THE UNITY OF THE ORDER IN SERVICE TO THE GOSPEL
TO ALL THE BROTHERS OF THE ORDER
As you know, the Order celebrated its Intermediate General Chapter in September of this year in the Philippines…
A significant amount of the delegates’ time was dedicated to studying and further developing the instrumentum laboris entitled: “The Unity of the Order at the Service of the Gospel”. As a result of the Chapter’s deliberations, the editing committee has prepared the present version of the Document which you are receiving with this letter. As the document itself indicates, this is still a work in progress. It is the express desire of the Chapter that all members of the Order take an active role in offering input on the same topic, and that in every community the document be used as a basis for reflection and dialogue. At the end of the document, there are six discussion questions which may be useful for the communities, but it is not the Chapter’s intent to limit the conversation to those areas.
It is the responsibility of the Major Superiors to coordinate this process in each community of their circumscriptions. The document can be used, for example, as a basis for various days of recollection, or as part of your monthly house chapters. We would ask that the reflections or responses from the local communities be sent to the respective Major Superiors, and that they in turn would forward them to the Secretary of the Order (firstname.lastname@example.org
). We will also be inviting the Augustinian Contemplative Nuns to take part in this reflection, as they too belong to our Order. Once we have received responses from all the circumscriptions, a final document will be prepared, and it will be presented at the next Ordinary General Chapter.
Thank you for your participation in this process and for your ongoing commitment to living the Augustinian charism as a meaningful way of evangelization. Be assured of my prayers and support for you and your ministry.
Fr. Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A.
THE UNITY OF THE ORDER IN SERVICE TO THE GOSPEL
1. Over the course of the four decades which have passed since the Special General Chapter held at Villanova in 1968, the Order has made great progress in responding to the call of the Second Vatican Council regarding the renewal of religious life through: the following of Christ, constant return to the sources and original spirit of the Order, sharing in the life of the Church, adaptation to the changed conditions of our time, and spiritual renewal. (Perfectae Caritatis, 2). Through the work done in our various General and Provincial Chapters, through the celebration of various Institutes and Renewal Programs, the research done by experts, the publication of studies, conferences, and symposia in many countries throughout the Order, and "as a result of serious reflection on this topic in recent decades, the Order has arrived at a consensus about Augustinian identity, recognizing the unity and complementarity of the rich inheritance of Augustine's spirituality and his conception of consecrated life..." (Document of the Ordinary General Chapter 2007, 1.2).
2. By engaging in the process of renewal called for by the Church for Religious Institutes, we have rediscovered and reclaimed principles of our Augustinian spirituality which we now live to the great benefit of our members, our circumscriptions and the entire Order, as well as in service to the wider Church. In the course of this process the Order has composed and gathered much documentation concerning our charism, spirituality, history, and the lives and works of many of our members; it has renewed our legislation and has provided, where necessary, new legal structures to meet changed conditions and contemporary needs.
3. At a distance now of 42 years from that General Chapter of Renewal, we can look with satisfaction, and with gratitude to God and to many of our confreres, who have enabled us to enter the 21st Century with an enhanced appreciation for the gift of our Augustinian legacy. This is an inheritance, however, which we do not hold as a personal patrimony to be guarded jealously, much less to be left on the shelves of our libraries, but rather as a treasure to be lived and shared with many others. At the same time we must recognize the ever new challenges which the world, the Church and religious life itself present to us each day, so that we may go forward with hope, commitment, and creativity, according to our proper identity and the charism of the Order.
I. COMMUNION AND COMMUNITY
"The community of believers was of one heart and mind" Acts 4,32
4. Among the various themes of utmost importance for us which have arisen again and again in these last years, and which continue to be of great moment for the Order still today, we would like to highlight what Saint Augustine describes as 'the chief purpose' for which we have come together: to live together in our house and to have one mind and one heart centered on God.' (Rule, I, 3). This is the theme which we wish to propose once more to all of our confreres at this moment in our history, so that, holding firmly to this essential principle of Augustinian religious life, we will always be clear concerning the fundamental motive for "building our house" and meet with determination, creativity and hope the challenges, opportunities, and obstacles which are before us.
