On Saturday, we went to Saint Peter’s Plaza and Basilica. My first reactions was that is looked bigger on TV and it did largely because there were no points of reference for comparison at the time. There were few people or other things to give a sense of the scale of the place. We went into the Basilica and the experience was much the same.
Little by little though, I began to understand the immensity of the plaza and the Basilica. I looked across the plaza and saw the tiny human figures lined up to go into the Basilica. When inside the Basilica, someone was talking about the structure built over the altar and pointing out that it was eight stories high. I saw some people looking like tiny dots way up in the copula. Finally upon returning to the Generalate, I saw some photos of the workers who brought the statue of Saint La Salle into the Basilica and hoisted it up to its present position looking down on Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Just the base of the statue was as tall as the person standing next to it in the photo and yet it looked rather small as we looked up at it from the ground level.
That has been my experience at CIL during this first week. When we look at a map of the Lasallian world, we only get an inkling of its immensity. We can find the countries and look at the city names, but it is hard to get any real sense of it until we have an opportunity to get a sense of scale by interacting with other Lasallians from around the world.
Three languages are used for presentations at CIL: French, English, and Spanish. Participants are divided into language groups for small group discussion. My English speaking group has one from Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, and Moraga, CA. We also have one from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Rome. Each has a different geography, history, and governmental structure. Some are primarily in schools while others are forbidden by law from teaching in schools.
We share some things in common, but it is clear that there are profound differences. One size will not fit all. When we speak about Lasallian Association, it is difficult to imagine one approach working in every place. Our cultures and histories are so very different.
This week we began to get to know one another. We found things we had in common. We welcomed and listened to one another. We shared our experiences of Lasallian Association in our corners of the world. We listened to presentations that showed us great challenges and great possibilities. We began to work on our CIL projects.
For me it is clear that there are lots of possible approaches to Lasallian Association, but I wonder what can actually be sustained beyond the particular personal commitments of individuals? What can be institutionalized?
Can we rely on sheer numbers to sustain Lasallian communities, i.e., lots of new people coming as others leave?
Do we need some system of long term commitment? Do we need older experienced Lasallians to sustain younger and inexperienced? How can we ensure that in the future?