Carmelite General Chapter: Summary of the First Week

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Carmelite General Chapter - an international meeting of friars that takes place every six years - began in Rome on 10th September. Following our report on the first day, we now publish a summary of the first week.


Second Day (Wednesday 11th September)
The second day of the General Chapter was filled with reports from the four General Councillors who advise the Prior General. Each Councillor gave a detailed report on his own geographical area and on his area of particular responsibility.

The first to report was Fr. John Keating, O.Carm., Councillor for Europe. He described the present situation of the Order and the Church in Europe, and urged that the Order would take the radical steps necessary to ensure the continuation of the Carmelite tradition in Europe, irrespective of the number or the identity of provinces. In his report on the work of the General Commission for Evangelisation and Mission, John explained the link between the work of the Commission and Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhoration, Evangelii Gaudium, which led to the publication of three booklets of meditations combining texts from the Apostolic Exhortation with the conclusions of the last General Chapter in 2013. He further explained the nature and purpose of the workshop on preaching organised by the Commission in Fatima in January 2019.


Fr. John Keating giving his report.


The second report was that of the Councillor for Africa, Fr. Conrad Mutizamhepo, O.Carm., who also has had responsibility on the General Council for the area of Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation. His report gave a detailed account of the development of the Carmelite presence in Africa, and pointed to the need for formation and study resources in order to strengthen and give direction to that presence. [For further details on Fr. Conrad's report click here.]


Fr. Conrad Mutizamhepo giving his report.


In the afternoon the Councillor for the Americas, Fr. Raul Maraví, O.Carm., gave his geographic report and addressed his area of responsibility within the General Council for Lay Carmelites and Carmelite Schools. He spoke of the three major divisions in his geographic area: North America; Brazil; and the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America. What is most noteworthy is the increase of vocations in this area since the 2013 General Chapter. There has been a continuation of good relations with the Discalced Carmelites, and a question about the organisation of the Carmelite presence in these countries where the problem of distance makes it difficult to form viable unities of administration and support.


Fr. Raul Maraví giving his report.


Finally, Fr. Benny Phang, O.Carm., reported as Councillor for Asia, Australia, and Oceania. This was a story of steady development of the Order in eight countries in Asia, many with a significant number of vocations. The work of formation is seen to be a priority. Christianity is a minority faith in Asia, and in order to communicate with members of the major religions there a more mystagogicical approach is needed to Christian and Carmelite formation, initial and ongoing. [For further details on Fr. Benny's report click here.]


Fr. Benny Phang giving his report.


The four General Councillors ended their reports with word of thanks to the Prior General, the other members of the Council, and the Carmelites they had encountered in their time of service.


Third Day (Thursday 12th September)

The theme of the 2019 General Chapter is "You are my witnesses" (Isaiah 43:10); from one generation to the next, called to be faithful to our Carmelite charism. During the morning session this theme was discussed from the perspective of spirituality and the tradition of consecrated religious life by Fr. Michael Casey, OCSO, a Cistercian monk of Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia who is a well-known retreat giver and lecturer on monastic spirituality. Basing himself on the biblical texts about the prophet Elijah, spiritual father of the Carmelite tradition, Fr. Michael reflected on how to pass on that tradition in today’s world. Tradition is something alive, and it must be continuously reinterpreted so that, faithful to our roots, we may bear fruit in today’s world and respond to its challenges from our spirituality. In this way we may become credible witnesses in a world that needs witnesses rather than teachers.


Fr. Michael Casey with former Prior General Fr. Fernando Millán Romeral.


In the afternoon a reflection on the Chapter theme from a biblical perspective was given by Professor Bruna Costacurta, Director of the Biblical Theology Department at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In her address, titled “Prophetic Witness for Today’s Generation”, she spoke of Elijah’s role as a prophet. In a time of religious syncretism, a Jewish prophet was to denounce hypocrisy and increase awareness of the truth, thus leading people to conversion and worship of the one true God. Meeting with resistance, Elijah experienced a feeling of powerlessness and abandonment. Yet, while he laid down to sleep desiring to die, an angel brought him food and drink. Moses, on the threshold of the promised land, instructed the people to ‘Listen’. Faith is based on listening to the Word of God, and as Mary teaches us, it must lead into actions. Just as Tobit had to reinterpret his faithfulness to God in a new situation, so we are called in this present generation to decipher the news signs of God’s presence.


Professor Bruna Costacurta.


In the evening three reports were given.

The first was on the development and activities of Edizioni Carmelitane, the Order's central publishing house. The Director of the Edizioni, Fr. Sebastian Benchea, O.Carm., highlighted the work done in promoting Edizioni Carmelitane on the internet, the list of recent publications, the good financial state of the Edizioni, and prospects for the future that include the opening up of new markets while maintaining the custom of each community of the Order taking on the responsibility to buy Edizioni’s books.


Fr. Sebastian Benchea giving his report.


The second report was on the Institutum Carmelitanum, the Order's network of academic scholars. Fr. Giovanni Grosso, O.Carm., spoke about the change of President in the Institutum, and about the publications and events organized by its Central Committee. He highlighted the desire to increase collaboration between the various cultural institutes of the Order. The Institutum offers two scholarships, one of which is addressed to historians in memory of Fr. Joachim Smet, O.Carm., and the other to archivists in memory of Fr. Emanuele Boaga, O.Carm.


Fr. Giovanni Grosso giving his report.


The third report was given by the Postulator General, whose role is to promote the beatification and canonisation of Carmel's holy men and women. Dr. Giovanna Brizi spoke of her appointment as Postulator General, then went on to explain the present status of a number of important causes, notably those of Blessed Titus Brandsma, Sr. Maria Israel Bogotá Baguero, and Jean de Saint-Samson.


