Superior General’s Newsletter – 10 – April 2010


Haiti: Reflections on a Tragedy
Haiti, January 12, 2010: pain, screams, despair, death

It lasted less than a minute. Over 220 thousand persons died, hundreds of thousands wounded, more hundreds of thousands homes completely destroyed ... For a nation that was already experiencing a calvary, the tragedy of the earthquake made its situation even more difficult. Despair, cries, screams ... Listening to personal stories of persons who survived the tragedy in Haiti, one listens to the most diverse and poignant stories.                                                                  

Touching the mystery of human life

The gigantic scale of the tragedy in Haiti not only affected the whole world, but also united humanity in emergency solidarity to the victims.

Often we are faced with tragedies on a smaller dimension. Sometimes they affect an entire country, at other times, only a region, or a town or a family. But regardless of its size in terms of human victims, tragedy is always tragic. And at such moments questions arise such as: Why did this happen? Where was God? Why did God allow this to happen? Why did this happen to so many innocent, good people? Such questions touch the core of the mystery of human life. And they show all the limitations of our condition as human beings. Definitely, we are not gods. Many theologians throughout history have tried to answer questions about the meaning of pain, suffering, and death. But the mystery continues. We can approach this mystery, but we do not understand it nor explain it.                                                                                       

What God wants and what God permits

This is a good opportunity to incorporate the distinction of our Patron Saint between what he refers to as the “signified will” of God and the "absolute will, or God’s good pleasure".1 His signified will is revealed in the Scriptures, in the Commandments, in any advice, inspiration or decision discerned and made before God.

The will of His good pleasure is manifested in the events that take place regardless of our will. Nobody can prevent them from taking place, and they "are known only by their effects, which once they have occurred, show us that God has willed and designated them”2, or at least, permitted them3. Our Patron encourages us to accept all the troubles we encounter in the events and realities in our lives. This is only possible and meaningful if we consider them as part of “this eternal good pleasure" 4. God is pleased when "we receive with patience, gentleness, and serenity the pains, torments, and tribulations in consideration of God's will that has sent them to us.5

How are we to react to situations in which the will of God is accompanied by difficulties? St. Francis de Sales suggests to us two different attitudes:  holy resignation and holy indifference. "Resignation is practiced through our effort and submission".6 We encounter it in situations of pain and even imminent death, situations that are humanly inevitable. Nobler than resignation is holy indifference, since an indifferent heart "does not put its love in the things that God wants, but in the very will of God who wills them".7 This attitude enables us to welcome with meekness and peace whatever events may be, simply because they originate from the absolute will of God. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, was prepared to see the disappearance of the Society of Jesus, if this were the desire to Deus 8.

Embracing our pain and anguish, Jesus gives meaning to all suffering

What remains for us? Should we simply sit back and do nothing? Definitely not! It should be noted that our Patron interestedly speaks of "holy indifference" not in reference to seeking the signified will of God, but only in reference to consenting to the events that express the absolute will of God.

Let us return to Haiti. When I was there last March for ten days, I was surprised by several things. One is that the questions I had were not the questions of the people there. I did not hear any complaints about God, no questions like: "Where was God on January 12?" Without having ever read the Treatise on the Love of God, people were practicing its teaching, if not holy indifference, at least, resignation. Certainly the hard cross of their daily life, that they have carried long before the earthquake, taught them to live their faith in the midst of so much suffering. The people had learned the lesson that "God is greater than our comprehension of Him and He knows everything” (1 Jn, 3.20). One of the things for which I thanked the assembly present at Mass in Cité Soleil, at the end of my visit, was the fact that they had helped me to live my faith in the midst of so much pain and suffering.

Nothing that we experience as human persons was foreign to Jesus of Nazareth in his earthly life. If we imagine that he did not suffer as much as we would suffer if we were in his place, then we would be doubting the mystery of the incarnation. By coming to dwell among us he "did not cling to his equality with God," but "emptied himself" (Phil. 2:6-7). Thus, "he lived fully human, in everything except sin".9 In everything - including the experience of pain, doubt, anguish. Therefore, just as we have questions when tragedy strikes and in moments of extreme pain, so it was with Jesus. He did not have any privileges. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mt 27.46; cf Ps 22:2) The anguish of God Incarnate was the same as that of every human being in a like situation.    

Jesus Christ gave full meaning to all human suffering, embracing the ultimate consequences of the Incarnation. His Resurrection is a victory not only over all anguish, pain and human suffering, but also the largest anxiety: death itself. Being baptized, "we live and move and have our being" in Him (Acts 17:28). Therefore, we are motivated by the certainty that, in the end, good will conquer evil, joy will overcome sorrow, life will conquer death.

