The 2016 General Chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which concluded on Saturday, July 23, called for “a renewed invigoration of [the Congregation’s] global mission.” While reaffirming the Congregation’s longstanding apostolic priorities of “education in the faith” and a “preferential option for the poor,” the General Chapter set a path toward a “deeper sense of global Holy Cross mission that will help us do God’s work better.”
“The Chapter was forthright in emphasizing the missionary nature of our Congregation,” said Fr. Gaspar Selvaraj, C.S.C., the Chair of the Stewardship Committee. “You would find in all the documents the mission effectiveness of the Congregation taking the upper hand in shaping the legislation that will guide us through the next six years of consecrated men in the missions of the Kingdom.”
This missionary focus is articulated most succinctly in the preamble to the work of the General Chapter’s Mission Committee.
“The preamble looks at the present signs of the times in the Church, the moments of grace we are living in the Pontificate of Pope Francis, and the signs of hope that the Congregation is experiencing,” explained Fr. José Ahumada, C.S.C., Chair of the Mission Committee. “We are in a moment that invites us to a greater simplicity in announcing the Gospel, a time where we experience with greater force the call to justice and to care for the Creation that the Lord has given us, and a time to accompany and welcome families in the education of their children. Evangelii gaudium, Laudato sí, Amoris laetitia, the Year of Consecrated Life, and this Year of Mercy are milestones that invite us to look with hope to the mission of Holy Cross.”
A central recommendation of the legislation on Mission calls on the General Administration to work with the Council of the Congregation to discern formally expanding the mission of the Congregation into a new country within the next six years.
The General Chapter also passed a series of recommendations and decrees designed to enhance the Congregation’s missionary focus, including coordinating international collaboration between various apostolates and jurisdictions, outlining periodic evaluations of apostolic ministries, and commissioning new materials on the Holy Cross charism for apostolates. In addition, the Chapter affirmed the Congregation’s particular commitment to the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and the International Shrine of Blessed Basile Moreau in Le Mans, France.
To empower the Congregation to be more nimble and capable of fulfilling this missionary course, the General Chapter decreed a simplified congregational governance plan. This plan will be designed and overseen by the General Administration, led by the newly elected Superior General, Fr. Robert L. Epping, C.S.C. It will then stand for approval by an extraordinary General Chapter in 2019.
In fixing this path of restructuring, the 2016 General Chapter seized upon the work of the two planning Tasks Forces that were mandated by the 2010 General Chapter and executed under the previous General Administration, led by the previous Superior General, Fr. Richard V. Warner, C.S.C.
“As a Congregation, we have been pondering structural change for many years," said Br. John Paige, C.S.C., Chair of the Authority and Responsibility Committee. “This General Chapter established a process with timelines to move boldly on accomplishing such radical change. By restructuring for future mission and ministry, the Congregation embarks on a plan to align our personnel and financial resources to meet the need of the Church of the future. This is essential to our missionary spirit and our service to the People of God. As some Chapter delegates expressed: ‘in some ways these proposed changes are a risky move; but it is more frightening to do nothing!’”
In another key piece of legislation in the area of Authority and Responsibility, the General Chapter decreed that the Superior General petition the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life that any religious in Holy Cross in perpetual vows ten years or more be eligible for the office of Superior General. This has been a longstanding hope of the Congregation and relates to Moreau’s founding vision of the equality of brothers and priests within Holy Cross.
Going hand in hand with the proposed changes in the governance structures of the Congregation, the 2016 General Chapter also passed critical legislation, drafted through the work of the Stewardship Committee, addressing the Congregation’s financial management and structures. The aim of these recommendations and decrees is to facilitate greater collaboration and interdependence among the Congregation’s various jurisdictions in stewarding the Congregation’s financial resources for the sake of the mission, both locally and internationally.
As critical as these structural changes and initiatives are in terms of facilitating the Congregation’s mission effectiveness in the future, the General Chapter also dedicated a great deal of its deliberations, as well as its final documents, to the ongoing renewal of the Congregation’s Charism and Religious Life.
“No restructuring will be effective, if we put new wine into old skins—that is, if it is not accompanied by an in-depth renewal, a tenderness of heart for the zeal that inspired us to accept the call originally,” said Fr. Epping in his homily to close the 2016 General Chapter. “Time has an uncanny way of making us comfortable to accommodation to the world rather than to the Gospel. The same Spirit will help us on this course as well. Our young religious, with their innocence and enthusiasm for the Gospel values, can be the inspiration to all of us to achieve a pristine and refreshing thorough-going religious renewal.”
