We, Augustinian Recollects, coming from different countries and places, from different communities and ministries, have gathered at the 56th General Chapter to give thanks for our lived experience, to examine our present, and to discern what we want to live with passion and hope in the future.
We walk together in prayer
Every day, at the rising of the sun and its setting, we met in the place of prayer to pray together to Jesus, who always comes to us so that we may have life, and life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). We have placed our hearts in him so that he may transform them with his Spirit, so that we may love him with all our being and thus have life (cf. Dt 30:6).
We walk together like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
As we listen to our Order’s life story, we are filled with joy in contemplating what God has done in these last years, ever since, moved by the Spirit of Pentecost, we decided to follow the path of restructuring and revitalization. We were not afraid to take on challenges that overwhelmed us, that committed us to a greater identity as Augustinian Recollects, that demanded more time to pray together, that invited us to ongoing formation and conversion, that required from us a love and service that was more dedicated, generous and selfless. We decisively embraced the challenge of uniting along the way so as to be of one soul and one heart directed toward God (cf. St. Augustine, Rule 1:2).
We would have liked to walk faster and more firmly, but the fast ones had to wait for the slow ones, the firm could not abandon those who tarried, the daring ones ignore those who back out. What started as a goal that enthused ran the risk of becoming a frustration. Then Jesus, who walks beside us, adjusted to our pace and made us see that “those who love walk, because toward God we do not run with feet but with the affect” (St. Augustine, Sermon 306 B, 1; cf. Sermon 250:3; 76:6; 101:9). He helped us understand that he who travels the Way – and He is this Way – is the one who has a father’s heart and “shows great love and concern for the sons and daughters entrusted to him, especially the weakest, those who suffer, those who have not had experience of fatherly love” .. who “refuses to rest until these brothers and sisters of ours are in encounter with the Lord; in this way all may have life in abundance, as affirms the text that illumines your Chapter”. (cf. Audience of Pope Francis).
In these weeks, we have celebrated the Eucharist together every day, eager to live the same experience of the disciples of Emmaus: to recognize Jesus at the breaking of the bread (cf. Lk 24:31), which sustains our faith, strengthens our hope and gives us eternal life (cf. Jn 6:40).
We walk together with the whole Order and with the Church
We have wanted to continue with the same thrust and determination that fired the Augustinian Recollects four hundred years ago, when they celebrated the first General Chapter in 1621. They also lived through difficult times; however, they had the boldness to embark on a new adventure and, as an “Iglesia en salida” (Church on a mission), they plunged into the “mission with confidence, with courage, with creativity” (Audience of Pope Francis). In ships that sailed the seas to the Philippines; in fragile canoes that traversed the rivers to the farthest reaches of Brazil; in horses that crossed arid deserts and plains in Colombia; in the midst of wars, dangers and persecutions in China and Japan; in the new foundations of Central America, South America and Cuba, everyone said to himself: “He is with us, he walks beside us and helps us to make decisions” (Audience of Pope Francis).
Throughout our history we have been part of the Church, we have been and are Church; with her we suffer the crises of faith, with her we are saddened by the sin that has been the cause of suffering for the weakest, the minors and the vulnerable. With the Church our hearts have also been filled with joy at having brothers and sisters who love and take pleasure in serving. “One sometimes meets just persons and rejoices with them; and it is necessary to rejoice, for there can be no true charity without joy” (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 76, 6). In our communities, in the Order, in the Church herself, and in the face of a wounded society and world, we again want to build, re-construct, “improve and walk together towards being a community that knows how to live forgiveness and love” (Fraternal Life in Community 26).
In our community life, we wish to care for each other and to allow ourselves to be cared for through accompaniment; we wish to show special care to our elderly and sick members and to receive from them the wisdom of their experience and with them to dream dreams (cf. Joel 3:1). Together we also want to care for creation, God’s work. We are pained and dismayed by the damage it has suffered in recent years and we join in the commitment to ecology, so we can continue admiring and contemplating the beauty of our world and the universe. We will take care of creation because in its beauty we see the beauty of our God (cf. Conf. 11:4).