5. The Order has given considerable attention already to the theme of unity as it relates to building and fostering relationships particularly within local communities. The Intermediate General Chapter of 1974 treated this theme at length, and issued a prophetic call to the Order when it proclaimed, "The Chapter is convinced that if we Augustinians do not achieve a renewal of community life, based on the New Testament and the spirit of St. Augustine, the rest of our problems (crisis of vocations, crisis of identity, problems of the apostolate, etc.) cannot be solved, and we will not succeed in bringing about a new vitality in our Order" (Document of the Intermediate General Chapter 1974, Chapter III., n. 64). Then Prior General, Theodore Tack, in a talk first delivered in November, 1974, less than two months following the close of the Dublin Chapter, raised this theme to a new level when he said: "...building up the local Augustinian community is not a matter of secondary importance. It is the very first apostolate which must concern every one of us Augustinians without exception. In other words, the community in itself is an apostolate of the first order, indeed our primary apostolate." ("Augustinian Community and the Apostolate", in Living in Freedom Under Grace, 1979, pp. 151-152).
6. In the years following, and down to the present day, the Order has engaged in considerable reflection and discussion of the implications of these statements both for the ordering of community life and its relationship to our various ministries.
7. We wish now to address this same theme as it touches upon the broader platform of circumscriptions, regions and, in a special way, of the universal Order. Attention to the wider application of the Augustinian value of unity and communion seems to us a natural development resulting from a heightened awareness of the implications of our religious profession which is made, in every instance, to the Prior General, accompanied at the same time by affiliation to a particular province or vicariate. This reflection is occasioned also by the positive results we have witnessed stemming from collaborative initiatives on the part of a number of the Order's circumscriptions in recent years, as well as the need to meet more squarely challenges to collaboration in other areas. We wish to foster on every level, and within every circle of our religious life and structures, the gifts of unity and communion in order to experience more deeply the richness of our spirituality and to be more effective instruments and heralds of these goods in the Church and in society.
8. Precisely because the Order has already produced a rich synthesis of ideas and proposals with regard to the theme of unity and communion of life, we wish draw from this resource for both personal and communal reflection as we move forward, seeking to build on what we have begun and to find new and ever more effective ways to achieve our "chief purpose."
9. Eighteen years ago, then Prior General, Miguel Angel Orcasitas, wrote to the Order on the eve of the 1992 Intermediate General Chapter that was to be held in Brazil, expressing the clear direction that the Order, on the basis of its extensive self-reflection, had already been undertaking for some time.
"Communion as a value and community as a structure constitute together our ideal of life and the starting point for our mission with the Church and the world. For us Augustinians they are indispensable, solid points of reference that throw light on our present vision and on the future path of the Order. The Church is a communion in Christ. The Order is a communion of brothers in one heart and one mind on the way to God. Society yearns for the solidarity of human communion. From the progress the Order has made in the last twenty five years and from all the documents it has produced, it is clear that communion and community constitute the path which the Order has specified for itself and as its identifying characteristic for the future (emphasis added). It is vital that we proceed along this path with determination and courage to guarantee our identity and provide ourselves with a sure objective." (Letter to all the Brothers of the Order, in preparation for the Intermediate General Chapter 1992, Sao Paolo, n. 6)
10. These words, which we wholeheartedly affirm and reiterate, provide the point of departure for our reflection in this Chapter of 2010, conscious that while having sought to follow the path outlined above in recent years, we are being called today to intensify our efforts and find new and ever more helpful ways to live and express our communion as an Order.
11. It is of value to note, also, that this project or program of communion, which is obviously rooted deeply in Augustinian spirituality, resonates as well with the Church's theology of religious life in general,
"Experts in communion, religious are, therefore, called to be an ecclesial community in the Church and in the world, witnesses and architects of the plan for unity which is the crowning point of human history in God's design" (Religious and Human Promotion, 24).
