During my recent visit to Dublin I was talking to three of our men who were preparing to head for Rome for our Passionist General Chapter which begins on 6th October and continues for three weeks. One is going as our Provincial; another as the moderator of the Chapter, and a third to be part of a team of simultaneous translators. A General Chapter is a gathering of the leadership of the Congregation from throughout the world to reflect on our life and work as Passionists. It takes place every six years and this time they will be gathering under the headline theme of Renewing Our Mission: Gratitude; Prophecy and Hope.
I was only ever once present at a General Chapter and that was back in 1982. I had just completed my Theology degree in Dublin and taken my final vows as a Passionist at Mount Argus, and I was heading out to Rome for an academic year to take a course in Pastoral Theology at the Gregorian University; to be ordained a deacon in our mother house of Saints John and Paul; and to make preparation for my ordination as a Passionist priest which was scheduled to take place in St. Mungo’s the following summer. Once there, whenever I was free from classes, I would be invited to take part in the General Chapter as an observer. It was a General Chapter with a difference in that, after the Second Vatican Council, religious orders were asked to go back to the charism of their founders and, in the light of that, to revise their Rules and Constitutions. An experimental period was granted and this General Chapter was intended to agree and finalise these new Rules and Constitutions. It was to last six weeks instead of the usual three and, by the end of it, you could see that some of the men were getting cabin fever and couldn’t wait to get back to their own countries and provinces, but for me it was a great opportunity to get to know Passionists from all over the world and to experience a real sense of what it means to be part of an international Congregation.
I may have told this story before in a different context, but I remember a very funny experience I had on the journey out to Rome. The Provincial Bursar at the time, presumably to save money, had devised a rather tortuous itinerary for me. He had got me a ticket on a charter flight from Dublin to Gatwick; from there I was to get a bus into London; I then had to get another bus out to Luton Airport, and from there I would fly to Rome, Ciampino, which at that time was a much smaller operation than it is now, and a good distance out of the city, so, I was relying on some kindly Passionist picking me up from there to bring me to Saints John and Paul’s. I was carrying enough luggage to last me a year, including some necessary books, so having all these changes was a bit of a chore. For some years previously I had been involved in an organisation called CASA, the Caring and Sharing Association, which works with and supports people with disabilities; physical, sensory and intellectual; of all ages, and from all backgrounds. It had been a wonderful part of my life and my formation. I had just checked in my luggage, a much simpler procedure then than it is now, and gone through to departures, when, for the first and only time in my life, I heard my name being called out over the speakers, asking me to return to the check-in area. Wondering what was wrong I made my way back, only to discover a group from CASA waiting to wave me off and presenting me with a teddy bear that was as big as myself. This had to be checked in as well and I must confess, not wanting to trek through London with this monstrous cuddly toy, and not wanting to be greeted in Rome by some surly Italian wondering what in God’s name I was bringing with me, I spotted and asked a mother at Gatwick Airport if she thought her young daughter who was travelling with her might like this furry beast. To the child’s delight, and to my relief, she said yes, of course, and I continued on my way bear-free.
Please pray with us for our 2018 General Chapter: Let our Passionist General Chapter be a motivation for permanent personal conversion and for a creative rethinking of our life and our work. Renew the Passionist mission and make of us the new wine of a new Church. Amen.