My first participation in a General Chapter was in 2012. At one point, we were tasked to describe the characteristics of a good superior. In small groups and zonal meetings, we elaborated and developed a long list of qualities and skills that a superior should have. The list of qualities was so long and broad. It was clear that no one could fulfill all those qualities.
However, I was surprised to see that the final Chapter document summed up a superior’s qualities in a short statement: “leadership is for us a commitment to serve.” The 18th General Chapter took up this statement by talking about “servant leadership and responsible membership.” The Chapter wanted to involve all congregation members in promoting a dynamic relationship of mutual collaboration for exercising leadership.
Jesus spoke about model servant leadership: “Anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (cf. Mt 20:27-28). As for “responsible membership,” we could resort to Paul’s image of the “body of Christ.” Here he speaks about the Christian community: Each member with his gifts is necessary to the other members for the good of the whole (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-21).
Paragraph 37 of the Chapter document recommends some concrete attitudes to which we need to commit ourselves to become servant leaders and responsible members. Some examples are transcending ethnic and national loyalties when electing our superiors, engaging in the process of prayerful discernment, or to forego our private agendas.
In this process, trust is a necessary attitude. Trust allows the leader to welcome initiatives and contributions from the members of the community. Trust allows the members to support their leaders and participate willingly in our common mission. In a letter to Nicolas Blum, Arnold Janssen wrote: “When you see the failings of the confreres, bear in mind that they also have good qualities and are worthy of your trust.”
Pope Francis addressing the members of the 18th General Chapter, highlighted the words “trust” and “brothers.” Trust in God because He is the source of our vocation; trust in our brothers in the community because we walk together with the path of life and mission with them. I believe that mutual trust is the sacred ground where we can nurture ourselves and learn to be servant leaders and responsible members.
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