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Participation with the laity has been an integral dimension of our Congregation's journey ever since its beginning. The history of our Society shows that our Founder, St. Arnold Janssen, had the vision to promote the worldwide mission, and for this he involved the laity. Since then, the laity has always been present in our life and mission service in various capacities.

As someone once said, “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Being rooted is indeed one of our basic needs. Only when we are rooted, we can grow. And when we are rooted in Christ, we can live forever.

In the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we read, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream. It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit."(Jer 17:7-8)

When we grow deep in Christ, we can live tall. God wants to enable our fruitfulness, and he knows it only happens when we are deeply rooted in Christ. Only trees that have strong roots can live largely. The theme of our 18th General Chapter "The love of Christ impels us (2 Cor 5: 14): Rooted in the Word, Commitment to His Mission" is all about our Mission of the proclamation of the Word by being rooted in Christ.

Our Founder, St. Arnold Janssen was indeed a visionary. Reading the signs of his times, he realized that we would be able to bear fruits in our mission only if we are rooted in Christ. This theme for me is also an invitation to engage our reflections more profoundly on how to understand the proclamation of the Good News in the frame of the spiritual heritage that was left to us by our Founder and Founding Generation. According to the circular of Fr. General dated 26 January 2016, "The objective of 18th General Chapter is to foster a process of a spiritual re-kindling, bringing us back to the Word of God as the source of our life, vocation and mission and our religious commitment."

So the following Chapter will be an occasion to make an honest introspection concerning our missionary commitment based on the charism of our Society. As Divine Word Missionaries we know that our mission is to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. We are aware that we are not alone in this mission. The mission belongs to the mission of the Church whose mission, in turn, is the mission of Jesus Christ who was himself sent to proclaim the good news by the Father. We seek to involve others in our apostolic activities.

It continues to be a privilege for us, Divine Word Missionaries, to walk hand in hand with the dedicated laity who inspire and encourage us at a profound level of our missionary dedication. Among the lay people, our partners in ministry, there is a rich variety of lay women and men called to holiness precisely as lay people. They are working in parishes, institutions and involved in missionary animation, praying with us and also helping us in various other ways.

General Chapters on Lay Participation

The 16th General Chapter of 2006 passed two recommendations regarding Lay Participation and Collaboration. The17th General Chapter of the Society in 2012 made concrete recommendations. The Provinces, Regions, and Missions are permitted to give official recognition to lay associate groups. These recognized groups will become part of the Arnoldus Family in the broader sense.

A lot of initiatives have been taken by PRMs in the AFRAM Zone since the 17th General Chapter about the formation of the SVD Lay Partners. Until 2012 only a few PRMs in the AFRAM Zone had SVD Lay Partners in our parishes, but within the last six years, many of our PRMs in AFRAM have one or more active SVD Lay Groups in various parishes.  We are indeed fostering cooperation with the laity in our apostolic works. We see now the growing cooperation with the laity has expanded our mission and transformed how we carry it out in partnership with others.  It has enriched both laity and us. We need to admit here that full assimilation of the true spirit of mutually respectful collaboration is yet to be realized. To grow in cooperation in mission together will require formation for both laypersons and the confreres.

Deeper spiritual life

The level of participation of associates, or Friends of SVDs as they are known in some provinces, varies widely. The members are from various walks of life, and they wish to share in the mission and charism of our Congregation, sharing about spiritual matters in general and growing in the building of community.  Every associate has been drawn to support the life and mission of the Divine Word Missionaries especially through their life of prayer, spiritual growth, and voluntary activities.

From my experiences of accompanying the SVD lay groups in my province for the last few years, I can say that the most significant attraction identified by lay associates is a desire for deeper spiritual life and the sense of community. Laymen and laywomen become associates to develop a deeper spirituality, belong to a religious community, and to share in their charism—the specific gifts and mission given by God. It is an opportunity to grow deeper in faith, in relationships, in trust of God, in recognizing the goodness of all creation and in serving all of God’s creation. They are in fact an extension of our community and ministry. They live out the charism every day, in every moment. It's a way of life for them.

In the context of Africa, it is good to mention here that some of the lay partners in our missions are serving local churches as catechists or lay ministers, and yet others serve as leaders both in the local churches and also at the diocesan level. They do share in the various Characteristic Dimensions of our society, especially in the areas of Mission Animation, Bible, and Justice and Peace.

Family

The lay partners live the charism of our Society starting in their own families. This is where the first vocation lies. It is within the family unit that the first seeds of Christianity are sown. It is here that they learn to love and care for their families and those around them and is from this rich soil that the charism will take root and grow and spread.

Parish

One of the visible things that we see in all the lay partners in our missions is that all of them are deeply involved in their particular parishes: They are Readers and Ministers of the Eucharist. Some of them serve as Pastoral Council members; others are involved with the Liturgy Groups and Prayer Groups.

Work with Youth

Youth is one of the most difficult stages of life, and it is becoming even more so nowadays. Youth are looking to the future; they are deciding what they would like to make of themselves as adults and which roads to take. There is a lot of work to be done in this area of youth ministry, that is why most of the PRMs in AFRAM have taken Family and Youth as two of their ad extra CD priorities in the Society. We need lay collaborators in this ministry. We have a few of our members involved with the youth in our parishes.

Conclusion

Each year, in the month of October I visit various parishes in our diocese conducting workshops, seminars or talks on missions. Some lay partners also accompany me to share their experiences of how they were inspired by the life and mission spirituality of our Founder and what made them be associated with the SVDs. Their sharing is an inspiration to many people in the parishes.

As Divine Word Missionaries committed to the Word and His Mission, we need to have the attitude and the readiness to cooperate, to listen, and to learn from others. It is in this way that we will share our spiritual and apostolic tradition.

By Father Sunny Vattapparayil, SVD - Botswana Province

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota” – March 2018

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Brother Bernd in Thailand



Thailand is a country with a fascinating Buddhist heritage, one of the favorite attractions for thousands and thousands of tourists every year. But here, they not only find these cultural treasures and these exotic landscapes. Thailand is also a magnet for unbridled sex tourism that spreads diseases like AIDS. Initiatives like this one of Brother Bernd, seek to stop the spread of this disease and generate bonds of love and solidarity.

 

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SVD in Dialogue – Theme of the 18th SVD General Chapter

The Love of Christ urges us!  Rooted in the Word and committed to his Mission. Video for the 18th General Chapter of the Divine Word Missionaries (2018).
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