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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2016 / Family News - February 14th, 2016 / Life of the Congregation (2)
Feb 17, 2016

Life of the Congregation (2)

Overview of the Fr Auguste Etchecopar Region

Life of the Congregation (2)

At the end of the canonical visitations in Argentina-Uruguay, in Paraguay and in Brazil, which took place in 2015, the Superior general Fr Gaspar Fernández, shares in this article his vision of the Region. His reflections on the community life and on the varied aspects of the betharramite mission in Latin America is enriched by his personal interviews with each religious.

Just like the St Michael Garicoits Region, the Fr. Auguste Etchecopar Region has a long history. The first Betharramite missionaries arrived in Argentina at the end of1856. Initially, their main activity was that of holding popular missions around the city of Buenos Aires and the surrounding countryside, before reaching Montevideo, Uruguay. The San José college and Montevideo residence were founded during the lifetime of St Michael Garicoits, respectively in 1858 and 1861. Thereafter, the work of education tended to displace the work of popular missions, perhaps because of emerging needs. Some communities dedicated to education were reinforced by new religious, following the expulsion from France in 1903. (Communities like those of Montevideo, Rosario (1900), La Plata (1902), and the college of Asunción, founded in 1904). The educational mission thus intensified. Today the Vicariate of Argentina-Uruguay has nine schools; Paraguay has 5 schools and Brazil has one. For some it is a source of pride; for others, a burden that is increasingly difficult to manage.

That legacy has not prevented us from being open to other missions and from recovering our missionary zeal for the poor, which has characterised us from the beginning: for example the summer missions in northern Argentina, the seven day missionary projects in Santiago del Estero province made by all our colleges, the Regional Community of Montevideo-Tacuarembó which supported the College centenary with a mission project in Tacuarembó (in the north), the rural parishes of Paraguay (of which remains only La Colmena), where we led popular missions, like in the parish of Ciudad del Este. In Brazil, two bishops asked us to withdraw from three important parishes that we had established. What at first glance, seemed to be gross ingratitude, proved to be a blessing that has given us the missionary impetus we needed to be more faithful to the charism of St Michael Garicoits. Thus by the grace of God, we are now present in Sabará, in the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, in Setubinha in the north of Minas Gerais, in Serrinha, in the State of Bahia: all places where priests rarely stayed very long.

In addition to sharing this missionary spirit, which is expressed differently in the three vicariates, religious and Argentina-Uruguay communities, Paraguay and Brazil have worked together for a long time. Since ELAB 1986, the superiors of the Congregation understood that the three provinces would work better if they were coordinated. Father José Mirande was the first coordinator and Father Bruno Ierullo which was the last in this role, right up to the end of the organization in regions . The Fr Etchecopar Region is quite homogeneous: the four constituent countries have many historical and cultural features in common while retaining their originality. Its vicariates share an ecclesial experience, characterised by a common history and a church life influenced by continental conferences of Rio de Janeiro, Medellín, Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida. Other church institutions, such as CELAM CLAR continue this leadership role. Furthermore, the election of Pope Francis gave a universal value to this church style. All this has helped the religious of our Latin American communities to walk together.
The Regional Councils, meetings of formators, religious bursars and lay advisers of the three vicariates have become genuine institutions and are held several times a year.

It is the only region that has held the interim Regional Chapter. It has the most committed laity in (Betharram) mission, who live very seriously our charism, and who have been invited to attend a pre-chapter meeting with the religious. The Novitiate like the Scholasticate allows young people to know themselves, to network, and to know the religious in other vicariates. This is where the Region is truly built.

Formation in the Region has found a stability and a strength by having a postulant house in each Vicariate, a novitiate in Adrogué and a scholasticate in Belo Horizonte. The formation of new formators is also a strong feature.

The Region joyfully represented by its team of formators
and by the Regional Superior last January in Rome
at the Formators International Meeting

Regular spiritual accom-paniment has been strengthened; the young people in formation experience the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises; an Ignatian month is experienced during the novitiate, while ten days are devoted to the Ignatian exercises every year in the scholasticate. Many scholastics have followed the course to give the Spiritual Exercises, and this prepares them for spiritual direction and accompaniment, which, in pastoral work, helps them to live a more authentic faith. Father Mauro has strongly insisted that this Ignatian spiritual preparation takes place. The will to strengthen the presence of Betharram in Uruguay was a decision of the Regional Chapter of 2010. The community is composed of Fr. Angelo Recalcati, (who has already lived for several years in Uruguay), Bro. Victor Torales (Paraguay), and Fr. Eder Chaves Goncalves (Brazil), who took over in January from Fr. Wagner Ferreira, now Master of Postulants in Paulinia.

One of the Region’s features is the collaboration of the laity in our mission. Thanks to our comm-union with, and the participation of the laity, the colleges have been transformed into educational communities that have a social, educational and evangelical function.

For their part, attracted by the religious, the laity wish to deepen the charism of Saint Michael, firstly to better achieve their Mission, but also to live it in their personal and family life. In our parishes we also work in communion with the laity. There is some resistance on their part to organise themselves into Betharramite associations. An exception to this is the FVD Group, started more than 10 years ago at the initiative of students and alumni of the San José Asunción College. This is now present in other areas of the city and offers to others the charism of St Michael Garicoits. In Argentina, the family group of laity Betharramite (Fa. La. Be) and Fr. Giancarlo Monzani do valuable mission work in different colleges. The past two years, the laity of Brazil participated with religious in the celebration of perpetual vows and ordinations which have been numerous. In 2015 in Brazil, Bro. Jeferson took on board a project to gather laypeople who expressed a desire to learn more about our charism.