II. OUR HERITAGE
"So that they may all be one" Jn. 17, 20
12. In the very first Chapter of the Constitutions we are reminded that our identity as an Order stems from three constitutive sources: Saint Augustine, our eremitical roots, and the Mendicant Movement. With regard to this last element, the Constitutions elaborate:
"Our mendicant structure confers special characteristics on the Order: a central structure whose sign or bond of unity is the Prior General, before whom we make our religious profession; an availability which helps us to move about without limits, wherever the needs of the Church and the Order may call us; the cultivation of studies which is oriented toward the evangelization of contemporary culture; a style of life that allows us to be signs of restraint and solidarity. All of this enables us to be at the service of society, living with it and placing before it a new style of life characterized by fraternity" (Const. n. 9).
13. On the occasion of the 750th Anniversary of the two papal documents which confirmed the Minor Union of the Tuscan Hermits in 1244, Fr. Orcasitas called the Order to greater consciousness of its mendicant tradition, precisely in order to find therein a means for greater effectiveness in our life and work today. He wrote of our nature as a universal community,
"In this anniversary we need to remind ourselves of these other aspects of the Order which gave us life in the Church and which today can be a key to our vitality. The memory of the first union is an invitation to grow in our collective awareness as an Order, because our own future and our ability to continue to serve the Church depend a great deal on our ability to make this awareness operative. Fidelity to our original inspiration makes us ask ourselves about the meaning of the universal dimension, which the Order has cultivated through the centuries, and helps us overcome provincial and national barriers in order to undertake our common tasks"(emphasis added). (750 Years of Service to the Church: A Letter to the Friars of the Order, Rome, December 16, 1993).
14. As far back as the previously cited Intermediate General Chapter of 1974, our confreres recognized the importance of the international character of the Order in speaking to the human community of valid and valuable alternatives to some of the threats to human dignity present in our world. The Chapter's document, widely known today as the 'Dublin Document', presented a reminder and a challenge to us, precisely from this "universal nature" of ours, to be an effective witness to unity.
"But just as the local community has a value in itself in that it is the ideal of fraternity according to the life and teaching of St. Augustine, so also the international community has in itself the same value. And as the local community endeavors to establish the kingdom of God in this world and to foster, with its own witness of fraternity, the human brotherhood at the local level, so also the Order, living the traditional community life inspired by the teaching of Augustine, should be of service in promoting the spirit of brotherhood among mankind as a whole. The call to brotherhood in Christ is a call to liberation from the great evils of the world today: social injustice; racial discrimination; national antagonism; inequality of opportunities arising from the existence of privileged groups; the failure to share material goods resulting in an excess of possessions among some and extreme poverty among others" (Intermediate General Chapter 1974, Dublin, n. 81).
15. In his address to the members of the Ordinary General Chapter of 1971, just a few short years after the re-writing of the Order's Constitutions at the Special General Chapter of 1968, Pope Paul VI drew attention to the universal dimension of our charism of unity when he said, “In fact, for you the common life is not one of many aids for conventual life, but like the goal towards which you must daily strive … Therefore, in the beginning of your Rule it is only right that one finds these words: 'In the first place, live together in harmony and be of one mind and heart intent upon God'. This refers not just to one house, but to the entire structure of the Order. Consequently, each brother, the communities and the Provinces must have the conviction that your Institute will not make progress by separating, but by uniting its forces” (Rome, September 20, 1971).
16. Once again, however, we see that this focus, which for us Augustinians is a characteristic feature, finds resonance also in the wider Church, which has reclaimed for itself in this regard an important aspect of Augustinian ecclesiology.
