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The present and proximate future of the Congregation

Vincent cm sealThe present and proximate future of the Congregation of the Mission

by: Javier Álvarez Munguía, CM

During the first day of the meeting of the new Visitors, Father Javier Álvarez, Vicar-General of the Congregation of the Mission, presented some reflections on the present and proximate future of the Congregation.  We present some excerpts from his reflection, two different situations that form part of the present reality of the Company. During the first day of the meeting of the new Visitors, Father Javier Álvarez, Vicar-General of the Congregation of the Mission, presented some reflections on the present and proximate future of the Congregation.  We present some excerpts from his reflection, two different situations that form part of the present reality of the Company.

TWO SCENARIOS

  1. An overview of new vocations in the Congregation of the Mission

In order to develop this point it is necessary to present some statistical data with regard to the Congregation today.  I am not going to present many numbers, but just enough so that we can make some conclusions.  The information is taken from the statistics that were published in 2014 by the Secretary General, Father Guiseppe Turati, CM (cf., Vincentiana, July-September 2015, p. 278-281).

  • § Total number of Missionaries: at the present time there are about 3,240 confreres … 35 of these are bishops, 52 are deacons, 143 are brothers, 44 are incorporarted members and the rest, 2,960 are priests.  With regard to previous years (the past 10 or twenty years) it could be said that the Congregation has decreased in numbers but not in some excessive manner.
  • § By continent, where do we find the Missionaries? In Europe there are 1,148 members; 776 in Latin America; 638 in Asia; 362 in Africa; 307 in North America.  With regard to previous years it can be said that there are more Europeans (34% of the total members in the Congregation) but Europe together with North America are the continents where the median age of the confreres is the highest.  In Asia and Africa the number of confreres is increasing and in Latin America the number remains about the same or is slowly increasing.
  • § By the number of vocations we see which provinces are growing and which provinces are either maintaining themselves at the same level or decreasing in numbers. Here we take into consideration those persons who are “admitted” that is, persons in the Internal Seminary and persons who have not taken vows).  At the present time there are 473 (and there are 465 aspirants and postulants). The total of new vocation is 938: 438 in Asia and Oceania; 210 in Africa; 191 in Latin America; 59 in Europe and 31 in the United States.

Some considerations based on the numbers that we have just shared with you:

1.1] The Congregation of the Mission is decreasing in numbers but not in an alarming way, but nonetheless slowly decreasing in numbers.  In the past fifty years the Congregation has decreased by about 1,500 Missionaries … but here we must take into consideration the Post-Conciliar phenomena.  In the past twenty years the decrease comes to about 400 Missionaries.  If we contrast the number of missionaries with the number of vocations we see that the pyramid is completely inverted, that is, the greatest number of vocations corresponds exactly to those places with the fewest number of missionaries, furthermore, it is in those places that have the lowest median age among the missionaries.  Therefore we see that the vocational crisis is affecting those places where there is the largest number of confreres with the highest median age.  Looking at this data together (417 admitted and 684 aspirants) we can conclude that the proportion among members-vocations is acceptable.

1.2] The center of the Congregation is being displaced:  the center is moving from Europe and North America to Asia and Africa.  It seems that Latin America is not going to grow much but will maintain itself at the present level.  From the perspective of vocations it appears that the Congregation will be less and less European and more and more Asian and African.  All of this has important consequences with regard to the inculturation of the charism.  Up until the present time our reflection on the Vincentian charism and our lifestyle has been done from a European perspective, and from Europe has then moved out to the rest of the Congregation.  The same has occurred in the United States and Latin America (that is, they have reflected on the charism and the proper lifestyle and that has influenced the rest of the world). Now, however, there will be new reflections and new ways of inculturating the Vincentian charism and these reflections will arise from other missionaries who are living and ministering on other continents with distinct attitudes and formation.

