By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal
ROME, JULY 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The religious order of the Society of Mary are known as Marianists. They are also known for their extensive work in the world that, under the charism of education, was founded in 1817 by the now Blessed William Joseph Chaminade of France.
During a break in his work in the Chapter Room, ZENIT talked with Chaminade’s successor, Spanish Father Manuel J. Cortes Soriano, S.M., recently re-elected superior general of the Congregation.
ZENIT: How do you interpret this ratification for a new period as superior general?
Father Cortes: Obviously we are [a] religious [order] and owe obedience to our superiors, and in this case the superior is the General Chapter, the highest authority of the Society of Mary. My brothers have expressed their wish and I accept it, trusting in their support, and with the certainty that the Lord will supply what is lacking in me.
ZENIT: How does a General Chapter take place and an election such as this?
Father Cortes: The first and most important task is to analyze the situation of the Congregation, from the reports presented by the General Council and with the answers to a survey that the Preparatory Commission of the Chapter carries out. There is, then, the first phase of “Seeing,” which once ended gives way to the phase of “Reflection,” on what the Society of Mary needs regarding guidelines, recommendations and decisions that must be
taken. It is during this phase that the election of the superior general and of his three assistants takes place.
ZENIT: Who comprises the Chapter?
Father Cortes: There is a group of 40 local chapters with voice and vote who represent all the units of the Society of Mary around the world. Some are so by right, such as the superior general, the three advisers, three assistants and the superiors and vice-superiors of the provinces that have more than 100 members. The rest are elected, because a [General] Chapter is above all a representation of the whole Society of Mary and, according to our norms, there must be more elected members than members by right.
ZENIT: Are you working on a central topic?
Father Cortes: Yes, it is to see the Society of Mary as a global community. This means that in the historical moment in which we are living, and in the circumstances that the Congregation lives at present in each unit, we need to foster mutual cooperation between the different units. Up to now, and especially in the middle of the last century, each unit was very autonomous and had great capacity and personal and financial resources, so that each one could address situations with autonomy, although always in the communion generated by the Rule of Life and of course with the same charism.
ZENIT: Has the situation changed then?
Father Cortes: We have developed, we have founded new units in new places, but the old units are contracting because of a lack of vocations, so that the units’ autonomous capacity has diminished substantially. Moreover, there is the reality that the world has become globalized. That is why we must see how we can foster and develop more global structures that break boundaries.
ZENIT: How can you combine this with the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, for example?
Father Cortes: All this global sense of the Congregation affects not only the structures but also the meaning of the mission, in order to improve it to respond to the new challenges. Born also from the mission of the Church in the world is the opening of our vision to the global challenges she is facing, which is very important for us.
ZENIT: It is significant that your new period begins with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. In your opinion, how has religious life responded to this reform?
Father Cortes: Religious life responded promptly to what Vatican II requested, which was, in the first place, a descent to the roots, to what we can call in each institute its “foundational charism,” the inspiration that comes from the Spirit and that the Church recognized at the time; a return to the sources, and a reassessment of the living of one’s charism. Vatican II also asked for adaptation to the times and the needs of the times.
ZENIT: And what is still lacking?
Father Cortes: We still lack a path to follow in both dimensions. That is, in deepening our charism and in incarnating that charism in the new cultural realities of the world, and in the concrete realities of countries where Marian religious life is being implanted.[Translation by ZENIT]