This morning in the Clementine Hall the Holy Father received the sixty members of the 55th General Chapter of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, the theme of which is a prayer of St. Augustine: “All my hope lies in Your great mercy. Command what You will and give what You command”. This invocation, affirmed Francis, leads to being “men of hope, capable of placing all our trust in God’s mercy, aware that we are incapable of facing alone with our own strength the challenges that the Lord proposes to us. We are small and unworthy, but God is our security and joy; He never disappoints us and He is the one Who leads us on mysterious paths with fatherly love”.

In their General Chapter, the Augustinians wished to revise and put before God the life of the Order, with its hopes and challenges, so that it is He Who gives them light and hope. As the Pope observed, “to seek renewal and impetus it is necessary to turn to God, and to ask Him, ‘give what You command’. We asked for the new commandment that Jesus gave us: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another’ and it is what we implore: His love so as to be able to love. … God is always giving us this love and He is always present in our life. Let us look to the past and give thanks for the many gifts received”. We take this historical perspective, Pope Francis emphasised, in the hand of the Lord, because it is He Who gives us the key to interpret it; it is not about no longer making history, but rather discovering the presence of the Lord in every detail, in every step of life. The past helps us to return again to the charism and to appreciate it in all its freshness and fullness. It also gives us the possibility of underlining the difficulties that have emerged, and how they can be overcome, so as to face current challenges, looking to the future. This journey alongside Jesus becomes a prayer of thanksgiving and inner purification”.

The grateful memory of this love in the past “impels us to live the present with passion and with ever greater courage; then we can ask, ‘Command what you will’. To ask this implies freedom of spirit and willingness. Allowing oneself to be commanded by God means that He is the master of our life and that we have no other; and we know well that if God does not occupy His rightful place, others will do so. When the Lord is the centre of our life, everything is possible; there can be no failure, nor any other evil, because He is at the centre, and it is He Who guides us”.
In this special moment, He asks us to be His “creators of communion”. We are called to create, with our presence in the midst of the world, a society able to recognise the dignity of each person and to share the gift that each person is for the other. With our witness of community, living and open to what the Lord sends us, through the breath of His Spirit, we can respond to the needs of every person with the same love with which God has loved us. Many people are waiting for us to reach out to them and to look at them with the same tenderness we have experienced and received from our encounter with God. This is the power we bring: not our own ideals and projects, but rather the strength of His mercy that transforms and gives life”.

Francis concluded his discourse by inviting the participants in the Chapter to uphold with renewed spirit St. Augustine’s dream of living as “brothers with one heart and one soul, that reflects the ideal of the first Christians and is the living prophecy of communion in this world of ours, so that there is no division, conflict or exclusion, but that instead harmony and dialogue may reign”. He commended the intentions and projects of the Order to the protection of Our Lady, that she might guide and protect them, asking them to pray for him and to transmit his blessing to the whole Augustinian Recollect family.

October 13

Day 11 of the Chapter. The Capitulars prayed the Liturgy of the Hours. The holy mass, presided by Fray José Mª Aguerri, the Prior Provincial of the Province of the Our Lady of Consolation, was offered for the deceased benefactors of the Order.

As the information phase of the Chapter concluded, COMMISSION PHASE ensued. The different commissions were tasked to study in detail the following areas: charismatic identity and government; mission, ministerial, and educational apostolate; the youth and vocations; formation; and the restructuring of the Order. The Life and Mission Project was reviewed. The capitulares had to dig up anew the results of consultations, the opinions heard in the Chapter hall as well as the reflections of the commissions themselves. They were recapitulated to facilitate the formulation of concrete proposals to be presented in the hall and to be subjected to vote.

Before the groups went to work, some pending issues relative to restructuring had first to be addressed: secretariats, commissions, institutes, and the possibility of creating new forms of organization, etc.

At the start of the afternoon session, the capitulares voted on the final draft of the mission of the Order. This will be integrated in the Life and Mission Project.

