PRESENTATION BY JERRY STOOKEY, OP, PROMOTER GENERAL OF THE DOMINICAN LAITY
1. Thank you. Let me begin by thanking you for inviting me to participate in this Assembly and for the privilege of working with the ECLDF during these past few years. It is truly an honor for me to be your Promoter General—and I would say, probably the best job you could get at Santa Sabina! In a special way everyone wants to thank the Dominican Laity of Germany for such a fantastic welcome and preparation of this Assembly.
2. Congratulations. Let me also congratulate the European Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities on this VI Assembly. You should know that you are a model for all the Dominican Laity throughout the world who are only now beginning to form similar networks at the continental or regional level. Congratulations also on the theme of “Lay Dominicans for a New Europe” which is so timely as Europe welcomes 10 new countries into the European Union.
3. Master. As you know, we always invite the Master of the Order to this Assembly. However, only this last week we learned that our brother, Carlos Azpiroz, would not be able to attend. Unfortunately he is quite overextended in his commitments due to so much travel and preparation for the General Chapter. He has also cancelled the canonical visitation of the province of Brazil, which was to begin next week. He sends his greetings and promises us his support and prayers during our Assembly.
1. Personal background. Although many of us know one another, let me begin by introducing myself further, for those who do not know me. I am a member of the Province of St. Albert the Great, the Central Province of the USA. I was appointed by Timothy Radcliffe, as the friars’ Promoter General of the Dominican Laity in response to the petition of the General Chapter of Bologna, 1998. I began my 6-year term at Santa Sabina in Rome, in September 1999.
2. Bologna Chapter: According to the Bologna General Chapter, Acts. No. 171, it was recommended that this Promoter General would preferably be a lay person, and would do the following tasks:
i. To represent the laity at the international level.
ii. To encourage contact among the different groups within the Dominican laity.
iii. To encourage the laity to form regional and continental organizations.
In this presentation to you, I hope to show that I have been accomplishing these tasks, in collaboration with you, the Dominican Laity.
3. Assistant to Master for USA: In July 2001, the new Master of the Order, Carlos Azpiroz, appointed me as his Assistant for the USA. This new job meant that my role as Promoter General for the Dominican Laity was reduced to half time. It also resulted in another 6-year term (2001-2007) in Rome, overlapping my Promoter’s term (1999-2005). Recently, Carlos and I agreed that both terms would end in August 2006, as a compromise between the two.
C. LAY DOMINICAN FRATERNITIES (LDF) INTERNATIONALLY
1. Description globally. I have had the privilege of seeing Lay Dominican Fraternities in every continent, and specifically in about 50 countries. I can happily tell you that Lay Dominicans are alive and well throughout the world! You are certainly the largest branch of the Dominican Family, with well over 100,000 members.
There are Lay Dominican Fraternities of every type imaginable! There are fraternities that are small, like Basic Christian Communities of only 6 to 12 members; and fraternities that are very large with more than 300 members. There are fraternities of only women, and fraternities of only men. There are fraternities of elderly members, and fraternities of only young people. There are fraternities of married couples, who arrange to include their children in their activities. And there are fraternities of unmarried individuals, or even consecrated virgins. There are fraternities that meet in homes, at priories, at convents, at monasteries, at Dominican universities, and almost anywhere possible. Some fraternities have individual preaching commitments at their workplace or home; others have started major preaching projects, like prison ministry, publishing material, a radio program, or preaching retreats with sisters or friars. Many of you have heard that we even have a Lay Dominican Fraternity inside a prison! So as I say, we have Lay Dominican Fraternities of every type imaginable.