Dr. Giovanna Brizi giving her report.



Fourth Day (Friday 13th September)

Each day of the Chapter begins with Morning Prayer and Eucharist, at which today the presider was Archbishop Antônio Muniz Fernandes, O. Carm., a Carmelite friar who serves as Archbishop of Maceió in Brazil. He gave the first reflection of the day, on 'The Role of Mendicant Life in the Church Today'. Archbishop Antônio reflected on three questions: What are you doing here, Elijah?; What are you doing here, Mary?; What are you doing here, Carmelite, facing the challenges of our world? In a simple and fraternal style he invited delegates to be surprised by God who reveals himself to us in an unexpected "gentle breeze", as he did with Elijah. Strengthened by divine bread, the prophet was able to get back on track and continue his mission. Rooted and nourished in the true heavenly bread which is Jesus Christ, we too can continue our work in the Church, at the service of God's Kingdom. Mary invites us to leave our securities and take up the journey, announcing the presence of the Word. She, who reflects eminently other women in Salvation History, is also a model of the Church, of Carmel, "in mission", with a welcoming attitude, accompanying and serving, as Mary did with her cousin Elizabeth. Contemplating the example of Elijah and Mary, Carmelites are called to form prayerful, fraternal, and Samaritan communities, capable of taking care of the brothers and sisters we encounter, both in our communities and in society. This requires a process of personal conversion, centred on personal and community meditation of the Word of God, and of pastoral-ecological conversion, as we learn to prioritize our activities, with the joy that springs from the encounter with God. Only God will give us confidence and make us creative.


Archbishop Antônio Muniz presiding at Mass.


The second part of the morning consisted of discussion around the Order's responses to the Chapter's Instrumentum Laboris. It is often the custom before significant gatherings in the Church for the wider faithful to 'feed into' the discussion process. An Instrumentum Laboris document is circulated several months in advance, inviting communities and individuals to reflect on certain ideas, and then to submit their thoughts to the coordinating group. A summary of the Order's responses was presented to the Chapter delegates, who then broke into groups to reflect on the question: How can we be faithful to our tradition in order to respond to the challenges of the present and be open to the future? A summary of these workshops was then shared with the assembly.


Presentation of the feedback to the Instrumentum Laboris.


Chapter delegates.


In the afternoon, Fr. Christian Körner, O.Carm., Vice Prior General and administrator pro tempore (temporary administrator) of the Carmelite Curia reported on the financial state of the Order. Then, Fr. Michael Farrugia, O.Carm., reported on his work these last six years as Procurator General (the Order's canon lawyer who liaises with the Holy See). Finally, the two of them, together with Dr. Merlini, legal advisor to the Curia, reported on the closing down of the Domus Carmelitana (the Order's pilgrim hostel in Rome). Each report was followed by a fraternal and open dialogue.


Fr. Christian Körner giving his report.


Fr. Michael Farrugia giving his report.



The General Chapter in session.



Fifth Day (Saturday 14th September)

The fifth day of the General Chapter took place on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, an important date since the origins of our Carmelite Order. This feast is mentioned explicitly in our Rule of Saint Albert: 'You are to fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides every law' (chapter 16). As well as stipulating a time of special fasting, the dates reminded the first Carmelites of their link to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Jesus died and rose again.

Father Juan Evangelista Quiroga Castañeda, O.Carm., General Delegate of Colombia, presided at the morning Eucharist.


Fr. Juan Evangelista Quiroga Castañeda preaching.


All the day's sessions were dedicated to the study and revision of a draft of the Constitutions which set out the spirit and the government of the Carmelite Order. The last set of Carmelite Constitutions were approved at the 1995 General Chapter, and such legislation is periodically updated. Father Michael Farrugia, O.Carm., President of the ad hoc Commission established to update the Constitutions, outlined the long and arduous process all this entailed. In the first phase of the revision, a letter was sent to all the Provinces, Commissariats, and General Delegations of the Order to present the proposed changes. At a later stage the ad hoc Commission, over a period of five years, held meetings to present the General Chapter with a final draft which will now be finally revised and eventually will be voted on. After this introduction the delegates proceeded to vote on the revised articles.


Fr. Michael Farrugia presenting the draft Constitutions.


On that same day, Fr. Roberto Toni, O. Carm., Prior Provincial of the Italian Province, invited all the participants of the Chapter who are staying at “Il Carmelo” Carmelite retreat and conference centre in Sassone to attend the inauguration and blessing of a new library set up on site in honour of the late Fr. Bruno Secondin, O.Carm. Father Bruno was a well-known Scripture scholar and promoter of Lectio Divina Bible meditation. This library contains mainly the books that Fr. Bruno collected during many years of research. As well as the participants at the General Chapter, the inauguration ceremony was attended by friends and members of the Lectio Divina group that Fr. Bruno had founded at the Carmelite parish of Santa Maria in Traspontina very near the Vatican. This new library will honour the research and transmission of Carmelite culture and spirituality.


Fr. Roberto Toni speaking at the opening of the new library.


A photo of Fr. Bruno Secondin in the library dedicated to him.



Sixth Day (Sunday 15th September)

Today Chapter business was suspended to allow delegates time for prayer and relaxation.


Looking ahead

In the coming week the General Chapter will have a retreat day, elect the new Prior General and his Council, continue work on revising the Order's Constitutions, and have an audience with the Holy Father in Rome.


Text: Dr. Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C., based on CITOC News reports.

Photography: Carmelites OCarm Flickr