International Congress for the Mission of the Dominican Order

By:  Andrew Abberton (Dominican Young Adult/Molloy Chapter)

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From January 17th through the 21st, over 600 members of the Dominican Family from all over the world joined together to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the order and to reflect on the past and think towards the future of the mission of the order. The congress brought together people of all different walks of life, languages, cultures, ages, ideas and beliefs. All parts of the Dominican Family were present in order to discuss and reflect on the theme phrase “Sent to Preach the Gospel”. The conference aimed not to answer questions, but to create conversation and spark contemplation and to generate new questions about what mission means in the 21st century and for future focus and direction.

Each day, the prayer was shared in a different language, and although the words may have been foreign, the spirit of the prayer was understood by all. Throughout the conference, introductions were made, conversations were shared, smiles and hugs were given and received, meals were shared, connections were made between groups around the world, and community was experienced. The language barriers were broken down by this spirit of community.  It truly became an international family brought together by similar values and ideals and our shared Dominican Life.

 Although the conference was just four short days, there was an overwhelming amount of information to bring to our contemplation and a lot of activities to be a part of! The three main days of the conference broke down the phrase “Sent to Preach the Gospel”. Each day a different word from the phrase was brought into focus. The first day focused around the word GOSPEL, the second around the word PREACH, and the third around the word SENT. Each day keynote addresses were given by members and friends of the family to spark discussion and fuel the conversations and contemplation during the small group workshops. Each day people from throughout the world were broken up into smaller language groups to discuss the theme for the day within the context of their focus and ministry. At the end of the day, the members of the congress returned together to take part in a panel discussion. This panel discussion involved hearing from presenters and giving members of the congress as well as those around the world watching vis live stream video respond to the presenters and ask questions.

On the first full day of the conference, the focus was on naming the issues that face the world today and how Dominicans can respond to these “signs of the times” (justice and peace, interreligious dialogue, music and justice, migrants and migration). The keynote address of the first day revolved around seeing each human as a “gospel and sacred text” and to interact with humanity in a way that allows us to bring God to those we meet. In the small groups, individuals were able to converse and deepen their understanding of the issue they felt most called to and hear the perspectives of different individuals from throughout the world. The participants discussed what it means to be Dominican in the 21st century and how these issues effect the order as a whole. These workshops brought life and meaning to the congress. These discussions will serve as a focus for serious reflection in the coming months by the scientific committee and will be published to allow for future contemplation of these issues. After the panel discussion, the congress moved together throughout Rome on a pilgrimage to the evenings mass being celebrated in Santa Sabina. At this mass, the Master of the Order challenged us to draw strength from our given life and utilizing the unity of the Dominican Order to go forward in our common mission.

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The second day, using the Emmaus Story, focused on preaching utilizing the Media, Non-Governmental Officials, Preaching as Dialogue, and Education.  The day began with a keynote address stressing how preaching is an encounter with the other, and the formal and informal nature of preaching through body language and common conversation. This keynote address sparked discussions in the small groups on how the preaching can be both formal and informal and the contemporary ways of preaching to those living in the 21st century. As a show of interreligious community and dialogue, members of the congress prayed with the Jewish community of Rome in the Roman Synagogue. This was a very inspiring and deeply powerful moment in the conference and spoke to the theme of humanity and connectedness that went throughout the congress.

The third day centered on the theme of being sent and what that means to each of us. The keynote address posed the questions, “To what are we sent? To where are we sent? What does it really mean to be sent?” This challenge highlighted various ministries (education, preaching in prisons, evangelization, etc.). The small group conversations focused on how we are each sent and where we are sent to. When we gathered together for the panel discussion, we were blessed to hear from the Master of the Order on how Obedience and being sent should be seen as a deep listening to the will of God and to watch, wait, and assist in the birth and rebirth of humanity. In addition, a Dominican Sister from Iraq and a Dominican Sister from Nigeria shared their stories of being sent and their responses to the signs of the times especially in areas filled with trouble and violence. These testimonies showed how we can be sent where we don’t know, called by the Lord, to give dignity and grace to those in need. These were some of the most powerful presentations of the congress and caused an overwhelming response of the congress members to stand and applaud showing the support and compassion of the international family and putting in perspective the real mission of the Dominican Order to find practical and new ways to bring the Gospel to the world.

That night, congress members participated in a vespers ceremony at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where St. Catherine of Sienna and Fra Angelico among others are entombed. The prayer included preaching in five different languages by five different sisters from all over the world.  This was a powerful statement and the power of their words moved far beyond just the understanding of language.

On the last full workshop day, the focus was on reflection and prayer.  The small group discussions centered on how each individual felt their call, how they feel they are being sent and what they heard and experienced throughout the conference. The panel on this day represented four different parts of the Dominican Family; Friars, Contemplative Nuns, Apostolic Sisters, and the Dominican Laity. They discussed and reflected on the week from their personal perspectives and how they felt being personally sent forward. This was joined with song and prayer followed by an address by Friar Bruno, the Master of the Order.  Friar Bruno gave three convictions that should be kept; preaching, fraternity, and encounter. He said “The conviction of preaching is not limited to the liturgical homily, but is seen in different modes of expression to bring God who is longing to have a conversation with humanity” and that preaching leads us to the heart of the world. He went on to say that it is in the encounter with the other (marginalized, poor, downtrodden, etc.) where this conversation can be made, and this compels us to leave our bubbles and comforts with a sense of urgency to respond to the issues of the time.

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As part of this closing prayer, each individual wrote their feelings of being sent and where they are being called.  These were collected and, as a closing ritual, each individual chose another person’s card in order to pray for his or her intentions of mission as we all prepared to return to our home communities and countries. This was a powerful exercise in communal prayer and the interconnectedness of the family and its reliance on the prayers of each other.

At the culmination of the congress, all members were invited to participate in a Papal Mass concelebrated by Dominican friars celebrating the closing of the 800th Jubilee of the Order. Over 2500 people were present from throughout the world to participate and pray together for the future of the order. The congress showcased the importance of community in the Dominican Order and how contemplation and discussion can bear fruit when discussing the changes in the mission of the order in responding to the society of the 21st century. The spirit of community was alive and well and the discussions and conversations shared gave everyone great hope that the PREACHING DOES AND WILL CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD!  

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