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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2016 / Family News - February 14th, 2016 / Practicing the Rule
Feb 17, 2016

Practicing the Rule

The Betharramite ‘Here I am’ in Morocco

Practicing the Rule

In 1999, Fr Vincent Landel scj was named as auxiliary bishop of Rabat, before taking full charge of the diocese in 2001. Ironically, this total availability implied a separation leading him to leave his religious family or at least to be away from it for a period of time. But blood will out, and our bishop still drinks from our common source and he lives the charism of Betharram in a muslim country.

Article 9.  As our Founder intended, the Congregation is a Religious Institute of Apostolic Life. Her mission continues the action of the Heart of Christ, the Incarnate Word, offering Himself to the Father to accomplish his will of salvation: to reveal to the people of our time the compassion, mercy and the loving face of God the Father.

The Spirit of our vocation and mission is: “like the spirit of Our Lord, a spirit of gentleness, humility and devotion, to gently draw sinners to penance and to imitate Him.”

Although I am a bishop, I find it impossible to cut short everything in my past life and which helps me to be what I am today. St Michael’s message has kept me alive and continues to keep me alive in the dynamism of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. The Incarnate Word has given so much meaning to their lives. So for me, to repeat the movement of the Incarnate Word, is the surge which gives meaning to my life today.

I would go so far as to say that it was true in my case from the moment John Paul II’s call came through to me at the beginning of December 1999. As soon as I had hung up my telephone, after a term which had been particularly difficult at the college in Betharram, everything took on a new appearance; I was far from imagining what my mission as a bishop was going to be, but the fact that in all conscience I had replied YES, had created a new birth in me. A few moments later I had the guarantee when the secret had been lifted and I saw everyone around me happy. At that moment a great peace took possession of my soul. My YES wasn’t a kind of escape before difficulties but the answer to a deep call. This act of obedience to the Church opened up a new path for me, gave me freedom for I felt that I was entering the real way of God’s Will. In the footsteps of St Michael I then knew that I must reply without hesitation, without reserve, for love, without knowing where it was all going to lead me.

After this YES pronounced with the power of the Lord, I suddenly had the idea of rereading my life, my personal history in Betharram. I came to understand the point that everything I had experienced so far had prepared me to enter this new pathway. I thank the Lord for it. It was then that I thought of adopting “Listening” as a motto. What marvellous things I discovered by being faithful to listening, for love’s sake!

Today I would like to say, even before Pope Francis had been elected, the expressions “peripheries”, “country hospital”, “go out”, “kindness”, “mercy”, “pray for me”, all found an echo in my life.

I discovered what a heart should be like which is “open to life”. The Church in Morocco had greatly changed since the days of my youth. It was less numerous (about 30 000, all foreigners), but more cultural (more than 100 different nationalities), much younger with an average age of 30. This was the people that God had entrusted me with. For me it was a question of going out towards these people to get to know them, live close to them and become a “father and mother” for them. I was far from imagining the richness of this Catholic population and all its problems. My car had become my community base from which I was expected to go out to meet others. True enough there were the kilometres to be counted but there were also the cultural distances. It was not a question of smoothing things out but of allowing communion between all the Christians “around Jesus Christ and Morocco” Isn’t that the Incarnation?

I try to become a Father servant, a Father who listens, a Father who is close by, a Father who greets, a Father who is communion. That is how the tenderness of the Father and his Mercy are made known. Helping a young nation to discover this loving Father who helps to break down all human barriers or religious ones and which we have built ourselves and where we tend to enclose ourselves, so that he finally discovers the freedom which flows from the Heart of God, real life and real love. It is then that we can really bear witness to our Christian Faith at the heart of the Muslim world. Year after year I have discovered the richness of the meeting with Islam which helps us to deepen our Christian Faith. But to achieve that, in the footsteps of Pere de Foucauld, we must admit that the Muslims are richness for us. Accepting the differences makes us grow in humanity and in Faith. It is a challenge to be taken up each day: “God so loved the world... ” Even for non-Christians isn’t this the “wonderful sight”?

We have to continually remind ourselves that we are following Jesus Christ by being his witness at the heart of the Muslim world. This is the mission “to go out” which we have received from Pope Francis. There are so many wonderful people amongst them! Last Christmas, the Minister for Islamic Affairs sent me his personal greetings saying: “Dear brother in the Faith”!

As I live my mission in this manner, I am rewriting “My Rule of Life” thanks to the daily messages sent to us by Pope Francis. “The Bishop is first of all a man of prayer,” before being a man of pastoral planning! How many times does he send us out on the way of gentleness, humility and devotion to duty! St Michael would be perfectly at ease. Then when he calls us to poverty which is not only materiel poverty, but accepting all those niggling little socio-political realities which don’t always correspond to what I would like to do.

Endure the human, political and religious context over which I have no control and by which I must let myself be accepted and still continue to be what I am.

To live in such a context which is not secular and in which the idea of liberty is not like mine and where I must act with discretion remembering that I am “a foreigner for my hosts”.

In the footsteps of Saint Michael, that is how I try to live out the vastness of love within the limits of my position.

+Vincent LANDEL scj

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