Last week we should have been attending our Provincial Chapter, which is a gathering of the Passionists from Scotland, Ireland (North and South) and Paris who make up what we call St. Patrick’s Province. This gathering takes place every four years and, during the Chapter, we review the life of the Province, face into any difficulties and challenges, and plan our pastoral priorities for the following four years. We also elect, or re-elect, our Provincial and his Council (also known as the Curia) and one of the tasks that they have after the Chapter is to make the various appointments of personnel throughout the Province. That would have meant that, from this week onwards, we would have been waiting by the phone, or expecting a visit, to be consulted on our next move, or on our staying put, depending on the discernment and deliberations of the Curia. The Chapter was scheduled for the 22nd – 26th June in a Retreat and Conference Centre run by the Cross and Passion Sisters at Drumalis in Larne, in the North of Ireland, but, of course, because of the Coronavirus, our Chapter didn’t take place. At present we have re-scheduled for the end of October in a different venue, but it remains to be seen whether easing of lockdown has progressed enough for the Chapter to feasibly take place, even then. So, as in many other things, we are in a kind of in-between place.
Of course, it may have been that, instead of being at the end of a phone waiting for a call, at least one of we Passionists in Scotland would have been elected to the Curia and been part of the group entrusted with making the necessary appointments, and therefore making these calls. I have been in that position a number of times before. What usually happens is that, at the end of a Chapter, the new Curia have a diary meeting and set aside a block of days on which to come together and set things in motion. Prior to that the consultation process will take place. When the Curia eventually gets around the table, they will endeavour to put a plan in place to achieve the Chapter priorities, and pencil in a first draft of the men they wish to appoint to the various tasks and locations whom they feel can best bring that plan about. Then it comes time to phone around, and to ask people if they are willing to go here or go there, to do this or do that. If everyone says yes, then the process draws to a close with a huge sigh of relief, but, if even one person says no, there will be a knock-on effect and it’s back to the drawing board. For the most part our men are willing to do what is asked of them, and to accept that this is part and parcel of the life we have chosen, but there can also be good reasons for saying no, and those are listened to with compassion. In the times we live in, there are fewer pieces to move around on the board than there used to be. Our membership is diminishing, and many of those who remain are getting older and frailer. At present there are only 45 religious in the Province, with an average age of 71. There are 9 leadership positions to be filled. Of those in leadership at present, 4 of the 9 are aged 75 or over, while the other 5 are in their mid to late 60’s. There are 6 different communities, and so, providing leadership for the next few years and beyond will not be easy. Can all of our communities and all of our ministries be sustained? We have been blessed in recent years with a few good vocations, and two of those are based in St. Mungo’s. But oh, how we need more of those going forward. So, from this in-between place, I am asking you to pray very hard for Passionist Vocations.
Father Gareth has asked me to say how much he misses everyone. Being an Everton supporter, he is trying to be magnanimous about Liverpool winning the English Premiership, but he also likes the way Everton are progressing under Carlo Ancelotti. Father Justinian is improving remarkably since he came out of hospital, and is being well looked after by a plethora of carers and nurses. Father Antony continues to maintain his suntan, and to hone his pastoral skills, having been plunged in at the deep end in unexpected ways since ordination. I have to be nice because I need to ask him for another haircut soon, as I can’t see through my eyebrows at present. Partial church opening is going fine and we look forward to progressing it further soon. So, protect yourselves and your loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.