Lay people as true 'stewards' in the Mission

Lay SVD
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Laura Díez Bilbao shares her experience after the Workshop for Lay Partners of the Society of the Divine Word organized in Nemi (Rome)

The Laity from all parts of the world, gathered in Nemi

On October 14, 2017 in the AD GENTES House in Nemi (Rome) marked the 1st Workshop for Lay Partners of the Society of the Divine Word. It was a gathering of SVD Lay partners from different countries such as Mexico, Chile, Poland, South Africa, USA, Philippines, Paraguay, Spain, India, Angola, Kenya, Ghana, Germany, Congo, Switzerland and Panama. We were received with great warmth and hospitality by the Ad Gentes community. And the organizers, Tim Norton, SVD and Stanislaus Lazar, SVD gave themselves completely to us as the course unfolds. The complete course lasted until the 28th of October - it was a fifteen – day of intense learning, sharing, laughing, crying and experiencing things full of meaning and LIFE.

The workshop began with the enthronement of the Word of God followed by an overview of the workshop. With great joy, we celebrated the opening Eucharist with the SVD Superior General, Heinz Kulüke as presider and homilist. In his bilingual homily, he focused on the fact that one of the most important characteristics of the SVD is to work with lay missionaries, since they are no longer considered mere 'collaborators' but true 'stewards' in the Mission. His presence confirmed the personal conviction and commitment that the Superior has with all of us.

The training part was carefully planned, and was easily understood despite of the language barriers. Thanks to the simultaneous translation team in English and Spanish - Reynaldo Román SVD, Sonny de Rivera SVD and Gino Jiménez SVD. In the different presentations, we were able to enter fully into very important topics, such as the four characteristic dimensions of the SVD (Biblical Apostolate, Missionary Animation, Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation and Communication), Prophetic Dialogue and Interculturality. We also delved into the topic of missionary Spirituality and specifically Arnoldus spirituality. We have known its difference from other schools of spirituality and have discovered our own roots as SVD lay partners. Representatives from other religious congregations also brought us closer to their own reality and organization.

A day began with a morning prayer, and language was not an obstacle to celebrate each day a Eucharist at noon - a fitting symbol of the central place that God occupies in our lives. For the night sessions, the different representatives from their own countries presented their local groups and their missionary work with slides, powerpoints, songs, etc. and they were dressed in their typical costumes. Many brought precious things of their own land and have shared to other participants. For the first and last nights, we have celebrated it with a small meet-and-greet party in order to get to know each other better and share the joys of being together in such a unique experience. We were able to meet great friends with great experiences that we will never forget.

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From left to Right: Gianini Sahagun Becerra (Mexico), Laura Díez Bilbao (Spain) and Angel Cobian (Mexico)

In our action plan session, we have discussed very important topics, from which conclusions emerged that shaped our concrete proposals and suggestions that will be presented for study to the SVD General Council (Generalate). But man does not live only in formation. We had the immense privilege of being able to attend an Audience with our Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square - moment that we will live with great emotion, knowing that for many it would be unrepeatable. We also visited together the other three major basilicas in Rome such as Saint Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Wall and St. John of Lateran, walking through their corridors enchanted all of us with the extraordinary beauty of their architecture and the strong spirituality that emanates from it.

One of the memorable moments of this trip was to be able to celebrate the Eucharist in the Catacomb of Santa Domitila that gave to us strong spiritual recollection. Then we arrived at the Generalate house, where we were received with joy and affection by its rector, Nicolás Espinosa,SVD and the entire community. We were welcomed with an aperitif and a later fraternal meal. We also had the opportunity to take a tour of the house and its compound. Likewise, we travelled to Assisi, cradle of San Francis, to know the place and celebrate the Eucharist in a beautiful crypt. Then we went through the streets of old Assisi, its monastery, and the places where Francis left his loving and simple memories, preaching with love towards the whole Creation.

The closing Eucharist was a beautiful experience full of symbols (candles, flowers, water) and emotions born from the days of being together. Emotions and feelings of fraternal love and solidarity overflowed after the missionary cross were given to each one in a very personal way, just as Saint Arnold did with his missionaries.
This experience - marked by a profound multiculturalism- means a lot for all of us. And this is how we manifest it, as a true leap in our being missionary - both for what we get from what we have heard, shared and learned in the different sessions, as well as in overcoming obstacles (such as language) to get closer to each other, creating bonds of friendship and collaboration not only among ourselves, but also in a concrete and strong way, to the SVD family.

The general feeling has been of immense gratitude of the privilege of having this opportunity to learn and to live. We believe that the Spirit has brought us there and has been with us, and now, back home with the challenges of our own realities. This is the first step towards true communion leading us all to respond to the call of God - to build his Kingdom.

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By Laura Díez Bilbao (Spain)

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