The Formation Meeting of Lay Dominicans and Preachers of Hope

Formation Meeting in Terchova, Slovakia from 13 to 15 May 2016
Formation Meeting in Terchova from 13 to 15 May 2016

Sisters and brothers, Lay Dominicans from the Slovak Province invited us to attend their Formation Meeting, which traditionally takes place during Whit weekend in the picturesque countryside of Mala Fatra in a settlement called Sipkova near Terchova. This year´s meeting was especially festive because of the celebration of the Jubilee of 800 years of our Order.

Before we arrived it was raining, the spring nature was beautiful and green, from the forests the water was evaporating, the mountain stream was full of water, and we felt at that moment as if we had arrived in the Amazon rainforest.

The school building, where the meeting traditionally takes place, was decorated on the ground floor with banners referring to the 800-year Jubilee. There were about 80 participants and 95% of them were women. After a warm welcome and accommodation the Formation meeting began with Mass and Vespers. After that there was the opening ceremony, after which we were given a welcome traditional Slovak dinner - dumplings with sheep cheese.

The first lecture of the Formation meeting was by the Franciscan sister Lucia Kontseková on the theme "Mercy in the Old Testament". In a very interesting and engaging presentation she showed us what Hebrew words are used in the Old Testament to express the term "mercy" or "to be merciful", what are their connotations, using what expressions they are typically translated into Slovak and drew attention to their typical use for some important places in the Old Testament. Particularly interesting are the verses in which there are three most commonly used expressions at once.

On Saturday we started the day with Morning Prayer. Then there was an amazing lecture by our rare guest during all morning. The meeting was attended by fr. Rui Carlos Lopes Antumes e Almeida OP, Promoter General for Dominican Laity, who arrived from Rome. Fr. Rui comes from the Portuguese Province; he became a Dominican at the age of 19, and served as a military chaplain for a long time. Later he retired as a colonel and now he has been entrusted with the lay Dominicans throughout the world. He spoke English and his speech was translated into Slovak by Michal Hadrian. Fr. Rui gave a lecture on the topic "Lay Dominicans - the mission to proclaim the Gospel."

In the first part Fr. Rui showed us a presentation. He spoke about the current state of the Order and also about other branches of the Dominican Family, although their regulations are not legally bound with the Order, but they are living the charism of St. Dominic. The largest branch of the Dominican Family is the lay Dominicans´ branch which according to the words of Fr. Rui "is the presence of the Dominican charism in the world". Whereas the religious brothers are a total of 6,000 in the world, there are 3,000 nuns and 27,000 Congregation sisters, there are 144,000 lay Dominicans. Some groups are not in a legal sense members of the Order; however they belong to the Dominican family, as for example Secular Institutes, IDYM - International Dominican Youth Movement, Rosary fraternities etc. We are all sent to proclaim the Gospel and preach. Then Fr. Rui mentioned the numbers of names of Lay Dominicans, who preached the prophetic word, i.e. gave witness to Christ and the Gospel, each of them in his/her specific way - politicians, writer and charity worker, Dominican volunteers, Fraternity supporting the prisoners who have converted.

In the second part Fr. Rui spoke directly about how to live our lay vocation. He said that the Dominican charism is a charism for the Church, for the others. Being a lay Dominican means a lot of ways of being and living the Dominican charism. Our diversity forms the treasure of the Church. We have to be rooted in Christ and His Word and to be preachers of his Resurrection. All branches of the Dominican Family have in common the following: our preaching begins by listening to the Gospel, which then leads to a transformation of life and subsequently to acts of mercy and witness to the Truth. We shall read the Word, meditate Him and celebrate Him. Our only baggage should be the Word of God, we shall take nothing else with us; therein lies the poverty of our Order. Our preaching also starts with listening to others (St. Dominic was not only talking to the innkeeper in Toulouse, but he was also listening to him). We have to listen to our neighbours and hear them so we are not preaching to them what they do not need, at all. Our preaching has to be done by prophetic words and our pulpit should be a situation or a place, anywhere, where the Word shall be preached. Lay preaching should not copy the preaching of religious. Lay preaching should bring reconciliation and forgiveness; it should be based on understanding the world and the personal sacrifices and, if necessary, even leads to martyrdom. Many of Lay Dominicans were martyrs.

The brothers can be sent to another place, however lay Dominicans are not. Their place is still the same. Everything that a lay Dominican does, whether in the family, at work, in the parish, creates part of the joint project of preaching. When we are members of the Order, then our life is an expression of the common charism.

Within our Dominican family we should help each other; however everybody has to remain what he/she is. Our lay preaching should be an expression of our solidarity within the Dominican family. We have to realize what each of us does in our lives for expressing communion within the Order.

Praying the Rosary is also a way of preaching and it is also a school of prayer. Also helping someone to pray is an important way of preaching.

Fr. Rui´s lecture was followed by Midday Prayer and lunch. During whole morning it was raining.

After lunch there was just a little drizzling and so we were able to walk around a bit. We climbed the steep path to the nearest hill and admired the view of the village below us, the surrounding peaks, the timbered house with blooming apple trees in the foreground, the lush green grass on which we even saw rare orchids.

At 3pm we began a joint prayer of the Rosary. After that our guests – Polish and Czech Dominicans -  presented their Province. From Poland Małgorzata Joanna Mazur from Szczecin and Robert Dominik Chrzanowski of Wrocław arrived around noon. Then followed work in groups on the topic: "The chain of preachers of hope." We discussed the text about Joseph and his brothers and we were reflecting on the meaning of hope as a community virtue. From 6 pm festive dinner began. At the rich, decorated tables there was wine, golden napkins and red cutlery packaged with the logo of the Jubilee.

After the dinner we started to prepare everything for the celebration of the vigil of Pentecost that was to take place out in the garden under the outdoor canopy. It did not rain, but it was pretty cold. The vigil began at 9 pm with a procession of lanterns to the fire, where the big Jubilee candle was ignited. Then we continued to celebrate Mass which finished at about 11 pm with the old Dominican Rite of blessing the roses. Then we cleaned the chairs, benches, blankets and all the decorations and began the night vigil. In the attic room the groups of adoring sisters and brothers were alternating at the Blessed Sacrament until morning.

On Sunday morning we first had breakfast and packed our things, so we vacated the room in time. At 9 am there was Mass. Then, the programme continued with a presentation of the "School of formation", which is provided for the formators from Slovakia. Later, the evaluation of Saturday's work in groups (6 in all) followed.

The whole Formation Meeting was very nice, festive, stimulating and spiritually beneficial. As we expanded the view and the horizon we realized how we are pleased that we belong to a large group of the worldwide Dominican family and of course to the mystical body of Christ, which is united into one by the Holy Spirit and which allows us to grow into the Spiritual Church of God’s Glory.

For more pictures, click here.

Jiří Reginald Machačík OP
Socius of Provincial President
(03 June 2016)