2016-2017 CALENDAR for CIF

2016

 ROME: Orientation Sessions                                               for New Vincentian Visitors

From 12 through 19 of January, 2016, the director of CIF participated in these sessions to assist those newly appointed Visitors of the Congregation of the Mission.  

 

Paris: CIF for Formators:                                                         A Session based on                                                                 the new Ratio Formationis of the CM 

From April 5 through May 3, 2016 , this was an intensive programme designed for all those involved in all levels of formation in the Congregation of the Mission : Vocation Promotion, pre-seminary, Internal Seminary, Philosophy, Theology, and post vows or priestly ordination continuing formation.  The program included visits both in Paris and throughout France to CM heritage sites during the four weeks.  The CIF team (Dan Paul Borlik and Adam Bandura) accompanied the group, assisted by other presenters.  Languages are English, Spanish and French with translators. 

 

 Paris: Vincentian Ongoing Formation:                        Depaul International 

June 22-24 at the Maison-Mère, a workshop on Servant Leadership and Vincentian charism by Fr. J. Patrick Murphy, with  Fr. Dan Paul Borlik for members of DePaul International.  20 persons attended, coming from Great Britain, Ireland, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the United States.  Sessions were in English, with individual translation where needed. 

 

Chicago, USA:  General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission

CIF absent from Paris

from 25 June to 20 August, 2016.

 

Paris: Ongoing Formation, Session XXX:              September 9 through November 4, 2016

Eight weeks in duration, our long CIF program, was conceived for those members of the Congregation of the Mission having already 10 to 30 years of experience in the apostolate.  The session included all of our visits both in Paris and throughout France as well as a final retreat.   The CIF team, Frs. Dan Paul Borlik and Adam Bandura, with Fr. Andrés Motto (the newly appointed Director for 2017), accompanied the participants throughout the program.  They were assisted by presenters with expertise on various key themes of the Congregation, and translators.  Conferences and study groups are in English, Spanish or French; translation is provided during the sessions, both written and oral.  

 

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2017

 Paris: Towards a Spirituality for the Vincentian Family:                      

for CMs and other members 

of the World-wide Vincentian Family 

April 25 through May 25, 2017

This, the 2nd session dedicated to the Vincentian Family, includes all of our visits both in Paris and throughout France as well as a final retreat.   The CIF team, Frs. Andrés Motto and Adam Bandura, will accompany the participants throughout the program.  They will be assisted by presenters with expertise on various key themes.  These weeks are designed for and depend on participating members of the Vincentian Family for a common enterprise  that includes our distinct histories and experiences as followers of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac and Frederic Ozanam, our shared interests such as living the charism today, systemic change, collaboration for the future, etc.  Conferences and study groups are in English, Spanish or French; translation is provided during the sessions, both written and oral.

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Memories of the CIF 2014 Missionaries’ session: Week I

Friday, April 25th, 2014

CIF has begun a new series of sessions – this is the first time for confreres who work outside of their home culture (and language) and/or serve as missionaries to immigrants within their provinces.   The group is quite international: eighteen confreres from thirteen provinces, each with different missionary experience. All participants arrived on time.  This evening we introduced ourselves to each other, assisting each other with our own translations – French, English, Spanish, and a bit of Portuguese and Italian.

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Photo: Introductions in the Salle Pouget

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

In our first formal gathering of this session, the CIF Director, Fr. Dan Paul Borlik introduced the general program of this special session. After a brief orientation and history of CIF , he introduced the methodology of this session. He also presided and preached at our first Eucharist, in the House community’s “Oratoire”, concelebrated by all participants of this session.

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Photo: the Group in Chapelle des Missionnaires

In the afternoon we took the underground (the celebrated Parisian METRO), to see the site of the ancient home of Saint-Lazare. We visited the church of Saint Laurent which was the parish church of Saints Vincent and Louise de Marillac our our foundation from the 1630’s until the Revolution (1789) as the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. We then went to the street of the nearby Rue Saint Denis, to see the still-visible walls of the ancient chapel of Saint-Lazare, the striking outside wall sculpture Vincent’s face, recently dedicated to the saint by local residents, as well as other remains of the chapel Saint-Lazare, and the old entrance.

