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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2017 / Family News - 2017 January 14th / Life of the Congregation
Jan 17, 2017

Life of the Congregation

An overview of the St Michael Garicoïts Region

Life of the Congregation

With the visit of the Vicariate of Holy Land in the month of December 2016, the Superior General, Father Gaspar Fernández Pérez scj, concluded the last visitation of his mandate.

Let us discover with him the experience of the five Vicariates of the St. Michael Garicoïts Region, keeping in our prayer all the religious who are about to gather for the Regional Chapter from January 19th to 24th, 2017.

Formed by the vicariates of France-Spain, Italy, the Holy Land, Ivory Coast and Central Africa, the St Michael Garicoïts Region is the most complex of the three in the Congregation. France, Spain and Italy already have a great diversity between them. The Ivory Coast and Central Africa are also very different countries, even if they are both in Africa. And what can be said of the Holy Land? Moreover, France is our place of origin (founded in 1835). The Holy Land came next (1879), then Spain and Italy (1903-1904); the Ivory Coast and Central Africa are more recent additions (1959 and 1986). It is nevertheless the Region which today counts 131 religious compared with 56 religious in the Etchécopar Region and 61 in the Mariam Region. Because of its diversity, it had difficulty in forming a united front as a Region. The Council met in a different vicariate each time and it’s a good thing. But, following the example of the Mariam Region, it did not meet the intermediary regional chapter, or organise other kinds of meetings, due to increased travel costs and to the high number and dispersion of its religious.

It is in the France-Spain Vicariate that our place of origin is to be found, where St Michael Garicoïts was born, lived and died, and where he experienced the love of God, which led him to found the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram, in order to bring the same joy to others. What indeed is the emotion of the young participants of the preparation sessions for perpetual vows, when they visit Garacotxea, Ibarre, Hosta, Oneix, Bétharram, Igon or Bayonne? This source is the vocational reference point for all the Betharramite religious of the eleven vicariates of the Congregation. This veritable treasure has far more value than all the vicariates’ property. There is little economic value in the grounds of Ibarre and Betharram.

The France-Spain Vicariate has a glorious missionary history in Argentina, Uruguay, the Holy Land, Spain, Italy, Britain, Belgium, China, Paraguay, Brazil, Morocco, Algeria, Thailand, Ivory Coast and India. Until 2014, the French missionary religious had dedicated their life to, and had reserved the assets of the vicariate for, the Ivory Coast mission. Today, some of these fervent missionaries are taking a rest, due to this generous devotion, at the Betharram retirement home, where the community is made up of 18 religious. But this historic heritage represents an administrative burden which demands a lot of dedication from the Regional Vicar and other religious. Not having the means to finance the restoration of the chapels of the Way of the Cross, we had to make a donation for it for 20 years to the municipal council, as the council was able to receive more grants from the State. The integration of the Betharram retirement home with the St Joseph Association of the Daughters of the Cross also demanded lots of time and effort. Finally, the goods which « La Pyrénéenne » Association had protected since 1907, were returned to the Congregation. We can count five communities on mission in the France-Spain Vicariate. In the residence of St Palais, where five religious live, four of them are more than 89 years old, and Fr Joseph Ruspil, 70 years, is in charge of two parishes in the area of Ibarre. The religious of this residence make a community with those of Anglet, where Fathers Oyhénart and Moulier ensure the spiritual accompaniment of the Servants of Mary, Blessed Father Cestac’s daughters. Father Cestac was himself a friend of St Michael Garicoits. The Community of Our Lady of Betharram, tasked with the organisation of the Sanctuary, of the reception house and of the college founded by St Michael in 1837, is made up of four religious: the Regional Vicar, a religious from the Ivory Coast, the Sanctuary supervisor and a religious who guides the college activity. At Carmel de Pau, where St Mariam lived, another spring in which we can get soaked, the five religious forming the community deal with the students’ residence, receive groups for meetings, work together in the parish, while other priests have various irregular pastoral activities. This community includes a young Thai religious, Father Pornchai, and has also benefited for several years from the presence of Father Stervin, who has come from India. The Community of Pibrac has, as a mission, the organisation of two parishes in the suburbs of Toulouse. There are three religious there: the Regional Superior, the Community Superior and Parish Priest, and other religious from the Ivory Coast.

Finally, the Mendelu Community (Spain) has responsibility for the organisation of the St Michael Garicoits Parish and for the chaplaincy of three religious communities. The Community Superior is the last religious to have been ordained in France, in 2007; he is 55 years old. This Community also has a young religious who has come from the Vicariate of Brazil, Father Davi Lara.

Such is the fragile reality of the France-Spain Vicariate. Full of life and missionary zeal in the past, it consists today of 46 religious of which 30 are more than 80 years old, 13 are between 55 and 78 years old – and there are those that bear the weight of the life and mission of the Vicariate: 4 religious being between 31 and 39 years old, coming from other Vicariates.

