“Life” said the well-known writer G.K. Chesterton, “is a QUEST, a TEST and an ADVENTURE!”
Sr. Marie MacDonald shares her experience of taking part in 7 general chapters. This sentence could well be applied to that experience!
Yes, it is a QUEST a searching together for the way forward – not necessarily a radical change of direction but of finding the next right step on our journey as a Congregation.
A TEST because, although it is usually a wonderful and life-giving experience, it is also challenging and as capitulants we are all entrusted with a big responsibility. It is an experience of being in labour and of giving birth: to the Capitular Acts and to the General Council composed of those who will form the leadership team for the next 6 years.
Then there is the experience of internationality and interculturality which can be a test not only because of the different cultures or nations we come from but also the different countries in Africa to which we are sent. This always challenged me to “enlarge the space of my tent” to see that the Congregation and its mission is more than U.K. (my home country) and Uganda -Kenya (the province of my mission work)! It has been life-giving to share with our sisters and to participate in writing the Capitular Acts.
I learned to see things from others’ point of view. The interventions of our sisters who worked in North Africa for example were a revelation at first but I now treasure their experience and insights and their way of living our vocation in a totally Muslim milieu.
The Chapters provided a space for exchange and this created greater understanding and today I think that their way is very relevant in this time we are living in where Europe and America are now multi-cultural and multi- religious societies.
It was a challenge to grasp what was being said in French especially during the first chapters I attended even if a translation was provided. I learned that language is more than words but also values, approach to life and way of thinking.
General Chapter 2011
Each Chapter, in its own way, has been a very intense experience. Before the days of instant communication, the capitulants were not in much contact with the provinces they represented. There were phone calls – especially to provincials – and sometimes mail would arrive with “an occasion”. Otherwise we were in our own world.
Those early chapters lasted a long time because they were also times of on-going formation for the Capitulants. I’ll never forget the wonderful inputs we received at some of them. The purpose of these was to help us to become aware of the ongoing theological reflection on Mission and they helped us to produce the Capitular Acts.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of all was to communicate the Chapter to our sisters back in the countries we represented. We arrived before the Capitular Acts and our task was to share the chapter experience with the sisters at home. This was not always easy! On one occasion I remember a sister telling me with a sigh: “Please don’t tell us what a wonderful experience you’ve had”.
More recently, thanks to modern technology, our website etc. the Chapter can be followed day by day and the sisters “back home” share in the experience progressively rather than wait until the Capitulants arrive tired but full of their experience and eager to share it.
We tried to share not only ideas and recommendations but the lived experience and atmosphere. We also tried to convey the message that the Chapter had proceeded from the work done by the sisters in their communities which had been sent in beforehand – that the actual Chapter was not just something that happened for some weeks in Rome but an EVENT which began with all the preparation and then the application to each country and community in its context.
A Chapter is also an ADVENTURE. It is an adventure of trust in the Spirit of God who works in unexpected ways.
The Spirit loves to surprise us whether we’re ready or not. It can happen that the topic in the Capitular Acts which raised the most objections and conflicts of opinions during the process of the Chapter turns out to be the one most quoted and appreciated in the years that follow the Chapter. I remember one sister telling me after a Chapter: “This experience has convinced me more than ever that the Spirit exists and is at work among us! Otherwise, how could we ever have managed to do what we have done?”
Yes, a Chapter Experience can be tough and challenging but it is also an amazing privilege and a graced experience. I am grateful to have been able to participate in so many Chapters at different times in our history…
I’m no longer that young wide-eyed naively idealistic sister full of anticipation and some fear who arrived for that first Chapter in 1975! I have experienced a great deal over the years and no longer have unrealistic dreams! The years have passed and many Chapters later, as someone now in her 80s, I experience within me a deep and peaceful trust and conviction that our Congregation and her Charism, born of a profound evangelical intuition, entrusted to Cardinal Lavigerie and fostered by Mother Salome is still relevant in our time – and perhaps as never before!
I trust too in our younger members who will be the ones to take the flame of our Charism into the future. Although I won’t be participating in the 2023 Chapter, I’ll be there with you, together with our community here, in spirit and in prayer. We are with you! May you listen together to the Spirit and help us to move forward in confidence and trust.
Sr. Marie MacDonald, United Kingdom
Article in Sharing Trenta Aprile N° 1-2023