As the Vespers hymn goes: “Night will not break your relationship with mankind; night is the time of salvation”, and after supper, the Chapter delegates gathered in the chapel for a lectio divina wherein they put all lights and shadows experienced during these days of the Chapter, all illusions, fears, hopes and insecurities in the hands of Jesus in dialogue with Nicodemus. It was time to pray the Word in John 3, 1-3. It was an invitation to identify with Nicodemus, the perfect teacher of the law, man of the temple, of age and with much experience… But Nicodemus lacks something, he misses something much greater. He needed to be born again… to submit self to the Lord, his only love. “Do not be afraid”; “Peace be with you”; “Do you love me more than these?”; “Your faith has saved you, go in peace”; “I am with you”; “My grace is enough”. The LV General Chapter was, indeed, witness to the “night that is time of salvation”!

October 14

The Holy Eucharist was celebrated with vocations to the Augustinian Recollect life as the main intention. Fray Dionisio Q. Selma, Prior Provincial of the St. Ezekiel Moreno Province. Fray Lauro Larlar gave an exhortation during the homily, calling to mind the importance of religious life as the reflection of the appeal of Jesus. Only from the Lord, with all our hope in his great mercy, welcoming His will, can religious life illuminate lives and awaken the vocation. That is the challenge.

From the start of the morning session, the whole day was dedicated to the work of the commissions, some of which have already profiled their first proposals that will be appearing soon in the Chapter hall.

Each commission is led by a President who moderates the reflection and the interventions, and a Secretary who takes charge of collecting all ideas that emerged and presents them in the session hall.

Although the commissions have a specific objective to deal with, they can also make proposals on any other issue tackled by the others. In this way, the dialogue in the plenary sessions is enriched even more.

The starting point of each commissions is the Life and Mission Project of the Order, the consultations made with the religious, the technical studies carried out during the sexennium, the contributions of the Capitulars in the plenary sessions, and the ideas that emerged during the meetings of the commission.

October 15

At the Roman basilica of St. Augustine, where the tomb of St. Monica lies, the Capitulars gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. Fray José Ramón Pérez, Vicar General and First General Councilor, presided the mass and gave the homily.

As calendared for their Saturday schedule, the General Chapter members also went on a pilgrimage to the St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican) covering the five stations of the Via Crucis which they had prepared for their entry through the Holy Door.

The brief yet intense procession started at the Castel Sant’Angelo. The first station was an invitation to meditate on Psalm 122. At the second stop, in front of the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, was the central figure of the reflection.

The third station was at the threshold of the St. Peter’s Square. It was a moment of praying together the Prayer for the Jubilee of Mercy. At the fourth stop, facing the Holy Door, everyone was invited to embrace God’s mercy with Psalms 103 and 24. 

The last of the stations, already inside the basilica, was near the tomb of St. Peter, which in that afternoon, was jam-packed with people. There the Chapter President, Fray Miguel Miró invited those present to renew their faith by reciting the Creed.

The final invitation was something inspiring for everyone: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36).

October 10

His Eminence José Luis Lacunza, an Augustinian Recollect cardinal, presided the Holy Eucharist of the 55th General Chapter on the feast day of St. Thomas of Villanova. In his homily he made mention of this archbishop of Valencia (Spain), the great reformer of his epoch, as a model of following Christ, always dynamic and seeker of unity. At this decisive moment in the life of the Order, this holy saint assumes a good reference point to pay attention to. The cardinal livened up the Order to continue being faithful to the foundational charism without losing the energy and the courage to go to the peripheries.

During the day, the cardinal also shared to the religious in Rome about the challenges that the ongoing General Chapter must confront as well as his vision about the Church of the 21st century. The Capitulars took advantage of asking him about the next World Youth Day, in 2019, which will take place in Panama. Finally, he sent greetings to all the Augustinian Recollect Family all over the world.

At the Chapter hall, it was the turn of Fray Manuel Fernandez, President of Haren-Alde and Mr. Javier Ojeda, Technical Director of Haren-Alde, to present one of the key points in the life of the Order. Their proposal was directed towards the mode of revitalizing the Order’s sensitivity for solidarity and the way by which this sensitivity can revitalize the Order. It was also a moment to be grateful for the job well done by so many people in the Order, in different places, with this solidarity-oriented cause.

What followed was a report on economy by Fray Santiago Martín Lázaro, General Econome. He made an anlysis on the sexennial performance of the Order in general, and those of the provinces in particular.

The rest of the sessions were spent to discuss issues related to the service of governance, the institutes of the Order, the publications of the Order, the importance of translations and of giving weight to the three official languages of the Order (Spanish, English, Portuguese). Also the ever-constant challenge of communications within and outside the Order came out.