The Italy Vicariate. This is the Vicariate which at present has the largest number of religious with 53 people. Many amongst them were themselves missionaries in China, Thailand, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, India and the Holy Land. There are some religious from this Vicariate who founded the current Vicariate mission in Central Africa. This Italy vicariate is nevertheless full of life. Six communities are in charge of eight parishes: Lissone, Castellazzo, Langhirano, Pistoia, Ponte a Elsa with Brusciana, Isola, Pozzaglia with Montorio, Albonico with Dascio. One community accompanies the sick suffering from Aids to La Casa Famiglia in Monteporzio. Certain religious dedicate themselves to the pastoral care of health. One community facilitates the Santa Maria dei Miracoli church in Rome. The mission is centred on parish activity. It would be suitable to open up to other types of ministry, less institutional and more missionary. The Vicariate gives the impression that it has suddenly grown old: In Solbiate, two religious needing special care form a community with Father Paniga. The Colico Community maintains its pastoral activity despite the advanced age of its three members (83 to 89 years); same thing for the Castellazzo Community (77 to 86 years). The Albavilla and Albiate communities have grown with the arrival of religious who have left their ministries because of age and with the successive closures of Bormio and the Sant’ Ilario parish in Milan. The Italy Vicariate lost at least three young religious over the past few years. In 2007, Father Simone Panzeri was the last religious ordained. Instead of having a religious available for pastoral care for vocations and training, they preferred to reinforce pastoral effectiveness within a parish. The choice ultimately fell on training two communities to take charge of two new parishes more in line with our strength. We left Montemurlo, and the Bishop, still in the Diocese of Pistoia, handed a smaller parish over to us. In the Diocese of Parma, the Bishop released us from two mountain parishes and also the parish of Sant’ Andrea in town in order to entrust us with the Parish of Langhirano comprising extensive land and numerous chapels and in which there is also a Community of the Daughters of the Cross.The common points between the France-Spain Vicariate and the Italy Vicariate: both lean on associations for missionary facilitation: “Au Coeur du monde” in France and “Amici di Betharram” in Italy. “Amici” gathers together lay people who, with Father Piero Trameri, make it possible to maintain the projects of the Central Africa Vicariate. “Au Coeur du Monde”, presided over by Brother Emile and with the collaboration of numerous lay people, supports projects in the Ivory Coast, Thailand, Central Africa and Vietnam. The two Vicariates maintain communication through their webpages: www.betharram.fr and www.betharram.it. They each have their own magazine: In France, “En avant” with a more accessible appearance; In Italy, “Presenza betharramita” with a more selective content. Both try to make known community and missionary life. In the two Vicariates, pastoral care for vocations is a big problem. There have been no young people in training since 2007. It is difficult to suggest religious vocation to the youth of the three countries concerned. I don’t know if we have done everything we could. In the France-Spain Vicariate, there have been some initiatives. A proposition of voluntary work has just been launched and it is also intended to ask Italy to participate: Go on a missionary voyage – Ivory Coast Project.

The vitality of the Vicariate of the Ivory Coast is a source of hope for the region. Each of the three communities - Dabakala, Yamoussoukro and Adiapodoumé - is in charge of a parish. The formation community, made up of 15 religious (4 priests, 2 deacons, 1 religious brother, 8 religious brothers who have taken temporary vows, and of 6 postulants and 5 pre-postulants) is located very close to the parish church of Adiapodoumé. It is only in this community that there is still a French missionary, Father Jacky Moura. A few years ago the pre-postulancy was established. It is a year without academic objectives, a year of initiation dedicated to character formation and preparation for entry to philosophical studies at the Catholic University. It is an initiative that is paying off. During my last visit (2016), I was able to observe that the young people were more mature, that their vocation had become clearer and that they were open to the formative accompaniment. I was struck by the enthusiasm and love that some consecrated Bétharramites have for their vocation.

Another missionary field is education, with two different strands: the Tshanfeto training farm in Adiapodoumé and the “campus” of Dabakala. The latter is a home for schoolchildren coming from inland areas to facilitate their access to studies. A religious brother is appointed to accompany them. The Tshanfeto training farm is a centre offering qualified training in the field of agriculture and animal husbandry. Since its start, around a hundred young Ivorians have benefited. It has been recognized as a place of national interest, thanks to the prestige acquired by the high standard of work accomplished there. Three religious brothers take care of the management, leadership, the character formation and the supervision of activity. The Vicariate plans to open the Saint Jean-Marie Vianney College in the town of Katiola in September 2017. The Bishop of this diocese, Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo, entrusted a Bétharramite community with the management and pastoral work of the college. The new community will be housed in the premises of the establishment. The building is the one where our missionaries used to run the minor seminary. Having inherited this missionary spirit, the Vicariate of the Ivory Coast has sent three brothers to the Central African Republic, two to France and one to Italy.

