ROME, JULY 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Leading a congregation of 4,000 religious and novices is a challenging task, but one made easier by new technologies facilitating communication and mobility.
As superior general of the Discalced Carmelites, Father Luis Aróstegui Gamboa must travel extensively to visit communities around the world, and somehow find the time to keep on top of things at the order’s headquarters in Rome.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Aróstegui shares, between trips to the Americas and Africa, his greatest challenges as superior general of a large congregation.
Q: Your task as superior general entails to a great extent pastoral visits to communities and provinces. What is your feeling when you return to the general curia in Rome?
Father Aróstegui: My feeling is that the visits are very positive and necessary, and the provinces and communities request them. They are contacts with the existing reality; knowledge and a more cordial relationship is what remains. However, the amount of time spent on visits makes the governance more difficult in another sense.
When one is away, in a province or community, one cannot attend in the same way to issues that are pending in the other provinces, at times the result of other pastoral visits.
Mobility has changed so many things, including one’s way of being present. Now relationships have increased; anyone can send an e-mail. Previously, letters were the only source for official issues.
The order calls for personal contacts, as it is certainly very positive to create communion. But later, there must be a follow-up.
But how can this be done if the very next day one is off on another visit somewhere else? The response to this question must be well thought out, if it is to be manageable.
Q: All the coming and going also reflects, perhaps, a good time for the order, as it continues to announce the opening of new Carmels around the world.
Father Aróstegui: Good …, yes, there is a certain expansion which already began centuries ago, as the order was extended to all the continents.
In Europe there is presently a decline in vocations, while in other areas they are flourishing. In the former Eastern Europe there is a slow recovery.
Carmels have opened in the Baltic countries, for example, and we brothers have requests from that area for foundations. Sometimes the requests are from local bishops, including in former Burma and Thailand.
But personnel are not always available. In Poland and India, yes; these are countries where the order is growing the most. In general, it is growing in Asia, Africa and South America.
Not infrequently, the Carmelite nuns arrive first, and request the establishment of a masculine Carmelite presence also. We would like that “good” time to which you refer, to be reflected as well in our spiritual life.
Q: The University of Mysticism in Avila is already in the phase of construction and in just under a year it will be a reality. What does the Carmel hope to offer with this initiative?
Father Aróstegui: We must specify, to speak accurately, that what we are doing in Avila is to enlarge the premises of a center that has already existed for two decades — the CITES [International Teresian and St. John Center], which is now too small.
There is a great demand for the study of mysticism from outside of Spain, including for courses in English, and there was no space for classrooms, a library, etc. The larger premises will allow for new offers and initiatives.
The university is an effort to highlight, seriously and at a high level, the study of mysticism and Carmelite spirituality, complemented by other courses, in the hope of responding to the human-spiritual demand of today. Its inauguration is contingent upon progress in the construction, which is under way.
Q: The order is also very strong in the missions, whose patroness is also a Carmelite, Thérèse of Lisieux. What do you hope for from the “mission” countries?
Father Aróstegui: I hope from the Carmel, not only from the missions, what I hope from myself: that we will really be disciples of Jesus, and that this will be visible, and that we will be helped in this endeavor by the great tradition of the Carmel at the service of the Gospel.
I hope that Jesus will be the center of our lives, and that love and contemplation of the Carmelite tradition will stimulate us, with spiritual fidelity, to respond to the needs and challenges of today.
I hope that we will not be islands or create small bunkers, but that we will ask ourselves what we can do, for the dignity of all people and to serve the Gospel.