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

The most important event of the day was Eucharist in the main chapel, at the tomb of our Founder, saint Vincent de Paul.  Presiding among us along with the other members of the House was the Mother House superior, P. Bernard Schoepfer. On this Divine Mercy Sunday we prayed for the assistance of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, two new saints of the Church.

After Mass the participants of session took a tour of our “Maison Mère” and its chapel.

We had dinner together with resident confreres who live here at 95, rue de Sèvres.

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Photo: 26 April – The Maison Mère Community welcomes the CIF missionaries

Monday, April 28th, 2014

After our early (7:00) morning prayers and Mass, we met in the “Salle Frederick Ozanam” (the CIF instruction room with translation and projection equipment), where we listened to our first presenter, Fr. Alvaro Restrepo, who spoke of documents missionary of the Church, the encyclical of Benedict XVI of 1755 up to Francis’ exhortation of last year. This survey, a historical-critical presentation, prepared us for work in our three language groups, to correlate recent three missionary documents of the Church: the Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI, the encyclical Redemptoris Missio of Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Francis’ recent exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

Group work began in the afternoon. After discussion, we gather together in “plenary session” to share results. We note remarkable evolution of the thought of the Church. There was much we had in common, indeed we most most struck by how much these official reflections had in common, while not always consistent with methods and practices apparently adapted to cultural trends and the mindset of previous epochs.

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Photo: Álvaro Restrepo, CM (of the Paris Province)

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

This day was given to presenting and reflecting on the documents of the local churches where we serve, i.e. the Bishops’ Conferences reflections on missionary activity. In the morning we worked in language groups, shared those materials already prepared for this subject.

In the afternoon, in a meeting in the Salle Ozaname, the English and Spanish groups related what they had discussed in the morning – presentations were organized according to region. They illustrated the context of bishops’ preparation (education) and underlined the peculiarity of every country, as well as the variety of methods for evangelization, liturgy, and catechesis.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

That day in session been envisaged pilgrimage in Folleville. We left Paris at 07:00 in the morning which had us arriving at our first stop, Gannes.  There, waiting for us was a parishioner and church archivist, Mr Michel Sorel who showed us the church.   Then we went to the place where our Congregation was born, Folleville. We celebrated mass there in the church with two patrons (St James and St John the Baptist), with one missionary from Madagascar – P. Jérôme Ralahizafy, presiding.

Photo: Folleville_CIF Missionaries after the Eucharist: Les Folleville_Chapelles Jean Baptiste et JacquesChapelles St. Jean Baptiste

After mass we visited the ruins of the castle and then left for Amiens, where the Missionary Community were waiting for us.   We had quite a feast with the the Vincentian team of Amiens. We also visited their church St Anne, next to their residence and one of various churches where they serve.  Perhaps the most visually striking part of our visit in Amiens was at the splendid gothic cathedral – the tallest in France.  Happily for us, our guide there was our presenter this week, Father John Rybolt.   After two hours to visit the cathedral we came back by bus to Paris, where we enjoyed an evening of pizza and fellowship at our Salle Pouget.

Amiens_Chez CM banquete

Photo: AMIENS_CHEZ CM banquete

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

We celebrated this official holiday for workers, by working ourselves ! Our sessions began at 9:00 am with the conference of Fr. John Rybolt, who introduced the historical context of Vincent de Paul’s life and missionary activity, where we noticed the same, if deepening sense of the word ‘mission ‘. A lot of well-known events of the life of our Founder can now be seen in a new light, thanks to those many who have worked on the volumes of the history of the Congregation.

