These days were a mix of large group assembly and language group discussions. The English Language discussion group included friars from the Singapore, Ireland, Bangkok, Africa, France, and Austria, and the United States. This vast cultural experience provided for very engaging conversations on the various themes and topics discussed over the two week period. We found that when it comes to fraternity, there is more commonality than difference. The work was divided into three main sections all aimed at producing a document by the end of the council – a very European goal.
The first section will be a statement of purpose, vision, motivation, and spiritual values behind the Plenary Council and its deliberations. We began with a draft that put a great deal of emphasis on individuality and the friar as a person. While everyone seems to have agreed on the basic values, the use of the word individuality was cause for great discussion. Other themes being incorporated into this section include minority, vocational call, the centrality of conversion, communion with God, the world, and the friars. There seems also a great deal of concern in seeing this Plenary Council as a maturation of the 2001 council in Guadalajara.
The second part of our work was around the primary question to the Plenary Council, that is, to set in place for the next General Chapter the number of General Definitors to elect to the Definitory and the manor of election. The work here is deliberative to the Plenary Council. The English group originally proposed five (one per area represented by a grouping of conferences). This proposal eventually increased to six, in recognition of the vast number of entities still in Europe. Our motivation included that we wanted to have a Definitory that is expressive of the cultural, ethnic, and geographical diversity of the Order, but is not representative. We see the Definitory as primarily a consultative and deliberative body to assist the General Minister. Their role in animation is to facilitate animation as a body / whole, and not as primary animator for Conferences and Provinces. The primary animators are the provincials and custodes. It would be physically impossible for General Definitors to be active, personal animators of all the entities in a particular area. This motivation was rejected by the large group.
The final decision of the Plenary Council on Wednesday was that the General Definitory will be reduced by one member, to eight – 3 for the European area (this is where the reduction occurred), 2 for Latin America, 1 each for Asia, Africa, and the English Speaking Conference. While I do not want to speak for the group, personally, I found this conclusion disappointing, incongruous with the values and principles guiding the document being prepared, and even contradictory to our the theme of the Plenary Council, New Wine in New Wineskins.
On Thursday we approved the procedure for electing the Definitors, that is, that each area would present to the General Chapter two candidates for each of their definitor spots, that the Chapter members, after reviewing curricula vitae on each candidate and hearing the motivation behind their candidacy, would then elect the Definitors, in full liberty.
On Thursday we also studied various other topics and issues to which the Plenary Council is to provide orientation, provide items for consideration by the General Definitory and / or the General Chapter, the third part of our work. I believe there were a total of 20 of these additional items for orientation. Allow me to sight a few that are of particular interest. (1) The term of the General Minister is to be six years, with the possibility of another six, but only if he is re-elected by a 2/3 majority on the first ballot. (2) The term of the Provincial Minister is to be six years, with the possibility of another six, but only if he is re-elected by a 2/3 majority on the first ballot. (3) That the term of Conference President be standardized at three years. (4) In consideration of inviting Pope Francis to the General Chapter, the choice of Assisi for a location was recommended. Bangkok was a second choice considered. (5) Mandates from the General Chapter should be few, able to be carried out, and sustainable. We were constantly reminded that these are suggestions, orientations, and not legislated recommendations.
Notice that we had a full schedule on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day – no turkey for the Americans.
Wednesday evening we had a picnic-style supper. Basically that meant that we had supper in a porch-like room, with a fireplace on which we could grill our own sausage. An accordion found its way into the room for shared entertainment by anyone who would dare to tickle the ivory. It was a welcome evening of light spirit having worked quite intensely all-day.
On Thursday we were treated to an evening of traditional Polish dancing and singing by the music group, Mazowsze, performing for us.
Friday is a fairly light schedule including an evaluation of our time together, voting on protocol items, and a closing liturgy with our General Minister, Michael. Thus will end the Plenary Council of 2013, New Wine in New Wineskins.