Brother Charles De Foucauld

North American Jesus Caritas Communities
October 9th, 2012

International Assembly

Fraternity life in Canada: The case for Quebec

Designated delegate: Ciro Piccirillo

1. National report

1.1 The situation in Canada

 

            Canada is a bilingual (English/French), federal state governed by a parliamentary democracy. As of 2011, it has a population of approximately 35 million. Canada’s economy is one of the world’s largest and is dependent upon its natural resources (fishing, lumber, mining), technology and trade, particularly with the United States. Per capita income is the world’s 9th highest, however the cleavage between rich and poor is accentuating. Historically, Canada has been considered as a nation fostering fundamental, socio-democratic values: peace, egalitarianism, social justice and welfare, environmental protection/conservation and universal healthcare. However, in recent years, Canada, as is the case in Quebec, is undergoing a great social transformation as the current Conservative (right of center), majority government is promoting economic growth and performance at the detriment of pro-environmental, pro-cultural, and pro-social values. Current political positions also do not favor social integration of immigrants, rehabilitation of criminals, research and education. Consequently, Canadian society suffers from a left-right cleavage that frequently separates the rich and poor, the inhabitants and immigrants, the industrialists and the environmentalists, and the pro-wealth and pro-social justice supporters.

 

1.2 Current status of our Fraternity life in Quebec

 

            To our knowledge, all Fraternities are currently in the province of Quebec, namely in the cities of Montreal, Longueuil and Sherbrooke. There are no visible traces of Fraternity life in other communities in the rest of Canada, although these may be living the hidden life in the literal sense.

            Montreal was the entry-point of the first Charles de Foucauld Fraternities (lay and priest) in North America in the 1950’s through the work of Father Jacques Leclerc. The lay Fraternities experienced a great excitement in the 1950-60’s before undergoing a significant reduction of its activities around the time of Vatican II. The lay Fraternity underwent a revival in the early 1990’s with a Fraternity in Montreal for young adults and subsequent Fraternities being established in 2003-2012.

            The Fraternities in Montreal (1 Frat of 8), Longueuil (1 Frat of 3) and Sherbrooke (1 Frat of 8) generally meet on a bi-monthly/monthly basis and have revision of life and prayer (Gospel sharing) as the essential cornerstones of their activities. Meal sharing and fraternal encounters within and beyond regular Fraternity meetings are quite frequent.

            In 2003, a Quebec-based association of Friends of Brother Charles (l’Association des Amis de Charles de Foucauld) was established with the goal of reuniting and fostering activities for all individuals who are compelled by the life and message of Brother Charles (lay members, Frat members, priests, Little Sisters, representative from the Muslim communities and “occasional visitors” from Quebec and beyond). The association is led by an elected, coordinating team of 4 who meet regularly to share on the experience of Nazareth and plan regular activities for the year: 1) annual retreat, 2) commemoration of Brother Charles [December 1st], 3) trekking activities, and 4) the annual general assembly for all “members” during which various aspects of Fraternity life are shared, debated and commonly approved.

            The Quebec Fraternity also publishes the periodical Échanges (3-4 times annually: readership of circa 450) whose mission is to articulate the message of Brother Charles through defined topics emerging from various situations of our society, share witnesses and promote thought and reflection on the spirituality of Nazareth.

 

1.3 Since Arusha (2006) what have we lived? What were our joys, difficulties, and achievements? What are the issues of concern to us?

            Canada did not have representation in Arusha, although it had close ties with the Regional Responsible of the time. Since 2006, our local and national Fraternities have undergone significant growth, albeit not without growing pains. While our Fraternities have increased in numbers and new members have since joined, a number of our elderly members (eg Father Jacques Leclerc) with a lifelong experience of Nazareth have passed away or left our Fraternity, leaving behind their “soul-full” presence and humble invitation to pursue our walk towards Nazareth in a spirit of littleness and service for Him.