Suffering is not God being absent, but faith being tested. "Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. Sometimes God may seem absent and unable to prevent evil. However, God the Father revealed his omnipotence in a manner even more mysteriously in the free descent (kenosis) and the Resurrection of his Son, through which He conquered evil".10

Following Christ in humility, service to the marginalized

At he beginning of Lent this year, Pope Benedict XVI on Ash Wednesday, said that Lent is a favorable time and an invitation to "renew the option of following Christ's way of humility." Experiences like the tragedy in Haiti are certainly an invitation to walk in humility. God reveals himself as the Unknown that surprises us. Therefore, "we see through a mirror, dimly," until the day comes in which we will see God "face to face" (1 Cor 13:12).

But events like this also invite us to compassion and attitudes of solidarity. A heart like that of Jesus is not indifferent. It may be that the answers we seek in our thoughts and theories will be found when we put ourselves at the service of those who need us. During the days I was in Haiti, the Rev. Tom Moore guided the meeting with our postulants and aspirants, and one of the questions we faced was precisely this: how can we, although injured by the quake, to be instruments of healing? In Brazil we say: no one is so poor that they have nothing to give. Here one might say, no one is so injured he can not help heal others. Healing is not only physical but also spiritual.

Solidarity cures. In this, the Gospel is clear. Certainly it is appropriate to look at the beautiful and well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. It indicates what should be the "relationship of each of us with our suffering neighbor. We are not allowed simply to 'pass by', with indifference, but we must 'stop' and be at his side. The Good Samaritan is any person who is willing to be at the side of the other who suffers, whatever that suffering may be. Stop, in this case does not mean curiosity but availability ... The Good Samaritan is every person who is sensitive to the suffering of others, any person who has been 'moved' by the misfortune of other ... It is therefore necessary to cultivate in each of us this sensitivity of heart, which demonstrates our compassion for the suffering ".11 Pope John Paul II adds in the same letter: "Following the Gospel parable, it may be said that the sufferings present in our human world in their many different forms, are also present to trigger mankind to love, with that unselfish gift of my 'Self' in favor of others persons who suffer. The world of human suffering incessantly looks forward to, so to speak, another world: the world of human love "12. John Paul II concludes: "The Gospel is the negation of passivity in the face of suffering. Christ himself in this respect is particularly active "13. Jesus clearly expressed to his followers his identification with the suffering: "It was to me that you did it" (Mt. 25:40).

Based on such motivations, the Oblates in Haiti decided to ask the postulants and aspirants during this year to serve their own people, both in social as well as in pastoral activities.

Solidarity, justice and conversion

Referring to the tragedy of Jerusalem, Jesus denied that it was caused by God's punishment. But at the same time, he warned: "And if you do not convert, you will all die in the same way" (cf. Lk 13,4-5). World solidarity after the tragedy in Haiti was great.  One may ask, however, if it was a sign of conversion, or was simply an  attitude  merely assistancial. One can not simply say that Haiti is a poor country, we must recognize that it was impoverished, the victim of international exploration and national corruption for many years. Conversion means change of mentality and attitude. According to Jesus, a tragedy is a call to conversion. That is also the message for all of us individually and for the international community as a whole. What must we do to avoid the injustice that continues being an "earthquake" victimizing thousands of innocent people in Haiti for years to come?

Meeting of Major Superiors

Between July 30 (arrival day) and August 3 (day of departure), 2010 in Fockenfeld the Meeting of Major Superiors of the Congregation will be held. This will be the last meeting of the Major Superiors with the General Council before the General Chapter of 2012. The formators who participate in the Workshop on Formation are also invited to remain for the meeting of Major Superiors.

A portion of this meeting will be devoted to sharing the situation of the congregation. Each Major Superior has been asked to prepare a report, based on questions that they were sent. There will be as well, as usual, a time for every Superior to meet with the members the General Council. The last day will be devoted to the report of various committees at Congregation. There will provided room for discussions and referrals.

Workshop on formation, focusing on the novitiate

The Meeting of Major Superiors will be preceded by the Workshop on Formation, that will focus on the novitiate year. This workshop will begin on Saturday July 24th (arrival day) and runs until July 30. The preparation and coordination of this week are the responsibility of the Rev. Lewis Fiorelli. The various themes that will be treated are being prepared with care by several of our confreres. This meeting will certainly be a very important week for the training of Oblates formators.

The Workshop on Formation has four objectives:
(1) An articulation of the "Focusing Goal" (or "Framework for Formation") of the Oblate Novitiate.
(2) The preparation of Oblate and Salesian materials that will assist formators, particularly on the novitiate level.
(3) The formulation of a document that is tentatively named, "The Syllabus of the Oblate Novitiate: Essential Oblate and Salesian Elements."
(4) Fostering friendships among the formators in order to facilitate ongoing exchange and communication following the workshop.

