“I feel that I am in the place that God has arranged for me, and I do not miss or desire any other” (2/2)
For twelve years you served as superior general, so it is assumed that you got to know the Congregation well. In what years? Do you notice important changes in the religious and current communities with respect to the times of your mandate?
I was in the general government from 1993 to 2005.
I do notice significant changes. At that time, we were more, younger and opening work fronts. And with good vocational prospects, even in countries where we do not have a community presence, but the Augustinian Recollects are.
We are now experiencing a stage of “reduction”; we have left countries, like Taiwan and Argentina and closed many houses. The scarcity of vocations and the non-persistence of many young women are becoming more acute, which is why the average age is increasing, with the logical consequences.
After having carried out the office of superior general, you encountered the Chinese world, a language that you had to study, and, apart from your stays in the People's Republic of China living in this country with your Augustinian Recollect Missionary sisters, you lived for a time in Taiwan: How many years and what experience did you get from this time and situation? Do you think that the Chinese Augustinian Recollect Missionaries have a hopeful future?
In December 1995 we opened the house in Taiwan, to support the nascent community that was emerging in the mission of Shangqiu (former Kweiteh, where our foundresses were). Accompanied by Father Manuel Piérola, an Augustinian Recollect, who was a veteran in Taiwan, (and who, by the way, lent us his home for several years, making the parish office his own), I went to mainland China for the first time during Holy Week in 1996. It was an unforgettable experience for me: stepping on the same places where so many missionaries of the Augustinian Recollect Family gave the best of their lives; meet several Chinese Augustinian Recollects, survivors of the persecution, among them Monsignor Nicolás She and Monsignor José Wang; meeting for the first time with the new Chinese sisters, (at that time there were 4, a novice and three postulants), who for the first time saw a SEA of flesh and blood...
At that time the old house of the sisters was still occupied by families, and we had to stay in a nearby hotel, but we spent the day with the parents and sisters of the mission, sharing experiences and clarifying concerns. We traveled to Wuhan where the postulants with a professed were studying nursing, and in addition, we were also able to visit the young Recollects who were studying in the seminary.
From that moment on, first passing through Taiwan, I periodically visited the Shangqiu community, almost always accompanied by Sister Marta S. Maldonado and sometimes with a father, such as Pedro Tung or Benito Suen.
At the end of the second six-year term, in 2006 I was assigned to the Taiwan community, and from there we continue to visit them. We lived with them, we gave them classes on religious life, the constitutions, etc., we visited their families and the different parishes of the Diocese, and we also took trips to famous places in the surroundings. Meanwhile, several Chinese sisters went to Spain to study Spanish, so that in 2012 the house in Taiwan was closed, because there were already Chinese sisters who could communicate directly without the need for intermediaries. The last time I visited the mission was in 2016, directly from Spain.
During all those years I was able to observe the development in an economic and religious sense throughout the country and specifically in the Diocese of Shangqiu. Certainly, the activities were supervised, but there was freedom to carry out religious acts, Christian meetings, catechism for children, vocational meetings, etc. We never had any serious problems on the visits we made.
In recent years the situation has changed, and Christians are subjected to clear persecution by the government: young people and children cannot attend churches, communication with the outside is difficult, and activities in the different parishes, for which has decreased the attendance of the faithful and there are few prospects for new vocations.
For all that has been said, the future of the community of the Augustinian Recollect Missionaries in China is uncertain, like that of the Church. What we want is that they remain firm in their faith and in their vocation, and that in this difficult situation they are experiencing, they can bear witness to Jesus Christ, like the first Christians, amid their people, always accompanied by our prayer and affection. and some communication from time to time.
The six years lived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I consider them a true gift. The community was very well received by the Augustinian Recollect Fathers, by the Diocese, other Congregations, and the Christians of the Parish. Being a minimum percentage of Catholics, and participating in the different activities, you get to make friends with the majority of the faithful of the city.
On the other hand, the closeness with the residents of the neighborhood, most of whom are non-Christians, and the contact with other religions, in an open and tolerant society, confirms the deep brotherhood that exists by virtue of being human beings; and that it is possible to understand each other, although knowledge of the language is barely enough for the essentials.
We already know that making a forecast is risky, but perhaps because of your resume you are in a good position to do it about the future of your Congregation. You could, do it?
We will continue to decrease and leave works and perhaps presence in some other country. We will continue to maintain the mission houses and I hope that we will maintain the schools, which is a field with many possibilities to sow values and bring the Gospel to families.
Looking to the future, what aspects do you think the Congregation will have to insist on to respond to the charismatic demands and to what the Church and the people you serve expect?
I would refer that we take seriously the n. 2 of the Perfectae Caritatis where he speaks of constant return to the sources of Christian life (radical following of Christ as proposed in the Gospels); the spirit of the founders (the mission, always seeking the glory of God and total availability to his will); and adaptation to times and places (which are very varied, although we are very few).
And since we are in a key moment of restructuring, where the provinces are disappearing, and everything is focused on the general government, I think we need to keep intermediate instances that can discern the needs and the ways of responding to them, from the proximity.
Given that there is some young MAR in both places where the Congregation is based, what message do you want to send them?
May they not be afraid… May they take advantage of this occasion, the tough times they have had to live through, to strengthen themselves in what is fundamental: to give a courageous response to the personal call that God has made to them. Let them lean on Him; not in numbers, and that they maintain the charism, that treasure that he has placed in their hands and in their hearts and transmit it to future generations to enrich the Church and society.
Marina, visitors to this website will thank you for sharing your rich experience of such different places and situations throughout your life. I hope that the celebration of 75 years as a Congregation awakens the missionary spirit that gave rise to you so that, overcome all fear, testify that it is worth being an Augustinian Recollect missionary. Thank you very much.