Every two years newly appointed leaders from various Districts around the world are invited to Casa Generalizia (International Headquarters for the De La Salle Brothers) in Rome.
It’s a pretty incredible opportunity for those who are asked to go – I mean how many people are offered the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world?
But while being able to travel and do a bit of site-seeing is a great perk of the trip, it’s not the reason for getting us all to Rome. In fact, the purpose of the gathering comes back to one of the Brothers’ five vows – the one most people know nothing about – the vow of association.
I am convinced of the truth in the claim that a small group of committed people can change the world. The Brothers believe that working alone you’ll only ever be able to achieve so much. But working as a global group, through the extended support and resources that become available, the impact the Brothers are able to make on the lives of those in need is that much greater. It means that our service to the poor and marginalised has a global context which is critical because there are people living in desperate situations and in poverty stricken families and communities all over the world.
Last month 16 Brothers from throughout the world came together in Rome. There were Brothers from Madagascar, Brazil, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Rwanda, France, Ireland, Chile, Poland, Congo, Cameroon, Canada, the USA, and of course myself from Australia.
Leaders from various regions were united so that stronger connections could be established amongst the Brothers who were present. As someone new to a leadership role, it also served as a good opportunity to chat with those who hold similar positions about how we are all tackling our responsibilities.
During the week-long gathering, I became very aware of the extent of the work being done by the Brothers and those who work alongside them in the Lasallian mission. Their stories were simply incredible.
Hearing firsthand about the situations in countries like Rwanda and Sri Lanka that have been ravaged by wars was particularly moving. It was amazing to learn about the resilience of people who have been traumatized by war. I felt fortunate to be carrying out the mission in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea – to be in relatively peaceful countries.
Living in a multicultural country like Australia, it is hard to comprehend situations where conflicts are ethnically or socially motivated. The race riots at Cronulla a couple of years ago only give a minor insight into sources of conflict.
After speaking with Br Denzil from Sri Lanka and Br Venant from Rwanda, it became clear that the recent wars in both countries came about as a result of experiences of injustice. Br Denzil identified the core problem in Sri Lanka as being one of identity with the Tamils seeking to establish an independent Tamil state. Living in Australia you can see the issue of identity being played out in our own history.
Despite the language barriers and cultural differences, there was a real sense of solidarity among the Brothers who were present. While we are engaged in such different work around the world, we are all part of the same mission: the human and Christian education of young people, especially the poor.