marianist lay communities and synods – a reflection

2014 International MLC Meeting, Lima Peru
2014 International MLC Meeting, Lima Peru

I may never attend a synod of bishops, but I have attended four international meetings of Marianist Lay Communities; 2001 in Philadelphia, 2005 in Bordeaux, 2009 in Nairobi and 2014 in Lima. As I followed the daily news from the synod, I couldn’t help pondering the similarities with our MLC international meetings.

First of all, there is the mind-opening reality of any international experience. As brothers and sisters in a worldwide community of communities, our commonality is grounded in a shared charism and spirituality. Our diversity is present in how we live this charism in the day to day.

Beyond obvious differences in language and culture, there are differences in political realities and agendas. These differences affect the mission of each community. It is important to share one’s local experience. After all, this is one of the main reasons to gather across the many miles. It is equally important to come with an open mind and heart to listen carefully to the experiences of others. This requires checking in our natural, parochial mindset at the door.

This is especially true for those of us in the western world. Our issues may not be the issues of our neighbours in the global south. We are sometimes so ready with an answer to the problems before us, that we fail to listen, really listen, to the experience and wisdom of others.

MLC International Team, 2009 Nairobi, Kenya
MLC International Meeting, 2009 Nairobi, Kenya

Watching the bishops in the synod halls struggling with headsets reminded me of the long meetings listening to simultaneous translations through static sound systems. It required extra attentiveness to follow the English translation going on in your headset while you could still hear the French or Spanish being spoken on the floor. Add to that the deliciousness of a hefty midday meal, late nights and jet lag, fighting the mid-afternoon demons of sleep was inevitable.

MLC writing team, 2009 Bordeaux
MLC writing team, 2005 Bordeaux

Writing international documents is a major challenge. I was on the writing team at two of the international meetings I attended. We had the added disadvantage of not having a shared language to work with around the table. We struggled to make the necessary changes and edits in three languages. Our translators were our trusted and indispensable companions as they helped us to communicate in our discussions and in our writings. Late, exhausting nights were the norm.

Compiling the numerous statements, comments and edits was often a herculean task. The documents we were writing would become our foundational identity documents. We had to discern which statements reflected the general assembly, and which were indicative of a more individual or local preference. As Marianist Lay Communities, we value inclusivity. The challenge was to make the documents inclusive of our diversity while specifying the foundational characteristics that united us. It was not easy, and there was always a point where our efforts seemed doomed. Relief came when the final document was voted on and approved by the assembly.

As with the synods, our international meetings provided the dual challenge for delegates to faithfully represent the grass roots experience of their region, and to take the fruits of the meeting back home so that visions and carefully chosen words could be transformed into action.

Interest in our international meetings was often mixed at the local levels. Again, as with synods, international meetings come and go while the lives of communities go on.

6 thoughts on “marianist lay communities and synods – a reflection

  1. We can only hope our Bishops are as thoughtful and open as the MLC’s and their representatives that attend our international meetings. Yes, Synods, meetings come and go, but a well thought out document speaks volumes of who we area, not only at that moment, but historically in years to come. Thankful for your faithfulness, Isabella!

  2. And Thank You, Pati! Maybe one day we’ll both be invited to attend a Synod and share our experiences with the Bishops. Ooo….now that’s a glorious thought…. 😉

  3. Excellent article, Isabella. I believe, with the Marianist commitment and lifestyles the EGO is usually checked in at the door. None of us who have been chosen and have truly responded with Mary’s YES, has nothing to prove to the other. We must pray for our beloved Francis. All of this reminds me of having “thick heads” in a family. They fear to change. To them, that could appear they were negating themselves to a lower level of self.

    Was the 2009 picture of you and Lorna?

    Be well, dear one! I hope you and David are enjoying some moments of peace in your retirement!

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Hi Chris. I’m so sorry that your lovely comment was not posted sooner. I seldom check my Spam folder, but did so just now. There you were!!! Chris? Spam? I THINK NOT!!!!

      Yes, Lorna and I are both in the Bordeaux picture (oops…that is supposed to be 2005! I’ll have to change it.) and in the Nairobi group shot (I’m third from the left in front row. Lorna is on the far right.)

      Be well also, dear friend!

  4. Really appreciate reading you, Isabella. Would that our bishops could learn from others (laity)
    and especially women, how to “take off their mitres” truly dialogue and be collegial…

    1. Thanks akonefall! Bishops could learn greatly from religious women and men, too. Focusing on a discussion group model made headlines for the synod, as if it was something new. True dialogue and collegiality is already ingrained in the Chapter model for the religious communities I know.

      Some bishops continue to hang on tightly to those mitres, but the Spirit, She is a blowin’! 😉

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