1.3] The Congregation is growing in those parts of the world where the needs are most serious and is decreasing in numbers in those societies of a more ancient Christianity.  In light of this third conclusion we can ask the following questions:  How will this phenomenon affect the Congregation?  Does this mean a change in mentality?  How will this new reality be reflected in the general government of the Company?  What aspects of Vincentian spirituality will be emphasized?  What aspects of our spirituality will be weakened?  And going further we can ask: What form of ecclesiology will be imposed?  What kind of Missionaries will we have? These are questions that we have no answers to at the present time, but little by little we will find those answers.

            1.4] The greatest number of vocations is seen in the youngest provinces, that is, where the missionaries have less experience.  This can present some problems in the area of initial formation.  For example, the provinces with large numbers of candidates do not have a sufficient number of prepared formators to guarantee a good formation in the Vincentian spirit and in Vincentian spirituality.  Should the provinces with more experience in this area consider helping in formation?  In 1996 Father José Ignacio Fernández de Mendoza expressed this same concern.  The lack of formators is notable in the provinces in which the number of aspirants is growing. This means a lack which has negative consequences in the long run and which is not easily remedied. It would be desirable that the provinces find ways to help each other by interchanging formation personnel (Vincentiana, #41.2 [March-April 1997], p. 95).

  1. Second Scenario: Reconfiguration is changing the face of the Congregation

 In order to understand what these changes might involve, let us look at the process of reconfiguration as it is unfolding at the present time.  But first of all it must be stated that this line of action that is spoken about in the Final Document of the 2010 General Assembly has been taken very seriously by the general council and by many provinces.  At the same time we would add here that in general this question of reconfiguration is not viewed as some technical resource or some means of survival but rather it is seen as an opportunity and a means to revitalize our charismatic identity within the church, to review our ministries so that they are an expression of our charism and to review our communities so that they are able to generate charismatic life.  It is true, however, that not everything related to this theme is positive.  There is resistance on the part of some provinces and some Missionaries … but we also understand that is very normal.

So then how is this process of reconfiguration unfolding in the Congregation?

  • § Europe:
  • The Provinces of Austria and Germany have become one Province (January 1, 2015) that is called AUSGER.  There is one Provincial structure with two Regions.
  • Holland: due to the high median age of the confreres reconfiguration with another province it is neither possible nor convenient.  As of August 1st. 2015 the province ceased to exist and became a house dependent on the Superior General and his Council.
  • France, the Provinces of Paris and Toulouse: after a long process the two provinces have united; the new province will begin to function on January 25th, 2016.
  • The three Italian Provinces (Rome, Naples and Turin) have united as one single province that will begin to function on January 25th, 2016.
  • The three Spanish Provinces (Barcelona, Madrid and Salamanca) have made a decision to united and this will take place on January 25th, 2017.
  • Some European Provinces remain in a delicate situation: Portugal, Ireland and Zaragoza.  The number of their members is decreasing, they have few vocations and up until the present time they have not entered into any process of reconfiguration.
  • Belgium now depends on the Province of the Congo.
  • § America:
  • The United States: in 2010 the first reconfiguration took place and the five provinces became three.  At the present time a second reconfiguration is beginning and the New England Province and the Easter Province will become one.
  • CLAPVI-North and the Caribbean: the Province of Cuba is investigating the possibility of reconfiguring with a neighboring province, Puerto Rico, Mexico. The Province of Venezuela has become a Region of the Province of Colombia but no definitive date has been established with regard to the official functioning of this new reality.  The Mission in Honduras that corresponds to the Provinces of Barcelona, Zaragoza and Slovakia also has some Missionaries from Colombia and Central America collaborating in the ministry in this regions … there is discussion about simplifying the complex structure of this Mission.
  • The Province of Costa Rica, with few missionaries and vocations, has not entered into any process of reconfiguration but is collaborating with CALPVI and CLAPVI-NORTH.
  • CLAPVI-SOUTH: in March 2013 the Provinces of the Southern Cone (Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina) began to reflect together on the process of reconfiguration.  At the present time this idea has been discarded.  Nevertheless, the parties involved have agreed to intensify collaboration among the provinces and to continue to collaborate in the area of initial formation.  An interprovincial itinerant popular mission team has been established (this team is composed for four Missionaries, one from each Province, and they will offer missions in each of the provinces).
  • The Brazilian provinces: these provinces have initiated a process of reconfiguration.  They view this process in terms of collaboration with some common structures and common projects … but the provinces would maintain their autonomy.
  • § Africa:
  • Cameroon: has been dependent on the Province of Paris and is about to become a Vice-Province.
  • The Region of Kenya has been dependent on the Western Province of the United States. There has been much development and this region is in the process of becoming a Vice-Province.
  • § Oceania:
  • During the Provincial Assembly of 2013 the Province of Australia changed its name to the Province of Oceania. The decision to change the name of the Province was intended to reflect a form of reconfiguration that is proper to the Province and that is consistent with their desire to extender their missionary commitment and their commitment to formation in other areas of the Pacific, especially Fiji which has been a part of the province for some 60 years.

