Thursday, August 27, 2009

International Crosier leader, born in Minn., discusses history, future of order

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Crosier Father Glen Lewandowski, a native of Foley, Minn., who attended the Crosier Seminary in Onamia and St. John’s University in Collegeville, was reelected to a second term as master general of the order Aug. 8.

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Lewandowski
He is the first American to serve as leader of the international order, which will mark its 800th anniversary in 2010. The Crosiers have had a presence in Minnesota for nearly 100 years.

The order was founded in 1210 in modern-day Belgium. Today, Crosier communities are located in Indonesia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. More than 400 Crosiers serve the church on five continents.

Currently, about 75 Crosiers are members of the U.S. province, which is headquartered in Phoenix. There is also a community in Onamia.

Father Lewandowski recently answered some questions from The Catholic Spirit by e-mail from Indonesia, where he was attending a meeting. The following are excerpts from the interview.


What drew you to the Crosier order?

The Crosier order is one of the oldest orders in the church. It comes from a time when religious orders were founded not so much for any specific apostolic activity — as are the modern apostolic congregations.

The Crosier order grew in the 13th century, when there was a rediscovery of the importance of the fraternal life. Other similar orders were the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites and the Augustinians. These “old” orders concentrated on living a strong commitment to fraternity and simplicity.

Although I had no deep historical knowledge of the Crosier order when I first knew it in the 1960s, I could clearly see and feel the strong emphasis on fraternity. These men were conscientiously human. What attracted me to join the Crosier order initially was a wonderful sense of belonging, family and fraternity.

What does your job of master general entail?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think of my life as a job! I admit that there are days when being master general does feel like a job. But even more fundamentally, it is a vocation. There are “job” qualities to what I do, but the first identity is that of a call.

As the superior general in the Crosier order, a master general needs to keep alive the charism and unity of the order.

In our constitutions, it is stated that a superior has the task of holding his brothers faithful to their vocation. For a local prior, that role of “holding his brothers faithful to their vocation” has a much more personal and interpersonal dimension. A superior general has the task, by contrast, to hold the entire order faithful to our vocation.

What does it mean to be a Crosier Father or Brother today? How are members of the order living out their mission in the modern world?

The vocation to be a Crosier today is still fundamentally the vocation to live.

I have always been impressed with the perennial value of the old religious orders. Religious life is always about life. It is about development of the human person. And the human person develops fundamentally in relationships. The central relationship is brotherhood.

Isn’t that still a crying need, a wonderful vocation, in the modern world? I insist it is. In fact, in the post-modern world, where there is great doubt about the reliability of relationships, the stability of personal life choices, where human personality is often submerged in technical know-how and measured by which skills one can market, I would assert that the fundamental importance of the human person and the priority of respecting and honoring skills in human relationships stands even more to the fore in our modern world.

After the French Revolution, with its insistence that every religious group must be “useful” for society, there was a great growth in “modern” religious life. Every congregation was founded for some distinct modern purpose: running hospitals, educating youth, social services to the poor, foreign missions, etc. Each modern apostolic congregation was defined by a work, a job, a service. Especially with the Second Vatican Council’s insistence that ministry is not a priestly or religious prerogative, but extends to all the baptized, there has been something of an identity crisis about what is the specific vocation of religious.

Over the last several years, we Crosiers have worked hard to rethink and redefine our calling, specifically concentrating on the religious experience. Pope John Paul, in his exhortation following the synod on religious life, was a great help in rethinking and refocusing attention on what consecration to God, community witness, and ministry as compassion mean for us.

We tend more and more to seek and express our mission in terms of life and witness rather than according to the “modern” accent of job and work.

What are the biggest challenges the Crosier order faces today? How are you addressing those challenges?

I already touched on the challenge of rethinking religious life. Our order worked deliberately in the last 10 years on a “Decade of Transformation” to seek, define and express our religious charism in the church. I think we have accomplished significant, even fundamental, steps in reclaiming our religious identity.

A wonderful example of that sort of work is the document we issued in 2006 titled “A Crosier Religious at the Time of Solemn Profession.” In that profile we detailed the kind of formation into religious life needed to consolidate a religious identity.

But perhaps a related big challenge is the crisis of vocations, especially in Europe and in the United States. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit has decided to move from these old cultures and take up residence now in the newer (Christian) cultures of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania. Although we are receiving more vocations from these younger churches, I remain convinced that the Spirit works in hearts and minds the world around. It is a firm theological conviction about universality, that the religious world is a world of hearts and minds rather than location, location, location.

