one of the things that the mother superior of the Pink Sisters shared that touched me the most was the fact that even though it is hard for the SVDs and the Blue Sisters—both are active and apostolic communities—to live in a multicultural community, it is even harder for our Pink Sisters, a contemplative community, because they see each other day after day, month after month and year after year in the confinement of their monastery.

Yet, the Pink Sisters also try to learn another language, either English or German. Can you imagine that? They don’t go outside of their monastery and yet they learn another language? Our Pink Sisters are really an example for us SVD on how to live in a multicultural community.

I also was touched when the superior general of the Blue Sisters shared with us her thoughts on the collaboration between the SVDs and the Blue Sisters. The Blue Sisters and the SVDs throughout the world are collaborating in many ways.

A few examples are the Arnold Janssen Spiritual Team, VIVAT International and the Renewal Courses. Also, when the Blue Sisters do their visitations, they also visit the SVD communities and vice versa.

This collaboration is on equal terms. No longer are the days when one made the plan and the other followed; nowadays, members of both congregations are sitting down and planning together.

For me, the presence of our sisters both pink and blue at the General Chapter made me feel happy and very proud to be part of the AJ Family.

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Monday, June 25
Day 7—Inter-Zonal Meetings Continued
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

With the General Chapter, our weekend is shortened. It is no longer a weekend with Saturday and Sunday off. Sunday is our only free day, actually only two Sundays are free days; the other two Sundays will be filled with programs.

Last Saturday, we met all day; it was the continuation of the inter-zonal meeting. Our PANAM (Pan-American) Zone had a chance to meet with the AFRAM (African-Madagascar) Zone.

Once again, I would like to highlight some of the points that touched me about the AFRAM Zone. One of the challenges for the AFRAM Zone is the strong influence of traditional religion on Christians that some of the Christians are Christians by day but are followers of African traditional religion by night.

However, Christianity and vocations to religious life and priesthood are on the rise in the AFRAM Zone. Speaking from my experience of seven years in Togo, I can confirm the statement above. At the parish where I was ministering, every Easter there were at least 120 catechumens who received the Sacraments of Initiation.

Vocation directors in Togo do not have to travel wide and large in search of vocations. Young men and women interested in religious life come to them. Our SVD confreres and our SSpS sisters in the AFRAM Zone are actively engaged in the ministry of serving AIDS patients and their families.

After the work of the General Chapter concluded on Saturday, we celebrated culture night. Each zone had 15 minutes to entertain the rest of the community with songs, dancing and joke telling. We had fun. The star of the culture night was our own Brother Bernie, who dressed up as a Jamaican with dreadlocks, like Jamaicans do.

I can’t believe it; I am here for a week already.

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Monday, June 25
Cause for celebration
Fr. Thomas Ascheman, SVD

After a wonderful day off on Sunday, we’re back in force with our chapter today. Today we heard from the SSpS and SSpSAP Sisters who shared and exchanged their hopes and dreams for the future with the SVDs.

A highlight for me was at the end of the SSpS presentation; they showed a film of the North American Jubilee celebration. It was touching to hear the cheers of recognition from many of the chapter members, myself included, of the jubilarians from around the world who were present at the jubilee celebration. It is most heartwarming to see the multi-cultural support from province to province.

Thomas J. Ascheman, SVD
Provincial

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Friday, June 22
Day 6—Inter-Zonal Meetings
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

After two days of zonal meetings, today we had our inter-zonal exchanges. It was the time for us to share with other zones our experiences and to learn from them theirs.

In the morning our PANAM (Pan-American) Zone met with confreres from the EUROPE Zone, and in the afternoon we had our exchange with our brothers from the ASPAC (Asian-Pacific) Zone.

The exchanges were very meaningful and helpful for me to better understand the wider context in which our confreres are living and ministering; the difficult challenges that all of us face in our daily life; and also the positive points and the good things that the SVD confreres are doing throughout the world.

We exchanged many stories and experiences. I just want to highlight one or two things that have touched me. The strong points of our North American provinces, among others, are the multi-lingual and multi-ethnic parishes and the vocations that we still having in our provinces, thanks to our vocations team.

One reality in our Europe Zone is that it was once a missionary-sending zone, but now it is a missionary-receiving zone. The Europe Zone, hence, encourages SVD seminarians and brothers from other zones to come to do Cross-cultural Training Program in their provinces with a view of continuing their theology or studies there.

Any candidates from our Theologate community in Chicago? "Old buildings, new possibilities" is one of the challenges that Europe Zone is facing. Our confreres there have to find new possibilities in our many humongous, heavy and old buildings.
 
Did you know that every academic year the ASPAC Zone has about 100,000 students in their universities, colleges, high schools and informal education programs? Wow! What an impressive number. Imagine how many lives our confreres in education ministry touch every year.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, that vocations in the ASPAC Zone are declining. Some of the reasons include demography (fewer children per family, more religious congregations in Asia who are looking for vocations, and globalization) and more chances than ever before to study at university level.