17. "The desire for unity and for sharing that we experience in the world is, nevertheless, one of the calls of the Spirit that reaches us from the very heart of life itself. This new sensitivity is reflected in the Church. The Second Vatican Council rediscovered an ecclesiology of communion: the image of the Body of Christ, the People of God, the Whole Christ. This is an ecclesiology that bears the indelible mark of St. Augustine. For us Augustinians, living this theology means taking on a twofold challenge of unity and legitimate pluralism. To speak of communion or body or people is to assert both unity and diversity and, at the same time, to acknowledge the place of participation, co-responsibility, dialogue, decentralization, and subsidiarity." (Augustinians in the Church for the Word of Today, IGC 1998, Villanova, II, 28).
III. THE CALL TO BE A PROPHETIC SIGN
"That the world may believe" Jn. 17, 21
18. The Church not only calls upon Religious Orders and Congregations to be faithful to their unique identity and to share their particular charisms for the building up of the whole Body of Christ, but calls them to appreciate, as well, their specific vocation as signs and messengers, promoters and builders of that communion of life which is to be a mark of the entire Church, taking their signal from the will of Jesus himself: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (Jn. 17:20-21).
19. If we should ever believe that our choice of religious life is simply a personal option to find a suitable setting that meets our human needs, or a convenient context from which to minister, the Gospel imperative, as well as the long tradition of the Church, to say nothing of our own Augustinian legacy, will quickly dispel us of such a notion.
"Religious community, in its structure, motivations, and distinguishing values, makes publicly visible and continually perceptible the gift of fraternity given by Christ to the whole Church. For this very reason, it has as its commitment and mission, which cannot be renounced, both to be and to be seen as a living organism of intense fraternal communion, a sign and a stimulus for all the baptized... Fraternal life in common, as an expression of the union effected by God's love, in addition to being an essential witness for evangelization, has great significance for apostolic activity and for its ultimate purpose. It is from this that the fraternal communion of religious community derives its vigor as sign and instrument. In fact, fraternal communion is at both the beginning and the end of apostolate" (Fraternal Life in Communion, 1994, Intro 2b, 2d).
20. This is the invitation, indeed the mandate, which the Church places squarely before religious, and does so not as something supplementary, but rather as proper and necessary to the very nature of the religious vocation. So forcefully does the Church insist upon this prophetic dimension of religious life that it bears citing once again the thinking expressed in the above document of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life,
"...in the various forms it takes, fraternal life in common has always appeared as a radical expression of the common fraternal spirit which unites all Christians. Religious community is a visible manifestation of the communion which is the foundation of the Church and, at the same time, a prophecy of that unity towards which she tends as her final goal... Above all, by profession of the evangelical counsels, which frees one from what might be an obstacle to the fervor of charity, religious are communally a prophetic sign of intimate union with God, who is loved above all things. Furthermore, through the daily experience of communion of life, prayer and apostolate -- the essential and distinctive elements of their form of consecrated life -- they are a sign of fraternal fellowship. In fact, in a world frequently very deeply divided and before their brethren in the faith, they give witness to the possibility of a community of goods, of fraternal love, of a program of life and activity which is theirs because they have accepted the call to follow more closely and more freely Christ the Lord who was sent by the Father so that, firstborn among many brothers and sisters, he might establish a new fraternal fellowship in the gift of his Spirit" (Fraternal Life in Communion, 1, 10).
21. Pope John Paul II echoed this theme of prophetic witness explicitly in his Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata in 1996. "In our world, where it often seems that the signs of God's presence have been lost from sight, a convincing prophetic witness on the part of consecrated persons is increasingly necessary... The fraternal life is itself prophetic in a society which, sometimes without realizing it, has a profound yearning for a brotherhood which knows no borders" (Vita Consecrata, 85).
