Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

Many thanks for your prayers and kind messages of support for the General Chapter. I continue my efforts to gave you a taste of what is happening here.

On Saturday our liturgy was in French – the most difficult of the languages as far as pronunciation is concerned! We trust the good Lord knew what we were trying to say! In our first working session Fr Daniel Chowning gave an excellent summary of the feedback from the language groups on part one of the working document (Charismatic Identity – Communion with God). There were two main themes: issues with the methodology being adopted and observations on the discussion questions. The first theme led to a debate that bordered on being stormy at times. There is a remarkable amount of opposition to the idea of re-reading the Constitutions accepting that this may possibly lead to rewriting them. Those of us in the English language group find it difficult to understand the level of opposition. There is no wish to change the substance of the Constitutions but rather to express them in a language that is more suitable for our time.  Fr General proposed a vote on whether or not we should proceed with the work but even that ran into trouble. He made every effort to take on board legitimate concerns and showed admirable patience at times! Eventually he said he would take the matter to the steering committee and come back with a proposal. A coffee break was a welcome diversion at that stage.

In the second session Fr General invited Fr Francis Xavier Lema to present part two of the working document on the vows. He is the other moderator with Fr Daniel Chowning. Fr Francis Xavier did not use the text of the working document but gave a very detailed and well researched analysis of the existing text of the Constitutions and suggested improvements. Unfortunately his document was only available in Spanish and we depended on the simultaneous translation to get a sense of what he was proposing.

In the afternoon the language groups met. Since we did not have his document we decided to focus on the existing working document. We had a lively debate with interesting interventions from people who had used the Constitutions in formation and found their coverage of the vows inadequate. We also discussed what had occurred in the general session in the morning in an effort to understand it. One suggestion was that instead of aiming at re-writing the Constitutions we might try to prepare a document that would in effect be a commentary on them. Fr Saverio meanwhile began consulting with the language groups on selecting names for the General Definitory.

There was palpable relief to be at the end of the first week! The Spaniards and Italians expressed this in a very lively sing song!

We had a wonderful outing on Sunday. We first went to Alba de Tormes where St Teresa founded a monastery of nuns and died there in 1582. St Teresa’s sister and brother in law lived in Alba and were friends of the Duke of Alba, one of the most powerful men in Spain at the time. There is very evident pride in the town’s association with St Teresa. Many families had banners of St Teresa on their houses – some side by side with banners encouraging a vote for the Socialist party!

The monastery founded by St Teresa and the priory of the friars are on two sides of a square. A brother of one of the nuns gave us a great introduction to the history of the monastery. He then showed us around the monastery chapel and the first burial place of St Teresa. We had a guided tour of the magnificent Carmelite museum which opened in recent years. I think we were all blown away by the amount of artefacts associated with St Teresa and the monastery which are on display. One that had a special interest for me was a banner used on a pilgrimage from our church in Kensington to Alba de Tormes in 1882 for the fourth centenary of the St Teresa’s death. I attach a photo of it.

Our guide then took us to visit the relics of St Teresa – her tomb and in special reliquaries her heart and arm. Being able to pray there was a very special moment for us. The chapel is also home to several images of the Infant Jesus. Apparently they were originally naked to emphasise the humanity of the Divine Infant. Understandably the nuns’ modesty led to them making beautiful clothes for the statues.

The last section of the visit was to another museum which houses items used by St Teresa, among them the writings of St Augustine and leads to the room where St Teresa died. Visiting and praying at that room was very moving.

One of the local friars then gave us a tour of the priory nearby. The Spiritual Canticle is displayed in mosaic in the cloister.

We had Mass at 1.00 pm in the monastery chapel at which Fr General was chief celebrant. The nuns attended in the choir and were very excited to have Fr General with them! There was even a television crew to record some of the Mass and interview Fr General. It seemed only right to offer Mass for our Carmelite nuns in that holy place.

We had a very substantial lunch at a local hotel. I was surprised that it only cost €15.00 per head but I later learned that the nuns contacted the owner and asked that we be given good value – true daughters of St Teresa! After lunch we visited what remains of the castle of the Duke of Alba whose wife figured notably in St Teresa’s life.

From Alba de Tormes we went to Duruelo, site of the first Discalced community. Nothing remains of the original monastery but the Carmelite nuns have a monastery there. There is a chapel on what is believed to be the site of the first priory. We celebrated Evening Prayer there before visiting the nearby fountain of St John of the Cross. By that stage we were all ready for home where we arrived shortly before 10.00 pm - tired but happy.

We began another working week with Mass in English led by the East Asian group (Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Singapore). Fr General began the working session with a proposal that we re-read the Constitutions as a means of renewal with the possibility that we may have to re-write them.  We eventually voted and of 101 votes 87 were in favour of Fr General’s proposal. We next had a synthesis of the feedback from the group discussions on the second section of the working paper (Vows). Fr Lukasz Kansy then made a presentation on the section of the Constitutions on community. In the afternoon we discussed this in groups. The English language group also prepared to meet Fr General tomorrow to discuss who might be the next English speaking Definitor. All will be revealed on Thursday!

Fr Bonaventure Sauer of the Oklahoma Province has an entertaining blog about the Chapter:


Best wishes,