October 11

After the Liturgy of the Hours in memory of Blessed Elias del Socorro Nieves, the bilingual (in Spanish and Portuguese) celebration of the holy mass followed. It was presided by Fray Carlos Ma. Dominguez, Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova.

The day’s work at the session hall began with the usual reading of the messages. Especially significant was the cordial message from His Excellency Carlos Osoro, archbishop of Madrid who has just been named cardinal.

The central theme of the day was apostolate in its very wide dimensions: missionary, ministerial, educational, etc. In the first place, there was insistence on the import of the social sensitivity of the religious and the necessity of being present among the poor and the needy, not only in a personal but also in a structural way. There was also orientation towards reinforcement on the formation of religious in the missionary spirit. “Being missionaries” is not an appendix fo the Augustinian Recollect vocation, rather it is that which gives us the true meaning of life of the religious.

Another discussion was on the management of parishes, the juridical formula of parish priest “in solidum”, giving warning on the urgency of a shared mission for which the religious are not sufficiently prepared. On the contrary, a very promising horizon opens up, because there is so much that the Augustinian Recollect spirituality can contribute to the ecclesial communion from its own charismatic experience.

In subsequent sessions, after correcting and approving the minutes, another great chapter in the list of themes on restructuring was opened, referring to ordinance 19 of the previous General Chapter. Firstly, the Prior General made a presentation of the process followed so far, what the provincial priors added to what has been realized: achievements, difficulties, etc.

October 12

The celebration of the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar and of Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida (Our Lady of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil) illumined this day from the very first hour of the morning. The holy mass was presided by Fray Fr. Jesús Nicolás Pérez-Aradros, Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Rita of Cascia.

The session hall continued to receive quite a number of messages pouring in from different communities, parishes, educational centers, cloistered communities, communities of the youth, etc. 

The morning session focused on information and discussion on the restructuring of the Order. The Chapter President, Fray Miguel Miró, jump-started by making an exhortation to be docile to the action of the Spirit, manifesting availability and courage. It is the moment of taking decisions, and it requires responsible discernment starting from what has been treated so far. He also pointed out that restructuring has to be considered as means, not as end. The question that has to be made is what Order do we want and how do we want to achieve our dream. It is from here, Fray Miró concluded, from where there will arise how one should be a province of that Order being dreamed of.

The afternoon sessions saw the different groups presenting their visions of the Order which they developed and the keys of restructuring. These would be forwarded to a respective commission that, based on these, will formulate concrete proposals. Different articulations of the vision were presented and, afterwards, the different texts were subjected to a vote in order to be included in the Life and Mission Project of the Order.

The second session tackled the issue on restructuring about which discussions involved presentation of a constellation of ideas, criteria and sentiments. Without doubt, they helped enlighten the decision-making that will transpire in the following days.

CEBU CITY - In order to make good use of their time behind bars, lady inmates in Cebu underwent technical-vocational (tech-voc) training provided by USJ-R and successfully passed the government accreditation.

Thirty inmates and a lady guard of the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory were conferred their national certification (NC II) for Bread and Pastry Production by USJ-R President Rev. Fr. Cristopher Maspara, OAR in a “graduation ceremony” yesterday at the jail grounds.

“Deserving kaayo mo i-congratulate kay bisan kamo naa diri sa sulod sa bilanggoan, naa moy na-achieve sa inyong kinabuhi (You deserved to be congratulated because even if you’re behind bars, you have achieved something),” Fr. Maspara told the inmates during the mass held before the awarding of certificates.

Ang inyong nakat-onan kay para ra pod sa inyong personal nga kalamboan ug para sa kalamboan sa inyong pamilya ug myembro sa inyong kumunidad dinhi (What you have learned will be for your own good and the good of your family and members of your community),” he added, as he urged them to use what they have learned to do good.

The lady inmates and Jail Officer 2 Marcia Sayson had undergone 141 hours of training conducted by Miss Grace Barnido, an instructor of the Recoletos Industrial and Technological Training Center (RITTC), the tech-voc arm of USJ-R.

Of the 356 total population of the facility, 30 “willingly” signed up for the program, said Sayson.

Dr. Mary Ann Roble, RITTC director, said the inmates demonstrated competence and skill during the Sept. 22 Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) accreditation, registering a 100% passing rate.

