Mission od the Congregation – Evangelization of the poor.
Father General, who is a redemptorist? We are among many other religious congregations. What makes us different from the others?
Actually, that is a very good question and especially in the world we are living in today. What does it mean to be a redemptorist and how is being redemptorist different from franciskan, carmelite, jesuit? There are differences. I think most important is that we are all meant to be complementary. We are all meant to build up the Church, the people of God and to serve the world. But God calls us in a very specific way. What is always struck me, at the heart of being redemptorist are three things. First, a man who is absolutely dedicated to follow Jesus the preacher, the evagelist, the redeemer. Secondly, someone who follows Jesus the redeemer in community. You will never find or should never find a redemptorist all on his own. His is always with other redemptorists and together we are following Jesus. And thirdly, we should be among the poor, we should be among the people who are abondended, on the margence of society. These are the three factors, that come together, that really are in the heart of our vocation. Absolutely to follow Jesus, but he calls us together as a community, and he sends us to the least of his brothers and sisters.
May I have more personal questions? What does it mean for you to follow Jesus Christ as a redemptorist?
To follow Jesus Christ as a redemptorist first of all means, that he has to be at the center of my life. That I know him not just as a redeemer who lived, died, and rose again two thousand years ago. I know him alive today. That means I have to pray, I have to talk with him, I have to have relationship with him that is alive. He is with me, he is beside me. Sometimes I forget that, sometimes I don’t put him in the center of my life, I let something else creep in. But I want him to be the very center of my life. Whatever I do with other people, my other relationships, there are shaped by Jesus, my friendship with him. He is my brother, he is my friend, he is my redeemer, he is my God. I have to talk with him, even more personally than I can talk with you. He knows me through and through and I have to let him know me through and through. That what it means to me to follow him.
Thank you for such personal sharing. Father General, we know, that our founder saint Alphonsus Liguori founded our congregation, he responded to need he had observed in his times. Time has changed. Is this the same today, the same needs, the same challenges for us?
In one sense, they are very much the same, because even when our world changes and even the times had changed, there are still people on the margence, there are always people, who are on the periferies of the society. Saint Alphonsus on his days looked and he saw, that as people had moved into the big cities like Naples, that the people who were left behind in the countryside, the people who were living in the mountains, the people who were small peasants, farmers, they were on the margence of society, they had no voice. Usually they were very poor and often they didn’t even have a priest, who would listen to them, care for them. Today it might not be peasant farmers in the mountains and hills of southern Italy who are abandoned. It could be people right in our big cities, it could be young people who find no one listens to them, who feels that church is for their parents and grandparents. It could be migrants who left their culture and their home. But there are always people on the peripheries. Pope Francis keeps reminding us to that, we have got to go to the margent of society. We have got to go both the geographical peripheries, the places where no one else wants to go, cause likes the good life and feel very comfortable where they are; or what he calls the existential peripheries, the people who might be living right in our midst, but they are almost invisible. Could be the elderly, could be the young people. That will change in different societies, but what saint Alphonsus had, was the heart for the people who were left out, for the people on the margent. But he wants us redemptorists to have a heart for the people on the margent and then will go where they are even if sometimes it is very difficult to do so.
Talking about society, one can observe, that there are society of individuals. I have found, I have read, that selfies are probably the most popular types of pictures young people do. But at the same time, people are afraid of being alone, without friends. How we, redemptorists can help them, how can we inspire them by our way of life
I go back to something that cardinal Tagle said to the redemptorists in the Philippines. Cardinal Tagle was the arcbishop of Manila. He is just now come to Rome to be the prefect for Propaganda Fidei, Evangelisation of People. He came to a chapter of our confrers in Philippines and they asked him what did he think was the biggest contribution they can make? And he said live your community life. Don’t just be a boarding house, where people have a room and are fed. Live your community life and bear witness that everybody is called to a community. Even more that he said, in the world we are living in today make sure your communities are intercultural. That a great witness is when you have people from different countries, different cultures, even different languages, who are making a community together, or making a family together. I found that very inspiring that just by living, just by being who we are, we bring a gift to the world, because we show people something different, we show them, the can live in a community, the can have friends, they can have normal relationships. Saint Alphonsus, back when he was writing, there were no selfies, there were no these kind of things, but he was still very concerned for people, who felt they were abandoned and alone and no one cared for them. And so, for example, when you read his book How to coverse with God as a friend, what he says in that book is, you have got to remember that no one, no brother, no sister, not even a mother and father had ever loved you more than God does. And if you know this, then you can become friends with God, you can friends with others, be transformed. That is a part of our mission as redemptorists, to cultivate that kind of Gospel friendship rooted in our relationship with God who has made us in love.
