Convention Highlights, Speeches and Slideshows
Without a doubt, promise of a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis made Serra’s 75th international convention in Rome one of the most highly-anticipated events in our organization’s history. Over 600 Serrans from Italy, the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Australia, India, Nigeria, Great Britain, Thailand, and Brazil made this the best-attended Serra convention in years.
In Rome, convention attendees were treated to fabulous Italian food, opportunities to sight-see the city center and tour the surrounding areas, all replete with signs of the early Church and its contemporary flowering. The weather was hot – hovering around or over 90 degrees F each day – but a world-class swimming pool offered sweet relief.
As to the convention programming itself, the Convention Coordination Committee made up of local Serrans and headed by Serra’s Council for Italy President Emanuele Costa, Past Serra International President Cesare Gambardella, and Gianni Sapia, organized a powerful program of diverse speakers and liturgies mainly contained in one compact section of the host hotel, which made registration and attendance at talks extremely easy and convenient. All talks were translated into the four official languages of Serra made available in real time by headset. We are excited to share these with you soon at in the upcoming issue of The Serran Magazine.
Affirmation and Recognition of Serra’s Vocations Mission
Still riding high on our patron Saint Junipero Serra’s canonization just two years ago, Serra International has been well positioned to gain more visibility and recognition for its unique vocations apostolate within the Catholic Church.
Serra International President Dante Vannini, of the Serra Club of Siena, Italy, said it plainly:
“The private audience granted to us by Pope Francis is proof of our relationship of communion with the Catholic Church, and a show of gratitude for what our association offers to priests, the consecrated, and to seminarians on all continents.”
Friendship and the Metaphor of Bethany
President Vannini himself played a key role in an earlier show of recognition by the Holy See, when he was invited to deliver a speech detailing the raison d’etre for Serra as a whole, and the spiritual impetus for each Serran individually, before the International Congress of the Congregation for the Clergy in October of last year. It was in this speech that President Vannini articulated a metaphor which would later be echoed by the Holy Father.
In his address to the Congress, President Vannini said:
“I like to believe that our clubs could be for the seminarians, the religious men and women, the priests, what Lazarus’ home in Bethany was to Jesus: a place where he felt intimacy and familial friendship.”
He reiterated this sentiment when he greeted Pope Francis as our representative at the papal audience on June 23:
“We want to be friends of the seminarians as well as of the seminaries, to be near to those brave young people who are ready to devote their entire being to Our Lord, and who are often called to overcome all kinds of difficulties and misunderstandings.”
Clearly, this made an impression on His Holiness, who devoted the first part of his address to the hundreds of Serrans assembled to this concept of friendship:
“I would like to reflect on something (President Vannini) said which, I believe, is central to the experience of faith: to be friends.
“To be friends to priests, sustaining their vocation and accompanying them in their ministry: with this great gift you enrich the Church! This is, above all else, what a Serran is – a ‘special friend’ whom the Lord has brought into the lives of seminarians and priests.
“Today the word ‘friend’ has become a bit overused. In our daily lives, we run into various people whom we call ‘friends’, but that is just a word we say. Within virtual communications, ‘friend’ is one of the most frequently found words. Yet we know that superficial knowledge has little to do with that experience of encounter or closeness evoked by the word ‘friend’.
“When Jesus speaks of his ‘friends’, He points to a hard truth: true friendship involves an encounter that draws me so near to the other person that I give something of my very self. Jesus says to His disciples: ‘No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’ (Jn 15:15). He thus establishes a new relationship between man and God, one that transcends the law and is grounded in trust and love. At the same time, Jesus frees friendship from sentimentalism and presents it to us as a responsibility that embraces our entire life: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13).
“We become friends, then, only if our encounter is more than something outward or formal, and becomes instead a way of sharing in the life of another person, an experience of compassion, a relationship that involves giving ourselves for others.
“It is good for us to reflect on what friends do. They stand at our side, gently and tenderly, along our journey; they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words; they are merciful when faced with our faults; they are non-judgmental. They are able to walk with us, helping us to feel joy in knowing that we are not alone. They do not always indulge us but, precisely because they love us, they honestly tell us when they disagree. They are there to pick us up whenever we fall.
“This is the also the kind of friendship that you seek to offer to priests. The Serra Club helps foster this beautiful vocation of being laity who are friends to priests. Friends who know how to accompany and sustain them in faith, in fidelity to prayer and apostolic commitment. Friends who share the wonder of a vocation, the courage of a definitive decision, the joy and fatigue of ministry. Friends who can offer priests support and regard their generous efforts and human failings with understanding and tender love. In this way, you are to priests like the home of Bethany, where Jesus entrusted his weariness to Martha and Mary, and, thanks to their care, was able to find rest and refreshment.”
The Necessary Renewal of Serra: Encounter and Relationship with Youth
A powerful and recurring theme in the talks provided at the convention centered on the renewal of Serran programming and membership. It is no secret that our ranks could enjoy more age diversity, thereby allowing not only influx of fresh ideas, but also ensuring our organization’s longevity.
In his homily to Serrans at Saint Peter’s Basilica just before our audience with the Holy Father, His Eminence Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, suggested that simply sharing the joy of the Gospel by way of working for our mission with youth will go a long way:
"My dear brothers and sisters, your mission in the Church is exactly this, to show to everyone the beauty of the Heart of Christ, the boldness of his love, the rest he offers when we are oppressed, the joy that frees our lives. You, who are members of Serra, who have chosen to serve the Church by promoting priestly vocations and dedicate yourselves to offering friendship and support to priests, can learn from the Heart of Jesus. I encourage you to be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel, so that everyone, especially the young, can know how beautiful it is to consecrate one's life to the Lord."
To face the reality of an otherwise comfortable membership in sincere need of younger energy can be challenging and even daunting. Most Reverend Jorge Carlos Patron Wong, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Papantla, Secretary for Seminaries matter-of-factly stressed the necessity of examining the situation and working immediately to find the solution:
"Aging is an objective fact that is imperative to face. The renewal of the Serran charism necessarily treats the ‘convocation’ of younger people who, logically, have different sensitivities... You should not be afraid of this generational change. We must look to new generations with love and trust, placing their future in the hands of God. On certain occasions there will be a collaboration between the old Serra Club and these new groups; at other times, as Moses did, the mission will be to encourage these new generations from afar, sustaining them with spiritual support, even at the cost of dying. But I consider the choice for a renewal according to chronological age to be fundamental."
And finally, on this topic Pope Francis bade us go forward fearlessly with his inspirational words:
“Do not be afraid to renew your structures. Do not rest on your laurels, but be ever ready to try new things. As in the Olympic Games, may you always be ready to ‘pass the torch’, above all to future generations, knowing that the flame is lit from on high, precedes our response and exceeds our efforts.”
Rosary for Vocations: A Taste of the True Internationality of Serra
On Saturday, June 24, convention attendees gathered to pray Serra’s monthly Rosary for Vocations, which takes live place via conference call or smart device on the last Saturday of every month. For June 24, Serrans from across the globe were invited to join the prayer broadcast live from the convention in five languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Thai. It was a remarkable opportunity to experience the true internationality of our organization, whether you were at the convention or calling in from thousands of miles away.
We invite you to join our prayer on the last Saturday of every month. As all Serran activities supporting our mission begins first with prayer, we urge you to add your voice and presence to this most special and global Rosary for Vocations.