Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ciao, Bella Charism!

Ciao! In case you didn’t know, that’s how Italy spells “Hi!” You know—chow. I’m in Rome for an intense course in the Pauline charism—that gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us Paulines. The course covers our history, our identity, the theology of consecrated life, our mission, spirituality, and much more. There are eighteen of us from five Pauline institutes present in twelve countries, plus our coordinator, Fr. Gabriel, who's from Mexico. We just spent several days getting to know each other at the Society of St. Paul’s vacation house by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Tough life.

You can follow our doings on Facebook at Corso Carisma Famiglia Paolina. If you don’t want to slog through the Italian, you can go to my Facebook timeline. I’ll be posting things here and there at Margaret Obrovac Fsp. And of course, starting Oct. 31, I’ll be posting shorter articles every two weeks on Pauline Faithways. Through Oct. 17, I’ll catch up with you in weekly posts. (Thanks to those who took my survey last month, I got some great direction for the upcoming year and probably beyond. Give a round of applause to our Canadian novice, Sr. Cheryl Galema, who redesigned the banner and background! It’s a work in progress, but already more than presentable.)

This week we started our 90-minute classes; so far: an introduction to our founder, Blessed James Alberione, two sessions on the print and digital collection of his works, the Opera Omnia (more on that in my next post), and three sessions so far on the methodology of research. Later this week: hermeneutics and Paul and Alberione. All classes and assignments are in Italian. Our concluding thesis can be in our mother tongue, though. Yes, apparently there is a God.

Even though it’s been great, it is draining, at least until we really get into it. So, I decided to have some fun and introduce you to some of the Americans and Canadians—native-born and adopted—who reside in what we call the generalate community where I’m staying and where the sisters who govern the Daughters of St. Paul worldwide live and work. Two profiles this week and two next week.

Sr. Germana Santos (U.S.)

Twenty years ago our U.S. superior sent Sr. Germana to Rome where she received her licentiate in psychology from the Gregorian University, after a four-year program designed especially for formation directors of seminarians and religious. Last year Italy decided to let her back in the country; we’re still waiting on a casting call for the national sequel to Analyze That. Picture that!

Actually, Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, our superior general asked her—again—to serve in the International Secretariat for Formation and Studies. I don’t know if Sr. Germana answered in English, Italian, or Portuguese (She’s originally from the Azores), but she said yes. I only half-jokingly call her “Chrysologus”—the “Golden Word.”

She has served in formation or government almost all her religious life. The provincial superior finally let her out of her cage a couple of years ago to spend some time in Charleston, working in outreach with our community there. A breast cancer survivor, her contact with people was therapeutic. “I’d go back tomorrow,” she sighs.

So, besides obedience, what keeps her here today? The young Daughters of St. Paul she’s privileged to accompany as they prepare for perpetual vows. “They come from all around the world,” says Sr. Germana. “It’s an extremely enriching experience to see the Pauline charism become part of different cultures. Yet we all speak of the same charismatic reality. I get to share the riches of our spirituality with the young. At the same time, I get to see their enthusiasm in creating new methods of reaching out to people with Christ’s truth and love.”

Last year’s program was especially moving for her. “There were 27 of us from eleven nations living in one large convent. We were so united, because Christ was the center of our house. There was peace among us, even with our differences. This is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit.” Unity like this is not the preserve of sisters. When members of families root their conversations, prayer, meals, games, work, and disagreements in Christ, trying to think, live, and love in the spirit of the Gospel, they’re much more likely to enjoy the same kind of peace. Sr. Germana puts it this way: “We let Jesus live in us and we take on his characteristics. It is Christ who thinks, loves, forgives, and suffers in me.” Part of authentic religious life is its testimony that human community can happen—anywhere!

People say to me, “Living in Rome—that must be so wonderful!” The romanticism wears off pretty fast. You can visit only so many churches and eat only so much pasta. Besides hunting for the goodness in everything, Sr. Germana has a secret for surviving as an American: laugh at the crazy daily occurrences, your “Seinfeld moments.” Like the instructor who told her to stop driving “like the Germans. Just go!” Native or immigrant, you summon your innate openness to what’s different and jump into the adventure. You have to admit, we can be good at that.