We ended our day with Bible sharing; we had a long day today but a very meaningful day.

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD
 
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Thursday, June 21
Day 4th and 5th—Continued Zonal Meetings
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Yesterday and today, we continued our subzonal and zonal meetings. Within the PANAM zone (PAN in Spanish is "bread" and AM is morning so our zone is the Morning Bread zone) we are divided into 5 subzones. The three provinces in the United States—U.S. Southern Province, U.S. Western Province and the Chicago Province—make up one of those five subzones.
 
I felt very comfortable in our meeting of the subzone because I know and understand what we are talking about and discussing. We have the same realities in North America although each province has its own situation.

I don’t want to bore you with all the details of what we discussed, and since we are the Morning Bread Zone, let’s talk about food. We are in Nemi, a small town of about 2,000 inhabitants, located about 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) from Rome.

The Society of the Divine Word has a newly renovated Ad Gentes Center, a retreat/conference center. The Ad Gentes Center has its own kitchen staff; however, to feed about 150 hungry mouths 3 meals a day for 30 days is too much for them.

For our General Chapter, therefore, the Ad Gentes Center had to turn to catering. We are in Rome, so we do what Romans do. Our meals here are Italian style with their famous pasta, risotto, bread and wine.

Talking about wine, Italy is a wine culture. I have heard many confreres mentioned that they have been drinking more wine here in the last five days than a year in their country. We have wine for lunch and dinner every day, no beer though.

Our meals are typical Italian fare with pasta, risotto or soup (for dinner) as appetizer, then salad, after which comes the main course, which usually includes meat, potatoes and vegetable, and finally fruits for dessert.

As you can see, we are eating well here. We have been here almost a week already, but we have not had pizza yet. (Tonight, however, a group of us Americans went to town for pizza and of course, gelato for dessert). For me, the pasta for appetizer feels like a main course already, so I really have to watch what I eat. If not, then no one at Divine Word College will recognize me after my time here.

Many of the capitulars come from Asian countries, so we also have rice at every lunch and dinner, which makes many of the capitulars happy, including me.

Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Tuesday, June 19
Third day—Our First Zonal Meeting
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Every morning we begin the new day with the Eucharistic celebration at 7 a.m. For the past two days, we celebrated the Eucharist together, bilingually, in English and Spanish. This morning, however, we had two different celebrations one in English and the other in Spanish.

Since I wanted to practice and improve my Spanish, I chose Spanish Mass this morning even though I know, in general, Spanish Mass is always longer. As we say in Spanish, from "Misa" (Mass) to "mesa" (table), and this morning we went directly from the Eucharistic table to breakfast table.

This is one clear example that with the SVD we can live out, practice our own culture, our own customs, and our own way of life even in the Eucharist.

Today we had our first zonal meeting. In the Society of the Divine Word, we are divided into four zones, namely, the Africa-Madagascar Zone (AFRAM), the European Zone, the Asian-Pacific Zone (ASPAC), and the Pan-America Zone (PANAM).

All capitulars from each zone gathered this moring and this afternoon with his own zone to share and to discuss the lights and shadows of each zone. During the PANAM zonal meeting, I was lost since I don’t know very well the situation of the PANAM Zone; I felt like I belonged to the AFRAM since that is where I worked from 2003 to 2010.

I, therefore, could not participate much in the discussion; plus, the reality of North America is very different from Latin America. Of these differences in realities, Fr. Tom Ascheman gave a very clear and insightful sharing at the zonal meeting.

In the evening, we also closed our day with evening prayer or Bible sharing. The Divine Word is at the center of our lives, so this afternoon we had Bible sharing in 12 different small groups. Bible sharing is always an event and an activity that I look forward to—for in our sharing I get to observe how the Word of God clearly touches each one of us in a very different way, even though we read, hear and meditate on the same passage.

In our sharing, I also get to learn more about our confreres since Bible sharing is very personal and intimate. This afternoon was not an exception; we did have an intimate and personal Bible sharing session.

Fr. Bang C. Tran, SVD

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Monday, June 18
The Second Day—Our First Full Day
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

Today, Monday, we had our first full day with two sections—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was not really heavy, but it was a long day.

Since I got here I have heard two sad news, but I felt very comforted. The first one was yesterday when Fr. Tony [Pernia] reported that since the last General Chapter (GC), seven capitulars of that GC had past away; we all stood up and observed a moment of silence to remember them.

Today, before we start the morning section, the provincial from Columbia made an announcement that one confrere in his province had a serious car accident last night. Hence, we all prayed a "Hail Mary" for him and for the success of his operations. We may be far apart and may not know each other personally, but we are all connected in our prayers and in our thoughts.

The morning section was a "Report of our Society" or the "State of the SVD" given by Fr. Tony, our superior general. I just want to give you some interesting numbers. Fr. Tony believed that we, the SVD, had reached our peak in term of number of our members—at little more than 6,000 members.