IV. COLLABORATION IN THE ORDER
"All who believed were together and had all things in common" Acts 2, 44
22. As already noted above, the topics of unity, communion, and collaboration are by no means new to us. All of these have existed from the first days of our history and are deeply rooted in our spirituality and expressed in the Order's fundamental documents. From them we have come to re-examine many of our basic values, such as the meaning of evangelical poverty and the sharing of goods, the quality of community life, and the size and structures of local communities and circumscriptions. Increasingly, over recent years, we have witnessed an increased appreciation and lived expression of these values, as well as a more urgent need and desire for their still greater practical application. In his inaugural address to the members of the 1992 Intermediate General Chapter in Brazil, the Prior General drew attention both to achievements and needs in this regard,
"Collaboration was another of the driving ideas of the last General Chapter (1989). We can congratulate ourselves on the growing spirit of collaboration which exists among us. The Order understands that to undertake some initiatives and to cover the basic needs of small groups, inter-Province and international collaboration is indispensable, and that supposes a better administration of our human and even economic resources. Also, inter-Province and international relationships form a constitutive part of the reality of the Order, even from its historic origins, even though it has not always been put into practice ...The Order needs better inter-relationships and a greater level of collaboration, both with the General Council and with Provinces among themselves. The isolation of our respective circumscriptions is one of the principal causes of our weakness." (Inaugural address of the Prior General, Intermediate General Chapter 1992).
23. The Chapter members themselves affirmed this position and expressed it in their communication to the entire Order with the following statement,
There is a need to increase our SENSE OF BELONGING (emphasis original) to the Order as a whole and our pride in being Augustinians, so that we can transcend any existing provincialism or nationalism and give new life to the Order (II, 2).
24. The question we must continually ask ourselves on an individual, local, and circumscriptional level in response to these statements, was articulated very well nearly twenty years earlier in the Dublin Document,
"Each Province and local community should constantly examine itself on how in practice it is endeavoring to fulfill its international character in its life and apostolate. By our life, lived in accordance with the message of the Gospel and the vision and spirit of Augustine, we should be in a position to give clear and convincing witness to the possibility of achieving true international brotherhood among all... (III, 82).
25. The signs of mutual cooperation already achieved, which flow both from our 'Order-consciousness' as well as from the demands of our work, are many and significant. We need only list some of the associations which have come into being in various parts of the Augustinian world over past decades to remind ourselves of positive choices we have made:
A.F.A. - The Augustinian Federation of Africa, comprised of circumscriptions of the Augustinian Family.
A.P.A.C. - The Augustinian Pacific and Asian Conference, comprised of Augustinian men and women in Asia and the area of the Pacific Ocean.
F.A.BRA - The Federation of Augustinians of Brazil, which gathers various Congregations that follow the Rule of Saint Augustine.
F.A.E. - The Federation of Augustinians of Spain, consisting of both male and female Augustinians.
O.A.L.A. - The Organization of Augustinians of Latin America, which includes all the circumscriptions of friars in Latin America.
OSA.A.P. - Union of the Order of St. Augustine in Asia and the Pacific, of friars only.
OAE - Organization of Augustinians of Europe, made up of the various circumscriptions of friars in Europe.
NACAP - The North American Conference of Augustinian Provinces.
26. In addition, we can cite the example of three circumscriptions of Brazil which have recently formed a juridical Federation, uniting the efforts of various circumscriptions working in that country and leading to the possible establishment of the Augustinian Province of Brazil; as well as the four provinces of North America which are presently taking steps along a process that may also lead to formal Federation. The most recent Ordinary General Chapter (2007) approved no less than four measures encouraging and inviting specific circumscriptions to examine or continue steps toward unification or major collaboration (cf. P-21, P-22, P-23, P-25).
27. But these are not, of course, the only examples or forms of cooperation and communion which exist in the Order. There are also the Secretariat for Justice and Peace and the various International Commissions of the Order which bring friars together from various circumscriptions, regions and cultures to discuss, plan, advise and carry out programs and activities for the good of the entire Order; there are the various Order-wide economic funds, operated under the direction of the General Council, by which financial assistance is more easily offered to circumscriptions in need; there are, and have long been, initiatives especially in mission territories that are the collaborative work of two or several circumscriptions; there is the sharing of personnel among circumscriptions and the contribution of friars from a number of circumscriptions for initiatives that come directly under the General Council.
