By Anne Walsh
You never know where life will take you! In October 2015, I knew that my name was one of three proposed from the Redemptorist Conference of North America to serve as the lay representative of the Conference at the XXV General Chapter in Pattaya, Thailand. I knew that these names, along with three names from each of the other four conferences would be forwarded to the General Council in Rome, and that they would choose one from each list to be the lay representatives at the Chapter. I was excited, but I never really thought that my name would be chosen; after all, there were some pretty stellar names on that list! So, imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail from the Superior General informing me that I would be the lay representative from North America! I learned that I would join Jose Antonio Hidalgo (Latin America), Rafael Junquera (Europe), Roksan Latorre (Asia/Oceania) and Malcolm Salida (Africa/Madascar). Fr. Mike Brehl told me that we would all soon be receiving reflection questions and guidelines from Fr. Enrique Lopez to help us to frame our reflections and begin to build our presentation to the Chapter.
We were all anxious to get to know one another, and so we introduced ourselves to one another by e-mail, and told stories of our lives and of our connection to the Redemptorists. We kept up this e-mail friendship and sharing over the months leading up to the General Chapter. As we received our reflection questions and specific instructions, we shared our insights and musings, and then our prepared statements, with one another. We also “friended” each other on Facebook. I invited all five to join the Facebook page that we have set up for Redemptorist Associates in Canada. So… if you’re a member, and have noticed some unfamiliar names, this might be the reason!
As November drew closer, it began to dawn on me that I was going to Thailand. The King and I, the Land of Smiles, the land of temples and elephants. And…I was going to be present at my second General Chapter! The intimidation factor kicked in. I began to wonder about what I would say. What could I offer that would be meaningful, helpful, constructive? How could I be part of moving forward this great effort that is Partnership in and for Mission? Oh, the pressure! And then, sanity returned, and I knew that I was being given the most wonderful opportunity to be among the leadership of our worldwide Redemptorist family, to meet them and to renew old friendships, to reflect together, to come to new understandings, to frame new ways of thinking and speaking, and to begin to make a path forward with this extraordinary group. The journey across the Pacific was 26 hours of joyful anticipation. In a very real way, though I’d never been to Thailand, in a very real sense, I was going home.
I landed in Pattaya in the middle of the night. Everything looked strange and unfamiliar, and it was not until the next morning that I began to get my bearings. Fr. Mike Brehl e-mailed and promised to meet me and guide me to breakfast, and he did, showing me around the property and introducing me to the delegates and staff. It quickly became apparent to me how many of these people I knew from other moments and places on the journey. I didn’t feel awkward at all, but immediately felt welcomed and included and caught up in the momentum of the Chapter. Old friends took me for walks, for coffee and sat with me at meals, catching me up on the work and emerging themes. New friends joined the circles, and I gained a new appreciation for the reality of the Redemptorist family.
By the second night, all five lay participants had arrived, and Fr. Enrique gathered with us to frame our work for the next few days. We were to fully participate in the sessions, in small groups and in the plenary sessions. And the five of us were to meet on our own in between sessions and begin to frame the process of Thursday morning, when we would be able to make a presentation to Chapter and then form a panel to assist the delegates to plumb the major issues around Partnership in and for Mission.
What a great experience it was to work with these four dedicated lay Redemptorist missionaries from across the globe, and to experience the camaraderie and creativity as we developed our input session and prepared for the panel discussion.
I enjoyed every moment of the days leading up to our presentation. It was energizing to sit in the assembly hall, and to be part of those discussions. I loved being able to participate in the small group discussions. It was great to re-connect with the Irish confreres with whom I’ve been so often and so deeply involved, and to spend time with the members of our own North American region.
It was especially moving for me to be there when Fr. Mike Brehl was re-elected as Superior General. The election and the following Mass at which he took his second oath of office were quite emotional for me. And I was also present when the six members of the General Council were elected, and able to congratulate them all right on the spot.
Another very moving experience for me were the many conversations with Redemptorists from all over the globe, hearing their life stories and learning of the ways in which they lived in mission. It was fantastic. And we were offered the opportunity to tour the many services and programs that make up the Redemptorist Foundation and the Father Ray Centre in Pattaya—a School for the Blind, a Vocational School for people with physical disabilities, a job placement centre, bakery, day care, children’s village and children’s home. At each place, we were offered a chance to experience what these young people and their teachers can do, to talk with them and to celebrate life with them. It was real and very meaningful, in the midst of the often absorbing meetings, to be immersed in the real work of redemption and the proclamation of the Good News. What a privilege it was!
On Thursday, I was honoured to be asked by my peers to make our presentation before Chapter, to frame the conversation that would follow, and to take the first clarifying questions. It was both exhilarating and moving as I felt the respect and the attention that the delegates gave to the presentation. In the panel discussion that followed, the questions were honest and probing, and very, very real, as we reflected on our lived experience of partnership in and for mission, and explored possibilities for the way forward. So absorbed were we all in the dialogue that we actually ran out of time for questions. What a great indication of the interest and passion our common dedication to and participation in the mission engenders among us!
In the end, we made some recommendations for reflections and action on the part of the capitulars, and we left the assembly with the following statement of hope and longing:
We long for the realization of a real Redemptorist charismatic family, a true communion, one missionary body of lay and professed Redemptorists.