The vocations in three of our four zones are declining, even our Asian-Pacific Zone. The only zone that shows an increase is our African-Madagascar Zone. Fr. Tony stressed that we have to be thankful for the gift of members that we have in the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).

The median age in the SVD with all its members and novices is 47 years, and 52.9 years for members in perpetual vows. Once again, we have to be thankful to the good Lord for the youthfulness of our religious order.

We have 69 different nationalities in the SVD: the two newest nationalities in our Society of the Divine Word are Malaysian and Peruvian.

Fr. Tony also gave us the top 10 nationalities in SVD: the United States occupies the seventh place and Vietnam is in the sixth place.

As I mentioned yesterday, our Chicago Province is the most intercultural province in the Society of the Divine Word with 29 different nationalities. Vietnam is one of the least intercultural provinces with only two nationalities.

In the afternoon, Fr. Bob Kisala explained to us the procedure that we will follow for this week.  I don’t want to bore you with his explanations; however, I want to share with you that with Fr. Bob Kisala sitting in front of all the capitulars, the Chicago Province is well represented. Fr. Bob was in the middle, the two confreres to his left were John Szukalski and Peter Sam Nguyen, and the one confrere to his right was Gary Riebe-Estrella.

After dinner tonight, we were all tired, so John and I went to town for the famous Italian gelato, I had strawberry and crema. They were so delicious.

Fr. Bang C. Tran
 
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Monday, June 18
Hello from Nemi, Italy
Fr. Thomas Ascheman, SVD

Bernie Spitzley, Bang Tran and I have all met up once again here at Nemi. John Szukalski and Gary Riebe-Estrella arrived some days earlier in preparation to serve as secretary and moderator of the chapter. The SVD world is gathering here for the opening of the 17th General Chapter. There is a lot of joy and enthusiasm here as we begin our work. Greetings from so many confreres, but especially from Bob Kisala, Dennis Callan, Frank Budenholzer, Paul Nadolny and Peter Sam.
 
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Sunday, June 17
The First Day—the Opening Mass
Fr. Bang Cong Tran, SVD

The Bible passage that sets the theme for our 17th General Chapter is from the Book of Revelation 7:9-12 from which the phrase "From Every Nation, People and Language Sharing Intercultural Life and Mission" is taken.

John, the author of Revelation, saw the scene in a vision. This morning, Sunday June 17, 2012, I experienced it "live and direct" not in a vision like John, but with my own eyes. I saw men and women (our SSpS sisters) from every nation, people, tribe and language gathered together to celebrate the votive mass of the Holy Trinity, one of the most important feasts of the SVD.

Also, the Mass marked the official opening of the 17th General Chapter. Of course, this kind of sight of people from every nation, tribe and language is not some thing new for me; I experience that every day at Divine Word College (DWC) and I experience that at all of our gatherings in the Chicago Province, the most intercultural province in the Society of the Divine Word with 29 different nationalities represented.

However, the sight of the opening Mass this morning was unique. It was like ten times more of what I experience at DWC. Yes, it was for me the sight par excellent.
 
We started our celebration outside, under the warm sun of Nemi, Italy, with the Divine Word--the Bible--at the center. Confreres came dressed in their native attire with a wonderful combination of colors and beautiful head gear, some of which I have never seen before.

It was a treat for my eyes. For our opening song, we sung in four languages (English, Spanish, Italian and Indonesian) the song "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation." Before the Liturgy of the Word, our brothers from the Africa-Madagascar Zone did a solemn procession of the Word of God with the rhythm of African drum and song.

We processed to the entrance of the main chapel in Nemi, and still outside, we heard the first reading in English, we sung the responsorial psalm in Spanish and the second reading was read in Spanish.

After the second reading, the Vietnamese confreres did a veneration of the Word of God in their own tradition with incense sticks; then in turn, our brothers from Eastern Europe also venerated the Word of God and proclaimed the Gospel of the day.

Fr. Tony Pernia SVD, the superior general, was the main celebrant. The four zonal coordinators, who represent the African-Madagascar, Asian-Pacific, Pan-American and European zones, stood by his side as concelebrants. Even the chasubles worned by the presider and the four concelebrants indicated that we, the SVD, are an intercultural society.

To witness this wonderful experience was a blessing for me. Twice during the opening Mass my eyes filled with joyful tears. I felt an electric current run up and down my spine. I feel so blessed and privileged to be here, and I am so proud to be part of this wonderful group of people from every nation, people, tribe and language.

This was just our first day, and I already have met people from four corners of the world. The youngest capitular is a 37 years old from Angola and the oldest is an 82 years old from Brazil. I even met a confrere from a small island nation in the Pacific, Fiji. He is the first Fijian ever to participate in the SVD General Chapter.

To be continued...

Fr. Bang C. Tran