November 10, 2012
This past August 1 the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala sent a written petition to our Guatemalan Benedictine community, requesting that the Philosophy Program of Guatemala’s National Major Seminary of the Assumption be allowed to have provisional housing on the property of our Mission Priory, beginning in January of 2013. This petition followed upon the decision of the Conference of Bishops in the spring of 2012 to move its Philosophy Program to Quetzaltenango. This decision was based on a number of simultaneous factors: 1)The current buildings in Guatemala City utilized by the Program have been condemned for future use because of structural problems, requiring that the buildings be evacuated by the end of the current school year in November; 2)The Guatemalan bishops want the program to be moved to Quetzaltenango in the future in order to give their seminarians a distinct pastoral and cultural experience of the western part of the country, one that is culturally quite different than that of Guatemala City; 3)The Diocese of Quetzaltenango owns a large piece of land that it has offered to the Bishops Conference as a future site to build facilities for the Philosophy Program, but at this time there are no buildings on that site and fundraising needs to take place before construction takes place. Thus, the Guatemalan Bishops and the Major Seminary are in urgent need to find housing for the Philosophy Program, beginning in 2013.
On August 14, the monks at our Priory of San José voted to accept the petition of the Conference of Bishops. On September 8, I presented this petition to the Marmion Abbey Chapter, where it was approved. A legal contract has since been drawn up between the Guatemalan Bishops Conference and our Guatemalan Mission. The length of the contract is for four years. Further details of this arrangement are being worked out. But the basic provisions stipulate that the Philosophy Program of the Major Seminary of Guatemala will rent our Mission Seminary’s two dormitory buildings and clinic. Because of the fact that our residential dormitory facilities will be used by the students of the Philosophy Program, our Mission Seminary, beginning this January, is obliged to terminate its residential program.
Although the residential program of our Mission Seminary will cease, we want to assure everyone in the Marmion family that the Seminary will continue as a day school. At the same time, student candidates for our Priory community of monks will be able to continue as residential students. A separate residential facility has been prepared which can accommodate up to ten candidates. These candidates will take part in the monastic daily prayer and have their meals in the Priory with the monks. The Priory itself will continue to function as it has.
The Seminary of San José will continue, as it has since its founding in 1966: to further the mission of educating young men and preparing them for either the priesthood or committed lives as lay Catholic leaders in their community. From the outset, our Seminary has endeavored to attract young men from families with limited resources. Giving qualified students from poor families the opportunity to study in our Seminary has been and will continue to be an important dimension of our mission. We will continue our effort of seeking needed funding that will allow these young men to receive a sound Catholic education and formation.
Through our collaboration with the Major Seminary of Guatemala and the Guatemalan Bishops Conference, our Guatemala Mission will have a new and timely opportunity to support the enterprise of educating future priests for the Catholic Church in Guatemala. As a visible sign of our collaboration, monks of our Priory have been invited to teach some of the classes in the Philosophy program.
In 1996, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Exhortation to all communities of consecrated life. In this document, he discussed what he described as the New Evangelization and the need to seek creative solutions to difficulties confronting the Church. He spoke of the need for all sectors of the Church to work in communion and dialogue in these words: “Everything must be done in communion and dialogue with all sectors of the Church. The challenges of evangelization today are such that they cannot be effectively confronted without the cooperation, both in discernment and in action, of all the Church’s members. . . . In particular, effective communion among those graced with different charisms will ensure both mutual enrichment and more fruitful results in the mission at hand.” (Vita Consecrata, #74).
After much prayer and discussion and having carefully considered the matter, we are convinced that the new arrangement will yield the “more fruitful results” mentioned by Pope John Paul II. From our point of view, this arrangement is surely an opportunity for Marmion to offer, at a moment of great need, a great service to the Church of Guatemala, especially in the work of promoting and educating vocations to the priesthood. We ask for your heartfelt prayers that God will bless this new endeavor of the Marmion Abbey Guatemala Mission.
God’s blessings on you all,
Abbot John Brahill, O.S.B.