            Our primary “achievement” and source of joy is our continued presence to the needy, the ill, the immigrant and the impoverished in the midst of our local communities: schools, day-care, hospitals, or neighborhoods. Another source of joy comes from the renewed commitment individuals make daily to continue pursuing the love of Christ and sharing the experience of Brother Charles despite the numerous incongruities and hardships of their lives. Some additional achievements include, annual retreats and Nazareth desert weekends for the Fraternity, a centralized library of books, periodicals, video and literary resources (>400 French or English items) on Brother Charles, and more recently, the creation of the official website for the Fraternity (www.charlesdefoucauld.ca). Lastly, we are particularly proud of the friendly and loving relationships we have maintained with numerous Fraternities in the United States (Boston, NYC, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cleveland), Europe (eg; France and England) and Africa (eg; Burkina Faso). These relationships have served as a deep source of strength and hope in our inner response to live the hidden life and humbly serve others for Christ.

            Despite the joyful growth of our global Fraternity in Quebec, we are nonetheless facing our share of fragility and littleness, a humble reminder that we are called to seek Christ in the simple encounters of our respective Nazareths. Some of our primary concerns include: 1) How do we foster Fraternity life outside of Quebec (rest of Canada)?; 2) How do we propose Fraternity to the younger generations?; 3) How can we highlight the relevance of the life of Brother Charles to others and propose it as a modern way/guide of life?; 4) How can Fraternity serve or complement the local Church in its ongoing mission of evangelization; and 5) While revision of life is the core of the Fraternity, it remains a delicate and fragile reality. How do we emphasize its importance as the obligatory corridor through which we discern the presence of Christ in the fragile, humble and poor events/encounters of our lives? How do we accentuate the importance of “desert day” in the preparation of a review of life?

 

2. Report on reflections on theme: Daring to meet the other.

 

2.1 What work did you do regarding the topic?

 

            In the past year, we have tried to engage as many individuals as possible in Quebec for their thoughts and personal experiences with the proposed theme of “Daring to meet the other“. Our goal was to generate a certain momentum around the International Assembly, and try to synthesize the collective experience and aspirations in Quebec. To this end, several initiatives were created to foster thought, prayer and sharing on this theme: 1) the association of Friends of Brother Charles (Les Amis de Charles de Foucauld) met for a half-day retreat in October 2011 to reflect and share on this theme as seen through the passage of Zacchaeus and the sycomore tree (Luke 19: 1-10); 2) The theme was also proposed at the annual assembly (April 2012) of the les Amis so that it may reflect and share on the theme in a special way; 3) the Montreal lay Fraternity reflected on this theme during its weekend long retreat (April 2012); and finally, 4) the delegate for Canada personally engaged many individuals who live, or are attracted, by the charism of Brother Charles in unique ways (Montreal, Longueuil, Sherbrooke Fraternities, Little Sisters, Jesus-Caritas priests, friends, etc.) to share with me their personal thoughts on the theme. All contributions (written, verbal or other) from all persons were welcomed regardless of their form.

2.2 Summarize what you discovered about the topic:

 

            In all encounters during our year-long preparation, the delegate for Canada made use of a beautiful poem entitled “Daring to meet the other” from the African continental Fraternity (adapted from le Courier d’Afrique) which served as the cornerstone for the individual reflections and collective sharing. In our view, this simple poem embodies the very essence of the IA theme, and exudes the spirit of Brother Charles in our lives. We felt it necessary to present an adapted form here:

 

“DARING TO MEET THE OTHER

 

When you meet someone, do not begin to draw on them on YOUR side;

first, you must play show openness and adaptability.

You must meet one on their land.

Seek what makes the person live, what they like to talk about,

what are their concerns, hopes and dreams.

Go from this to make contact.

Reciprocity will come after and they will slowly greet you on YOUR side …

When you meet someone, do not stop at first impressions as these are far too often not always our true self.

