Divine Word Missionaries
General Chapter XVIII - 2018
Audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis
June 22, 2018
A special audience with Pope Francis was one of the highlights of the 18th General Chapter. This event took place on June 22, 2018 in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican. Pope Francis appeared before the 155-member contingent of SVD priests, Brothers, representatives of the SSpS, and lay partners. They all had traveled from the Ad Gentes Center in Nemi to Rome to meet and listen to the Holy Father and receive his apostolic blessing. Despite a heavy schedule with multiple audiences on that day, Pope Francis entered the room with a bright smile to address all of us, who were equally enthusiastic to meet him. After a brief introduction by Father Superior General Heinz Kulüke, SVD, Pope Francis proceeded to deliver a talk in Spanish that corresponded with the theme of the General Chapter, “‘The Love of Christ Impels Us’ (2 Cor 5:14): Rooted in the Word, Committed to His Mission.” In addition to reminding the members of the Society about the missionary nature of the Pauline phrase which was selected for the theme of the chapter, Pope Francis gave additional exhortations on our missionary vocation.
After imparting his blessings, the Superior General presented some gifts to the Pope SVD Mission 2018 (Yellow Book), 12 copies of “Bible for Children” in 12 languages, and also a name tag for Pope Francis as a gesture of belonging to us. Then came a pleasant surprise to all of us, he rose and started meeting each one of us individually and everyone was thrilled to shake hands with him. The whole hall was filled with grace and blessing.
2. ADDRESS OF FR. HEINZ KULÜKE, SVD SUPERIOR GENERAL
Dear Holy Father,
We are very grateful to you for inviting us to be with you here today during the first week of our 18th General Chapter with the theme: “The Love of Christ Impels Us: Rooted in the Word, Committed to His Mission.”
On behalf of all my fellow Brothers, Sisters and Mission Partners, I would like to thank you most especially for your testimony of faith and service, which encourages and challenges us ever anew to persevere in our lives as missionaries. Your concern for the poor and God’s creation is a constant reminder also for us as Divine Word Missionaries of the essentials of the Lord’s mission we are called to share.
The persons seated before you are the Divine Word Missionaries of many different countries and cultures, together with representatives of the Holy Spirit Sisters and our Lay Mission Partners. True to the tradition of our founder, St. Arnold Janssen, we proclaim and aspire to live the Word of God in more than 80 countries around the globe, often under difficult conditions, sharing our faith in the Triune God and our Holy Mother Church.
The many happy faces you see here today of different skin colors, races and nations show to you not only the diversity of the Church but also that we are happy and grateful followers of Jesus Christ.
Proclaiming the joy of the Gospel is part of our SVD mission. Our founder, Saint Arnold Janssen, said that “The proclamation of the gospel is the best expression of love for one's neighbor.” As a token of our gratitude and appreciation, we would like to present you with some small gifts. Among them are: a book showing the work of our missionaries worldwide and a selection of copies of the “Bible for Children” published by our Editorial Verbo Divino, which has to its credit publication in 157 different languages.
Once more, I would like to thank you, dear Holy Father. On behalf of all of us, I assure you of our prayers for you personally and for the Church, as well as of our continued, selfless dedication to God’s mission.
With deep gratitude, I cordially ask you for your blessings on the people entrusted to us in our missions around the world, on our lay mission partners and their families, on those here present, and on all members of our three religious missionary congregations founded by Saint Arnold Janssen.
3. ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE DIVINE WORD (SVD)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Allow me first to greet the Superior General and thank him for his words addressed to me on behalf of the entire Society of the Divine Word. I welcome you, and I wish to express my joy of being with you in this meeting, on the occasion of the General Chapter. A General Chapter always constitutes a moment of grace for the entire SVD family, as well as for the Church and the whole world. And since it is a matter of following Christ faithfully, let us ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, "the Father of the poor," as St. Arnold Janssen liked to say.
The theme that guides his works has an evident Pauline and missionary flavor: “The love of Christ urges us (2 Cor 5:14), Rooted in the Word, Committed to his Mission.” It is the love of Christ that urges us to the personal and community renewal to strengthen the commitment to go out and proclaim the Gospel. For this, it will be necessary to look again at the roots, see where they are rooted, what is the sap that gives life to their communities and the works they perform, in every corner of the world where they are present. From this look at the origins, I would like to reflect on three words: trust, proclamation, and brothers (fraternity).