Father General, our Congregation is called missionary. What does it mean, to whom are we sent by Most Holy Redeemer?
First part as you say is missionary. And missionary for anyone, who does not know where the word comes from, the word to be sent, we are sent by God, on his mission, on his purpose on the world. Maria Celeste Crostarosa talked about these things. Sent to carry out the intention of the Father for the redemption of the world. To whom are we sent with this message? To whom does he want us to go, redemptorists in particular? Our constitutions and statutes tell us very clearly, that we are sent to anyone who does not receive Gospel as good news, anyone for whom the church has not been able to provide the sufficient means of salvation, anyone who feels cut off, abandoned, alone. Those are the first principles, but then it goes on to say, among anyone to whom we could be sent we must have a special heart and love for the poor. Beacause the have fewer resources, they have fewer opportunities and we can help them to discover the value and meaning in their lifes. The materially poor. Our constitutions and status tell us we are sent to migrants, we are sent to young people, we are sent to people who abandoned the Church, because the have been hurt, somewhere along the line. We are sent to families that are struggling, are broken. We are sent to the elderly, sometimes they are the most abandonded of all, because their children have grown up, moved away, maybe to other countries and there is no one who pays special attention. In some societies in Europe, all people die alone and no one finds them until much later. We are sent to those who are really in danger, vulnerable of being abandoned, forgotten, the invisible. So those are the ones, to whom we are sent. We have got a mission, we are sent by God, we have got the poeple we know we should be gone. We have got a message, and the message is: redemption, freedom, you are loved, you are valuable, you make a difference and I think those three together you have got what redemptorist should be doing today. Different ways would done in the past, but building on tradition we received, right back to Alphonsus.
Father General, what would we call the usual way we bring this mission? Is it any privileged way, type of ministery, through which we bring this message?
What we began with saint Alphonsus in Neaples in 1700, the privileged way of bringing this message to the poor and abandoned, was through preaching parish missions. Now, when he went out to preach parish missions, it wasn’t just a preaching that took place in the church. The redemptorist missionaries went, visited every home, the priest and brothers knocked on every door. If they noticed, that some familiy wasn’t coming to the church they made a special effort to go to them. They reconcilled enemies who were fighting with each others. And that happens in small villages and big cities. Sometimes even in families. And they always made possible the sacrament of reconciliation, because God wants the world to be reconcilled. But preaching was really very special and at the heart of redemptorist mission. When saint Clement went to Warsaw, and to saint Benon, they weren’t allowed to go to preach parish missions. He tried, the government won’t let them and many of the clergy wouldn’t let them go preach parish missions. So what did he do? He made st. Benon’s place of welcome, where anybody could come, but he saw there were other needs. There were need for education, there were orphants. So, let’s preach the good news to them, but responding to those needs at the same time, never forgetting preaching word of God, but also bearing witness through our social ministry. And it expanded, he involved lay people doing different things. And so that God build on to our traditional way of being redemptorists. Very, very vital and important. We can’t forget this side of our ministry either. Then they went with migrants to North America. Clement dreamed of going there, but he never got there. But when father Passerat, who suceeded saint Clement north the Alpes, he started to send redemptorists, John Neumann and others who went to the Americans, to accompany migrants. Well, there, they need to establish parishes, build up cathesisms, catholic schools and so our ministry our way of conducting our mission grew. Now, today, we have got communications we never had before. We have got the media, we have got social media, we have got television, radio, like Radio Maria with Tv Trwam in Warsaw Province and so many other means of reaching out people with the same message. So, it is really important, I think, not to think that there is only one way of doing it. The Holy Spirit has continued to inspire faithfull redemptorists to find new ways of doing our message as we never stopped preaching, we have never stopped social ministry , we have never stopped working in parishes, we have never stopped being close to people, hearing confessions, but we added something new, a new possibility, opportunity. I find that very exciting
To sum it up, just preaching, keeping eyes open and heart open, what Holy Spirit says.
Exactly, and responding to the real needs in front of us, because that is how Holy Spirit also lets us read the signs of the times. The real needs in front of us. If we do that, we will be fulfilling the mission that Alphonsus wanted us to fulfill and what is Jesus called us .
Father General, you travel a lot in connection with your ministry as Superior General. You visited many, many communities, what do you think is in common, they live in different cultures, doing different ministreis, what is in common, what is characteristic of them?