John Rybolt

Photo: John Rybolt, CM (Western Province of the United States)

The afternoon began with an introduction for group work. Each received different portions from the Common Rules (of the Congregation of the Mission), and tracts taken from Abelly and from other writings, which illustrated the various elements of mission. Having worked in linguistic groups, all participants shared their points of view, particularly on popular missions. They pointed out the context of these missions in the time of St Vincent and more recent times, of the methods and of strategies or of other elements, all of which for the participants seemed quite valuable.

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Fr. John Rybolt continued today with a new set of conferences: following the historical context of popular missions and showed how this work was accomplished from the times of St Vincent until our own.  Examples comes from different countries and from different circles. In the same time our guide explained why next to mission appeared other writings. Which was the reason of the extension of activity of the Congregation.

The session of afternoon was opportunity to share the experience of popular missions in different countries and in different environments. What approches do we have today to popular missions, and what are their particular characteristics? Three of our confreres spoke about their experiences of popular missions: Thomas Lunot (Paris Province), who spoke about the experience of the Frenchmen, Giuseppe Ciappa (Naples Province) who introduced Italian missions, and Jérôme Ralahizafy, who introduced missions in the environment of Madagascar

The afternoon ended with preparation for our “long pilgrimage”, which begins tomorrow, and will have us tomorrow evening at the birthplace (Berceau) of SaintVincent de Paul.

Chronicler and Photographer, Fr. Adam Bandura (CIF Assistant Director);  
Editing and translations, Fr. Dan Paul Borlik (CIF Director)
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Vincentian Family Collaborative Action Program — begins !

Some months ago I was invited to join a group in an effort to “design” and, as it turns out, to make happen a program for men and women living and working today with people who are poor.  Our team was composed of educators and specialists largely from Universities founded by Vincentians — United States, Ireland, the Philippines.  With all our differences we soon discovered some very important things in common — one is , admiration of and devotion to people like Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Rosalie Rendu, Frederic Ozanam and the other is our conviction that that connection with our founders could be transformative, moving us to become today more like them… and much effective than we are at present.   One key focus generated by these convictions has been the desire to develop ways and skills on how to collaborate with each other — to move beyond self interest, to transcend political and cultural barriers,  to make better use of our family branches in transforming the lives of those living in poverty,   After over two years of mutual listening and dreaming, of planning and designing one short week with ambitious goals, of encouraging and assisting Vincentian Family members to travel to Paris from all over the world… we are finally here! And ready to work!

1st day Eucharist groupThe VFCAP intentions arise out of five “modules” with clear outcomes for each:
Module 1 : Because a Vincentian is a Visionary…we must have a re-awakening.  We will re-awaken in our hearts the vision that animated our founders and this vision is to be incarnated in us;

Module 2 : Because a Vincentian is a Contemplator…we must be re-rooted.  We will be re-rooted tin our relationship with God to be effective servants of the poor;

Module 3: Because a Vincentian is a Collaborator…we must re-discover the power of collaboration as the only way to effect systemic change;

Module 4:  Because a Vincentian is a Catalyst…we must re-ignite our passion to be catalysts for change;

Module 5;  Because a Vincentian is a Servant…we must re-imagine ourselves in our ministerial roles so as to be energized in our service to the poor.

Please pray with us — especially during these days, one of the prayers that we recite together each day before our work sessions:

Lord Jesus, you who willed to become poor, give us eyes and a heart directed toward the poor, help us to recognized You in them, in their thirst, their hunger, their loneliness, and their misfortune.  Enkindle within our Vincentian Family unity, simplicity, humility and the fire of love that burned in Saints Vincent & Louise.  Strengthen us, so that, faithful to the practice of these virtues, we may contemplate you and serve you in the person of the poor, and may one day be united with you and them in you Kingdom.  Amen

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Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, 1 May 2013

Happy St. Joseph Feast Day , Bonne Fête !