Postulador of the Cause of Good Mother

The current conditions of the process of beatification of the Good Mother require that a person be placed in charge of the case. With the permission of Mother Françoise-Bernadette Beuzellin, Superior General of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, I presented to Bishop Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the name of Sister Madeleine-Thérèse Dechambre, OSFS, to be appointed Postulator Cause of the Beatification of Servant of God Mother Mary Frances Sales Chappuis. With joy I inform you that this request has been approved. Sister Dechambre has shown dedication and ability as Postulator of cause for beatification of our Founder, Venerable Father Louis Brisson. The recent recognition of the heroic virtues of our founder by the Vatican is the result of the skilled work of Sister Dechambre. I ask your prayers for the success of her work, now as Postulator das causes of Father Brisson and the Good Mother.

Salesian  Education of Youth

Meeting in Annecy – A meeting of administrators of our schools has been scheduled for Annecy. Rev. Bill McCandless, OSFS, has been coordinating the preparation of this event, which runs from the May first to May third, 2010. Two persons from the administration of each school have been invited to attend, as well as one Oblate and one lay person. The meeting will discuss ways to better incorporate principles of Salesian education in our schools, in addition to a training program for Salesian lay teachers. Other topics which will be discussed are: how to organize future exchange programs among our schools, involving both teachers and students and how to promote communication among participants via the Internet.

General Coordinator for Salesian Education of Youth - Members of the General Council agreed with me in creating the role of General Coordinator for Salesian Education of Youth. Even if this title is long, we thought it to be good one in that the very title explains the job of the person in charge of this function. Father Bill McCandless has assumed this function. Let us ask God that he be enlightened and guided by the Spirit in this important service.

4th Centenary of the founding of the Sisters of Visitation

As we know, there are several events planned to celebrate during the year of 2010, the 4th centenary of the founding of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Several of you are already actively involved in and participating in these programs. I personally intend to participate in the solemn celebration on June 6, the exact day of the 4th centenary of the foundation, in the Basilica in Annecy. At the end of the year, on Dec. 13, I will celebrate with the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the closure of the Jubilee year. Please do not forget to include the Sisters of the Visitation in your prayers, asking that they may be faithful in their important and demanding mission in the Church, as well as asking for vocations to the contemplative life.

In Vatican City - In 1994 Pope John Paul II created a contemplative monastic community of nuns within the Vatican walls. The main objective of this gesture was to accompany through prayer, the Holy Father in his activities. Since October 2009 this monastery, Mater Ecclesiae, has been occupied by seven sisters of the Visitation. Previously it had been occupied by Carmelites, Benedictines and Claritians. Every five years a different community occupies the same monastery.

Preparatory Committee of the General Chapter of 2012

In 2011 there will be a meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the General Chapter of 2012. Within the next few months I will send a letter to all Major Superiors on the matter of choosing the members of this Committee, in accordance with the guidelines of our General Statutes numbers 8 to 10.

Saint Charles Parish, Monaco

With joy I inform you that the Rev. Bill McCandless will serve in Saint Charles Parish in Monaco. He has, in recent years, served as Principal of Salesianum School in Wilmington, United States. He has made himself available for this new service, starting next July 1st. He will join our confreres, Fathers Carlo M. Adams and M. Wilhelmus van Rooden in pastoral ministry of the parish. I appreciate the availability of Fr McCandless, and I ask for your prayers for him and all our confreres in Monaco.

My Calendar

At the beginning of May, I will be in Annecy to attend the meeting of the administrators of our schools on the topic of Salesian Education.
On June 6, I will return to Annecy in order to attend the celebration of the 4th centenary of the founding of the Sisters of the Visitation. I will remain in Annecy for the priestly ordination of Deacon Thierry Marcoz on June 19.
In November, I have scheduled the canonical visit of the French Province, starting with Benin. Fr Sebastian Leitner will accompany me to assist with translation.
I know I can always count on the invaluable prayers of all of you, so I am immensely grateful.
May our Spiritual Directory help us to live well this Easter season, living in each 24 hours the dynamics of death-resurrection.

Pe. Aldino Jose Kiesel, OSFS
Superior Geral





  1. St. Francis de Sales develops this distinction in Books Eight and Nine of the Treatise on the Love of God.  Here I am referring to the article “Between the one will of God and the other”, of Fr. Joseph F. Power, OSFS, edited in 1993 for internal use of the Oblates.; cf as well the Letter of Father General  number XVIII, of Fr.. Lewis Fiorelli, OSFS, March-April 2002.
  1. St. Francis de Sales, TLG, Book 9: Chapter 1.
  2. Ibid 9:8
  3. Ibid 9:2
  4. Ibid 9:3
  5. Ibid 9:3
  6. Ibid 9:4
  7. Ibid 9:6
  8. Eucharistic Prayer IV of the Roman Liturgy
  9. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 272.
  10. John Paul  II, Apostolic Letter Salvici Doloris, 1984, number 28.
  11. Ibid, number 29
  12. Ibid, number 30