Fr. Robert Dowd, C.S.C., the Chair of the Religious Life, Spirituality, and Charism Committee, echoed the reflections of the new Superior General: “I think there was a deep desire, particularly among younger delegates to the Chapter, for a more radical and prophetic living of our vows; particularly but not only with respect to the vow of poverty. Pope Francis has inspired many of us through his own example and writings to rededicate ourselves to living our vowed lives more freely and generously; both as individuals and as a Congregation.”
In speaking about the work of his committee, Fr. Dowd, said, “We explored how we may, as individuals and as a Congregation, live out our vows in ways that are more radical and prophetic; how we might grow in an inner sense of freedom that would allow us to serve others more generously, particularly the poor and marginalized. In short, our Committee reflected on how we might be the sign of hope, of God's love, that Blessed Basile Moreau and our Constitutions call us to be. We stressed the importance of personal and communal prayer and devotion to Blessed Moreau.”
Among the Committee’s legislation passed by the General Chapter are recommendations that call for a “Year of the Cross, Ave Cruz, Spes Unica” to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Beatification of Father Basile Moreau, that direct jurisdictions to seek greater solidarity with the poor and greater fidelity to the vow of poverty, and that encourage monthly days of recollection and weekly Holy Hours in each local community.
The Committee’s decrees and recommendations also address other critical topics, including promoting effective communication and internationality, caring for one another in times of illness and infirmity, and supporting local superiors and directors. In all of these initiatives, the focus is on a more fruitful living of the religious vows and the Congregation’s charism for the sake of the mission.
Recognizing vocations ministry and initial formation as the Congregation's lifeblood and source of continual renewal, the 2016 General Chapter also spent considerable time addressing these areas.
“The major work of the Vocations and Formation Committee focused on the need to continue to ensure high quality formation is being done across the Congregation, our internationality as a Congregation and what that means for formation, the role of the Superior General in appointing formation personnel, and the vocation of the brother,” said Fr. Peter Jarret, C.S.C., the Chair of the Vocations and Formation Committee.
To these ends, the General Chapter decreed that one of the members of the General Council be named Congregational Director of Formation and be given the portfolio of vocation promotion and initial formation. Supported by a committee to advise him, he will be responsiblity for ensuring the quality of the Congregation's formation programs in preparing the seminarians and brothers for service in the mission.
The General Chapter recommended that all men in post-Novitiate formation in the Congregation have an experience of life and ministry outside of their country of origin before Final Vows. It also called for the establishment of a committee to explore the possibility of an international house of formation, preferably in Rome, Italy.
Specifically addressing the vocation of religious brothers in Holy Cross, the General Chapter decreed the observation in 2020 of the 200th Anniversary of the Brothers of St. Joseph (who joined with Blessed Moreau’s Auxiliary Priests to become the Congregation of Holy Cross). It also called for collaboration in a plan to promote the brothers' vocation.
Beyond the General Chapter’s legislation itself, however, is the Spirit that guided it. Throughout the Chapter, the delegates remarked about the deep, collaborative spirit that characterized the conversations and deliberations, even on the more difficult issues.
“The exciting part of this Chapter for me was that half of the participants were new or first-time members,” said Br. Paige, who was participating in his fifth regular General Chapter. “This demographic contributed to a more diverse international, cultural, and religious experience for all of us. The discussions, conversations and interactions were enriched and enlivened by our diversity.
“As a life-long teacher, and in particular as a past member of the General Administration (2004-2010), it was wonderful for me to be a peer with many delegates whom I first knew as former students or whom I first met during their formation or first ministry assignments in Asia, Africa, or the Americas/Europe,” Br. Paige continued. “‘Young Holy Cross’ is ready to move forward with a missionary spirit that I believe delights the hearts of our Blessed founders, Moreau and Dujarie.”
While the 2016 General Chapter has concluded, its work is just beginning, not only for Fr. Epping and the new General Administration, but also for all the members of the Congregation. There is much to be done, but just as the Congregation’s founder, Blessed Moreau, took solace in the conviction that Holy Cross was “God’s work,” Fr. Epping continues to trust in the work of Divine Providence.
“As we look to the future we have to be friends who plead to God for mercy on our Congregation as Abraham made his plea, relentless and persistent, in begging mercy. Our experience tells us God is generous and leads us when we yield to his generous help. For we believe he will give our Congregation, Moreau’s sons, only good gifts and in particular, his Holy Spirit, simply because we ask sincerely and with trust,” said Fr. Epping.