The city of Bruges has been referred to as the “Venice of the North.” The canals and medieval buildings give a sense of history and charm. In the past,Bruges was a place where merchants, linen makers, and artisans used its canals to trade with the world. Like the Bruges’ traders of the past, those of us at the Assembly came from different parts of the world bringing our insights, concerns, and skills to be traded and exchanged to the benefit of all. Some, former Brothers myself, others teachers, administrators, and missionaries. Some new to the Xaverian influence, others like Brother Victor Kazadi, steeped in 50 years of Xaverian life. It was truly inspiring to be with them all.
Each day began with a simple but moving prayer service that incorporated music, song and readings in French, Dutch, and English. The planners tried to include everyone and I felt we were following in the footsteps of Theodore James Ryken who included a diverse group of men when he first formed his community in this very city.
The overarching goal of the days was to explore the mystery of the Xaverian spirituality and charism. Presentations by Brothers Larry Harvey, Regj Cruz, John Hamilton, Joe Pawlika, and Placide Ngoie, and by Dr. Ed Hardiman, helped direct our discussions by giving our meeting groups a focus question after each session. As each day developed, I found we learned from each other and, while we might come from different countries or have different ministries, our experiences were similar in many ways.
One afternoon we visited St. Francis Xavier Institute and Brother Norbert gave us a tour of the archives. I got to view artifacts from the early days of the foundation which I previously had only read and heard stories about. Brother Norbert is proud of the collection and he gave us a brief history about many of the items. His enthusiasm was contagious!
On the last day of the Assembly, at our concluding Liturgy, we committed ourselves to several things:
- To a life of hospitality which calls us to help, encourage, edify and work with those who form this band of brothers and sisters.
- To God’s service as a layperson drawn to the God of the common and the ordinary.
- To give ourselves away as nourishment for others, especially for the poor and the marginalized, so they may experience the love of God through their own giftedness.
We left Bruges about a month ago and I still think about the people who gathered and the things we discussed both formally and informally. We came together from Belgium, Kenya, Congo, and the United States as brothers, associates and collaborators. We were introduced to new people, new languages, new ideas, new ways of meeting, (new beers and chocolate), but in all these differences, I sensed we were on a journey together and I believe that “in harmony, small things will grow.”