In the General Chapter just completed, one of the decisions we took was that we need to be more bold and constructive in calling young people to hear the voice of God and to respond with their life, from the heart, as religious.

How have incidents of sex abuse that surfaced a few years ago impacted the Crosier community?

Over the past several years, the order has confronted the very difficult issues raised as a result of past incidents of sexual abuse of minors, particularly here in the United States. We apologize for the pain and suffering which these scandalous acts have brought upon sexual misconduct survivors and their families. We are committed to work with those who have been victims of abuse by Crosiers in the past.

We recognize that full and frank disclosure about sexual misconduct is important to speed the healing process and empower unknown victims to come forward for help.

We strongly encourage individuals to report any information regarding incidents of sexual misconduct to the Provincial at (602) 443-7100 or a member of the Crosier First Contact Team. This information is on our Web site, www.crosier.org.

In our priory communities in Onamia and Phoenix, we have also taken up very deliberate work in addressing issues of sexual health. We also work to better understand all appropriate and inappropriate boundaries in our relationships with everyone.

Particularly in this time when the Crosier order marks 800 years, we want to atone for our infidelities, especially any pain and suffering that any Crosier has caused in any way. In the spirit of redemption and reconciliation given us by Christ, we want to seek atonement for our failures in order to be one with Christ and our brothers and sisters.

What festivities do you have planned for the 800th anniversary of the order?

Worldwide we initiated our jubilee anniversary in Pratista, Bandung, Indonesia, on the feast of St. Helena, the one who found the true cross in Jerusalem and founded for its safekeeping the first “brethren of the Holy Cross.” The festivities marked the close of the three-and-a-half-week-long General Chapter, also held in Bandung. The gathering included special guests of the Crosiers in Indonesia.

The climax of the general level festivities will be a week-long gathering in St. Agatha Priory in the Netherlands. This Crosier monastery was founded in 1371 and has enjoyed the presence of Crosiers for the full lifetime of its existence.

Our original “motherhouse” in Huy, Belgium, was suppressed by the French Revolution and the building completely destroyed in the aftermath. So the St. Agatha site is historically special because it clearly survived the targeting for dissolution intended by the secularizing policy of the Revolution.

The Crosiers will celebrate the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in 2010 at this European monastery as the high point of our year-long festivities.

In addition to the worldwide celebrations and festivities, each province will organize its own activities. Many events around the world will include retreats on the cross, renewal days for the brethren, vocation awareness days, book publishing and public launching of local Crosier histories, various liturgical events, vow profession ceremonies, meetings with bishops, pastors and other religious.

The Crosiers in the U.S. will begin the jubilee year with a solemn celebration of the Eucharist on Sept. 13, the vigil of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. They will conclude the year-long festivities with a similar celebration in Phoenix in November 2010.

In a special Extraordinary General Chapter, to be held in 2010 at St. Agatha Priory in Cuijk, Netherlands, in conjunction with the jubilee there, the Crosiers hope to give final approval to the constitutions of the order and to inaugurate an international ongoing formation program for members, also to be centered at St. Agatha Priory.

As you reflect on this anniversary and the accomplishments of the order, what do you foresee in the Crosiers’ next 100 years?

I foresee that the Crosier order will still struggle for another 20 years. Thereafter, the climate of indifference to religious life will have changed. New hope will be in evidence.

Religious life goes through cycles of birth, growth and expansion, stagnation, decline, radical crisis, and then either dissolution or rebirth. These cycles often last about 200 years.

Our founding community in 1210, in Huy, Belgium, was called “Clairlieu,” which is French for “A Place of Light.” That house is dissolved — by history. But we began again and again. We started afresh more than once in our history.

In 1814, our order was reduced to four very elderly confreres living in the two surviving houses, left after the others had been decimated by the Revolution. Almost 60 houses had been suppressed in the wake of the French Revolution and planned secularization. Talk about radical crisis and decay!

These four old men remained committed to their religious life and strove to be deeply faithful. They refused to give up hope — the original refusniks.

The story of our near demise is an important religious historical lesson and a Crosier symbol of faith under pressure.

In the next 100 years, there will be a continued growth of the order in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is my firm conviction that there will be a resurgence of growth also in Europe and in the United States. Catholic Spirit
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