The Regional Superior, Fr Gustavo Agin, travels frequently in the three vicariates and closely follows both the religious and communities. The collaboration of the three Vicars is very close, especially in supporting missionary projects.

The Regional Councils are a place for common reflection and programming. And each in his Vicariate maintains fidelity to the Rule of Life.

The Argentina-Uruguay Vicariate has witnessed for a long time to a very significant presence of the Congregation. It is there that we find the great educational works. These works continue, but without the “grandeur” of the past, continuing to provide an educational ministry, with a social and missionary dimension, thanks to the generous dedication of many lay people. Father Daniel, Regional Vicar, is engaged in very serious negotiations with college principals, to find with them the best way of involving them in the management of the colleges. Seventeen of our Religious died in the last ten years. So the presence of the Congregation is a little fragile. The fifteen remaining religious form four communities: three in Argentina and one in Uruguay. There is only one parish, that of Barracas, and religious no longer live in the colleges, as before. From their community residences in San Juan Bautista, Barracas, Adrogué and Montevideo, they provide a pastoral and spiritual presence in colleges; they animate the missionary meetings, activities with young people and missions among the rural poor. Although the number of religious has greatly reduced, the quality of consecrated life and community life is good: community projects are implemented; they pray together and personally; lifelong formation is a shared concern; an annual retreat and other activities are organized in the Vicariate. The pastoral promotion of vocations does bring vocations in dribs and drabs: we could do with more. But the little that is done is done seriously, because the more recent candidates are adults and have practised a profession, which is also a sign of quality.

The Vicariate of Brazil, unlike that of Argentina-Uruguay, is living a period of growth and great hope. The religious in perpetual vows are 17. Over the past two years six religious were ordained priests; one of them showed his willing availability in joining the international community at Mendelu, Spain, (requested by the General Chapter of 2011). Our religious congregation has been in Brazil long time, but it is only since a few years that we have had coloured religious, which both enriches the Congregation and better inculturates our charism. This has helped to inaugurate such new forms of presence to which I alluded earlier. The pastoral care of vocations, with its arrivals and departures is ongoing and we can already see the fruits: one aspirant at Passa Quatro, 3 postulants at Paulina, 2 scholastics in Belo Horizonte. Except for the scholasticate community of Belo Horizonte, the other presences of the Congregation consist of two religious each: Sao Paulo, Passa Quatro, Sabará, Setubinha, Serrinha. It is characterized by a parish presence diocesan style, very much as missionaries to the poor, but community life is rather fragile. The Missionary exchanges that take place between the parish of the Sacred Heart of Belo Horizonte and that of Setubinha are however very interesting: for a few days, laity and religious from Belo Horizonte went to Setubinha to visit families and accomplish a mission ; some time after, the laity and religious from Setubinha did the same thing in Belo Horizonte. Moreover, for Sabara, a mission for the year 2016 is currently being prepared with the collaboration of all the parishes of the Vicariate. The educational mission of the College Sao Miguel continues. The Vicariate is faithful to the meetings during which the life of the Vicariate is examined and the ground prepared for other options. Some problems related to the administration do overburden some religious with responsibilities.

The Vicariate of Paraguay currently has 19 religious. The return to community of our two Paraguayan Betharramite bishops, Bishop Gogorza and Bishop Silvero, and the ordination of two religious have recently increased the number of religious. Paraguay also has a religious in perpetual vows, Brother Victor, in the mission of the Montevideo-Tacuarembó community in the Vicariate of Argentina-Uruguay. In recent years, the work related to the Vocation Ministry has been intensified. We can see the fruits here also in formation. In the house of Lambaré postulancy, we have 6 aspirants and 2 postulants. Brother Sergio Leiva made his first vows and Cristian Romero completed his theology in Belo Horizonte. As in Argentina, there are also five large colleges here that offer a service to society and the Church through education and evangelisation. As in Argentina, this service is only possible through the conscientious dedication of many lay people who share our mission in a spirit of communion and participation. The serene climate in the educational communities; better collaboration with the management teams, a prudent economy, solidarity between the works: these are some of the characteristics of our colleges. Father Javier, Regional Vicar of Vicariate is keen with his Council, to see that our property is also welcoming to the poor. For example, the College Sao Miguel, founded by the “Pai Saubat” for the poor children of the Chacarita neighborhood, receives economic support from the Vicariate, which with state subsidies and other support, allows this school to accomplish its educational and evangelising mission.

In this Vicariate, we also work in a missionary spirit in three parishes. We have just let go of the parish of San Joaquin to devote ourselves to Papetra project (see NEF No. 102 of 14 March 2015). The Vicariate has answered this call inviting it to show mercy to the suffering of young drug addicts and their families. One of our religious, Father Fulgencio Ferreira, acquired the skills necessary to answer that call. A detox clinic has already been built, while a home “El Hogar de Cristo”, for the recovery and rehabilitation of these suffering young people is under construction.

For 160 years, the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Betharram has been accomplishing her evangelising mission with the Latin American Church. Arriving in Latin America shortly after the independence of Argentina, it has contributed to making this country a new and united society. It now maintains a humble presence in the four countries of the Region, while continuing the work of evangelisation. And it continues to walk with men and women of these countries in all their struggles sharing moments of holy encouragement.

Gaspar Fernández Pérez scj
Superior General

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