V. NEW CHALLENGES FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW
"I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy" Acts 2, 18
28. The Constitutions of the Order speak clearly and directly of the central place that unity and communion have in our spirituality. We read, for example:
"Community is the axis around which Augustinian religious life turns: a community of brothers who live harmoniously in their house, united by a single soul and a single heart, seeking God together and open to the service of the Church. (n. 26) ... Community for an Augustinian is not limited to the house in which he lives, nor to the circumscription to which he belongs, because our family is the Order; as such the community and the friars will be at the service of the Universal Church. (8) ... The Augustinian community is called to be a prophetic sign in the world to the extent that fraternal life becomes a source of sharing and a cause of hope. (n. 33) ... Sincere communication is an essential human factor that can strengthen fraternal life in community. Relationships within circumscriptions and on the level of the entire Order should be promoted together with those within a local community. Regular meetings and suggestions, newsletters and periodicals, letters and visits not only help to create closer relationships, they also nourish our family spirit, making us share in the concerns of the Order." (110) (emphases added).
29. The points accentuated here in these four citations from the Constitutions of the Order might be read as a concrete proposal for us friars in both our life and our ministry, as well as an examination of conscience stirring us to ever greater growth. It is of great importance to remember that statements such as these concerning the need for greater unity and collaboration are not isolated nor infrequent expressions of concern or hope, but have been spoken of repeatedly by the highest authority of governance in the Order, namely our General Chapters (Const. 10), as real opportunities and challenges confronting the Order today, and upon which our very survival into the future in some places may depend. For example, we read in the three most recent Ordinary General Chapters:
1. "Some important circumscriptions and mission fields need personnel. In accordance with the spirit of the Rule we profess, this should be a concern shared by all, to help in accordance with their possibilities. Those who have more formators and fewer people in formation should go to the help of those who, by the grace of God, have been blessed with more vocations... (OGC, 1995 III, 22). See also OGC, 1995, 27 and 50 and Program #13.
2. "Superiors of the Circumscriptions ought to foster the creation and functioning of Augustinian Federations, Unions and Conferences, as they already exist in some places, for the spreading of our spirituality and the promotion of common pastoral and cultural initiatives..." (OGC 2001, C-10). See also OGC, 2001, C-9a and C-8.
3. "Some important steps for this renewal in mission are: ... c) To reconsider our structures of governance and organization in the Order (emphasis original), in order to ensure that they respond to actual needs and that they help to overcome the tendencies to 'provincialism' so that we look beyond the borders of our own circumscription. This implies the promotion of inter-circumscriptional houses of formation, animating processes of unification of circumscriptions based on the principle of the common good, and the possibility of interchange of personnel between circumscriptions as a witness to the universality and unity of the Order. 'Let us move toward the overcoming of geographic barriers, and let us not remain anchored to the schemes of the past' (OGC 1995, 27)" (OGC 2007, 3.4c 9).
30. Direct, clear, and bold were the words of John Paul II addressed to the members of the General Chapter of 1995, indicating, as noted immediately above, one of the obstacles that may sometimes stand in the way of greater collaboration and more fruitful initiatives.
"A problem you share with other Orders with centuries of history is internal cooperation between the various parts of the Institute. Ancient and venerable juridical structures are not always adaptable to the mobility and other characteristics required in newer times. This can sometimes mean negative consequences for apostolic efficiency and even for vitality of religious commitment. I am certain that the good of the Church and the Order will always be your principle criterion of discernment. This may mean a sacrifice or even renunciation of some acquired right in order to sharpen the edge of an apostolate or to adopt structures or activities up to now unknown" (John Paul II, September 23, 1995, n. 4).
31. Happily, the 1995 Chapter itself was not silent on the question exposed by the Holy Father, as illustrated in the first of the citations indicated above. The issue of juridical structures had to wait until the Chapter of 2007, however, to be addressed more directly.