I think there is a few things that always strike me as vitally important, when I see redemptorists around the world. I have had a privilege to be in more than 70 countries, as you said. I have never dreamed I would leave Canada and go to all these countries where redemptorists work. What is in common? First thing, there is a real love for Jesus Christ, especially in the Blessed Sacrament. I think I see it in every redemptorists community. They gather in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to celebrate Eucharist, to pray, to be together as a community. That is in heart of every real redemptorist community. And it really does inspire me. That I think is absolutely vital. We should be close to Jesus. Secondly, they have got an incredible love for Mary. Just look at all the shrines that we have, which encourage devotion to Mary. They welcome people in to see Mary as their mother, that Mother of Perpetual Help is really mother for God‘s people. And this brings me to third characteristic: closeness to people, they want to be close to people like a mother, like a fahter is to their children. They really try to get as close as possible to the people they are sent to serve. Not to do good work, charity, and then go back to a nice house, and shut the door and just live their own life. No! They want to live with and be close to the people they are among. Those three characteristics I think mark us everywhere. There are countries we are not allowed to preach the Gospel openly. Many countries, where even our presence in a country is kind of like a thorn in the flesh to the society for different reasons. Communist countries, also in some parts in Asia where were very, very small minority, you don’t have access to the preaching that you would in Poland, in Brazil, in Colombia. So, there were not marked by the great missions, the great crowds in church, but those three characteristics you will find in every place: closensess to Jesus especially in Blessed Sacrament, closeness to Mary and spreading love for her among all people as a mother. God loves her tenderly as a mother. And thirdly, closeness to people, to real people, I think those three things characterize us and I think they really come from our spirit.
Father General, maybe you remember mission or ministry, kind of ministry, that touched you mostly, because it was very demending or challenging or fruitful maybe?
I think there are lot of stories I could tell and some of them are quite extraordinary. I think for example of redemptorists in Vietnam, where they have had a mission among the hill people, indigenous people, tribal people in the hills for about 50 years and over that course of 50 years there was about 56 000 converts to become christian, catholic and that is because they go to them, they are close to them, they have learnt their language, they brought hymns with the basics trues of the catechism in the music to the people there. And they accepted the way of doing things. You see the response of this people to redemptorists missionaries. It really is heart moving. And in Brazil, going to the shrine of our Lady of Aparecida, you could have 20 000 – 25 000 people going to bring their needs to our Blessed Mother. People really desperate. Sometimes it is their last chance and there is always a redemptorist to welcome. If you can walk in and out of church in Aparecida without somebody coming up to you and saying: God bless you, how are you doing? – you must have really tried hard, because their model is: when we welcome well we already evangelised. And you should be there for reconciliation service and then watch the people going to Comunion, going to confession, sometimes there are tears streaming down their faces. I could just think and go on and on of the places where I have been and I have seen this kind of service. Missionaries in the Philippines or Indonesia, where parish mission is not one week or two weeks preaching in the church. It is 3 or 4 or 5 months living in small, isolated villages giving to know the people, bring them into the church teaching, they do have a week of preaching, but they are building up small christian communities, who can carry on this apostolate really, this ministry of bring the Word of God to others. And the redemptorists missionaries are sharing exactly their life, their food their accomodations – no running water in many places. You see this and you say – that is what it means to be a missionary and to be close to people. Yes, there is a lots different stories to tell.
Father General, you have mentioned already about evangelisation. It is the, not recent, but loud call of the Church, that we have to go to evangelise. What redemptorists are doing to respond to this call of the Church?
I think, the best answer to that, is we are continuing to go and evagnelise. We do have groups who are studying how to do it especially in the light of secularizm. We do have groups who are studying how to do it in dialogue with muslims. We have got that whole side of what does it mean to evangelise in this world today. But much more than that, redemptorists are doing with their feet, they are going out to bring good news to people, they are going out to engage a ministry and to encounter young people where they are. Sometimes it is not so much with their feet, it might by with the mouse of their computer as they are entering into the digital world where so many young people live. But those are all just means, they are all just instruments. When I think about evangelisation and redemptorists, I think of what pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, where he wrote about: it is not the same thing to have known Jesus Christ as not to have known, it is not the same thing to walk with him everyday, as not to have ever walked with him. It is not the same thing to live as if God really matters to me here and now as to live as if God does not even exist. And if we believe that then we can help it spread, and we spread about what we talk to each other, by the way we live together, by the way we pray, by the way we smile at someone, by the way we welcome. And redemptorists, I think, were famous talk to people in redemptorists church and what would they say?? Those priests, those brothers really care about us. If I ever heard: he doesn;t care about us, time to move on, he shouldn’t be there. But I don’t hear that. What I see is our men, they are going out, they are doing evagelisation, I think that is what Pope Francis would be very, very proud with Redemptorists, wherever they are. I hope so!
We hope! Thank you so much Father General
Thank you Father Gregor!