Someone once said, “Let your first contact with another be a gentle touch on the canvas where you gradually sketch out their portrait. “

We need more than one day to truly know someone.

It is only during the long, common journey that we discover each other in our true light….that we truly learn to embrace each other.

We must humbly remind ourselves that we will never finish to discover the other.

The world today speaks much about sharing.

Have we thought about what this word really means?

You will say: “Sharing means giving.”

This is true: it is to give the best of yourself.

But sharing also means to receive:

Believe that the other has something to bring me.

It’s not necessarily something material but likely something I’m missing: a smile, a lending ear, wonder listening, solidarity, respect for others …”

            This year of preparation for the International Assembly was an incredibly enriching experience for us all. This experience enabled us to meditate much on the traces of Jesus of Nazareth at the heart of our personal journeys. We can only be deeply moved when one witnesses individuals whose lives cry the Gospel, and when the life of Christ nurtures the lives of others. To be present to others…. to be a reflection of God’s love to others…. to take the small road, in a spirit of service, to personally meet Christ in others.

            What does “Daring to meet the other” mean? Where is the risk (ie. dare means to challenge, confront, or defy) in engaging another? Risk is bilateral as both sides must accept to let go of our preconceived image of ourselves and of others…. letting the other see our real side…. accepting not to dominate or triumph over the other…. accepting the fragile hope of something better to come…. accepting that the other has something vital for my growth and personal encounter with Jesus. Indeed, Life emerges in us when we accept to dare an encounter with another. Each time, we take the risk of accepting that the difference, which potentially divides individuals, can serve as a source of common life. The real risk is to believe that this difference, far from being a divisive point, is a necessary transition to the unconditional acceptance of each other for the love of Christ.

            Numerous examples in the Gospel illustrate that the spirit of littleness and poverty is needed to bear witness and meet Christ in others, and to seek Nazareth at the heart of our encounters. This Jesus who met the Samaritan woman, Zaccheus, Levi, Lazarus, the prostitute or the centurion, is the same who greets us through our encounters, with the same look, the same intensity and the same love. By choosing to live by Jesus’ example, through the footsteps of Brother Charles, we reveal a path of renewal in our dialogue with others. Encountering the Other is a key passage towards God and should be considered as a source of growth, without which we could not live. In the name of Jesus, we delve into the heart of our relationships to better experience the universal brotherhood in our hidden lives. In Fraternity, we understand that to follow Jesus and live the Gospel more deeply, we must be in unity with our human experiences and those of others.

2.3 An “acute” problem lived in our social context:

            Since February 2012, Quebec is crossing a period of great social transformation. While some view this period of history as social unrest and turbulence, others view it as a necessary revolution for the common good. How did this begin? Our current government is rather unpopular for several political decisions over the past nine years, but is particularly affected by numerous, serious scandals regarding illegitimate expenditures and mismanagement of public funds. Thus, the people view the Liberal party presently in power as lacking the moral ground to govern.

            What is the “acute” problem in question? Currently, there is a volatile situation in Quebec (Montreal in particular) regarding a government-imposed hike in college and university tuition fees. As much as one third of all students are striking against this tuition fee hike. Those in favor of the tuition fee hike (recognized by their green square cloth piece pinned to their chest) argue that the state cannot sustain its operations without this increased revenue from students who are paying the lowest tuition fees in the country and whose tuition fees have not increased in a period of 15-20 years. Conversely, those opposed to this hike (recognized by their red square cloth piece pinned to their chest) argue that it limits the access of the socially under-privileged to higher education and heightens their debt load. While fees were the trigger of this social unrest more than 20 weeks ago, it has now spread to other government-sponsored policies/programs and social aspects of our society. It is truly creating a division amongst the people and has generated a certain amount of “violence” publicly. On the one hand, some view this violence as a necessary means to justified ends, and any attempt by police to control this violence is viewed as a form of police repression. On the other hand, others view it as an illegal action that must be punished by law. This entire situation has been fueled by the flagrant inability of the government (possibly for short-term political gains) to engage a dialogue with student representatives in order to reach a timely and peaceful resolution. This ongoing divisiveness among the population has been likened to that found 17 years ago during the provincial referendum for sovereignty. While for the past several generations in Quebec, most polarizing issues dealt mainly with the language issue (French vs. English), now it seems the issue has been divided into what is considered Left and Right in economical and social values.