At this, our final Eucharist together, we have many reasons to be grateful to God!  Why?  First, as we hear proclaimed in our Gospel today, you and I are nothing less than branches of the vine of Jesus Himself –His life runs through our veins – so that wonderful things can happen in our own times just as it did for Paul, Barnabas and those first evangelizers in the first reading.  My brothers, let us never forget that you and I are so special, so loved by God!  Besides having been given the great gift of life (our first taste of mystery!), each of us has been given our faith and identity through Baptism, and, as Vincentians, our special calling as missioners to follow Jesus Christ, Evangelizer of the Poor.  And we have credible models of what our own lives can mean for others – – first in our spiritual father Vincent de Paul, whose experience-rich 80 year journey brought him face-to-face with God through the very people he had at first endeavored to leave behind.  And today we remember Joseph, a faithful Israelite yet quiet and fearless in his obedience to God’s voice in his life and his trust of Mary, even when it went against his religious instincts. Finally, today we express our gratitude for four weeks of Vincentian Heritage together, a pilgrimage together as many of you have noted.  And clearly a gift from God and our Congregation, to nurture and refresh us, but even more, to encourage and challenge us.

Chapel picture_Heritage 2013 During these four weeks we have experienced a CIF “formation program” designed for Vincentians who have many years of life experience.  And whether  or not we cherish those long ago memories of seminary days, CIF has been clearly a different kind of formation experience.

Like the young, ambitious Vincent, we spent our early formative years concerned with personal success, gaining knowledge, developing skills for pastoral ministry, becoming excellent priests and effective missioners.   But as appropriate and necessary as that time in our lives was, CIF is different and meant to be so.  Instead of acquiring new skills and concepts, we have tried to deepen our understanding of that call and identity we’ve committed to for years.  Instead of competing for good grades and earning degrees, we have allowed ourselves to stumble a bit, to struggle to listen when it may not have been easy, to share time and life with our brothers from other provinces, languages and cultures, to be in someone else’s world.  It’s likely that we felt uncomfortable or uncertain here in Paris, as strangers in a strange land, but these experiences can also open us to the reality “away from the center,” to those people and realities that, as busy pastoral workers or educators, we tend to not see and appreciate in our own more comfortable cultures.  I hope so.

Years ago, Fr Hugh O’Donnell described CIF as “moving forward to basics.”  I think this means that we should be deeply open to who we are called to be, and to our life-companion, the true, living God whom we tend not to notice in our busy lives, but who seems to be always pushing and pulling us where He would like us to go.  Even after years of experience and ministry, we know we have stumbling blocks – such as being tempted to gaze backwards – to our accomplishments (or our failures), to keep repeating the same patterns and struggles we had as young men, or to be frightened of aging, of declining health, of becoming “less important” in the eyes of others.   But instead of feeling that we must continue to fight same old battles in our lives, perhaps we can better see how our future as seasoned sons of Vincent could be truly satisfying and even bright : Why not “give ourselves away , completely” to others, why not gratefully receive more and be more willing to listen than  be limited to deciding what must be given, and being in charge?  Why not explore new reasons for hope as we age, rather than slide into self-preoccupation or even cynicism and despair ?  Our father Vincent is such a good model for us as we become more seasoned !

Thank you for your willingness to live and work with us, with each other.  Let us continue to pray for each other, hoping that our lives be marked more and more by the Life coming from that Great Vine that we have helped to form, so that we produce even more fruit as mature branches!

dpb, CIF 2013

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January’s Days Past…

In Paris, from mid-November through January it seems as if we’ve suffered through ever darker, cloudier, colder days, which may account for my dour mood these days.   This is a dark season, short-days and long nights, cold and colder temperatures, sleeting when it’s not raining…

Paris by Night 1This “season of shadows” is better suited to staying inside seeking warmth and light.  In fact, any little bit of light (even if artificial) goes a long way!  With Christmas still a fresh memory, only a week ago we celebrated the “Feast of Lights,” the ancient feast of the Purification; soon we Christians embark on our 40 days journey towards the great mystery of life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.  Yes, at our best, this is what followers of Jesus do – look for the light!

