From Oct 10 – 14 twenty-four “first fives,” of the three US provinces, i.e., those in their first five years of their first official appointment, met at the Divine Word Retreat Centre, Bay St. Louis, MS. Our USW “first fives” included Binh Quang Le Quang, Ricardo Gonzalez, Charles Moat Jr, Fransiskus Santoso and Akhil Thomas. For many this was the first time away from their assigned provinces and for most it was the first time at Bay St Louis MS. We were blessed with wonderful weather. Except for a light sprinkling on Wednesday night, it was bright and unseasonably warm throughout.
The gathering opened with a lively social at 5:00 PM Monday evening followed by dinner with the community at 5:30 PM. Then the on-site organizer, Fr Pascal Chester, gave us the schedule, asked the three provinces each to prepare a liturgy over the next three days and urged us to reach out and get to know one another. In response to that enjoyable task we were getting acquainted until the lights went out at 10:00 PM.
The daily schedule followed the basic pattern of previous years but allowed for more time (twice a day) for the group to share their pastoral and life experiences with one another. Tuesday started off at 7:00 AM with morning prayer and Mass organized by the BSL guys. This was followed by breakfast in the main house by 8:00 AM and then our first meeting at 9:00 when the three provincials introduced their provinces offering some of the history and basic facts about each. This was followed by a group sharing facilitated by Fr Pascal. Following our lunch at 12:00 PM, we were blessed with a restful break and then another group-sharing from 3:00 to 4:30 PM which was followed by a Bible sharing and then supper at 5:30 PM.
The schedule remained pretty much the same throughout except for presentations by Fr Somers on Wednesday and Fr Kirby on Thursday from 9:00 to 10:30 AM, and a presentation by a highly qualified lay woman on pastoral experiences Tuesday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:30 PM. Drawing from his long history and deep experience in the area of Spirituality, Fr Somers offered the group insights on the spirituality of our founder, Fr Jansen. His utter humility, his constant prayer, and his unflinching dedication to his missionary vision, despite the extreme challenges he encountered, were an inspiration to us and offered us encouragement to press on in following God’s mission despite the many challenges we encounter today. By comparing the oftentimes high expectations with have with the actual realities there, the lay speaker offered sobering insights into the joys and challenges of doing ministry in our time. Fr Kirby offered insights from his own experience into the many cultural differences that exist in our multicultural environment and the challenges to ministry that arise because of these, and how we might begin to deal with them.
The gathering also offered the three provincials a chance to meet and discuss some common issues and agendas. On Tuesday evening the provincials got to know each other better while enjoying a seafood dinner at the Baccus restaurant, in neighboring Pass Christian.
Overall, it was great to see so many hope-filled, youthful faces and experience the sheer joy of their presence. And it was very good for us “old-timers” to experience such a living witness of our future as SVDs in the USA. On Friday the group headed back to their home provinces satisfied and refreshed, and, judging from their cheery goodbyes, ready to jump back into their ministries with full vigor and vitality.