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Assumption of Office of the New SVD General Council 2012-2018

29 Settembre 2012 - Ss. Michele, Gabriele e Raffaele arcangeli.

Turning a New Chapter in our History

(The following is the outgoing superior general’s homily at the Eucharistic celebration on 29 September 2012, Feast of the Holy Archangels, during which the new Superior General and General Council assumed office)

Our Founder, Saint Arnold Janssen, had a great devotion to the Holy Archangels whose feast we celebrate today. For this reason, he chose Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael as special patrons of our Society. Also for this reason, he dedicated to each of them the first three houses of the Society in Europe – St. Michael in Steyl (1875), St. Raphael in Rome (1888) and St. Gabriel in Vienna (1889). Father Arnold’s devotion to the Holy Archangels was always, as was to be expected of the Founder, in the perspective of mission. Thus, in the Invocations to our Patrons, we pray: “Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, promote the Kingdom of God on earth”.

The connection between the holy archangels and mission can be seen even more clearly in the word “angel”. As we know, “eu anggelion” is the Greek word for the “good news”. And that is where we get the English word “ev-angel-ize” or “ev-angel-ization”, that is, mission. “Angels” are, therefore, fundamentally “God’s messengers”, “bringers of good news” or “bringers of the good news”. They are, in other words, “ev-angel-izers” or “missionaries”. The Founder, therefore, had the right intuition. He could not have chosen better patrons of his missionary congregation than the Holy Archangels.

Today, under the protection of the Holy Archangels – these “missionaries par excellance” – we turn a page in the history of our missionary congregation. Indeed, today we are turning an entire chapter in our history. The tenth chapter ends, so to say, and the eleventh chapter begins. Today, Fr. Heinz Kulüke assumes office as the eleventh superior general of our Society and the tenth successor of the Founder, St. Arnold Janssen. Along with him, a new general council begins their service of leadership – Fr. Robert Kisala, vice-superior general, Fr. Gregory Pinto, admonitor general, Bro. Guy Mazola and Frs. Arlindo Dias, Paulus Budi Kleden and Jose Antunes da Silva, general councillors.

To Fr. Heinz and his councillors, the recently-concluded XVII General Chapter, representing the whole Society, has entrusted the animation, direction and guidance of our Society. Today, all of the confreres around the world join us here in Rome in welcoming Fr. General and his councillors and in promising them our full collaboration and genuine support with our prayers.

At this point, allow me to share with the new superior general and his council three thoughts suggested by the three saints of today.

First. Twelve years ago, at my election as superior general, my first reaction was one of great fear, especially because for the first time in our history the Society was going to have a superior general originating not from the West but from the East. And so I approached my predecessors – there were three at that time – to seek their advice about how to be a superior general. All three of them said: “Have no fear; the Lord is with you.” Perhaps you too, dear Fr. General and General Councillors, had or still have the same feelings of fear, hesitation and apprehension at your election. So, it is essential to believe that it is God who has chosen you through the general chapter. Above all, it is necessary to believe that He who has laid on you the burden of office will also grant you the grace of office. “Have no fear; the Lord is with you”. A thought that comes from St. Gabriel who, in the Gospel of Luke, uttered the same words to Mary (Lk 1:26-38).

Second. Often we consider the superior general as the most powerful person in the Society. Sometimes it is said, even if often only in jest, that every wish of the superior general is a command for the confreres. And yet, there will be times when even the superior general will feel powerless – before a confrere who refuses an assignment, another confreres who resists a transfer, a plan that cannot be realized, a vision that is difficult to implement, a decision that fails to bring its intended results. In my case, at the beginning, I hated these moments and tried as much as possible to evade them. But gradually I began to learn to accept, and even welcome, these moments. Because they were moments which made me realize that the power is not mine but God’s. They were moments which forced me to fall on my knees and pray intensely – moments in which I realized that without God’s Spirit there is only powerlessness and incapability. “The power is God’s”. A thought that comes from St. Michael who, in the book of Revelation, as we heard in the First Reading today, defeated the dragon and his angels with the power of God (Rev 12:7).

Third. After my election twelve years ago, a senior confrere sent me his congratulations and good wishes, saying: “I hope you will be a guiding star more than a shooting star”. A star that guides more than a star that shoots out. A star that enlightens more than a star glows. Actually, I believe there is need to combine these two styles of leadership – that is, a leadership that pulls the members from in front and a leadership that pushes the Society from behind. A leadership that offers a vision for the Society and a leadership that accompanies the members in their journey. And, above all, a leadership that sees to it that no one is left behind or falls along the side and that everyone walks together toward the same direction. “A guiding star rather than a shooting star”. A thought that comes from St. Raphael who, in the Book of Tobit, appears as a companion of the young Tobiah’s journey (Tob 3:17).

Dear confreres, today, we are renewing the leadership of our Society. But the renewal at the top will be just that – changes at the top, surface changes, superficial – if it is not accompanied by a more profound renewal. The change of superiors needs to be accompanied by a renewal at the bottom, in each one of us, members of the Society. Only then will a truly profound renewal of the Society be reached.

The direction of this renewal and the orientations of this change have been indicated to us by the last general chapter – that is, an honest-to-goodness renewal of our participation in God’s mission through a greater commitment to the promotion of our intercultural life and mission. As we know, interculturality was the principal theme of the last general chapter. And, indeed, the general chapter provided us with the opportunity to discern different ways of witnessing to the Divine Word in a world that is becoming more and more multicultural, and thus renew our identity as an intercultural missionary Society composed of brothers from diverse nations and languages.

The general chapter, therefore, was an opportunity to commit ourselves to interculturality as our life and mission. And this commitment finds concrete expression in the chapter document which lays out for us our congregational directions for the coming sexennium. The document says that these “congregational directions shall be implemented by the Generalate, zones, provinces/regions/missions, local communities and each confrere”. Thus, it is hoped that a renewal of the whole Society is reached, not only at the top but also at the bottom, not only of the superiors but also of the members. Today is an appropriate day to commit ourselves to this renewal called for by the last general chapter.

Dear brothers and sisters, during the last few days of the “transition meetings” between the outgoing and the incoming general councils, we have been able to see how much God has blessed our Society. Obviously, there are also problems and shadows, but the overall picture that emerged was that we are indeed a Society truly blessed by the Lord. This same impression was already evident during the last general chapter. The assumption of office today of the new superior general and his council is yet another sign of the Lord’s favor. Thus, I invite you all to thank God during this Eucharistic celebration for his innumerable blessings on our Society.

We also thank Fr. General and the members of the new general council for having accepted this call to special service in our Society. May they find their service fulfilling and fruitful. And, finally, a word of sincere thanks also to those who are ending their generous service at the generalate – Fr. Konrad Keler, Bro. Alfonso Berger, and Fr. Estanislau Chindecasse. Thank you, dear confreres, and our sincere wishes for God’s blessings on your future mission wherever it may be.

Allow me to conclude with the words of St. Joseph Freinademetz when he was appointed provincial superior in China:

Called to this office, as I hope, by God’s will, I would like to do nothing else until I remain in this position than to be faithful only to God’s will. The Pauline saying, “omnia omnibus factus” – I have become all things to all – will be the ideal that I desire to attain and for which I will seek to reach.

Fraternally in the Divine Word,

Antonio M. Pernia, SVD
Outgoing Superior General