2. Regional networks: This August, the first Assembly of Lay Dominican Fraternity presidents of all Asian-Pacific countries will be held in the Philippines. One of the objectives of their assembly is to establish a regional network for Asia- Pacific, similar to ECLDF in Europe. This will be the last continental region to form such a network. The complete list of regional networks are:
i. European Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities (ECLDF) – Europe
ii. Dominican Laity Inter-Provincial Council (DLIPC) – North America
iii. Consejo de las Fraternidades Laicales Dominicanas de América Latina y el Caribe (COFALC) – Latin America
iv. African Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities (ACLDF) – Africa
v. Asia Pacific’s new network yet to be named by them.
3. ICLDF: Each of these regional networks is represented by one Lay Dominican elected to the International Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities (ICLDF). Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your representative, Patricia Robinson, who is an excellent member on the International Council. As Patricia will surely mention in her report to you, the ICLDF is convoking an international Congress of Lay Dominican Fraternities in August 2006, which is not that long from now. At least every Lay Provincial President will be expected to attend. And there will be much preparation and discussion by Lay Dominicans at the local level before this Congress takes place.
D. EUROPEAN LDF’S
1. Reality: Europe is the historical center of the Dominican Order, and the most experienced when it comes to such events as Lay Dominican Assemblies and regional councils. Except for Vietnam, where any upright Catholic layperson seems to be a Lay Dominican, the European countries have the most numerous members of Lay Dominicans, especially in Italy, Spain, and France. However you also have some unique dynamics that I want to highlight for you to think about during this Assembly as you plan for the future:
i. Within Europe there is a new mission directed toward Eastern European countries. That is central to the theme of this Assembly “Lay Dominicans for a New Europe.” So how will European Lay Dominicans respond to this mission?
ii. Europe is at the global crossroads of politics and religion, and in a key position when it comes to immigration, refugees, major wars, and dialogue with Islam. So how will European Lay Dominicans respond to this reality?
iii. Some entities of the Dominican Family in Europe are literally dying, such as Dominican congregations with elderly sisters; Dominican monasteries that must close; provinces and vicariates of friars with no vocations for 25 years; and of course, there are Lay Dominican Fraternities in Europe that will disappear. This is a great pastoral challenge for everyone, to fight against despair and abandonment. So how will European Lay Dominicans respond to this reality?
2. Needs: One thing to consider as European Lay Dominicans is how to strengthen our ECLDF network, so that it can respond to the points mentioned above. We must be preachers to the core, knowing that telling others about God’s love for all is why we have joined the Order of Preachers. We must build minimal organizational structures in order for this preaching mission to flourish. That means having good presidents, good secretaries, good formation directors, and good religious assistants. That means finding ways to pay for what we need and fundraising. That means keeping good records of our meetings and our members’ names and addresses. That means making Lay Dominican Fraternities a healthy, strong, adult organization in the Dominican Family, rather than a weak, dependent, disorganized group. If it requires paying dues, opening an office, having a telephone number or website for your province, then do whatever you need to do. As I already mentioned, there is no such thing as one way to be a Lay Dominican Fraternity, so do not fear doing something new and creative!
So you see, we still have lots of work in our European fraternities to fulfill all of this. The new ECLDF council members will have plenty of work to help us have strong provincial councils who are democratically elected, good provincial directories, and solid formation programs everywhere. So even though we celebrate the greatness of Europe and our ECLDF, let us not become too comfortable thinking that we have nothing more to learn and do! The great advantage of forming networks like this is that we can contact anyone for solving our problems and meeting these needs, with the experience and advice from our Dominican brothers and sisters elsewhere.
E. OTHER DOMINICANS
1. New Dominican Laity Groups: All of us are aware of the many new Dominican laity groups emerging throughout the world. It makes no sense for us to protest or compete over this. I myself am asked to be the friars’ Promoter General of all Dominican laity groups, something which I did not realize when I first came to Rome. Again, in light of the many ways of being Lay Dominican Fraternities throughout the world, it does seem strange to us that some feel the need to establish totally new lay Dominican organizations, rather than use what is already available. However, the circumstances in each country often reveal to us the reasons that such new Dominican laity are founded. At any rate, the General Chapters of Bologna (Acts. N. 171, b) and Providence (Acts N. 445) encouraged all different lay Dominican groups to be in contact with one another.