The Vicariate of Central Africa is a small vicariate that has existed for only 30 years. Eight religious are gathered in three communities: five are Italian missionaries and three come from the Ivory Coast. It must be acknowledged that once the initial difficulties had been overcome, the two nationalities integrated well. If the Italians have more experience, the Ivorians have a greater ability to adapt, because they are Africans. They all carry out the valuable work of evangelization and promoting social welfare in the two parishes of Niem and Bouar, in the village schools of the two parishes, in the health centre at Niem and in the Saint-Michel Garicoits centre for people with AIDS in Bouar. The social work done by Fr. Beniamino with Caritas of Bouar is also very important.As far as pastoral vocations are concerned, the past few years have been very difficult. There has been a lot of suffering and disappointment. Four religious who had completed their studies, left the Congregation. One of them left after just a month of his first profession. Two religious who persevered are currently in the Ivory Coast, one is a religious brother and the other a deacon. Currently, we have only one aspirant, who studied at the minor seminary of Bouar-Yolé. Perseverance is proving very difficult for a number of reasons: education is not at a sufficient level, bachelor degrees are bought, the Christian faith has little root in the culture or in people’s hearts, the opposing values of local culture greatly influence the hearts of young people, complicating the internalization of Christian values. We must touch the hearts of children before they are marked by the local culture. In the light of these sufferings and disappointments, added to by other material, human and cultural difficulties, the lack of transport... our missionaries certainly have much merit. They give everything and harvest little fruit.

The Vicariate of the Holy Land is also charged with history. We have been there since 1876, when Father Chirou arrived accompanying the second group of Carmelites, to remain there as chaplain at the Carmel of Bethlehem. The Bétharramites have been their chaplains since then and also chaplains to the Carmel of Nazareth since 1910. Shortly afterwards the formation of the Bétharramite theologians in our Bethlehem house and the philosophers in the Nazareth house began. In 1932, we were entrusted with the seminary of Beit-Jala. The two houses have been organized for the reception of pilgrims until today. Today, the community of Bethlehem welcomes the Novitiate of the region, namely the novice master and three Ivorian brothers, as well as a Filipino deacon who wishes to enter our Congregation. After the painful closure of the community of the parish of Zarqa in Jordan, because of the departure of the Congregation of two Arab brothers, the Patriarch entrusted to us the parish of Safar-am, where our three brothers from Nazareth live. We view our presence in the Holy Land with hope. In the shadow of the two Carmels, a new perspective emerges for our communities. Young people who are attracted to the Holy Land learn Arabic and Hebrew when they arrive in order to integrate into the two environments of the mother church: the Arab world and the Jewish world.

Fr. Jean-Paul Kissi, a new novice master, studied Arabic, as did two other Ivorian scholastics who were interested in the language during the novitiate. Fr. José Kumar of India studied Hebrew and Arabic and began pastoral integration with Indian immigrants who speak Hebrew. While waiting for the transition to take place, we thank Fathers Henri Lamasse and Firmin Bourguinat, originally from the Vicariate of France, who at 86 and 81 years respectively, serve the chaplaincies of the Bethlehem and Nazareth Carmels.

We have an important heritage in this vicariate. In addition to the use of the land and the house of Nazareth, we have our properties of Bethlehem and Emmaus. We have rented the house of Emmaus to the Beatitudes Movement. In order to leave the house at Nazareth fully available to welcome pilgrims, we plan to build a small house for the community behind it, with the income from the sale of some apartments we own in front of the house at Bethlehem.The organization of lay companions who wish to share the Bétharramite spirituality and mission with the religious community, is diverse in each vicariate. In France, the “Fraternité Me Voici” consists of several lay groups, always accompanied by a religious brother, who meet once a month and organize an annual retreat and renew their commitment to Bétharram during the Feast of Our Lady. They follow a “ Charter “ in their commitment which they drew up a few years ago.They also publish the bulletin “Fraternel”, which we make available on the Congregation website. There are other lay people, the “Friends of Bétharram”, who are not the same as the “Fraternité Me Voici” but who also share our spirituality and our activities. The collaboration of the laity from the “Fraternity” or “Friends” as volunteers to welcome the pilgrims to Bétharram during the summer proved to be very effective.The organization of lay Fraternities around the three communities of the Ivory Coast is also very interesting: in Adiapodoumé, “Nè Mè”, in Yamousoukro, “Mi ngan”, in Dabakala, “Mi yè”. There is also a group of “Bétharramite Children” in Dabakala and a group of “Young Bétharramites” in Adiapodoumé. They have appointed a “Coordinator of the three adult groups” at Vicariate level. The “Nè Mè” group has been together for several years, organises monthly meetings, an annual retreat and some members of the group have experienced an Ignatian retreat. By accompanying the religious community and always joining in the Bétharramite festivals, they felt the need to organize themselves and created a “Project of life of the Bétharramite lay fraternities of the Ivory Coast”.In Italy, many lay people share the spirituality and mission, but find it difficult to organize themselves. The Association Il Mosaico collaborates with the religious of the Casa Famiglia of Monteporzio and the Saint-Michel Centre at Bouar and at their meetings they always lead a reflection around the writings of Saint Michael Garicoits. The religious of Castellazzo accompany a small group of lay people who are very interested in St Michael Garicoits and provide them with some elements of formation.In the Central African Republic, Father Beniamino tried to gather lay people around the Bétharramite charism, but there was no follow-up. In the Holy Land, I recently met one of our former novices who was interested in the idea. It would be good to encourage it.

Gaspar Fernández Pérez scj
Superior General

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