|Cartoceto - Italy
Young Friars Gather
Nine young friars participated in a “common life” experience from late August to mid-September at Convento S. Maria del Soccorso in Cartoceto, Italy. Five were from Europe: Colm O’Mahony, Ireland; Barnaby Jones, England/Scotland; Paolo del Bianco, Italy; Piotr Lamprecht, Poland and Terence Spiteri, Malta. Central America sent three: Andy Rodriguez, Arcinio Murillo and José Azcarraga, all from Panama, and Asia sent one: Nestor Bandalan Jr. of the Philippines. The encounter was designed as a preparation for friars who would soon complete initial formation with their profession of Solemn Vows. The adventure presented the challenges of national, cultural and language differences but these were overcome by a generous spirit of Christian charity and by a sincere desire to live out fraternal life in community. The gathering was a response to the Augustinian call to journey and reflect together. One friar summarized for all:
The experience was both positive and promising for all of us. We discussed a number of issues, guided by three experienced Augustinians. Among the topics were the state and identity of the Order in Europe and participants' apprehensions about returning to their home provinces or vicariates after a significant period of time away. Out of this open and fraternal dialogue there arose a genuine concern for the promotion and improvement of Augustinian life. In being together in oneness of mind and heart there developed a consensus of thought regarding the need to rediscover the meaning of discipleship in Christ, considering all that this entails in one’s religious vocation in community and what it is to encounter Christ constantly through his Word, through the brothers with whom one lives, and through those who are served in the apostolate. Finally, we saw the need to renew Augustinian communities through an authentic living of our charism. We were unanimous in support of a vision to move beyond provincial boundaries in our work and look at possibilities for more international communities. Here follows a summary of common beliefs and desires:
We believe that communities have to be aware of the serious challenges that confront our vocation as Christian disciples and as Augustinians. Religious life has been negatively affected by secularization and there are clear tendencies towards materialism and individualism (for example, owning cars or properties, and absenteeism). As a consequence, common life and the practice of the vows become hollow or empty words in a community setting. We recognize our common desire for a renewal of common life and of its members. Common life should be marked by simplicity, genuine sharing of goods, shared prayer through “lectio divina”, meditation/contemplation, and adoration of the Holy Eucharist. We long for a community where we can share good recreation, our hopes, our desires and even our pain, that is, an environment where a healthy relationship among brothers is felt and in which life together is truly a communion with God and with one another. We realize the importance of welcoming and respecting diverse cultures. This is a means for a fruitful ministry and effective pastoral activity in the midst of today’s world. We cannot encounter Christ if we do not encounter and live in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized both materially and spiritually. All form part of Christ’s body. In line with this we perceive the value of renewing our commitment to the study of St. Augustine’s writings and teachings, especially during initial formation in order to be equipped with knowledge and to appreciate and imitate Augustine’s pastoral service to the Church. Our apostolate has to be grounded in Augustinian spirituality which gives our presence in the world its unique identity.
In facing the present reality we acknowledge the pressing concerns of the Augustinian communities in Europe marked by decreasing numbers of friars, struggling to understand the phenomenon of abandonment among young friars and acknowledging the presence, at times, of a certain pessimism regarding the future. Consequently, a number of questions were raised: Do we have a future? Do we want men to come and join our communities in Europe, and if so, why? Our answer to both questions is YES! The future before us as Augustinians will depend on how we help and assist candidates in their discernment and formation, accompanying them on their journey as brothers to live authentic religious life. We certainly want men to join us. Augustinian presence does not mean, however, filling the spaces in rapidly aging communities, but rather living in the manner described above.
The time we spent in Cartoceto has taught us the value of meeting and working together - even manually, as we did - for our future. All of us felt that the experience is worth repeating and would be helpful for young friars in Europe who wish as a team to search into the challenges and gifts of common life. In fraternal spirit we thank those who accompanied us throughout this privileged moment at the end of our initial formation: the coordinators of the experience, the community of Cartoceto; the friars who guided us and shared with us their Augustinian life. Warm thanks to the friars of San Gimignano, Tolentino and Cascia and to the nuns of Cascia, Montefalco and Lecceto who inspired us as we step across the threshold of ongoing formation as Augustinian friars.