            Where does all this leave us? This situation has led to a Quebec-wide passionate debate in which members of all social classes (including Fraternity members!) fiercely defend their camped positions, often without any attempt at truly understanding opposing views. In the absence of true reciprocity between pro-government and pro-student supporters, true dialogue and resolution are not possible.

            The dominant questions in Fraternity: what meaning comes out of this sterile debate? Can one accept an opposing view without embracing the human experience underlying these views? Is there a cry from God that emanates from this social unrest to which we should be sensitive to? More importantly, how can we re-establish a hopeful dialogue and propose a path of reconciliation?

 

 

The Lay Fraternity in the United States

Stella DeFreitas, Onalis Hernandez:  Designated delegates

Frank O’Sullivan;  Regional responsable

 

1.    The situation in the U.S.  

1.1 Demographics (from Wikipedia):

The United States is a federal constitutional republic consisting of 50 states and a federal district. As of 2012, the United States has a total resident population of 313,912,000, making it the third most populous country in the world.   It is a very urbanized population, with 82% residing in cities and suburbs as of 2008 (the worldwide urban rate is 50.5).    Non-Hispanic whites constitute 63.7% of the United States population.   Currently, population growth is fastest among minorities as a whole, and according to the Census Bureau’s estimation for 2012, 50.4% of American children under the age of 1 belonged to minority groups.   Hispanic and Latino Americans accounted for almost half (1.4 million) of the national population growth of 2.9 million between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006. Immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants are expected to provide most of the U.S. population gains in the decades ahead.

1.2 Political and socio-economic situation

We have basically a 2 party system, although there are several smaller parties, Libertarian, Socialist etc. Traditionally the Democrats have been the party of the workers and city dwellers, the Republicans the party of business and landowners. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 the nation has become entrenched in a War on Terror, which has resulted in expansion of the military and defense budget and for some the impression that making war is the economic engine that drives the country.   The war in Iraq has officially ended but the military presence in Afghanistan continues, unmanned armed drones are aimed at Al Queda targets in Pakistan and the killing of civilians as well as so called terrorists continues without any end in sight.

At home the gap between the very rich and the poor has been wider than at any time since the 1920s. The dream of home ownership and a decent living seems out of the reach of more and more people.  After the collapse of the banks and the financial “meltdown” in 2008, the government bailed out the banks with billions of dollars. Now there is word of further corruption, artificial manipulation of interest rates, and executives who get huge compensation packages when their jobs are eliminated or “downsized”. The Occupy Wall Street movement which sprang up last fall was in part fueled by the frustration experienced by many young people who have taken out loans to finance their university educations only to find there is no work or only low paying jobs available.

The Roman Catholic Church to which approximately 24% of the population belong seems increasingly focused on internal matters:  a sex abuse scandal which was badly mishandled and for which those who are perceived as most responsible, i.e. the bishops and religious superiors, have for the most part gone unpunished. The aspirations of women for a more active life in the church, the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics, and homosexual persons all seem to be marginal to an organization more focused on parish closings, “reconfiguration” and the overworking of an aging and smaller number of priests.   The Leadership Conference for Women Religious (to which most of the active congregations belong) is currently under investigation by the Vatican (Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) for being ultra feminist and not focusing enough of their energies on the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family. The hope and enthusiasm inspired by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and its aftermath, seem replaced by an inward focus on orthodoxy, rigid conformity and an idealized past.

