“Life is a movement forward!” This is the title that could be used to introduce the Assembly of Canada that was held from July 30 to August 1. Indeed, August 1, 2021, is a pivotal date for Marists in Canada, lay people and brothers. The Province of Canada became the “District of Canada“, while the AMDL (Association Mariste des Laïcs) became the Marist Association of Champagnat of Canada (AMCC), an entity bringing together brothers and laypeople in the pursuit of a common ideal.
The passage from “Province” to “District” is, at the level of the Institute, a sort of “novelty”: we are more used to experiencing the opposite – passage from District to Province – or the regrouping of two or three Provinces into one. The General Council had therefore foreseen a canonical structure adapted to North America: the District of Canada is thus attached to the two Provinces of Mexico (Central and Western) and to the Province of the United States, which assures the canonical link: these three Provincials, with the Superior of the District, form the “Council of Governance”. It is in this capacity that the three provincials – Daniel O’Riordan (USA), Luis Felipe Gonzalez (MC), Louis Enrique Rodriguez Santana (MO) – participated in the meetings throughout the weekend. Brother Ernesto Sánchez, Superior General, and Brother João Carlos do Prado joined the Saturday (July 31) morning session.
These are not “banal” events: they imply not only changes of statutes, but an invitation to a new beginning. It was therefore appropriate to experience them in a spirit of continuity and openness to the future. Two people – Félix Roldan (a brother) and Pedro Chimeno (a layman) – were responsible for the organisation of the weekend. They worked with a team of brothers and laypeople, young and not so young, to draw up a programme which included information, of course, but also reflection, exchanges and courses of action. And even if the health measures imposed by the COVID-19 are becoming more flexible, this meeting had to be carried out via Zoom: the organisers and the participants were able to adapt well to this. As will be seen, the Assembly consisted of 4 blocks of 2 hours each.
Friday, 30 July – 1st block: “Dare”
The opening of the Assembly of the new “District of Canada” was done jointly by Brother Gérard Bachand, outgoing Provincial, and Mr. Jacques Boudrias, President of the Lay Association. Brother Gérard took advantage of the occasion to recall the road travelled since the first “Forums” in the 1990s bringing together brothers and laypeople of the former Province of Iberville up to the crossroads where we are now, where laypeople and brothers meet “around the same table”.
There was then a slide show presenting the major stages in the life of Brother Gérard who has animated the Province over the last 7 years and ensured the passage from Province to District in the context of the pandemic, with all that this implied in terms of work, consultation and virtual meetings. The tribute was touching, and above all well-deserved! Bravo and thank you, Gérard!
Then a team of young Marists, with the help of a video “Dare”, asked us: “Why am I participating in the Assembly? What contribution do I want to make to ensure the success of the process that we are undertaking? Then, in workshops, everyone was able to share expectations and the contribution they intend to make.
Saturday, 31 July – 2nd block: “Daring to give birth
The session opened with a talk by Brother Ernesto, Superior General. Inspired by the theme of the day, he invited us, brothers and laypeople, “to read today’s reality with the eyes of God, to be beacons of hope and to dream God’s dream for us, in our context here in Canada.
Following this word of encouragement from Brother Ernesto, a first video was presented, “Who is the teenager of 2021“. Following the picture drawn by the young adults, the participants took time for personal reflection in light of the more technical part.
There was first of all a moment of reflection and interiority to carry out this new stage of unity between laypeople and brothers under the umbrella of the Association of Marists of Champagnat of Canada.
Firstly, the address by the president – a layman – gave a brief history, with the help of a slide show of the road travelled to arrive at this new entity where together we will be called to give witness to the values bequeathed by Marcellin. Then we moved on to different items on the agenda: election of a president and a secretary of the assembly – reminder of the responsibilities assigned to the members of the Board, presentation of the candidates and election. The 7 elected members are: Jacques Boudrias, Fernando Castro, Michel Beaulac, Claudine Cholette, Jessica Bonneau, Brothers René Mailloux, Gilles Hogue. Together, they will share the various responsibilities of the Board at their first meeting on August 12.
Sunday, 1 August – 4th block: “Daring to walk together
Before entering into the celebration of this last stage, Br. João Carlos do Prado, Liaison Councillor of Arco Norte, and Br. Dan O’Riordan, Provincial of the United States, reiterated to the brothers and laypeople of the District their support and their involvement in the new reality that we are called to live.
The rest of the District Assembly was a long moment of celebration presided over by Mgr Alain Faubert, auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Montreal and a Marist who has always been involved. Inspired by the text of the Gospel where Jesus invites his disciples to “cross over to the other side”, to a pagan land (Lk 8, 22ff), he invited the Marist family to “dare to go to meet our world of today, different from that which we have known, in order to respond to the emerging needs of our time”.
Then came the conclusion of the whole Assembly with the handing over of “powers”. In a highly symbolic gesture – in connection with Robert Lebel’s song whose words lend themselves very well to such a circumstance: “Like Him, to know how to set the table, like Him, to tie on your apron, to get up every day and serve out of love, like Him! Brother Gérard Bachand took off his apron to pass it around the neck of Brother Gaston Robert, superior of the new District. Brother Gaston Robert then addressed the assembly. Inspired by Psalm 126, so dear to Marcellin: “If the Lord does not build the house…”, he invited us to enter together with confidence into this new adventure that is opening up to us. He took the opportunity to present the Council that will support him in his mission of animation and accompaniment: Brothers Bernard Beaudin, Félix Roldan, Jacques Bélisle and Gilles Lacasse; Brother Roger Guertin will be in charge of the District bursar’s office. And he concluded: “Mary, keep us together, brothers and laypeople, united in the same enthusiasm, so that the Marist charism may live on, according to the founding spirit.
And Mgr Alain Faubert concluded this three-day Assembly with the final blessing and the sending off to the mission.
Brother Gilles Hogue