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.
Part 1 of this interview was published Friday.
ZENIT: We have a Latin American Pope who, in as much as he belongs to the Society of Jesus, knows well the dynamics of consecrated and religious life, and who has posed the challenge of going out “to the fringes.” How will you respond to this challenge and what type of evangelization will you do?
Father Robles-Gil: We must comprehend and receive promptly the Pope’s indications. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he speaks to the Church in general and invites that the Church continue to proclaim Christ to every person with joy and enthusiasm. Our service is above all the education of persons, many of whom are baptized but don’t practice. They are in the “existential fringes” or where Jesus Christ has not arrived, or is, in a certain sense, forgotten. We have many schools and some Universities, which are chosen places to make the proclamation of the love and mercy of God. In Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil and other countries we have pupils of the Mano Amiga [Helping Hand] schools, where students pay very low fees, because we believe that education is the best way to have poverty disappear and to open opportunities for the future. There too we find sociological fringes and often spiritual poverty as well. The latter is a terrain of evangelization that Pope Francis has very much at heart.
We take very seriously what the Pope says because it is the reason of our existence, because we have had a personal encounter with Christ and we want other people to do so also. The Pope speaks of a Church that “goes out,” a Church that feels the force of her mission and isn’t afraid. And we want, also through our recent experience, to proclaim God’s mercy.
ZENIT: On Thursday, February 6, the Legionaries issued a communique which speaks of the founder and assumes a clear position. Was this taking of a position difficult to assume or was it something that you had already matured? Is it the sign of a change?
Father Robles-Gil: I don’t know if I should take it as a maturation because it was something that had already happened. If you analyze the letter of the general government and of the territorial directors of 2010, the content regarding the founder is very similar. However, given the course followed these years under the leadership of Cardinal De Paolis, it seemed necessary to take up again the discourse in the General Chapter and to speak with clarity. Let’s not forget that the Chapter represents the whole Congregation, and not just the Superiors. The novelty of the communique, in addition to what is said about the founder and the requests for forgiveness, is the answer to what flowed from the Apostolic Visit and the course followed under the direction of the Papal Delegate, who led us to see some things that we did not do altogether well and which could be improved. In a certain sense, it is a journey of conversion which will never finish, because we can always open ourselves to the grace that makes us more like Christ.
ZENIT: Today the Legionaries number almost one thousand, a Movement that grew a lot. What prospects are there for the future?
Father Robles-Gil: We are those who work the earth, however, it is God who calls us and the truth is that we would like to continue to grow in the number of priests, in the number of seminarians, in the number of committed laymen, but at the rhythm that God wishes. Necessary also, however, is a bit of prudence in growth, not so much of vocations, which will never be sufficient, but of works. In the past, perhaps, we started too many initiatives simultaneously and in the last years we have been constrained to close some works and in fact to leave some dioceses and some cities. We continue to learn always.
ZENIT: The Legion is flanked by a very important lay reality, Regnum Christi. How do you see the laity supporting the Congregation in this phase of change?
Father Robles-Gil: This question does not allow for a single answer. We Legionaries define ourselves as part of the Regnum Christi Movement; we are a complex reality, rich in different vocations: priests, consecrated lay men and consecrated lay women, committed laypeople. In some way all are part of our reality which is committed to the mission in response to God’s call. The other members of Regnum Christi are called in their state and in their condition of life; hence their vocation takes place in other circumstances. The laity must see to it that Jesus Christ reigns in their families, in their work, in their profession, and that Christ reigns increasingly in men’s hearts and in society. We help one another mutually, in keeping with the spirituality of communion. One of our tasks as priests certainly is – as described in our Constitutions – to assist spiritually the members of Regnum Christi. We priests, the consecrated and the laity participate in the same charism, but it is articulated according to the particular vocation of each one. Diversity in unity is richness for all.
ZENIT: What will you miss of Mexico?
Father Robles-Gil: I state first that I have worked as a priest in many places; however, the greater part of my thirty years of priesthood I have not spent in Mexico, in the city where I was born. Where I studied and where my family lives. So the friendship of people who love me and of my relatives is what I will miss, not the rest. I will not miss the tacos, whichI do like, but the friends and persons who love me.
ZENIT: Is there something we haven’t asked you and that you would like to communicate to ZENIT’s readers and collaborators?
Father Robles-Gil: Today the means of social communication are very important. I have been following the news on the Church through ZENIT for a long time. I believe very much in the service you offer and I believe that, among the many news items, the Church represents positive news in many environments. I would like to thank all those who in the past have made this ecclesial service possible and also those who make it possible today.
The events we are living with the General Chapter and with the Legion are a moment of hope that comes from God Our Lord. There is hope if the earth is fertile, and this is the work of all the laity of the Movement and of the Legionaries: we must seek to be fertile earth to bear much fruit for the glory of God.
I would also like to thank all those who have accompanied us these years with their prayer and their support. We are grateful for their charity and we wish to correspond also with our prayers.[Translation by ZENIT]