Reconfiguration is a relatively new process and an unstoppable process that is affecting consecrated life primarily in Europe and North America.  With regard to the Congregation, reconfiguration will give a new face to the Congregation on those two continents, Europe and America, and at the same time will reveal the ability of the Congregation to adapt to new changing times.  We should not lose sight of the fact that the objective of reconfiguration is to enhance the mission and charity … thus we seek the most adequate structures in which the mission and charity can be developed.  The criteria that should guide this process is the following: structures are at the service of life.  When the life situation changes, structures should also change … if this does not occur than life slowly fades away

Therefore, the processes of reconfiguration are necessary in order to maintain the vitality of the Congregation, of its Provinces, communities and apostolic ministries.  The difficulty in all of this is a lack of vision, that is, there are situations in which individuals can see no further than their present horizon and therefore their present attachments and fears prevent them from launching out into the future.

5 Responses to The present and proximate future of the Congregation

  1. Aidan Rooney January 20, 2016 at 3:01 am #

    RE: 1.4. Interchange of personnel is only part of the solution. Should not the Congregation, once looked to as experts in clerical formation, be training persons in new internet-based learning technologies? Every other educational sector (academic, professional, technical and military) is doing this. From Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), to college courses blended with real-time and recorded seminars, to small group real-time video classes (DLS e-Studio), there are various types of effective distance learning. They employ forums, video chatting, online libraries, practice materials, and feedback systems to break through the barriers of communication, and provide rapid responses to students. Students similarly use these tools to ask questions, both to the instructional team as well as fellow students. Are all the challenges to its effectiveness gone? Perhaps not, and perhaps a blended system could be employed, but we know that distance learnong models are more effective than they have ever been, and it is debatably as effective as in-person training. Certainly it would require an investment in preparation and infrastructure, but less expensive than finding and training the necessary numbers to staff seminaries and formation programs of high caliber.

  2. KOCHUPARAMBIL Mathew February 16, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    1.1-1.4. The worries, the lack of confidence, inappropriate judgements etc., visible in those lines are due to lack of openness and failure to understand the changes taking place around one.
    A spirituality which is not lived out is not worth teaching. The Spiritual legacy that we should boast about should be that which is still vibrant, creative and living and not a dead one. First of all, the experienced must show by their examples that they have something productive and worth sharing. The Vincentian Spirituality is not something that should be born on the round table conferences; it should be born from the day to day experiences, from our meeting with the Christ in real situations. A Vincentian missionary should be judged on the basis of what he lives and what he achieves in a given situation.

    I would like to share some of my convictions :
    1. The inculturation of the charism has to take place in the very culture where the Congregation arrives. As long as it remains a foreign entity, it has no place in the lives of the people. If certain provinces have more vocations that is due to their success in inculturating the charism in their proper situations. As it happened in the United States and in the Latin America, it would happen in the provinces where the Congregation is on the rise. This change is inevitable. After a few decades it might return back to Europe, perhaps!