Street-Sweeper-6-a.m.-ParisBut, assuming that at times we all do struggle to discover the light hidden in darkness, what is it like to think, to reflect as a Christian today (i.e. critically, consciously, as a follower of Jesus)?  Such a person might be better able to see, judge, and act (ver, juzgar, actuar) just as Vincent de Paul clearly did in his own time (arguably, a very dark time indeed!)?  Is this kind of reflecting helpful or even realistic, or is it just another kind of escapism, a flight from our dark, shadowy times?

In this, our fifth (and last) “ordinary Times” Sunday before Lent begins, there may some indications for Christians on what to look for and “how to be disciples”, if we are to stay with the One we want to follow.

Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) :

the-miraculous-draught-of-fishesJesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signaled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.   When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

Peter and his companions, “busy with their nets”, were likely mildly interested in what Jesus had to say but suffered from the illusion that they were not his “flock” i.e. those who made up the throngs of this new wonder-worker’s listeners.  Then Jesus asked to use their boat in order to teach more effectively (and only that!); they complied –  it was but a small gesture of hospitality.  However when Jesus asked Peter to “put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch,” he was now asking for an act of faith from professionals who knew better.  Surprisingly, Peter agreed and, during that momentary lapse of incredulity, was “caught” himself!  Along with some of his companions he recognized his own hunger and thirst for what Jesus promised and immediately they agreed to leave all that they had known to follow Jesus.  This seems a rocky beginning for what our Church was meant to be!  Still, Jesus’ invitation then (and now?) was simply to decide how to live then and there, a choice based neither out of fear of God, nor of shame in oneself, but rather on finally “seeing” God’s actual work in us and around us.  We Christians were always meant to be people of miracles, i.e. people of faith.

Well, it’s one thing to grasp this truth from time to time during the liturgical season; it’s quite another to develop and nurture the habit of thinking, judging, and acting like Jesus’ followers or like the “Jesus-images” we try be, such as Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and (thankfully) many, many other heroes, heroines…our saints.  Where do we begin?  particularly in a world so seemingly battered by rapid change, mass migrations, a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, random violence, and on and on?

DSC00241

Priests, Seminarians, Daughters work out Case-Studies for Intercultural living

Perhaps we can learn where to start, such as in our own lives and neighborhoods.  For that is where we live, where we most affect and are affected by others.  Indeed, this was the starting point for a mixed-group of the East-Africa Vincentian Family members gathered in Nairobi, January 25-26.  In offering one CIF module (of many) developed around “the Signs of the the Times and Perpetual Renewal,” I was able extend our program beyond our usual locations in France.  So, instead of celebrating our Founders’ Day with a day of rest and recreation, the Kenyan Vincentian Family prayed, listened, studied, shared in groups, even did some writing.  The topics were intercultural communication and critical, pastoral reflection; the theme “Be-friending Diversity.”

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One could hardly think of a better “laboratory” than this group – 95+ men, women, professionals, students, each representing one or more ethnic groups: African tribes, European and American cultures, older and younger generations… but all trying to live and work together harmoniously and effectively!

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Fr. Dan Borlik guides the workshop

Who can tell where such efforts and good may end up?  It is difficult enough to grasp how so much of today’s violence is born out of  (often unconscious) misunderstanding, cultural-religious conflict, deeply felt historical wounds – and so much of this at work in us without our knowing or wanting it!  If grasping that cultural diversity is challenging enough, it is still not enough – it takes years of effort (and many setbacks) to develop new “skill-sets” for communicating with and living with people from other countries, cultures, language groups, politics… in ways that are gradually marked by mutual respect and shared purposes, even love.  However, what better group to face these challenges than those who already have vowed to “follow Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor.”