I believe that this contact must begin first at the local level. For example, the Lay Dominican Fraternities of Malta, and the new lay Dominican group there called Kerygma, are both part of the Dominican Family organization in Malta. It is important for the national secretariats of the Dominican Family to include all kinds of lay Dominicans in their organizations. There may be similar such groups in your province. We must do what we can to include one another in our Family. We can speak up on their behalf when the friars or sisters forget to invite or include them. After all, there are many congregations of Dominican sisters, yet each congregation is always included in the Family.
Now that the Lay Dominican Fraternities are more unified in each region, through ECLDF for example, we can meet the other lay Dominican groups with no fear or competition. In the near future, it would be good for some provinces or regions like Europe, to begin holding meetings or assemblies for all lay Dominican entities. Are we secure enough to even imagine something like Dominican Laity International, comparable to Dominican Sisters International, which networks all 165 congregations of Dominican Sisters in the world! Of course, “we cannot mix apples and oranges”, as they say, before we have our own Lay Dominican Fraternities properly structured first. But we are faced with the new reality that there exist many lay Dominicans who have a different Rule and life than ours. They are no less equal members in the Dominican Family than we are. They are just different than we are.
2. Family: It amazes me that so many members in the Dominican Family throughout the world do not know the difference between Dominican Laity and Dominican Family! With the Promoter General of the Dominican Family, fr. Chrys McVey, here at our Assembly, we may want to ask him to say more about this.
At any rate, I think all of us want to have a good relationship with the other entities of the Dominican Family. In Europe, the Religious Assistants for the local fraternities are usually friars. The Rule says that they may be Sisters or Friars, including the Provincial Promoter. We have June Ross from Australia attending this Assembly as an observer, and she can verify that in her province, most of the Religious Assistants in Australia are Dominican Sisters. This is an important difference, because in some countries, the Lay Dominican Fraternities suffer from a misconception that they “belong to the friars” simply because their promises are made to the Master. Each branch of the Dominican Family is an entity of its own right, and belongs to no one but to the common Holy Preaching, but certainly united under the Master.
3. DVI: I have brought with me from Rome materials on the Dominican Volunteers International (DVI) which are available on the Information table. I encourage you to become involved with DVI, since it is essentially designed to be a lay missionary program, for people like you. Anyone over 21 years old, who would like to help the Dominicans in another part of the world for 2 years, should take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to preach abroad.
4. IDYM: The International Dominican Youth Movement (IDYM) is growing in most parts of the world but diminishing in Europe. Why is that? These young adults, of university age (17 –30), are part of the Dominican Family in places where we truly need their youthful expertise. IDYM suggests that the best formula for success is to have coordinating team with a Lay Dominican, a Sister, and a friar all working together for the local IDYM, since they do not belong to any one branch of the Order. Lay Dominicans, in particular, ought to be part of IDYM, since these youth are often your very children or grandchildren. They may even discover that being a lifetime member of a Lay Dominican Fraternity is for young adults too!
F. FUTURE CHALLENGES:
Let me conclude with some challenges for the future, and in some instances repeating challenges that I have already mentioned:
1. Preaching identity: The whole Dominican Family is dialoguing about our Preaching charism. Your Dominican lay voice is very much needed in this dialogue, which is being coordinated by the Promoter General of the Dominican Family. Since Vatican II, everyone has been called back to their roots, to their original charism, and to the concept of “re-founding” what St. Dominic first intended. Lay Dominicans are to be Preachers, and need to identify themselves as Preachers. They need to pray, study, and work together in their preaching vocation. We are not prayer groups or rosary clubs—although we certainly do pray. We are not study groups or Bible circles—although we must certainly study. We are neither elite cliques nor emotional support groups—although we are certainly friends who belong in fraternities. And all of this, so that we can be more effective in communicating the Word of God to others, in all ways, and in all places. But do all Dominican Laity truly identify and understand themselves as preachers? Do we promote preaching apostolates that Lay Dominicans themselves can carry out without being dependent on friars or sisters?