We walk together as an Augustinian Recollect family
We know that those who want to block our way are not those who rebuke us for our weaknesses or those who reject our faith and persecute it, but those who, being discouraged themselves, tempt us to join their ranks; those who try to convince us that it is not worth our while to sail forth and to take the risk in treading new paths, those who want us to disregard what God asks us to do and what Jesus calls us to each day.
We have always been witnesses of those who walked beside us, and of the many who joined us along the way. We have felt secure, convinced that it was we who supported them, who evangelized them, who guaranteed with our guidance and knowledge the goodness of their relationship with God in the contemplative life. But we all walk together, they and we, nuns, missionaries, faithful lay Christians, men and women, who alongside with us have felt strongly for the way of Augustine, for the Recollect aim of going further and higher for the sake of the Gospel. We cannot but highlight the great number and the excellence of women who have joined us in the cause of the Gospel and fraternity. Their future prominence in the Augustinian Recollect family fills us with hope. For all this we cannot but give thanks to God.
It does not matter so much if we Augustinian Recollects become fewer as the years go by. It does matter that with the laity we become more permeated with Augustinian spirituality, with the love for the charism that asks us to live in unity, as Saint Augustine asked, and to aspire to surrender to God and to the brothers without conditions, as the initiators of the Recollection wanted. As long as there are in the Church those who are infected with our charism, be they religious or secular Augustinian Recollects, our charism, which we proclaim to be a treasure, will not be lost (cf. Audience of Pope Francis). The hostile outsiders and the doomsday insiders “if they find Christians who defend the weak, courageously proclaim their faith, freely profess it, are prudent in teaching it and charitable in instructing others, they will keep silent, believe me, for they have nothing to say” (St. Augustine, Sermon 306 B, 7).
By walking with the laity in the way of synodality and sharing with them our spirituality and charism, the magisterium of St. Augustine, and the renewing élan of the Recollection, we will live on in the Church and in the world. Our experience in the Church will be that of one who lives fraternity, in communion of heart and soul, that of one who is concerned about the brother at risk of straying in order to encourage him to return and that of one who, in humility, goes to the contemplative nuns and secular fraternities to allow himself to be challenged and called out. We will then be living a common history of growth, permanent formation and mutual accompaniment. As we walk we pray that we have by our side the strength of the Spirit to push and encourage us to move forward, to give us courage to face our fears and confidence in our strength to overcome our weaknesses.
We walk together attentive to humanity
In this General Chapter we have felt the need for the Order and for each one of the friars to open our ears and eyes to what is happening beyond our path: the cries of the poor, of the helpless, of the victims of the pandemic, of the abused and vulnerable minors, of the dead, wounded and displaced by wars, of the forgotten minorities whose cries do not reach us. Millions of people have already fallen victim to the violence of the ambitious, trampled underfoot by those who have grasped power to impose their interests and ideologies. Seeing and listening leads us to be committed to be with them and to remain at their side. These times of uncertainty and darkness that the world is experiencing are telling us that the will of God, the Father of us all, is that we walk together, because only by leaning on each other can we help the world to find Peace.
We walk and we continue to walk together
As we end our 56th General Chapter we thank those who have devoted themselves to the service of the whole Order during these last six years that are coming to a close and all those who have contributed to the holding of this chapter, those who have sent messages of support and have prayed for the chapter, and those who have remained manning the ministries and performing the duties while the chapter was being held.
We also wish that this chapter message, which we send to the entire Augustinian Recollect family, may help “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31).
May Mary, who gathered with the apostles and other women to pray (cf. Acts 1:14), who was with the believers on the day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit, and whom we invoke with the title of Mother of Consolation, pray to God the Father and her Son for the whole Augustinian Recollect family.