Meanwhile, we can (and do) always hope that, like Peter and his companions, we may have taken the first of many more steps of putting our lives in the hands of the One we trust the most!  And, perhaps, already sensing some new light in our sometimes shadowy existence.

dpb cm / 10 février 2,013

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Joyeux Noël á tous !

Mid-December at the Maison Mère

There are pending projects on my desk but, given the season, I suppose all that can wait…

Early November found me marking the first year’s anniversary of my appointment to CIF (Centre de Formation Vincent de Paul, Paris) – has it been that long?!  Even though living in France still seems a bit strange to me, even surreal (it doesn’t feel like “home,” at least not yet), I do feel grateful to be residing here at our Maison Mère, quatre-vignt-quinze, Rue de Sèvres, sixième arrondissement – it’s practically in the center of this beautiful “City of Lights.”

For nearly a month now the many corridors in this rambling, large house have been eerily quiet.  Perhaps it’s our latitude – it’s so dark now, lasting long before we gather for evening vespers until long after we rise in the morning….  In fact, the darkness of winter seems to have slowed down everything – the multiple construction sites in and around our building complex continue, but they seem to start later and end earlier.  Public activities within the house – Vincentian family meetings, neighborhood groups, etc. are few these days.  Many of our resident confrere priests have left for the next two weeks, some to be with their families, but most to visit our mission houses (rural France) there to help out with the sacraments during this busy and popular season.

It’s rainy, gray and chilly most of December in Paris, but in the now darker evenings the streets are even more populated than usual:  couples arm-in-arm, clusters of students, young families often with baby carriages, all out for the lights and sights.  During my evening walks, despite the cold, I tend to stay out later now, watching the people and enjoying this picturesque place.  But often enough – perhaps because of the season, I’ll find myself drifting, playing back times and places past, wondering about family and friends now far away, sprinkled throughout the Americas or Europe, India, Africa – what they are doing? how are they? what might these last days of Advent mean to them?

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.  All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. [Luke 2:15-20]

As a child growing up along with my brother and sisters, in different times and with, what seems now, more imagination, I loved setting up the Nativity scene (crèche) in our family room, indeed, even a few others in our bedrooms.  I suppose that there was the fun of collecting figurines, some of which were quite detailed and unusual and, of course, hordes of animals, adding more and more of them each year – but it seemed that we mostly enjoyed sitting quietly, just watching the scene…  In the end it was all about imagining ourselves right there with Joseph, Mary, the newborn Jesus and that yearly increasing retinue of farm animals, baby Jesus fans and visitors…  What really had it been like to be there, to know who this baby was?  Was it not absolutely marvelous?!  To simple, open children like ourselves, the scandal and the absurdity of God being born under such poor circumstances had not yet registered; this was about our own desire to be included, to be there with the baby Jesus and His parents and yes, with all those friendly animals!  Our contemplation was a joyful longing.

Notably, even for that first Christmas, despite so many prophecies and all those angels. only a very few people showed up – a few land-less shepherds, eventually some outsiders, all foreigners.  Perhaps even then, many people were just too busy with their lives, too worried about “urgent matters” to have time for such unexpected mystery.  Are we so different two thousand years later?  If our beliefs were to reflect headlines today they would mirror little more meaning than a growing sense of dread.  That would be sad indeed, since we’d be risking never acknowledging or even noticing “God-among-us.”  Yet that’s what we Christians believe and that is why we celebrate this feast.  Even if we continue thinking of Him as hidden, God lives on!  God loves us too much to abandon us to ourselves.

May each of us experience for ourselves this contagious excitement of Christmas, the marvel of God’s own presence among us, His healing friendship, His confidence in us – and pass it on to others!

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Reflections at CIF course’s end

The following are some thoughts from the CIF Director, Father Marcelo Manimtim, at our final Eucharist, after eight weeks together in session and pilgrimage, November 2, 2012.

