PARAPPULLY Jose, New Delhi says, THE TIMES, THEY ARE`A CHANGING! BUT VERY .... SLOW........................LY!! Holding Up to the Light 21 By Jose Parappully
360° VIEW New Delhi, Apr. 13. The election of Angel Artime Fernandes as Rector Major, I believe, is ushering in a refreshing and hopeful new era in the history of the Salesian Congregation. Fr. Angel is the first Spaniard elected to this high office.
Even though in his first words addressed to the General Chapter members after election as Rector Major, Fr Angel said he has not had time to reflect and present a programme for action, the things he said had pointers as to the direction things might move, as to where his heart lies.
The kind of person he is and his style of relating and functioning (as I and others have observed) are also giving some indications that change is coming.
The Person and His Style
Angel Artime is very warm and sociable. He pays attention to people and takes every opportunity to be with the Chapter members and says a nice word.
I have personally experienced how warm his embrace is. I have also experienced how he is attentive to my presence and chooses to interact with me even in circumstances I did not expect. Example:
A religious sister was visiting him, and he was in conversation with her. When he saw me passing by, he moved away from her and came to me, greeted me with warmth and inquired how I was. There was absolutely no need for it, and I was not expecting him to do that. I would not.
During the time the Chapter Members spent in St. Peter`s Basilica (praying, taking photographs, posing with the Rector Major) before the private audience with the Pope, Fr. Angel saw me going about doing my own thing. He called to me and invited me to pose with him (to the surprise of several who were around).
Again there was no need for him to do that; neither was I expecting such a thing.
Fr Angel is with the members of the Chapter for all the meals. He mingles freely with them whenever an opportunity presents itself and he has something niece to say to every one. ``Carisissimi`` is his frequent word that begins any conversation.
And he is dressed casually most of the time, with collar open.
During the meeting with the South Asian Delegation, in response to a question he said he comes from very humble background. His family was fisher folk.
He also described himself as a man ``with a heart.`` We have all evidenced that.
During the felicitation on the evening of the election, he jumped up on to the stage; he did not use the steps and walk with any decorum. And he sang and played the guitar with gusto. That was a revelation of the kind of person he is going to be as Rector Major.
During the Mass the day after he was elected, a Mass at which he presided, there was an offertory procession. There was never one before. And what struck me: the offerings were brought to the altar from the back of the chapel by three Salesian brothers. That said something!
These gestures were saying something about the man he is and how that is going to affect his style of leadership.
The Message (Gleaned from the ideas he has been sharing:
In the Good Night talk the day he was elected, he said that what he is saying is coming straight from his heart, not something that he has carefully reflected on. However, what he said from the heart pointed to what his priorities could be.
What his predecessor Chavez had said, ``What is more precious in the Congregation are the Salesians`` had touched his heart deeply, he said. ``I firmly believe this. I shall never forget this`` he promised. He will try to be a ``father, brother, friend, servant``
Today more than ever before, he said, he was hearing the call to be more courageous in living the charism of Don Bosco.
The newly elected Rector Major said that he was feeling well -no fear. More than ever before he understood the Bible text ``My grace is sufficient for you.``
Later in the day, in his brief talk after the felicitations, he conveyed a sense of hope and optimism. ``There is no need to fear. God is with us. Mary Help of Christians is with us. Don Bosco is with us, guiding us. There is no need for fear.``
This is a theme he repeated few days later during his brief encounter with the Salesians from South Asia. He said he was feeling happy to be the Rector Major. He felt confident he can tackle the challenges that the office brings.
His very first formal video message was addressed to the Salesian Family, which he described as a beautiful tree in the Church with many branches.
Each of these branches has to have its own identity, while collaborating together to inculturate Don Bosco`s charism. We all need to go the periphery where others cannot reach. We must discuss together how we must do this, he said.
What he emphasized in his homily in the Mass following his election was this: he is called by God to listen. And that is what he is going to do: to listen attentively to the entire Salesian Family, and the the cry of the young. And God is calling me to listen not alone but together with you all, he told the Chapter members.
After listening, we need to make significant and relevant response to the needs of the young, especially those who are loneliest, the most disadvantaged, the most at risk because no one cares about them.
The life of the young is really ``the burning bush`` from which the Lord speaks to us in our hearts and awaits us to encounter Him. That is how we sanctify ourselves, Angel remarked.
In his homily at the GC27 conclusion Mass he said: ``Ours is the precious task ... of making our local and provincial communities real `sanctuaries` filled with God`s presence: the life of holiness shared with the educative pastoral community...``
So, here are some trends/priorities emerging:
• An informal style that brings the Rector Major close to the Salesians.
• A man who responds more from the heart than from the head.
• An eagerness to listen to what others have to say and respond.
• The Salesian Brothers and the Salesian Family will get much attention from him.
• Work on the peripheries, for the marginalised and vulnerable will receive greater impetus.
Reading all that I have written so far might give the impression that my admiration for the new Rector Major is unbridled and my enthusiasm undiluted.
However, some of Angel`s later interventions in the Chapter tell me that he is already being affected by the culture of the Congregation. And not very positively.
It is quite possible that the culture might change the man more than the man changing the culture.
Hopes can be betrayed. Impressions may turn out to be illusions!
I hope and pray that my fears will be proved wrong and that the next six years will be a new springtime in the Congregation led by Angel Artime Fernandez who received an overwhelming mandate from GC 27.