i. Census, record keeping: I have with me a simple form for each Lay Dominican Fraternity to complete. It is a tool to help us take a true census of our LDFs and to help keep better records in each province. It is scandalous that many provinces do not really know how many members they have, nor have a list of their names and addresses, nor keep accurate minutes of their own meetings. We need to be serious about our own organization.
ii. Fundraising: I am finding everywhere that the Lay Dominican Fraternities do not have money to do the basic things they need to do. Again, if we are a serious organization, then we have to find ways to pay for what we need, even if it is for the coffee at each meeting! LDFs should contribute to the expenses of their Provincial Council also. How can we meet if we have no money for travel? It is not that we are all so poor, but rather that we are so disorganized! Let’s have a budget. Let’s find creative ways to raise money so that we can pay for our own needs. And perhaps even raise more money so that ECLDF can hold its next Assembly! Who do you think will pay for the International Congress of Lay Dominican Fraternities, if we do not raise the money ourselves!
3. Promotion of LDF Vocations: We can no longer afford to ignore the need to actively promote vocations to Lay Dominican Fraternities. It is not up to the friars or sisters to find new lay members for us, although it would certainly help us if they collaborated in this. Think of creative ways to welcome new members and to start totally new fraternities if that is best. Announce a meeting for those interested in learning more about Lay Dominicans at the Sunday masses. Hold house meetings at which each member must bring a new friend. Design vocational brochures with contact information to leave at key places and offices. Don’t agonize, ORGANIZE! For you will not get, what you do NOT ask for!
4. Public Relations with Family: I already mentioned the need to be in relationship with so many entities in the Dominican Family. However, I cannot emphasize enough the serious challenge that you Lay Dominican Fraternities face concerning better public relations with everyone. If Sisters believe that LDFs are “property” of the friars, then they will found their own Dominican laity groups, almost in opposition to you. If IDYM believes that there is no future for young people in the LDFs, then they will found their own Dominican laity groups, rather than join you. If friars believe that LDFs are theirs or else have no future, then they will either control you or abandon you. I say all of this not to criticize anyone, but to present a very serious need for better public relations with LDFs and our Dominican Family.
5. Justice and Peace and the Care of Creation: The International Commission of Justice and Peace and the Care of Creation has accepted that Lay Dominicans need to be working on the local and international commissions. However, that must begin with us first, by naming a Lay Promoter of Justice and Peace in each province. There are so many Lay Dominicans who are very involved in justice and peace issues, in civil rights and environmental problems, in politics and social problems. So it will be a great advantage to our Dominican Justice and Peace Commissions everywhere when these Lay Dominican promoters are named and actively involved. Don’t wait—just start naming your Justice and Peace Promoters now!
6. Elderly and Alone Members: We have so many members who are no longer able to be active because of age or moving away from their LDF that it is to mention this as a challenge for the future. These are our great Dominican brothers and sisters, who after decades of commitment and activity, now need our concrete support and prayers. Neither friars, sisters, nuns nor laity, should dismiss the elderly members of our Dominican Family for the simple reason that they are old. Ageism is not to be part of the Dominican Family. But what concrete solutions can we come up with when some of our members and LDFs are facing isolation and distance. I very much admire the Lone Lay Fraternity concept that the Lay Dominicans of the English Province have implemented. And I think we need something like that and many more ideas to face this urgent challenge.
Well, enough. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I could continue for several pages more. But these are the topics that I felt were the most important to share with you now at this Assembly. Again, thank you for the invitation. God bless all the Lay Dominicans in the New Europe! And keep preaching!
fr. Gerald Stookey, OP
Promoter General of Dominican Laity
31 May, 2004