The Legionaries of Christ are living an epochal turn in their 70-year history. After his election last January 20 during the General Chapter, and after his confirmation by Pope Francis, Father Eduardo Robles-Gil has the task of guiding the Congregation, with new Constitutions and a better-defined charism, as requested after the apostolic visit ordered by Pope Benedict XVI.
Thus a period ends in which the Congregation was led by a Papal Delegate, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis. A period that lasted four years and was marked by the heavy scandal, revealed in 2009, of the “double life” of the founder, Marcial Maciel.
In conversation with ZENIT, Father Robles-Gil talked about his priestly vocation and how he will address the assignment he has just received.
ZENIT: Father Eduardo, how was your priestly vocation born? Why did you choose to enter the Legion of Christ?
Father Robles-Gil: I can say that my vocation was truly born with my conscious life. I finished my elementary studies at the Cumbres Institute, so the first priests I knew up close were the Legionaries of Christ. Although having had two uncles who are priests – cousins of my mother, a Jesuit and a Marist – and also going to Mass and Confession with the Dominicans in the parish, the priests I had more to do with were the Legionaries of Christ.
Then I began my studies at the University of Anahuac, also of the Legionaries of Christ, and I entered the Regnum Christi Movement. Hence, I never imagined the priesthood outside of the Legion, because it was in this Movement that I encountered Christ and discovered His call.
In 1969 I was beginning the last year of my Bachelor’s degree and it was the year that the youth section began of the Regnum Christi in Mexico City. When I started University a friend – who has a brother who is a Legionary today and is also a Chapter Father– entered the Movement and, in 1972, invited me to become part of it. I completed my studies in engineering in 1975 and consecrated myself to God as a layman in Regnum Christi two years before entering the Legion.
ZENIT: Were you expecting to be elected to this assignment of such great responsibility?
Father Robles-Gil: In reality, in the beginning I didn’t quite think that I would be elected. Many of us thought of Father Sylvester Heereman who, in my opinion, did an excellent job during the period he substituted Father Alvaro Corcuera last year. However, Pope Francis requested that the Superior General be elected according to the Constitutions of 1994, which established the minimum age for this assignment at 40. Father Sylvester is 39, so he wasn’t eligible.
I began to think I might be elected to this task when, on my departure from Mexico, someone began to say jokingly that I would be like the Pope when he went to the Vatican for the Conclave. No cardinal knows with certainty if he will be elected Pope or if he will go back home. For this reason, I asked myself: what will happen if they elect me? In the Legion, however, I have learned: “I will follow you, Lord, wherever you go; I will follow you wherever you take me.” And I was given assignments and countries that I would have preferred to give up, because I was already happy with the ones I covered. Deep down, I knew I had to accept. Also because, as the Constitutions prescribe, we have the obligation of obedience and the Chapter is the supreme authority of the Institute.
ZENIT: In this new phase of the Congregation’s history, how will it live (or re-live) the charism of the Legionaries of Christ, especially now that you have rejected definitively the figure of the founder? In particular, how will you live this charism as General Director?
Father Robles-Gil: We must take into account that Saint John’s Gospel (cf. John 15:16) tells us clearly that it is not we who chose Him but He who chose us and who sent us to bear fruit, in as much as sent by Our Lord. The Church, the disciples, the Apostles, the founders, all the subjects of pastoral ministry are sent by the Lord. In a Congregation the charism is a supernatural reality in which one feels identified, called: in my case, I entered the Regnum Christi Movement, a Movement of apostolate, which aims at transforming people’s lives and that of society through a personal encounter with the living Christ, and letting Him make of every person an apostle and a missionary. When you receive a charism, you understand that God has encountered you and you have answered His call. One can always reflect further on this because it is a reality which is not simply a human idea. There is a doctrine of the Church which is dogmatic and which is applied to the sacraments: it can happen that there is an unworthy priest, nevertheless the sacrament that is conferred on us is valid because the grace acts ex opera operato. And, in some way, Our Lord God does this also with us. Looking at the history of the Church, we see that we have had unworthy Popes, yet the Church has continued to exist and to carry out her mission because it is God’s work. Something similar happened to us Legionaries.
ZENIT: How is obedience harmonized with the charism?
Father Robles-Gil: In regard to obedience, the Church today teaches us – as the teaching of Vatican II explains and also subsequent teaching – that it is a discernment, in which the superior and the subject seek together God’s will. I don’t see myself espousing the idea of blind obedience: in the Legion we have learned that it is motivated by faith. In trusting dialogue with the Superior, the subject can have perplexities that he can expose freely, but the obedience does not change: the model is Christ in the hands of His Father. “Not my will but Thine be done.” If this doesn’t happen, there isn’t true obedience. The discernment is to do what Jesus did in Gethsemane. It is also important to understand that the Superior isn’t a boss, but that he also must always seek God’s will and act according to the norms of law.
ZENIT: The Holy Father made himself present with some indications for the configuration of the new government of the Institute. What did he request?
Father Robles-Gil: In December the Holy Father asked us to elect the General Director and two General Counselors. Moreover, he reserved for himself the appointment of the Vicar General and of one Counselor. Then he indicated that the elections made by the Chapter should be confirmed by the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life. We referred the election to the Holy Father as it happened and he confirmed me as General Director and the two General Counselors: Father Sylvester Heereman and Father Jesus Villagrasa. According to what was indicated to him by the Delegate, he appointed Father Juan Jose Arrieta Vicar General and Father Juan Sabadell General Counselor. On February 6 His Excellency Monsignor Jose Rodriguez Carballo, Secretary of the Congregation, communicated to us the confirmation of the elections and the appointment of Counselors chosen by the Holy See. We received it with great applause in the hall.[Translation by ZENIT]
Part 2 of this interview will be published Sunday.