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International reps of priest fraternity are ‘universal brothers’

The “universal brotherhood” of Jesus Caritas is reflected in its International Council, which met in Kansas City, Kansas. They are, clockwise, from left, Father Emmanuel Asi from Pakistan, Jean-Francois Berjonneau from France, Father Mark Mertes from the archdiocese, Father Aurelio Sanz from Spain, Father Mauricio Da Silva Jardim from Brazil, and Father Rajaonarivelo Felix from Madagascar. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE BOLLIG

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — One hundred years ago on Dec. 1, a group of marauding desert bandits dragged a priest/hermit out of his simple hut, assaulted him, bound him with ropes and threw him in a ditch.

The priest lay in the ditch all day, praying in preparation for what might come.

His attackers were from the Senoussi tribe, which resisted the French colonial rule of their Algerian homeland.

The bandits, who intended to kidnap the priest, were surprised by the arrival of two French soldiers. The bandits shot the two solders and the priest.

That priest — Blessed Charles de Foucauld — might have been forgotten as time passed. Although respected as a holy man by the nearby Tuareg tribe in the town of Tamenghest, he had not made a single convert in 10 years of living in that region.

And he never saw the realization of his dream — sharing his vocation of being “a universal brother” with a fraternity of brothers.

But mysteriously, God moved many persons to be inspired by Blessed Charles and to form associations, religious communities and secular institutes for laypeople and priests.

Today, one of those entities is the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests. Approximately 4,500 priests around the world are members of small groups called fraternities. There are nine fraternities, consisting of five to seven priests each, in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

In addition to meeting as fraternities on a monthly basis, members of Jesus Caritas have a worldwide General Assembly that meets every six years, and an International Council that meets annually in different countries.

This year, the six-member International Council met from Oct. 17-27 at the Sanctuary of Hope Prayer and Retreat Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

The host was North American representative Father Mark Mertes, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady & St. Rose, and Christ the King parishes in Kansas City, Kansas.

Visiting representatives included Father Rajaonarivelo Felix from Madagascar (Africa); Father Mauricio Da Silva Jardim from Brazil (Latin America); Father Aurelio Sanz from Spain (chairman); Father Jean-Francois Berjonneau from France (Europe); and Father Emmanuel Asi from Pakistan (Asia).

“The fraternity is [a group] of brothers who search for and share faith in Jesus Christ,” said Father Sanz, the international responsible, translated by Father Mertes. “We pray together, have what we call a ‘review of life,’ have a monthly Desert Day (time away in prayer) and have an option for the poor.”

Additionally, the fraternities meet once a month.

“We are primarily a group of diocesan priests, who belong to our diocesan presbyterate,” said Father Da Silva, with Father Mertes as translator. “Some of our priest groups are very large. So, why did we join Jesus Caritas? To be part of a smaller group of priests who support and share common values, which is impossible in larger groups.”

“In smaller communities we can support each other,” he continued. “But it’s different from religious life. Many priests live alone, so this is a form of community, support and spirituality developed for the diocesan priesthood.”

During the International Council’s meeting, members had opportunities to do many things together: pray, eat, celebrate Mass, visit parishes, visit religious orders and groups in the archdiocese, and even get in a little sightseeing.

The council members also talked about topics that dealt with the practical and spiritual circumstances of their fraternity brothers and those they serve.

The discussions were held in three languages common to the six: English, French and Spanish. Sometimes, all three at once.

“We are gathering and evaluating the needs of our brothers and sisters throughout the world,” said Father Sanz. “We try to live the reality of the world in which we live. We try to take a ‘Nazareth’ approach to life — God revealed in the everyday reality of our people.”

“We want to enter into the great events of the world, such as the issues of migration and unemployment,” said Father Berjonneau, as Father Mertes translated. “And, the possibility of dialogue between cultures and religions. These are very important to us, because Brother Charles calls us to be a universal brother.”

International Council members also plan and encourage “continental” assemblies for the fraternities in each continent and participation in the coming General Assembly.

The last worldwide General Assembly was in November 2012 at Poissey, France. The next one will be held January 2019 in Bangalore, India. A new international responsible will be elected at the Bangalore assembly.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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