First, trust. Trust in God and his divine Providence, because knowing how to abandon ourselves in his hands is essential in our life as Christians and consecrated persons. How far does our trust in God go, in his provident and merciful love? Are we willing to risk, to be courageous and determined in our mission? St. Arnold was convinced that in the life of a missionary there is nothing that can justify the lack of courage and trust in God. Let us not allow that among ourselves who have experienced the love of God; there are fear and unmindfulness as likewise, we are not the ones who put brakes and obstacles on the action of the Spirit. Aware of the gift received, of "so many proofs of divine help," I encourage you to renew your trust in the Lord and to leave without fear, to bear witness to the joy of the Gospel, which makes many happy. May, this trust in the Lord, renewed every day in the encounter with Him in prayer and the sacraments, also help them to be open to discernment, to examine their own life, seeking to do God's will in all their activities and projects.
The second word is: proclamation. In your charism it is essential to proclaim the Word of God to all men, in all times and places, taking advantage of all possible means, forming communities of disciples and missionaries who are united among themselves and with the Church. In the heart of every SVD, the words of Saint Paul must burn like a fire: "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16). That has been the vigilance of so many missionaries who have preceded them, that is the torch that has bequeathed them and the challenge that they face today. Your Founder thought of you as missionaries ad gentes. "Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News" (Mk 16:15). The missionary mandate knows no borders or cultures because the whole world is a mission land.
Although this is a little messy, the issue is to go, and then there will be order, later. But the life of the missionary is always disorderly. It only has the security of order: prayer. And with prayer, it goes forward.
Dear brothers, if you are anchored in the Word of God, rooted in it, if you assume it as the foundation of your lives and let the Word burn in your hearts (Lk 24:32); this Word will transform them and will make each one of you a real missionary. Live and let the Word of God sanctifies yourself, and you will live for it.
The third word that I propose is brothers (fraternity). We are not alone; we are the Church, we are a people. We have brothers and sisters at our side with whom we travel the path of life and our vocation. We are a community of brothers united by the Lord who attracts and unites us, accepting who we are as persons and without ceasing to be ourselves. From God, they receive the strength and joy to remain faithful and to make a difference, following the path that indicates: "Love one another" ( Jn 13:34). It is beautiful to see a community that walks together and where its members love each other. It is the greatest evangelization. Even if they fight, also if they argue, because, in every good family that is loved, they fight, they argue. But then there is harmony, and there is peace. The world, as well as the Church, need to feel this fraternal love in spite of diversity and interculturality, which is one of the riches that you acquired. A community, in which priests, religious and laity feel they are members of a family, in which they share and live the faith and the same charism, in which everyone is at the service of others, and nobody is more than the other.
And thus, united, you will be able to face any difficulty and the task of going out to meet other brothers who are marginalized, excluded by society. We live the culture of exclusion, the culture of discarding. Go out to meet those excluded brothers, abandoned to their fate, trampled by selfish interest. They are also our brothers who need our help and need to experience the presence of God who comes to meet them. There you are also sent to make the spirit of the Beatitudes a reality through the works of mercy: listening and responding to the cries of those who ask for bread and justice; bringing peace and integral promotion to those who seek a more dignified life; comforting and offering reasons of hope to the sorrows and sufferings of so many men and women of our time. May this be the compass that guides their steps as brothers and missionaries.
Two things. The first thing, the origins. Origins are not just a history; they are not a thing, they are not an abstract spirituality. The origins are roots, and for the root to give life we must take care of it, we must water it. You have to look at it and love it. I told you that you are rooted in the origins, that is, that your origins are the root that makes you grow. The second thing, is not a gloomy thought. Think of cemeteries, cemeteries from distant regions, in Asia, in Africa, in Amazonia. How many of you are there and on their tombstones you read that they died young, because they gave life and risked themselves for each other's lives. Roots and cemetery are also roots for you. May God bless you, pray for me and do not forget: roots and cemetery. Thank you.
Translated from Spanish by Crescente de Rivera