A special audience with the Pope has always been one of the highlights of the General Chapter of t he Society of the Divine Word. For the 18th General Chapter taking place from 17 June – 14 July, 2018, this event took place on 22 June 2018 in the Pope Clemens VIII Hall at the Vatican.
At 13:00, Pope Francis appeared before the 155-member contingent of SVD priests, brothers and lay part-ners who had traveled from the Ad Gentus Center in Nemi, where the General Chapter has been going on, to Rome in order to meet and listen to the Holy Father. Despite a heavy schedule of multiple audiences on a Friday, Pope Francis entered the room with a bright smile to meet the SVDs who were equally enthusiastic to see him.
After a brief introduction by Father General Superior Heinz Kuluke, SVD, Pope Francis proceeded to deliver a talk in Spanish that corresponded with the theme of the General Chapter, “‘The Love of Christ impels us’ (2 Cor 5:14): Rooted in the Word, Committed to His Mission.” In addition to reminding the members of the Society about the missionary nature of the Pauline phrase which was selected for the theme of the Chapter, Pope Francis made his exhortations with three concise points.
Trust in the Divine Providence
First, Pope Francis called upon the Divine Word Missionaries to renew their trust in God’s providence through daily acts of prayer and the celebration of the sacraments. In addition, this trust is reflected in the courage to take risks, placing confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Proclaim the word of God
Second, the Holy Father reminded the SVDS about their charism of proclaiming the Word of God to all people, regardless of place, time or culture. Divine Word Missionaries, said the Pope, need to use all availa-ble means in order to meet the challenge of proclaiming the Word to those who have not known Christ yet.
Form a community of brothers in mission
Finally, Pope Francis exhorted the Society of the Divine Word to live out their missionary charism as com-munity of brothers who are united to each other in fraternal love. The ability of the SVDs to walk together in this manner despite their diversity and inter-culturality presents tremendous evangelization value in the world today. The Holy Father emphasized that only when the SVDs achieve love and unity in community can they venture out to be with others and work to address the many issues relating to peace and justice.
Roots and cemeteries
In addition to speaking from prepared texts, Pope Francis also took several opportunities to speak off hand, exhorting the Divine Word Missionaries to return to their roots in concrete acts of care and love, and to re-member SVDs who have served out their missionary lives and are buried in faraway lands of Africa, Asia, the Amazon and around the world.
The passion displayed in the voice and mannerism of the Holy Father was felt distinctively by the SVDs who were present in the room. Brother Bernd Ruffing, SVD, Chapter delegate from the Province of Germany com-mented, “Pope Francis’ smile really touched me when he entered the chapel and connected to all of us. I think there were also special moments when he didn’t follow the script, and I really felt that he spoke from his heart. When he gave me his hand, I felt a special energy coming from him. The opportunity to participate in an audi-ence with the Holy Father was truly a special grace.”
The outward mannerism displayed by Pope Francis was of great value in this encounter. Due to the event taking place entirely in Spanish without translation, not all those in attendance were able to understand the content of the Holy Father’s talk. For Len Uhal, an SVD lay partner who was invited to be a part of the chapter, it was a special experience nonetheless. “It was a true blessing,” he said. “While he spoke in Spanish and I understood little of what he said, being in the presence of a world leader who advocates service to the ‘least among us’ in-spires me to re-commit myself to be a missionary disciple of Christ and serve those whom Jesus puts in my life.”
In the final moments of the audience, each member of the contingent had the opportunity to shake hand with Pope Francis. A large group photo was also taken with the Holy Father seated in the middle.
Although the audience with Pope Francis was not long in terms of time, the words of exhortation spoken by the Holy Father surely presents much for reflection and actions as the Society of the Divine Word lays out its missionary priorities for the future.
By: Anthony Le Duc, SVD