32. The Ordinary General Chapter of 2007, in fact, has given particular attention to the questions of unity and increased greater collaboration among the circumscriptions and with the General Curia, as noted in some passages already cited above, as also in the following,
"We need to read together the 'signs of the times' that offer on one hand, opportunities, and, on the other hand, challenges for the mission of the Church. Signs of life and light are those that promote greater communion and participation between individuals and peoples. Signs of darkness and death are those that divide and create fragmentation and violence in society..." OGC 2007, 1.3.
"Internal divisions: We see at times these profound divisions which are due to diverse motives: structures that separate and confront circumscriptions, including within the same country; cultural influences, such as tribalism and nationalisms, that become stronger than the ideal of personal openness and communal fraternity which should in reality characterize us, and which block human relationships, the functioning of the local chapter and mutual collaboration." OGC 2007, 2.1.3.
Frequently the challenge of developing suitable programs and finding the resources and needed structures to make them a reality goes far beyond the concrete abilities of a single circumscription. The minimum we can demand of ourselves is to think about common formation programs, inter-circumscriptional as well as international houses (which already have provided positive experiences within the Order). OGC 2007 2.2.1.
33. To deal effectively with these and many other challenges that confront us in our efforts at greater collaboration, this Intermediate General Chapter of 2010 wishes to emphasize the ever present need for sincerity, mutual trust and openness among the various circumscriptions, and particularly among those entrusted with the direct responsibility for formulating and carrying out common initiatives and programs.
VI.OUR PROGRAM FOR THE FUTURE
"What are we to do, my brothers?" Acts 2, 37
34. We can look back upon much of what has been cited here as offering us in the present moment a new incentive and a new starting point to take some courageous and necessary steps in concrete and specific ways, to meet the challenges confronting the Order in a spirit of unity and increased collaboration. We propose to do so for the greater good of the Order, for the benefit of circumscriptions in need, and for the sake of new and creative initiatives to further the mission of the Church.
35. It is the desire of this Intermediate Chapter to facilitate the participation of all the friars of the Order in the discussion of this topic which we ourselves have treated during these days in the Philippines. We major superiors now ask you, our brothers, to give serious and personal consideration to this topic of unity, to share your thoughts and reflections in groups that will be established in all circumscriptions for this purpose, and to forward your responses, suggestions and questions that will have arisen, to your respective major superior according to the schedule that he will provide. This input will then be forwarded to the General Council of the Order and will serve as the basis for a concluding document.
36. In order to facilitate, but by no means to limit or direct these conversations, we offer the following questions and invite suggestions and recommendations for the final document.
1. In the midst of a world that knows much fragmentation and division, religious life testifies to the possibility of bringing people together. Augustinian common life can be a sign of such a possibility as it was for the apostolic community of Jerusalem, and as it was for Saint Augustine. How can we be this sign for our world today – in our local situation, in this particular culture?
2. Some view collaboration as a sign of weakness, necessitated by the reality of diminishing numbers of religious in many places. But even in areas where there are many vocations, collaboration is also a value and is bearing fruit. To what extent are we conditioned, and even impeded, by a sentiment of weakness in our efforts toward greater unity?
3. What greater means of collaboration are able to be achieved in your community, in your local region and circumscription? What will be necessary to achieve deeper levels of communication and collaboration? With other circumscriptions? With the Order world-wide? With the laity and religious, particularly of the Augustinian Family?
4. Some of the Order's documents cited in the text show that we have been speaking of collaboration for many years, and indeed have accomplished various things in this regard. At the same time, there are indications that we often have difficulty moving from theory to practice. Why is this so, and what can we do to remedy the situation?
5. The point has been raised in the document that sometimes our structures as an Order impede the work of greater collaboration and deeper unity. Can you think of structures that are obstacles to closer collaboration among us, and can you suggest ones better suited to our day?
6. One of the features of Orders such as ours is our international character. In what ways do you understand this dimension as an enrichment of our lives and ministry? How can we promote this characteristic to a greater degree?