2. Current state of our Lay Fraternities.

Presently in the United States there are approximately 20 fraternities. 13 are located at Transfiguration Parish in Brooklyn NY where Fr Bryan Karvelis brought the ideal of the Fraternity and the spirituality of Brother Charles in the 1950’s and where he spent his entire priestly ministry until his death in 2005. There are fraternities in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Boston, Mt. Vernon. Maurice Held meets with a group in Brooklyn and Gene Zirkel of Long Island, NY and Florida has a fraternity but we have had little contact with them.

3. Since Arusha what has happened?

Older groups (Cleveland, Boston) have undergone a period of strife and diminished numbers, newer groups such as Buffalo and Mt Vernon have provided hope, energy and enthusiasm. The Philadelphia group continues meeting monthly with between 15 and 20 members. Transfiguration in Brooklyn has remained a “big sister” to the region, a resource and place where Fraternity life is actively and joyfully lived and we have found support and encouragement.  Sr. Peggy has reminded us that she is “not getting any younger” and much of the planning for the life of the Fraternities is managed by the members themselves. There are 12 Spanish-speaking fraternities and one English speaking fraternity with over 100 members.  Our newest fraternity is located at Mt Vernon, NY. Founded in 2009 in the parish of Msgr. Howard Caulkins with the help of Fr Sammy Taylor and Fr. Evariste, a native of Burkina Faso.  In the words of Gloria Quinones, the responsibleOur fraternity is diverse in its make-up…. As a spiritual family, we have been a constant presence and source of strength for one another, during times of joy and profound sorrow. Our fraternity currently has six active members and one isolated member.  We meet once a month at Sacred Heart Church and try to have retreats at least twice a year.  The need for more members has been addressed- discussions have been held as to how to invite new members to help build up the Kingdom of God within our parish and wherever else needed.  As a new fraternity, we still have much to learn, and count with the guidance of our extended spiritual family to keep on growing strong and “cry the Gospel with our lives.”  The Buffalo fraternity is described in one of the reflections in the report on the Assembly theme.

A more intentional and active relationship with the Montreal fraternity has enriched the life of the fraternities in the US and allows us the opportunity to call our region “North American” without embarrassment. We have managed to have an annual meeting each year rotating between the different groups. Every other year we meet for a weekend usually at a retreat house, and in the odd years we meet for a day.  In 2009 we met at Brooklyn and in 2011 we met at Mt Vernon both located in the metro New York area.  Both gatherings had a good number of participants (150 and 75, respectively) in Brooklyn we had the joy of hearing and praying with Patricio Rice of Argentina. The weekend gatherings draw smaller numbers in part due to cost and time commitment but they do allow for a more intensive sharing and living together the life of Nazareth.

The Boston fraternity underwent a split in 2007 when the group was struggling to form 2 review of life groups and in the process about half of the community of approximately 15 members left.  About 7 members meet twice a month and we try to have a day of recollection at least once a year. Cleveland has undergone a collapse since 2010 and now only Jim Pelikan and Joe Conrad continue to meet for review of life and scripture share. These are often very painful moments for all involved, and as a regional responsible feels powerless to help or assist although we always remember each fraternity in prayer and remain available for consultation and support.

The issues that concern us are continued growth of the Lay Fraternity in our region.  The need to provide a forum where representatives from each community can come together, to begin to know each other and each other’s fraternities better became apparent in 2009 when the fraternity responsibles met to choose a new regional responsible and no one emerged from the group that proved acceptable.  At the suggestion of Joe Conrad, Ann Rugnetta called a meeting of the community responsibles in the fall at Tabor, Transfigurations’s retreat house in Tarrytown.  We have continued the meetings for the past 3 years and members have gotten to know each other better and encourage each other to take risks in the direction of leadership as service to each other and the Fraternity at large. It is something very small, a couple of loaves and a few fishes.  One could say these meetings have been privileged moments when we have “dared to meet the Other”.