… Our particular sharing in the work of the Church comes from St. Vincent’s conviction that the poor themselves are sacraments of Christ.
To each of us St. Vincent truly says…”It is with this belief that you must serve them, and when you visit them, rejoice and say within yourselves, ‘I’m going to the poor people to honor in their person the person of our Lord.’”  This vision and conviction of St. Vincent gives specificity and purpose to how we live in community and to all our work in collaboration with all persons who serve the poor.

Some of you have acknowledged that these two months have been for you a time of deepening your knowledge of St. Vincent of the vocation of the congregation and a time of taking into serious account the challenges that we face in today’s world, if we want to remain faithful Vincentians. In the words of St. John in our second reading today, “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have touched with our hands” concerns not only “the words of life that has been made visible” but also the experience of Vincent and the vocation and mission of community. This is the mission we receive at the end of this session. We have seen and can testify to the great things that the lord has done for us, for our community. And in the gospel we hear Christ sending us.

With whom first of all, do we share this good news? To whom is Christ sending us? We are being sent with the good news first for the poor. No question about it, we are being sent, first of all to the poor.

The recent synod of bishops, was held in Rome just this October. In their final message, the bishops talk of two expressions of the life of faith that are authentic marks of the new evangelization. The first is the gift and experience of contemplation. The second is the face of the poor. The bishops tell us, ” Placing ourselves side by side with those who are wounded by life is not only a social exercise, but above all, a spiritual act because it is Christ’s face that shines in the face of the poor…. The presence of the poor in our communities is mysteriously powerful; it changes persons more than any discourse does, it preaches fidelity, it makes us understand the fragility of life, it asks for prayer: in short, it brings us to Christ.” (Message to the People of God , XIII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 12)

“The presence of the poor in our communities…changes persons more than a discourse does.” One of you was speaking with me privately yesterday. He told me, “I see clearly that in the community we have many experts in Vincentianism; there are confreres who can talk eloquently about the vocation, the mission, the history, and the spirituality of the congregation. Yet in what really counts, we fail. Why? Because we don’t know the poor, we don’t know them enough, we don’t love them enough. Maybe that’s we don’t have many vocations.

C.I.F. (Centre de Formation International)
95, Rue de Sevres
75006 Paris, FRANCE

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The 27th CIF celebrates Mary’s birthday!

Fr. Marcelo Manimtim and I welcomed our new group this morning, launching the Autumn Ongoing Formation program — the 27th since 1994!    I’ll be posting updates over the next eight weeks.    We concelebrated our inaugural bi-lingual Eucharist in the “Oratoire” , the Maison Mère’s Community chapel on the first floor.  Reflections spring from today’s readings (feast of the Nativity of Mary) and the chapel’s central painting — the aged Vincent de Paul’s last moments on this earth.

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 “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathrah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”

When we listen closely to the Word of God, it will often surprise us, challenge us, and even disturb us.  Like the tribal Hebrews and their Israelite descendants, we may first look for a God to erase our problems, who stands up for us (since we’re always on the right side), even for a God who kills our enemies.  Remarkably, over time our God always seems to turn out to be quite a surprise!  We may have preferred a big, mighty, fearful king or a great magician, but God shows up in unexpected places and in “little” people, like an under-appreciated mother or father, a suffering servant, a beggar, an inexperienced teenaged girl, even a helpless infant who clearly needs US.   When the Israelites learned to recognize God’s presence, when they on occasion welcomed His revelation they were always transformed into images, reflections of that Revealed God.

Transformation by grace is like that.  We may start by begging God for favors, but slowly we learn to be open to God, to wait patiently and finally see and hear God around us, and most importantly, to welcome God as God reveals Self…and, voilà, we are the ones who are changed!   This is why we celebrate Mary so often during our calendar year.  She waits, she listens, she welcomes, and she says, “yes” to God.  That’s really all this “little one” did.  That’s all you and I need to do, in order to be like Mary.

cimg3235Look at the painting of our founder on our chapel wall; the first time I noticed it, I was surprised – since it does not commemorate great works or accomplishments, but rather Vincent’s death.  It describes a man who, in his final hours, is “marked” by joy, overflowing with grace.  Even his missionary brothers who surround him are themselves hopeful and at peace rather than in mourning.  These are people transformed by the Spirit.