Sr. Cecilia Ventura (Canada)

“Rome! A city filled with history, art, beauty, and spirituality. A place visited without let-up by tourists, the curious, vacationers, pilgrims, and men and women in search of their Christian roots, as they follow in the steps of the first Apostles and of countless martyrs. Rome is at the same time a paradox of chaos and charm, of noise and silence, engaged in hectic activity, yet always snarled and slowed by protests and marches of every kind—political, religious, and humanitarian. Because of this—and so much more—Rome is really ‘special.’”
So begins Sr. Cecilia Ventura, an adopted Canadian, since she spent fifteen years in Montreal and Toronto. She and I talk about this place that will be my own home for the next eight months. I may be here for study, but Sr. Cecilia is here for something different. At a very young 68, she’s definitely Canadian, but also very Italian.
“It is here that, a year-and-a-half ago, I returned to live as a Daughter of St. Paul to begin a new phase in my life, immersed in a new aspect of the apostolate that Blessed James Alberione entrusted to his innumerable sons and daughters: to allow oneself to be inhabited and transformed by Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as St. Paul lived him and give him to others. In this city, where the suns almost always reigns supreme, I came to learn a new language, a new alphabet to communicate the Gospel: graphic design.”
Sr. Cecilia clearly loves the 56-plus sisters under this roof where, on any given day, you can find members of our general government, a number of Italians, including several senior members, as well as younger sisters from all over the world. They work together at the service of both the general government and our communities worldwide.
“Here we receive the requests of our sisters dispersed in mission territories. In real time, the world is brought to us via Skype or Internet. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I’m involved in this intra-planetary exchange that frees the hearts of those who receive Gospel. This reminds me of my greatest challenge in this apostolic work: to become a book, poster, CD, DVD, color, form, sound, or light myself, utilizing the graphic design of the heart! How? By trusting in Love, who transforms every one of my limitations. Every one of my limitations becomes the very place where, in his Son, God the Father can make my experience of the Resurrection real. Jesus tells us that his Father and ours works without pause within us, because he never stops loving us as his children!”
Next week: Sr. Monica Mary Baviera and Sr. Mary Damien Veira


  1. When we were in Rome, I remembering asking in my broken Italian if it were possible to make this intense course available for lay Paulines. I am still hoping that one day this may happen. Meanwhile, a question. Are you all talking there about celebrating the centenary of the Pauline family? We had a phone conference last night between various units of the Pauline family. One theme that emerged which I identified with completely was the idea that in this time when so much is lacking in catechesis among even those baptized Catholics who continue to practice in adulthood -- so many drop out, sadly -- our centenary should be carried out with evangelical zeal. Event planning is necessary, but the spirit of the centenary is not just to tell people about the historical record but to discover and then share with the world what the Holy Spirit, with St. Paul and Blessed Alberione and the other Pauline saints, are doing in the Body of Christ right here and now.

    Is this something that is resonating in your Pauline course? I sometimes get discouraged because Blessed Alberione, Mother Thecla, Brother Timothy and the others have passed into eternity, and I long for that steadiness of vision that they seemed to have had. What can you tell us from Rome about our generation of Pauline evangelism?

  2. Great questions, Rae! They're too important to answer superficially, so I'm going to keep them on file to cover in future posts. But initially let me say that, yes, the centenary is very much front and center in everyone's mind and planning, since it's the anniversary of the whole Family and not just of the Society of St. Paul.

    As you clearly pointed out, it's not just a matter of celebrating a Mass or holding an exhibit or a talk. My sense of things is that we recognize it as an unrepeatable opportunity to engage us as individuals, as communities, and as an apostolic Family. In fact, Don Sassi, SSP superior general, wrote a letter to us all, proposing one of the Founder's works, Ut Perfectus Sit Homo Dei, as a guideline for this very purpose. I'll be covering that, too.

    Just today, we had a class on Alberione's originality in connecting Paul with his project of the "apostolate of the press": Paul didn't just follow Jesus in the sense of imitating him. He interpreted Jesus Christ for the people of his time. Alberione didn't just want us to read Paul or pray to him, but to interpret him in his discipleship and apostleship for the people of our times. So much remains to be done in this regard, as you said. More on all this later.

    By the way, this course is open to the laity of the Pauline Family! In fact we have an Annuntiationist among us. The issue is the necessity of being at least semi-fluent in Italian and of having nine months at your disposal for this. The woman with us just retired, so it's coming at a good time for her. I'm hoping that we might be able to offer an abbreviated version in North America in the not-too-distant future. Pray to Paul and everybody else for this.


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