The inmates wore their apron and toque blanche, or the pleated, starched white hat worn by chefs as they walked up the mini stage and get their certificates.

They also received a livelihood package consist of baking wares and ingredients from USJ-R as “graduation gift.”

Second chances

Bro. Jaazeal Jakosalem, OAR, director of the university’s Institute of Non-Formal Education and Community Outreach Program (INFECOP), said the initiative is anchored on the university’s community apostolate.

He said that USJ-R looks after the spiritual and livelihood concerns of the inmates as Recollect priests attend to the inmates’ spiritual needs by saying mass for them every Sunday, hearing their confessions and giving counsel; and by providing them with the tech-voc training.

“You are already empowered through the skills you acquired,” he said. “Bisag diri sa sulod makakwarta namo pinaagi sa inyong mga lutoon ug crafts nga baligya (Even behind bars, you already earn money through baking and selling hand-made crafts).”

Bro. Jakosalem revealed that during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, crafts made by the inmates were the first to sell out in the booth set by USJ-R at the IEC Pavilion as they became the favorite of IEC delegates.

Community Prior Rev. Fr. Vicente Ramon Jr., OAR encouraged the inmates to never give up even if life seemed bleak behind bars as he told them the humble beginnings and success story of Mrs. Julia Gandionco, owner of Julie’s Bakeshop

“Kung naa lang unta ang atong mahal nga Presidente Duterte aron mo-witness sa inyong graduation,” Fr. Ramon said, “makakita sab unta siya nga dili diay kinahanglan nga katong mga tawo nga nakasala sa gobyerno nga ato lang pamusilon diha sa daplin. Naa pa gyod diay second ug third ug fourth chances.”

(If our beloved President Rodrigo Duterte could only witness your graduation, he would have seen that we don’t have to just shoot erring individuals, that there are second and third and fourth chances.)

How it began

JO2 Saycon and inmates Geraldine Espiritu and Gessa Figueras were awarded for their excellent performance during the training. They were given medals and certificates.

In a speech, the jail officer thanked USJ-R for its contributions to the rehabilitation efforts of the inmates.

She revealed that the initiative started with the same 30 inmates who are fond of making yema, pastillas and munchkin. Soon enough, they started planning about opening a bakery store to also augment their income.

It was then that INFECOP supervisor Dr. Joan de Catalina learned about their bakery plan and offered them training on Bread and Pastry Production, which they readily grabbed.

Dr. de Catalina frequents the jail facility as it is one of the beneficiary area of the university’s community outreach programs.

Dako nakong pasalamat sa Ginoo nga kung kita kinasingkasing ka nga manangandoy, daghan kaayong motabang (I thank the Lord because if you heartily dream, many will extend help),” Saycon said.

Figueras, 27, was arrested for drug peddling. She is awaiting the resolution of her case in court for 1 year and 7 months already.

She said she joined the program because she would want to learn something useful when she would be released from jail.

She said the training was really fun and it helped her divert her attention toward more meaningful things. “Ako gyod ning gamiton akong nakat-onan kay magbagong buhay na gyod ko (I would use what I learned to start a new life),” she said.

Next batch

Espiritu, 49, was convicted of illegal recruitment and has been doing time inside the facility since June 2011. She gladly revealed that she has one more year to go inside the facility.

Timely kaayo ni nga training kay hapit nako molaya,” she said. “Magtukog kog coffee shop inag gawas nako.”

(This training is very timely because I will be released soon. I would open a coffee shop when I get out.)

She said she joined the trainings because she found it helpful. She said as a mother of four, she had no time to cook for her family because she was “always on the go.”

“I didn’t have time for things like this,” she said. She thanked USJ-R for its help and for not giving up on them.

Kung unsa may inyong gitudlo namo, amo gyod gamiton sa pagbuhat og maayo (Whatever you taught us, we would use them to do good),” she said.

Fr. Maspara also invited the other inmates to also signup for future tech-voc trainings to be provided by USJ-R.

Sa sunod namong balik, kamo na sad unta ang mo-graduate kay ang USJ-R dili mohunong pagtabang ninyo (I hope the next time we come back here, may you be the ones who will graduate because USJ-R will not stop helping you),” he told them.

Dr. de Catalina said the tech-voc trainings to be offered to the inmates would continue with the inclusion of the next batches of willing trainees.


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