Posted by Br David Hawke
on 1 March 2017
I appreciate that Merv McCormack invited me to provide a 30 minutes "State of the Union" address which might have links to the conference positive theme of "Lasallians without Limits; working for a hopeful future" which I think is an excellent theme given that we gather as a District "in union" but mindful that we come form 4 distinct countries or Sectors as we say in Institute language.
Across the four Sectors of the District we always commence activities by saying "Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God". Yes across our District we live and work in the presence of God, that all abiding presence expressed in the spirit of faith and zeal that unites us.
I am sure that many of us would have commentary on the "state of the union" and our various sessions during LLG will attest to that state as we reflect on the vitality and diversity of this vast geographical District.In the past couple of years whenever I get the opportunity I emphasise the importance of District identity for while we have a multiplicity of works and Lasallian communities across the District, each with its own identity, we do form a District community of Lasallians. Between the last LLG and this one, the solidarity expressed between Lasallian institutions within the District has continued to shape our District identity. Last month I attended the gathering of student leaders of our colleges and while we had only one sole delegate from Pakistan it was indeed an expression of the District community through the presence of an impressive group of young women and men.
Throughout 2016 the concept of twinning developed with many of the institutions represented here from Australia and New Zealand contributing personnel, intellectual property and finances to our works in Papua New Guinea and Pakistan. This expression of solidarity has further shaped our identity and is a tangible example of Lasallians without limits enabling people to work together for a hopeful future as our conference theme reminds us. The Brother capitulants to our 45th General Chapter in 2014 stated that "we want to respond boldly and creatively to the urgent needs of the vulnerable who are found on the borders". The twinning programme has responded "boldly and creatively."
The Lasallian Educators' Conference held in Perth in April last year was indeed an expression of Lasallians without limits for it gathered participants from across the District and the Pacific-Asia Region and was graced by the presence of Br Robert Schieler, Superior General and Br Ricky Laguda, General Councillor. The conference was indeed a highlight of the year and if one uses the term "state of the union", the presentations, workshops and the spirit so evident among those present indicated that the union is in pretty good shape across yourtown, the Lasallian Foundation and our various educational works. In his report to the District when commenting on the Educators' Conference, Br Robert commented; "The conference keynote speakers and presenters provided the participants with a rich experience of networking and exchange of knowledge. This type of opportunity for Lasallians to interact is very much encouraged and necessary as it widens our horizons for the Lasallian Mission." LLG is yet another example of networking.
Under the leadership of Merv McCormack, Executive Director, Lasallian Mission Services has grown from strength to strength with quality formation programmes, youth ministry services and volunteers programmes being delivered across the District. The restructuring of the Lasallian Mission Council lays the foundation for our Lasallian Partners to take more responsibility for the governance of the Lasallian Mission in the District. The renewed relationship developed between LMS and schools wanting to reconnect as associated schools is an encouraging sign that the Lasallian charism is flourishing and growing in the District and I am sure Merv McCormack will inform you further.
During this past year BoysTown rebranded and is now well established as yourtown. This organisation continues to be an icon of where Lasallians without limits focus on the most vulnerable and poor in Australian society. Not only does yourtown work with the poor and vulnerable but also advocates for them.
During the recent college student leaders' gathering at Collaroy I was impressed by the questions asked by the young women and men but one question remains with me. One student asked; "What would you say is the success story of the Lasallian mission in the District?" That was not a question I expected and to be answered on the spur of the moment. I answered that each of our Lasallian works in the District is a "success story". We can all point to the successes we witness daily and each year wherever we work. The impressive annual reports, journals and my visits across the District attest to the success story that is so evident in each of the places you represent.
The 2015 revision of the Rule of the Brothers states in its chapter on Mission that "today, the Brothers pursue the Lasallian mission in partnership with men and women who recognise the relevance of the Lasallian charism."(Rule 13) Partnership is a concept that we must return to often and evaluate locally and at the District level. But if we stop and think about it, the partnership continues to grow with not only the men and women engaged day to day in the various works which includes Lasallian Partners as CEO's and Principals but also at Board of Director level, various District Commissions, Mission Council and Mission Action Committees. There is an ongoing need to engage more women in leadership and Board positions in the District. In 2018 there will be a District Mission Assembly and District Chapter. These events will provide an opportunity to evaluate that partnership the Rule reminds us of.
In January each year I write a letter to the Brothers of the District. In reflecting with them on that section of the Rule re partnership that I just quoted I wrote:
"However, let's not forget that we the Brothers form the partnership with our lay colleagues. In each Sector the Brothers play a valuable part in the mission either full time or part time, not to forget our Brothers who minister or are studying beyond the District. I am sure we all appreciate that we have Brothers engaged in schools as principals, teachers, tutors, counsellors, mentors, support persons and vocations ministers. We have Brothers working in yourtown, the Australian Catholic University, Bethlehem University, Teachers' Colleges in PNG, Catechetical Training Centre in Pakistan, Solidarity with Southern Sudan, tutoring in English in Vietnam, in Miguel House for Aspirants, Caritas New Zealand, Lasallian Mission Services and international service in the Generalate. And there are the Brothers who serve on the District Council, Lasallian Mission Council, Sector Councils, District Commissions, Economic Council, Boards of Colleges, the Lasallian Foundation and yourtown, and Brothers who tutor refugees and asylum seekers, lend a hand to the homeless through St Vincent de Paul, work in the archives and serve in parishes. And there are Brothers whose assigned task is to serve the community in which they live as Directors, carers, guest-masters, procurators etc. Our two Auxiliary Visitors and our Sector Coordinators play an important role in the District. Yes, Brothers, we do make a contribution and will continue to do so. Our presence and contribution are welcomed and valued. This is feedback I receive constantly as I move around the District."