    2. The worries reach its heights in 1.3. “What aspects of Vincentian spirituality will be emphasized? What aspects of our spirituality will be weakened? What form of ecclesiology will be imposed? What kind of Missionaries will we have? ».

    I don’t think that the growth of the Congregation in Asia or Africa would be at the cost of weakening its spirituality but rather enhancing its core values and spiritual teachings. Of course, the way of thinking will be much influenced by their proper culture and situations. And that has to take place to have good missionaries.

    “What form of ecclesiology will be imposed?” Church is universal. It is neither europien nor American nor Asian nor African, and there is only one ecclesiology for the church. But unfortunately, until now the church was controlled by the europien ideologies. It was greatly imposed on others and it was accepted for long time as it is, but today the situations have changed. I think it is time to stop imposing and start accepting and appreciating. The Congregation does not decide an ecclesiology for itself. It takes roots where it is planted and gets inculturated there.

    “What kind of Missionaries will we have?” This question shows the kind of desperation which disturbs the author. A missionary is one who responds to the call of Jesus Christ and His mission. If I have received the call, I believe firmly that the Lord has chosen me and set me apart for his works. Some may be more fervent to their call than his confrere, which is normal. All cannot be Vincent de Paul! It is time that we think that there can be missionaries from outside Europe. The Lord calls from wherever he likes. Therefore, the kind of missionaries produced largely depends upon the local church and the culture.
    Becoming a missionary in the Congregation of the mission depends upon how much a confrere is capable to inculcate the spirit of the congregation in his proper vocation. The kind of missionaries should be evaluated upon the way one lives out the charism. It should not be evaluated on the places of origin. God calls the kind of missionaries he wants according to the needs of the church.

    3. “The greatest number of vocations is seen in the youngest provinces, that is, where the missionaries have less experience.” Learning to accept and appreciate others is the first sign of a great missionary. The author would have defined what it means to be a missionary, for him, before making the judgement. What are the criteria of his judgement? I would say that the number of vocations is more, where the church is more vibrant and where our confreres are more active. Missionary experiences should be judged on what they have achieved concretely and are still achieving in the given situations.

    “The provinces with large numbers of candidates do not have a sufficient number of prepared formators to guarantee a good formation in the Vincentian spirit and in Vincentian spirituality.” Again the question is what are the criteria for judging a formator good or bad? It is very much correct that there is a lack of well-qualified formators, with so called diplomas. If it is the degrees that decide the standard of the formators then of course there is a lack. But, now I admire the formation what I received from our formators. though they weren’t super qualified, they succeeded to instill in us, I would say, the Vincentian Spirit, which could be lived out in our daily life.

    I don’t think that to teach Vincentian spirit or Vincentian spirituality one needs to have a Doctorate or post doctorate degrees, rather, sufficient readings and understanding of its spirituality. Therefore what the experienced provinces can help is to give possibilities, to those who would work in formation, to read and understand it better. (I know the concrete situations of the some of the so called experienced provinces, in the area of formation, especially in the area of teaching Vincentian Spirituality, which I don’t want, narrate here.)

    What I would suggest is to have a center, under the general curia, to form the formators of the Congregation in its Spirituality. (one year or two years)

    • freundj February 16, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

      Dear Matthew,

      It is unfortunate that not everyone will see your thoughtful comment on “the present and proximate future of the Congregation” even though it has been published as a comment to an article published over a month ago.

      WOuld you like to turn this in its own post to be published in the coming days.

      It should not be difficult for you to write a post with a title something like the following…

      Personal suggestions addressing issues raised at the recent meeting of Visitors

      In the post you could basically say exactly what you just said as a “comment” and vintie comment. Presenting it as a post would give it greaater visibility.

      • KOCHUPARAMBIL Mathew February 21, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

        Sure Father, i shall do it.

        can i send other posts too, i mean other subjects?

  3. KOCHUPARAMBIL Mathew February 24, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    Dear Father,

    where should i send the Post ?
    i have reconstructed my propostions a little bit to make them more clear.