In the following weeks we will see how very talented and determined the young Vincent was, but also how self-centered he was and in such a  hurry for financial security. Yet, he ended his life with few possessions, but filled to overflowing with God’s love, eagerly caring for people and pouring out hope to anyone in impossible situations.  Any mark that young Vincent would have made on the world probably would have been soon forgotten.  Instead, the Vincent we know allowed God to mark him, and so we have a believable saint who we can learn from, emulate, pray to – because he is, after all, just like us.   As Vincent’s followers, God’s mark on us is what we too hope for — we are inviting our own transformation!

If we give ourselves to the experience, these next eight weeks can certainly help all of us, .  Marcelo and I are glad to be with you but let us also help each other!  Presenters will guide and stimulate us, we will break bread and pray and serve each other, and our journey together will take us to so many of the places where Vincent walked and worked.  The marvelous truth about being here in France, studying our own roots, our spiritual father, Vincent, is that we can soon identify with the inspiring organizer Vincent who also saw himself as a “work in progress.” He always knew his need for God’s grace.  In that he acted just like Mary.  Underneath his passion for working with the poor, Vincent lived and died urging his brothers, his sisters, friends and collaborators to be open, serious about how much God could do.  We want to give ourselves to our work but let’s also learn better to wait on the Lord, to trust in Providence.

Continuing our Eucharist, let us now appeal to our God, who wants so much to be present in us… as He did with Mary,  Vincent, and so many others …  to transform us into instruments of His love.

dpb: paris, maison mère, 8 sept 2012

 

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Hello from Paris!

Introductions first!  I was born in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) in 1949 and raised with with brother and three sisters in a quiet, church-faithful family but without the usual “roots.”  We had come from grandparents immigrating from Ireland and Poland, my parents moved our home to Texas early on, far from our childhood familiar sites and memories.  Like many post-World War II families, ours struggled financially.  There were others of course, many neighbors like us and others who had it worse.  But we grew to know them and trust our connection with them — it seemed natural that we children be taught not only to help each other but also those many others like us.  Raised Catholic in strongly Baptist territory in Texas, I suppose that I always felt destined both to do something in the Church and to help the poor.

For me the vocation to be a Vincentian missioner came slowly even if it felt very natural…  I entered at 14, more out of curiosity than anything, but matured and grew self-confident thanks to the simple, dedicated teachers and mentors who were my first experience of the Congregation of the Mission.  It was with young high-school graduates like myself that I underwent “initial formation” as a Vincentian.  Those nine years seemed intense but were no more than a start, albeit a good foundation.  Soon after ordination I agreed to “try out” being a missioner in Guatemala, opening the door to friendships and experiences that would change me forever.  And later…in ministry in seminaries, at our own novitiate, as pastor, teacher, student (again), and lay minister trainer… my life has been very rich with many pauses for “ongoing formation,” long since those seminary years.

CIF is my Congregation’s inter national “Center of International Formation.” CIF offers our members a special time and the resources to experience, personally and intensively, our own “roots”  as successors of St. Vincent de Paul.  We walk where he walked, reflect on what he did and said, and we ponder the terribly difficult settings in which he and those early “Lazarist missionaries” somehow thrived.  Vincent  knew well and welcomed back then (just as we can today) the grace which sustained him and the Spirit who guided his decisions.

Simply put, ongoing formation — and especially these weeks of CIF — are offered as nothing less than a moment of grace with the Lord.  We are set free to question everything of our lives to this point,  to let go of our busy lives for awhile, to empty-ourselves, to listen and see in new ways… and perhaps to recognize how some of Vincent’s life-changing events may be happening in our own life-journeys.

dpb: mercredi 02 mai

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