I do not agree with those who may say that "the Brothers are a spent force" for after all if the Brothers are not involved there is no partnership! This reminds me to encourage you to join the Brothers in inviting young men to seriously consider our way of life. With respect to vocations Br Robert Schieler in his December letter to the Brothers reminded us; "When your community, District or Delegation are organizing strategies for vocation promotion in service with the poor, I ask that you encourage your Partners to join you in inviting young men to seriously consider our way of life. The collaboration and insights of our Partners will help all of us to continue to respond with burning zeal to the calls of the Lord, the Church and the world for the purpose of giving glory to God." To use Brother Robert's words; "your collaboration and insights" are most welcome.
I read an article recently coming out of France. It was headed; "the overlooked vocation of non-ordained Brothers." While "non-ordained" is not a preferred descriptor, I hope the vocation of the Brother is never overlooked in this part of the world. It would indeed be a blessing for our District if all Sectors had a similar vocations response to that which we experience in the Sector of Pakistan where Christians are very much in the minority. The work of the Lasallian Foundation reminds us constantly of our conference theme; "Lasallians without limits, working for a hopeful future." The Foundation in a way is our District conscience as it serves to remind us of our obligation to reach out to Lasallians in need in the District and beyond. The response of schools and communities in Australia and New Zealand to the appeals of the Foundation is admirable and appreciated and likewise the smiles on the faces of the recipients in PNG, Pakistan and elsewhere speaks volumes about the gratitude of those who receive.
I think that I can say with confidence and I hope you agree that the union is in pretty good shape but it would be remiss of me if I did not at least bring to your attention some matters which weighed upon me in the past year.
You are well aware that when the Brothers can no longer provide a principal for a school we inform the appropriate Church authority who puts in place a process of appointment of a lay principal and often but not always we are invited to be involved in the appointment process. In most cases where a Brother is not available the Church authority wishes that the Lasallian charism remains and the school continues to be in our network as an associated Lasallian school with an MOU signed by the various stakeholders. The request of the Bishop of Broome to withdraw the Brothers who were working at Luurnpa Catholic School Balgo Hills disappointed me deeply and sent shock waves through the District. Our attempts to reach out to the school where the Brothers and other Lasallians contributed for 31 years fell on deaf ears. However yourtown continues to be present at Balgo Hills and La Salle College Middle Swan continues its relationship with Luurnpa Catholic School.
During January the Bishop of the Bereina Diocese in Papua New Guinea wrote to me in an email that Mainohana Catholic School no longer wishes to be connected to us. Part of the Bishop's email reads:
"The bottom line is the Diocese has now taken over full responsibility for the operation and administration of the school and would kindly ask the Brothers to withdraw any future publicity regarding the Brothers current relationship or active involvement with Mainohana Catholic Secondary and TVET School since it's no longer the case."
I take consolation in the fact that St La Salle had his moments with Bishops and yet the Institute thrived and during January I met with the Archbishop of Lahore in Pakistan who really wants the Brothers to take over a school in his Archdiocese so God does not close a door without opening a window! A couple of weeks ago I met with Archbishop Doug Young of the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen where Holy Trinity Teachers' College continues to go through challenging times. I asked him "how can the Brothers make a contribution to the college?" His brief but powerful response was "by their presence." And again in a chance meeting last week with Cardinal Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby he expressed appreciation of the fact that three Brothers are working at De La Salle, Bomana.
The "Catholic Wrap Up" for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia was held over 15 days commencing on 6th February.
The De La Salle Brothers were one of the Diocese and religious congregations to appear before the Commission.
And we were the subject of confronting data released by the Royal Commission in the first two weeks of the public hearing, on the extent of child abuse in Catholic institutions.The data, which the De La Salle Brothers provided to the Royal Commission, paints a distressing picture of historic abuse. I never thought I would see the day when the De La Salle Brothers would be amongst such a list tabling the number of alleged perpetrators and the scale of child abuse allegations.
There are no words to express how distressing it is to consider that these numbers represent a vast human tragedy and that some of our own, religious and lay, have been responsible for such criminal abuse.
It is a painful but necessary truth that we acknowledge and accept that children placed in our care suffered greatly as a result of the abuse inflicted on them.
We recognise that the effects of the sexual abuse of children can often be lifelong and cause enormous pain and suffering for the abused, their families and loved ones.
For this we are unreserved in our apology.
It is a matter of enduring regret and profound sorrow that children were so betrayed by those charged with their care.
For this we are truly sorry.
The searing examination of Catholic institutions by the Royal Commission and our own acceptance of this dark chapter of abuse within our ranks, has been distressing but necessary.
But it serves to remind us that truth, justice and healing are paramount if we are to move forward.
The words of Pope Francis delivered on the feast of the Holy Innocents are a timely reminder:
"The Church also weeps bitterly over this sin of her sons and she asks forgiveness. Today, as we commemorate the feast of the Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to "zero tolerance"
Let's conclude by reminding ourselves of the conference theme; "Lasallians without Limits; working for a hopeful future." During our time together and when we return to our respective places let's return often to the theme. "Lasallians without limits" invites is to go the extra mile. It invites us to go beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary so that those entrusted to our care will have a future full of hope. In the "Joy of the Gospel", Pope Francis uses the expression; "let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope." May we as Lasallians without limits, along with the virtues of faith and charity be people of hope and always be "working for a hopeful future."
Br David Hawke FSC
27 February 2017